by Douglas Gilreath
God oftentimes uses the darkness of fear and failure as windows of opportunity for growth.
Many years ago, an old mentor in the ministry would say to me, “Don’t waste a crisis.” This often followed a conflict, failure, disappointment or disagreement in the church I was serving. His cryptic, blunt advice was packed with meaning: “Learn from this. Grow from this. Become stronger, wiser, better because of this.” He knew better than me that a crisis was an opportunity to choose—life or death, not literally but figuratively. A crisis is nothing more than a crossroads that forces us to make a choice: “Will this make me or break me? Will this define me or destroy me?” The same can be asked of our current crisis.
Crises, while unwanted, are windows of opportunity for growth. I read recently of a study on “spiritual formation” by the Barna Group that asked thousands of churchgoers when they grew most spiritually and what contributed to their growth. The response was humbling, at least for someone who is part of the clergy. The number one contributor to spiritual growth was not transformational teaching, being in a small group, reading deep books, dynamic worship experiences or finding meaningful ways to serve. It was suffering. People grew more during seasons of loss, pain and crisis than they did at any other time.
“The number one contributor to spiritual growth was not transformational teaching, being in a small group, reading deep books, dynamic worship experiences or finding meaningful ways to serve. It was suffering.”Covington First United Methodist Church
Senior Pastor Douglas Gilreath
Leslie Weatherhead was no stranger to suffering, grief or despair. He preached in London during the days when the bombs fell all over England during World War II. In one of his sermons he wrote the following: “I can only write down this simple testimony. Like all men, I love and prefer the sunny uplands of experience when health, happiness and success abound, but I have learned more about God, life and myself in the darkness of fear and failure than I have ever learned in the sunshine. There are such things as the treasure of darkness. The darkness, thank God, passes, but what one learns in the darkness, one possesses forever. When it is darker than midnight under an iron skillet, remember these ancient words, ‘Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning, great is your faithfulness.’”
Don’t waste this crisis or whatever crisis you might be experiencing. While it is certainly unwanted and not thrust upon you by God, it can be used as an amazing time of growth. If we have courage to make changes in our lives, something can happen in our souls. The Holy Spirit will bring the courage if we keep struggling, keep fighting and keep faithful while the experience of adversity is fresh. Ultimately, a crisis is a temporary opportunity for a permanent gift that can produce hope in a reality much larger than ourselves. In the words of Archbishop Desmond Tutu, “Today, I’m hopeful. I am a prisoner of hope, because the One who is in me is greater than the one who is in the world.”
Dr. Douglas Gilreath is the senior pastor at Covington First United Methodist Church.