I took some time last Thursday to go away for a personal retreat. This was something that was given as a gift to all Bent Tree staff members by our senior pastor, Pete Briscoe. He had had a refreshing time away recently and wanted the same for all our staff. He requested only that we totally unplug (no computer and no cell phones) and that we bring along a book that they ordered for each staff member: Sidetracked in the Wilderness by Michael Wells.

God spoke to me through my time outdoors in nature and my time reading this book. One of the things Wells points out in his book is that God has you right where you are for a purpose and He’s molding and shaping you (my paraphrase) all the time into His image. You may want out, but God is trying to do something IN you that only He knows. 

Several months ago I went through a tough period. I was spiritually dry, burnt out and tough to be around. I had a negative encounter with one of my volunteers and did not act Christ-like. This person, like the Bible teaches in Matthew 18, came to me one on one to work things out. I, acting in the flesh, did not receive this well and did not admit my fault and make amends. 

Then something horribly tough, embarrassing and painful (yet strangely beautiful) happened – the volunteer called me on it and went to the second part of Matthew 18. A meeting was set up with my boss, our Executive Pastor and one of the pastors on staff who is a counselor and trained in the Peacemaker program with myself and the volunteer. In that room and through the conversation that took place, God broke me… again. As I said in my reflections on 15 years of ministry blog last week – the breaking process is continual. 

God, previous to the meeting, opened my eyes and softened my heart. I started out the meeting by apologizing, putting the disagreement all on me and said that I “have been in the flesh, am spiritually dry and weak and haven’t been in the Word and alone with God like I should.” I confessed that I had not acted properly when the volunteer approached me one on one and that I had sinned. 

I’m not going to lie – this was one of the hardest days in my 15 years of ministry. It was extremely difficult, humiliating, humbling and really put me in my place. At the same time, it was wonderful, Spirit-filled, God-ordained and edifying. At the end, the other pastors left  me and the volunteer in the room alone to pray for one another and talk. It was a memory I’ll never forget and I can now see this friend without a single negative thought and wouldn’t you know it, we’re somehow closer. 

God loved me too much to leave me in my sin and flesh. God acts to prune us and as a loving Father, will do whatever it takes to get our attention. God has pruned me and broke me numerous times over the years, as I’m sure he has you. What I was reminded of during my personal retreat last week is that this is an act of love, mercy, grace and truly is a beautiful process. 

What about you? Do you find that God pursues you? Have you been broken? How do you know that God is actively at work molding and shaping your heart and character?

Greg Atkinson

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