God’s Purpose in Your Pain

Ironically, we rest in the embrace of the same arms that deliver daily doses of cruelty

It’s after midnight on Sunday evening. Everyone in my neighborhood’s most likely in bed. But me? I’m walking the path around the man-made lake in our subdivision in pitch darkness.

Hopefully, everyone else is asleep, because I’m spitting and cussing at God.

What’s wrong? Enough that I’m wondering why God thinks I would still be talking to Him.

For starters, it’s the time of the year right after Easter when church attendance drops off. Evidently, the resurrection of Christ is the cue that it’s OK to use Sunday as everyone’s vacation day.

For them, Jesus coming out of the grave is some signal, maybe like a groundhog seeing it’s shadow…

So I’ve preached another message to the ones left at home, complete with the distractions of those who just can’t stop moving or reaching for another muffin from our snack area, or the guy who stepped out to take what I’m sure was the world’s most important phone call. Then there are the folks whose Instagram photo announces yet another weekend out of town. Nothing wrong with a vacation, but as the only pastor in this young church, I see very few of them.

Add to this the hundred other frustrations I’m not supposed to admit to…because I’m a pastor. People are allowed to get frustrated with a pastor anytime, but if he gets upset at them, he’s derelict in his duty of loving everyone. So you end up being nice to people you know have been talking about you, and helpful to people who don’t even show up at church anymore. That’s because if you don’t, you’re a bad pastor.

But in addition to all this minor whining, our family’s actually been going through a somewhat major crisis where we’ve asked our church for prayer and support. Happily, they’ve responded by wrapping their arms around us and loving us over-abundantly!

Even so, right now I’m scared and tired, and starting to feel a bit desperate. In times like these, I can’t see any through streets – only dead ends.

So I did what I always do when I’m overwhelmed – I go for a walk with God. But frankly, I’m not just talking to God. I’m mentally and spiritually screaming my head off at Him!

You see, I know exactly what He’s doing and I don’t find it’s cute anymore. He’s pushing me to the extreme, farther than I’ve been before. And He’s doing it for some elusive goal He has for me…one that He probably won’t bother to share anytime soon!

You may say, “Oh, pastor, that’s just Satan working on you!”

That sounds good, but here’s the problem: I know nothing can come at me that doesn’t come through God first. My trials and tribulations may have originated in the pits of hell, but the gates of heaven are doing little to get in the way of them now.

I’m at that place – you’ve probably been there – where I’m completely spent, discouraging and wishing I could quit and run away. And there’s good old God, looking on and expecting me to take it like a champ!

I sit down on a bench to ponder things and complain some more. I check down at my cell phone, and there’s a text from a guy who wants to critique the last book I wrote. It was on reasons to believe in God, and he’s a skeptic. Seems he feels led to tell me everything that’s wrong with it…on a public post, where everyone else in the world can see it!

He’s a guy who mad at God and has decided to run away from anything to do with faith. How ironic to get his text at this moment, just as I want to run from God as well!

There are times I’d love to walk away – say “forget it” and move on. That would show them all, and most of all, show God! They’d all know how much they’d misused and hurt me!

Think I’m trying to play the martyr here? Absolutely, I am!

I am rolling in self-pity, self-loathing and about 100 other phrases with the word “self” in them, and I make no apologies for it at all. I’ve been trying hard to do good and be Jesus is a dark world, and all I’ve got to show for it is a bucket load of pain now.

So I’ve earned this pity party, and I am determined to have a good wallow in it!

And here’s the crazy part: while I’d really like to really stick it to God and run from Him to show Him how angry I am at Him for putting me through all this, I’m doing the very opposite right now. No matter how mad I am at Him, I still can’t help talking to Him and going to Him for comfort…from the very things He’s sent to discomfort me!

I’m out here on this walk so angry at God for what He’s allowed in my life…and running right to Him at the same time. I’m seeking comfort from the very One who’s wounding me. Irony to the max!

“God has delivered me to the ungodly,

And turned me over to the hands of the wicked.

I was at ease, but He has shattered me;

He also has taken me by my neck, and shaken me to pieces;

He has set me up for His target,

His archers surround me.

He pierces my heart and does not pity;

He pours out my gall on the ground.

