Pain is the Name of the Game
Pain is the Name of the Game
Paul said that he not only wanted to know the power of Jesus' resurrection but the fellowship of his sufferings. Paul was making a expression of his desire not simply to know the power of the resurrection to get him out of the mess; he wanted in this life to be in fellowship with, and enter into, the sufferings of Jesus.
Suffering is something we all have to deal with. It's something we all experience, whether or not we experience it for ourselves. A friend of mine in Philadelphia is having breast surgery this morning. Leave out the surgery; the anxiety leading up to that surgery is plentyWill it involve a complete mastectomy? Will it just be the removal of a cyst? I was on the phone with her last night and prayed with her. That is her suffering, but I entered into that with her.
I was in another city in the U.S.A. this week. A man came and spoke with me, visited with me, and he was bright and cheery. He's a great Christian leader, owns his own business, came to pick me up in his MBenz. Later, in the afternoon, I spoke with his wife. She was in tears. The husband hadn't betrayed the distress there is in that family. He has a brother who's a paranoid schizophrenic. He's trying to keep him out of a mental institution and give him employment, but the man refuses to take his medication. The family is absolutely torn apart.
Then I met a woman whose husband had just walked out on her, left her with three children. She's got the problem of dealing with the home and the children alone.
On the surface these all look like very happy, normal people. We all have to suffer.
There are people in your offices who, behind that smile, have a marriage that's about to fold. But of course they don't go around talking about it. Maybe your boss, maybe your secretary, maybe the man who works the elevator, maybe somebody going up and down the building cleaning the windows. I was on the inside of the PPG Building, the new one where you look out through glass walls. They've got a crew working night and day keeping that stuff looking very clean. But all you see is the man up there cleaning the glass. You don't know the home from which he's come, or the fact that his kids didn't come home last night, or that his daughter's pregnant. I mean, wherever you turn, there is real suffering.
Suffering is an opportunity for us to grow
How do you respond to suffering when it hits your life? Paul embraced suffering and actually wanted to participate in the sufferings of Christ.
Listen to these words from Hebrews 12:6. "For the Lord disciplines whom he loves. And then verse 10 speaking of our fathers, says, "They disciplined us for a short time at their pleasure, but he God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness. For the moment, all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant. Later, it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.
The direct implication of all Scripture is that pain and adversity become God's opportunity to bless our livesin a way that success and health are not God's opportunity. C. S. Lewis has said this: "God whispers to us in our ; he shouts to us in our suffering. I've found that true in my own experience. When everything's going along beautifully, I can become somewhat immune, a little distant from the leadings of God and his desires for my life. But when I'm in trouble, when my career is in trouble, when my family is in trouble, when my children are in trouble, I not only have God's attention, God has my attention.
Not that he sends the adversity, necessarily. Not that he immediately gives to us cancer, takes our wife from us, takes the life of a child from us, removes our career from us. But in those adversities God takes opportunity to speak to us in a way we are not open to hearing him speak when everything is going well. And when he takes that opportunity, he's expressing his loving concern for us. "Discipline, says the Scripture, "is not pleasant for the moment, but it's afterwards that "it yields the true fruit of righteousness, or "his holiness, which this text uses.
So when you are in trouble, you can either get bitter or you can get better. You can get angry at the world around you, and you can get angry at God, and you can poison the atmosphere in which you live. You know people like that, where the atmosphere in which you live is poisoned by their very presence. Not that they're swearing; it's just their demeanor and their attitude, which is expressed in their body language, their expression, their tone of voice. They poison that world around them. Bitterness is a terribly destructive force in people's lives.
On the other hand, you can get better. Scripture tells us to welcome adversity, embrace hardship, see God taking an opportunity in the adversity in your life to discipline you.
We all need discipline. My kids hate it. I just went through a terrible disciplinary session this past summer with my 3. Dr. Dobson has a marvelous teaching in one of his books on how to break the will of the child without breaking the person. I put that to work in my 3, who needed to learn that Daddy meant what he said; she needed to yield to his word. My wife's folks were there. Can you imagine grandparents watching you discipline a 3? And take a year and a halfI mean, an hour and a half to do it? ("Year and a half that may be a Freudian slip.) But bless her heart, she finally yielded. My wife hated what I was doing. I've got a 14 and a 13, both daughtersall of them were looking daggers at me. "How can you be so mean to little Sarah? She's so sweet. And she's crying. Let her off. Don't discipline her. Don't get her to yield her will to your will. For the love of her I kept on despite their attitudes. And Sarah still loves me. Most of us are intimidated in discipline because we are scared to lose the love of those who need to be disciplined. God disciplines us because he loves us. And your adversity is his opportunity. Yield to it. Let God teach you all that you know, as well as he knows, you need to learn. That's the first lesson.
