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Suffering with Chronic Pain While Clinging to Enduring Hope

 

I have the privilege to talk to you about something that you may not need to hear about today. You may not need to hear about it this year, you may not need to hear about it this decade, but if you live long enough in this sin-cursed world, you will need to hear and think about the subject of how to deal with pain that won’t go away. Certainly all of us as biblical counselors are seeking to grow in our ability to minister hope to those that are struggling with pain. I believe that God in His kindness has given us three expressions of His grace to us as we face and deal with chronic pain. They are prayer, promises, and people. For prayer, we’re talking about a particular kind of prayer. We’ll look at this in detail; we’ll spend most of our time focusing on the kind of prayer that’s found in Psalm 13. Then we have the promises of God that sustain us in the crucible of suffering. Lastly, God has given us a people to do life with while we’re suffering—that, of course, is the local church.

Prayer

The first gift God gives to us when the pain will not leave is prayer. We’re going to talk about how to honor God when you’re in pain—not a little pain, not just having a bad day, we’re talking about pain that doesn’t go away over a prolonged period of time. It could be linked to the loss of physical health. It could be tied to the disintegration of a dream relationship. It could be wrapped up in the loss of a dream job and the tailspin that came following that. The point is, it is some very significant loss, and something that is compounded by the fact that when you pray, you don’t know what to say anymore. You love God. You have prayed, but you don’t know what to pray about this any longer because every time you pray and get up off your knees, it doesn’t seem like anything has changed the situation.

What do you do when you find yourself in a season of life like that—a season of pain with no end in sight? Now, I’m always hesitant to do what I’m about to do, and that is become personal for a few moments. I’ve experienced pain more than once where I’ve hurt so badly that I found myself on the floor crying out to the Lord. A big part of it was the physical pain. I’ve battled migraine headaches for 31 years. Over that time I’ve tried fifteen different doctors, five neurologists, and whole bunch of other things to deal with migraine pain that came 15 days a month for several years. I’m grateful, which I’ll tell you a little more about later, that has changed in the last year and a half some.

I’ve experienced pain, pressure in my forehead, temples, eyes, and the agony of being in the presence of any stimulus—like light, or the perfumes my wife used to love, fabric softeners, things that would trigger that. I’ve known the inability to lay down and sleep. But it’s not just the physical. During a three-month sabbatical break in 2012, which our church family was so gracious to give, I found myself two-thirds of the way into the break when I started to plummet into depression. My physical pain was actually worse into the break. I had been to the Cleveland Clinic, they’re trying different medications, and yet I’m worse than I was when I started the break.

I’m thinking, “What good is a pastor that can’t use a computer? It’s hard to read my Bible. I don’t want to be with people. I’m spending considerable amounts of time in dark rooms. And I love being a pastor. I love the ministry God’s called me to, and I’m not able to do that or I don’t think I’m going to be able to continue to do that.”

Now as I’m struggling with the physical, there’s this turmoil that’s going on.

I’m hesitant to be so transparent for many reasons. One of which is I understand that for what I have just described, you may be thinking, “Wait until you really suffer.” You may have a PhD and I’m in elementary school when it comes to pain. But I’ve learned something about pain. Pain is a relative thing. What you consider to be a difficult pain and what someone else might—there are differences.

First Corinthians 10:13 helps me know that a sovereign God allows us to face differing amounts of pain. We have different load capacities when it comes to suffering. The issue isn’t to compare your pain with someone else’s pain. The issue is that you’re in a situation where you’re struggling with a pain that doesn’t go away and it’s affecting how you do life. First we’ll answer the question, “How do you pray?”

We’ll read through Psalm 13. This isn’t being melodramatic: This Psalm has saved my life many times, and I commend it to you, and I encourage you to use this Psalm with your counselees. It’s a Psalm that shows us how to pray when the pain doesn’t go away.

When you’re in that kind of pain, you need to pray and bring three things to God: Your questions (vv. 1-2), your requests (vv. 3-4), and your praise (vv. 5-6).

