Archive for the ‘Feelings’ Category

Why Pain

We are born thinking that we are alone in this world and that we have to use our wits and wisdom to make it through it. We do not see that we are under the protective care of a loving and strong God who has created us for his purposes (Psalm 23). As a result, we think that we know what is best for us and that we have the resources to make it happen. God uses pain to help turn us from this independent living to learn to rely more on his faithful support to make it through life. God often uses pain in our lives, not for the purpose of making our lives miserable, but for the purpose of making us godlier. “Consider it all joy when you encounter various trials knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance” (James 1:2-3).

When we are faced with unfixable problems like chronic pain, loss of a child, divorce, or failure at work or in the ministry, we realize that we sometimes do not have the resources to succeed. We realize that we are not in control and often reach out to him who is in control.  The pain that flows from our over-our-heads troubles is actually good because of the spiritual growth that can occur.[1]

I am currently faced with a ministry failure. Things did not turn out the way I wanted them to turn out. I feel grief, sadness, fear, and hurt. Because of feeling so bad, I have turned to God in prayer and his Word with deep dependence to find God’s will and peace in the midst of the pain. Through it all, I am sensing a greater freedom from an over dependence on good circumstances and the approval of others through this pain. I am also sensing a greater capacity to live and express my true thoughts and beliefs in a spirit of love.

When life is fairly comfortable, we often fail to ask ourselves the hard questions of life. We tend to value more than anything the desire to feel good, even if what makes us feel good is phony. So, when pain hits, we are thrown off-balance and in the process of trying to get our good feelings back, we have an opportunity to ask ourselves some hard questions that can change our lives for the better. Questions like, “How much am I worth when I am not performing?”, “Is God really enough to satisfy my need to be loved?”, or “Does God really have my best interest at heart?” Deep in our hearts we already have answers to these questions.

Pain can help draw these beliefs out in the open where God’s light can shine on any darkness or unbelief and change them. “If we walk in the light as He Himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another” (1John 1:7).  Pain has the power to grow us or destroy us. We all have met people who have never recovered from painful episodes in their lives. Not that the pain of divorce, getting fired or being abused will ever go completely away. But for some reason, these people have not moved passed the pain and found God’s intimacy, comfort and strength to continue walking in the light in these areas.

We often forget that God’s primary purpose for our life is to make us like him in spirit and truth. It is not to make us feel good. Jesus was a man of sorrows. As we grow more like him, our pains will more and more reflect the pains that Jesus feels and felt when he walked the earth 2,000 years ago. We will grieve for the lost and those who refuse to walk in the Spirit, we will be sad by the various satanic bondages that tie people up in mediocre living, and we will fear the painful correction that will come to those who refuse to repent. This kind of pain is not bad because it reflects that we are doing right and living the abundant life.

God promises us pain in this life, no matter how godly we are. It comes with the territory. Because man is not basically good, we hurt each other. This is where much of our pain comes from. We disrespect one another, we fail to show interest in one another and we say things that hurt one another’s feelings.

We also hurt sometimes by submitting ourselves to God’s leadership in our lives. He often wants to do things in us and through us that disturbs our painless hopes. We hurt when we can’t do things we want to do, when things don’t happen on our schedule, and when we don’t get the glory.

The pain we experience when we come face-to-face with God’s plans for our lives, helps us to turn away from the false god’s we may have of achievement, people’s approval, and comfortability. We have the opportunity in our pain to learn to allow God to meet our tremendous needs for worth and love, or double-down on our efforts to earn them. God is calling us in our pain to a more intimate love relationship with himself. “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9).

It will be painful to turn away from our false gods to embrace our true God. We are like the Israelites in the desert who yearned to return to their lifestyle of bondage in Egypt, rather than learn to trust God to meet their needs in the desert. I have been intentionally seeking for several years to turn away from seeking people’s approval at the expense of being who God created me to be, having to be busy all the time to believe my life had worth, and taking how others treat me as the final statement on who I was rather than what God thought of me. I have experienced much anxiety as I have sought to transfer my dependence off my efforts onto God and his promises to meet my needs. At times, I have suffered the pain of criticism, disapproval, and exclusion from others because of relying on God’s approval instead of man’s. Yet, I am excited that through the pain I believe God has enabled me to better reflect his glory in living and speaking the truth in love.

