Crushing: God Turns Pressure into Power

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    arthur peace
    Keymaster

    CHAPTER 1

    When Everything Falls Apart

    Only through experience of trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened, ambition inspired, and success achieved.

    —Helen Keller

    Daddy, I need to tell you something.”

    No father wants to hear those words from his teenage daughter in the trembling voice with which my youngest daughter, Sarah, spoke them to me and her mother. Sitting there on our front porch, my wife, Serita, and I locked eyes on our youngest child and held our breath in anticipation of the disclosure she was about to reveal. Time stood still as evening
    unfurled its shadows across the shoulders of the Texas sky and a light breeze wafted the scent of honeysuckle. I knew my daughter was about to reveal something of enormous magnitude.

    “I—I’m pregnant!”

    The tears she had been fighting to hold back burst the dam of emotion as our baby girl leaned in to wrap her arms around us. As her sobs subsided, Sarah proceeded to share with us the events surrounding her condition, a secret she had been hiding for several months. The strength in her soul exceeded her thirteen years as she summoned every fiber in her being to reveal the fear, turmoil, and excitement coursing through her young heart. Stunned to say the least, I couldn’t believe the courage it took for her to confide something so significant in us.

    As Sarah cried in my arms, I felt the full weight of the pain and anguish she carried for those several months before she finally unburdened herself. As a parent, you are called to carry the loads of your children that are too heavy for them, and you even want to carry the lighter ones to ease their interactions with the world and everything life will throw at them. My daughter’s tears soaked through my shirt as I stroked her hair. Her crying transferred her worry and pain to me, and I felt the growing relief in her heart as she began to realize she wasn’t alone.

    Soon words were no longer necessary, and the three of us sat together, a chorus of cicadas the only sound. Tears flowed from my own eyes, and I found my mind wandering. The love and concern I will always have for my daughter were present in that moment as I absorbed the news that I would soon be a grandfather. Despite the bittersweet joy of such news, however, a stinging pain persisted deep in my shattered heart. For you see, only a few months prior, my mother had passed away as a result of Alzheimer’s.

    One of the bedrocks of my life had just died, and I was still grieving her. Watching the mind of the woman who raised you, cheered you on, chastised you, and fed you vanish piece by piece is a torment I don’t wish on anyone. Other than keeping her as comfortable as possible, there was nothing my brother, sister, or I could do. I felt powerless to help my mother retain even the simplest life skills, such as bathing and dressing, and eventually even swallowing.

    The wound in my heart from my mother’s passing was still raw as I listened to my daughter’s confession. I struggled to find a handle on the moment, let alone the past several months. As if my mother’s death were not enough, the enemy of my soul seemed to be taunting me with the inability to shield my own daughter from the ways of the world. Once again, I felt crushed by circumstances I never saw coming.

    I know it must sound self-centered, but at the time I couldn’t ignore the battle within me as questions and accusations shot through my mind:

    You’re a terrible father!

    Where is your God now?

    You’re a pastor shepherding others, but you can’t even watch out for your own daughter?

    You inspire and encourage so many people, but how are you going to do that now? You couldn’t protect your mother, and look at you: failing to safeguard your own daughter!

    Did Serita and I miss something? Haven’t we tried to be good parents? What should I have done differently?

    Everything was falling apart.

    Far More Fragile

    I know I’m not alone in these caustic contemplations. When the floor beneath you opens up and swallows you into a freefall, you find yourself suddenly submerged in a flood of emotions, thoughts, and questions. In the midst of unexpected pain or inevitable loss, these thoughts assail you as you sink into the emotional quicksand of life’s messy places, the muddy pits where everything you once held dear and true is questioned, dissected, and shaken to the core.

    Here, your safety zone and all presumed constants are revealed to be far more fragile than you had ever realized. This is where you wonder if you will ever be on your feet again, and if so, then how you will summon the strength to move on. This is where your faith is tested, where it’s refined and purified.

    But such knowledge is little comfort in the midst of the blazing wildfires of life engulfing all you thought you knew and reducing expectations to ashes. Like a deer trying to follow a familiar wooded path in the midst of a forest fire, you begin running in circles, facing dead ends and disturbing detours, uncertain which way to go. Choking on collateral smoke, you’re left weary and wasted, calloused and confused, depleted and discouraged, frightened and frozen in place.

