Editor's Note: Pastor Roger Barrier's "Ask Roger" column regularly appears at Preach It, Teach It. Every week at Crosswalk, Dr. Barrier puts nearly 40 years of experience in the pastorate to work answering questions of doctrine or practice for laypeople, or giving advice on church leadership issues. Email him your questions at email@example.com.
I have an inoperable brain tumor. The pain is increasing. I am on heavy pain medicines. It still hurts. I’ve read several articles on dealing with pain, done some study, and used my coping mechanisms. They help a lot; however, I would like your thoughts from a more spiritual setting to give me some peace. Can you help me? I’ve decided that the problem with pain is... that it hurts.
I am so sorry for your pain. I am sorry that the tumor is inoperable; and I grieve for you over your suffering.
I’ve had my share of pain. I have spent hours in the “devil’s grip” when my heart contracted so violently the strongest painkillers couldn’t dull the pain. I have ridden the “lightning” of a defibrillator at highest strength. I have been through multiple surgeries… I understand pain.
So, I’ll give you my thoughts about the things that matter most to me when I’m in pain. I’ve always found the book of James to be helpful in handling the subject.
1. I remind myself of the purpose of pain.
James reiterates the purpose of pain succinctly in James 1:1-4: “Count it all joy when you fall into all kinds of trials and troubles, knowing that the trying of our faith has a design.”
God ultimately intends to mold us into the image of Jesus. There is no growth apart from tension.
Spiritual maturity comes quite slowly when all is well. God knows that the best climate for making us just like Jesus is the crucible of fire and testing. After all, Hebrews 5:8 tells us that Jesus learned obedience through the things that He suffered. If His sufferings were instrumental in His maturity, why should we think it might be different for us?
"I walked a mile with Pleasure, she chattered all the way, But left me none the wiser, for all she had to say. I walked a mile with sorrow, and ne'er a word said she; But, oh, the things I learned from her when Sorrow walked with me."
2. I try to find some joy.
Of course, no one can be happy for their pain. However, both James and Paul declare that we can experience joy, even when we are walking through our pain (read Philippians chapters 1-4).
"Count it all joy" is an incredibly unnatural reaction! However, finding joy is supernatural… it is a gift from God’s heart to you and me just when we need it most (James 1:2-3).
When difficulties come to an immature Christian, he or she evaluates the pain and often gets angry, or bitter, discouraged and they say something like, “I quit” or “I’ll never go to church again.”
On the other hand, the mature Christian says, "The last time I had difficulty, I faced it and grew. I'll see what God can teach me now." This is joy!
The fence has two sides. On God’s side the language is Praise! On the self-side the language is “Gripe and Complain.” One side is joy and the other is misery.
One of my favorite authors, Pastor A.W. Tozer, wrote, “Suffering breeds compassion or bitterness. We must choose.”
In the midst of pain, we have a decision to make. We must choose one side or the other. Unfortunately, too many Christians try to do both. Remember, the only trouble with straddling the fence is that it always hurts in the middle! (James 1:5-8).
3. I try to remind myself that the world is filled with suffering people. I just happen to be one of them.
Sometimes, we may feel like we are getting picked on, that things aren’t fair, or that God doesn’t like us.
Think about this: in our immediate family we have three cancer survivors, heart and nervous system issues, countless surgeries, serious immune disorders, and brain issues. Your family is probably the same.
God never promised that when we became Christians, all of our problems would be over. In fact, the Bible teaches just the opposite.
Pain, problems, and trials are not optional. They are essential. Pain and suffering are not an elective course that we can take or leave. They are required if we want to become more like Jesus.
4. I remind myself that pain produces patience (James 1:3-4).
We all want patience; but few of us want the process. The process for developing patience is fiery trials and troubles.
A student of Dr. Harry Ironside asked him to pray that he might have more patience.
Dr. Ironside began to pray, "Lord, send him troubles.”
The young student stopped Ironside in the middle of his prayer; “No! No! I didn’t say problems, I said patience.”
Ironside again begin to pray: “Lord, send this young man some problems.”
“No! No!” interrupted the young man. “I asked you to pray that I will have more patience.”
