The hardest (and best) 2 years of my life
The hardest (and best) 2 years of my life
– Jay Lyn
It’s been almost 2 whole years doing Church Ministers’ Apprenticeship (CMA), and it’s really been the hardest (and therefore the best) 24 months of my life.
Far from it being a paradox, this paradigm from my experience in CMA is absolutely consistent with what the gospel of Matthew has been teaching us as a church in our sermon series this year. Hang tight while I get there.
To me, the hardest thing about CMA is the consistent failures that I need to face, every single day — failing to be like Jesus in every way: being radically obedient to God like Him, being concerned for God’s glory above all else, being able to love those who are difficult, and consistently serving the undeserving.
It can be summed up as a failure to ultimately BE the kind of disciple that Jesus demands and deserves.
Even in the more ‘skill-based’ failures like my failure to lead, teach, coach and run operations well, it cannot ultimately be attributed to a lack of training and experience. I mean, there’s that too, but the real reason stems from the heart — a lack of care and love for Jesus, His Word, His church and His gospel.
And that’s what makes CMA the hardest 2 years of my life. Each day, it is through His Word that I am consistently and relentlessly being exposed by God to reveal the kind of person that I am: sinful, selfish, and filled with self love, far from being like Christ my Master. The more I learn about Jesus, the more I recognise who I must become, and how far I am from that currently.
And that’s what makes these years the very best, as ironic as that may sound. Like in Matthew, we have been learning that the kind of people who actually follow Jesus are those who recognise their worthlessness, and thus see the true worth of Jesus as the Christ.
The Centurion, the leper (Matthew 8:1-13); the Canaanite woman (Matthew 15:21-28) and Matthew, the author of the gospel, who was a tax collector (Matthew 9:9), are some examples of those who see themselves as ‘nobodies’ and thus are those not offended by Jesus, even when Jesus calls them unworthy, and likens them to dogs and pigs who don’t deserve to be His disciples.
The dogs and pigs referenced from Matthew 7:6, describing those who are unworthy of God and His saving work.
This recognition of their worthlessness is not merely having a lesser view of themselves or being ‘humble’ in a secular sense, where they consider themselves as less important than others. Rather, it comes from them having a true recognition of WHO this Christ is, as the Lord, the Messiah, and what He deserves as the King. It is in the context of His brilliant light, that they see their true darkness within.
It is when they recognise who this King is and His true worth, that they see how truly unworthy they are.
And the reverse is also true.
Until and unless they recognise their unworthiness, they would fail to see the true extent of Christ’s worth for who He is.
And therefore, the paradigm of my experience in CMA has been similar — it is in God showing me that I cannot do it, that I learn to rely on Him completely. It is in recognising how I am unable to do well on my own, that I am able to keep trusting in God and His work. It is in recognising that I am an unworthy servant and undeserving of ministry, that I can keep going, even on the days I really don’t want to.
It is God crushing me and my pride, emptying me of myself so that Christ and His glory might shine even more brightly through this empty vessel.
And that’s what makes it the best.
24 months of constantly having to find my worth, my identity, my strength in Christ alone, 24 months of looking to Jesus and seeing the kind of man that He is: His steely determination to do God’s will rather than His own, giving up His rights as the glorious King, taking the lowest and most humiliating status of being a ‘nobody’, tolerating disciples who keep failing to be like Him, and ultimately, choosing to die an utterly humiliating death that He didn’t deserve, all for the sake of worthless, ungrateful, and hateful sinners. Man. I wouldn’t give that up for the world.
In my constant recognition of how worthless and disgusting I am, I have but only grown in my adoration and admiration for Jesus.
And that’s the key, really.
The wrong response to the recognition of that internal failure is to keep looking within and keep seeing those failures. That can only lead to depression, self-pity, wallowing and obsession over how you are not worthy. And possibly, it could lead to the equally wrong response of trying harder to make yourself worthy, or worse, to find that worth elsewhere.
The key is to see your failure, and without losing sight of that, see even more magnificently the true and lasting worth of Jesus.
Martin Luther, the renowned German monk who lived in the 16th century and protested against the corruption he saw in the Roman Catholic church, was a key player in the Christian Reformation in 1517. He is known for the use of a term known as Anfechtung.
Anfechtung can be defined as an internal despair, brought about by a recognition of one’s sinfulness before the holiness of God. Luther often struggled with the feeling of helplessness, despair and depression because he recognised God’s holiness, and recognised how much he deserved God’s judgement upon him.
I think the following quote taken from an Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals article, coupled with CERC’s very own social media post during its 10th year anniversary in 2018, captures the very essence of Luther’s Anfechtung.
“This German word doesn’t have a clean English equivalent, but Roland Bainton in his classic biography on Luther describes it as “all the doubt, turmoil, pang, tremor, panic, despair, desolation, and desperation which invade the spirit of man.”
He goes on to say that “Luther’s tremor was augmented by the recognition of unworthiness; ‘I am dust and ashes and full of sin’. Creatureliness and imperfection alike oppressed him. Toward God he was at once attracted and repelled. Only in harmony with the Ultimate could he find peace.
But how could a pigmy stand before divine Majesty; how could a transgressor confront divine Holiness? Before God the high and God the holy Luther was stupefied.”
And so, I am thankful to God for the gospel of Matthew; which has been utterly challenging, humbling and sanctifying really, because it was reading Matthew together with CMA, that I see even more clearly what God has been doing to His people to make them like His Son — refining them with His holy fire, emptying us of ourselves, that all that is left may be Christ and His glory, shining brightly through mere empty vessels.
Till the next one, I hope you continue to see clearly your internal failures (as I have), and even more clearly, Jesus Christ and His worth.
Soli Deo Gloria.
Posted on 1st December 2019