Life is difficult and often leaves us deeply wounded. Friends, family members or coworkers who betray us or lie about us can deal incredible harm to our hearts and minds. Why God allows us to go through horrific circumstances?
Our executive pastor in Detroit, Kevin, once had somebody break into his house at 3:00 a.m. while his family was out of town, thank God. He heard a window being broken. Some guy was breaking into his house looking for drug money. Kevin was coming downstairs when the burglar grabbed the largest kitchen knife he could find and met our pastor on the stairs. He stabbed him in the stomach several times, then in his back near the spinal cord another 12 times, then up at the chin another six times to try to kill him.
Then the man left Kevin on the floor in his own blood and went upstairs to see what he could take. While Kevin was lying there on the floor, he was praying, “God, before I die, please don't let my children be bitter with the ministry or think that you're not with us. And God, let my wife know that I love her.”
Then he said he heard a voice that said, "They still need you."
All of a sudden, he said he held his intestines in place and somehow, by the strength of God, got up, walked out the door to his neighbors, who happened to be up at 3:30 in the morning. The doctors blown away. They said they'd never seen anything like this before. He’d been stabbed 37 times, and not one of those had hit a vital organ. Meanwhile, the police entered his house looking for the would-be murderer and saw the giant puddle where he had been lying. They wrote in the police report, “We see the blood, but we don't know how he got to the neighbor's house. There are no footprints.”
Today, there’s eight feet of scars on Kevin’s body. God used this situation to prepare Kevin for launching a ministry of reconciliation all over the United States. That’s how God planned on using this man. If you had been told, though, that you needed to go through something like that in order to found a ministry, how many of you would say, “Actually, no thank you. Sign me out.”
In The Root of the Righteous, A. W. Tozer wrote, “It is doubtful whether God can bless a man greatly until he has hurt him deeply.”
God is smart. He'll tell you what's ahead, but he won’t tell you how you’re going to get there. He gave Joseph a dream where he saw sheaths of wheat in the field bow before his sheath. God showed him what was going to happen but never showed him how he was going to get there. Let’s be real. If God had showed him the process, it wouldn’t have been a dream. It would have been a nightmare.
If God can wound you deeply in your pride and self-sufficiency, he can begin to use you greatly.
Let’s look at the life of one king in the Old Testament. He was one of only two truly good kings in Judah after the kingdom was split. “In the third year of Hoshea son of Elah, king of Israel, Hezekiah the son of Ahaz, king of Judah, began to reign. He was twenty-five years old when he began to reign, and he reigned twenty-nine years in Jerusalem. His mother's name was Abi the daughter of Zechariah. And he did what was right in the eyes of the Lord, according to all that David his father had done. He removed the high places and broke the pillars and cut down the Asherah. And he broke in pieces the bronze serpent that Moses had made, for until those days the people of Israel had made offerings to it (it was called Nehushtan)” (2 Kings 18:1-4, ESV).
Some genius took what God had used 700 years earlier to save the people, put it up in the Temple and made up a name for it. We still do this kind of thing today. We take a method that worked for connecting to God in the past, and we end up worshiping the method trying to recapture something from the path. The first thing God often goes after in revival are the things men are holding onto instead of seeing what God wants to do for the future. He doesn’t go for the obviously pagan places; he goes straight to the house of God for the bronze serpent that everybody’s worshiping.
Look at that person God used to do this: “He trusted in the Lord, the God of Israel, so that there was none like him among all the kings of Judah after him, nor among those who were before him” (2 Kings 18:1-5, ESV).
Man, I read that. My heart began to just flood inside of me. I have four children, and I just love my kids, and I want them to love God.
My kids all have their own stories and giftings, and they’re amazing; but each one of them faces their own struggles too. As a parent, I'm asking myself how did Ahaz raised Hezekiah? Because I need help on this. How do you raise up a Hezekiah?
Let’s look at scripture. “Ahaz was twenty years old when he began to reign, and he reigned sixteen years in Jerusalem. And he did not do what was right in the eyes of the Lord his God, as his father David had done, but he walked in the way of the kings of Israel” (2 Kings 16:2-3, emphasis added).
