Heath Lambert: This week on the podcast our guest is Dr. Brad Brandt a Fellow with the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors and the pastor at Wheelersburg Baptist Church in Wheelersburg, Ohio. We’re talking with Dr. Brandt this week about the problem of chronic pain. So many people, many of you who are listening to this live every day, every week, every month with very serious, chronic pain, and life doesn’t stop for you. And so, we want to talk about the truths that you can take into your heart and how you might minister to someone who is struggling with this. Dr. Brandt, would you describe some of the various experiences of chronic pain that people can live with as they struggle to be faithful in their life?
Brad Brandt: You know, there’s according to WebMD 100 million Americans that struggle with chronic pain and they define that as pain that lasts longer than six months. It can come in all shapes and sizes. Obviously, the physical chronic pain is what stands out back, pain, migraine pain, as I struggle with, but it’s not just the physical. I think of the woman that’s living in a very difficult situation and the prospect of it changing isn’t getting any better, an abusive husband or parents that are grieving over the loss of a living adult child, that’s away from the Lord and breaking their heart. Chronic pain can be relational. How we think of it is mostly as physical. My wife has struggled with an autoimmune disease for close to 30 years. She’s really the one who ought to be sitting here. She has dealt with chronic pain, and I’ve learned a lot from her. In more recent years, God has given me the privilege to learn from it, and it is a privilege, and we can talk about that more as it gets into some other questions in a moment.
Heath Lambert: Well, what are some of the things that a person experiencing this kind of pain? I mean, a hundred million people, all different kinds of manifestations of pain, what are some things that a person who’s experiencing chronic pain can do to get some relief?
Brad Brandt: Well, one of the first things that I have learned is for starters we need to not make getting relief our primary goal, and that’s where we tend to want to go. Quite frankly, it’s not possible. If you’ve got chronic pain, in many cases, relief is not even possible. I know individuals that every day they have pain; my situation is maybe half the days in a month’s time. But when we realize that as believers, if we’ve come to know Christ as our Savior our goal is not relief, our goal is to become like Christ. And I tell you the passage that hit me about four years ago when I was on a sabbatical break, I was supposed to be getting some medical attention, and some R&R to address this battle I’ve had with migraines was the passage in Hebrews 5:7. “During the days of Jesus life on earth he offered up prayers and petitions with loud, cries and tears, to the one who could save him from death; and he was heard because of his reverent submission.” I thought if I really want to be like Christ, then why would I be surprised that I would go into seasons where I am loudly crying out to God in pain? So now God’s not obviously against relief, but I think it starts there that our primary goal is not relief. Our primary goal is to honor God and be like his Son as we go through this, whatever it is he’s ordaining, physical pain, relational, or whatever it might be. But it’s a good question, what are some things that we can do that help?
Because of the Gospel, we have God’s means of help. Let me throw out four P’s: we’ve got prayer, promises, people, and physicians. And I don’t mean prayer just as in a crying way. The thing about chronic pain that’s different from other kinds of problems is this is the kind of situation where you get on your knees, and you pray, and you get up, and the situation hasn’t changed, and tomorrow will be the same, and the next day, and the next week, the next year. So when I mean prayer is a means of relief, not necessarily for the pain to leave but to have a change in your thinking about it.
Psalm 13 is a Psalm that has changed my life, and that’s not being melodramatic. Psalm 13, “How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and every day have sorrow in my heart? How long will my enemy triumph over me?” The psalmist begins by bringing his questions to God, then he moves and brings his petitions to God, “Look on me and answer O. Lord, my God. Give light to my eyes or I will sleep in death. And my enemy will say, I’ve overcome him, and my foes will rejoice when I fall. The psalmist, probably David, is concerned about what will people say about you God, if I go under? So he brings his questions to God, he brings his petitions to God, but he doesn’t stay in that mode. He finishes by bringing his praise to God at the end of the song; it’s only six verses. But he says, “but I trust in your unfailing, love my heart rejoices in your salvation. I will sing to the Lord for he’s been good to me.” If we don’t bring our questions to God, we’re not being real with him. If all we do is bring our questions to God were not being reverent. The questions must lead to petition, must lead to this praise of a good God who has reasons for what he’s doing in our lives.