We all must play hurt
The second is "playing when you're hurt, to use a football phrase. Listen to these words of Paul speaking to the Thessalonians. He says this: "For you yourselves know, brethren, that our visit to you was not in vain. Though we had already suffered and been shamefully treated at Philippi, as you know, we had courage in our God to declare to you the gospel of God in the face of great opposition.
Now there's a man I would like to be like. Paul just got beat up at Philippi, comes over to Thessalonica; they're all on his case, but in the face of great opposition he still preached the gospel. He wasn't like a lot of Christians I know, ministers as well, who whine when people get mad at them for following Jesus. Do you know most ministers are stomped all over? Do you know that 90 percent of the clergy in this town, of all denominations, are absolutely crushed todayat this moment in timeand the people who crushed them are their congregations? Do you know that? Clergy in this city are whipped. It's the same in Chicago or Philadelphia. But the issue is whether they whine about it, sit on the side of Interstate 79 saying, "I'm not going back to my church. They don't love me. Jesus, what is this? I'm preaching your. ... Do I do that well? Do you think I practiced? "Here I am doing your work Lord, and all I get is all that pickiness. Mrs. S and the flowers on the altar. My staff on ego trips, cutting me off at the knees. My wife, all she does is moan because I'm never home. Congregation, all they do is moan because I'm never with them when they're sick. They never tell me. Oh, Lord, this is terrible. That's just a thickness of the misery ministers endure. You may not know that because you're not ordained. Maybe you do know it because you do it to them.
Here's Paul, beaten, going on to the next place, the opposition staring him in the face, and he said, "We had courage in our God to preach to you the gospel. Now he was obviously hurting. When you got a beating in those days, it was just like being through a football game. They threw rocks at you. They stomped on you. They dragged you through the city. It wasn't just a verbal beating. And you're looking at another beating. Paul went on.
That's the one thing, coming to American football, that you have to admire those guys for: they all play hurt. That is, they go out there and play and they're hurting. They don't go to the coach and say, "Hey, coach, I got this terrible bruise on my thigh. I'm quitting for a week. But how many Christians with a little bruise to their ego, a little forgetfulness on somebody's part in their direction, go off and whine and lock themselves up in their bedroom and throw a depressive fit? Very sad. We, as followers of Jesus Christ in pain, keep on with the game, because in this life pain is the name of the game. We have been promised nothing else.
Better to suffer with Christ than without him
Last of all, better to suffer with Christ than without him. Friends, we all suffer. I close where I began. Suffering is a part of everyday experience if we are half open to the world. Simon and Garfunkel were lying when they said, "I am a Rock / I am an Island / I have no need of friendship / Friendship causes pain / I have my books and my poetry. They were lying.
You understood what they were saying because friendship causes pain. "You always hurt the one you love I can hear the Inkspots right now; I could sing it for you. "You always hurt the one you love / The one you should not hurt at all.
If you are out there in this congregation today hurting, and you don't know Jesus Christ personally, then you are really hurting. Because no matter what suffering comes my way personally, or something that I touch in the lives of others, I can always go to Jesus Christ, who has borne all my sufferings and yours. "We don't have a God who can't be touched, says the Scripture, "by our infirmities. He has suffered along with us. In everything we have suffered, Jesus has suffered. I can go to him. He says, in fact, "Come to me, all of you who travail and are heavy laden, and I will refresh you.
If you are out there suffering today without Jesus, come to him. He can lift you up. He can bear away your burdens. He can heal the sorrow in your life. He can nullify the bitterness of the years that you have brought to church today. If you come to Jesus.
We all suffer, but suffering without Jesus is suffering alone and suffering without hope. Suffering with Jesus is suffering alongside the one who has the power of the Resurrection, and never to be alone.
The morning after the evening I gave my life to Jesus, I woke up. My first instinct was to light a cigarette, which I did. I sat up in bed and took that first long drag on it, which I always did, and then I said to myself, "John, you are not alone this morning. And I got up, went down my street, and I went to schoolno longer alone.
You do not need to suffer alone. Come to Jesus.
John Guest is an evangelist for the John Guest Evangelistic Team. He founded the Coalition for Christian Outreach in Pittsburgh, and helped launch Trinity Episcopal School for Ministry in Ambridge, Pennsylvania.
(c) John Guest
Preaching Today Tape #53
A resource of Christianity Today International
John Guest is pastor of Christ Church at Grove Farm in Sewickley, Pennsylvania, and speaker for the John Guest Evangelistic Association.