Friday, February 5, 2016

To paraphrase Edwin Starr, “Pain! Huh! What is it good for? Absolutely somethin’”

This is a devotional I wrote in 2005
for an email newsletter.

reposted here with minor edits.

We are a culture bent on pain relief. At the first twinge of discomfort we look for a quick and easy way to dull it.

Medicating physical pain is not a bad thing; there’s nothing wrong with taking an aspirin to relieve a headache.

Even anti-depressants have their place. But mindlessly numbing spiritual or emotional pain too quickly can be counterproductive. Pain can have a purpose.

Years ago, searching for a reliable Christian therapist to help me work through an unexpected divorce and related issues, there was one I went to only briefly.

He was obviously biased against people of faith (and yet a “Christian” therapist!), as well as afflicted with a Gordian knot of his own unresolved issues (yes, even therapists have issues!).

But he did offer one piece of true and valuable advice: Don’t avoid your pain; sit in it and feel it fully.

I’m not aware of anywhere in the Bible where we are admonished to run from, avoid, deny, or otherwise neutralize pain at all costs. Yet so much of what we chase after in the name of faith, peace, and blessing has to do with exactly that.

Without any thought, whatever we suspect as causing us pain or discomfort is tossed away, avoided, or walked away from, whether it’s a person, a truth, or an event.

The irony here is that, desperate to avoid pain in ourselves, we often inflict unjust pain on others.

Is this Christ-like? Does this jibe with the wisdom and teachings of Paul? Is it the experience of the primary characters in the Bible?

Most important, is this how Father God deals with us -- His biggest pains in His you know what?

No! He is patient, loving, forgiving, comforting. He walks with us through our pain.

To comfort is to cheer and encourage. It involves the dispelling of grief through the impartation of strength, not the removal of pain.

Others can’t relieve my personal pain, but in standing with me I can draw on their strength to endure; I can lean on them for support.

As the saying goes, sometimes God calms the storm and other times He calms us in the storm. Either way, there is still pain to be dealt with.

Comfort acknowledges the legitimacy of pain and the wisdom and insight it imparts.

So what is God’s purpose in pain? Responded to in a healthy manner, pain can sensitize us to the troubles of others, allowing us to become better ministers of God’s grace and comfort. 2 Corinthians 1:3-7 (HSCB) explains it like this:
“Praise the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and the God of all comfort. He comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any kind of affliction, through the comfort we ourselves receive from God. For as the sufferings of Christ overflow to us, so through Christ our comfort also overflows. If we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation. If we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which is experienced in your endurance of the same sufferings that we suffer. And our hope for you is firm, because we know that as you share in the sufferings, so you will share in the comfort.”

Note: The tense is present not past when referring to troubles, distresses, and sufferings, which are just different words for pain.

Pain can also point us to imperfections we need to purge from our lives or areas of weakness that need to be strengthened.

James puts it like this: “Consider it a great joy, my brothers, whenever you experience various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. But endurance must do its complete work, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking nothing” (James 1:2-4, HSCB).

By sitting in our pain and letting it fully wash over us, we can more clearly see how our own actions and reactions have fueled our own hurt or other’s.

And when it comes as a consequence of our own sin, after being refreshed by God’s grace and forgiveness, we can better carry out the command in Colossians 3:13-14 (HCSB) to “[Bear with] one another and forgiving one another if anyone has a complaint against another. Just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you must also forgive. Above all, put on love—the perfect bond of unity..”

The reality is that pain avoided is actually only pain delayed. It is pain that, while temporarily numbed, will still cripple us in persistent and subtle ways. As one person put it, avoiding pain is sort of like trying to hold a bunch of basketballs underwater.

Pain patiently endured and fully experienced teaches us how to be merciful without sacrificing people, relationships, or experiences that God has provided to us (Hosea 6:6).

It leads us not just to true and total healing, but to the awareness of our own desperate need for God’s grace in our lives moment by moment. It keeps us humble, fills us with gratitude, and enables us to be more caring toward others.

We can let go of the basketballs and watch them float away, allowing us to focus our energies on better things.

Being in pain can open us more fully to the presence and voice of God:
“God rescues the afflicted by their affliction; He instructs them by their torment” (Job 36:15, HCSB).

Pain refines and purifies: “[Pain has come] so that the genuineness of your faith—more valuable than gold, which perishes though refined by fire—may result in[a] praise, glory, and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 1:7, HCSB).

Pain yields multiple benefits: “And not only that, but we also rejoice in our afflictions, because we know that affliction produces endurance, endurance produces proven character, and proven character produces hope.  This hope will not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured out in our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us” (Romans 5:3-5, HCSB).

If you’re in pain, don’t run from it. Sit, and let it run its course in you. Allow the Holy Spirit to comfort you and teach you in your pain.

Take what you learn and use it to comfort others. Over time, you will experience genuine healing, real blessing, and true peace with God no matter what affliction surfaces next.

Better things come from being broken than being hard.
“But [Jesus] said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.’ Therefore, I will most gladly boast all the more about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may reside in me. So I take pleasure in weaknesses, insults, catastrophes, persecutions, and in pressures, because of Christ. For when I am weak [in pain], then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:9-10, HCSB).

Do you embrace, avoid, or run from pain? Why? Has the pain that did not kill you truly make you stronger? How or why not? When going through a painful period, what is the best and worst advice you received? What is the most memorable comfort you have received when in pain? Please share your thoughts in the comments!

Just for fun:

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