This is not great. This revival king was raised in a non-God-fearing home. I thought this guy was going to give me some tips, and now I realize Hezekiah was beating the odds. It gets even worse if we look at the rest of verse three. “He even burned his son as an offering, according to the despicable practices of the nations whom the Lord drove out before the people of Israel” (2 Kings 16:3). Other translations say, “made his son to pass through the fire”, but what does this mean? Who’s this son who passed through the fire?
I found an explanation in the works of an old Scottish preacher named John Kitto. In Daily Bible Illustrations, Kitto wrote that when scripture talks about ‘passing children through the fire’, it’s talking about the god Kemosh. People in ancient times would build a hollow, bronze idol around 38-40 feet high. This idol would be an animal body and legs then a human torso with arms held out and finally an beast head. The priests would built a raging fire in the bottom of this hollow idol, and the bronze would heat up until the whole statue was this eerie orange color. It was bright enough that people could see for miles around, and they would say, “Oh, they’re making their children pass through the fire!”
This is how that would happen. The head priest would take a baby, strip off all of its clothes, then place that child on the scalding arms of the idol. The child would writhe in pain and usually fall out of the idol’s arms down into the fire around the idol’s base. When that finally happened, the priest would pull the baby out. If the child died, the priest would announce, “The gods have accepted him!”
If the child lived, they would call him a reject. The gods have rejected him.
Can you imagine the burns that those children who survived endured? There was no helicopters to take them to a hospital, no treatments for 3rd and 4th degree burns, no skin grafting. That child that King Azah passed through the fire was probably Hezekiah. He was a child ‘rejected by the gods’ with scars all over his body because his father had given him up to the fire.
Well, there was another Father who said, “He may be rejected, but I’ve accepted this boy. He’s mine.”
This boy who was rejected by his family and his culture, God said, “I’m going to put a robe over your scars. You are going to become a king and lead a nation in revival.” Do some of you have scars you’re ashamed of? Do some of you wonder if God really does that kind of thing? By my recollection, there’s a king in heaven who has a glorious robe on him, but if you looked beneath, there are scars on those hands and feet and on his brow. God knows how to put robes over scars and release his people to do great things.
Now let me just say that you can minister with scars, but you can't minister with wounds. There's something toxic that happens when a person is wounded but still running a small group or preaching from a pulpit or stepping into any kind of leadership. Wounded people spew out harmful things in their conversations because healing hasn’t happened yet. God has to take their wounds and turn those into scars first before a person can really be healthy in leadership.
So how do you know when a wound has turned into a scar? One way to tell really easily is when you don’t talk about people who have hurt you and instead talk about what God has done through those circumstances. If you hear, “They did this to me. Did I ever tell you what this one boss or co-leader did? Boy, I wish this other person had come to church today to hear this message! They needed it”, then there’s still a wound.
It doesn't matter what anybody has done. Instead, it should be “God has brought me through this. God had a purpose in all this. What others meant for evil, God meant for good.” Think of that famous verse where Peter asked Jesus, “‘Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?’ Jesus said to him, ‘I do not say to you seven times, but seventy-seven times.’” (Matthew 18:21-22). You should be praying for God's blessing in their lives. My wife, Cindy, hears me mention the names of individuals every single night, “God bless them. Let their latter years be greater than their former years.” This type of prayer scours your soul. It heals the wounds.
This isn’t a one-stop-deal either. C. S. Lewis perfectly captured it when he wrote, “We forgive, we mortify our resentment; a week later some chain of thought carries us back to the original offence and we discover the old resentment blazing away as if nothing had been done about it at all. We need to forgive our brother seventy times seven not only for 490 offences but for one offence.”
Every time our wounds reopen and those old hurts come around, you have to return to “God forgives. I forgive.” That prayer cleanses the soul. God takes wounds and turns into scars. He did it for Hezekiah. He’ll do it for us. We have a kinging glory. The father put that robe on the son.