Victory Over Pain

“Consider it pure joy, my brother, 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  How important this issue must have seemed to James for him to open his epistle with these words.

Suffering is real, as real as pleasure.  Sickness, loneliness, humiliation, frustration, temptation to sin – all rain on us like bricks falling out of a dump truck – sometimes singularly – sometimes in bunches.  And they all are painful – often more so than if we had been physically bruised by a brick.  Murphy’s Law laments, “If anything can go wrong, it will”, I have also heard adjuncts of “…at the worst possible time, under the worst possible conditions”, and that “Murphy was an optimist.”

There is another law – we might call it James’ Dictum or James’ Edict; the law of our suffering, its purpose, and how we respond to it.  Pain and suffering is not an obstacle to our spiritual growth, but in fact is the condition of it.  They are the means by which we gain the graces and virtues we aspire to and that which we pray for. It is the way we become mature and complete.  Without it we would never make the most of our lives.  If you’ve never felt the pain of suffering how can you sympathize with those who do?  And what of that thing you’re suffering – is it unique – has no one before you lived through such an ordeal?  The Bible tells us not.

Paul wrote to the church in Corinth, “No temptation (test, affliction, trial, ordeal) has seized you except what is common to man, but God is faithful.  He will not let you be tempted beyond what you can endure, and when (not if) you are tempted He will provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.”  (2 Cor. 10:13 NIV emphases added)  This tells me that God knows how much a burden I can bear.  He knows my breaking point and He will not allow that burden to be more than I can handle – SO LONG AS I PUT MY TRUST AND MY FAITH IN HIM, AND LEAN NOT ON MY OWN UNDERSTANDING.

James defines our trials as “the test of [our] faith.”  The Greek word here “dokimion” means “tested and approved.” The word is found on the bottoms of ancient clay vessels that had been formed, fired, inspected, and found flawless.  It was the Greek “Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval”

“Faith”, the other word James uses, is reliance on God and on His unfailing providence for us; that He will see us through the trials of this world.  It is unyielding belief in Romans 8:28; “And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.”  It is more than mere belief; it is a focused, conscious determination that by the Holy Spirit’s indwelling presence and power, we will turn what we believe into godly behavior.  Suffering is the means by which that perfect end is accomplished.  Here’s how it works:

When we are beset with a malady, a heartbreak, a temptation – whatever the test – we have the God-given ability to choose how we will respond.  We can look inward and commence our pity party, or we can look to God and ask Him what He is trying to teach us.  You might retort, “That’s easy for you to say…you haven’t walked in my shoes these last months/years”; and you would be right…certainly I haven’t carried a burden such as yours.   But my friend it does become easy to say as we decide to trust those words, “all things work together for good to those who love God”.  It’s an attitude, a determination that God is not vengeful, cruel, or cold-hearted.

Let me give you an example.  Sometime ago I spent an inordinately long and painful afternoon and evening with my dentist. The planned procedure went extraordinarily long – much longer than I anticipated, and I know it was longer than the dentist planned.  Without going into detail, suffice it to say there were several complications and I ended up in the chair for over eight hours.  Extra anesthetics were required over the long procedure so the additional injections (I estimate 25-30) added to my discomfort.  In addition to that, I missed a lay counsel training session that night, and it was raining, and I, and I, and I, and oh, poor, poor me.  Do you see how I might have been inclined to have a real pity party?  But I promise you my first thought was to thank God for the patience and diligence of my dentist and his assistant, for their expertise, and the sacrifice of their time (it was 9:15 PM before I left and they still had to clean the office).  I thanked God that the procedure had been completed, not only successfully, but had been done with such loving care and concern for my wellbeing.  If I was to endure such a session I would thank God for placing me in such dedicated, caring, and competent hands.

Now I’m no hero and certainly no saint, and I don’t claim that ordeal was intended by God to be a learning experience for me – it could have been.  What it did was to reinforce for me how God has changed my thought pattern.  Once I would have railed to all who I could corner on what a terrible ordeal I had endured.  The choice I now make is to look for the “good” that Paul promises in Romans 8:28 and be quick to thank God for His providence.  When we lose a loved one, when we lose employment, when we or a loved one suffer with disease or impairments, when life seem just to overwhelm, God is giving you a chance to turn to Him, to trust only in Him and “lean not on your own understanding.”  He knows better than we do what our torments and troubles are.  Babies do not learn to walk without first falling down a few times.

Without trials and temptations in our lives we would just stagnate – we would never know the joy of victory.  I firmly believe that however we find ourselves in the valley; be it from bad choices or just stumbling into the ‘unfair door’ of life, there is a lesson to be learned and if we will trust that God is still God in the valley, that He still cares about our wellbeing, and loves us, we will come out of the valley stronger in our faith in Him, and a better witness to His goodness.

Oswald Chambers wrote, “To choose suffering makes no sense at all; to choose God’s will in the midst of our suffering makes all the sense in the world.”

Corrie ten Boom wrote, “God uses our problems as building material for His miracles.”

Until next week, may God bless you and yours, and may you be a blessing to someone else.

 

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