What is the difference between working like a Hebrew slave and being in Marine Corps boot camp? Only one important thing: Dignity!
The new recruit who is being yelled at to push harder when he is already sure he has used the very last drop of vitality in his entire being, is probably suffering more than the Hebrews did in Egypt, but his mindset is different.
While the Marine might well question his sanity in volunteering for this abuse, the overall picture is that this is a necessary process to position him for excellence in the future. He has been filled with stories about the heroic deeds of the Marines and knows that in order to do something heroic in the future, he will need to massively increase his physical stamina and learn sundry skill sets in boot camp.
Ironically, the same was true for the Hebrew slaves. It is my opinion that God was giving them two critical lessons during the season of bricks with no straw. First, they had to learn time management.
Any time someone is working against their will, their efficiency tends to drop off significantly since the passive aggressive attitude kills creativity and initiative. So one could assume that the Hebrew slaves had gotten sloppy in their thinking. They were producing as many bricks as they had to, but were not excelling in efficiency.
This of course, needed to be addressed before they hit the desert and had to take down their tent and pack all their possessions every day for another forced march. So, God did it.
Second, they had to get in shape physically to be able to survive the rigors of life on the road, after a lifetime of living in the hood.
So both groups were being prepared for the future. The Marines knew it and although they did not like the pain, they walked through the hardship with dignity. The Hebrew slaves had not come to grips with HOW God was going to rescue them, so they could not see any sense in their suffering.
And, because the could not see the point of their suffering, it alienated them from God.
Here is another picture.
It was a college football team. One of the players botched a play and the coach assaulted him verbally for the mess. As he left, the player mumbled to his best friend, “I wish Coach wouldn’t be so hard on me.”
To which the friend replied, “Oh, no you don’t! The coach is hard on you because you are first string. I’m fourth string and he doesn’t even know I exist.”
There is an honor to being chosen for the championship team. It means you will have the biggest challenge of your life, but you lean into the pain because you can see the purpose of the pain. AND it produces intimacy between you and the one who chose you because you can seen that he or she believes in you.
So when pain visits us unexpectedly, we have to decide whether this is unproductive pain which we must get rid of as swiftly as possible, or whether it is productive pain that we need to lean into with dignity.
When we can see or sense that God is behind our pain, it increases our intimacy with Him. As long as the enemy can persuade us that God has abandoned us, our sense of intimacy goes out the door and our pain becomes even more crippling.
Here are a few stories from my life of productive pain and the absence or presence of intimacy.
1) When I left home, I wore quite a collection of labels. They began with messy, disorganized, scatter-brained and then generally branched out through the thesaurus with variations on those themes.
The labels were, alas, quite accurate.
So my first four bosses suffered significantly by my lack of efficiency on the job. Eventually, I decided that working for other people who just didn’t appreciate the natural brilliance resident in me was for the birds, so I did the All American thing and started my own business.
There my natural inefficiency in the field and in the office ate my lunch and my capital and my business folded after a miserable year.
God arranged for me to get hired at a job where I was paid for piecework, instead of hourly. I gladly took the job because this would be my opportunity to make a bundle, since I knew I was such a hard worker I could out perform the masses.
The first week I earned $163. And that was precisely because I was messy, disorganized, scatter-brained and all those other good things. Well, a little math revealed that in three weeks I was going to be in a whole lot of trouble. So, I reached deep and began to learn how to organize my tools, my materials and my time to make more money.
By the time I left that company I was making top dollar for that trade, and had a huge amount of dignity for having left behind those deficits from childhood. Today I run one super efficient operation with joy because of the lessons I learned then.
Back then in the Dark Ages, my theology had no room for intimacy. My relationship with God ranged from minus infinity to +1, but I was able to see that God placed me there to grow me and that it worked. While I lacked the ability to say He was pleased with me, I could at least say He was not mad at me — for a moment.
And it all was because I could see His hand in the pain, and knew it was for my good.
