The Purpose Behind Pain
March 3, 2013
There’s no avoiding it, no dodging it. Pain is something every person deals with at some point during their time on earth. Our response to pain, though, varies. Some people work through it with unmatched determination. Others allow it to paralyze them completely. But at some point, everyone asks, “Why is there pain?”
In this message, Pastor Ed Young looks at the reality of pain in our lives. He uncovers some of the ‘why’. And as we gain a biblical perspective, we begin to see that there may actually be purpose behind the pain we face.
I’d like to welcome everyone here, at all of our different campuses and environments. How are you guys doing? Welcome to Fellowship Church.
Today I’m beginning a series on pain. Just the mention of the word pain sends a lot of thoughts to our brains, a lot of different scenarios. Life is about pain. If you didn’t know that just live a little while. All of us here are either processing pain, we’re preparing for pain (knowingly or unknowingly, might I add). Others here are getting over pain.
I have to say that pain has to be one of the biggest problems in Christianity. One of the things people say goes something like this: How could a good God, how could a loving God, allow so much pain and suffering in the world. All he would have to do is sorta move the geological plates and we wouldn’t have as many tsunamis or natural disasters. All he would have to do is cut down on the cells that attack our bodies and cause cancer and other horrendous diseases. How could a good God allow so much pain in the world?
Great question. It’s a question that I’ve asked God before and I’m sure that you’ve asked him as well. God is bigger than our questions. God is bigger than our pain. God is God. God is sovereign. There is a purpose in our pain. Let me say it again. There is a purpose in our pain.
Pain is not all bad. C.S. Lewis said, “Pain is God’s megaphone to rouse a deaf world.” Without pain I would starve to death. Without pain I wouldn’t do some of the most important things in life. Without pain I would never have become a follower of Christ. Because I had to feel the pain of doing life my way, the pain of my rebellion before I identified as best I could with the pain Jesus bore for my sins. So to become a believer you’ve got to experience pain and receive what Jesus did for us, which was the ultimate pain.
In fact, let me say something else that might cloud the argument further. Pain and suffering is part of the will of God. How do you process pain? Do you see significance in your pain? Huge questions! We’ve been conducting a survey online at FellowshipChurch.com and I want to show you a little bit about where we’re experiencing pain. And these numbers have sort of changed each and every day but I think it’s so, so telling, isn’t it? Thirty-five percent, 35% of those here and at all of our different campuses are experiencing relational pain.
Let me do a quick advertisement. Starting Easter weekend I am doing a series on relationships. It’s called Bridges. Say bridges. Bridges. It’s talking about building and burning the relational bridges in our lives. That’s kind of a teaser. So give me a couple of claps. It’ll be fine. It’ll be great.
Also, too, real quick we are doing a Good Friday service at Clyde Warren Park here in Dallas. Oh you want to make plans now for that. We’re doing a different service Good Friday, and then of course, Saturday and Sunday we’re going to celebrate Easter.
But speaking of Easter, and speaking of pain, you can’t talk about Easter until you talk about Good Friday. You can’t talk about the resurrection until you talk about the cross. Relational pain, let’s bring it back up.
Financial pain. In this schizophrenic economy. Depression. Death. Addiction. Loneliness. Illness. We’re all dealing with a bunch of pain. If I sat down with you and you sat down with me, and we had coffee together, it wouldn’t take very long for us to start talking about pain.
Have you ever done a pain audit in your life? Have you ever stopped and looked back in the rear-view mirror of your life and thought about the pain that you processed?
I wish I could plan for pain. I wish I could say, “OK, this October, like the third week in October, Lisa and I are going to go through a painful patch in our lives. I’ll plan it, I’ll be prayed up, I’ll be studied up. I’ll have the best Christian people right around me and it’s going to be awesome! We will be able to go through the pain because …. It doesn’t happen that way. It’s capricious. We’re blindsided by it.
But I did a pain audit in my life and I want to share that with you, just the high points of pain. Because this series is called Pain Management. Pain Management. It’s sort of like our finances. We don’t own anything, we manage them. And God tells us how to manage them. Pain? We manage pain. Pain will happen in this one and only life.
