Episode 1. Sometimes Life is a Pain
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Sad to say – but pain is a fact of life. Sure – we’d love to avoid it. But we all travel through pain from time to time. So – what causes it and does God have anything …
None of us likes to experience pain in our lives, and yet, some pain is inevitable. Sure. But other pain … well you know it and I know it … we bring it on ourselves, through the things that we think, say and do. And that pain is completely avoidable.
Some Pain is Inevitable
Hey, it’s great to be with you again this week. In fact, we are beginning a new series of messages that I’ve called ‘Pain Relief for the Soul’. There’s a whole massive global industry around pain relief. In fact, if you Google that exact term ‘pain relief’, you get millions of search results – all in about point one nine seconds. And of course, that makes sense.
Physically we can suffer a lot of pain. Someone who has been in a car accident; someone who has had an operation; someone who is suffering from cancer – the pain can be acute. And so it’s a fantastic thing that the medical professionals and the pharmaceutical companies are becoming better and better at treating pain.
None of us wants to see anyone suffering and none of us wants to suffer pain unnecessarily either. So yep, the whole pain relief industry is a good thing. On the whole! I mean, my hunch is that if we did a survey today and ask people the question: “if you had the power to remove one thing from this world; the power to wipe just one thing off this planet completely, what would that be?” Well, I suspect that ‘pain’ would be right up there on the list, wouldn’t you? Question is: “what would be the right thing to do?”
My dictionary tells me that ‘pain’ is physical suffering or discomfort caused by illness or injury, as well as emotional suffering or distress. And in a physical sense the one thing that we know is that pain is the body’s way of telling us there’s something wrong. If you or I have a sharp pain in the right knee, what that’s telling us: there’s something wrong in there; in our knee. And so hopefully what we do, is we go and see the doctor and have it looked at and either get some advice to rest it up, or have some physio or even have it operated on before we do any more damage – right?
Pain is the signal that there is something wrong and we need to get it looked at before it gets any worse. Sometimes pain comes too late. Generally by the time someone notices the symptoms of some forms of cancer – bowel cancer or lung cancer, are a couple of cases in point – by that time it’s too late to treat because the cancer is so advanced. But mostly, pain happens early enough for us to use that signal to make things better. Now, of course, when there is trauma – a road accident – well, it’s happened and pain is not something we can avoid. It’s happened in an instant and the pain is there.
I remember once about twenty years ago when I had boiling water spilled over my face and my chest. The pain was absolutely excruciating and what that terrible pain caused me to do in an instant, was to dive to the sink and pour cold water all over myself and call an ambulance so that it could be treated. That quick action means that I don’t have any scars as a result. Why did I act so quickly? Because I knew that cold water might help me avoid the scaring? Was it some stunning medical insight that I had? No! None of those things – I moved like a rocket because of the excruciating pain.
So as much as none of us likes pain; as much as we would like to avoid it if at all possible, well, pain actually plays an important role in our well being – I think that is the point. And if it’s true physically, well, it’s also true emotionally. Pain is a sign that there is something wrong. Sometimes it is completely outside our control: if a loved one dies – a wife or a husband of many years. It doesn’t matter what we do to try to avoid it – there is going to be grief; there is going to be pain and that is just going to take time to heal. And the sense of loss may never go away.
It’s a bit like trauma, in a physical sense – it’s introduced from the outside and it just hurts. In fact, God’s Word talks quite a bit about that sort of pain; pain that happens through no particular fault of our own; pain from the outside in. You see a lot of that sort of pain in the Bible. But sometimes, in fact, can I say this: often times the pain has so much more to do with the things that we do to ourselves. And let me take you to a verse that contrasts these two forms of pain.
It was written by Peter, the Apostle, to people, Christians who were suffering a great deal of persecution – I mean, really suffering – comes from the Letter First Peter chapter 2, beginning at verse 17. If you have a Bible, grab it – First Peter chapter 2, starting a verse 17:
Honour everyone. Love the family of believers. Fear God. Honour the emperor. Slaves, accept the authority of your masters with all deference, not only those who are kind and gentle but also those who are harsh. For it is a credit to you if, being aware of God, you endure pain while suffering unjustly. If you endure when you are beaten for doing wrong, what credit is that?