I think about that particular Psalm when I was ministering and Romania a year and a half ago. I decided I was going to actually teach on Psalm 13 and just talk about my story, I guess I haven’t shared full. I’ve had migraines for 28 years, more intense in recent years; I’ve been to 14, doctors, five neurologists, and lots of different things. And basically, 15 days a month, I still have a lot of pain. Thankfully not as intense recently because of some medications that have been knocking the intense ones off. But when I went over to Romania, I wanted to minister in one of the churches there and preach this message from Psalm 13. And before I got up to preach, I was in the front row sitting next to a pastor who’s my translator. And a little girl got up on the platform, and I should say this, I had been praying “Lord, would you do something in this service that would just make it obvious that you are great and you’re good?” So this little girl about 9 years old gets up there, and she says something in Romanian, and I asked the man next to me, “What did she say?” And he said, “oh, she’s really good at quoting scripture.” I said, “well, what passage did she quote?” And he listened, and he said, “Psalm 13”. And I said, Psalm 13, I mean, what nine-year-old memorizes, “How long, O Lord, will you forget me forever?” I said, “that’s the passage I’m going to preach from here in a few moments, did she know that? “How would she know that?” He said, “yeah, I didn’t know that.” And he leans across to the other pastor and says, “that’s what he’s going to preach on.” And as if God doesn’t always do something when his word is open, but sometimes he just gives us a little glimpse into the fact he’s really going to connect with people, and I saw that happen that night. There’s anything the particularly the older Romanians know, it’s suffering.
And so anyway, prayer, promises. When I came back from my sabbatical break four years ago, I was actually in worse shape than when I left because of medications and other things. And I had struggled with depression while I was away, thinking, how am I going to be able to Shepherd the flock? I love being a pastor, preaching, but I can’t look at my computer screen, and I can’t be with people very much. I can’t read; my eyes. So my church leaders were very supportive and said, “just minister out of your brokenness then.” Because I said, “no, I don’t think God wants to take this away. I think he wants me to minister through the pain and not apart from it.” And that opened up a new season, which has been going on the last four years, where I’m talking about what we’re talking about today in lots of circles. And I preached a series of messages called Promises to Live by in The Crucible of Suffering to my church Which basically was ten promises from the Scriptures. The promise of a good outcome Romans 8:28-29, the promise of a harvest Galatians 6:6-9, and the promise of sufficient Grace 2 Corinthians 12:10. These promises that we truly can live by when we’re going through difficult times. But prayer promises, people, of course. A people to do life with, that’s what the church is all about, and that’s been a great help. And then physicians, and I’d be the first to say, keep going to the doctors. God has graciously given us means to help, and those are some things that can bring relief.
Heath Lambert: You struggle with chronic pain. You said here just a minute ago about 15 days out of the month; you’ll be struggling with a migraine headache. You’ve said to me in other contexts that sometimes those headaches can be truly incapacitating, and you really not functional. For somebody who’s listening to this and they struggle with chronic pain. Maybe it’s a migraine or some other manifestation of it, or they walk with somebody who struggles with that kind of pain. When you are completely incapacitated with pain, what do you do?
Brad Brandt: That’s a difficult question to answer because with pain as chronic, what do you do today is what you do, you know, three weeks ago and four weeks from now. So, it changes; it’s the beauty of our sufficient God. Sometimes I’m crying out in the floor, and I remember one time crying out in the middle of the night. You can’t sleep when you have the kind of pain I deal with. And it’s not all the time, but crying out to God, and I remembered what Spurgeon said once. He battled with varieties of pain, and one time he said my paraphrase: father, if I had a child and he was crying out to me like I’m crying out to you, I would do something to help him. And Spurgeon said he touched my body, and I’ve had that happen a couple of times, I am not a mystical person, but I’ve had a couple of times where he, just because of his promise 1 Corinthians 10:13 always provides a way of escape. And in that situation, he took the pain away—most of the time, that doesn’t happen. Most of the time, what I would encourage you to do if you’re struggling with chronic pain is just rehearse the promises of God and put your weight on those promises.
If I can speak to those who are trying to minister to those in chronic pain, please, please be careful of the cliches of saying, you know what they’re experiencing. Even if you suffer with chronic pain, you don’t know what someone else is experiencing, and it is not of help to them when you say that. You do nothing wrong with relating your experience, but you don’t know what they’re experiencing. I remember, and I think this just gives incredible hope again, the target that we’re after in life; it’s not relief, it’s being like Christ, and when you sense that that target is being hit, you have great joy in the midst of your pain. And God will bring people into your life to confirm that. I remember after the sabbatical, and after that season of the next 6-8 months, where I was in my messages being real transparent with the congregation about the things God was teaching me, these promises live by. And people are coming up, and I’ve been a pastor, the church there 25 years, the time people coming up saying you’re a different Pastor. No, don’t get me, wrong, Pastor, God used you before, but he’s really using you now. And I think it was because people understand pain. Everybody’s got some sort of pain and relate to people that struggle with chronic pain.