Illus: My first instance of pain occurred when we moved as a family. I was a young guy and I remember being thrust into an environment, a very rough and tough school. You had to fight to survive. I remember being picked on. I remember thinking, “I’m the only person in the world dealing with this loneliness and this pain.” I remember walking around the playground kicking that South Carolina sand, wondering, this is horrible pain.
Illus: Another time in my life I remember intense pain was when my grandfather died suddenly. A great Christian guy, phenomenal athlete. He had epilepsy and he suffered a stroke. And to watch him suffer, and even to watch the joy in his life through pain meant a lot to me. And then all of a sudden he was gone. And I remember thinking to myself, why would God allow such a great man like that to die? Pain.
Illus: I think about pain when right before my senior year in high school I moved 1,000 miles away from the love of my life, who is now my wife, moved away from my high school where I was sort of the hero athletically to a new environment. Texas! Houston, Texas! My senior year! God, why did you have to move our family again? It’s part of being a preacher’s kid. We moved around a lot. But now I’m thankful, looking back, but that was very painful. To be away from Lisa, to be into a totally new environment. You know, when you’re 16-17 years old that’s something, isn’t it?
Illus: Then from there I think about the pain of going to Florida State and playing Division I basketball, moving from being a hero in high school to an absolute zero where they really can play ball. That was tough. It was painful. And Lisa went to Florida State as well and I remember literally being in depression at FSU because I couldn’t score at will. I couldn’t light it up. I couldn’t take my man one-on-one any time I wanted to like I did in high school. Different game. I spent some serious time on the pine. Painful! Humbling!
Illus: Then I think from there about when we had children. I think from there about trying to have children. I think from there about going through infertility, different doctors and nurses saying, “Well, you’re going to have to do this or spend this amount of money,” which we did not have. That was painful.
Now I know so far you’re going, “Pfft! That’s not pain. Man, come on! What you’re dealing with? That’s Candyland. I’m dealing with some real pain!”
You know what? I’m sure many of you could stand up, many at our other campuses and go, whoa. My pain level is on a whole ‘notha level compared to yours, and that’s right. I’m just sharing with you about my life, about pain in my life.
Illus: I remember having our first, Lee Beth, which was awesome. Parents, you know, it’s a miracle when that happens. And then I remember as we moved to start Fellowship Church, as you’ve heard me say before, maybe not. I said I would never go to Dallas, ever, ever, ever, ever, and be a pastor. I love Dallas, I love it today, but I said to myself, “There are too many churches here. I will never go to Dallas.” I told my friends, “One place I will never go? Dallas. Maybe Canada, maybe southern California. I’m not going to Dallas.” But look where I am. And I love it!
Here I had grown up as a preacher’s kid, courtside seats to dad and mom and to the joy of being a pastor. We kicked off Fellowship Church with 30 families in a rented office complex. I mean, I remember if our offerings were over $1,000 I was turning somersaults. I remember those days. I remember when we had to buy our first (this is going to really age me) typewriter. Somebody help me. It was a used one. I remember when I was the only staff member. Wow!
So we start Fellowship Church and the church begins to grow and develop and then people started criticizing me like I’ve never had criticism before in my life. Saying stuff, talking behind our backs, and people began to leave the church. Wow. And I remember one night after I had been the pastor for about three to four months, after being lied to so much, I went home and said, “Lisa, I’m done. I’m outta here. If this is the ministry let’s do something else. Let’s sell insurance. I’m done.” Pain! That was some serious pain because we had given everything, like so many others had, to start Fellowship Church. Then as the church began to grow, people began to leave. Church began to grow, people began to leave. Finally, Lisa became pregnant and we had a baby boy. During his six-month check up the doctor looked at his skin and saw some spots on his skin. And the pediatrician turned to Lisa and said, “Your son has neurofibromatosis.” Have you ever heard of elephant man’s disease? She was devastated. She came home and told me. I was devastated. Tumors grow on the nerve endings, cause blindness. Usually people lose their hearing and many people with differing degrees of neurofibromatosis die at a young age. What was my first response? Oh boy! Pain! I’m going to grow! There’s a purpose in my pain!
