The phrase no pain, no gain has been a mantra for athletes and fitness junkies for years. And what they understand about physical pain needs to be broadened to a much more general use in all of our lives.
Pain hurts. That’s the whole problem. No one enjoys it, and if someone does, we rightfully question their mental health. But I’ve learned from repeated familiarity that there is a premium value for pain that is not achieved otherwise.
Nothing worthwhile is ever easy.
It’s been the battle cry of my ministry – of my life! I even made a wristband saying as much. The difficulty is that I have to remind myself of this when it’s the least convenient. When I’ve gone through a loss, a failure, a disappointment, a setback – that’s when pain is punching the hardest. And that’s when I have to remind myself that there is a resource that only comes through such pain.
This is easily the greatest reason why most people are stuck in life. Stuck in their career because they think they can’t start over. They can start over, but starting over sucks.
Stuck in their marriage because they won’t have uncomfortable conversations about the problems in their relationship, so they settle for “peace” which isn’t true peace it’s just a pause in the fighting. And by pause, I mean nothing is being worked out together.
Stuck in their faith, because you won’t risk anything meaningful in your pursuit of truly knowing Christ, “and the fellowship of His suffering.” (Philippians 3:10).
Stuck in your finances, because it’s more convenient to have a little fun now, rather than save for a lot of freedom later.
We are naturally pain averse. But pain comes for us all. It comes by choice through sacrifice, or it comes by consequence through inaction, playing it safe, and maintaining a status quo. But regardless of how it comes, we still have a valuable decision to make…
What do I do with my pain?
- I can internalize it – become bitter, spiteful, and self-destructive.
- I can vocalize it – assign blame, make public statements, protest, and pass responsibility.
- I can mobilize it – realize that I got here at a price, and pain is a tutor – a tough and expensive one – whose lessons are hard-earned, and few are willing to pay the tuition.
Pain comes from many sources. Self inflicted, abuse by others, setbacks from life, and even from God, Himself. It was Him after all, who led His own Son to the cross. But through the price of the pain He endured on the cross, our salvation was purchased.
What might your pain purchase? You’re richer than you think. Your pain is a resource. You can choose anger and resentment, or you can choose humility, grace, perseverance, wisdom, and growth. It’s my prayer that you mobilize the premium price of pain God has allowed in your life for greater things.
I’ve often spoke and written on forgiveness, and it occurs to me that there is a lot of different understandings on what it is. Some say “forgive and forget” – a near psychological impossibility – while some have attempted to leverage the pain others caused them to prove the haters wrong; using their unforgiveness as a sort of fuel to drive them forward.
But I find that we all know instinctively that forgiveness is important and necessary for our own well being. I’ve often taught that withholding forgiveness is like drinking poison, but expecting it to hurt the other person. Others have said that forgiving is like setting a prisoner free, only to realize the prisoner was actually you.
We know we should forgive. Often, we want to forgive. But how do we forgive someone who has wronged us, and how do we know we’ve truly granted forgiveness to the other person?
- Forgiveness is a choice. That means it starts with your will, and the good news about that, is you have direct control over it. The feeling of forgiveness follows the decision to forgive.
- Forgiveness is a process. It’s not as simple as snapping your fingers, deciding you’ve forgiven someone, and it’s over. This is why it’s harder to forgive some things more than others. The greater the hurt, the harder the process. So once you’ve decided you should forgive someone, you’ll often have to “re-forgive” their offense, as the feelings of hurt, anger, and bitterness try to creep back in.
- Forgiveness is self-care. It’s not simple a matter of whether the person who hurt you deserves to be forgiven. Truth is NO ONE deserves to be forgiven! But love requires forgiveness. Love for the other person, but also love for yourself. Forgiving someone doesn’t just mean that they get to move on, it means you get to move on.
- Forgiveness is not forgetfulness. As mentioned earlier, you can’t! We lie to ourselves when we say “forgive and forget”. Sometimes, forgiveness means I’m not going to trust you again. Sometimes it means, I’m not putting myself in a position where I have to forgive you again.
