Many times the Lord grows us through His word and through prayer; other times He chooses to use our pain to provide us opportunities for growth. Not all of the time, but many times in my life, I probably could have avoided this pain if I had been a better person or better leader or if I would have made better decisions. Regardless of the reason, though, the Lord used these situations, these opportunities, to grow some internal parts of my being. And, I must admit, many times the type of growth that happened would have never come without having walked down that particular tough road in my life.
Pain is inevitable. We all experience it; it is part of making progress in ministry and life. If we want to be where the Lord desires us to be, there is no way we can avoid the growth pain helps us achieve.
I was working with a person recently who was in a relational situation that felt hopeless. He was going through some rejection from one of his adult kids. Unfortunately, too, it even involved grandkids. In our conversation, he came to the realization there was nothing he could do to control the actions of his adult son. I could feel the deep agony and pain he was experiencing as he came to this realization.
Then, as we began to process that pain, the heaviness began to lift a little. He verbally asked himself the question: “What can I learn from this situation? How can it make me a better dad – and a better person in general?” This pain actually allowed us to dive into some core issues that were holding him back in the way he interacted with people on his church leadership team.
Here’s the reality: There’s no way we can control all of the circumstances around us so we cannot always control the pain that comes our way. However, we can control our response to that pain. We can decide if we are going to harbor the anxiety that comes along with it or if we will release it by processing and grieving the loss, ultimately allowing it to bring us to a greater place in life.
There are a lot of biblical examples of pain; I often think of Paul in this context. He was such a great leader who accomplished big things in the launch of the New Testament church. Paul wrote much of the New Testament and accomplished all sorts of amazing feats for the church. Yet, in truth, he did it all while experiencing persecution or prison or relational conflict. He did it while going through some of the most extreme pressures imaginable. He did while living with his undefined “thorn in the flesh.”
Read what Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 12:7: “And lest I should be exalted above measure through the abundance of the revelations, there was given to me a thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I should be exalted above measure.”
Paul calls this “thorn in the flesh” as “a messenger of Satan.” He felt certain it was put in his life to torment him. We don’t know exactly what or why it was there. We don’t know if it was physical or spiritual or emotional. There really is not a lot of information on what that thorn in the flesh was, yet we do know it was the source of a ton of very real pain in Paul’s life. In fact, it was so bad we see in verse 8 that Paul asked the Lord three times to remove it from him. Many people like to look at Paul as some Superman. Yet, in reality, he was no less human than you and I. No one wants to live in pain, including the apostle Paul.
The Lord was using these things to build Paul’s character in a much greater way. Whatever the troubles were – whatever the thorn was – these things helped remove things like pride and provided a level of internal growth that couldn’t come to Paul any other way.
Let’s read his response to this pain in 2 Corinthians 12:9: “And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.”
So instead of removing the pain, God gave Paul the grace and the strength to live through the pain. Paul learned firsthand how God’s strength is made perfect in human weakness. He came to know what we cannot fix or control or do, God will step in and become our strength.
Then in verse 10 we read: “Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ's sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong.”
Pain is inevitable. Pain is going to come. God gives us the strength and the fortitude and the grace to walk through the infirmities. He walks with us through the pain we experience. We come out on the other side better men and women of God because of it all.
Several years ago now when I transitioned in ministry from more of a pastoral support role to an actual pastoral role at my local church, I remember those first few months of transition. It was exciting on one hand; on the other hand, it was also extremely painful. I was excited to have the opportunity to be a pastor at one of the greatest churches in America. Even though I assisted for many years with many of the duties I took on, there was still a very steep learning curve to handle the volume and complexity of tasks for which I was now responsible. This transition could not have come at a more challenging time in my life as I was in the middle of finishing an intense Master’s degree program. I felt like I had the weight of the world on my shoulders.
I remember one particular week about 3-4 months in, I was burning the candle at both ends. My anxiety and stress was at an all-time high. I had to deal with a major leadership conflict in one of the ministries I oversaw. I simply felt like I was on the verge of collapse emotionally and even physically by this point. It seemed I was at my human limit of what I could handle. I admitted my feelings to a close friend and, amazingly, it was at that moment of admitting and acknowledging my limitations I felt the hands of the Lord slide under my arms in a supernatural way. I knew He was with me. I knew everything was going to be ok. I knew He was going to give me the strength I needed. He did just that! He provided exactly what I needed through prayer and through people strategically placed in my life. The rest is history. I came out of the pain I was in. I came out of it a much better man and a better leader.
Pain is not fun. As human beings we seem to always try to escape pain. That’s natural. Yet, we have to remember our scars, our hurts and pains are literally preparing us for something bigger in our lives, something greater for the Kingdom of God.
As usual, I have a couple of questions I want you to process over the next few days:
1. What pain, anxiety, or negative experiences have I gone through in my life
or ministry in the last year? Then ask yourself:
2. What growth opportunity has this pain presented for me?
I encourage you to actually list your answers in writing. Put them in a place where they will be brought to the surface of your mind in a much greater way. This will help deepen the learning experience within you.
Life’s pain usually brings gain! The Lord could very well be using the pain in your life to shape and mold you into the leader He desires you to be.
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