    Part of the confusion results from the way life’s greatest successes often bleed into the blur of your most painful moments. Because even in the moments of your greatest anguish, you often find unexpected blessings alongside and commingled with your losses. This was certainly my experience.

    Even in the moments of your greatest anguish, you often find unexpected blessings alongside and commingled with your losses.

    Even as I watched my beloved mother waste away, I marveled at the way God continued to bless my ministry, my businesses, and my platform of influence. Leaders from around the globe began inviting me to visit, speak, and preach in venues I had once dreamed about seeing. My books were becoming bestsellers, and movie producers were interested in taking Woman, Thou Art Loosed! to the big screen as a feature film. But I would have traded all of it for a cure to restore my mother’s mind, body, and spirit from the ravages of such an insidious disease.

    And now my daughter was pregnant at thirteen. Critics and haters of me and my ministry would pounce on such news like piranhas. Even as Sarah’s health and well-being, and the life of my grandchild growing within her, remained my priority, I knew I would be foolish to ignore others’ public responses to our family’s private situation. The irony of course was that the one person I would usually have turned to for comfort, wise counsel, and encouragement was no longer with me. I would never have my mother back.

    I can’t tell you the number of nights I cried silently, staring out the windows of my home into the darkness. I never imagined studying the windowpanes would become my default hobby following my mother’s death. But night after night, there I was again, gazing into a dark night that reflected the one in my own soul.

    Sarah felt better after sharing her news with us and a few other close family members, but I still worried about her. When I wasn’t staring out the windows, I was roaming the hallways of my home and peeking into her room to see if she was still with us. Every so often, there was a fear that gripped my heart and made me believe Sarah couldn’t handle the shame and embarrassment the world was throwing her way.

    As a result, I worried she might take her life in the middle of the night and that neither Serita nor I would know about it until the next morning. Forgive me for imagining such a worst-case scenario, but when the unthinkable happens, suddenly the darkest fears get unleashed from the chains of reason and kennels of faith.

    Such was my season at that time. I felt trapped in my pain. Leveled by circumstances beyond my control. Powerless to protect those I loved the most. Unable to enjoy my life’s many blessings.

    Crushed.

    Seeds and Weeds

    With all God was doing in my life, some might say there was no way I should have felt so deflated, discouraged, doubtful, and depressed. They would remind me of Jesus’ edict “Physician, heal thyself!” (Luke 4:23) and require me to minister to myself with the same conviction with which I preached from the pulpit. But I am just as human as anyone else, and during the crushing blows of life, I’m equally as susceptible to suffering.

    More important, I’ve discovered that if I have anything worth sharing from the pulpit, from the podium, from the boardroom, from movie and television screens, from the pages of the books I write, then it must be authentic to my own experience. I cannot ask you or anyone else to believe in something that I myself haven’t tested. If I cannot wrestle with the question of suffering, then I have little to tell you about the sacred.

    Is God okay with the coexistence of joy and utter anguish? Do we have to suffer so much loss in this life in order to mature in our faith? Why would a good Father allow his children to suffer so much pain, injustice, and heartache? How can a good God allow anyone to be in a season of life where pain cohabitates with blessing—or worse, to endure a season so bleak that blessings seemed obliterated?

    I certainly do not presume to have the answers to such weighty questions, but I have learned the value in asking them—and in experiencing growth as a result of such challenging seasons. During these times, I began to understand the deeper meaning of Jesus’ parable about the wheat and tares growing up together (Matthew 13:24–30). We plant seeds of faith that produce a fruitful harvest even as we discover weeds of destructive doubts attempting to destroy our productivity.

    Amazingly enough, however, what if our God is so powerful, so good, and so loving that He turns the tables on the tares and uses them to make us stronger, truer, and more dependent on Him? As Joseph explained to the same brothers who had once sold him into slavery and reported him dead to their father, “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives” (Genesis 50:20). The apostle Paul offers a similar purposeful explanation of pain, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28).

    Amazingly enough, however, what if our God is so powerful, so good, and so loving that He turns the tables on the tares and uses them to make us stronger, truer, and more dependent on Him?

