Thursday, April 6, 2017

Struggling with Pain

1 Peter 1:6-7
    In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that your faith--of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire--may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.

                I am a classic pain avoider. I do not like the pain of conflict, so I will avoid it if possible. I do not like physical pain, so I will do what it takes to alleviate it. I do not like emotional pain, so I will tend to stuff it.

                Somewhere along the line we got the idea that if we were faithful in following Christ, all this pain would go away. It has not. We thought that life should become easier and we would have smooth sailing. That has not been our experience. In fact, if we are honest, at times the pain and struggles of life have intensified. Why would a loving God allow us to go through these episodes of pain? The answer is found in 1 Peter 1:6-7. God uses pain in our life to refine our faith.

                Paul David Tripp, in his book, Lost in the Middle, talks about our struggle with the painful experiences of life. He makes the point that we want the “grace of release” instead of the “grace of refinement.” Peter assures us that we have been redeemed by the grace of God in Christ and that all of our past has been taken care of. We have been promised an eternal inheritance that is secure and can never be taken away from us. In the in-between time, we must go through God’s refining process. The theological term for that is sanctification.

                Peter puts it into terms that we can all understand; the refining of pure gold. When raw gold is mined, it is combined with impurities, called dross. In order to remove these impurities, the gold ore must be melted. Once the ore has been melted, the impurities can be separated out, leaving pure gold. When we come to faith in Christ, we are like that gold ore. We have been mined out of a fallen world, but we carry with us the impurities of the world. God uses painful situations to melt us so that He can remove the impurities from our lives. This is a life-long process that will not be complete until we stand in His presence in eternity.

                Anyone who has ever participated in a sport, or tried to master a skill, knows that the pathway to proficiency leads through pain. For the athlete, it is the physical pain of training their body to perform at its highest level. For the musician, it is the pain of hours of practice in order to master technique and perform well. Nothing of real value that we pursue in life comes without the price of some form of pain.

                There are several passages of scripture that can add perspective to the pain we experience as followers of Christ. First, in Hebrews 12, we are told to endure hardship as spiritual discipline. Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as sons. For what son is not disciplined by his father? (Hebrews 12:7) Like a loving father, God is disciplining us for our good. He is shaping and molding our lives so that we can become all that He desires for us. So  in verse 11 we are told, No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.

                James picks up on the same theme of dealing with pain and suffering in our lives. He gives us further insight into God’s purpose for allowing these things to occur. Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. (James 1:2-4) Notice that James stresses both the process and the outcome. If we want to attain spiritual maturity, then we will need to follow the path of struggle and pain. As a runner, I fully understand this. I set my eyes on running a half-marathon. In order to accomplish that goal, I had to endure hours of ever increasingly long runs, until I was able to reach my goal. The joy comes from knowing that all of our struggle is moving us closer to our desired goal.

                When we begin to see the painful experiences in our life as positive instruments in God’s hands, instead of punishment, then we can not only persevere, we can thrive. As Paul David Tripp states it, we need to embrace God’s “uncomfortable grace.”When we do this, then the words of Romans 8:28 actually become real to us.

Romans 8:28
    And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.


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