July 30, 2021

Lessons Learned in Trial: God’s Character & Suffering

Journal entry, December 16: “It’s pitch black here in Merkinch by about half past three in the afternoon, and I often think of that winter darkness as being a picture of the spiritual darkness here.”  

I remember it was dark. By the middle of the afternoon all sunlight would fade, the street lamps would flicker on, and night would descend.

And it was cold. Having lived in cold areas of the United States, I still wasn’t quite prepared for the cold of the Scottish Highlands. There is something about the dampness of the cold here in Merkinch that makes the North Wind’s bite go deep into your bones.

And it was also lockdown.

When I accepted the opportunity to join the 20schemes church plant in Merkinch as a two-year Ministry Intern, I knew that there would be a joyful cost. Yet in the weeks following my November 2020 arrival in Scotland, the cost often felt exacerbated by the tarrying lockdown put in place because of rising Covid cases.

Lockdown meant, among other things, that our launch team was not allowed to gather in-person for several months. So nights of acute homesickness, the grieving of an unexpected loss in my family, and the learning of a new country and culture was made harder by being isolated from meaningful time with my new church family.

I watched the ministry here in Merkinch come to a halt in many ways, as well, as lockdown made outreach difficult. There were times where I would do work on my computer all day and not see a single person from the community. And I would wonder how God was using such a time to advance His Kingdom in Merkinch.

February 17: “Especially in light of Covid and this week’s news of an extended lockdown, it’s easy to look at ministry here in Merkinch and think that it has not only paused but is actually going backwards. We don’t have many leaves or fruits on our ministry ‘tree’ as we have had to stop our gatherings and much of our outreach.”  

Yet through those dark, cold days in lockdown, God was changing me.

February 17, continued: “…all the while the life of Christ is still pumping through this little church like the sap still pulses through the trees in winter. I truly believe that this time is a time of strengthening as we grow our roots deeper into the Word of God, into learning what it means to be transparent and vulnerable in our launch team, and as we wait on the Lord in prayer. We pray that lockdown will lift, spring will come, and the ministry growth will continue; but not first without the hard frosts of winter and the strengthening of our roots in Jesus.”

Through the grace extended to me by means of lockdown, God was doing a work in my heart that would be the best preparation for the busy seasons of ministry in the months to come. What was this preparation? It was a time of re-focusing my eyes on our King and His worthiness.

1. He is worthy of our trust

December 30: “If there is one truth that has been hammered into me through 2020, it’s that our Lord is dependable.”

Lockdown helped refocus my eyes on God’s character, most notably His faithfulness. While all around went wobbly and things that were once dependable let me down, I learned to more deeply trust the truth that there is no shadow of change in the Lord (James 1:17). No matter the griefs or strains in our life and ministry, God will continue to be our Good Father, Provider, Sustainer, and Shepherd. As Lamentations 3:24 cries, “‘The Lord is my portion,’ says my soul, ‘therefore I will hope in him.’”

2. He is worthy of our vulnerability

I naturally hold my cards quite close to my chest. My personality is one where I can actually be quite comfortable being alone. So lockdown served as a temptation to me to simply hibernate from the world for a while. Yet through the months of lockdown, I realised that God was calling me to serve Him and His church not only with the gifts He has given to me but also in being vulnerable with my weaknesses.

Part of how we serve the church is by needing the church. Lockdown was the school that taught me the necessity of transparency as I began to learn that I have come to Scotland not only to give but also to humbly receive the love, burden-bearing, and accountability of the local church here in Merkinch.

January 20: Oftentimes we can believe the lie that the Lord can only use us in ministry when we are feeling strong in our faith…which is a wrong thought on multiple levels. One way that it is wrong is that it goes against the very heart of the Lord. He not only uses the weak, but He delights in using them (us!). In fact, that is part of the beauty of the Lord’s design of the church. By being fragile jars of clay together we can walk with one another in what someone called our “mutual burdensomeness” as we look to Jesus who is “the founder and perfector of our faith” (Hebrews 12:2). 

3. He is worthy of our zeal

January 6: So many people are discouraged about this lockdown news, but in many ways this is a huge, exciting opportunity.

Sin and death are everywhere. Go to the richest postcode in Scotland and you will see people in great need of a Saviour. No one is righteous; all need Jesus.

Yet in the schemes the depravity and hopelessness of man is a bit more in your face. And the winter months of lockdown only served to intensify the deprivation and hardship in our area. Seeing hungry little kids coming by themselves to get a meal at our church hall, seeing the bridge close yet again after another person jumped, or seeing many people plummet into severe mental illness gave me an extra urgency and passion to spread the good news of Jesus. He is, after all, the only hope for the hopeless, and lockdown opened wide a door to tell of His grace and greatness.

And this door is still wide open. 

4. He is worthy of our waiting

There is a cracking quote by a guy named Andrew Murray which says, “There can be no good but what God works; to wait upon God, and have the heart filled with faith in His working, and in that faith to pray for His mighty power to come down, is our only wisdom.”

To wait upon the Lord is our only wisdom. Would I have believed that as deeply if I had not been constrained by lockdown in my first few months of ministry in Merkinch? I have to say no. For lockdown showed me that even when all of my freedom and busyness is shackled, the gospel will still go forth and God’s mighty hand will continue to move in Merkinch.

Through lockdown I often repeated Jesus’ words in John 15:5 which says, “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” Since apart from the Vine we can do nothing, prayer is then the most important work we can be doing in or out of lockdown. Only the Lord can save people in the schemes of Scotland. Only the Lord can build His Church. Only the Lord can preserve the love and unity in our launch team. So may we humbly wait upon Him and pray with boldness for His will to be done.

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