Your Questions

The heading for this Psalm tells us this is a Psalm of David. He doesn’t give the specifics that prompted him to write the Psalm. Maybe it was at the time in his life when his father-in-law tried to kill him. I mean that’s a gut wrencher for a guy in his 20s or 30s. Or maybe it was when he was in his 50s, and his own son is trying to kill him. I think that could have prompted what comes out of his heart and mouth. Maybe it was when one of his best friend’s, Ahithophel, betrayed him. Maybe it was when the Ziphites betrayed him to Saul after all he had done to help them. He doesn’t identify the time. Here he is Israel’s shepherd, and the Spirit of God is using David to minister to the people of God by showing them through his experience how to respond when you face suffering.

This is for us who, by the grace of God, have been saved from our sins by the atoning work of Jesus. These times of pain do come for Jesus’ followers.

What are we supposed to do? Pray. But pray what? Pray as follows. First of all, bring your questions to God. Psalm 13:1-2 says,

“How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever?
How long will you hide your face from me?
How long must I take counsel in my soul
and have sorrow in my heart all the day?
How long shall my enemy be exalted over me?”

David repeats the question “how long” over and over. This so instructive, because when we feel overwhelmed this is not natural for us. We tend to turn away from God rather than to Him when we’re in a season like this. Initially we turn to Him. We ask for His help, but when the help doesn’t come quickly enough or in the way we want it, we figure we might as well look somewhere else for help. So we hunker down and start looking within ourselves, maybe to other people, perhaps to a pill, television, the bed, etc. We look to something other than God.

Another tendency I’ve noticed is that we’re prone to try and figure things out on our own. We think God doesn’t seem to be helping and people don’t seem to have any solutions.

On a humorous note, I’ve kept track over the years of all the things people have suggested as solutions for my migraines. Many times I’ve been in conversations with others saying, “Have you tried this, Brad?” One of my favorites was a 90-year-old man in our church. His wife had passed away, and when he was going through her stuff he found a newspaper clipping. It was a recommendation for migraines to take alcohol and peppermint oil and mix it together.

He gives me this clipping. There’s no ratio, it’s basically a promotion for a book you’re supposed to buy that talks about this remedy. The following weekend I had a terrible migraine. I said to my wife, “We have got to get some alcohol.” Well, that’s a whole different subject, but Wheelersberg was a dry community at the time. My wife goes to the next community on a Saturday night and goes into a Kroger store that has liquor and says, “What’s the highest proof alcohol you can sell me?” He says, “Honestly, I can’t sell it to you unless you have a license.” And he explains that their highest proof is used by plumbers to blow out their pipes. So she ends up buying a bottle of 152-proof vodka. She brought it home, and I had some peppermint oil. So we poured it into a little container mix it up. You thought it was going to be something you intake, but it’s topical. I put it on my forehead and it burned so badly, I forgot that I had a migraine for about 10 minutes. And then it came back with a vengeance.

So you’ve tried everywhere—people give you ideas. Then what do you do? We need to do what David did. He asked the Lord how long he’s going to feel abandoned. Is that reality? How long did God really forget David and hide His face from him? That’s not reality. An omniscient God can’t forget us, but this is precisely how David felt. He felt forgotten and alienated and cut off. So, what are you going to do if you feel that way and you’re praying? What are you going to say to God? Are you going to deny it? That would be foolish. He already knows what you’re feeling.

David gives us an example to follow by telling God how he feels. But make sure you do it the way David did. These are important words and they will be for your counselees: Be reverently honest.

David asked the Lord how long this inner turmoil was going to last. “How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and every day have sorrow in my heart?” That’s vivid language. Have you ever been in a wrestling match with your thoughts? That’s not a pleasant experience.

David asked the Lord how long will this inner turmoil last? How long his enemy would prevail? Again, we don’t know which enemy he has in mind. It doesn’t matter. We do know that David had faced Goliath. David knows what God can do. Goliath is Exhibit A in his life of what God can do to an enemy. So why isn’t God doing the same to this enemy? That’s the challenge for him.

I find David’s example so helpful and I commend him to you and your counselees. There will be times in life when you feel abandoned and overwhelmed with pain. What will you do? You’ll feel like running from God. You’ll feel like trusting no one but yourself, but please don’t do that. Not only is that at its root idolatry, it leads to self-destruction, and along the way there’s a lot of peripheral destruction on the people closest to us. It’s far better to do what David did. David doesn’t play games with God. To use the language of Hebrews 4:16, he comes boldly to the throne of grace to obtain grace to help in time of need.

