A few years ago, I stood in my church’s kitchen combing through massive chunks of steaming pork, to be sold heaped between buns as a mission fundraiser.
As I coaxed the juicy meat into smaller chunks, I was disappointed.
I’d recently been pulled out of a couple ministry opportunities at my church. I’d been assured that it wasn’t about my heart or competence – just other things going on.
The struggle in my heart was real. Sin kept whispering at me, You wanted to do X and Y and here you are in the kitchen, holding a fork. The Spirit in me wasn’t that stupid. I knew it’s not about me. I knew ambition is unholy. And I was more than happy to be doing my part in the mission. But sometimes lies can feel overwhelming, especially in an incumbent climate of fear and self-criticism. A gale against a fragile sapling.
Unlooked for, as I stared down into the pan, God spoke into the gale.
I am shredding you.
Whenever God means to make a man great, he always breaks him in pieces first. – Charles Spurgeon
I am constantly on guard against the desire to be “great”. I know it’s empty. I’ve seen what happens to the great in today’s environment. The pressure, the misunderstanding, the flippant and merciless shredding of any wrong word or idea – it’s wild. As John Eldredge said, “We should fear becoming a large church, corporation, kingdom. We should be forced into it, by God.”
But I do want to do great things for God.
I want to see the lost saved (or restored) by the truckload.
I want to minister to my fellow singles.
I want to see abortion pushed back, not just at the legal level but at the heart level.
I want to see things only God could do.
I want to feel useful to God.
Millennials might relate. In those “X Reasons Millennials Are Leaving the Church” blog posts, one chief reason for said ditching is that we aren’t used. It’s an unmistakable issue in the generational collision: too many churches (not mine, particularly) soldier on without hearing millennials’ voices, utilizing their gifts, or sharing their passions.
Many church leaders dismiss this frustration as self-focus on millennials’ part. Maybe. Our desire to be useful could certainly be twisted into a primitive “need to feel needed”, a move to fulfill our God-shaped holes with man’s affirmation.
But it could also simply be a reflection of our design. “For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do” (Eph. 2:10). A fire exists in our souls, and especially in millennials’, to see God’s work done. It’s confusing and frustrating to see the work delayed.
But we millennials err when we assume that man is the only obstacle.
For we will be tested and refined by God. Sometimes he’s the one resisting us.
And how. Sometimes the test more resembles a crucible, going straight to our deepest motivations, like Aslan’s claws taking no prisoners with Eustace’s dragon skin but plunging straight to his heart. God will refine our motives. That’s a Scriptural promise.
Sometimes, as Spurgeon said, it’s because God does plan to springboard us upwards. How we respond to shredding says everything about us.
And being blocked, sidelined, demoted, delayed…well, that’s a vigorous shredding.
There’s a saying: “Success can take you where your character cannot sustain you.” That’s why all these prosperity gospel churches are off the mark when they say God wants to give you success. He doesn’t. He’s more interested in your character. A woman who becomes CEO will fail without good business practices; a man who leads a ministry does great damage when he falls to sexual immorality. If we aren’t diligent and honest in small things, we won’t be in larger things.
Besides, if I’m reading Scripture right, God will one day honor a lot of people who toil in obscurity and ordinary work. “But many who are first will be last, and many who are last will be first” (Matthew 19:30). Being sent to the kitchen is not dismissal. It’s glory.
I’m not saying every millennial who longs for a bigger role is only into his own upward mobility But be on guard, oh be on guard against mixed motives. The flesh is constantly fighting the Spirit. Don’t let a good motive convince you that no bad motive is present. We never see the bad until we are shredded. And we aren’t in a position to tell God when the refinement should be over.
When our church politely goes in a different direction, picks others, or sidelines our operations, we can be okay. It was never about us. The priorities of an all-seeing God might not always match up with ours(!).
Let us accept our shredding with joy. May our offerings be refined into strands digestible by the Lord to whom it’s offered and to the people he loves.