But if you endure when you do right and suffer for it, you have God’s approval. For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you should follow in his footsteps.
Now, while I’m not about to endorse slavery or the beating of a slave, that’s what was going on in the first century and here we have two instances: self inflicted pain – the pain that comes through disobedience of the slave. And then trauma pain – the pain that comes through absolutely no fault of the slave.
See, here’s the thing with pain: when we are at a point of suffering pain; when we are in that place, we discover it’s a dark lonely place. My experience of pain, I mean, the real deep emotional pain; the pain of great loss in a relationship, on the occasion that I have been in that place – it is such a lonely place. And it doesn’t matter what other people say or do, it doesn’t seem to have any impact; they can’t seem to make it any better. That makes it even worse! You see other people getting on with life; living what appear to be normal happy lives – we see that when we are in pain and that makes our pain even worse, doesn’t it?.
My friend, here’s the point: some pain in life is inevitable; it just is – pain happens; it happens sometimes through absolutely no fault of our own. But on the other hand it happens sometimes as a consequence of our own actions. There is a clear cause and effect and we see that and then, on top of the pain that we are experiencing, we also experience the pain of regret. “Oh, if only I hadn’t done that!” You know the routine. We’ve all been there.
Pain happens and often when it does, it’s acute – it tears us apart. So here’s the thing: if pain is going to happen in life; if pain is inevitable, well, it makes sense to me to spend some time learning, discovering from God how to deal with pain – how to actually deal with it – and when at all possible, how to avoid pain. I wonder whether a lot of the pain we experience isn’t because we cause it in the first place or because we didn’t know how to handle something when it happened to us.
In fact, it seems to me, that in any or all circumstances that involve pain, we can either be the victim or a victor – someone who has it done to us; someone who struggles through pain with the attitude that, “I’m the victim and there’s nothing I can do and woe is me,” or someone who says, “You know something, whether I caused it or whether I didn’t, right now I’m in pain and not only do I have to live through it, I want to learn through it – I want to find some good in the middle of my pain and I am going to come out the other side of it. I am not spending the rest of my life in this pain.”
Actually, God talks a lot about pain in His Word and that … that’s what we are going to be chatting about over the coming few weeks. I hope it’s a journey that you can join me on.
Treating the Symptom or the Disease
I suspect that there’s not a one of us who doesn’t at least have one packet of painkillers at home in their cupboard somewhere and in fact, most of us probably have more than one packet. These days there’s the ordinary, everyday painkillers – aspirin or paracetamol based; the ones we grew up with. But then they came out with extra strength painkillers, often containing something much stronger – codeine or something like that. And the latest thing is the rapid action painkiller.
Well, let’s face it, none of us wants to have a headache longer than we need to, so we pay almost twice as much for half the number of tables on the basis that they are supposed to treat the pain more quickly. We don’t really know whether they do or not – we have never stopped to measure the pain relief response time but we do know we want the pain to go away so we will cough up the extra cash because, well, because of this strong felt need to get rid of the pain.
In fact, we have become a generation of pill poppers and whilst there’s no doubt that painkillers and other drugs are an absolute necessity as a part of medical treatment – no doubt about that at all I wonder whether we don’t go to that cupboard for the pills just a bit more often than we should.
Well, every now and then you and I have a headache and of course, it makes sense to grab a painkiller or two and when we have a cold or flu we will take a pills that minimise and mitigate the symptoms – bring the temperature down, dry the nose up a bit, reduce the coughing – good stuff and I for one am incredibly thankful these drug companies have done the research to bring me that level of convenience.
But here’s the bottom line: pills reduce the symptoms, they don’t treat the disease. Let me say that again – I know it’s obvious but often we don’t think about it and it’s really, really important: the painkillers reduce the symptoms, they don’t treat the disease. Of course, there are some drugs that do treat diseases; lots of them. Chemotherapy is still one of the very best ways of treating cancer. The drug in many cases does treat the disease but painkillers generally, in fact, almost always, don’t. They just help manage the pain.
