Pain is universal. Whether it’s physical, mental, emotional, or spiritual, every person on earth experiences pain. We just can’t get away from it in our fallen world. As Christians, it can be difficult to reconcile the existence of our pain with the expectation of our behavior. Even when we are suffering, we still have a job to do for the Lord. We must still be an example to others. And, we must still remember to love our neighbors, many of whom are hurting as much or more than we are — even if we can’t see it. For the suffering Christian, frustration might set in unless we remember the big picture. Here are three things we can do to keep our eternal perspective during times of suffering.
A Foundational Truth: God Allows Our Suffering
Satan has a special target on the backs of Christians who live for God. He wants to bring problem after problem to keep us from fulfilling our God-given purpose and weary us in the process. In 2 Corinthians 12:7, Paul mentions the messenger from Satan sent to “buffet” him (knock him off course). Although the particular “thorn” wasn’t mentioned, we know that God allowed it. Paul’s pain was for a purpose: to keep his pride in check. Also, in Genesis chapters 37-50, Joseph was sold into slavery. He spent 13 years in Egyptian bondage, two of them in prison. But God used his brothers’ jealous betrayal to save all the Israelites from famine. When it was all said and done, there was no doubt that God orchestrated everything. He took what the enemy meant for evil and used it for good for His glory (Genesis 50:20).
There is nothing new under the sun, and God is the same yesterday, today, and forever. Our pain is also the product of Satan’s attempt to harm us. He wants to weary us and cause us to lose our Christian witness. But God is still in control of it all. Even when we don’t understand, we can be assured of Romans 8:28. “And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.” For the suffering Christian, this brings great comfort. God allows our pain for our own good (as in the case of Paul) and/or His glory (as in the case of Joseph). We just have to trust Him.
3 Things We Can Do
But sometimes when we are dealing with our own very vivid physical pain, emotional hurt, or mental distractions, suddenly God’s big picture might start to feel a little fuzzy and abstract. Here are three tangible things we can DO to keep perspective and make sure our actions align with truth.
1. Remember the Two Eternal Destinations
When we are hurting, other people can be hard to take. In fact, those who are the most difficult are often the ones who are in the greatest amount of pain themselves. They don’t know how to talk about it or what to do about it, so they act out in the only way they know how. Sometimes they don’t even understand that their behavior is adding grief on top of our own pain. Pretty soon, they have trampled on our very last nerve. But instead of being so quick to wish they would go away (or even telling them to do so), we need to remember one vital piece of information.
Every single person we encounter has only one of two eternal destinations. Either we will be with that person in Heaven one day, in which case we must take special care to love our Father’s children. Or, that person will exist in an eternal Hell, in which case we have no business adding hurt to their lives (which is the only heaven they will ever know). In fact, we must do our best to show Christ’s love while there is still time for him/her to choose it. Think about it. If you knew that the person in front of you only had two weeks left to live, would your behavior towards him/her change? When we encounter difficult people in our pain, we must remember the stakes. We must be kind, show the love of Christ, and try to help them if we can.
2. Do Good and Pray
But sometimes even when people aren’t wearying us with difficult behavior, our own pain can cause us to feel sad or even spiritually dry. We want to praise God, but words of adoration for a great all-powerful God — who is currently allowing our pain to continue — can come out with a groan. Here is when we can sink into the “slough of despond” to borrow a phrase from the book Pilgrim’s Progress. Literally, a “slough” is a swamp. Metaphorically, it is a situation in which nothing changes or gets better. It’s a place of fear, doubt, and discouragement that can swallow us, whether from the guilt of our sins (as in the story) or the weight of our circumstance.
Now notice what’s happening in that entire paragraph above. Everything was about us. Our pain. Our doubt, our fear, our discouragement. But focusing on ourselves and the things that are wrong in our lives will never allow us to climb out of that swamp. It’s only when we focus on Jesus and His will for us that we will be able to see past our own pain. God’s will is that we love others, do good to them, and pray for them. When you start feeling down about your own pain, make a conscious effort to find someone else who is hurting and help him/her. A kind word, a prayer, or a thoughtful gesture can go a long way toward making both you and the other person feel better.
3. Remember That God Has Plans for You
My pastor tells a great story about a bishop who was a faithful man of God. One day in a church service, someone stood up with a message in tongues. No interpretation came forth, but after service a little old lady came to the bishop and told him that the message had been for him. He was to “get his house in order” and prepare for God to take him Home. Within two weeks, his health had deteriorated to the point where he was bedridden and lost his eyesight. The story goes that he lay in bed licking his thumb and turning imaginary Bible pages as he “read” the Word of God. He preached repentance to salvation for anyone who might walk by his open window, and soon someone did. After hearing his preaching, a man came into the house and gave his heart and life to the Lord. Soon after, the bishop passed away.
Ephesians 2:10 tells us that God isn’t figuring things us out for us as we go. No, He has “prepared beforehand” the good works we will do for Him. He has a plan for us, and no matter the pain we might endure in this life, we can be assured that our work here isn’t done until God’s purpose has been fulfilled. Imagine if that bishop would have spent his last days crying that he was sick and blind instead of boldly proclaiming the Word of God. Imagine what a difference we can make if we focus on God and others instead of ourselves. When it seems like your pain is all you can think about, remember that you are still here for a reason. Focus on the job at hand. Ask the Lord how He can use you in every situation.
Good Advice to the Suffering Christian
“Love With Your Life” by Hollyn is a song that may not be one of the old theological treasures of Christendom. In fact, it may even seem a bit “cotton candy” on first listen. But a few of the lines have really stuck with me over the years. They offer a bit of advice.
“Love With Your Life” by Hollyn
“You crash into a brand new day
The world’s up in your face
And they gon’ whisper in your ear
Just push ’em back you need your space
To be who you gon’ be
You got so much more to give.
Don’t look to the left or right
You know the future’s worth the fight
Don’t look to the left or right.”
Sometimes the world – difficult people and our own pain and problems — gets “up in our face.” Everything feels so pressing, so important, and so near and real to us. It’s those times that the enemy will whisper that spiritual things like God’s will and way are just nice ideas that would all be well and good if we were physically healthy, felt better emotionally, and were stronger. But when the enemy brings his lies, it’s those times that we need to focus even more closely on the things of God. We can’t “look to the left or right.” We must be kind to those we encounter, do good and pray for others, and remember that our job here isn’t finished yet. The future is worth the fight.
Like stories about helping people? Try Acts 18:18: God Sees His People in the City. Please sign up to receive my blog in your email in-box. You can find that at the upper right of your screen (or at the bottom on a phone). Also, check out my YouTube Channel where I read the blogs out loud. I also have a playlist of hymns from my church.