Why Pain?

 

Books have been written, volumes penned, and limitless counseling sessions undertaken to understand the problem of pain. Whether physical, emotional or even spiritual, no one can escape feeling pain’s raw effects. We seek only to end it, sometimes at all costs – without bothering to understand it, much less embrace the experience. Sometimes, it seems the only ones who embrace pain are the unbelievers who use it as an accusation against God, as in, “If God is so great, then why does He allow pain?” They ask as a test for God’s very existence, that if He is real, He would never allow pain to afflict us.

Indeed, we all suffer pain for a variety of reasons (1 Peter 4:12) and some do seem to suffer more than others.

As he passed by, he saw a man blind from birth. (John 9:1)

There is a very rare condition called Congenital Insensitivity to Pain with Anhidrosis – an absolute inability to feel any pain. At first blush, this sounds wonderful, doesn’t it – a life without pain? Until you consider that physical pain protects our bodies from injury and illness; without pain, we could literally chew our tongues to a bloody, shredded mess at every meal, burn a finger to the bone on a hot stove top, or let a tiny sore turn into a deadly infection.

Without the pain of failure, would we ever really try to succeed? Without the pain of embarrassment, our personal conduct would devolve into an uncivilized mess. If we did not grieve so painfully for the loss of a loved one, how could we appreciate the value of life? If lost love did not wound us so greatly, how could we fully experience the beauty of love in our life?  If we could not suffer pain, we would not truly know joy – life would be bland, unrewarding and devoid of meaning.

And his disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” (John 9:2).

In the midst of pain, it is easy and understandable to feel as though we are being punished. However, we must seek God’s view, His timing is not ours – a life taken too early as we understand time is painful from our perspective, but if that life has fulfilled a great purpose from God’s perspective – then all of Heaven celebrates that life as much as any other, lengthy or not – even in the midst of our own sorrow. God has many reasons and uses for our pain (Hebrews 12:11)

We have all met people who are dealing with extraordinary burdens or pain. But have you noticed that when pain turns someone bitter or angry, they become a black hole of emotion? They are unlikable and they drive everyone away in their life and we avoid them at all costs. Contrast that with the person bearing identical burdens who instead of becoming bitter, seems peaceful, and even joyful at times. We are drawn to them – wanting to share in their joy. What is their secret? Frequently, these are the people who walk side by side with Jesus and seem to bear their pain without it becoming a millstone around their necks, seemingly content with each day as it comes. This makes perfect sense. Jesus suffered every form of pain known to mankind – He suffered everything for us so we would not be alone, so He can share the burdens of our inevitable pain.

Jesus answered, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him. (John 9:3)

You see, it is not that pain is for us to suffer, it is for us to glorify God. If people around you recognize your burdens and pain and yet see you thrive, living with peace and joy, I guarantee they will be drawn to you and feel a deep need to understand how it is you can live such a life despite your difficult personal circumstances. Then you can share with them the mystery and joy and power of your relationship with Jesus, whose yoke is easy (Matthew 11:30) as He looks to share your burdens.

To personalize this, many years ago my wife and I were severely and permanently injured in a devastating car crash caused by a drunk driver. It left us with lifelong physical pain and other difficulties, emotional challenges, and years of drastic financial problems and other consequences. If my suffering draws others closer to Jesus, I consider it a privilege. My personal pain is itself not always enjoyable – but I bear it with humility and submission. And yes, I do – consider it pure joy whenever I face trials of many kinds (James 1:2) because I hope that my actions and response may draw others nearer to Jesus, so that they may know the unspeakable joy of Jesus in their own lives.

As difficult as it is to endure, pain is not punishment; pain is a gift from God!

(By request, this post is repeated from my blog that originally appeared in October 2011)

 

A Holy Night

Ever have one of those moments when you find that a bit of knowledge you have turns into something more? One of the greatest delights and mysteries of the Christian walk is the way in which God reveals Himself in such meaningful and surprising ways. He takes my knowledge of some fact or event and imbues it with such depth of understanding that it seems to radiate afresh with meaning and relevance. My knowing becomes more than a synaptic connection, it becomes an experience, something I feel relationally because that knowledge and experience seeps deep down into my soul and becomes part of who I am.

I was listening to what is probably my favorite traditional Christmas song, O Holy Night (by Andy Williams – no one does it better!) and its meaning swept over me like a wave. Now, I know what happened Christmas night (John 1:14) – that Jesus was born as God took the form of a man to enter the world for the salvation of mankind. But as I listened to the lyrics something made my eyes open wider and for perhaps the first time, I felt the magnitude of that event.

My mind’s eye took the vantage point of the angels as they must have seen this momentous event unfolded before them – God, (God Himself!) in the person of Jesus Christ came to earth! Imagine what the angels witnessed as they saw the glory of God move from Heaven to earth, in all probability knowing what fate awaited Jesus. God, THE God of the universe – pure love, goodness, glory and holiness moving Himself in the form of His Son from Heaven into His own creation to save His most precious created beings from the fires of Hell. He was destined to sacrifice Himself in hideous fashion on the wooden cross that awaited – wood that was almost certainly already growing in God’s creation, layer by layer in a tree that had sprouted years before Jesus’ own birth.

I was swept away by what the angels must have realized and most assuredly felt – that God’s love was so powerful and so consuming that He was willing to take all of man’s ugly, hurtful rebellion on to Himself and become the physical embodiment of this awful pain and sin to save mankind from their own willful disobedience. It seemed as if I could feel what the angels must have felt as they witnessed how the glory and love of God shaped this moment as He moved into His creation. Imagine the love the angels that must have gathered through all of heaven and swept through the world like a whirlwind as God became earthly flesh. They must have beheld God with an inexplicable pure and reverential awe. My new understanding of Jesus’ birth, this vision I now perceived was of such pure beauty to me that I was moved to tears – the kind of tears that flow from pure joy.

