how to renarrate hardship in the light of the gospel

Even from what little I’ve read so far, James K. A. Smith’s Desiring The Kingdom is a book bristling with insights.

One of the most potentially fruitful insights is the chapter he devotes to exploring how the different elements of Christian liturgy can ‘school’ our desires and worldview. For example, Smith argues that the role of scripture reading and preaching is to renarrate the world.

And it’s really true, isn’t it?

How many times have you had the experience of being able to see aspects of your life or situation differently as the result of reading something in the Bible or hearing a great sermon?

This even seems to be the more or less explicit aim of many parts of the Bible — as is certainly true of a passage I heard preached on recently: 2 Timothy 4.9-22.

There, Paul mentions the costs of his ministry — costs like the grief of saying good-bye to people (verses 9-13) — the conflicts and sometimes very deep hurts that characterised much of it (verses 14-18), as well as some of the people and relationships that could perhaps be regarded — especially by Type A personalities — as obstacles to the tasks of ministry (verses 19-21).

These hardships could easily have made him feel frustrated and bitter. Of anyone, surely Paul had reason to feel God owed him a comfortable, conflict-free, strength-to-strength experience on the home stretch of ministry.

But Paul recasts each of these hardships instead. The costs he recasts in terms of generosity. The conflicts in terms of opportunity. And the people and relationships in terms of priorities (reflecting God’s own priorities).

It’s important to see that Paul is renarrating his experience here. He’s not denying the reality of the hardships. But he is ensuring that the story doesn’t end there.

So what makes possible this radical renarration of his tough experience of ministry?

Ultimately, it’s only the gospel promise and reality of God’s presence and grace. And that’s the very thing with which Paul concludes this passage — both wrapping up his final letter and issuing a standing invitation to renarrate our own hardship in the same way:

The Lord be with your spirit. Grace be with you.

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