Kyle Thompson is a seminary student at Beeson Divinity School pursuing an Mdiv. He is Reformed but still a little angry about it, and aligns himself with the Baptist tradition while staring wistfully at the Presbyterians. He spends most of his time outside of seminary hiking, taking pictures, and petting his two golden retrievers.
"I have learned to kiss the wave that slams me into the rock of ages." —C.H. Spurgeon
I recently preached a sermon on Hebrews 12:1-2. It was an exposition of the text, in which I noted how we should remember the great faithfulness of the cloud of witnesses so beautifully described in chapter 11, how and why we should lay aside every sinful weight, and how we should run the race that the Lord has set before us with endurance. I built up to the precipice of the text, shaping the case that every command ought to be done and could only be done by and through the action stated at the beginning of verse 2: looking to Jesus. I cast words of truth on the congregation, convincing them anew that in light of the cross of Christ and his glorious resurrection, the rest of the world, along with any hindrance to their faith, would grow dim. I rebuked setting the gaze on the world; I encouraged setting the gaze on Christ. I even threw in a memorable illustration. Afterword, I was congratulated on a sermon well preached. I was thanked for being faithful to the text. I was told that my words brought hope and healing. I shook hands and hugged people. And all I could think of was one thing:
You dirty pretender.
How can you preach what you do not even practice?
I must admit that my race has not been run with cheerful endurance with eyes set on Christ over the last few months. My race has been fraught with pain, my pace has been slow, and my eyes have been firmly on the world most of the time. Much has happened in recent times, and if I am being honest, I will say that Jesus has been quite hard to look at. Quite hard to even catch a glimpse of in some of my current situations. Beholding the face of Christ, and therefore gaining the strength necessary to fulfill the command of Hebrews 12:1, has often seemed to be quite the impossible endeavor. How am I supposed to see Jesus when my ministry falls apart? When I don’t like my job? When I run out of money? When my best friend moves away? When I am dating the most wonderful woman I have ever met, yet feel like I’m doing a terrible job at loving her? When all of this is crashing down on me right at the start of my second year of seminary?
How do I behold the face of Christ when the darkness of the world shines so brightly?
In my very limited experience, I have realized that a sure hope in seeing Jesus in every situation is living in a spirit of thankfulness. It is easy to thank God when life is easy, and I would even venture to say it is easy to cry out to God in times of difficulty, but it is a very hard thing to remain thankful when life falls apart. I suggest, though, that this is the key to seeing the glory of God in its fullness, even when dire situations threaten to make a believer blind to the endless goodness of our Father. It is much more than just choosing to see the good in every situation, it is intentionally seeking and identifying the hand of God in all things and thanking him for it.
With this in mind, my prayer life has been transformed from a continuous lament to a continuous prayer of thanks, asking God to always direct my eyes to what I should thank him for, such as:
I thank you, God, that you have allowed my financial plan to fall apart, because it has allowed me to gain firsthand experience in what it feels like to not know how I am going to keep paying for what I must pay for. This will allow me to relate to many of your people on a deep level that I previously would not have been able to reach.
I thank you, God, that I must rise up early every day and go to a job that I do not enjoy, for doing so has strengthened my endurance in adversity. It has made real to me the curse upon the earth that you proclaimed in Genesis 3, that by the sweat of my brow I should bring forth fruit, and therefore strengthened my confidence in your word. It has shown me what many believers must go through to make money to fulfill much more dire responsibilities than I currently have.
I thank you, God, for shattering my heart to pieces by moving my best friend far away from me, for in doing so, you have shown me the importance of total reliance upon you and not on another human for comfort, affirmation, and love. The pain I have experienced by no longer having my best friend by my side has thrust me into your arms, and for that I thank you. You knew that I sought from man what should only be sought from you, and you have sovereignly moved upon my life so that I must depend on you for love, to have my burdens lifted, and to have an ear that will listen.
I thank you, God, for allowing me to see my shortcomings and inability to rightly love a daughter of yours, for in doing so you have shown me how essential your grace is to a marriage. You have shown me that the only way to rightly love a woman is to rightly love you first, and that all that proceeds forth from within myself is wicked and sinful, but all that proceeds forth from you is righteous and life-giving, and therefore you have built up my faith and trust in you.
I thank you, God, that you have had great mercy on me, and have allowed my first ministry to fall apart, for you, Lord, know that I am a man naturally bent towards pride. You know that if my first ministry endeavors had all been great successes, I would have grown to trust in myself and not in you. You have shown me that unless you build the house, it will not stand. You have shown me that ministry must come forth from your word and not the human mind. You have equipped me with knowledge and experiences that could only be gained by failure, and will greatly help me on my journey ahead, and for that I thank you.
I thank you, God, that you have led me to where I am in a very difficult seminary, for you have thrust me down on my knees and into your throne room, where no seminary professor could ever take me.
Always, I thank you, and by thanking you, I see you, and by seeing you, I find the strength to continue on.