Life is full of pain and suffering. In a world of uncertainty, there is only one sure thing: You will have trouble (Job 5:7). The only thing that is optional is your response to that trouble. You have many choices when it comes to how you respond emotionally to pain and suffering in your life. I’d like to talk with you today about a few of those, some or all of which you may have chosen in your time of trial. Then, I’d like to talk about a choice that is always better.
First, you can respond to your pain with fear. If you have a chronic or debilitating illness, you may be fearful of a new or worsening pain or symptom, and begin to wonder what you will do if it continues to get worse. How will you cope? Who will take care of you? What will you do when you can’t do what you need to do? Fear of increased pain gangs up with panic about the future, and pretty soon you have bullied yourself into a fear response. This fear drives us more into ourselves, and away from God.
Or you may choose to respond in anger, telling yourself that you don’t deserve this, and that it’s not fair. This response seems more powerful than fear. Instead of cowering in a trembling heap, you shake your fist at your condition, your doctor, or maybe even at God. This anger gives you a false sense of empowerment from within, and causes you to think that you don’t need God’s power, putting distance between you and your great High Priest.
A third response that is common among suffering believers is despair. Maybe you’ve been knocked down many times, but have managed, by the grace of God, to get back up again. Now, after many TKO’s, you have given up. You just don’t have the fight in you anymore. Somewhere along the way, you started looking to your own strength for the next round, and now that strength is spent. You can’t get up again, and you really don’t even want to. You are done.
All of these responses can lead us to one very dangerous place: Bitterness. A person who is bitter has probably been through all three of these responses, and possibly several others, before arriving at bitterness. When these fleshly attitudes go unchecked, they inevitably lead us to a place where we have little or no faith in God, and we really don’t care. We are disappointed, angry, and without hope. We nurture and feed grudges against those who have harmed us, and we curse God, and anyone else, who has denied us what we believe we are entitled to. This is bitterness. According to Isaiah 43:7, we were created for God’s glory. If this paragraph describes you, ask yourself, “How does my bitterness glorify God?” If you’re honest, you will have to confess that your bitterness does not, and could never, bring glory to God. In fact, if bitterness persists, and you are just fine with it, you might want to examine whether or not you are even a believer.
There is another alternative. Rather than becoming bitter, we can confess and embrace the fact that we are broken. Our body is broken. Our heart is broken. We have no strength or power left to fight what God is doing through our trial. We must submit to His will for us, surrendering our desire to control our situation. We must hand over our pain, our suffering, our fear, anger, and despair to Him. He alone is able to handle them. He loves us, and desires to make us more like Him. He wants to use this pain to bring us into His arms. He wants to take the burden of our fear, anger, and despair, and exchange it for His light, easy one.
Dear sister in Christ, you are weak. If you have convinced yourself otherwise, you are deceived. (Jeremiah 17:9). I know you may not like to hear that you're weak and broken, but please believe me when I say that this is a good thing! Hear the words of the apostle Paul, who suffered so many things for the sake of the Gospel:
“Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ’s sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:10).
This statement follows Paul’s description of his pleading with the Lord to remove the thorn in his flesh. God’s answer? “My grace is sufficient for you, for my strength is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9).
Do you want God’s perfect strength in your battle against pain and the heartache that comes with it? Do you believe that God’s grace is sufficient for you? Then embrace your weakness, and give up your fear, anger, despair, and bitterness. God has given you your weakness as a gift, to help you bring glory to His great name and to make you more like His precious Son! Give in to fear, anger, and despair, and you will be bullied, powerless, and hopeless. Once you get there, you are standing at the doorstep of bitterness. Turn from these things, my friend, and be broken. Broken is better.