Pain comes with vengeance, no matter what’s on the to do list or what plans were on the schedule. Whether it’s physical, mental, or emotional, it can consume us, paralyze us, and rob us of all we expected life to be. Even if we have many other blessings, pain can taint reality and tempt us to despair of life as a whole. “Will this pain and struggle ever end”, we can wonder? “Will I ever know what it’s like to feel good on this side of Heaven?”
I admit, some days, I grow weary of pressing on through the pain and difficulties. I’m tempted to look back at better days and say, “I wish I could have those back.”
But God knows our hearts are prone to wander to better days, so he reminds us to be on guard toward that way of thinking.
“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).
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 or dream of better days to come, 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 pray for relief if he chooses, but then take my eyes off of what I wish life were like, accept the pain as something God has allowed for purposes beyond what I may understand, and ask him to help me rest in his presence and comfort.
And the more I do this, the more I don’t want to be anywhere else.
So friend, 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 we’re tempted to fixate on the past or long for an easier future, we need to remind ourselves of these reasons to be present in the season that God has allowed.
When we don’t understand why, we can trust in the One does.
“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 and often misused, 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.
On the days that we feel frustration and discouragement over the never-ending battle against pain, we have to guard our minds from wandering to better days, dwelling on how hopeless life feels, or from doubting God’s love and care for us. Instead, we need to speak the truth to ourselves that God is not only in control, but he is near to us in our pain. Knowing that he loves us enough to sacrifice his only Son for our salvation, we can trust that he will only allow this pain to continue if he has something to give or do in us that is of greater value than the relief and comfort we desire.
We can dwell on the past, wishing life was as it used to be, or we can press on one moment at at time, trusting that we will one day look back with gratitude and amazement for how the Lord has been faithful to carry us through, gradually growing in us endurance, perseverance, and the character of Christ.
God’s grace is sufficient for today, not yesterday or tomorrow.
“Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. 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’re consumed with longing for our former, easier days, we won’t find God’s grace awaiting us there. If we’re 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 either. 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 only leave us flailing in our own meager strength.
Friend, if you are battling pain 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 or 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 today. 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’s 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.
On the surface, it may seem much easier to find happiness in comfort and prosperity when life is going well. But often, that happiness is built on unstable ground, bound to give way when circumstances change. But God desires more for his children. He wants to give us a joy beyond this world – one that cannot be taken. So in his love (with loving eyes that can see far more than we can) he sometimes allows loss, pain, and adversity to enter our lives, waking us up to the unstable ground that we walk upon and, Lord willing, bringing us to know the comfort and joy that only Christ can give – one that isn’t dependent on circumstances and never leaves us the same.
Friend, I’ll be the first to admit that this isn’t easy. It’s a daily fight for truth and hope beyond what we see and feel. But Jesus sees you when no one else can and he can give what no one else can give. Let’s not miss what he desires to give us by refusing to be present where he has us.
Our faith is proven genuine.
“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.
Some days I wrestle with questions and emotions that tempt me to find a way out of my pain. Too often, I end up throwing the pity party of the season. But even if it takes me feeling the emptiness of my wallowing, God patiently draws me back to the truth that he will equip me for what he’s allowed and won’t allow it a moment longer than he ordains. So I take the next step, trusting that he’ll meet me when I get there.
Friend, your hope is not based in your ability or strength to respond well in your pain, but in the evidence of Christ at work in you, even if only seen in glimpses. The endurance and character that Christ is building in us through our pain is bearing evidence of the Spirit at work. It’s proof that we are a child of God and that he is faithfully working through every moment of our pain. Our aim is not perfection (on this side of heaven), but it’s growth. And growth in barren soil that can only testify to someone greater at work within us.
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.