God can handle our questions. I don’t think this meant to be a prayer to recite—it’s a framework for praying when we’re in pain and suffering. Begin with honestly, reverently bringing our questions to God.

Your Questions

The second movement of the Psalm shows us to bring our requests to God. Here are David’s requests from Psalm 13:3-4, “Consider and answer me, O Lord my God; light up my eyes, lest I sleep the sleep of death, lest my enemy say, ‘I have prevailed over him,’ lest my foes rejoice because I am shaken.”

There are a couple of things to note about David’s petitions. First of all, what he asked was very straightforward. He’s saying, “This is what I’m desperate for. Please help me, God.” Give light to my eyes. Think of it this way: Look and answer, give me light.” In other words, literally, “Enlighten my eyes, Lord. Help me to see what I’m missing in this situation I’m in right now. I know who you are. I know what you’re like, I’m not seeing something that I need. Please help me to see that.”

He talks about not just about the “what,” he metions the “why.” There are a couple of reasons he’s being so bold. Reason number one: Look on me and answer O Lord my God, give light to my eyes or I will sleep in death. I’m afraid I’m going to die.

Ever been there? Where you think, “I am hurting so badly right now, I don’t know how I’m going to make it through. If you don’t come now, I think I’m going to sleep the sleep of death itself.”

And the second reason: My enemy will say, “I’ve overcome him,” and my foes will rejoice when I fall. David’s saying, “I’m afraid of what the enemy will say about me and you if that happens. This is about your reputation Lord, your fame, your honor, your kingdom purposes. Please act.”

Remember David is God’s chosen king. God made a promise to David that he will be the link through which the Messiah will come into the world to provide salvation for sinners from every nation, language, and tribe. David knows this—he’s not praying a selfish prayer here. He’s praying with God’s great reputation in mind. He knows that God’s reputation is affected by what happens to him. This is true of you, and it’s true of me. We too are in a covenant relationship with the living God. We are His children if we place our faith in His son, and His death, burial, and resurrection. He calls us by His own name. If we go under, the world mocks Him. God is passionate about His name and loves to work on behalf of those who pray for His honor.

When you’re in that season of pain that won’t go away, bring your questions to God, bring your requests to God, but don’t stop there. David shows us we must finish this prayer—and every prayer—by bringing our praise to God. I love what happens in Psalm 13:5-6. David says, “But I have trusted in your steadfast love; my heart shall rejoice in your salvation. I will sing to the Lord, because he has dealt bountifully with me.”

The change in tone is so obvious. David began on his face in the pits. Now, he’s got his hands raised and he’s praising God. He ends by affirming the truth regarding God. It’s not his pain that captivates him. Now, it’s: “your unfailing love,” “your salvation,” “your goodness.” He affirms the truth of who God is.

Hesed is one of the most important words in the Old Testament. There is no one English word that captures the fullness of the Hebrew word Hesed. If you take grace, mercy, faithfulness, covenant loyalty, and truth, put all of that together and you have this word. David says this is what he’s trusting in: “I trust in your Hesed.”

One Hebrew dictionary offers this definition: A love or affection that is steadfast, based on a prior relationship. God’s affection toward us is steadfast not because we deserve it, but on the basis of a prior relationship, which He established first by creating us and then by redeeming us—bringing us into His family through adoption on the basis of the blood that His Son has shed as our substitute.

This part of this message from Psalm 13 came out of what happened back in 2012 on my sabbatical break. I finished the sabbatical break, and I came back after those three months and I sat down with our leadership. I said, “I don’t know how to say this, but the reality is I’m not any better than I was when I started this. I don’t know what that means for us right now.” The guys are so very supportive and they said, “Well, what are you thinking?” I said, “We’ve asked many of you pray. We’ve prayed as a church family. You prayed for me that God would take this away. I don’t think God wants to take this away. I think He wants to use it. I think He wants to use this season of suffering that’s going to continue for His purposes in this church. One of the things that I want to do here in these first weeks and I’m back is open the Scriptures up with the church family and share some things God’s been doing in my life.”

The message I preached week number two back was this message: How do you pray when the pain doesn’t go away from Psalm 13.

