For those who desire a life of influence, pain, while never invited is a gift nonetheless. Suffering develops perspective, character, forces us to focus on the important and shed the unimportant and brings us closer to a sovereign father if we respond by pressing into him. Unfortunately, there is no substitute for pain and suffering when it comes to our inner life, our relationship with Jesus and the renovation of our hearts.
Those who ask Him to help them become like Him, to give them a heart like His and to help them love as He loves are inviting suffering into their lives because that suffering is the very thing if responded to well that brings the desired result. In the New Testament, Peter, Paul and the writer of Hebrews all talk about the way that pain purifies and brings His transformation to our lives.
Think about this. When we are treated unfairly we learn what it means to trust our situation to God. When we are slandered we learn that it is God who holds our reputations in His hand. When we face serious illness we learn what it means to prioritize the elements of our lives and to shed the unimportant. When we cannot get through a day without His help and grace we learn what it means to live in His presence even hourly. When the unexpected slams into our lives and we are left reeling we learn that there is nothing more precious than our relationship with Him - when all is said and done, He is what we need.
I don't relish pain. Those who know me know that Mary Ann and I have had our share. The funny thing is that in retrospect while I never want to go through certain situations again, I can today thank God for the hard and painful gifts he brought through suffering. I can say with certainty that the contours of my heart have been irrevocably shaped in suffering and that nothing else would have sufficed. When C.S. Lewis said that pain is God's megaphone to us he was right. Thus I call it an unlikely gift but a gift nonetheless because it was God speaking to me through the pain - it was Jesus who wanted to get in touch with me in my suffering. Pain is God's certified mail to our very souls if we will but listen.
One of my sons told me once that he thought God would really use him in a significant way. In the aftermath of that conversation I thought about the price he would pay if that were to be the case. Spiritual influence comes at a price which is why those who have suffered deeply often influence us the deepest. They have been forced to go deep with God and the quality of their hearts and lives show it well. In contrast, those who simply want a life of ease and safety may get their wish but it will be at the expense of spiritual influence they might have had.
The wonderful truth is that when we suffer and press into God we "share in His sufferings," in the words of Paul to the Philippians. We join our savior in the suffering that He endured for the sake of His father and for ours. We never suffer alone but have a high priest who has gone before us and understands the pain we feel and the issues we face. That is the gift of the incarnation. God, who had not known the frailties of those He created, became one of the created so that He could not only redeem us but identify with us forever. Thus in all pain and suffering we live with the reality that He not only went before us but goes with us in full understanding, compassion, grace, comfort and presence.
If you are living with the reality of pain today, my prayer is that God will comfort you and that you will go deep with Him and that out of it all will come deep and abiding relationship with the Father and deep influence with those around you. And to a friend out east who is in the confluence of pain, I pray that you will be encouraged, that God will do His work and that you will emerge stronger than ever.