For the last few years, I’ve had a recurring heel pain. It’s years of bad shoes, not enough exercise, too much weight and I’m sure some other things. It usually comes and stays around for 2 to 3 weeks and then gets better.
When our kids were younger, we did everything we could to protect them from ever experiencing pain, loss, wounds or hurt. Sometimes, it was inevitable. One of our daughters lost a pregnancy, another cut off the tip of her finger, while another burned the back of her leg with hot cooking grease. There have been lost relationships, banged up cars, stitches, scars and a host of things that have caused paid, hurt and loss.
In our own lives, we have experienced the loss of family relationship, economic catastrophe, dreams dying, resources being depleted and loved ones going through debilitating physical illness. The pain is always there. Initially, it seems unbearable . . . and then it comes again like a wave . . . always crashing on shore.
When they flare up, we limp and people can see it.
We know that Jesus suffered in this life. But, we often forget the lessons He taught us in order to have a Kingdom plan for our earthly pain . . . A spiritual response for our physical reality.
Peter, a man who experienced great pain and loss, writes, “Since Jesus went through everything you’re going through and more, learn to think like Him. Think of your sufferings as a weaning from that old sinful habit of always expecting to get your own way. Then you’ll be able to live out your days free to pursue what God wants instead of being tyrannized by what you want.” (I Peter 4:1-2, The Message).
Pain . . . loss . . . suffering . . . they all have a way of refocusing our vision to see what God wants us to see.
There are five responses to pain and suffering in I Peter 4. Allow me to list some highlights.
Expect It. Be assured that pain, loss and all of partners in suffering will come to you. Peter writes in verse 12, “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you.” It’s a part of life . . . expect it. One of my old mentors used to say, “You’re either coming out of trouble, you’re in the middle of trouble, or trouble is getting ready to hit you.” We’re not to be surprised, but expect it.
You can’t get away from pain. C.S. Lewis wrote, “But pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”
Embrace it. Peter writes in verse 13, “Instead, be glad that you are in the very thick of what Christ experienced. This is a spiritual refining process, with glory just around the corner.” Pain and suffering become a refining process for us to experience God’s grace and to express God’s glory. Hebrews tells us that Jesus, “learned obedience from what he suffered.” Hebrews 5:8
Elbert Hubbard wrote, “If you suffer, thank God! — it is a sure sign that you are alive.”
Another author, Chip Brogden writes, “It is not a question of God allowing or not allowing things to happen. It is part of living. Some things we do to ourselves, other things we do to each other. Our Father knows about every bird which falls to the ground, but He does not always prevent it from falling. What are we to learn from this? Our response to what happens is more important than what happens. Here is a mystery: one man’s experience drives him to curse God, while another man’s identical experience drives him to bless God. Your response to what happens is more important than what happens.”
Someone once said that, “Our problems are opportunities to discover God’s solutions.”
Examine it. As we go through times of pain and suffering, it’s imperative that we do some soul searching. Is my situation a result of something I’ve done? Is there sin in my life? Is this a time when God wants me to grow in the valley so I can climb the mountain? Does something my life need to “die” so God can “resurrect it? Is it all about me and God wants it to be all about Him.
Peter writes in verses 14 – 16, “if you’re abused because of Christ, count yourself fortunate. It’s the Spirit of God and his glory in you that brought you to the notice of others. If they’re on you because you broke the law or disturbed the peace, that’s a different matter. But if it’s because you’re a Christian, don’t give it a second thought. Be proud of the distinguished status reflected in that name!”
Entrust it. You’ve done all you can do. You are at the end of your rope. All resources are gone. You’re tired of it all. Now, what do you do? Peter tells us, “So if you find life difficult because you’re doing what God said, take it in stride. Trust him. He knows what he’s doing, and he’ll keep on doing it.” (vs. 19)
Trust Him. “I say that trials and tests locate a person. In other words they determine where you are spiritually. They reveal the true condition of your heart. How you react under pressure is how the real you reacts.” John Bevere
Oswald Chambers writes, “We all know people who have been made much meaner and more irritable and more intolerable to live with by suffering: it is not right to say that all suffering perfects. It only perfects one type of person; the one who accepts the call of God in Christ Jesus.”
Express it. Remember that you’re not alone. You have given this privilege to experience pain and suffering so you can help others. When we’re prepared, our response will be ready. And, you’re not alone . . . Job, Joseph, Moses, David, Jonah, Jesus, Peter and Paul . . . they all have been examples for us. “And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you.” (I Peter 5:11)
Charles Dickens wrote, “Suffering has been stronger than all other teaching, and has taught me to understand what your heart used to be. I have been bent and broken, but – I hope – into a better shape.”
And, let’s be aware that our response often reveals our trust in God. Jim Owens give some provoking insight, “Many Christians who sing, ‘It is well with my soul,’ are lying. It is not well with their souls because they are not persevering, and they have no intention of doing so, because they are bitter and hostile toward God and mourn over their ‘victimization’ at His hands.”
So, you may limp and people can see we’re in pain . . . but keep on walking.
“So be content with who you are, and don’t put on airs. God’s strong hand is on you; He’ll promote you at the right time. Live carefree before God; He is most careful with you. Keep a cool head. Stay alert. The Devil is poised to pounce, and would like nothing better than to catch you napping. Keep your guard up. You’re not the only ones plunged into these hard times. It’s the same with Christians all over the world. So keep a firm grip on the faith. The suffering won’t last forever. It won’t be long before this generous God who has great plans for us in Christ—eternal and glorious plans they are!—will have you put together and on your feet for good. He gets the last word; yes, He does.” I Peter 5:6-11