Ironside replied, “Don’t you understand? Problems and troubles are what produce patience.”
The Greek word for “patience” is "Hupomone". This is the ability to bear great pain while turning them into glory.
We Christians are not without problems. Fortunately, we have the Problem Solver living within. Jesus can pour in the power and give us the grace to endure in the midst of our pain and suffering.
5. God promised that if I ask for wisdom as to why I am experiencing a particular pain, he will tell me (James 1:5-9).
James is saying, "Look, when we are in the midst of the troubles and we need wisdom as to how to handle it, ask God for wisdom and He will tell you what to do.”
I have a list of the questions I ask God when I am struggling with a pain.
- Is this suffering designed to bring God glory?
- Is this suffering the result of a sin I have committed?
- Is this suffering to mature me to be more like Jesus?
- Is this sickness the result of the fallen world in which we live?
- Is this trial the result of some spiritual battle in the spirit realm?
- Is this suffering the result of following Christ?
- Is this suffering the result of doing good?
- Is this suffering intended to keep me from future sin?
- Is this suffering designed to increase my faith and dependence on God?
6. I try not to waste my experience.
How can we waste our experiences? We can run away from them. We can wallow in self-pity. We can get angry, bitter, depressed, or give up. We can waver back and forth trying to see whether or not we are committed to God and His plan, whatever it might entail.
Nothing ever says that we must understand what God's purpose is in our lives. It simply sufficient to know that God has a purpose. That's where we must rest our case. We are not smart enough to know all that He's accomplishing. So it becomes a matter of trust.
7. It’s okay to endure some pain when we’re heading for king territory (James 1:9-11).
Not until we come to the place where we can distinguish between the permanent and the perishability of things will our pain ever make sense.
I watched as the house of one our church members burned to the ground. He lost it all. Standing on the sidewalk, he cursed God, the fire department, the firemen, the fire, the neighbors for not getting a garden hose to help. Of course, he used language that I can’t repeat.
I watched his behavior, and I thought to myself, "What would I lose if that happened to my house?" If tomorrow I were to lose my personal possessions or my health, would I have anything left? The answer is, “Of course, I have something left. I have the treasures that I have laid up in heaven.”
When I was a boy, I played a lot of checkers. I considered myself to be the champion checker player of our neighborhood. However, one of the older children on our block was said to be best. I reasoned that was only because he hadn't played me.
One day he challenged me to a game. Before he could say another word, I was seated at one side of board setting up checkers. He said, "You go first." I thought, "Okay, I'll set the pattern to the game." We exchanged a few checkers.
Pretty soon he fed me a checker and said, "Jump me." I jumped him. He fed me another checker, "Jump me." I jumped him. Another. This was even easier than I thought.
To this day, I can still remember the smile on his face as he took a checker and went, plop, plop, plop, plop... "King me." King me! He knocked every checker I had off of the board with one turn!
No good checker player minds losing a few checkers when he or she is headed for king territory.
Here’s the best advice and comfort I could possibly give to you: “Count it all joy when you fall into all kinds of trials and troubles, knowing that the trying of our faith is designed to mature us to look just like Jesus!”
Again, to you, Chris, I hope this is helpful. May God give you great grace for the days ahead as he molds us to be like Jesus.
Dr. Roger Barrier retired as senior teaching pastor from Casas Church in Tucson, Arizona. In addition to being an author and sought-after conference speaker, Roger has mentored or taught thousands of pastors, missionaries, and Christian leaders worldwide. Casas Church, where Roger served throughout his thirty-five-year career, is a megachurch known for a well-integrated, multi-generational ministry. The value of including new generations is deeply ingrained throughout Casas to help the church move strongly right through the twenty-first century and beyond. Dr. Barrier holds degrees from Baylor University, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, and Golden Gate Seminary in Greek, religion, theology, and pastoral care. His popular book, Listening to the Voice of God, published by Bethany House, is in its second printing and is available in Thai and Portuguese. His latest work is, Got Guts? Get Godly! Pray the Prayer God Guarantees to Answer, from Xulon Press. Roger can be found blogging at Preach It, Teach It, the pastoral teaching site founded with his wife, Dr. Julie Barrier.
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