Pain comes with vengeance, no matter what’s on the to do list or what plans were on the schedule. It can consume us, paralyze us, and rob us of all we expected life to be. “Will this pain and struggle ever end”, I wonder? “Will I ever know what it’s like to feel good on this side of Heaven?”
After more than a year of expensive Lyme treatments, these last two weeks have been filled with more discomfort than when I began. I want to scream at the pain that drains my strength, robs me of comfort, and fogs my view of life.
I admit, some days, I grow weary of pressing on through the pain. I’m tempted to look back at better days and say, “I wish I could have those back.”
But in my weakness and in his grace, the Lord has reminded me of the foolishness and destructive trap of that thinking.
Solomon wrote, “Say not, ‘Why were the former days better than these?’ For it is not from wisdom that you ask this. In the day of prosperity be joyful, and in the day of adversity consider: God has made the one as well as the other, so that man may not find out anything that will be after him.” (Ecclesiastes 7:10, 14).
John MacArthur said, “In the midst of trouble and discontent, it is easy to lose touch with reality.”¹
I’ve found this to be true in my own experience as well. When I’m overcome with pain, I want an escape, even if it’s an escape from reality. For that reason, it becomes tempting to look back at better days with longing, trying to live in the comfort of the past, rather than looking to Christ’s sufficiency in the pain of the present.
If you’re also tempted to look back with longing at past comforts and circumstances, let’s remind ourselves that it’s not from wisdom that we do so. If God has made both the day of prosperity and the day of adversity, there must be a loving purpose for each – a purpose that we don’t want to miss by longing for something “better”.
The only way that I know to do this is to take my eyes off of what I wish life were like, accept the pain as something God has purposed for my good, and throw my empty, weary, and hurting body at his feet.
The more I do this, the more I don’t want to be anywhere else.
So when adversity comes, let’s not dwell on former “better” days and miss the treasures that Christ has for us – treasures that can only be found in seasons of trial.
And, when you are tempted to fixate on the past or long for an easier future, remind yourself of these reasons to be present in the season that God has allowed.
God has allowed every circumstance for his holy and loving purposes.
“And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28)
This verse is familiar to many of us, but it’s one we need to remember when life doesn’t make sense (which is most of the time). God is sovereign and purposeful over every ache, pain, and loss that we experience.
As I feel frustration and discouragement building over this never-ending battle against pain, I have to catch my mind from wandering to better days, dwelling on how hopeless life feels, or from doubting God’s love and care for me. Instead, I need to speak the truth to myself that God is not only in control, but he is near to me in my pain. Knowing that he loves me enough to sacrifice his only Son for me, I can trust that he will only allow this pain to continue if he has something to give me or do in me that is of greater value than the relief and comfort I desire.
We can dwell on the past, wishing life was as it used to be, or we can press on in our pain, trusting that we will one day look back with gratitude and amazement for how Christ has been faithful to bring good out of our pain.
God provides his sufficient grace for the present, not for the past or the future.
“Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. 9 But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.” 2 Corinthians 12:8-9
If we are consumed with longing for our former, easier days, we won’t find God’s grace awaiting us there. If we are consumed with looking forward to future relief from our pain (other than longing for eternity), we won’t find God’s grace awaiting us there. God replied to Paul’s plea for relief, “My grace is sufficient for you” – now – in your pain and in your weakness.
God promises to provide the grace we need for everything that he allows, even the pain that we so desperately long to be free from. Therefore, running anywhere but to his present grace is foolishness…and will leave us flailing in our own meager strength.
Friends, if you are battling pain as I am (in one form or another), would you join me in trusting his grace to be sufficient for this very moment? Let’s not look back at what has been and look forward to what might be. Instead, let’s bring our empty hands and trust his grace to be sufficient for all that we need. He will be faithful – and his power will be made perfect in our weakness.
We can know Christ as our comfort more deeply in seasons of trial.
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too.” (2 Corinthians 1:3-5)
I hate the pain that is wracking my body, but I am beyond grateful for how it has driven me to know Christ as not only my Savior, but my everything. When life is comfortable, it is a gracious gift from the Lord. But when life is hard, it is just as much of a gracious gift because he has designed both for his purposes. We learn lessons in comfort that can’t be learned in pain and we learn lessons in pain that can’t be learned in comfort.
The truth, however, is it’s much easier to find happiness in comfort and prosperity when life is going well. But happiness and comfort in our circumstances is always shifting. It’s not until loss, pain, and adversity enter our lives that we are are driven to know the comfort and joy that only Christ offers us – one that isn’t dependent on circumstances.
Earthly comfort and temporary escape is a cheap replacement for the deep, satisfying comfort of Christ. Let’s not miss what he desires to give us by refusing to be present where he has us.
Our faith is proven genuine to ourselves and to the world.
“Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” (Romans 5:3-5)
As we trust Christ through our pain and trials, we learn to endure. As we endure, we grow in character. As we grow in character, we grow in hope. This hope doesn’t put us to shame because the endurance and character that comes forth from our suffering bears evidence of the life-changing Spirit of God within us.
Some mornings, I have no strength or desire to get out of bed. Yet I can look back at the end of the day and see Christ’s faithfulness to carry me through the day that he has called me to live in his strength.
At times, I feel hopeless, but that hopelessness drives me to Jesus and I find myself filled with joy in his presence.
Some days I wrestle with questions and emotions that tempt me to find a way out of my pain. Yet God faithfully brings me back to the truth.
Christ empowers s me to endure the pain he allows; he upholds my faith when doubts fill my mind, and he puts joy in my heart despite every reason to despair. This is why I have hope. The endurance and character that Christ is building in me through my pain is bearing evidence of the Spirit at work within me. It is proof that I am child of God and that he is faithfully working through every moment of my pain.
However, we aren’t the only ones who can grow in hope through our trials. When others look at our lives and see us enduring unimaginable circumstances, while also growing in character and filled with hope and joy when we have every reason to despair – we display the hope of Christ to those who are watching.
Our pain is never only about us. It has a God-ordained purpose and, if we continually run to Christ in our brokenness and pain, he will be glorified and we will be blessed as we watch him use our circumstances to draw others to himself.
Our pain will end.
For these reasons, let’s be fully present in whatever circumstances God has called us to at this moment in time for his purposes. And let our hope flow from an eternal perspective, remembering that we have hope to press on in today’s pain because we have a future hope awaiting us. Whether our pain is brief or lasts for a lifetime, it has an end – a glorious end in the presence of Christ.
God has promised to use all things – including our pain – to bring us to completion in the image of Christ. If that is the future that awaits us, why would we desire to go backwards? The only way to glory is forward, and the only way to move forward is to rest in God’s grace for today.
¹John MacArthur – The MacArthur Study Bible ESV 2001