July 10, 2017

A Purpose in Pain

As a physician and orthopedic surgeon who specialized in the treatment of people with leprosy (Hansen’s disease), Dr. Paul Brand became convinced of the value of pain through a frightening personal experience.

While suffering is something we would prefer to avoid in the natural, we need to understand that pain is not always bad.

One night after an ocean voyage and a long train ride inland from the English coast, he wearily prepared to retire for some much needed sleep. As he began removing his shoes, he suddenly realized that he had no feeling in the heel of one foot. Immediately, fear swept over him. He knew that one of the first symptoms of leprosy is a loss of feeling. While he had been convinced there was no danger of contracting leprosy from his patients after the disease had reached a certain stage, the numbness in his heel terrified him. He removed his socks, found a pin, and stuck himself with it until he drew blood, but felt nothing.

Throughout a long, sleepless night, Dr. Brand considered what a dramatic change was about to occur in his life. He tried to envision himself living as a leper. He knew well the devastating effects of the disease which takes away the ability to feel pain. He pondered how his medical staff would be shattered; after all, they too had assumed they were immune. And how would he endure the forced separation from his family?

When morning came, Dr. Brand decided to prick his foot again. He took a pin in hand, poised it over his foot, and made a sharp, decisive stab—and yelled! His long train ride had apparently numbed a nerve, but the numbness was only temporary. He once more could experience pain, and how he rejoiced! In a new and very personal way, he realized that pain is a gift of God.

As Christians, there will be times in our lives when we grapple with pain. While suffering is something we would prefer to avoid in the natural, we need to understand that pain is not always bad. Realizing that good can come from it—that God has a purpose in what He allows His children to go through—can help us keep an optimistic outlook of faith when the waves of trouble roll in.

Defining pain

When we hear the words pain or suffering, we might associate them with serious illness, injury, or other physical trauma. Certainly that often is the type of pain a person faces, but the scope of circumstances that bring suffering into our lives goes far beyond that. Take a moment and think of how you would define pain. What are some types of situations that can bring suffering into people’s lives?

For reflection: The truth is, a broad range of pain-causing situations can come our way in life. While we may feel alone in our suffering, there likely are others around us who are hurting too, although perhaps for very different reasons.

Perfecting through pruning

Some people find it difficult to accept the fact that a loving, all-powerful God would allow pain and trouble to come into the lives of His children. However, an honest examination of the Scriptures reveals this to be true. Jesus himself warned, “In the world ye shall have tribulation.” Through our pain, we can experience God’s process of refining the precious metal of Christian character. Romans 5:3-4 says that “tribulation worketh patience; and patience, experience; and experience, hope.”

In John 15, Jesus taught about the Vine and the branches, explaining, “Every branch that beareth fruit, he purgeth [prunes] it, that it may bring forth more fruit” (John 15:2). The “pruning” that God does in the life of a Christian, while painful, is vastly different from punishment. Ponder times in your life when you have experienced God’s pruning, and note how it differed from punishment.

For reflection: Pruning is not done to inflict pain, but to remove parts of a plant in order to promote productivity. When God “prunes” us, He has an end result in view, and He determines what will best accomplish this in our lives.

Trusting in God’s sovereignty

We need to settle in our hearts that what we face in life is not a random occurrence without divine purpose or design. The Psalmist asserted, “The steps of a good man are ordered by the Lord” (Psalm 37:23). The Apostle Paul pointed out that God allows affliction to come upon us only for good, writing, “And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28). Acknowledging that God has a purpose for our trial will make it easier to bear. When we choose to trust in the overruling goodness, providence, and sovereignty of God, He will not fail us.

The Book of Job examines the problem of human suffering. Job, who was the instrument in this divine object lesson, was a man of impeccable integrity. God himself said of Job, “There is none like him in the earth, a perfect and an upright man, one that feareth God, and escheweth evil” (Job 1:8). Yet God permitted this upright man to be tested in an extreme way: Satan was allowed to take Job’s possessions, his family, and finally his health. However, the enemy could not touch Job’s most valuable asset—his faith and trust in God. From our vantage point thousands of years later, what positive effects resulted from Job’s time of affliction?

For reflection: Job is an example to us of how one who is surrendered to God can accept whatever God allows to come his way, even though he sees no good reason for it. The beautiful verses of encouragement found in the Book of Job have influenced believers for thousands of years. As Christians, we do not live for ourselves but for God (Romans 14:8), and our reaction to trials that come our way will undoubtedly impact the lives of others.

The positives of pain

Pain cannot be avoided, but many times it teaches us valuable truths that we could learn in no other way. We do not want any affliction to be wasted. There are lessons to be learned in the “valleys” of life and we want to learn them. Here are a few of those lessons, though Scripture gives many more.