And the week before I preached that message, the Thursday prior to it, I was out running that morning in our neighborhood. I came up to a stop sign, and there in a deep ditch by the stop sign was a mangy-looking, flea-infested, ugly, old dog. I like dogs. We have a dog, but about this one I thought, “I don’t want to be near this dog.” And I went around and kept on going on my run. That evening a car goes driving in front of our house, and this guy’s got his window down and he’s saying, “Anybody seen my dog? I’ve lost my dog.” I’m thinking, “Man, if that was the dog I would just let it stay right where it was.”

I walked out to the car and I said, “Hey, I saw a dog this morning in a ditch just on the other side of the loop here, it was laying in the water in the ditch.” He said, “That’s my dog. I’m sure it was my dog, he loves the water. I was trying to give it a bath; I had its collar off and he ran away from me. I don’t know where it is now.” That night as we were going to bed, my wife Sherry says, “Did you see how disturbed that man was about losing his dog?”

And that’s the week I’m studying this work hesed: a devotion based on a prior relationship, which has been established. It isn’t because this dog was worthy of that man’s affection. He had chosen to love this dog and as an old dog, he was committed to that dog. By the way, for you dog lovers, I won’t leave you hanging—he was able to find and reconnect with his dog later. Now, you’re all feeling much better about the story.

I may feel like I’m stranded in the ditch and at times forgotten, but the truth is God’s love for me is steadfast, because it’s based not on my worth and merit, but on a prior relationship, which He established by making me and redeeming me. He will never stop loving me, for reasons meant to bring about His glory and my ultimate good. He may allow me to feel forsaken and alone, but even then He is pursuing me and keeping me safe and in the end, He will bring me home.

When I’m in the pit of pain, I need to affirm the truth of God’s unfailing love. This is who my God is—not someone who has forgotten me.

David takes it a step further. He affirms the truth of what God does: He saves. “My heart rejoices in your salvation.” Now, there’s a translation issue going on here that we could talk about, but it doesn’t change the point here. Some translations say “my heart shall rejoice in your salvation,” while others say, “my heart rejoices in your salvation.” Which direction is David looking? Is he looking ahead to what God’s going to do in terms of His saving work, or is he looking back? The point is that God is a saving God. The pain is still there, but David’s focus is now to say, “My heart rejoices in this characteristic of my God. He is a saving God.” If it’s past tense, you saved me in the past. Is he talking about big picture terms? Saying, “God, you saved me from being alienated from you and brought me into a relationship with you.” Is he talking about how God saved him all the times he faced challenges in his life from Goliath onward?

What David is doing is what we need to do in our hurting. He’s affirming the truth about God. Our God saves us. How many times have you cried out to Him and He saves you? He saves you from eternal hell, but He saves you from the challenges in your life.

Then David affirms the truth of what God has done in the past, saying, “You have been good to me.” The ESV says, “You have dealt bountifully with me.” When you’re in pain, you’re inclined to feel that you’ve gotten a raw deal out of life. “That’s not true,” says David, “You’ve been good to me.”

In other words, David says, “I may not understand what you’re doing now Lord, but I choose to interpret my painful present reality in light of your past goodness to me.” Then David ends with action verbs and he’s talking to himself. This is so vital when you’re in persistent pain after a while. It starts to wear on you and wear you down. But you cannot afford to be passive when in pain—you must do something, something very God-pleasing like David in this final movement of the prayer Psalm.

He does three things. First of all, he verbalizes. “I trust in your unfailing love.” He doesn’t just think it—he says it. He actually is writing it for the benefit of the people of God. A moment ago he was asking the Lord “how long,” now he is saying the words, “I trust.” Secondly, he verbalizes, “My heart rejoices in your salvation.” Is it possible to rejoice when your body is in pain, or when your most cherished earthly relationship has gone sour, or when you can’t see any way in the near future that life’s going to be different? Can you rejoice then? David did. There was something more important to him than health, spouse, children, job, anything that this world might offer. He says, it’s this: “My heart rejoices in your salvation. You the one that established this relationship in your hesed.” And then he announces, “I will sing to the Lord, for he has been good to me.”

He’s bringing his swirling mind back into submission to truth. He began by sharing how he felt with his head spinning in the clouds. Now, he finishes his prayer with his feet on the ground and he’s doing what a man of God is created and redeemed do: sing to the Lord. What’s so important about singing to the Lord? When we sing to the Lord, we are choosing to use what he has given us—our voices, our minds, our breath, our time, our focus, our energy—and we’re going vertical with it, to bring attention to Him. We’re reminding ourselves why we’re here when we sing. We’re engaging mind, soul, body, the whole person. We’re not just thinking, we’re not just talking, we are singing and this pleases God greatly and the byproducts are absolutely phenomenal for us.

