I’ve read a lot of books about pain and suffering from a biblical perspective. I don’t want to obsess about pain, but I do want to get all the information I can from people who are knowledgeable in this area, both for my benefit and for yours.
I recently read a book by Dr. Jim Halla called, Pain: The Plight of Fallen Man. The subtitle is, “God’s Prescription for Persevering”. The basic thesis of the book is that there is something more we can seek in suffering than just pain relief. God can use our suffering for our good and His glory. Our desire as believers is to become more like Christ, and if we respond biblically to our pain, He will use it toward that goal.
You can read reviews of the book lots of places online, so I’m not going to do that here. What I want to share with you is one valuable piece of information that I got from this book, which really changed my thinking about my pain:
“A person does what he does and feels what he feels because he thinks what he thinks and, most often, he thinks what he thinks because he wants what he wants.”
This statement is loaded with information and implications that we need to consider carefully if we are to respond biblically to suffering, pain, or illness. What Halla is saying here is that our thoughts trigger our feelings and actions. How do you think about your pain? Do you hate it, resent the limitations it puts on you, and desire only that it would go away? Are you angry when the pain comes back after a few hours or days of relief? Do frustration and sadness always accompany your thoughts about your suffering?
You are having these thoughts, according to the book, because you “want what you want”. What is it that you want that you are not getting? Pain relief? A return to normal life? Another question to ask yourself is, what do you have that you don’t want? A body that doesn’t work the way you want it to? Side effects of medications you resent having to take? Loneliness and isolation brought on by disability? All of these things can bring on thoughts that lead to an unbiblical emotional response.
Let’s look a little deeper. If our thoughts come because we want what we want, then where do those desires come from? According to the Bible, those desires come from our heart. The Bible addresses these desires as being of the flesh. In Galatians 5, Paul instructs us to walk in the Spirit, so that we will not fulfill the desires of the flesh. He goes on to describe how the flesh and the Spirit are in a constant battle, so that we do not do the things we wish. As believers, we wish to have a Christ-like response to all of our trials, including our pain. But often, we lose the battle against our flesh. We want what we want—pain relief—and when we don’t get it, we feel sad or mad, or frustrated, or whatever feelings are shouting the loudest that day.
But it can be different for us. If we go back to the point where the thoughts started—back to that original desire for pain relief, and change that to a desire to glorify God, then we don’t have to be disappointed. If I am in pain, and I have done what I can to get relief and it hasn’t helped, then I must set my desires toward Christ, and His glory. If I am hurting, and my desire is to glorify Him, then I am free and able to do so. By the power of the Holy Spirit, I can bring glory to God whether I am in pain or not. I can use my pain as a springboard to speak to others about Christ. I can be joyful and content in my disability or pain, inviting others to ask me how I do that. I can use my pain as a way to gain involvement with others who are suffering, so that I can give them godly counsel and encouragement.
There are many ways we can use our pain for God’s glory, but they all start with the desires of our heart, which lead to our thoughts, which lead to our feelings and actions! Do you want the Lord to use your pain for His glory? If so, then begin right now to ask Him to show you how He wants to do it. I am not saying you should stop looking for relief from your pain with whatever means the Lord allows. But, if there is no solution and you must suffer, then why not suffer well? Romans 8 tells us that all things work together for our good and God’s glory, so why not put that to the test in the case of your pain?! I hope you will consider this a challenge, and share in the comments how God is being glorified in your new attitude.