    Notice that he says all things—not some things, a few things, or the good things. All includes the hard, the painful, the unexpected, and the seemingly unbearable, unimaginable, and intolerable. All includes the losses that you’re grieving right now, the ones you carry around inside you every day. All includes the disasters, divisions, and distractions intruding on your peace of mind. All includes circumstances that leave you feeling powerless, vulnerable, and unsteady on your feet.

    In all things God works for the good of those who love Him.

    The Master’s Marathon

    Perhaps you’ve heard these verses before. You might even be sick of hearing them. Maybe they’ve been recited rather glibly by well-intended friends or fellow church members in the midst of your life’s greatest losses. I’m sure I’ve even uttered them myself at moments that in hindsight seem poorly timed or unintentionally oblivious to the pain of the soul before me. So allow me to apologize if I’ve ever led you to believe that the bishop, pastor, speaker, teacher, entrepreneur, movie producer, and author before you has enough faith to somehow avoid encountering the darkest places of life.

    In fact, it’s just the opposite. I cannot tell you how many times the greatest successes of my life have partnered in tandem with painful ordeals beyond my wildest imagining. From some of my life’s greatest hardships, I’ve discovered my most potent preaching and most meaningful messages. One can’t exist without the other if I am to reach the full potential for who God created me to be.

    The same is true for you. On one hand, God’s purpose is requiring you to step boldly into your future. On the other hand sits the crushing of the accomplishments of your life that you worked and toiled tirelessly to produce. It is the play between these two that compels me to have this conversation with you.

    Is it possible—a prerequisite, even—that each person who dares embrace their future is also called to endure a season of trial and pain?

    What if there is more to our sufferings than what we see?

    What if the disquieting and dreadful places of life often move us along from one stage to the next, a catalyst for our growth unlike any other?

    Now more than ever it’s crucial that we begin seeing that the plans we have imagined for our lives cannot compare to God’s strategy for fulfilling our divine purpose. Once accepted and acted upon, this line of thinking causes a massive shift in our perceptions, decisions, and behavior. We finally realize that we have been thinking on too small a level in contrast to a God whose endgame for our destinies focuses on eternity instead of something temporary. We sprint to win the race we perceive we’re running, but instead God is training us for the Master’s marathon!

    Now more than ever it’s crucial that we begin seeing that the plans we have imagined for our lives cannot compare to God’s strategy for fulfilling our divine purpose.

    Crushing Becomes Creation

    I’ve noticed again and again that routes to progress and success often take detours. Never is there a straight path toward either of them. Our advancement inevitably includes out-of-the-way breakdowns and unplanned pit stops that seemingly have nothing to do with our plans and purpose. We steadily travel down life’s highway toward our future until we find ourselves taking an exit to a place that wasn’t even on our map. It’s an unscheduled stop and perceived pause in our progress that threatens to destroy everything we have accomplished thus far.

    Stranded and sidelined, we begin feeling anxious, afraid, and uncertain. As if striking out into something new wasn’t jarring enough, we become anxious because we didn’t plan on making any stops, let alone in deserted places. But then we discover something there that compels us, inspires us, and motivates us in a new direction. Suddenly we begin blazing a new trail that leads us toward a satisfaction and fulfillment that exceeds anything we could have found using our original itinerary.

    And it’s all because we got lost along the way to where we thought we were going. Only God knew we weren’t lost any more than the people of Israel wandering in the desert for forty years before entering the Promised Land. You see, I’m convinced life’s devastating detours often become the miraculous milestones charting a new path toward God’s future for us. The tumultuous trying, testing, and crushing we experience in those places is necessary for our advancement. More important, it’s imperative that our life’s painful detours be hidden from us, lest we forfeit the entire trip toward our future because of our discomfort with being diverted.

    In the moment, these crushing places feel like they will destroy us and derail our journey from what we’ve determined is our destination. We question whether the suffering we’re encountering will be the end of all we’ve accomplished and pursued thus far. We wonder where God is and why He would allow us to hurt so deeply.

    But these crushing places also reveal there’s more to our lives than what we had planned. They force us to reset our compass on our Creator. As we look for His guidance and follow His direction, the truly invaluable, marvelous, and eternal aspects of our identity and ultimate destiny are then displayed. The crushing becomes the creation of something new. Consider the way tons of rock and soil crush carbon deposits into diamonds. From the carbon’s perspective, the weight of the world literally destroys you—but it also creates something new, something rare and beautiful.