It’s hard to keep moping and despair when you’re singing about the goodness of your God. It’s hard to keep rehearsing your list of complaints when you’re expressing out loud in song the works of your God in the past. I don’t have to feel like singing to do it.

When David says he will sing to the Lord, I don’t think he means, “I’m going to check that off my list.” I think this is going to be his mode of living moving forward. It’s vital that we who know Christ be a singing people.

How do you begin your day? I urge you, in addition to reading your Bible and praying, to sing to your Savior. Sing a song about the cross as you begin your day. How do you finish your day? Look back and sing, Great is Your Faithfulness.

In the middle of the day, when you encounter that challenging person, “Oh How He Loves You and Me.” For the past couple of years, I’ve been using Hymns of Grace in my devotional time. I’ve been singing right through the hymn book, two or three hymns a day to the Lord. I began making a list of all the hymns that deal with suffering, and there are many! I’ve counted 52 hymns dealing with suffering. Some of them I knew, some of them I didn’t. One I didn’t know was, “Jesus I My Cross Have Taken” by Harry Lyte. Verse 4 of that song says,

“Go, then, earthly fame and treasure,
Come disaster, scorn and pain
In Thy service, pain is pleasure,
With Thy favor, loss is gain
I have called Thee Abba Father,
I have stayed my heart on Thee
Storms may howl, and clouds may gather;
All must work for good to me.”

A song that was more familiar to me,

“When trials come no longer fear
For in the pain our God draws near
To fire a faith worth more than gold
And there his faithfulness is told
And there his faithfulness is told”

Prayer is not about getting God to do for us what we want. Prayer is worshipping and adoring God for who He is, even when He’s doing things our tiny little minds can’t understand. In fact, why would we expect this all-knowing, omnipotent, unrivaled God to do things that would make sense to my little pea-sized brain? He is God and singing helps us bring everything back into focus. When I don’t understand what’s going on in seasons of pain that don’t go away, I do what David does here.

We need to teach our counselees to bring questions to God. But don’t stop there or we’re being irreverent. Bring our requests to God, but don’t stop there or we’re being independent—thinking we can figure this thing out. Finish by bringing our praise to God. Affirm the truth about who He is. This is where Psalm 13 ends. Notice David’s circumstances haven’t changed one iota. David apparently is still in pain. David’s enemy is still on the attack. But what changed when David was down on his knees crying out to God bringing questions, requests, and praises to God was David. David changed. He’s not who he was when he began this time of praying. The whole tone of the Psalm is different at the end.

I can’t underscore how important this way of praying is. God just keeps reminding me of this. I was in Timisoara, Romania in 2015 and I was in a church service about to speak on how to pray when the pain doesn’t go away from Psalm 13. In the first part of the service, they were singing in Romanian. I had a lot of time to be praying while they were singing, and I remember I prayed a specific prayer, “Lord, would you do something is in this service that you alone can do to bring honor and glory to yourself?”

After they finished singing, everybody sat down and a little girl named Carla—about 8 years old—got up on the platform. There were about 200 people there that Sunday evening, which is pretty large for a Romanian church service. She gets up and she starts talking to the audience. I leaned over to Alex my translator and I said, “What is she saying?” He says, “She memorizes and recites Scripture. She’s really good at this.” I asked, “What passage is she quoting?”

Alex listens for a moment and then tells me she’s quoting Psalm 13. I said, “I’m going to preach from that in a moment. Did she know that?” He says, ‘How would she know that? I didn’t know that.” And he leans across to Pastor Peter on the other side and says, “That’s the passage he’s going to preach on.” And I’m thinking, “God’s going to do something in this service!” As if God doesn’t do something every time His word is open, but sometimes He gives us great reminders of His working.

If there’s anything the Romanian people know about—particularly the older folks—they know about suffering. I watched God take His Word that night encourage people from Psalm 13.

What do we do with this? Some suggestions: I encourage you to memorize Psalm 13, and other Psalms of Lament. When in times of pain, you’ll want this tucked away in your heart. Encourage your counselees to do the same. Music can help. I’ve written a simple song to help me memorize Psalm 13. I’ve sung it many times to the Lord and the quietness of my home.

