Changes Thru Pain
Rev. Lily Lim | On 12, Apr 2016
2 Corinthians 4:16-18 (RSV)- So we do not lose heart. Though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed every day. For this slight momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, because we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen; for the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.
God wants us as His children to continually grow and change for His glory.
The minute we stop growing and changing into His image, He will send in the strongest and strictest teacher called PAIN to bring about that growth and transformation.
Without growth and transformation, divine blessings cannot come. Only the love of God continues.
Gerald G May, author of the book “The Awakened Heart” says, “Blessings sometimes come through brokenness that could never come in any other way. In reflecting on my own life, I have to conclude that grace has come through me more powerfully sometimes when I’ve been very DYSFUNCTIONAL and MALADJUSTED.”
It is like what our key text says – only when our outer nature is perishing – when on the outside it looks like things are falling apart on us, that our inner nature is being renewed every day. To have our inner nature being renewed every day means God is making NEW LIFE within us with his unfolding grace.
This morning I would like to share a message entitled, ‘CHANGES THROUGH PAIN’.
Do you want to be strong in God’s grace and power? Make peace with the pain God sends your way. Recognize it is the springboard for GROWTH and a platform for greater EFFECTIVENESS. You will need it. God has so much more in store for you.
There are 4 things I would like to talk about changes that come through pain:
1. PAIN IS INEVITABLE
Pain is inevitable. Pain incubates. Pain is indifferent.
The way we interpret and respond to pain throws us into a gear that propels us FORWARD or BACKWARD. While pain itself is indifferent, it never has an indifferent effect. Pain will shift you one way or the other. We all have a default [FAILURE] mode of dealing with pain: FIGHT, FLIGHT OR FREEZE. It is the way we have dealt with conflicts, threats, fears and loss all our lives but our default mode may not be a productive and healthy way to handle pain any longer and now it is time to CHANGE.
Change only happens when our level of desire (or actually desperation) rises above the level of our fears. Pain is a watershed: it can cause us to shrink back into a hole and hope it goes away OR it can galvanize new hopes, new plans and new passions to learn the lessons it can teach us.
James Belasco and Ralph Stayer say, “Change is hard because people overestimate the value of what they have – and underestimate the value of what they may gain by giving that up.”
I am very blessed by the testimony of this lady who told me – “Pastor, I am willing to lose this thing. If my hand is causing me to sin against God, I’d rather cut off this hand and enter the kingdom of God maimed than to let my soul enter hell with my two hands.”
The pain you experience isn’t unique. Countless believers as well as unbelievers have suffered the same kind of hurts and confusion. The answer isn’t to try to construct a life that is pain free. This won’t happen in this life. Only dead people – and resurrected people – feel no pain.
Let me give you an example of Michael Jordan -“In one of the most amazing fears in sports history, Chicago Bulls star Michael Jordan woke up in the middle of the night before a crucial play-off game. He had the flu. He excused himself from the morning practice. As game time approached, he was dehydrated and weak. He had lost several pounds. He dragged himself out of bed. His teammate Scottie Pippen later says, “The way he looked, there is no way I thought he could even put on his uniform. I’d never seen him like that. He looked bad – I mean really bad.”
Jordan sat in a dark room near the locker room. He visualized himself playing the game: running, shooting and passing. He staggered to the locker room, put on his uniform and told his coach, “I can play.”
During the first-quarter time-out, Jordan bent over, closed his eyes and almost fell to the floor. A few minutes later he slumped into a chair on the sideline. Somehow Jordan kept playing and somehow he scored. Incredibly he put up 38 points that night, including the game-winning shot with seconds to go.
After the game, Jordan explained, “That was probably the most difficult thing I’ve ever done. I almost played myself into passing out just to win a basketball game. If we had lost, I would have been devastated.”
His coach said, “Because of the circumstances, with this being a critical game in the finals, I’d have to say this is the greatest game I’ve seen Michael play. Just standing up was nauseating for him and caused him dizzy spells. This was a heroic effort, one to add to the collection of efforts that make up his legend.
Pippen added, “He’s the greatest and everyone saw why tonight.”