Now the reason we are talking about this is that this week and over coming weeks we are exploring this whole thing of pain. Why? Because pain happens – in many respects it is an unavoidable part of life. We all travel through pain – emotional, physical, spiritual, in our lives – it’s a fact of life – full stop!
And so I have called this series ‘Pain Relief for the Soul’, and the easiest thing for you to think when you hear that title, ‘Pain Relief for the Soul’, is “Aw, great! I can just reach for this short ten minute message that Berni talked about or the half hour message, or that one – a bit like going to the cupboard and grabbing a couple of Aspirins for a quick fix.” But well, you know, I’m not sure that’s what God wants for our lives. I’m not sure that God is into the ‘quick fix’ by managing the symptoms.
My hunch is He wants to treat the disease. Pain is a sign that something is wrong and God wants to treat that thing inside us that is wrong. Pain is often a consequence of something that is wrong within us. Pain is God’s messenger oft time, to get our attention. And sometimes, as it was in Job’s case in the Old Testament, pain is God’s tool in our lives for reasons that we don’t quite understand.
When bad things happen to good people, as they did to Job, pain is the place of testing to prove our hearts. And in that case it’s not so much about avoiding the pain – it’s unavoidable – so what it’s really about is knowing how to live through that pain in a way that honours God.
Whichever it is – pain caused by us or pain that comes from a cause completely outside our control, God wants us to grow and to learn and to develop through that pain and come out the other side a different person. Have a listen to this on pain and suffering – Romans chapter 5, verses 1 to 5. Paul writes:
Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we now stand; and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God. And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.
You know what I love about this? The Apostle Paul experienced way more than his fair share of pain and suffering in his life. And what he learned through all of that is that pain and suffering leads us back to God, if we let it. Suffering leads to endurance and in fact, it’s only through the pain that an athlete learns to endure. And that endurance – it produces character, it changes who we are, it strengthens us, it gives us compassion for those in need.
And as our character develops, we learn to experience hope because instead of wallowing around in the ‘woe is me’ thing, all of a sudden, as our character grows, we can see above the pain and we can stop being the victim and we can place our hope in God.
And that hope never disappoints us. Why? Because God has poured His Spirit and His love into our hearts – we meet God in the middle of our suffering. In fact, as we grow through the suffering; as we leave the whole ‘me, me, me’ thing behind, we discover that God is already there, ready, waiting for us to live in Christ because He has poured His Spirit into our hearts.
Friend, let me ask you this: does that sound like a ‘quick fix’ to you? Does that sound like, “Well, I’ll pop a pill and in ten minutes the pain will go away”? No! Not at all! Pain is often a tool in God’s hands and how skilful and how loving His hands are to lead us through that pain – to develop endurance, character and a hope that never fails.
With all that I am, let me say this: the times of greatest pain in my life were the times when I truly discovered God. Pain was the greatest opportunity that God ever handed me to discover Him. And as much as I wouldn’t wish any of that pain that I have travelled through, onto my worst enemy, I wouldn’t swap it for the world.
I remember one particular time, a decade and a half ago, of great pain and it was in the middle of that pain that I decided to search out this Jesus. Looking back on it now, I know that it was by God’s grace that He put that desire in my heart but back then I didn’t realise that. I just went looking for God in my pain and ever since then I have discovered the powerful truthfulness of these words that Paul writes out of his own trials and pains and afflictions and sufferings.
God isn’t interested so much in treating the symptoms, He wants to deal with the disease. He is in the business of cutting the cancer of sin out of our bodies so that we can be free instead.
So as we look at this subject of pain over these coming weeks, please don’t expect a quick fix – we are not treating the symptoms through God’s Word, we are going straight to the disease.
God’s Answer to Pain
We all know about the ‘carrot and the stick’, don’t we? It’s this idea that you can either motivate the donkey by dangling a carrot in front of its nose or whacking it on the backside with a stick and you and I both know that sometimes it’s appropriate to use the carrot and other times the stick. It’s like that with us too.