“God, why?!? I’ve lived the life. Not perfectly. I didn’t really rebel. I followed your calling into the ministry. Put all the cards on the table and helped kick start this church, and it’s growing and people are following you and getting baptized and more people are being added than are leaving. It’s awesome! God, why? Why would you allow this to happen? Why? Maybe it’s something I did wrong. Maybe it’s something that Lisa did wrong. Maybe it’s some sort of sin. Why?
Pain. Thankfully, as we have gone to the doctors over the years, as we’ve gone to M.D. Anderson and had E.J. checked out he does not have the worst degree of neurofibromatosis, a genetic disorder. He has the lesser of the two. But, for a long time, for a long, long time, we didn’t know. Pain.
Illus: Then I think about Lisa’s father, a great man of God. A wonderful person who loved Fellowship Church as much as anybody. With his meager income he gave money to Fellowship Church to the building and the construction of the church. Just a wonderful, prince of a guy. Right when we were in the middle of constructing this gorgeous building he died. He was like a father to me in a lot of ways.
“God why? Why Mendel Lee? I mean of all the reprobates in the world, of all the people who are out of control, of all the people who have all these negative influences, he’s going to die? Before he sees this amazing church? I don’t know. A painful, painful time.
Illus: Then I think about some friends who have died. And then I also think about some people that I have loved, that I’ve trusted, that I’ve helped emotionally, Biblically, financially. I think about some people who have betrayed me in the most ruthless way possible. The criticism, knowing the lies, knowing the falsehood, knowing what they have done but having to remain silent. Not getting down off the wall and trade insult with insult. Painful! The pain of betrayal, I’m telling you, it’s unbelievable.
Think about your life. Maybe you look back in the rear-view mirror and there was some sort of abuse. Pain. Death. Despondency. Divorce. Pain. That girl that you thought, man, she’s the one… Boom! Turned and left you. Pain. The rebellious teenager, pain. The company that you thought, OK, this is going to do it. Pain. Financially everything seemed to be right there but, pain and suffering.
Here’s what I can tell you about my pain audit. Every time I’ve experienced intense pain at different levels, different stages, different appearances of pain, ultimately my faith has grown. Let me say that again. Through the pain God has shown me. Through my doubts? Oh yeah. Through my questions? Oh yeah. Through my concerns, through my anger at God he has ratcheted up my faith. No pain, no gain.
Pain is God’s megaphone to rouse a deaf world. Pain. If we didn’t have pain we would not do so many things that are so, so beneficial. So pain is inescapable but it’s explainable. Pain is inescapable but explainable.
The source of pain. What is the source of pain? Romans 8, you can read that chapter. The apostle Paul talks about the creation and talks about the fact that the creation is subject to pain and suffering. Why does Paul say that? Go back to the book of Genesis. You’ve got creation, you’ve got fruit, and you’ve got choice. We chose to rebel against God. It was Nirvana for a while with Adam and Eve, yet sin entered the equation.
The fall of man was not and is not God’s responsibility, it’s our responsibility. And because of that we live in a place that’s not perfect. And because of that it rains on the just and the unjust. Because of that we process, we prepare, and we navigate through pain.
The source of pain is our fallenness. We live in an imperfect world and we don’t know every single answer about pain. The Bible talks on and on and on about pain. Ultimately we have to understand that our salvation was secured because of pain and suffering. Quite frankly, if you’re not a follower of Christ I don’t see how in the world you make it through the pain.
When E.J. was in the ICU about 10 days ago, I remember when we were walking through the halls of Presbyterian Dallas, an incredible hospital, and E.J. is doing well now. As we were walking through this ICU unit, I mean I didn’t want to be a voyeuristic kind of person but Lisa and I were kind of looking in the rooms and you hear people groaning. You see people dying. You see some recovering and you think about the pain and suffering. And Lisa and I turned to each other and said, how do people make it without the local church?
So I can look back on my life. Do I still have some questions? Oh yeah. Is it still painful to talk about? Oh yeah. Can I get angry even talking about it? Oh yeah. But God can take your anger, he can take your questions.
