Jack Miller, professor of pastoral theology at Westminster Theological Seminary and pastor of New Life Church, asked his wife, “If you could change one thing about me, what would you change?” She immediately replied: “Jack, you don’t listen.”
Miller made immediate changes. He spent time each Wednesday, his day off, listening to Rose Marie’s struggles, frustrations, and complaints. He spent ten months improving his listening skills. At the end, he asked, “Rose Marie, if you could change one thing about me, what would you change?”
He wasn’t prepared for the answer: “Jack, you don’t listen.”
I’ve long appreciated Miller’s ministry. Miller was, as Daniel Akin notes, “was a scholar, pastor, preacher, mentor, theologian, evangelist, missionary, and visionary.” He influenced people like Jerry Bridges, David Powlison, and Tim Keller. His life was extraordinary. His book, The Heart of a Servant Leader (a compilation of his letters), is one of my favourites.
And yet what I can relate to most is his weaknesses.
Don’t get me wrong. I love reading about his successes. I’m challenged by his faith, his evangelistic zeal, and his willingness to take risks. But his successes leave me discouraged. Miller had a catalytic personality. I can learn from his example, but I can’t be exactly like him.
But I can relate to his weaknesses. Miller hurt a friend, and it took two decades for the relationship to be repaired. He once quit his pastorate and professorship in despair. He struggled with pride and self-sufficiency. His wife sometimes struggled with her faith and in finding her place in ministry. One of his daughters ran away from the Lord; by the time she repented, another daughter had decided to rebel.
A recent biography of Miller, Cheer Up!: The Life and Ministry of Jack Miller gives an honest account of his successes and failures. His failures weren’t wasted. “His sin, failings, and inadequacies became occasions for him to ask God for more grace,” observes the author, Michael Graham. “God’s grace freed Jack to share his faith boldly with others as a sinner who was in need of grace himself.”
I feel the same way about other heroes. I love Charles Spurgeon, but he was so extraordinary that it’s easy to become discouraged in our relative ordinariness. But I’m not alone in drawing comfort from his struggles. “The fact that such a prominent Christian pastor struggled with depression and talked so openly about it invites us to friendship with a fellow sufferer,” writes Zack Eswine. “As this pastor and preacher grappled with faith and doubt, suffering and hope, we gained a companion on the journey. In his story we can begin to find our own.”
As 2 Corinthians teaches us, God uses our weaknesses for his purposes and glory. None of us are immune. Even the choicest of God’s servants have struggled in their marriages, their parenting, their walk with God, their emotions, with blind spots, and ultimately in physical decline and death.
Struggling? You’re not alone. Perhaps your struggles and weaknesses will also become an occasion for you to ask for God’s grace, and to demonstrate for others what it means to need grace yourself.
God works through weak people like us.