Steve Packer, Speech at Linn County Association of Evangelicals Luncheon, former pastor
Jeremiah 18:18 says, “Come let us devise plans against Jeremiah . . . let us attack him with the tongue, and let us not give heed to any of his words.”
I walked this same path with Jeremiah five and a half years ago and have been taking baby steps toward complete healing ever since that time. I had come to expect (even anticipate) the rejection of antagonists within the local church. However, I did not anticipate the confusion they successfully created among other believers and the devastating escalation of the rejection which followed from friends, peers, and denominational officials. I soon lost my job, our family lost its support group and local church, we eventually lost our home, most of our friends, and any future career in that denomination.
Chuck Swindoll described our situation (and Jeremiah’s situation) like this, “Swamped with disillusionment and drowning in despair . . . surrounded by sarcastic whisperings . . . by once trusted friends . . . feeling like a limp rag doll in the mouth of a Doberman.” That is exactly how I felt at the time.
But, in God’s sovereign plan, I needed to be thrown into that pit to discover that when every thing is taken away . . . God alone is enough. God gave me the promise of Psalm 71:20-21 during these first days in the pit, “Though You have made me see troubles, many and bitter, You will restore my life again; from the depths of the earth You will again bring me up. You will increase my honor and comfort me once again.”
God also gave me Matthew 5:3 (Message paraphrase) “You’re blessed when you’re at the end of your rope. With less of you there is more of God and His rule.”
And Matthew 6:34, “Give your entire attention to what God is doing right now, and don’t get worked up about what may or may not happen tomorrow. God will help you deal with whatever hard things come up when the time comes.”
And Matthew 10:22-23, “There is great irony here: proclaiming so much love, experiencing so much hate! But don’t quit, don’t cave in. It is all well worth it in the end. It is not success you are after in such times but survival. Be survivors! Before you run out of options, the Son of Man will have arrived.”
Sir Winston Churchill said, “Success is moving from one failure to another with no loss of enthusiasm.” My family and I had lost our enthusiasm; our passion had been squeezed out of us. The best we could hope for was to survive.
My family and I were determined to be survivors. I worked secular jobs so that my children could remain in their same high schools and graduate. I was not bitter or angry; those lessons had already been learned well previously. But I was extremely hurt and disillusioned with my calling to pastoral ministry. Very few expressed any confidence in my calling and my desire toward holiness with God. All I have wanted to accomplish since my conversion is to grow closer to God each day and to be the best pastor, servant/leader that I could be. How in the world can someone with that ambition land in such a deep pit of despair?
However, the Son of Man did show up. He showed up at the Tuesday noon Prayer Alliance where I was surrounded by other pastors who encouraged me and believed in me. Out of that group, one pastor in particular, Ron Connerly, dug through all the garbage and took the risk of hiring me to work on his pastoral staff. God was beginning to renew that passion within but the healing was not yet complete.
Just a few weeks ago, God took me back to Jeremiah, this time Jeremiah 20:9 where Jeremiah, who is in despair from the persecution of others, says, “I will not make mention of Him (meaning God), nor speak any more in His name. But His Word was in my heart like a burning fire shut up in my bones; I was weary of holding it back, and I could not!”
Again Swindoll elaborated on these words from Jeremiah this way, “Directly sent from God is this surge of Hope, this cleansing fire of confidence, this renewed sense of determination swelling up within me this Divine perspective has provided a fresh breeze of hope in the pits.”
My meaningful encounter with God in 2003 is still fresh; the passion has been renewed to advance beyond being a survivor to being a victor! The fire within has been fanned into flame and God’s Holy Spirit has set me free from the hurt of the past and focused my attention upon the only thing that matters in this life . . . a deeper, more intimate walk with God each day.
My focus is no longer on success, no longer on significance, but only upon the chief end of man, which is to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever. “He walks with me, and He talks with me, and He tells me I am His own, and the joy we share as we tarry there, none other has ever known.” It is possible to know a peace that passes all human under-standing and to know a joy unspeakable and full of God’s glory. However, there is a price to pay for this privilege . . . the pit, the wilderness, solitary confinement, whatever it takes for my will to break, that’s what we must be willing to do.
An unidentified missionary has spoken these words, “If your life is broken . . . when you give the pieces to Jesus they will be used to feed a multitude, but left as a single loaf, it may have only satisfied a little boy.”
Do not fear the blessings of brokenness; allow them to fulfill God’s divine intentions. Jeremiah 17, “Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord, and whose hope is in the Lord . . . you will not be anxious in the year of drought, nor will cease from yielding fruit . . . I the Lord, search the heart, I test the mind.”
I conclude my testimony with these healing words from Andrew Murray,
“First, He brought me here. It is by His will that I am in this difficult place, in that I will rest.
“Second, He will keep me here in His love and give me grace in this trial to behave as His child.
“Third, He will make the trial a blessing, teaching me the lessons He intends me to learn and working in me the grace He means to bestow.
“Fourth, in His good time He can bring me out again, how and when, only He knows. So, I’m here by His appointment, in His keeping, under His training, for His time.”
May this be true for us all! Amen!