Learning in the School of Crisis

The Salvation Army: November 2018 Article
From Crisis to Order: Part 1
By Jim Van Yperen

Learning in the School of Crisis
In every good story the hero faces a crisis, a decisive turning point where a decision must be made and action must be taken. The outcome hangs in doubt-filled tension. What will she decide? What will he do? Crisis is what makes a story compelling, why we follow the story through to the end. This is true of every great story, including the story revealed in God’s Word.
Can you think of any man or woman in Scripture who did not face crisis? Certainly, no leader in God’s Kingdom was crisis-free. Instead, crisis is woven through the warp and woof of Scripture from beginning to end, from creation to consummation. Adam and Eve are tempted by a serpent whom we learn later was a rebellious angel fallen from heaven. Crisis in the cosmos brought crisis to earth. The rest is history pointing us forward to a final crisis, and to promise of lasting peace. The threat of crisis and our longing for peace is what makes leadership necessary.
Crisis occurs when something you value is threatened, stripping you of control. Threat triggers deep emotion in you, usually fear and sometimes guilt or shame. Unchecked emotion can mock your faith and question your preaching. “Did God really say?” Is Jesus truly Lord? Can I trust God through my powerlessness, doubt and fear?
Has crisis ever led you to the brink of despair? If so, you are in good company. Many courageous leaders like Elijah, Jonah and Jeremiah faced moments of deep depression, so deep they asked God to kill them rather than face their crisis. Perhaps you have been there too. I have. When I was younger, I thought the lesson of crisis and point of these scriptures was negative. “Don’t be like them. Be better. Try harder. Be ‘strong and courageous.’” So, I told myself to be better and try harder. Like much human effort, it “worked,” for a while. But trying harder is not the lesson of biblical crisis stories. Being “strong and courageous” is not a call to try harder, it is a call to surrender—to trust in God, not one’s faith. Jesus calls us to an upside-down leadership that demonstrates courage and faith through brokenness. Jesus conquers death by dying on the cross, trusting the Father’s power to raise him from the dead. Paul overcomes his crisis-thorn not because God removes the thorn, but by receiving, “My grace is sufficient for you and my power is made perfect in weakness.” Leading like Jesus means learning to lead without employing human strength and power.

Crisis has taught me to read the stories of Jesus, Paul and the Prophets through the lens of vulnerability. Leaders who are commended by God are those whose strength is born in weakness and hope is found in what cannot be seen. In crisis, my first task is to embrace vulnerability, not power, as the foundation of my courage, just as men and women before me who:
“through faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, and gained what was promised; who shut the mouths of lions, quenched the fury of the flames, and escaped the edge of the sword; whose weakness was turned to strength; and who became powerful in battle and routed foreign armies. Women received back their dead, raised to life again. There were others who were tortured, refusing to be released so that they might gain an even better resurrection. Some faced jeers and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were put to death by stoning; they were sawed in two; they were killed by the sword. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute,persecuted and mistreated— the world was not worthy of them. They wandered in deserts and mountains, living in caves and in holes in the ground. These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised, since God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect.”

But vulnerability does not mean quitting or giving up. Rather, vulnerability means an honest evaluation of the circumstances, accepting limitations rather than succumbing to the chaos and taking responsibility for one’s own emotional well-being without being overwhelmed by the emotions of others. The word crisis was first used to describe a turning point in disease, a time of intense danger when a difficult decision had to be made regarding the patient. How one chose determined what came next, for better or worse. The vital role of a physician is to differentiate between the crisis of disease and hope for cure. Leaders cannot deny, ignore or postpone crisis any more than doctors can deny disease. Crisis demands clear thinking and right choices which, the Christian leader must acknowledge, can only come from the Lord.
This leads to another lesson of crisis—thanksgiving. God’s promise is that Jesus is present in the crisis. There is more than we can see, and may not fully comprehend until God gives insight. Until then the task of the leader is to embrace vulnerability, persevere and be thankful. “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.”

–Jim Van Yperen

2 Corinthians 12:9
Hebrews 11:33-40
James 1:2-5