Secondly, follow the pattern you see from David. Bring your questions, requests, and praises to God. Don’t leave out your questions.

Thirdly, share Psalm 13 with others gently. That’s key to do it gently. You may not need Psalm 13 right now, but you probably know others who do—but they don’t need it dumped on them. It shouldn’t be, “Hey, I just learned this week what you need to start doing and you won’t be moping around so much.” Yes, they need Psalm 13, but they need it gently, as in “Hey, can I just share with you something? I know you’ve been going through a tough season. Can I pray with you right now? Can I even use the words of David?”

Keep in mind Job’s friends, from Job 42:7, “the Lord said to Eliphaz the Temanite: “My anger burns against you and against your two friends, for you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has.”

Promises to Live by in the Crucible of Suffering

The second gift God gives when the pain won’t leave is promises to live by in the crucible of suffering.

Week two back from the sabbatical I preached that message on praying from Psalm 13. The next ten weeks, I preached on the promises from God’s Word that had really been helpful in my own life, in that darkness. As biblical counselors, you know these promises, let’s just rehearse them quickly.

The promise of a way of escape. “No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it” (1 Corinthians 10:13). When we turn this promise into a prayer, it sounds something like this, “Father right now, I feel like I can’t go on, that there’s no way out of this pain, but you’ve given this promise. You can’t lie. You said there’s a way out of this despair I’m feeling. There is a way for me to stand up in it and honor you in this trial. Help me to see that way and walk in it.”

The promise of a good outcome. “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers” (Romans 8:28-29). Turning that promise into a prayer might sound like, “Father, my feelings say otherwise, but right now I affirm this wonderful reality. You’re up to something eternally good through this pain—for me, for others, for Christlikeness. Thank you for that.”

The promise of forgiveness. We all need this one. “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). This is a critical promise for those in chronic pain because at times—in fact, many times—we cross the line. We are not reverential in our crying out, nor are we trusting. Then what? Then we practice this amazing promise, “Lord, I’ve done it again. I’ve sinned against you in my response to what you’ve ordained for my life this night. Please forgive me for that. Please cleanse me.”

The promise of God’s provision. “But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you” (Matthew 6:33). This verse helps us clarify where our focus should be in the pain: on God’s kingdom purposes. It also ensures us when our focus is right, what we need will be granted. You can pray, “Father, I do seek your kingdom first now, that’s what I want more than feeling good. And you promised to give me what I need for that to happen. So I ask for the ability to sleep.”

By the way, my view of night times is changing. I can’t say it has changed—I like to sleep at night—but it’s changing. I’ve learned one of the most special times of my life is the night time season. Most of us, I think, tend to rob ourselves of what God is wanting to do because we think, “I gotta sleep,” and if we don’t sleep we become really bitter about that. Someone taught me this prayer request; “Lord, would you help me to get a good night of sleep or would you help me when I get up in the morning to feel like I had a good night of sleep, even if I didn’t?” It’s really it’s served me well, because life goes on tomorrow, right?

The promise of God’s provision.

The promise of God’s guidance.

The promise of a harvest. “And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up” (Galatians 6:9). You can pray, “Lord, help me to not become weary in this pain. You said the harvest would come.”

The promise of wisdom. “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him” (James 1:5). How we need this promise! Moment by moment we need wisdom. “Should I take this pain medicine or just gut it out?” “Should I try to push through the pain or rest?” “Should I say yes to this ministry opportunity or block out my schedule today?” I need wisdom. As I told you, over the years I’ve been to five neurologists, fifteen doctors, and a lot of non-conventional options. Every time I learned about a potential treatment wisdom was needed. The question, “Try it or not?” came up so much. Then a year and a half ago new medicine comes out; “Try it or not?”

It’s a monthly shot, and I took it. I’ve been on it about a year and a half now. I’m down from 15 migraines a month to five (sometimes down to two). I tried a lot of other things before that, always needing wisdom to answer, “Do I try it or not?” And God says, “Ask, I’ll give you wisdom.” I don’t know what the side effects are doing. My wife says I can’t remember anything I tell her anymore, but I’m feeling a whole lot better about it.