Read the book of Psalms. David is pouring his heart out to God. It’s OK to say, “God why? Why?!” but we have to move very, very quickly from why me, to what now? There’s a purpose in our pain. God doesn’t cause it but he wants to use it in your life and mine. He allows it and he knows just how much we can take. We’re going to have pain. The source: our fallenness.
Pain is inescapable yet explainable. It happens because of our sin because we’re subject to pain. And the apostle Paul in Romans 8, ladies, he compares pain to childbirth. Now, I’ve never birthed a child before but it is literally like so much pain and it’s so hellacious, but then the baby is born. A new life. And our time here on planet earth is short against the backdrop of eternity.
And that’s one of the great things about going through pain. One of the positive aspects of pain, it gives us an eternal perspective. We understand the source. We see that we’re in a fallen place. We know that pain is going to happen and we can get ready for it. We can lean on the Lord, primarily, and secondarily we can lean on other people who are followers of Christ. And, when you begin to reveal your pain to others, guess what? You’ll not believe how many people have gone through or are going through the same kind of pain that you’re processing.
So I would definitely tell you, as you go through pain and do it God’s way, God will use you like he has never used you before to be a witness. Because it’s one thing to live for the Lord when everything is going great, when the numbers are sky-high, when the company is growing, when the family is flourishing, when everything is like, Wow! This is off the chain! But, when the bottom drops out, when a rogue wave strikes, when you’re assaulted and ambushed by suffering and pain and illness, a death, a divorce. People are watching. Is it real or not? The source of pain.
How about the course we take from pain? We either get bitter and sink into depression and wallow in the waah-wah! Or we question it, pour our heart out to God, express anger or whatever, and move through it to discover a purpose in the pain. It’s our choice. Some people sink into pain and they never, ever recover. That’s why so many people are so angry. That’s why I say all the time, hurt people hurt people.
If someone hurts you, if someone’s like really negative to me or whatever, usually there is a major pain problem in their life that’s causing that. It’s not really you or me. Hurt people hurt people. And we have to understand that. We have to process the pain and do it God’s way.
Here’s what the Bible says about pain. The Bible says in Romans 5: 1-3, that pain is purposeful. “Therefore since we have been justified through faith we have peace with God.” I was born at war with God, so were you. A painful war. Yet, God sent Jesus to take the ultimate pain and agony on Calvary for our sins. Thus, I can have peace with God only because of Jesus.
“So therefore since we have been justified through faith (it’s all about faith, right?) we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we’ve gained access by faith into this grace (what’s grace? Unmerited favor) in which we now stand.”
Wow, that’s powerful. “and we boast (that’s spirit-led swagger) in the hope of the glory of God, not only so but we also glory in our sufferings.”
Not because of, not enjoying our sufferings, IN our sufferings. Because there is significance in your suffering.
Now, let’s take that verse and do a fill-in-the-blank. Think about the most painful thing you’re dealing with right now. Or maybe the most painful thing you can bring up in your life from this pain audit. Now let’s read it again: Not only so but we also glory in our _______. Wow. We can glorify God in the midst of pain.
Once again, too many sermons can be summarized this way, and they’re not Biblical: Pain, pain, go away. Come again another day. I’ll just dodge pain.
Trying to dodge pain is like trying to play dodge ball with Troy Aiken. He’s going to nail you every single time. We all are going to experience pain. No pain, no gain. So pain is purposeful. There’s a purpose in your pain. And we might not understand the full purpose until we get to the other side, which is something I have a hard time with. Because I’m finite. I think in a finite way. God is infinite. To God time is now, but it’s purposeful.
Also, it’s productive. Pain can be productive. Pain can cause me to do things. Pain has led all of us to become followers of Christ, the pain of realizing this chasm between ourselves and God. The pain of realizing being the God of our lives doesn’t work. The pain of trying this or trying that, it doesn’t work. Pain leads me to bow the knee and receive Christ, who took the ultimate pain on the cross for our sins. So look what pain has done. As you’re dealing with pain right now is it making you bitter or better?