Are we playing for anything less? Paul compared our willingness to endure the pain of following Christ to the pain of athletic discipline: “Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever.” (1 Corinthians 9:24-25)
Facing pain may require more courage than we’ve ever had in our lives. At many different points – maybe even today – I can guarantee that you will reach the threshold of your pain and think, “I’ve had it! That’s all I can take. Get me out of here!” But it is not over. You’ve simply turned the next page in your life’s story of excellent discipleship and leadership.
God spoke to me that I am at this moment because He has helped me to successfully navigate many types of hurt, loss, grief, betrayal and complexity throughout the last 30 years of my ministry here in the Philippines. He has helped me to raise my pain threshold many times in the past. But it is time to raise it again even though it makes no sense now, for a greater purpose. God also spoke to me too that there are many people around me who are like sponges soaking up my attitudes about life. My ministry is a ministry of influence. As such, my husband and children, my friends, my staffs, my leaders and my church members are eager to see how I handle the many pains life and leadership throw at me. For them, I am a sentinel of hope – not of perfection but of the genuine hope that mere mortal can suffer terribly and come out on the other side with more joy, love and purpose than ever before. And in these last days, we need people with this kind of hope. The path through the storms may be dark and confusing for me, but I can trust that God is with me, holding my hands even when I don’t sense His presence.
Since pain is inevitable, expect it; expect it more and embrace it like Michael Jordan and Paul.
2. PAIN IS A NECESSARY PROCESS
All believers of Christ have to go through a necessary process of SIFTING. The process of SIFTING, coming to that moment when our strength is spent, is how God builds our faith. It is a process that forms NEW CHARACTER, tearing away OLD PERSPECTIVES and putting FRESH TRUTH in its place. FORMER HABITS are discarded and WRONG TENDENCIES abandoned.
Failure isn’t the end of the world for those who are open to God’s tender, strong hand. It is the beginning of a NEW WAVE OF INSIGHT, CREATIVITY AND EFFECTIVENESS – but only if we pay attention and learn the lessons God has for us. When we receive a vision from God, we’re excited and we dream about the steps it will take to fulfill it. We generally assume God will supply everything to accomplish the goal he’s given to us but we often fail to realize that he needs to do a deeper work in us so we can do what he called us to do. And the way he works deeply in us is through all kinds of opposition, stress, heartache, loss and obstacles. In other words, God works most powerfully in and through our failures.
Wayne Cordiero in one of his books says, “The truth is that you will fail. You simply won’t have what it takes when you begin. You may have a calling, the zeal, the energy and the support. You might even have the location, the invitation and even the money. But when you begin you won’t have what it takes to finish. “What is that?” you might ask. What’s missing is that INNER CORE, the TENSILE STRENGTH OF FAITH that is revealed only under strain. It is a quality of character that is tested not in port but in the open seas. And it is this testing that ratifies your calling ……It is something that can be acquired only through failure, learning your limits and learning to trust not in yourself but in the God who has called you.”
As long as we see failures, stress and difficulties as intruders, we’ll fail to let them teach us, shape us and strengthen us. When we expect God to use pain in our lives to sift us, prune us and build us, we’ll have the tenacity it takes to endure hard times.
If we see pain only as an UNWELCOME INTRUDER, we’ll fail to ask the right questions and our heartache will be wasted.
Before our character can become better, or before our situation can change, God requires you to let him sift you through pain. Why? Because like a patient in surgery you have to be willing to feel worse before you can feel better.
So DON’T WASTE YOUR PAIN AND HEARTACHES. Let God use them to purify, sift and prune your life so that new character, fresh truths and perspectives; new wave of insight; new and good habits; creativity and effectiveness can be redeveloped in your life.
3. PAIN ALWAYS COMES BEFORE PROMOTION
All the heroes in Hebrews faced daunting challenges before they were rewarded. It is a principle of life that PAIN COMES BEFORE PROMOTION.
David’s experiences illustrate this point in several ways:
• He had to fight and kill a lion and a bear to prepare himself to face Goliath.
• He had to kill Goliath before Saul could invite him to the palace.
• He had to dodge Saul’s spear and run for his life before he became king himself.
• He had to fight several wars to unite the kingdom.
People grow with the FERTILIZER of pain. We may not like it. We may resist it. But it is a principle of the kingdom. To live, something has to die. In order to give birth, a mother has to endure the suffering of the birth process. Before the resurrection was the pain of the cross. And Jesus said, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it” (Matthew 16:24-25).
