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Life Purpose and Suffering

Apr 14th, 2014 | By | Category: Featured Content, Transformational Coaching, [None]

Martyrdom of Eleazar the ScribeI’ve always been sort of intrigued by the list of lives of the faithful in Hebrews 11. Paul talks about those who through faith conquered kingdoms, stopped the mouth of lions, escaped the sword, or won their dead back by having them resurrected. Sounds really good so far! And then, without even pausing for breath, Paul goes on to talk about those who were tortured, stoned, sawn in two, destitute, afflicted, poorly treated, who never got the honor they deserved—and he attributes to all of them the same faith! These are all people who lived their destiny.

Paul is saying that a Christian’s life purpose may as easily lead to great temporal suffering and loss as to great deeds and great gain. This isn’t very attractive at first glance! But viewing suffering as a part of life is actually a very powerful tool for the coach. If suffering is included in God’s plan, then God works through it, and the Planner still has things in hand. He may even bring us gifts in suffering that lead us to our purpose and empower us to fulfill it. If, on the other hand, we aren’t supposed to suffer, or the goal of coaching is to eliminate suffering, then anything bad that happens to you is either an obstacle or an indicator that you are off course.

But Jesus’ life purpose powerfully affirms that suffering has great purpose. Therefore, all of life, good and bad, has purpose. God is at work in everything that is going on in your client’s life. One of the most powerful coaching tools you can deploy is knowing that God will take anything that happens to your coachees and work it to build them into the image of Christ, if they engage it with a sense of purpose (Rm. 8:28). The objective of coaching is not to eliminate adversity (which is impossible anyway), but to help the client meet God in it. True Kingdom greatness for your client is always only a moment away—the time it takes to say, “OK God: how do you want to meet me in this?” At any moment, in any circumstance, your client can move from “my life isn’t working; something is wrong!” to “my life isn’t working, but I’m meeting God in it, and that makes it all worthwhile!” Remove every difficulty and hardship from life, and you also remove the opportunity to meet God in it.

I’m coaching a leader who just resigned under pressure from a church he helped to plant. It’s one of those classic, dysfunctional church horror stories—a senior pastor with control issues, poor communication, private issues being dealt with in public, players with hidden agendas pulling strings behind the scenes but unwilling to address things out in the open. When my friend finally stood his ground and resigned, the leaders of his church called everyone he knew to make sure they got the church’s side of the story first.

Naturally, he’s pretty wounded. Not only is he losing his job and his life’s work to this point, he’s also being cut off from his friends and his normal support systems, unable to talk honestly about what’s going on so as not to cause more damage.

It’s been helpful to him to get perspective from someone outside the situation who has been through that kind of thing and understands the leadership dynamics of church conflicts. But as we get beyond the immediate pain, we’re talking more and more about the gifts this situation can give him. The key is moving the dialog from the circumstances (which are crappy) to who he is becoming in the situation, which holds the key to fulfilling his life purpose. As this man meets God in his pain, God is moving him to places he never would have gone without it.

One great gift is the revealing of his points of vulnerability, that cause him to just take the blows in conflict instead of responding in strength and love as an equal. Another gift is that it pushes him out to engage his call. He admits that he stayed too long in that place of security, instead of following the risky path God was calling him to. Many leaders are stuck in frustrating situations we because they fear the financial risks their dreams entail. God has given this leader the gift of pushing him beyond the small dream of security and into the big dream of his life purpose. The most transformational, important things we learn in life we usually learn the hard way. Without difficulty, we tend to settle for a comfortable, secure existence. Pain pushes us out of the nest.

This leads to an important coaching truth: calling is discovered within a person’s own sufferings or the sufferings of others. For example, everyone who goes on a short term mission and feels drawn to serve those living in darkness and squalor has found a call within the sufferings of others. Anyone who grew up as a social misfit and determines to reach those on the fringes of society, or was a child of divorce and finds a call in fostering healthy marriages, or who grieved her own miscarriage and ends up working with mothers who miscarry, has found destiny within their own suffering. Since experiences of suffering are such a common foundation of calling, coaches need tools to mine the difficult experiences in life for destiny clues. Chapter 20 provides practical techniques for doing this.

Tony Stoltzfus is an author, leadership coach, master coach trainer and director of the Leadership Metaformation Institute. Additional information on this topic can be found in Tony’s book, The Christian Life Coaching Handbook.

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