Updated: Sep 7, 2021
Pastor Dan Jongsma
In a broken world like ours, pain is a common denominator. Pain is inevitable, unavoidable, and comes in many different forms. Webster defines pain as “a feeling of discomfort or distress, an aching or throbbing, physical or mental suffering.”
Jesus clues us into its reality when He says, “In this world, you will have trouble.” (John 16:33) In other words, expect it. Life will be hard. It will be troubling and taxing much of the time. In I Peter 4:12, we are assured that painful problems are normal, “Do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you.”
The problem is that most of us are not very good at dealing with pain. We deny it, avoid it, run from it, or try to numb ourselves to it. If we are truly honest with ourselves, much of our compulsive busyness is nothing more than a cheap distraction from our internal pain.
But what if we revised our thinking on this subject and decided to make friends with pain? What if we decided to see pain as a friend, rather than a foe? It’s helpful to understand that pain is simply our body’s or our mind’s way of telling us to pay attention. Pain gets our attention, like almost nothing else. Often it is a reality check. A wake-up call that forces us to stop, think, and ask hard questions.
If we are truly honest with ourselves, much of our compulsive busyness is nothing more than a cheap distraction from our internal pain.
We know that pain was not part of God’s original purpose for our lives. It came as a consequence of human disobedience. Still, God uses pain to His good purposes -- to alert us to
important things. As C.S. Lewis famously said, “God whispers to us in our pleasures. He
speaks to us in our conscience. But He shouts to us in our pain. Pain is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”
"God whispers to us in our pleasures. He speaks to us in our conscience. But He shouts to us in our pain. Pain is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world." C.S. Lewis
The problem with avoiding pain is that by doing so, we are also avoiding growth. Often, our greatest seasons of growth come through our most painful experiences. Now I wish this wasn’t so, but it is. All growth involves change, loss, and letting go. Those things cause pain – but it is a profitable pain. A purposeful, fruitful kind of pain. Enduring pain is one of the ways, perhaps the main way, we cooperate with God as He works His transformative grace in our lives. It’s in the crucible of pain that God does His richest and deepest work within us.
You’ve heard it said, “No pain, no gain.” That principle holds true not only in the physical realm, but also in the spiritual realm. When we are reluctant to face pain, we limit ourselves. When we deny our pain, we deny ourselves the opportunity for growth. The fact is that we grow only to the threshold of our pain. In other words, to grow more, we need to raise our pain capacity. Increasing our pain threshold allows us to continue to grow to become more like Jesus.
What we are saying here is this: One of the best ways to become emotionally healthy and spiritually mature is to learn to lean into pain, rather than run from it. Learn to see it as a gift from God – fruitful for our growth and for His glory. Listen to what the Psalmist says to God in Ps. 119:71, “It was good for me to be afflicted so that I might learn your decrees.” The Psalmist acknowledges the role that affliction played in his life, and how God used it for good. Specifically, God uses pain to purify our motives, to keep us humbly dependent upon Him, and to move us toward passionate prayer.
The reason God allows painful trials to enter our life is because He is more concerned about what we are becoming than in what we are presently experiencing. Rather than seeing pain as an unwelcome intruder, we can learn to embrace pain and make peace with it. But that’s never easy! Yet it’s possible when we know that God is always with us, that He is still on the throne, and that everything that happens to us is Father-filtered – i.e. filtered through His almighty, all-loving hands. When we begin to grasp the value God places on our character development, we will pray fewer “Comfort me” prayers and more “Conform me” prayers. Less “Make this go away” prayers, and more “Make me more like Jesus” prayers.
God doesn't guarantee us an absence of pain or suffering in this world. But He does guarantee His presence in the midst of pain and His power working through our pain to bring about eternal good.