Illus: Lisa and I talked to a young woman several days ago who was explaining her whole processing of pain. She said as a teenager her father died suddenly and she said several weeks later she was sitting on the trunk of her car with some friends, looking at the stars, getting high. And she said, you know, I remember it like it was yesterday. I just turned my back on God and said, “I don’t want to have anything to do with you anymore.” Pain.
But then, after years and years of burning through this and burning through that she came back and has now been serving the Lord faithfully and on fire for Jesus in an amazing way right here at Fellowship Church. And here’s what she told Lisa and I as she was crying. She said, “You know, I turned my back on God in my pain but God did not turn his back on me.”
And some of us here who have been carrying around so much pain need to hear that. Pain is purposeful. It’s productive.
Paul writes in Romans 5:3-5, “Because we know that suffering produces perseverance…”
The word perseverance is all about pressure. I like to say ‘presha.’ Some of my friends say, “Presha busta pipe!” and sometimes it can. Also, presha make diamonds, too. So are you a diamond or a pipe? I want to be a diamond! But presha does that! Pressure makes diamonds.
“… because we know that suffering produces perseverance.”
That’s staying power, that’s commitment, that’s courage. And so often we bail out before the breakthrough. Isn’t that right? We bail out right before the company could be going to the next level. We bail out of the relationship, we bail out right before the breakthrough. And many times it’s because of pressure.
“Because we know that suffering produces perseverance, perseverance character (wow!), character hope, and hope (that’s the Godfidence again, right? Confidence in Christ’s character), and hope does not put us to shame because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has given to us.”
So pain, you see the source, our fallenness. You see the course, we either become bitter or better. And now the force of it, you could say, it’s purposeful and it’s productive.
All right. Next Sunday (or if you’re a great Christian you want to come on Saturday night) you’re going to hear, I promise you. I promise you! I will bet you $10. I will bet you $10 and we won’t even shake on it. If next Sunday’s message is not one of the top five messages you’ve ever heard I will give you 10 bucks. That’s how amazing it’s going to be. You do not, you DO NOT want to miss next Sunday. I’m just going to say that. Anybody you know in your life who is a believer or maybe this person is totally anti-God, have them here next week. That’s all I’m going to say. And I’m not overly-hyping this. It’s going to be absolutely ridiculous what’s going to happen.
But here are some real quick application points. What does pain do? Pain can and will strengthen our faith. That’s the first thing. Even though it’s hell going through it, it will strengthen and it can strengthen our faith. When we lean on the Lord and pour out our hearts to him, and when we lean into the church.
Number 2, it will increase our influence like we’ve never seen before. I think back to a painful time at Florida State. If I’d been All American, throwing in 26 points a game, yeah, whatever. But because I rode the bench I think I had a greater impact and influence on my teammates than when I played. I think about Tim Tebow, not to compare myself with him. That’s pitiful. Yeah! That was me, I could identify with Tim Tebow! No.
I think about Tim Tebow. Yeah, it’s great, him doing this and that and having the cool Scriptures under his eyes, and praising the Lord, Heisman, and winning and winning and winning. But now, I believe, because he’s riding the bench he has a greater impact and influence. So when you’re going through it, through hell, through pain, through alienation, through depression, through death. I mean, that’s when we have it. And your faith will grow.
One more, I said it earlier, I’ll say it again. It will give us an eternal perspective. Make sure, when you read Scripture, you’re thinking about the eternal perspective. Because some of us will have greater rewards in Heaven because of the pain we processed that others didn’t.
Speaking about pain and going through it, I want you to watch this story of a young couple who have gone through some serious, serious pain.
What a story about Jeff and Eva and their family, and their pain. It’s so, so thrilling to see how the Lord has taken them through this pain. Will they walk with a limp the rest of their lives? No doubt. Yet to see them leaning into the church, and to see how God has used them and is going to use them with people who have gone through similar pain is going to be just a phenomenal thing to experience.
Whenever you are experiencing the grief or pain of loss or anything like we’re talking about, we have groups for you. If you’ll log onto FellowshipChurch.com/MemberCare we have groups for all sorts of people going through different types of pain that I showed you on the pie chart. So it’s FellowshipChurch.com/MemberCare.