I like to pair seemingly contradictory words to reveal how these words do not contradict one another but complement one another. My paradoxical method includes using the word “blessing” and then coupling it with an experience or feeling that we typically do not associate as a blessing. If you look deeper, though, there are all kinds of blessings we forfeit during hard experiences because we focus on the pain and overlook the fruit that God is producing in us. In this way, my aim is to help Christians see the goodness and sovereignty of God in all of life, even in the most uncomfortable situations. After all, the “all” in the oft-quoted verse that God works out all things for good for those who love him (Romans 8:28) includes, of course, suffering.
Do you have bad examples in your life? Have you had them in the past? Consider yourself blessed. Why?
First, a bad example provides inspiration. Say, for example, you’re a seminary student preparing for full-time pastoral ministry. You are convinced of the need for expository preaching, local evangelism, and rigorous church-sponsored discipleship. But the church you’re attending isn’t doing it or isn’t doing it as well as you’d hope. You see the neglect in your church and how it’s hurting God’s people. No, you likely should not express these concerns, and if you do, you best say them in a gentle and humble way after becoming a member and developing relational capital. No ministry is perfect, and it’s easier to see church leadership flaws from a distance. But instead of allowing these experiences to inflate your ego, you should channel your frustration for the future: allow it to inspire you to not make the same mistakes.
Experience, as they say, is the best teacher. This experience is invaluable because you can’t learn how to do ministry by books alone. So when the Lord does promote you to pastor in the future, the people you pastor will be better served because of your presently deficient experience.
Second, a bad example blesses the next generation. What do I mean? Perhaps you are one of many who received dysfunctional parenting. You realize by the time you’re 25 the blows of childhood have hurt you more than you realize. Your parents are still living. You do your best to honor the 5th commandant, but you set boundaries. But you still can’t help but think of the ways your mom and dad weren’t there for you, and how much you wish they would have been.
Then, at some point, if the Lord wills, you become a parent. Your children grow up and say, “Mommy and daddy, you were the best parents ever! Thank you for raising me in the Lord and preparing me for the real world.” You may have never heard these words had it not been for your bad experiences growing up. The blessing of a bad example lies here: you see how a bad example hurts people, and you resolve to be different.
Third, a bad example promotes preparation. If you see a loved one die without money, you might be tempted to mock them. “Stupid fool! Can’t believe you didn’t save for retirement.” And then you check your accounts and realize you haven’t saved a dime for retirement. Saving for retirement seems so abstract. Or at least it did. It doesn’t anymore. You see from personal experience the misfortune of having little money for your retirement years. You determine this won’t happen to you, match your company’s 401K, open up a Roth IRA, and learn the basics of financial literacy. You get to your retirement years and now have more money than you ever thought possible, and seek to enjoy and bless others. All because someone you know didn’t do it 30 years prior.
Fourth, a bad example creates new convictions and strengthens existing ones. Gathering information is crucial for developing convictions, but so are personal experiences. You cannot know the right thing to believe by consuming information alone. You need to see both good and bad examples, you need to have both good and bad experiences.
Fifth, a bad example promotes character. Becoming like Jesus is God’s Plan A for your life. There is no Plan B. In this way, although it won’t always make sense to you, God sends (not merely allows) bad examples into your life for a specific purpose. What’s the specific purpose? Don’t know. At least not always. Our finite minds cannot possibly begin to understand all the ways in which God is working in our lives. But we do know it’s for our good. As we rely on God’s grace, God uses these difficult people and painful experiences to make us more like Christ.
Are you surrounded by bad examples? Take heart. Though it is painful now, God is using these times for your good. Don’t squander this season. Learn from it. Remember these times. Channel your frustration for good and trust that God is not wasting this season.
For a different take, you may consider my article The Blessing of a Good Example.