Ask a Marine about the Crucible and he might tell you about 54-hours in which he must use every skill the Corps ever taught him, in addition to 48 miles of marching. Ask a playwright about The Crucible and he or she might reference the 1953 play written by Arthur Miller about Salem, Massachusetts, 1692. Ask a metallurgist about the crucible and he might tell you that it is the hollow place at the bottom of a smelting furnace where the metal collects. What if you ask a pastor? A missionary?
We each have different stories, ideas, or pressures. dissension overwork, under-appreciation, a challenging ministry context, personal troubles, financial difficulties, marital strife—our crucible experiences are as unique as we are. Crucibles in life and ministry are extended seasons of adversity that serve to test, purify, and train us for eternity. One of the realities that we face is the expectation that we will still be highly functional pastors during crucible seasons. How is it possible to keep it moving on all fronts while we are enduring crushing challenges?
Early in Jesus’ ministry, he gained a reputation as an authority, even more so as a supernatural healer. When he would perform a healing, he would attempt to shush the healed or the witnesses so that he would be free to move about and minister. Notice Luke’s comments as found in Luke 5:15 and 16: “Yet the news about him spread all the more, so that crowds of people came to hear him and to be healed of their sicknesses. But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.”
Luke tells us that Jesus faced adversity in his ministry almost from day one. Every healing was challenged. Every teaching was challenged. Accusation of blasphemy flew at every turn. Yet people still came to him, attracted by the authority of his teaching and the power of healing. “But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.”
Read a little further. “And the power of the Lord was present for him to heal the sick.” I can’t help but notice the proximity of this observation to Jesus withdrawing to a lonely place for prayer. Jesus withdrew, fellowshipped with His Father, returned, preached, healed (when the power was present to do so), and ministered to a people who wandered like sheep without a shepherd. “But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.”
When You Face It
When you find yourself staring at the sides of the crucible—in front of you, behind you, at your sides, take the opportunity to change things up.
First, take stock of your habits. I suppose we all, to one degree or another, give way to the tyranny of the urgent. What disciplines help you put up good boundaries? What things refresh your spirit? What helps you lay aside the very things that both compel and drain you? Use your calendar to schedule more time for restorative habits (sound like sophomore practical ministries class? Just a gentle reminder).
Second, take stock of your relationships. Are you sacrificially serving your spouse? Are you shepherding the hearts of your children? Are you seeking to meet your spouse’s physical needs for intimacy? No one wants their prayers hindered. I often find that re-connection with my spouse (when I’ve not attended to her needs) restorative and life giving.
Third, take stock of your attitudes. Is the bitterness born of _____________ taking root in your attitudes? Bitterness will make it harder and harder to find your way to the prayer closet.
Fourth, take stock of your gratitude. Bitterness and gratitude don’t usually hang out together. Intentionally choosing to be grateful will help dispel the hopelessness, cynicism, and anger that does like to hang out with bitterness. Would it be helpful to focus on something other than the Crucible (vis-à-vis Philippians 4:8)?
Last, have you taken all this to the Father in prayer? Gratitude frequently accompanies prayer.
These suggestions are but a gentle reminder of things that likely already kick around in your heart and soul. They are meant to spur you on to reflection, nudging you toward a lonely place where you can off-load the exhausting burden to God in prayer.
If you are not given to extended prayer, you may find that you emerge as Jesus frequently did, with fresh power, perspective, and peace.