2) That was not my only economic debacle. For 25 years I struggled with finances, mostly in a losing struggle. And there was no dignity and no intimacy during that time. I was convinced that I was a loser and that the reason I could not break even financially is because I was inept as a man, and that God was most assuredly unhappy with me.
In that place of shame squared, intimacy was not even a fantasy.
Eventually, God gave me the revelation of the seven curses on finances which has revolutionized my life and the lives of thousands of other people. AFTER He gave me insight and breakthrough, I could look back with amazement and see His hand in the whole process.
There was intimacy then, and in retrospect I still feel amazed that God would entrust me with this bundle of truths. There is also the awareness that God wanted me to earn the right to be able to confront people who are whining about the cost of their call.
Why did He wait 25 years to give me those insights? I don’t know, but I do know that it is quite common for people to have to invest a long time in moving toward their calling. I did not know this at the time, therefore did not have the dignity and intimacy that I could have had during the long wait.
3) Sometimes God takes us through situations to allow us to grow in spiritual authority — in areas we don’t even know we need.
This was the case in my ministry to women. Now you need to understand — I grew up in a stream of the faith that was quite chauvinistic. Men and women sat on opposite sides of the church. And we often rehearsed 2 Timothy 2:2 which emphasises that we are to pass on our wisdom to “faithful men.”
When Plumbline started, there were definitely more women than men. And this most assuredly bothered me, but I was certain we would restore God’s order quickly.
Not only did God keep on sending me women, I could not even finesse the verse by pointing to the “faithful” quality of the women. An awful lot of them were pretty chewed up when they came to me, mostly by men! Imagine that.
I struggled with that for a decade, wondering why it was so hard to be obedient to the clarion call to minister to men. I did not have perspective and therefore I had no dignity and little intimacy around this topic.
Eventually I saw the bigger picture. One of the places God has called me to minister is in a city which held some unsavory records for CDV — criminal domestic violence. And I would have had no authority over the spirit of male violence there if I had not had thousands of opportunities to treat women with dignity.
God was carefully grooming me for effectiveness in that city, and I was fussing all the way because I had no idea where He was taking me.
4) In the last three months, I went through a bizarre experience where I lost my joy. One of the popular models of the human brain suggests that a key component of our joy has to do with being connected to people. When I am glad to see people and they are glad to see me, there is joy.
I know that kind of joy well. I have a whole lot of friends the world over and enjoy keeping in touch with them by phone, e-mail and occasionally in person. I do friendship well. And, rumors to the contrary notwithstanding, there actually are some people out there who like me too.
But suddenly, it was as though my “like” software was uninstalled. I simply did not care about people.
Now this was not depression. I cared about the company and about my relationship with God. I got up, worked hard, enjoyed the fruit of my labor, but felt no flicker of excitement when I saw an e-mail from a friend. I was flat lined.
We looked at this from every point of view and came up with a great big blank. The whole thing was beyond bizarre because that was when we were developing the website and when it came out, people commented over and over again about the amount of joy in it.
I marveled that I could be stripped of personal joy and somehow produce a website full of joy. Go figure!
A few days ago, the software was reinstalled. I knew the day it happened, and have watched with pleasure as my joy in connecting with people has systematically come back.
I still have no clue what on earth that was good for. I am reasonably sure that this was not the result of sin on my part, therefore I have decided not to wallow in shame. I can’t see that I have learned any deep spiritual truth through it. I am not sure what spiritual authority I might have gained. I don’t see any character building that took place.
But . . . even though I lost all interest in humanity, I am pleased to report that during this time I maintained intimacy with the Lord. I didn’t and don’t have the perspective to know what it was about, but I knew it was Father filtered, and was therefore good for me somehow, so the weirdness of the experience didn’t drive us apart.
I guess there is hope for me after all. I was beginning to wonder if I would ever go through pain without losing my connection.
But enough already about me. What about you? Where is the pain in your life?
Any chance it is God, trying to do something really good for you?
If so, you could make the pain be less painful by walking toward Him instead of away from Him.
Copyright February 2011 by Arthur Burk
At home, at the end of a mellow day