As we study Scripture to see what Jesus says about obedience in the midst of hard times, we’ll be looking at topics like pain, anxiety, fear, doubt, loneliness and entrapment in sin. Let’s just be honest here for a minute – none of that sounds like any fun to study. So we’ll establish right off the bat that this is not a FUN study. But sister, it’s a NEEDED study. Read on.
Pain is defined as physical, mental or emotional suffering or torment. I don’t really have to define it for you. You all know pain.
I remember in high school I dated a boy that I gave my heart to. Literally, I gave him a wooden heart that I had made in woodshop class several years before. (I have no idea why I took woodshop. It had to have been required at my junior high, or maybe it was something I took to get out of PE!) I remember the hours spent cutting and sanding and staining this small wooden heart and I was really proud of it. It meant a lot to me and when I gave it to this boyfriend; I imagined that we’d be together forever. Well, that boyfriend ended up breaking my heart, both literally and figuratively. After we broke up, my dad found it in the driveway, broken in several places. My ex-boyfriend had put it in a vice grip and smashed it with a hammer and then drove over to my house and threw it out the window. He broke my heart and the pain that I felt was almost too much to bear. I remember being able to feel physical pain in my chest because of how hurt I was. Of course, I recovered from that heartbreak. (Sometimes I thank God for unanswered prayers!) It took several years before I was able to think of that boy and not feel pain in my chest. My sixteen year old self had never known such pain and I hoped I’d never experience that again.
Of course I did experience that pain again. I experienced it when I had an ectopic pregnancy that resulted in the loss of a child. I experienced it with my second miscarriage and the subsequent infertility that we struggled through. I experienced it when we moved from a place that I dearly loved. I felt it when dealing with a rebellious child. I felt it when I found myself curled up on the floor of my closet one day, sobbing and hurting for some reason I didn’t understand at the time.
Some of you are dealing with huge issues that have brought tremendous pain like depression or cancer or the death of a loved one or the destruction of a marriage or a wayward child or the loss of a job. Others of you are dealing with smaller issues that bring pain that is just as much real. Maybe you’re in a valley in your marriage or maybe you’re struggling with parenting decisions or maybe you argued with a friend or maybe you’re just sad.
One thing is for sure. Jesus KNOWS your pain. Not only does He know it, he has a way to bring you comfort in it and turn it around for your good and for His glory.
Today in Bible study we looked at the story of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane. This is one of the most tragic portions of Scripture because it is here that we see Jesus begging the Father to allow for the salvation of the world some other way if possible. But of course that was not God’s plan. Read Matthew 26:36-46 to get the story.
Jesus was sorrowful and troubled to the point of death. He felt as if he could die from a broken heart. He was experiencing the sin of the world coming upon him and he knew the price he was going to have to pay. He had always known he would do this, of course – he was fully God. But this was the first time he had experienced the pain and weight of sin upon him – he was fully man. He took a few of his friends with him for support because just like us, he knew that the presence of loved ones would bring him comfort in his pain.
It turns out though that his disciples weren’t quite up to the task. He told them to stay up and keep watch and pray for him, but they were so tired that they couldn’t keep their eyes open anymore. This is Peter, our Peter, the same one that Jesus would later build His Church upon, the same Peter who authored the two letters we just studied. Jesus fell on his face and cried out to the Father and begged Him to let this cup pass from him. “This cup” wasn’t the pain and suffering and death that awaited him in the coming hours. “This cup” was the wrath of the Father poured out on Him. He knew that he would feel the weight of the wrath of God fall upon Him as payment for the sins of the whole world for all time. He was hurting more than anyone had ever hurt.
So he knows your pain. He sees you when you’re hurting. He’s been there before.
Sources of Hurt in our Lives
1) Sin – Romans 3:23 tells us that all of us have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. When we allow sin to enter our lives, the result is pain and death. Sin separates us from God because He is perfect and He can’t be around sin. Many times when we are stuck in a pattern of sin, we find ourselves in pain, hurting ourselves and others.
2) People – Because we’re all sinners, we hurt each other. Romans 3:10 tells us “there is no one righteous, not even one.” Unfortunately, we tend to put certain people on pedestals, but it’s important to remember that not one single person is perfect. We will all fail. And sometimes that causes pain.
3) Expectations – Sometimes things just don’t work out the way we thought they would. We’ve played the situation out in our minds and our expectations have been set high. We hurt when our reality doesn’t meet our expectations.
4) Circumstances – Maybe it’s an illness or a disease. Maybe it’s time for a child to leave home. Maybe it’s divorce or infertility or an unhappy marriage. Sometimes your circumstances or the circumstances of someone you’re close to bring great pain.
So what did Jesus do when He hurt? What was his response? “Nevertheless, not as I will but as you will”. In other words, “Yes, Lord”.
