By a show of hands, how many of you have experienced some type of pain over the past year or so?
I know I can’t see them lifted, but humor me and do it anyway?
For the record, both of my hands are lifted pretty high. With all sincerity and candor, as I type I’ve just ended one of the toughest thirteen day stretches of ministry, that included four funerals, one of which was for an infant. I must admit it, this is really really painful. It hurts!
As we lead we will experience pain. It simply comes with the territory that is life. As we strive to live holy and pleasing lives unto our Lord, it not only helps us avoid evil’s befall, it somehow sovereignly helps us prepare for life’s guaranteed pains. It will either be our own pain, or we will learn to somehow own the pain of someone else we love, serve and lead. Thus, pain is real, albeit by direct experience or through the sufferings of others we love to serve, and serve to lead.
Yet, over this past year, it seems that our pains are manifesting themselves rather differently. Some of us have painfully lost close friends after a few heart wrenching social media posts. There’s the pain of not being able to physically touch family members. More than ever, the loyalty of faithful members, leaders and key servants have been questioned. Then we have the unforeseen marriage tension and the increased volatility of our children’s emotional health caused by the trauma of prolonged isolation. Even death has been painfully different, with the inability to process loss and grieve as one would now say, normally.
Does any of this pain describe you?
If not you, could this small list possibly define the pains of someone you know and even love?
All of these pains and more can cause any one of us to bail out on the sacredness of marriage, our family, ministry, life and even defect from the faith all together. I’ve seen it… I’ve heard it… It is real… It is happening today…
Lord, please, don’t let it be me.
Please don’t let it be you.
We cannot ignore the screams of pain echoing through the Body of Christ today like never before. But how then do we still lead well through our own pain, so that we may help others?
Here are three practical truths which help me navigate the undesired and unexpected pains of life:
1. NEVER FORGET YOU’RE STILL LACKING SOMETHING.
Pain’s reflex is to cause us to either reach for the area of pain, pursue the causation of the pain or seek some distinctive distraction. If we were punched in the face by someone, some of us would grab our faces in complete shock and do absolutely nothing but tend to the bloody nose. Others would immediately punch the person back in the face (I would have done this…) And some others would distract themselves with a joke to lighten the mood. Similarly, when the pains of life smack us in the spiritual face, the spiritual reflex for some of us is to creatively outsource the provider of our strength. We are tempted to become overtly inwardly focused, we dream about tactics for retaliation that keep us close to a biblical narrative. And for some, we are tempted to justify habits to distract the realities of our pain.
But, no matter the temptation, we cannot abandon our course. We haven’t arrived yet. We’re still incomplete and life’s pains help to sovereignly remind us of this. When we inappropriately respond to our assigned pains, a warning sign should flash in our hearts signaling that there is still work to be done. Holding on to this truth should then inspire us to endure and overcome our pain. Please remember, our pain can either make us bitter or better. It can either make us sore or help us soar in life. There cannot become any other alternative for enduring our pain other than becoming more and more sufficient in our Lord, who lacks nothing. In the wait, please remember, our joy does not hang upon the absence of pain but rather finding strength – Jesus – in the midst of our pain.
Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” James 1:2-4
2. NEVER TAKE YOUR EYES OFF THE PRIZE.
Pain possess the unusual ability to sidetrack us. It’s an attention seeker. It wants, longs, to take our eyes off the prize. It always wants us to alter our focus and even question if we should have entered the race all along. It causes us to question our abilities, giftedness, calling, love, passion, and motives – the very tools that God strategically placed within us for the common good. The very things God will use to rescue a dead marriage, a dying ministry, a dysfunctional family. Our real pains will cause us all to turn and retreat to focus only on self. Pain says, I am hurting. I have been disappointed. I have lost something. Yet, for us to endure and even overcome our pains, we must set our eyes like Jesus, on the joy that is set before us. When we die to our pains, like Jesus did, others live. The prize is the others in our lives. When a husband dies to his pains, his marriage lives. When a leader dies to herself, others will follow her. When we die to ourselves within our hearts, others open their hearts wide unto us. When we grieve our losses with grace, others supernaturally gain all the more.
“….fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” Hebrews 12:2
3. NEVER STOP PLOWING (RESTING) WITH JESUS.
Pain causes distress, which leads to guaranteed unrest. Then somehow convinces us to unharness ourselves and plow an erroneous field apart from the person of Jesus Christ. This is an absolute physical, emotional, and spiritual disaster. Leading us to plow desperately through thorns, thistles, and stony soils – our outcome, more pain. Hence, in our deepest of pains, we must never stop reaching for the yoke of Jesus. No matter how awkward and uncomfortable it feels, we must learn how to slide it around our spiritual necks and rest. Rest in knowing that the more experienced One we’re harnessed with understands the fields of our lives. He’s been here before again and again. There’s no painful experience of life that Jesus has not already endured and overcame on our behalf. Therefore, never stop plowing and never stop resting in Him!
“Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and YOU WILL FIND REST FOR YOUR SOULS. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” Matthew 11:29
My hope is that these simple truths will help you – help us – to never grow weary of doing well while we are required to endure life’s pains. Let’s all hold each other’s arms up through prayer and tangible relationships until we all overcome each one of our individual pains – one by one.
In Jesus’ name, Amen!