By Chris Seidman
John Cassis served as a chaplain for the Chicago Bears during some of their better years in the 80’s. He tells a story about their coach, Mike Ditka, who was addressing the team in the locker room before a game. In the course of his talk, Ditka asked defensive tackle William “Refrigerator” Perry to lead the team in the Lord’s Prayer when he was done with his comments.
Jim McMahon, their outspoken quarterback, elbowed Cassis. “Look at Perry,” McMahon whispered, “he doesn’t know the Lord’s Prayer.” Perry had beads of sweat forming on his bald head and a “deer-in-the-headlights” look about him.
“You’re out of your mind. Everybody knows the Lord’s Prayer!” Cassis whispered to McMahon.
McMahon replied, “I’ll bet you 50 bucks Fridge doesn’t know the Lord’s Prayer.”
Cassis took the bet. He reflected later, “Here we were sitting in chapel and betting 50 bucks on the Lord’s Prayer.”
When Coach Ditka finished his comments, he asked all the men to take a knee. He then nodded at Perry and bowed his head. It seemed like an eternity before the Fridge prayed these words, “Now I lay me down to sleep. I pray the Lord, my soul to keep . . .”
Cassis felt a tap on his shoulder. It was McMahon. “Here’s your 50 bucks!” he whispered. “I had no idea Perry knew the Lord’s Prayer!”
Some people are more in the dark than they realize.
But then there are times when we’re in the dark – and we know it.
Maybe we’re in the dark of being disillusioned with God. He didn’t do what we thought He was going to do. He allowed something to happen that we never thought He would. Followers and proclaimers of Jesus aren’t exempt from being in the dark of disillusionment with him. I think of the question John the Baptist asked concerning Jesus while he was in prison.(Matthew 11:1-6)
Sometimes we’re in the dark because of a disappointing experience with God’s people. Consider the father in Mark 9 who brought his epileptic son to Jesus’ disciples and to heal him and they could not. What they had done for others in the name of Jesus, they could not do for his son. The father was, understandably, shaken.
Sometimes we’re in the dark because of the consequences of our own sin, and sometimes we’re in the dark because we are deeply affected by the sin of someone else.
It’s not easy being in the dark when you’re in ministry.
A while back I was talking with a professional athlete who belongs to our church. He was in the midst of his 12th NBA season. It was the morning after a game. He was walking rather stiff. I asked him if he was hurt. He said, “No, at this point in the season, most everyone at this level is playing through some kind of pain.”
Those words have bounced around in my spirit for a while. This is true when it comes to ministry over the long haul. Now there are times when we need to rest, withdraw, or retreat. We all know the importance of observing some kind of Sabbath rhythm. After all, you can’t fill a moving cup.
But there are times in our lives when we have to “play hurt.” There are stretches in life when we have to keep walking in the dark, serving in the dark, leading in the dark, or preaching in the dark (you can insert your own joke here about “preaching in the dark.”)
In 2 Timothy 1, Paul recalls Timothy’s tears, and yet in 2 Timothy 4 Paul still gives him the charge to preach the Word, be prepared in season and out of season. Perhaps Paul was calling Timothy to “play through his hurt.”
I’ve have been in ministry long enough to have gone through stretches of ministry in the dark. Sometimes the darkness has been on a church level, which I reflected upon in previous posts.
Sometimes the darkness has been on a family level. My parents split in my early years as a minister. Dad later died alone on his apartment floor at 52. My wife’s dad died at 49 of M.S. We cared for my mother in our home until she died after a particularly brutal 2 year bout with cancer. Our middle son was diagnosed with clinical depression at 6 years of age. Our oldest son had bacterial meningitis and later MRSA and spent a summer in isolation in the hospital – with much of that summer on edge and the specialists not making any promises. I’m quite sure there are some are reading this who’ve walked through much more profound darkness on a family level than I have.Sometimes the darkness has been on a personal level. There have seasons where God was dealing with my pride, my anxiety, my fear of what others think – all while I’m standing in front of people declaring a word that’s far beyond where I was living – pointing people to places with God that I was painfully aware I had never been. I was ministering while acutely aware of my own darkness.
So how we do we move forward serving, proclaiming, encouraging, ministering to others while in the dark ourselves?
Remember that throughout Scripture God Does Some Of His Most Significant Work In The Dark.
When the Bible opens, God is at work creating in the darkness. He never says “Let there be dark.” There already was darkness. Jesus is conceived in the darkness of Mary’s womb. His crucifixion happens in the dark. His resurrection happens in the dark of the tomb. From creation, to the incarnation, to the crucifixion, to the resurrection, God does significant work in the dark. There’s not just a light at the end of the tunnel. There’s a light with us in the middle of the tunnel. (For more reflection along these lines, consider checking out Barbara Brown Taylor’s book Learning To Walk In The Dark)
Use your guide for praying in the dark
The largest book in our Bible is a book of prayers. This should tell us something. God wants us to talk to Him and not just about Him. He’s so intent on us engaging with Him He gives the words to say when we don’t have the words. It’s thought that close to two-thirds of the psalms are “lament” or “mourning” psalms. They are prayers to pray when we’re in the dark. Jesus told us that in this world we would have trouble (John 16:33). In the psalms we find plenty of help for praying through our trouble. Jesus himself relied on a psalm to express his heart in his darkest of moments upon the cross. The psalms are here to help us pray through the dark.
Invest in a relationship with another minister who has done ministry while in the dark.
Raising three sons has given me ample opportunity to visit emergency rooms in the wake of rough-and-tumble boys. Young fathers don’t forget the first time they’re asked to hold their child still while they receive stitches. Without question, the most helpful thing I did to help calm my sons down in those moments was show them the scars on my body which marked where stitches once were. I’ll never forget one of my boys wanting to touch the scars even as he was receiving stitches.
There’s something about seeing someone else’s scars and hearing their stories. I’ve drawn great strength from others in ministry who were graciously transparent in showing me their scars and sharing their stories of ministry while in the dark.
Hold On Unswervingly To Hope
I’m struck by the words of the Hebrew writer to a community walking in the dark in Hebrews 10:24, “Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful.”
He never promised it would be easy. He promised it would be worth it.
Louis L’Amour wrote years ago, “There will be a time in your life when you think everything will have come to an end. And that will be the beginning.”
The story of Scripture begins with God speaking light into darkness. The darkness will not have the last word. I believe the time will come when David’s words will be our words, “The Lord turns my darkness into light.” (2 Samuel 22:29)
In the meantime, if you’re ministering in the dark, I leave you with this blessing. “May the Lord direct your hearts into God’s love and Christ’s perseverance.” (2 Thessalonians 3:5)