Before God promotes us, He takes us through pain to purify our hearts, deepen our dependence on him and impart spiritual wisdom.
A national and international church leader, Joseph Materra says, “I don’t believe God has ever promoted me when I thought I was ready! Thank God He has waited until He knew I was ready for more responsibility! God loved David so much that He didn’t want him to be a king until he had every semblance of fleshly authority beaten out of him! It has been my experience that, before God promotes me to the next level that I am already walking in that higher level of anointing and authority, but without the position and the title. I have the anointing first, but then comes a series of challenging tests meant to beat the flesh out of me so I don’t explode with pride when I get to the next level. The transition has to take place internally before it ever manifests externally.”
4. RIGHT RESPONSE TO PAIN
How then should we respond to pain so that we can change for the better?
• SEE PAIN AS YOUR GREATEST TEACHER
Don’t avoid it. Don’t minimize it. And don’t numb yourself to it. Pain never just goes away. When it is not resolved, it sinks deeper into our minds, creates anxiety in our hearts, causes resentment and depression and creates tension in our relationships. Face your pain sooner and you’ll learn important lessons about God, about yourself and how to help others grow as they encounter difficulties. Face it later with devastating results.
• LET YOUR VISION DRIVE YOU
Keep the vision fresh and strong. Don’t let your mind be consumed by your immediate pain and obvious limitations. When you interpret your pain as bigger – more important, more threatening, more comprehensive- than your vision, you’ll redefine your vision down to the threshold of your pain. Focus on the big picture and let your anticipated legacy give you the courage you need to face each day’s troubles. Your vision will continually renew your hope, restore your courage and refresh your perspective. It will enable you to pay the price to face the pain and take the next step forward.
• TAKE CONTROL OF YOUR LIVES
Instead of spending energy trying to blame others or waiting for them to bail you out. Don’t think of quitting. You should look at the past and think about how you have handled adversity before and then look at the present with clear eyes as problem solvers.
You should also take control of your lives by having a rigorous personal development plan. Have a plan to grow spiritually, relationally and professionally. Don’t drift or coast. Be intentional to develop your personal relationship with God and with others regardless of the pain.
I was very blessed when I read the testimony of Pastor Philip Wagner, Pastor of Oasis Church, LA, California. He shared about how he went on a three-week vacation with his wife and upon his return, he found out that one of his pastoral staffs had been gathering some members in his home and been conducting several meeting with them in his absence. After Pastor Wagner was back, this staff informed him that it was time for him to start his own church with this group of people. Over the next few weeks, people left Oasis – family after family and friend after friend. Friendship broke apart that may never mend. Some people left the church never to return to any church – ever. Pastor Wagner was so hurt and discouraged that he felt like giving up his pastoral calling and return to his secular job. The questions were unrelenting, “Is this bleeding ever going to stop?” “Can I trust people again?” But in-spite of the pain, Pastor Wagner kept showing up each Sunday with his wife. They prayed and worshipped. They loved people. They taught the Word and led people to Jesus. They didn’t end up quitting. Then a miracle happened. People kept coming. He then realized that Jesus builds His church. In those circumstances, he said he learned a few important lessons:
(1) We must keep loving people. We can’t allow ourselves to lead from bitterness. Sometimes the greatest pain produces our greatest lessons.
(2) People are going to do what they want to do. There’s nothing you can do but keep doing the right thing and trusting God.
In transition and often in pain, some leaders lose faith or their sense of identity; their dreams fade. Others choose to face the pain and get stronger. Pastor Wagner said, “I’m glad that God has called me to leadership as a Pastor. But I’ve had to decide to keep going, to keep trusting, to face the pain and somehow get stronger. I wouldn’t trade the opportunity I’ve been given for anything. God reminds me, “Stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know your labor in the Lord is not in vain.” (1 Cor 15:58).
• SURROUND YOURSELVES WITH THE RIGHT PEOPLE
You may have grown up in an addicted, abusive or abandoning family but you can make choices today to spend time with people who live in truth and have hope for tomorrow. Surround yourself with pain partners who can share your pain and hold your hand and not with people who add more pain to you.
