Most of us are prone to believe there's something in our story that disqualifies us from ever being all that God created us to be. Or that our story may disqualify us from serving Him at all. I know there have been (and still are) times when I have felt that way.
It's hard to imagine that God could have accounted for the most broken parts of our stories, that somehow, it's okay if we were abused, abandoned, broken, beaten, sinful, struggling, or whatever. But here's the truth, and I hope it will ring true for you even in the hollow recesses of a broken heart - your story is often the very thing that qualifies you for God's service.
We put so much emphasis on skills and abilities, on education and training. We celebrate character and personality and giftedness. As if these are the things that most qualify us to do whatever it is that we do. You wouldn't imagine hiring, say, a preacher who could not read and understand the Bible, who did not have some theological training, whose personality did not boom forth out of the pulpit and catch both ears and eyes. You wouldn't hire a preacher who was not a gifted speaker. Right?
And yet, the preacher could be all of these very things - adept at understanding, theologically-minded, bursting with personality, endowed with great character, gifted in speaking - and yet still not be qualified for the position of preacher if he's missing one essential aspect: story.
Because you would never hire a preacher who hasn't met God, would you?
That's story. It's not enough to be able to talk about God. It's not enough to be able to read and dissect His Word. What we need in our pulpits, and most of us recognize this, is someone who has encountered God somewhere, who has had a life-changing interaction with Him, who can tell you what God's voice sounds like in the empty spaces, what His light looks like in the darkness, what His touch feels like. We need someone who can narrate for us what God is really like, and the only way you know that is if you have met Him.
I don't care who you are. I don't care how gifted you are. I don't care how trained and educated and endorsed you are. If you have not met God, if you don't have the personal story of Him, get out of my pulpit. You're useless to me.
The same is true on the pastoral care side. There are groups, healing groups, out there for all kinds of persons - divorcees, addicts, victims of crime or abuse or abandonment, whatever. And there are persons in our churches who absolutely, without question, have the heart to lead these groups. Love just flows out of them. Compassion oozes out of their pores. They are filled with empathy.
But if you haven't been divorced, your heart can only take you so far. If you haven't been addicted, your compassion is missing something. If you haven't been the victim of a crime or abuse or abandonment, all the empathy in the world is not going to make you as valuable to that group as someone who has that story, and who handles that story with humility.
See, it's not an either-or proposition. It's not that you can have either a story or the training. Your story alone doesn't qualify you for service, either. But it's that story mixed with the training, stirred together with grace that starts to get you there. It's a story handled with humility that's essential here.
As much as we don't need the unqualified, unstoried individual guiding our endeavors, neither do we need the man (or woman) who puts his/her own story on a pedestal. We don't need someone raising up a story to show us how it's done; we need someone who enters into a story to show us how it's lived.
And that means, yes, when you use your story, when God uses your story, you end up living it again and again and again. You end up putting yourself right back in those places, right back in those shoes. It doesn't sound like much fun, or like much good could come of that. But every time you put yourself back in those shoes, you take new steps, and your story becomes something new. You look around and see just what it is not that your story does to you, but that your story enables you to do. It qualifies you for something, for the very work God has set before you.
So be thankful for whatever your story is because it's leading you to somewhere holy. It's making you able to do the very thing God has called you to do. Maybe it feels like that story disqualifies you from this thing or that thing, and maybe that's true. But it also qualifies you for the thing, that one thing that you do by God's amazing design.