    There’s another analogy that I find even more compelling, one that permeates the Bible in both the Old and New Testaments, and that’s the process of winemaking. Addressing an agrarian culture, many of the images, metaphors, and parables of Scripture focus on planting, tending, gardening, and harvesting. The journey from seed to sapling, from grape to greatness, consistently remind us of the process. These symbols lend themselves to our spiritual growth and development as well.

    When we first step into an area where we are able to grow, is that not analogous to us being planted? Later, when we encounter a blessing in our lives, can it not be seen as fruit to be enjoyed? When our family and friends revel in our success, is that not akin to those farmers of old relishing the harvest?

    When our harvest doesn’t go as planned, however, and our fruitful blessing is stripped from us and carelessly trampled, does that not strongly resemble the winepress, the device used to crush grapes and drain their juice for winemaking?

    Of course, all of this depends on your point of view. If you were a winemaker, or vintner as they’re often called, you would be all too familiar with each step in the process of making wine. However, if you were the grapevine, the removal of your fruit and its destruction under the feet of those who seem not to care would give you a completely different perspective.

    In the midst of our painful crushing, we realize that the blessing found in the production of fruit in our lives was never God’s end goal. Our latest crop of fruit was merely part of an ongoing, greater process. The Master Vintner knows there’s something much more worthwhile beyond the production of fruit—the potency of its juice fermented into wine. To the vine, however, the fruit seems to be everything, season after season, storm after storm, sun and rain, spring and fall. But what if you shifted your paradigm to winemaking instead of fruit growing?

    Could it be possible that your current predicament is the winepress God uses to transform your grapes into His wine? Could being crushed be a necessary part of the process to fulfill God’s plan for your life? Could you be on the verge of victory despite walking through the valley of broken vines?

    A Vintage Transformation

    On one hand, God’s purpose is requiring you to step boldly into your future. On the other hand sits the crushing of the accomplishments of your life that you worked and toiled tirelessly to produce. It is the play between these two that compels me to have this conversation with you. Just like my daughter in that fateful revelation of her unplanned pregnancy, is it possible—a prerequisite, even—that each person who dares embrace their future is also called to endure a season of trial and pain?

    What if there is truly more to our sufferings than what we see? If you’re anything like me, maybe you have discovered the disquieting and dreadful places of crushing in life move us along from one stage to the next. We may not like to admit it, but what if our crushing is necessary in order for our potential to be fulfilled?

    No matter our season of life, I believe it is crucial to our development that we begin seeing that the plans we have imagined for our lives do not even compare with the Master’s strategy. Once accepted, this line of thinking causes a massive shift in our perceptions. We finally realize that we have been thinking on too small a level in contrast to a God, whose endgame for our destinies resembles eternity instead of something temporary.

    Can you see the necessity of being crushed as part of your maturation process to fulfill God’s plan?

    Crushing places reveal that there is more to our lives than we had planned. The truly invaluable, marvelous, and eternal aspects of our identity and ultimate destiny are displayed to us there. It is in the midst of painful crushing that we realize that the blessing found in the production of fruit in our lives was never the Master’s end goal. Our latest crop of fruit was merely part of an ongoing, greater process.

    Our latest crop of fruit was merely part of an ongoing, greater process.

    It is specifically upon the areas of personal crushing that I want us to focus our exploration in these pages. We don’t need to linger on what the moments of crushing actually feel like, because every person of destiny has or will become familiar with pain. The question that needs to be answered during our crushing is whether or not the suffering we are encountering is the end of all we have accomplished. To that inquiry, I sincerely and wholeheartedly believe the answer is a resounding “No!”

    The question that needs to be answered during our crushing is whether or not the suffering we are encountering is the end of all we have accomplished. To that inquiry, I sincerely and wholeheartedly believe the answer is a resounding “No!”

    The process of making wine takes time. And it’s not just the actual process of picking the grapes, sorting out the ripe fruit from that which is not ready or has spoiled, crushing the fruit, and letting it ferment into alcohol as the juice becomes wine. Even after the wine has been bottled, it may be years before it is at its peak and ready to be served. Have you ever noticed the way fine wines may be decades old? A wine aficionado would know not only the vineyard, its geographical region and climate, and the specifics of the type of wine—chardonnay or merlot, for example, but they would also know the vintage and the quality of wine produced that year.