He breaks me with wound upon wound;

He runs at me like a warrior.”

– Job 16:11-14

More than anyone else, I see God as my opponent because I know it is He who allows this chaos into my life. But the chief difference between those of us who believe like Job did and those who don’t is this:

The doubters look at the evil and pain in the world and see it as proof there’s no God.

But the faithful look at the very same evil and pain, and wonder how in the world anyone could survive without a God to run to.

I feel awkward saying I have a love/hate relationship with God. Of course, I could never hate Him, but there’s an ambivalence I feel toward Him at times. That ambivalence comes from His insistence on using pain, incredible pain, buckets full of pain to be the main change-agent in the lives of people.

Sorry but that stinks. It’s a lousy tool to use on people. And yet, it works brilliantly and more effectively than anything else I’ve witnessed.

I sat in my Worldwide Ministry Office (Starbucks) the other night with an old, dear friend – one of the finest, most faithful Christian men I’ve ever known. As we began to catch up, he dropped a bomb on me that God had just dropped in his life: his marriage was over, his wife was leaving him.

Forget the kids, who are reeling in pain. Forget this man who’s stayed faithful for his entire marriage. Forget the home they’d built and the residue it may leave on the marriages of their kids in years to come.

I realize we all have free will, and here the wife exerted hers despite what God may have wished. But I’m sitting listening to my friend, seeing the pain ooze from every pour, and know there are no words I have to help him.

He’s about to go through hell, and he knows it. And it makes me mad, because while I’m sure he’s not perfect, he did most of the big things right…probably better than I would have done them.

And yet, his faith did not preserve his marriage.

All those sermons they listened to together, the couples classes, maybe even a marriage seminar or Christian counseling.  All the things we’re supposed to do to be faithful to God on our part, thinking He’ll in turn keep up His end of the deal and preserve us.

Instead, disaster and carnage. And as a friend and pastor, I just want to yell at God and say, “So what good has it done my friend to follow you all these years if it couldn’t keep his marriage together? I don’t like representing You sometimes, because there are times it seems you don’t keep Your end of the deal.”

It’s times like these when I start feeling like a used car salesman, trying to dump a spiritual lemon on another sucker. I start to see the anger seething beneath my book critics skepticism toward my God. I begin to understand why people, even pastors, sometimes throw up their hands and walk away.

Except…

God never promised me serving Him would make life easier, only more meaningful. He in fact promised me pain…but with a purpose. He said I’d always know that any pain He allowed to touch me was for a holy purpose. It wouldn’t be random, but strategic. And somehow, it would all work out in the end for my good.

God never promised me “my version of good” (an easy path to success), but instead “His good”. And His good is all about the person I become, not my comfort or the things supporting me.

And also, except…

The pain wakes me up from my self-absorbed existence and forces me to focus on God. The same emotional discomfort that made me want to curse at God made me want to run into His arms for comfort. And as a result, I get something better than all the cheap, happy things I wanted in my life…

I get Him, in a depth of meaning like I’d never known before.

The pain is drawing my friend even closer to Christ. Though a committed Christian, I can see how this will deepen his faith to a greater level. It will give him a ministry to others going through the same pain that he couldn’t have had before. And in the end, he will have “shared in Christ’s sufferings” and have a camaraderie with the Suffering Savior that I may even grow to envy.

I’m sad some can’t seem to believe, to trust God. I see the same inequities they do, and understand their arguments better than they think I do. Just like Job’s wife suggested, there are times I just want to “curse God and die”.

But how could I curse the one in whose pain I find such purpose? Whose crucible of training, though excruciating at times, builds in me a supernatural strength that becomes ironically most potent when I’m at my weakest point?

Hell would truly be to go through the many pains and disappointments of this life and in the end find there was no purpose behind them. But in God, my old friend will eventually find comfort and miraculous transformation because of that very pain, as will I.

So I walk on in this darkness around my neighborhood lake. My cussing at God has subsided. There’s a release now, a quiet resting even though I know He’s made no promises the pain will stop anytime soon. But I rest because He’s says He has a reason for it, and the strength to endure will be dispensed as I need it.

Ironically, I rest now in the embrace of the same arms that deliver me daily doses of cruelty, trusting somehow that whether I perceive it or not, there’s a divine purpose in that pain.

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