Life consists of many seasons: birth, growth, education, work, graduation, and death. Feelings and experiences often beyond our control are spread out between those seasons. Firstly, we have the experiences of happiness that come from events around us, which cause us much gladness. We all want to be caught up in endless days of joy, happiness, and gladness because, as they say, a merry heart is a good medicine (Proverbs 17:22). Secondly, we have experiences of pain caused by sickness, traumas of life, and death. We naturally do not want to be in a state of pain for long because pain crushes the spirit and deprives us of the joy of life. We, to a great extent, may not have control of these circumstances; however, we can choose to learn from them and become who God is preparing us to be through it all.
So, why should we seek to face pains in our lives rather than avoiding them?
Pain Builds Perseverance
Our pain is not a waste of feelings because God uses it to develop in us a heart of perseverance (the ability to withstand pressure during tough times). Good times do not give the human heart mental strength and tenacity like painful times. In the pains of life, we stretch our mental muscles, training them to be resilient and forge forward, especially in times of adversity. James 1:2-4 reminds us to count it all joy when we meet trials of every kind. Why? Because it produces a critical growth path for us – we become complete and lack in nothing. Also, James says that at the end of perseverance is an eternal inheritance – the crown of life (James 1:12). Paul reiterates this thought in Romans 5:3-5 in his appeal to the Romans. Most objectively, pain builds our character and hope. Athletes who beat their bodies through pain exhibit more discipline and perform much better in the races than those who lazied themselves in basic training without physical challenge. That is what the mind of one who runs away from pain will become – unfit for the pressures of life awaiting. Don’t run!
Pain is Seasonal and Purposeful
Secondly, we need not avoid pain because the truth is that pain is not eternal but seasonal. That means it comes and goes. In this world, scripture reminds us there is time for everything under the sun (Eccl. 3:1-8). Knowing that pain will not always be there lets us learn from it when it comes, allowing us to depend on God for strength for that season. The Psalmist says that even in the valley of the shadow of death, the good Shepherd is there with us. And just as every season has its purpose, Paul points out that the purpose of afflictions and pain is to renew our inner man (2 Cor. 4:16) while it prepares for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison (2 Cor. 4:17-18). The other purpose pain has is helping us to focus on the things eternal and not things tertiary and temporary. In Jeremiah 29:11, one of the most misquoted and misapplied scriptures, God reached out to his people, Israel, while they were in captivity under cruel masters and reminded them of his plan. Though the time for their freedom was 70 years to come, God told them that their captivity and slavery were within his plan to accomplish his purpose. He knew his plans were for their ultimate good, not evil. Don’t run!
Pain is a Sanctifying Tool in God’s Hands
Sanctification is the process God uses to make the believer more and more into the person of Christ. It means to purify and make whole. In 2 Cor. 12:1-10, Paul shares his incredible experience with the Lord and how he used infirmity to teach him humility – a character quality we must all have to represent Christ effectively (Philippians 2:1-11).
In addition to this example, scripture is replete with the stories of people who endured suffering and pain as God molded them into the people he wanted them to be. Think about Job, who learned to trust God through the darkest patches of life, refrained from cursing God (Job 2:9), avoided talking ill of him, and praised him in the storm.
God also sends sufferings and trials to help us build positive Christian character, weaning us from sin. According to James, various trials produce perseverance, making us mature, complete, and lacking nothing (James 1:2-4). The one who learns to focus on God in times of pain will find these moments as a catapult in the hands of God, ready to plunge them into deeper levels of relationship and growth in the Lord.
Pain Works for the Glory of God
Why would God glorify himself through pain? Firstly, we need to recognize that pain and suffering are all due to the fall of man, courtesy of sin, in the garden of Eden (Genesis 3). Before this, man never knew pain while walking in God’s garden. Nevertheless, though man fell into sin and faced the consequences, God remained in charge of all the affairs of man. Paul says that everything is through him, and he sustains it all. (Colossians 1:17, Romans 11:36). So, when sin came, and man was removed from the garden of God, God, in his sovereignty, used the prevailing circumstance (fallenness of man) to glorify his name. Paul tells us in Romans 8:28 that God causes all things to work together for the good of those called according to his purpose. How exactly does he achieve that? He does this by using painful and trying times to show that he is the one who gives strength to the weary and the weak (Isaiah 43:2). When a believer goes through trying times – like Job did – and makes it to the other side without cursing God, it brings glory to God. Jerry Bridges in his book Trusting God, says, “God never wastes pain. He always uses it to accomplish His purpose. And His purpose is for His glory and our good.”
Pain Prepares us for the Work of Ministry
For the believer, pain works as a tool in the hands to prepare us for his ministry in the body of Christ.
- In pain, our character is formed. Romans 5:3-6 tells us that suffering produces endurance, which grows in us many other qualities, ending up with hope for the saint. James echoes the same sentiments in James 1:2-4. Trials work towards making us complete in character and faith. These virtues must characterize us if our ministry will build the people of God.
- In pain, God comforts us. He does not just look at us and wish all that would pass. No. He comes to our comfort and aid. Paul says that in those times, the God of comfort comforts us (2 Cor. 1:3-5). You do not have to run away from this because it is an opportunity to know the God of comfort. He gives comfort unlike any other person does.
- In our comfort, we comfort others. In this, we find our chance to share in the mercies of God to the body of Christ. Paul says in 2 Cor. 1:3-5 that we are comforted to comfort others with the same comfort. God allows us to go through pain and suffering so that he can minister to us. His ministry in us then prepares us to minister to his body.
There is a purpose in painful situations. It is not a waste of emotions and feelings. God is working in our painful experiences. If we subscribe to the notions of false preachers who purport that saints cannot and should not go through tough times, we shall rob ourselves of the opportunity to know God in ways only painful moments can afford.