• IDENTIFY THE ROOT CAUSE
When we experience heartaches and difficulties, no matter what the source, we need to look beneath the surface to identify the root causes from a human and divine perspective. An accurate analysis requires courage, perhaps to admit we were intellectually wrong, morally flawed, and emotionally controlling. Yes, we may be victims of other people’s demands, lies, abuse, abandonment and betrayal but we have a responsibility to respond with integrity, wisdom, forgiveness and love. We can’t control what other people say or do, but we can control what we say and do.
When we suffer loss of any kind, we need to grieve. As we grieve we choose to forgive those who have hurt us. Our capacity and willingness to forgive is a direct result of the depth of our experience of Christ’s forgiveness for our sins.
When we let go of the tight grip of control and hold on to only what we are responsible for handling, we realize we aren’t as powerful as we thought. This brings a new level of humility and it demands new levels of trust in God, who is sovereign over all. He’s God; we’re not. In all of this, we realize that God is using the most painful events and most difficult relationships in our lives, not to destroy us but to create something beautiful. But this lesson may take a while to learn so we need to wait on the Lord for His answers and for our strength to endure.
• ALLOW PAIN TO SPUR GROWTH INSTEAD OF COLLAPSING INTO SELF PITY
Self-pity isn’t humility. It is the opposite of humility. It screams for people to look at us and notice how much we have suffered. Pain has the power to crush us, but what is left in the bottom of the crucible? Is it someone who is angry, resentful and self-absorbed or is it someone who has met Christ there, experienced his grace in a new way and been transformed and freed by the encounter with pain?
• CHANGE WHAT YOU CAN AND DON’T WORRY ABOUT THE REST
Let pain enable you to sift through your responsibilities and priorities. Suddenly, many things that seemed important are no longer on the top of the to-do list. But other things, such as people they love and a cause they can champion, are now on top.
A few years ago Philip Yancey met a terrible vehicular accident that almost killed him. He was strapped to the backboard for 7 hours before doctors told him he was out of danger. Any movement could pierce an artery and kill him. During those hours of pain and fear, he incessantly pondered these questions:
-Who do I love?
-What have I done with my life?
-Am I ready for whatever is next?
He reflected, “I should have been living in light of those ultimate questions all along but it took that concentration of pain to bring them into focus.”
Pain is inevitable, yet it can be useful and even redemptive. It can change all your priorities and rearrange your life all over again.
• BELIEVE STILL THAT GOD CARES
When we suffer, we seldom see the reason DURING the pain (unless the suffering is the direct result of sin, and even then we may not connect the dots easily, quickly or well). When we are in pain, our instinctive conclusion is like the disciples in the boat in the middle of a terrific storm while Jesus slept. Above the noise of the wind and waves, they shouted to him, “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?” (Mark 4:38).
When we are tempted to conclude that God doesn’t care, we need to look at the cross. In that moment, God poured all the evil, sin and horror of the human condition on his sinless son. There has never been and will never be any greater act of love. In Christ’s willing, sacrificial death for sinners, he has made the ultimate statement of his affection for us. We may not know the reasons for our pain, but we can be absolutely sure that one reason is ruled out: it can’t be that God doesn’t care, because he has proven his love beyond doubt.
God sometimes deliver us FROM pain but more often he delivers us THROUGH it.
We may not like the path God has chosen for us but we need to humbly accept pain as part of his plan.
God’s ultimate purpose for us is that we grow unto His likeness and be transformed from glory to glory. But for many of us, we have stopped growing for a long time and have not been changing for the better in our character. There is no growth without change; no change without loss and no loss without pain. You cannot be a better child of God without pain. Raise the threshold of your pain. You will grow only to the threshold of your pain.
“For the believer all pain has meaning; all adversity is profitable. There is no question that adversity is difficult. It usually takes us by surprise and seems to strike where we are most vulnerable. To us, it often appears completely senseless and irrational but to God none of it is either senseless or irrational. He has a purpose in every pain He brings or allows in our lives. We can be sure that in some way He intends it for our profit and His glory.” – Jerry Bridges, Trusting God.
Don’t waste your pain and your heartache. Use it to grow and change for the better!
End of sermon
PREACHED AT ETAB 1ST ENGLISH SV ON 10 APRIL 2016