  • We can learn that there is always hope, and where our hope lies. Even in the darkest of times, the hope God provides will always remain. (See 2 Corinthians 4:17-18.)
  • We can learn that life may change direction at any time because it is subject to forces beyond what our eyes can see. While we can plan our ways, it is God who determines our path. Our own plans are futile unless they are aligned to His. (See Jeremiah 10:23 and 29:11.)
  • We can learn what it means to experience the comfort of God. He has ways of ministering to our suffering that can come in no other way. (See Psalm 18:2; Psalm 119:75-76.)
  • We can learn God’s power to deliver. He is omniscient, omnipotent, and omnipresent. There is nothing too hard for Him! (See Psalm 34:19.)

What are some additional lessons that you have learned from times of pain?

For reflection: God’s intention is to make all trials into blessings for us. It is possible to rejoice and give glory to God even in times of great suffering if we recognize that every painful experience can provide us with new compassion and concern for others.

Praying for a miracle

Sometimes God reaches down and changes circumstances supernaturally. Sometimes He does not. What determines whether God will perform a miracle? Is it all right to ask for one? Should we try to bolster our faith to reach out and claim the answer we desire? These questions may weigh upon the one who is hurting and sees no natural solution to his problem.

It is vital to understand that faith is not a means of coercing God into doing something He never intended to do. Whether or not He will perform a miracle is in His hands. In both the Lord’s Prayer (Matthew 6:10) and in Jesus’ prayer in Gethsemane (Mark 14:36), Jesus evidenced a spirit of submission to the will of God. In pondering His example, how do you think a submissive spirit might impact our prayers for a miraculous solution to what we face?

For reflection: While we certainly may pray for a miracle, we must never position ourselves against God’s will. In His prayer, Jesus reaffirmed His desire to do what God wanted, even though He knew that meant enduring excruciating pain and suffering. Any cry to the Almighty requesting a touch from His hand can be expressed by a child of God, but the basis for our prayers should always be, “Thy will be done.” We should never come to God demanding or thinking to earn a self-shaped answer to our request by our great faith. There may be times when disease, trials, or heartaches are not taken away, but they do not have to defeat us. If our trust is in God, then we will yield to whatever answer He sends because we have confidence that He knows what is best for us.

Responding appropriately to trials

God’s Word lets us know that it is not strange or unusual for Christians to go through trials (see 1 Peter 4:12). We are assured that God is committed to making something beautiful, valuable, and eternally lasting of our lives, and for this reason He allows the “fiery trial” to come our way. Many times we think of exercising faith in terms of obtaining the removal of a problem. However, God can also give us grace that will carry us through life’s challenges, and at times this may require even greater faith than being delivered. What are some ways we can cooperate with God in the spiritual refining process?

For reflection: While we praise God when He delivers us from troubling circumstances, we do not want to forget to praise Him as well for His strengthening and enabling grace that sustains us during times of suffering. Examples from the Word of God teach us that we can cooperate with God by patiently enduring, being content, keeping a spirit of gratitude, leaning on the grace of God, and looking forward to the time when God will free us from all suffering.

The God of all comfort

In 2 Corinthians 1:3 we find a beautiful description of God—one that offers special meaning to us in the time of trial. This Scripture refers to Him as “the Father of mercies, and the God of all comfort.” The next verse says He comforts us in all our tribulation. What a wonderful message of hope in our dark hour! The word comfort comes from the Greek words para, meaning “beside” or “alongside,” and the word kaleo, meaning “to call.” Together they mean “called alongside.” No matter what our needs may be, God will be alongside us to share in our pain.

In Isaiah 53:4 we read, “Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows.” Notice that this verse has no limits. It does not say He has borne some of our griefs or carried part of our sorrows. Our suffering is always shared by Christ. What are some of the ways the Lord has ministered to you in your times of need?

For reflection: Hebrews 4:14-16 tells us that Jesus is our High Priest. He was made like us in every way, so He is able to sympathize with our weaknesses and is touched by our infirmities. We can confidently approach the Throne of Grace with our deepest feelings of grief, pain, suffering, and heartache. There we are sure to find “grace to help in time of need.”

Using your experience with pain

Who can know what it is like to stand at the bedside of a child and watch him draw his last breath? Who understands the pain of being forsaken by a trusted friend? Who can relate to facing a future that has been radically rearranged by illness? Someone who has gone through the same circumstance is often the one who can help the most.

There are people all around us who are hurting. One of the greatest blessings we can know in life is to be used by God to bring His solace to those who suffer. Are you willing to use your experience with pain to help someone else?

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