We have seen in essence, there are two types of pain – the sort that we cause ourselves. In his first letter to Timothy chapter 6, verse 10 – Paul is writing about peoples’ love for money and how they chase after wealth and he says that: “they pierce themselves with many pains.” See, that’s what we end up doing – we end up doing, through our sin, to ourselves – “we pierce ourselves with many pains.” This pain is, in essence, self inflicted – you do this thing, you know it’s going to cause pain and yet, we go and do it anyway.
And then, there’s the sort of pain that comes naturally out of situations and circumstances that are completely outside our control – the sort of pain that happens through the death of a loved one or through rejection or through conflict – all sorts of things. And what we see in the Bible; what we discover about God is that He has this massive, unfathomable love for us but at the same time … at the very same time, He is a God to be feared.
On the one hand, God loves us so much – John chapter 3, verse 16 – that He gave His only begotten Son up to death on a cross so that whoever believes in Him; whoever put his trust in this Jesus, wouldn’t perish but instead, has eternal life. That’s how much God loves us.
And at the same time, Jesus said – Luke chapter 12, verses 4 and 5 – he says:
I tell you, my friends, do not fear those who kill the body, and after that cannot do anything more. But I will warn you whom to fear: fear him who, after he has killed, has the authority to cast you into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him!
Carrot and stick! And when it comes to these two types of pain, God’s solution sometimes comes in two parts – carrot and stick. My friend, self inflicted pain; the sort that we cause by the stupid, wrong things that we do to ourselves – it’s called ‘sin’ – that’s what God calls it ‘sin’. It’s when we rebel against God – it’s when we get into those very things that God tells us not to do – that’s going to cause, I suspect, about ninety percent of the pain in our lives.
Here’s God talking to His people who have sinned against Him – Jeremiah chapter 30, verse 15:
Why do you cry out over your hurt? Your pain is incurable because your guilt is great, because your sins are so numerous I have done these things to you.
People, let’s get a revelation today – let’s just call it what it is. Sin is rebelling against God and sin brings pain – that is the stick. I know that if I argue with people I am going to have the pain of rejection – I going to have the pain of broken relationships. I know that if I am full of pride and I don’t listen to people, I am going to go and make mistakes and that’s going to cause me pain.
Friend, when we go against what God tells us to do, we are going to suffer pain. There is always consequence to our sin and the solution, well, the solution is simple – it’s exactly what Jesus said:
Fear God; fear the one who after you are dead, can cast you into hell.
Fear God! Understand that He is good and loving and mighty and powerful. But if we turn against Him, then as sure as night follows day, pain will follow – both in this life and in the next. Listen to God’s warning today – pain is the natural consequence of sin.
You know, I know people who don’t forgive others who have hurt them. And as I watch people carry unforgiveness around in their hearts, I cannot begin to tell you the amount of pain that I have seen unforgiveness cause in those peoples’ hearts. The solution is to forgive; the solution is to turn away from the sin and back to God. Jesus constantly tells us to forgive.
Now the other side of the coin is this God who loves us in our pain; in pain that’s caused by other things out there and you know something? He loves us even in the pain we brought on ourselves. He loves us in our afflictions. It’s what Paul writes to his friends in Corinth – Second Corinthians chapter 1, verses 3 to 5:
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and the God of all consolation, who consoles us in our affliction, so that we may be able to console those who are in any affliction with the consolation with which we received from God himself. For just as the sufferings of Christ are abundant for us, so also our consolation is abundant through Christ.
God is a God who consoles us in the pain of our affliction. He never leaves us alone – He is always there; right there with us. This God who consoles us in all our affliction. Notice that – all our affliction! God is such a good God.
My friend, pain is a fact of life – it just is! And God has the answer, in fact, He is the answer. Jesus died to pay for our sin so that we could be set free from it and He rose again, He ascended into heaven and He sent His Spirit. In fact, Jesus refers to the Holy Spirit as the ‘Comforter’, just like Jesus – this Spirit of God to dwell inside each one of us who would put our faith in Jesus – this Jesus who suffered pain for you and for me.
Friend, whatever it is that you are travelling through right now let me say this: Jesus Christ, the Jesus who died on the cross, who suffered for you; this same Jesus is the answer in the middle of your pain.