One of my greatest joys as a women’s ministry director has always been walking alongside women, pointing them to God’s sovereignty and goodness in the midst of trials and testing. As a recipient of gospel grace, I’ve had a lifetime of experiencing God’s faithfulness in revealing and forgiving sin, answering prayer, and providing power in my weakness and trials. But ten years ago God led me into a long season of suffering, grief, and wrestling with deep questions of faith, which required me to serve others from a place of utter weakness.
As women called to minister hope and truth to other women, how do we lead when our own hearts are bleeding and our prayers seem to hit a wall? How can we serve others with integrity and unwavering confidence in God’s loving purposes when we can’t make any sense of what He is doing in our own lives? Here are some ways God has answered those questions in my own life that I hope might encourage you “when you meet trials of various kinds” (James 1:2).
Consider that this is the very moment God has been preparing you for.
I confess that there have been times when the weightiness of my own trials coupled with bearing the many burdens of ministry have felt so overwhelming that I wondered if I should step down from serving. On days when my grief brought unwanted tears as I joined our pastors to pray for those in our care, I wondered how I could possibly encourage anyone else.
To the contrary, 2 Corinthians 1:3–11 reminds us that “the comfort we receive from the Lord in times of suffering has ministry in view” (Paul Tripp). The truth is we are never more equipped to minister to suffering women than when we have been recipients of God’s strength and compassion in our own afflictions. When we are able to share the eternal treasures we have found in the midst of the very wilderness we would have chosen to avoid, we become more credible witnesses to the sufficiency of Christ in the darkest of times.
Keep your gaze toward Christ’s demonstration of love for you on the cross.
During long seasons when the hand of God in our lives is obscured, we must remind ourselves of gospel truths every day. When God calls us to pick up our cross, we can rest assured that Christ takes the heaviest end to make sure we don’t fall down under its weight. God’s love displayed for us on the cross is where we need to point our women in times of trials and tests.
Examine yourself daily through God’s Word, confessing and repenting of sin.
As I have prayed prayers that have seemed to go unanswered, not always seeing God’s hand of love in my circumstances, the Spirit has awakened me to where I’ve had wrong thinking about Him. Suffering can blind us to sin, and I have been challenged to look at some unbiblical expectations I had about God and life. Thus, even as I lament and grieve what has been lost, I’ve become more acutely aware of God’s call to suffer for His glory. I am brought to my knees as I identify unbelief and idolatry at work in my heart.
In the midst of the messiness of faith, be honest—with discretion.
As a ministry leader, it takes discernment to know with whom to share your faith struggles. Those who lead must choose godly women who will faithfully uphold us in prayer while reminding us of truth.
I confess that while I have been very open with a small group of mature women, it’s humbling to expose my personal struggle of faith, knowing I risk misunderstanding or even judgment. But we’re all called to share in one another’s sufferings and pray for one another, and that includes those who lead others.
On the other hand, we must seek the wisdom of the Holy Spirit to know when to share our brokenness with those we minister to. As is appropriate, humbly share how God is working in your life through your trial. I’ve found that when women hear me confess my temptations to sin, see the sufficiency of Christ through my weakness, and witness my confidence in God’s goodness even when life is still falling apart, they are encouraged in their own trial to trust the Lord, deal ruthlessly with sin, and rely on God’s wisdom and strength rather than their own.
At the same time, we must guard against letting our personal suffering take center stage while minimizing or missing the pain of the women we serve. Most of all, we must use every opportunity to exalt Christ, not ourselves.
Humbly allow others to encourage and pray for you.
I have been both humbled and overwhelmed with gratitude when women tell me they are praying for me and for my family, knowing the difficult road we are traveling. I’m quite certain that God has used their prayers not only to keep me going each day but also to give me a spirit of confidence and joy in God’s good purposes in what seems hopeless at times. Prayer is a precious gift that we can both give and receive.
I love that Paul encourages us to pray for one another “so that many will give thanks on our behalf for the blessing granted us through the prayers of many” (2 Cor. 1:11).
Read testimonies of those who have suffered before us.
Besides those we find in Scripture such as Paul and the disciples, many saints through the ages such as Charles and Susannah Spurgeon, Samuel Rutherford, Elisabeth Elliot, Amy Carmichael, and countless others have endured great hardships; yet they persevered and remained faithful to the Lord. More importantly, God was faithful to them, and this brings comfort to us as we strive to live lives worthy of Christ.
Offer a sacrifice of praise to God for who He is and all He has done (Heb. 13:15). Record and celebrate the evidence of God’s grace at work in your life.
God is holy, and we will never fully understand all of His ways until we see Him face to face. For now we walk by faith and ask Him for the grace to trust Him in the darkness. The Psalms give us both the language of lament when our heart is breaking and expressions of worship that acknowledge God’s otherness, worth, and supremacy. As debtors to mercy, when we model a life of childlike trust and praise in the midst of dark circumstances, we bear witness to the gospel of grace and encourage others to walk by faith.
While my family’s journey of suffering continues, I rejoice at the deeper work God has done in our hearts. I have found solace in Charles Spurgeon’s words in Beside Still Waters:
Some of you are in deep affliction. Your difficulties are so great that you do not know where they will end. . . . Some of you are called to some extraordinary duty and do not feel strong enough. Follow that call, for surely the Lord is in that place. He will help you.
Father God, Author and Finisher of our faith, thank You sending Your Son, Jesus, who endured the cross for the joy that was set before Him. In Him we rejoice that, in the midst of present sorrows, we have tasted Your goodness in ways we might never have known otherwise. We ask Your help so that we might “measure our lives by loss instead of gain; not by the wine drunk but by the wine poured forth; (to trust that) love’s strength standeth in love’s sacrifice, and those who suffer most hath most to give” (Ugo Bassi, 1800–1849).