Do you have scars that tell stories?1 I have three notable scars. The oldest goes back to when I was four years old and was bitten by a German shepherd dog. After all these years, the evidence of that frightening experience is permanently etched on my chin. Another scar, this one on my finger, is a shiny reminder that even as an adult, I should pay close attention when working with knives in the kitchen. Finally, a hidden, inch-long line reminds me of God’s grace and mercy, which carried me through fear, unknowns, surgery, and then radiation to heal my body of breast cancer.
Physical scars tell powerful stories. In the same way, spiritual scars are hidden reminders of past wounds and of our Father’s pruning as He cuts away sin and foolishness so that we’ll bear much fruit for His glory. These scars, the memories of pivotal experiences that changed the trajectory of our spiritual and ministry lives, serve leaders in the present by reminding us of God’s past care and discipleship. I’m thinking specifically of times when we veered off course into spiritual danger: maybe we were distracted and slowly moved toward the shoulder in our road of faith. Or perhaps we went off the road altogether and crashed.
You’ve heard about my physical scars (most of which I’d like to forget), but there are also times when I was cut and pruned by the Father in such a way that I’ll never forget, and I don’t want to! These spiritual scars tell of God’s loving discipline that humbled and changed me, and now, they serve me as I love Christ and others. I hope the lessons I’ve learned help you grow and that they offer hope when your distractedness, foolishness, and sin is pruned by our loving Father.
Confrontations Exposed and Cut My Pride
Several years ago, after making a cutting, self-righteous, funny comment (or so I thought), a family member said with tears, “Ellen, sometimes you just don’t realize how you come across.” Ouch. This person had experienced this side of me for years, and we’d had more than a few testy conversations. Her words that day cut me as our Father began a pruning process to open my eyes to my blind spots of pride and self-righteousness. I hadn’t realized how comfortable I was using spiritual-sounding words to wound, shame, and hurt others.
In that moment, I was undone.
Yet my God-ordained undoing led to a fresh work of the Spirit that produced new Christ-honoring patterns as I related to my family.
Unfortunately, these things are rarely “one and done.” A few months ago, another confrontation occurred. This time I was called out privately by someone in authority over me for anti-Ephesians 4:29 words spoken in a public setting. I was told (in a loving and humble manner) that my comments in a meeting were not edifying or grace-giving. Once again, the Father took His shears to my heart and cut away ugly pride and selfish words that I had justified simply because I was a veteran ministry worker. Can you say #hypocrisy?
The Father’s Pruning Grows Humility and Dependence
These two confrontations not only marked me but were forks in the road of my faith and ministry. God brought me to my knees, broke down my pride, and lopped off (more) self-dependence. The result? God is maturing my understanding of what it means to die to self, to decrease so that Christ increases in my words and actions as a leader.
Fellow leader, pray for God to provide people who will gently yet courageously call out sin in your life and encourage you in the gospel. These woundings are painful, but if you submit, our Father will mature your faith and bear beautiful fruit through you.
The Reality of the Unseen
There’s a reason that Satan and the kingdom of darkness are mentioned in Scripture: they are real! Take to heart how Paul and Peter addressed this reality.
For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. (Eph. 6:12)
Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world. (1 Peter 5:8–9)
As He did with Job and Peter, sometimes the Lord allows the enemy access to us. Jesus foretold this to Peter, saying He had prayed for Peter’s faith to stay strong and that He was confident Peter would endure the trial and strengthen others (Luke 22:31–34). For the rest of his life, Peter bore the scars of a faith failure turned into redemptive ministry.
We must be aware that the enemy sends schemes into our lives to distract, discourage, or completely derail our faith. Satan can slowly and seductively enter our life or burst in suddenly and violently. Regardless of how the devil’s darts penetrate, they can leave scars. God commands us to be alert, watchful, girded in His Word so our minds are increasingly saturated with the Truth, peace, and freedom that comes by knowing and believing Scripture.
Over and over, God prunes me by exposing spiritual laziness and blindness regarding spiritual warfare. I’ve recently been in a season that has felt like a sifting or testing of my faith. By God’s grace, I’m experiencing Peter’s words of hope that, “after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you” (1 Pet. 5:10).
Friends, you have a real enemy, and he doesn’t fight fair! Resist him by asking others to pray, fixing your heart on Jesus and God’s Word, and by praying that God will awaken you to the fact that in your most difficult trials, you are not fighting against flesh and blood, but a defeated foe.
We all have scars from our Father’s pruning that serve as reminders of His faithfulness and love as we mature in Him. Let your scars speak grace and hope to you as you grow.
1 I learned about the concept of ‘scar stories’ from Sharon Garlough Brown’s novel, An Extra Mile: A Story of Embracing God’s Call, IVP Books, 2018, p. 275.