Strengthen the Souls

She sat in front of me a crumpled mess. Not a particularly deep conversation quickly turned into infinity pools of tears. Words halted and poured like the start and go of a sputtering fountain. Lines across her face I’d never noticed before drew the portrait of a weary soul. My heart twisted with her paradox of stories, both uplifting and exhausting. 

Life in ministry is full of really high highs, but some really low lows. Deep pit lows. 

“…strengthening the souls of the disciples,

encouraging them to continue in the faith, and

saying that through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God,” Acts 14:22; ESV.

Paul, the missionary, in the book of Acts chapter 14 faced both. A lot of people came to faith, and that’s a real high, but he faced a lot of opposition, surely a low. Through Paul a man crippled from birth leaped and walked. Tell me that wasn’t a high. But shortly after, Paul is stoned and left for dead. Can’t get much lower. 

If Paul’s events and accompanying emotions were on a line graph, it would go all over the place, like the marks of suffering on my friend’s face. 

Paul, once left for dead in Lystra, returned again, where he “strengthened the souls of the disciples,” stabilizing, firming their core. 

He “encouraged them to continue in the faith,” coming along side, exhorting, teaching them how to grow in faith. 

But the message he gave to these young believers seems strange to our ears, “and said that through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God.” 

Paul never sugar coated Christianity. Throughout Scripture he honored suffering for Christ, as a sure privilege of the believer. He spoke with transparency about his difficulties and how he had been affected by them. It is this support from one who had himself experienced tribulation that urged others to persevere. 

Sometimes our worst places become God’s best venues to accomplish His work. 

I wonder how the church of Lystra felt to have Paul return. Opposition to the gospel had been fierce. Paul’s stoning undoubtedly left a huge impact on the lives of Lystra’s believers. When he walked back into town, it must have been shocking and marvelous.  

Paul, great evangelist and preacher did a lot of member care. He visited churches, he taught, prayed with believers and he paid attention to their struggles. 

Sometimes ministry hurts. Platitudes don’t cut it. Answers aren’t simple.

I reach across the table and clasp my friend’s hand. As much as I would like to, I can’t fix her problems or take them from her experience. But I can pray for opportunities to strengthen her soul, encourage her in faith and acknowledge her trials. Because someday her worst place may become a best venue for someone else in ministry. 

 

*Photo by Alvin Mahmudov on Unsplash