    From the grape’s point of view, that year in which they were picked and crushed seemed devastating at the time, but for the vintner and later the fortunate few sipping the delicious bottle of wine from that vintage, the year now seems like a blessed time, a time of transformation.

    That’s what this book is about: your transformation. Could the worst moments of your life actually become turning points of triumph for God, the Master Vintner, as He uses your life’s deepest heartaches and most devastating disappointments for your good and His glory?

    When my precious daughter, barely more than a child herself, told me she was carrying a child of her own, I thought I would die. But when I look at her now, and the incredible ministry she shares with her husband, I know that she would not be where she is without the crushing she endured. When I look at the young man my grandson has become, I know that what seemed like a crushing disclosure at the time has fermented into a trophy vintage of our Father’s best wine.

    Perhaps you have already witnessed such fermentation in your own life and are grappling to understand why God would use such horrific means to produce such undeniable blessings in your life. Maybe you are facing a crisis of faith at this very moment as you wrestle with the bruises of your battered spirit amid the crushing blows of life. It need not even be an event of undeniable magnitude, such as a divorce or layoff at work that leaves you reeling. Sometimes the cumulative impact of our crushing leaves us drained of our ability to see the divine on display in the ruins of our restoration.

    You might feel resigned to a life that’s less than God’s best for you because you cannot allow yourself to imagine that the best is yet to come. Even though the event itself may have been years or decades ago, the trauma of your tragedy may continue to trap you in the past moment, leaving you to focus on the broken stems and crushed fruit of your past achievements rather than the possibility of maximizing your potential through our Father’s process of fermentation. Regardless of where you are, we all wrestle with the unexpected impact that crushing leaves on our souls.

    Could there be sanctity in your suffering?

    Could your worst moments truly become more than shameful secrets of your past mistakes?

    What if you could see your life as God sees it?

    What if your best moments are waiting ahead?

    My friend, I’m convinced God can use the weight crushing your soul right now to create His choicest wine—if you will let Him.

    Crushing is not the end!

     


     

    CHAPTER 2

    Quality Control

    Always remember, you have within you the strength, the patience, and the passion to reach for the stars to change the world.

    —Harriet Tubman

    As we all came to terms with Sarah’s revelation, I struggled with how to function in the midst of such a feeling of powerlessness. While I believe thoughtful consideration is essential for wise decisions, there was no due diligence I could discern that could change this situation. I had to come to terms with a new reality, one I had not foreseen or could have ever imagined. Losing my mother, and especially in a way that required me to lose her both before and after her last breath, and suddenly feeling like I had lost Sarah to a world intent on taking her from me—I felt buried in grief.

    I am not one to wallow in self-pity, but when I experienced that one-two punch to my soul, I could only sink into the quicksand of my sadness. So many nights I stared out the windows of my home, seeing in the darkness nothing but the reflection of my own glistening tears as they coursed down my face. I usually prefer to take constructive action in the midst of any mistake, mishap, or misadventure, but my new reality left me drained of my determination.

    Somehow I could not abandon my calling to facilitate faith in the lives of others, but I also could not understand why God had allowed these two soul-numbing events to transpire—and so close to each other in time. I felt like a spiritual navigator who no longer had the personal GPS he had come to rely on. Instead, I had to return to something much more basic and fundamental, a trailblazer once again gazing at the stars for direction.

    I was preaching, teaching, and leading others while I struggled to navigate through deep emotions that were grossly uncharted. It was at that stage of my personal development that I found myself being planted. My outer shell was beginning to rot away so that what God placed in my core would begin to flourish.

    But I knew this would be a process, one that would try my patience again and again. Even as I knew Sarah must carry her baby nine months in order for it to develop and mature enough to deliver, I struggled to understand how we would all endure the journey from that day on the porch until that moment in the delivery room when the cries of a newborn would punctuate our celebration of his or her arrival.

    How could I endure pushing through the cold, dark ground until then?

    How long would I have to cry into the darkness?

    How would I get through this time?

    Hurry Up and Wait

    Despite knowing that any new creation requires time, I still struggled in the moment. But as Thanksgiving approached and I began to plan my contribution to the major meal for our family’s gathering, I realized that I would rather wait than rush. Because when it comes to the kitchen, I believe anything worth serving is worth waiting for.

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