The other night I was in the kitchen, helping to clean up after dinner. Wiping the smooth glass top of our stove with a wet paper towel, I had no idea that the surface was still hot. I whooped and pulled my hand back in a hurry, extremely thankful for this thing we call pain. If it weren’t for pain, I’d still be in the kitchen, my sizzling hand stuck to the cooktop.
And when it comes to our bodies and exercise, we get the old expression: no pain, no gain. Whether we are building muscles by lifting weights or turning down strawberry cheesecake twice on the same day, we know that it costs us to get into shape. It’s painful. And good.
The same is true of our souls. Like flashing red lights on our dashboard, pain and suffering are often gauges that tell us something likely needs to be changed, adjusted, fixed.
Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing (James 1:2-4).
You and I lack steadfastness. We are not perfect, complete. But we will be one day, and trials are the trails that lead us there. Our task is to take a deep breath and rest in the great adventure of living by faith.
When hard things come our way, we can be confident that God is at work in us and that we will come out on the other side better for it. God disciplines us, not because He is angry with us. No, He disciplines those He loves in order to teach us (Heb. 12:6). His painful discipline is a gift, proof that He is crazy about us and is at work in us.
I have stood beside my wife’s grave, grieving as the earth slowly swallowed her casket. You have surely faced your own hard times. So how should we treat these awful things?
The apostle Paul gives us the answer, but please notice the preposition that opens his admonition:
In everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus (1 Thess. 5:18 NASB).
Notice that he did not tell us to give thanks “for” everything . . . rather, “in” everything. There’s something important to the experience of pain and suffering in the larger context of God’s will. I did not celebrate Bobbie’s cancer diagnosis. We were not happy for the news. But we, along with our daughters, knew that God was wise and good and we trusted that He would bring good out of this human tragedy.
The journey we walked through as a family broke us, shaped us, and molded us more closely into His image. Many friends, medical professionals, and others we met along the way were brought face-to-face with the gospel. And so, in the midst of these painful circumstances, we bowed our hearts and offered up humble thanksgiving.
Pain and suffering are tools in God’s wise, loving hands, doing His good work, helping us become more like His Son. And for that you and I will give thanks.
This post is adapted from my new book, Lies Men Believe: And the Truth that Sets Them Free. To read more about this topic and many others, pick up a copy through Amazon or from book retailers everywhere.