Apparently there was a big fight last weekend. You may have heard.
As I remain lacking in any true knowledge of boxing, the following supposition is pretty theoretical but, I think, also sound: if you were a boxing coach, I’m sure there would be several things you would look for in your student. You would want to see some natural speed, above-average strength and athleticism. But surely it is just as important in boxing that one be able to take a punch as well as throw one.
And so the point of this short article: if you desire to do any spiritual good in the lives of others, you must be able to take a punch.
Other prerequisites are important. To be involved in ministry, we need to know our Bibles well enough to use them, we need to have a love for people, we need to have some measure of skill in conversation, etc. But, to my eyes, the oft-missing ingredient is the ability to suffer at the hands of those you’re trying to help. And it must be such a willingness that refuses to return the same punch.
I wish that we would start asking this of students hoping to become pastors: “Tell me when you were hurt by a Christian you were trying to help. How did you respond?” The answer to that question speaks as highly to qualification for ministry (pastoral or otherwise) as much as most of the other questions we ask.
Because the hurts will come. People who need ministry, well, they’re sinners – they wouldn’t need ministry if they weren’t. Sinners don’t always respond the right way. They don’t always recognize your sacrifice and love with immediate sanctification and a dozen grateful roses. Instead they might lash out at the closest thing to them: you. And if you aren’t ready to take the punch, working past the immediate pain back to their deeper needs, you won’t last long.
Friends in the congregation had a beloved dog. One day their dog ran across the busy road a little way from their house and was hit but not immediately killed. As anyone would do, they went to the rescue, to see if they could help at all. While trying to pick up the gentle but hurting dog, the father was bit badly. He never blamed the dog, understanding why it happened and grieving the accident rather than the bite. A good lesson for us all: when we’re hurt by others, let’s grieve the Fall from which all these punches flow, but let’s not dwell on the pain more than we must.
Please don’t be scared away from bringing grace into the lives of sinners. But please have your eyes open. Be ready to be hurt and to keep on loving them. Their souls may depend on your ability to take a punch.