How to Deal With Pain

In dealing with pain, it is good to seek for God’s perspective on the pain. One big reason for this is that if we are not careful, we will begin to lose our belief that God loves us and is all-powerful because he has allowed such pain in our lives.[2] How often have I been tempted to despair lately by the lack of results in the ministry. Yet, God continually challenges me with his perspective that “your toil is not in vain in the Lord” (I Corinthians 15:58).

As we seek God’s perspective, often we will not fully understand why the pain occurred. God says to us, “Trust in Me with all of your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding” (Proverbs 3:5). We have to come to grips with the reality that “as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts higher than your thoughts” (Isaiah 55:9). Often we need to trust in the goodness of God, rather than our own understanding of the pain. He promises in Proverbs 3:6, that as we acknowledge our dependence on him to help us through the pain, that “I will make your paths straight.”

Often the pain we feel is due to the substitutes we have been using for trusting in God to meet our needs.[3] When we lose the approval of others or fail to be treated with dignity and respect we often feel more pain that we need to because we have allowed others to define us too much. Certainly, how people treat us will always have an effect on our emotions. However, as we grow more dependent on allowing our identity in Christ to be our experience, we will experience greater freedom from bondage to painful feelings and beliefs that say to ourselves “I am what others think I am.” Instead, we will say to ourselves, “I am whom God thinks I am, which is that I am loved, respected, and totally acceptable despite how others view me.”

Another way to deal with pain is to deal with it. We are really good at running away from emotional and other pains by getting busy or repressing the pain rather than facing it. Repressing emotional pain has been a weapon of choice for me for many years. Rather than face the fear of low worth, or the terror of not being approved by certain people, I repressed the feelings and kept busy pursuing achievements and corkscrewing myself into identities that would get me approved. In the last few years, I have been experiencing greater freedom to be myself and not be such a slave to the expectations of others.

We also need to not let our pain define our reality. I have through much of my life let my feeling be my guide. If I felt important, I was important. If I felt appreciated, I was appreciated. If I felt like a worm, I was a worm. However, this is not true. We are important period. We are appreciated period. We are not a worm period. God defines true reality, not my feelings and the pain in my life.

I remember when I first became a Christian I was letting my feelings determine my reality. “Are you a Christian?” was the question. My answer was, “I don’t know because I do not feel like a Christian.” Yet, I needed to learn that my true reality was that I was a Christian based on sincerely receiving Christ and not on how much I felt like I was a Christian. Likewise, in pain, we are tempted to feel that God does not love us or does not have the power to change things. Yet, our true reality in pain is that God continues to be our Good Shepherd and promises a great future for us here on earth and in heaven (Psalm 23:6).

Application Questions and Exercises

1. What is a pain you are facing today. Ask God what he is accomplishing through the pain. What thoughts come to mind?

2. Is there a hard question you need to ask yourself in the pain you are now experiencing? What is that question?

3. Ask God if there is any pain in your life that you still have not fully dealt with in a godly way. What did he bring to mind?

4. Think of a time that doing God’s will created pain in your life. Thank God by faith, if necessary, for the good he accomplished through your pain.

5. Ask God to help you make a list of several good things that are in your life today because of your experience of pain?

6. How has relying on who you are as God’s precious child comforted you as you faced the pain of rejection, failure, or being ignored?

7. How important do you feel right now? How important do you think you are to God right now? Why the difference if there is one?

[1] Larry Crabb, Shattered Dreams, (Colorado Springs: WaterBrook Press, 2004), 26-35.

[2] Gary W. Moon,  “Finding God in the Midst of Pain and Suffering,” Conversations- A Forum for Authentic Transformation, (Fall/Winter 2011): 4-5.

[3] Ruth Haley Barton, “The Promise of Pain,” Conversations- A Forum for Authentic Transformation, (Fall/Winter 2011): 72-76.

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