When I’m hurting, the first thing I want to do is grab a pint of Ben and Jerry’s and curl up in my bed with a mindless TV show and cry a little. Often when I’m in pain, I grab my phone and start talking to my friends, trying to gain their sympathy so that I’ll feel better. How does this compare with what Jesus did? Not very well, I’m afraid.
1) He surrounded himself with supporters.
Jesus knew that he needed some watchmen. He needed literal watchmen, who would alert him if his enemies approached. He needed prayer partners who would lift him up before the Father as he agonized over what was to come. We are wise to follow the example of Jesus and enlist the support of our Christ-following friends. Galatians 6:2 says “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.” When we allow ourselves to be open and transparent with fellow believers, we will experience peace and joy in the midst of our pain that we wouldn’t experience if we kept our pain to ourselves.
2) He isolated Himself with the Father.
While gathering supporters in our times of need is important, so is getting away to a quiet place where we can be alone with the Father. We need to follow the example of Christ and pull away from the crowd. The quiet places are where the Father meets us in honest communion. What does that look like today? Mostly it means we disconnect ourselves from outside influences. We turn off our phones, shut the bedroom door, pull out our Bibles and start reading and praying. When we are faithful to get alone with God, He is faithful to speak to us through His Word, bringing us peace and joy where there is hurt and pain.
3) He prayed without ceasing.
Jesus went off to pray three different times. Certain words in the original text indicate that he spent hours praying while the disciples slept. When we are in pain, our initial reaction may be “God, help me!” but rarely do we intentionally withdraw to pray and listen to the Father for hours at a time. 1 Thessalonians 5:17 says “Pray continually”. This doesn’t mean we should adopt a habit of non-stop praying. It does mean that our attitude should be one of constant communication and dependence on God. As we go about our business, we have an awareness of His presence and we welcome Him in to every corner of our lives. When we have this habit of continuous prayer, pain and hurt can come our way and our natural reaction will be to keep on praying. Our prayers won’t be forced or unnatural or uncertain. Communication between our hearts and the heart of the Father will flow naturally and freely. It’s important to note here that God didn’t answer Jesus’s prayer in the way that he hoped he would. God didn’t give Jesus what he wanted. Jesus had prayed “If it’s possible, let this cup pass from me” but it was not in the will of God to answer that prayer with a yes. This of course was not the fault of Jesus. He hadn’t done anything wrong. We need to remember that as well. Sometimes God answers us with the exact answer we were hoping for and other times he doesn’t. That doesn’t reflect our sinful hearts as much as it reflects the supreme authority of the Father.
4) He faced his pain head on.
When we experience pain, it sometimes seems easier to sweep our issues under the rug, pretending they’re not there, hoping if we ignore them, they won’t hurt us. This was not the example Jesus set for us. Jesus showed us that the way to deal with pain is to face it head on. Jesus was so sad that today it would be considered severe depression. He felt as if his heart was about to break. This of course is wonderful confirmation for those who have ever walked through depression – their own or the depression of a loved one. Depression is not the fault of the depressed person. Depression is not always caused by sin (although it can be). When we feel so sad, so down, so empty that death feels near, we can rest assured that Jesus felt our pain. We can be confident that he knows how we feel because he has felt that same pain himself.
How can we have a “Yes, Lord” attitude in the middle of a painful situation?
1) Determine that your answer will be “Yes, Lord” BEFORE the pain comes.
It’s hard to think clearly when we’re hurting. Decide now that you want to put your “Yes, Lord” on the table before God and when the storm comes, it will already be there.
2) Saturate your mind with Scripture.
Turn off the TV. Unplug from Facebook. Silence your phone. Open God’s Word and read and read and read some more. Many times when pain comes, we begin to believe lies like, “I’m not good enough” or “I’m too far gone” or “I’ve messed up too badly”. Reading God’s Word will fill your mind with truth when you’re hurting and confused.
3) Stay connected to your Jesus-following friends and family.
Often when we hurt, we push people away. It’s easier to be alone and wallow in self-pity. We want to sleep and trudge around in our slippers all day. When you’re hurting, make a commitment to continue to attend church services and Bible Study and stay in contact with friends who will encourage you to keep your eyes on the Father. The moment you allow your flesh to dictate your behavior is the moment that your “Yes, Lord” comes off the table.
4) Remember that obedience is a choice. Don’t make excuses.
Following Christ is a daily choice we must make. It’s not a one-and-done decision. When you’re on a diet, you have to choose to say “no” to that bowl of ice cream and yes to that treadmill. When you’re in pain, you have to choose to say “Yes, Lord” to whatever he asks you to do despite your pain. There is guaranteed to be a million excuses and reasons why you can’t obey what He’s asking you to do. Make the right choice.
Remember, Jesus KNOWS your pain. Not only does He know it, he offers you comfort in it and intends to use it for your good and for His glory.