This experience, this realization changed everything – I will approach this Christmas with more reverence and awe than I have heretofore ever held.

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Giving Thanks!

Thanksgiving is a day when we all come together to celebrate with family and friends and bask in the glow of relationships, shared memories and full, warm bellies. We pause and give thanks for God’s blessings and the abundance in our lives. At least, that is the idealized version of Thanksgiving that we all envision. That’s the way Thanksgiving should be and for many of us, it is exactly that.  But let’s be honest, blessings and abundance may seem to be in short supply for many others. In fact, beyond the facade of celebration, most of us are masking deep hurts, smiling through worries and just barely keeping our heads above troubled waters.

But wait! This isn’t a post about exploring the troubles we all face, this is about embracing them. I know what you’re probably thinking, “How can you possibly tie Thanksgiving together with both blessings and burdens?” Well, let’s start with this, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, when you face trials of many kinds.” (James 1:2) No one likes pain and trouble in their life, but Paul was telling us that there is a greater purpose to our pain than we sometimes realize and as Christians, we must recognize that in living out our faith through the troubles that befall us, Jesus will come along side us, help us endure, ultimately triumph and lead others to the joy of Christ in their lives.

Further, in Philippians 4:6 Paul tells us, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.” He reminds us to give every problem and every worry to God. And make special note – Paul is telling us here to be thankful for every problem and every situation that causes us to worry. That may seem strange, but thanking God for our trials allows Him to reveal His grace and provides Him the opportunity to show us, and others – how He works in our lives.

So yes, Thanksgiving is a time of celebration, a time of reflection, for thanking and recognizing God  for the blessings in our life – even if those blessings are sometimes found in the burdens of our life.

I leave you with these words that Paul gives us in 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18, “Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”

Happy Thanksgiving!

A Silent God?

Are you in emotional or physical pain or some other kind of distress – worried about your spouse or child, finances, a problem with a friend, an illness, a job loss or some other vexing problem that is troubling you greatly? Perhaps you are a faithful Christian and you have never wavered in your faith, or maybe you see yourself as a Christian with more of a casual commitment; in either case, your dire circumstances have you calling out to God in fervent prayer – waiting for His answer to your predicament.

And you hear – NOTHING!

In fact, the Great Silence seems to fill you up and God’s silent echoes seem to reverberate in almost every corner of your life. In the midst of your greatest trials and suffering, when your cries to God are the loudest – He is suddenly mute. I know, I’ve been to that place and it is an empty, cold, dark cave ringing with doubt and fear!

However, there is a problem with that sense of anomie – God is never silent! He speaks to us in so many ways that it is almost impossible not to hear Him. Sometimes our prayers are so loud that we overwhelm His voice, making it difficult to hear anything other than our own pleadings. With our heads hanging down, our eyes narrowed, and our ears hearing nothing other than our own dark thoughts, we become so self-absorbed in our own misery that we become oblivious to everything around us, even those things that are practically clamoring for our attention.

God does indeed speak to us at all times, in every season and through every difficulty. He whispers, He shouts, prods, cajoles, leads, always listens and speaks to us in myriad ways. Our first task in actually hearing Him is through reverent prayer and our own silence. Pray faithfully, with thanksgiving and then wait in silent reflection, “Be still and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10). Sometimes His answer is simply, “While I am working on this to your ultimate benefit and My ultimate glory, wait!”

While we wait, God shows us other ways He speaks to us. Sometimes we must search the bible for His word on the troubles confronting us – the answer is there, He leaves it to us to draw it out. We must be mindful that what we are asking of God may be outside of His glory or will and we may be asking for something that will ultimately prove disastrous for ourselves or others, whether we realize it or not. There are times when, deep down, we know that what we are asking for is contrary to God’s will – His word will reveal that to us. We can find God speaking to us through others – the power of Christian fellowship is not to be overlooked. Confessing our predicament to our true Christian friends puts them to work on our problems, sharing the load. Jesus tells us in no uncertain terms, “Again, I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything you ask for, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven.” (Matthew 18:19)

One caveat – I have heard many people, including preachers say that the reason God is not responding or speaking to us is due to our unconfessed sin. Respectfully, I must say that is absurd. The Holy Spirit is always there to convict us of our wayward wanderings and while we should never persist in choosing sin over God’s word, he will not abandon us. The bible is replete with God choosing, using and speaking to the worst of sinners – David  was an adulterer and murderer (2 Samuel 11:1-27), yet God still spoke to David and continued to use him throughout the remainder of his life. In the New Testament, Paul (then Saul) was a Christian persecutor and murderer (Acts 9:1, Galatians 1:13-14) and yet Jesus spoke directly to him during the famous Road to Damascus conversion (Acts 9:3-9). If you are a Christian, or even a pre-Christian on your way to salvation, the message of the bible is that we are God’s chosen people; you are His child and He will always welcome you back into His loving arms (Luke 15:11-32). Through Christ, we do not have to worry about God rejecting us because of some forgotten, obscure sin, His love is far more powerful than a remote sin we fail to recognize.

Our prayers to God and His benevolence, mercy and grace are not a genie in a bottle to be used at our command, thus we cannot simply expect God to deliver anything we ask. While God has great plans for all of us, His ways can be difficult to understand (Isaiah 55:8). Still, in summary, God is there for you, He listens, He loves, and he ALWAYS answers! Listen to His whispers, watch for His signs, steep yourself in His word and even if your answer does not come in one blinding flash, be assured that He will answer bit by glorious bit, until you cannot help but be awed by His response!

 

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