- Forgiveness has a calling card. You know you’ve truly forgiven when you get to the point where you want what’s best for them, not what they “deserve.” If they get hurt back, and you think “Ha! Karma! Finally!” You definitely have not forgiven them. If instead you hurt for them, that’s a sign you’ve truly let something go, and given them what you would want – what you need – when the role is reversed.
Three simple principles have been bugging me lately in regards to being a church leader. Frankly, I wish these three principles were not true. I would like to find some savvy book from another more successful church leader or business person that will coddle my anxiety and tell me I’m wrong about this. Unfortunately, nearly all of my research and experience (not to mention what the Bible teaches) has lead to be even more sure of the following three points:
- Nothing grows without change.
- All change is painful.
- The greater the change, the greater the pain.
Everything that grows changes. If it doesn’t, it becomes stationary and stagnant. And dies. Of course, not all change is good change. Something changing could mean that it is dying. Your heart rate going down, for instance, would be an example of bad change. But when drastic change becomes necessary for survival, we must choose to embrace the pain of change or lose ground:
- A cancer patient accepts the chemo, or suffers the onslaught of the disease.
- A businessman adjusts his product and services, or loses his marketability.
- A married couple seeks counseling, or goes through the bitter agony of divorce.
- A church shifts from doing ministry “like it’s always been”, or fails to reach a changing world.
I see these principles taking place in every single church I’ve ever known. Churches who have embraced change stay relevant to a shifting culture, but do so with great care and pain. Good people who have always been there still walk away. Internal and external pressures arise. And yet the church grows in number and closer to God at the same time. Marriages are healed. Families restored. People far from God awakened with life in Christ. The church becomes more equipped to reach their full potential in Christ. And they realize that no change they make will ever be the silver bullet. They will always be faced with new opportunities and challenges.
Other churches go to the extreme of imitating the world. Their change is usually a bad change, and they suffer the consequences of compromise. Sure, more people may come, but not usually. Because even the world is looking for something different than the world. And when they do get more people, they simply have a crowd, not a church. It almost never lasts.
Yet others still refusing to accept change have clung to a preference of what church used to be. They produce no new ideas. They focus on preserving their church rather than change their world. Gradually, many fall into complete irrelevance. Their baptismal waters are as stagnant as their vision.
I’ve made an observation that I wish I could ignore. Every season of growth in our church is marked by a season of personal pain for me. When I pray for God to expand our influence, to bring us more people far from God, to see more lives changed by the Gospel, I do so realizing that such a prayer will cost me. Because as much as I would like, I cannot avoid the pain of change. And neither can you.
And yet we should still ask God for it. Because it requires faith to step out into the pain of change. And God has already promised His grace to sustain us through it.
While growth only comes with pain, we get to see God move in new, incredible ways. God is bigger than my comfort zone. And He’s bigger than our greatest obstacles. And He’s bigger than the pain of change.
2 Timothy 2:3 “Endure hardship as a good soldier of Jesus Christ.”
“If anyone will be my disciple, let them deny themself, take up their cross daily, and follow Me.” Luke 9:23
I think that the reason there are so many fair-weather church goers is largely because of unmet expectations. Whether the expectations are set by a pastor, friend, or their own assumptions, many people are falsely under the impression that once they “give their life to Jesus” everything gets easier. Nothing could be farther from the truth…
It is painful to follow Jesus.
I suspect this is not the word of encouragement you may have been hoping for. But the fact remains the same. While the gift of God is free, the cost of receiving it is high. In fact it’ll really only cost you one thing: everything. As a follower of Jesus, God will call you to do things that are outside your comfort zone. From trusting Him with your tithe, to sharing your faith, changing your major, breaking up with a boyfriend, inviting a total stranger to church, or relocating your family. It is painful to obey God.
But pain doesn’t have to just hurt. Pain has the ability to push us to do something different; to step out in faith and trust God as we boldly follow His leadership into the unknown and uncomfortable. When we do this we get to see not just what we are capable of, but what God is willing and longing to do through us. I don’t know anyone who God called to do ordinary, mundane things:
- Abraham: “Leave everything familiar to you and go to a place that I will show you after you leave.”
