Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Making Peace with Your Pain

1) "Devote yourselves to prayer, keeping alert in it with an attitude of thanksgiving; praying at the same time for us as well, that God will open up to us a door for the word, so that we may speak forth the mystery of Christ, for which I have also been imprisoned; that I may make it clear in the way I ought to speak. Conduct yourselves with wisdom toward outsiders, making the most of the opportunity. Let your speech always be with grace, as though seasoned with salt, so that you will know how you should respond to each person." (Col 4:2-6)

2) "Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have it's perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing." (James 1:2-4)

3) "Therefore we do not lose heart, but though our outer man is decaying, yet our inner man is being renewed day by day. For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison, while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal." (2 Cor 4:16-18)

4) "Because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, [e.g., his being 'caught up to the third heaven' - v 2] for this reason, to keep me from exalting myself, there was given me a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me - to keep me from exalting myself! Concerning this I implored the Lord three times that it might leave me. And He has said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness." Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore I am well content with my weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ's sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong." (2 Cor 12:7-10)

5) "I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need. I can do all things through Him who strengthens me." (Phil 4:12-13)

6) "...others [Old Testament prophets] were tortured, not accepting their release, so that they might obtain a better resurrection; and others experienced mockings and scourgings, yes, also chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were tempted, they were put to death with the sword; they went about in sheepskins, in goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, ill-treated (men of whom the world was not worthy), wandering in deserts and mountains and caves and holes in the ground. And all these, having gained approval through their faith, did not receive what was promised [e.g.,, the coming Messiah],..."

7) "you also, as living stones, are being built up as a spiritual house for a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ." (1 Peter 2:5) and "The house [e.g., the Temple], while it was being built, was built of stone prepared at the quarry, and there was neither hammer nor axe nor any iron tool heard in the house while it was being built." (1 Kings 6:7)

"Pain is not the problem - pain without purpose is the problem." Rick Warren, author of The Purpose-Driven Life.

As you can see in items 1-5 above, Paul was very clear in his mind that his pain had purpose. Look again at the first verse. Paul wrote Colossians from prison. If I had been in prison, I'd have asked for prayer to be released soon. Not Paul. Paul asked for prayer that he might use his circumstance to further the Gospel. Paul was single-minded in his life-purpose. Preach the Gospel - period. And he knew that he could preach it from prison just as well as he could preach it anywhere else, so whether in prison or out of prison, his purpose is not thwarted.

So, how do we translate that to our lives? How can I take my life-circumstance and make it about God, to God, for God, and therefore give it purpose? It's not like I've dedicated my life to going around preaching the Gospel like Paul did. It's not like I'm being persecuted for my faith like Paul was.

You may have heard it said, "You're the only book of the Bible some people will ever read." Your difficult life circumstances - whatever they are - are your greatest opportunity for a testimony to the power of God. Not His power to deliver you from your circumstances - His power to help you through them.

People are always watching Christians. The unbelieving world is waiting to jump on us for hypocrisy the way a trap-door spider waits for its prey. When our life is easy and wonderful, we talk about "God's blessings." Satan loves that, and he encourages it. Satan knows that there will come a day when our life isn't so easy, and is far from wonderful. That's when he starts to whisper in our ears. "So what's going on? Is God abandoning you? Your God isn't so faithful after all, is He?" and our faith starts to crumble. Or he says, "See, you really aren't that good of a Christian after all. If you were, God would keep blessing you. You're a loser, a failure as a Christian, and God is punishing you by withdrawing the blessings."

Ouch. The enemy is always watching for an opportunity to pounce on our witness.

But look at item 6 about the Old Testament prophets. As a mental health therapist, I can tell you that I've had many, many clients who have bought into the lie from Satan that our earthly comfort is a blessing from God as a reward for good behavior, and that the earthly difficulties are an indication of God's displeasure with us. If that was true, how do you explain this passage? I don't know about you, but as difficult as my life has been on occasion, it's not even in the same ballpark as these guys. And yet, look at what God says about them - "the world was not worthy of them." Their worth was so far above those they were preaching to, the world didn't deserve their presence. They were too good. These are the best of the best in God's eyes. And yet, look at their lives. Not only did they suffer terribly, they never even got to see the fulfillment of the promise they were preaching about. But Scripture says that their lives were about us. Their suffering was not because of displeasure from God. Far from it. It was for our sakes, and for God's glory.

