Pastoral Struggles & Church Suffering? Focus on Signs from Heaven
There was a recent WSB-TV news report called, “Family sees ‘sign from Heaven’ at site of deadly crash.”1 Two women and a girl were killed in a car crash on the way home from a doctor appointment. These kinds of stories always prick our hearts and leave us asking questions. But this news story was highlighting a photograph of the accident taken by a passing driver. In the photograph, a distinct light from the sky was cast on the accident. The report explains that friends and family found comfort in the light, calling it “A Pathway to Heaven.” They took the light as a sign from Heaven about the fate of the lost loved ones in the crash.
As pastors and ministry leaders, we’re often exposed to a lot of suffering. We face our own trials in handling church conflict or being hurt emotionally by congregation members. In ministry, with joy and community also comes counseling members through loss and depression. There are times of personal pain and times of collective suffering. In these scenarios, there is a common truth that there is something better coming. Like the “Pathway to Heaven” light that shown on the car accident, there are whispers from God that peace is waiting on the other side even in times of difficulty.
Reward for Personal & Church Suffering
Remember, Jesus said to the persecuted who rejoiced, “great is your reward in Heaven.” The clear implication was that suffering well enlarges our reward in Heaven. Some will enjoy Heaven more because they have been more faithful in this life. And those who understand that, who are fixed on the reality of heavenly joy, embrace their suffering with joy.
I think of Obadiah Holmes who because of his Christian beliefs was tied to a post and a three-corded whip was raked across his back. Ninety lashes turned his back to jelly for Jesus. According to witnesses, Obadiah did not groan or scream. Instead, he preached to the crowd. When the whipping was over, he said to the magistrates, “You have struck me as with roses.”
What accounts for such a response? The more your faith is tested through suffering, the greater your reward will be. This is such a testament for us personally but also collectively for congregations. It is a reminder that through loss of members, financial struggles, or leadership turnover, we are to continue loving our community and focusing on eternity.
Jesus wills His followers to desire the reward of Heaven more than we desire the reward of this world. There is no other way that you can rejoice and be glad at the loss of earthly joys. How can we rejoice and be glad when we lose earthly things if we do not love Heaven more? People who have their hearts so set on Heaven that they fear no man are the “salt of the Earth” and the “light of the world.” They are the ones who truly do good.
Jim Eliot (who took the Gospel to the Auca Indians) said, “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.”
In dealing with personal difficulties as a leader, but also in guiding congregations, I encourage us all to testify to the importance of focusing on the reward. Focus on signs from Heaven, set alarms on your phone, hand out bookmarks at church with this message, and do all you can to help yourself and help others stay focused on eternity in Heaven.
- Tom Regan, “Family members see ‘light from heaven’ at site of deadly crash,” WSBTV, May 03, 2017, accessed May 05, 2017, http://www.wsbtv.com/news/local/hall-county/family-members-see-light-from-heaven-at-site-of-deadly-crash/518559245.
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