The promise of sufficient grace. I so appreciate Tim Keller’s quote, “God will either give us what we ask or what we would have asked if we knew everything he knows.” This prayer might sound like, “Father, thank you for hearing me every time, for always doing what’s best.”

The promise of the life to come. In Revelation 21, John records that he sees the New Jerusalem. He hears a voice from the throne: God is going to dwell with men. God’s going to live with His people. They will be His people and He will be their God. He’s going to wipe away all their tears. There will be no more death, mourning, crying. The old order has passed away. He hears the person seated on the throne announcing His intent, revealing His identity, declaring His promise. And then for everyone else there’s this promise of a fiery lake. This is what sustains us.

Tim Keller preached a sermon on Revelation 21 that I was listening to and he tells a couple of stories that illustrate this point. One of the stories is that many years ago two men were thrown into a horrible prison for 10 years. On the way into the prison, the first man frantically looks for his wife and son and was told, “They’re dead. You’ll never see them again.”

The other man’s wife and son were there and said to him through the bars, “We’ll be waiting for you when you get out.” In the harsh conditions of prison life, the first man lasted about two years and then gave up—dying as a forgotten man. The second man persevered through the hardship, knowing that he would see his loved ones again. The difference that hope makes is huge.

The other illustration is about two men who are working jobs in a factory that made widgets. The first man was told, “The work is tedious, but if you do well you’ll receive $20,000 at the end of the year.” The man agreed began to work. The second man is offered the job and is told, “The work is tedious, but do it well and you’ll receive $20 million at the end of the year.” You can guess what happened: The first man lasted about two months—the monotony frustrated him. He finally said, “This is not worth it. I’m out of here.” The second guy whistled all 12 months thinking, “Man, this is great.” What made the difference? If you have hope, you know what’s coming.

People

The third gift that God has given us when the pain will not leave is people to do life with—the church. By God’s design, we’re not alone.

First Corinthians 12:13 says, “For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free.” We have been placed into the body of Christ. We are to do life that way.

The burning log that loses contact with the fire stops burning, the goose that drops out of the V Formation is soon overcome by the resistant wind. The chronic sufferer needs the church and the church needs the chronic sufferer. We need a solid Biblical Theology of care and by looking at the Epistles we discover the life-changing implications of having a people to do life with as we suffer. The God of comfort comforts us, so that we can comfort others.

I preached that message week two on prayer, the next series was Promises to Live by in the Crucible of Suffering, and next we spent about 10 weeks going through the epistles of looking at all the one another commandments to see how life works, particularly when you’re suffering. We see all kinds of instructions: bear one another’s burdens, speak the truth to one another, accept one another as Christ accepted you, admonish, counsel one another, encourage one another, spur one another onto love and good deeds, pray for one another. The one another commands aren’t simply a call to action, they’re actually tangible expressions of divine grace.

My concluding premise is the Lord intends to use the one another activities of the church to bring hope and help to His hurting children, so that together we will grow up into Christlikeness and manifest the beauty of His gospel to a needy world.

When I think of suffering with chronic pain, I have to tell the story of Nancy Ray. In 1954, Nancy Ray was getting ready to graduate from high school, when a drunk driver hit her and she became a quadriplegic. She was a member of our church, and she spent the next 52 years in a wheelchair as a quadriplegic. She almost died, then she wished she would have died because life was so not what she was hoping it was going to look like, but then God began to fill her with hope. Romans 8:28 became her life verse.

Whether she had the ability and didn’t know or just God gave it to her at that point, she found out in rehab that she had the ability to paint, and so she painted with a paintbrush in her mouth. Not only did she find out, she began to paint paintings and became a member of the International Handicap Arts Association. Her brother is a missionary to Papa New Guinea, heading there in 1984 to what was basically a Stone Age tribe. She begins to sell her paintings to support her brother, other missionaries, and charitable causes.

When we had her memorial services at the church, it was phenomenal. We asked people to bring the paintings that she had done and we put them around the building. You just can’t measure what God’s up to in the moment. You’ve got to see it in the big picture and in the bigger picture of the redemption story. Praise God for how He uses our pain for His glory.

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Brad Brandt
Brad has been the pastor at Wheelersburg Baptist Church since 1987, serving along with his wife, Sherry. He is a certified biblical counselor and Fellow with ACBC.
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