Now, look at item 7 about the stones. That seems a little out of place in this list of verses, doesn't it? It's not. Consider this: If you went to Israel now, the only part of the Temple still standing is the western wall, the portion they call "The Wailing Wall." That part of the wall didn't come down in 70 A.D. when the Romans demolished the Temple. To this day, if you stand in front of that wall, you cannot put so much as even the thinnest credit card between the stones that make up that wall. They fit so well together that no mortar was needed. Each stone, some weighing as much as 500-600 tons, is an exact perfect match for the one below it, above it, and next to it on each side. This perfect match was created at the quarry, before the stone was transported to the building site.

So what's that got to do with me and my circumstances? It's a perfect picture of our lives as Christians. Paul said that each of us is a living stone in the temple being built by God. Each of us is in the process of being hammered, chiseled, cut and hacked to be exactly what God needs us to be in the great spiritual house He is building. The "New Jerusalem" is a Biblical term for heaven. At this point, we are outside of the proverbial "city walls," being chiseled to fit exactly where God is going to be placing us when we get to "The New Jerusalem" and even now in the earthly "Spiritual House" God is building with us. I'm sure if you could have talked to the stones in King Herod's day, they would have told you they didn't like the chiseling process, either. But once it was done and the Temple was built, it was a miracle of workmanship and screamed the glory of God to all who laid their eyes on it. If the stones could talk, they would tell you that the chiseling process, painful though it was, was an unspeakable privilege given the outcome. What a privilege it is to be chosen to be one of those stones. What a beautiful picture. What a beautiful purpose for my pain.

Remember that people are always watching. When you are in the middle of easy street, it's easy to praise God and be joy-filled. Nobody is impressed by that. It's only when the chiseling process starts that we truly have the opportunity to show them who our God really is. Praise Him in your pain, and you are, by definition, preaching the Gospel to a lost and dying world - just like Paul.

So, there it is. How do we turn our painful circumstances into glory for God? By remembering what Paul and James said above: let the purpose of your pain be to show them God's power - not to break you free from prison, but to give you strength and courage and joy through it. When they come to you and say, "I don't get it. With what you're going through, how can you be so peaceful!?", tell them. They will want what you have.

Sure, pray to be relieved of your pain. Paul did, and so did Jesus. But in the end, praise God regardless, and let those who are watching see God's love and power to bring you peace and contentment through your pain. There's eternal purpose in that.

You may be interested in the following video teachings:

Peace Which Surpasses Comprehension, Part 1

Peace Which Surpasses Comprehension, Part 2

May the glory of the Lord rest with you through all things,



At January 08, 2010 12:02 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Sue,

I am going through one of the most painful times of my life, and trying to find the greater purpose from this pain. God what am I suppose to learn?

I am going through a break up and I didn't know that it could hurt this much.

Trying to find peace in the midst of this is almost unbearable. I know there is a greater purpose and I am going to focus on that. I am not going to run from my pain but instead ask God to carry me through it, make me stronger, teach me.

It seems that the moment you think you can handle it you get whacked and the wave of negative emotions roll over you.

Lord help me find the eternal purpose of this pain and use my life show people your love.

Sue thank you for taking the time to post this I pray that God would give you strength and encouragement and show you how much he loves you.


At January 08, 2010 5:31 PM, Blogger Sue said...

Hi Dana. Boy, I have so been where you are. That's what got me into the mental health field. If you'd like to chat off-line, please e-mail me at sue@opnhrt.com and I'll share my story with you.

At March 07, 2012 10:53 PM, Blogger anonymousch said...

Aside from staying away from all evangelical churches, which are filled with nasty, judgmental people like Sue who condescend
to people that suffer from depression by implying they are spiritually immature and possibly wallowing in sin which is likely
causing their depression, the best thing you can do is ignore religion in general (which promotes mostly ignorance and mistreatment
of people they don't understand) and seek your own relief.


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