Donald Miller from Southland Christian Church on Vimeo.


A few days ago I was talking with one of my preacher friends who was really struggling with what to preach this coming week. We had just been talking about different church culture, and my friend took this opportunity to explain something to me that I will never forget.

He preaches at a church that is in a poorer area of town and is primarily African-American. He had been toying with the idea of preaching a sermon on suffering. And I had asked him, “Is your church going through a season of suffering right now?” And he said, “Yes, but…”

Then he, very gently and pastorally, proceeded to explain to me that he didn’t know of a time in his church’s life when they hadn’t been suffering. This, he said, was one of the differences between inner city/suburban churches, or lower socio-economic churches and primarily middle class ones. We can forget that suffering is integral for the story we signed up for.

Donald Miller’s “A Million Miles in A Thousand Years” was one of the best books I read in 2009. So when I saw this video of his recent talk summarizing it, I wanted to share it here. And here’s why. Miller’s point in his book is that, while most of us want to live better stories, we consistently run away from things that would make our stories compelling. Particularly, in regards to hard times.

Did you ever wonder what makes a story good? What makes one story more compelling than another? In Miller’s words, ““Nobody cries at the end of a movie about a guy who wants a Volvo.” The common thread between all great stories is that someone wanted to accomplish something and it was worth a fight.

Now to be clear, this is the one part of ministry I like the least. Actually, it’s the one part of life I like the least. Sometimes I feel like a young, white Rodney King. I wish we could all get along. But this is one of areas I’m trying to grow the most in. Because the truth is any life worth living is going to have it’s detractors. People won’t share the vision you have for life, and might even try to stand in the way. But that doesn’t mean that it’s still not exactly what God created you for.

In fact, the conflict might be a sign that you are on to something.

I’ve often wondered about James 1:2-4 , “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds,because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance.Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” This isn’t exactly the Scripture you want to hear when you’re going through a rough time in your life. But James’ knows what he’s talking about here.

He’d seen his brother Jesus live 33 years, and 30 of those years were undocumented. In fact, the only time in Jesus’ life that we know about, he lived with almost constant opposition. As if, the Son of God himself, needed a struggle to make sense of his story.

Conflict is at the center of a good story. So why have we tried to organize and structure our lives in a way to innoculate ourselves from the very thing that we need. To carry on the conversation from last week, why do we assume that if we have God’s favor that will ensure smooth sailing? I don’t know of a single, developed character in Scripture who walked with God and didn’t face hard times…often.

I remember being in Rome a few years ago, touring St. Peter’s basillica, staring up at the Sistene Chapel, and Michelangelo’s Pieta. It was awe-inspiring to say the least. But the next day we toured the Roman Catacombs and it was a different kind of awe-inspiring. We were walking where men and women who were following Jesus even when it was costing them everything, we were standing in the same halls as the earliest martyr’s (although to be fair they probably weren’t sipping Fanta while they were standing there).

One of the earliest Christian thinkers, Tertullian, once said, “The blood of Christians is the seed of Christianity. We’re like the grass, the more it is mown, the more luxurious it grows.” And he’s right. The reason I believe, and probably the reason you believe (if you do) is because brave men and women embraced the story they were dealt, even though it meant losing a lot.

It’s been said that churches are born in caves and die in Cathedrals. And I’m starting to understand what that means. We operate the best in settings that we try to avoid. I’m convinced that we were created to live better stories, both corporately and personally. We were meant to live epics, not the trivial mini-stories we get so caught up in.

Because no one cries for a guy trying to buy a Volvo.

About jonathanstorment

My family and I love reading, traveling, daddy/daughter dates, playing hide and seek, good music, and long meals with friends. We still miss LOST, and all four of us have Superman uniforms. We are passionate about bringing Heaven to Earth and want to follow Jesus while repainting discipleship for those around us. We are followers of Jesus and I preach at the Highland Church of Christ. We participate in something called A Restoration Movement, and we've come to realize that might be larger than we thought.

6 thoughts on “Conflict

  1. I haven’t read that one yet. I’ll have to make time to watch the video you posted and to read the book. (So many books, so little time!)

    The centrality of suffering and of conflict to our stories is something that resonates with me, and something I’ve been pondering, praying about, and struggling with for a long time. We are born into a world at war. But many of us are so insulated from that reality, that it seems as if that’s the make-believe world, and suburbia is the real world. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Yet so many Christians believe that happiness, prosperity, and health are the touchstones of the Christian life.

    I’ll give you an example. Recently, I was talking to a man and told him I was a candidate for early knee replacement. I have degenerative arthritis, and after two surgeries, there has been no improvement, and will not be, at least not without divine intervention. I’ve also prayed, prayed, and prayed about it, and have been prayed for by some absolutely giant prayer warriors. I still hurt.

    When I told this man I would likely have knee replacement at a fairly young age, he said to me, “I rebuke you.” Okaaaay . . . He told me that God didn’t want his people to be in pain, that God wanted me to be healed. I needed to have faith that I would be healed. Rather than getting into it with him, I just smiled. I didn’t tell him how long I had been praying in faith, and how many others had prayed for me. I didn’t ask him if the man leading our retreat, a man who has Cerebral Palsy, was also guilty of this lack of faith. To make matters worse, the man who “rebuked” me, has an artificial hip! So what’s good for him is lack of faith for me?

    God never, ever promised his people that they wouldn’t have pain and sorrow. In fact, he promised the opposite. He promised us a cross. It’s not a comfy pillow. It’s an torture and execution device.

  2. Yeah, bro. Danny, I know about that way of talking about God. I’ve had it happen to me and I’ve done it before. It’s hard because there is a bit of a paradox here. I don’t think God made your body to have degenerative arthritis, it was made to be whole. But you’re right…God as the master storyteller is never want to make the road soft and comfortable.

    And this is the problem with health and wealth gospel again for me. One of the main tenets of the story Scripture is telling (and a part of our story that I think can gain Jesus a better hearing in a post-modern era) is that suffering can be redemptive.

    Anyway, thanks for sharing Bro. Danny!

  3. I’m so caught up in this right now. I’m living through suffering I could never imagine and while Satan uses it find my vulnerabilities too often, God is using it to show me His power. I appreciate your comments and your recognition of suffering as a positive, albeit painful, in our lives. I’m tired of it and I don’t want any more of it but if God is going to use it to refine me closer to a Christ-like image and life, I’ll submit to it.

  4. As a counselor and from being in the position of having my 3 next of kin all being ill to varying degrees, I am all too often exposed to people who are suffering. As much as I want to just pray and prophesy and say some magic words and be sure to end it in Jesus’ Name, I have slowly come to see the purpose in suffering. However, I also continue to speak faith-filled words in Jesus’ Name and try to speak life into sickness (insipient death) which Jesus bore upon the Cross. Back to your references to health and wealth, I still don’t dismiss it, but I absolutely believe that God often uses illness, suffering, sickness, failures, embarassments, yada, yada to bring about his purpose/s in our life. I still try to sneak a few “act now!” prayers up, my thinking has changed to “walk me through this” instead of “deliver me ASAP, Slow Poke!”

    Thanks for being relevant, Storment. Keep ’em coming.

  5. Jeff, thanks for that post, and the spirit in which it’s written in. You’re going to live a good story.

    Maynard, That’s what I’m talking about. God is one who doesn’t always answer our “immediate” prayers, but bends things back toward His purposes. And we never do it alone.

  6. Maynard, I’ve prayed both those prayers. Most of the time we don’t pray, “Deliver me sometime waaay in the future, God.” We want deliverance now. That’s why we’re praying now. God can take that, and he can use it.

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