- Moses: “Demand my people’s freedom from the most powerful man on earth.”
- Joshua: “Lead your army into battle against overwhelming odds.”
- Jonah: “Go to a city you hate and preach to them.”
- Mary: “Endure criticism and ridicule for being unwed and pregnant.”
- Joseph: “Marry the woman who appears to have been unfaithful.”
- Peter: “Step onto the water during a raging storm, in the dead of night, and walk to me.”
And on we could go. Obedience is painful. But the pain of obedience is far less than the pain of disobedience. God’s way is always better than my way. This is when faith gets difficult, but this is where faith counts. When we are at the brink of leaping into the uncomfortable or turning back into complacent disobedience God summons us, “jump!” Whatever we stand to lose pales in comparison of what we stand to gain when we get to see God move!
Don’t hold back! Be reckless! It might hurt. It will definitely cost you. But it’s so worth it! Endure the pain of obedience.
I recently preached at one of our services at Edgewood where I shared with our church that I was once on the brink of taking my life. God brought me through some intense and painful moments in my life to allow me to speak life into someone else who may be considering following through with the last and worst decision of their life. I acknowledge that, statistically, many of my readers here on the blog either have considered or attempted suicide, or have been affected by it through someone close to them who has. If that’s you or someone close to you, I want to give you 4 reasons to put down your selected instrument of death and never go back to that thought again:
- It’s Selfish: Suicide is easily the most selfish thing that you can do. If you take your own life, you are saying to the world that you care more about the way you feel right now than how you are going to make everyone you know feel for the rest of their lives. Perhaps you even want to make some of them hurt, but consider all of the collateral damage you would cause. For the rest of their lives these people will have to hurt at the thought of what you did – your parents, siblings, friends, classmates, coworkers, girlfriend/boyfriend, spouse, children, church, youth group, pastor, etc…
- It’s Permanent: Unlike most of the actual reasons people commit suicide, this is not fixable. It can’t be undone. Suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem. Whatever you’re going through right now that is causing you to consider ending it all, there are alternatives to escaping this. Perhaps you’re stuck in an abusive situation… then get out. Go anywhere else. Heck! Hitch-hike to Canada before you just quit! Perhaps you’re experiencing a profound loss. The pain does wear off. New relationships bring comfort and healing. Maybe you were broken up with, or divorced, or abandoned, or lost someone close to you to death. My heart genuinely goes out to you. But just because this is the end of a part of your life, does not mean it is the end of your entire life.
- It’s Faithless: God’s faithfulness is the most consistent theme throughout the entire Bible. Not that bad stuff didn’t happen. But God proves His faithfulness even in life’s darkest hours. The Psalmist once wrote, “I wait for You more than they who wait for the morning.” What he means is,“God, I am so sure that You will come through for me that I have even more confidence in You showing up, than the watchmen who are waiting for morning light to show up.” Faith in these moment looks like this – God, this hurts right now, and I want out so bad. But I know that somehow, this is not where my story ends. And since You haven’t called me home to You yet, I will wait and see how You show up in the middle of this current anguish.
- You’ll Miss Out: I was 18 when I almost took my life. If I had ended it all there, I would have missed out on the following: 4 amazing, life-transforming years of college – building several friendships that would last a lifetime – meeting and marrying the most beautiful, compassionate woman in the world – seeing God show up in miraculous ways – raising 3 (almost 4) incredible kids – finding a loving, empowering church family – playing catch with my little boy – dancing with my little “princesses” in the living room – having tickle parties with my kids – watching my kids give their lives to Christ – seeing them fall in love – walking my girls down the aisle – growing old with my wife – helping countless dozens who have almost taken their lives. Don’t you get it?!? Every great story has moments of doubt, confusion, trial, hopelessness, and darkness. Don’t quit before you get to see your story finish the right way with victory and overcoming the odds.
Don’t put a period in your life, where God has only put a comma. You are worth it. Your story is going to be empowering to someone else. Your greatest moments are still ahead. Pain doesn’t have to just hurt. Make it through this! Trust me! It IS worth it… I would know.