Redeemed souls who believe in Jesus Christ are not immune to pain.
Doctors can prescribe medication and counselors can provide emotional healing.
But pain doesn’t go away easily.
Chronic discomfort or emotional turmoil can cause any person to desperately seek answers and solutions.
Believing in Christ means trusting that God knows our pain. Our greater good is his greatest desire. Faith accepts unanswered questions and patiently endures in Christ’s enduring love until that time when all pain dissipates forever at Jesus’ feet.
Trusting in God’s promises helps manage pain.
Here are three ways that all believers can use pain as an entry point to begin talking about Christ and his promises:
Applying the salve of empathy
My father is ninety years old. He would love to be more active, but his arthritis keeps getting in the way. Each time I talk to him on the phone, I ask, “So Dad, how are you feeling?” “I’m doing fine,” he answers. “Besides, nobody wants to hear me complain anyway.”
He’s right. Nobody wants to listen to people complain.
My gift to my father is to grant him permission to talk about his pain and discomforts.
#1 Pain is an entry point to start spiritual conversations and it can start with empathy.
People are prone to listen with their mouths open. Our human nature wants to share rather than care – to be heard rather than listen.
The gift of listening is an act of pure unselfishness. It is a sacrificial act of kindness to put another person’s needs over their own.
With those experiencing intense pain, listening ears can be far more soothing than suggested remedies.
An emphatic heart can respond by simply saying,
“That must be frustrating.”
“That must be difficult.”
People often respond with a resounding “Yes!”
Pain is frustrating. Pain is difficult.
Pain seeks answers. An affirmation of pain from empathetic hearts provides momentary salve to gaping wounds. It grants people permission to possibly receive answers to life’s most pressing questions.
Pain is a terrible teacher
“Rather than speak of pain as the enemy of all enemies or a celebrated house guest, we might talk of pain as an unfortunate, terrible teacher.” (Jonathan Merritt, Learning to Speak God from Scratch)
Empathy can lead to teachable moments, but now always.
In Bible times, pain and affliction were commonly viewed as consequences of sin. Disease, accidents, or other difficult life circumstances were a result of unfaithfulness or sins passed on from previous generations.
Job’s friends thought they were helping when he was enduring intense physical and emotional pain by blaming him for it! Clinging to the last vestiges of God’s promises, it’s no wonder that Job responded with faith by declaring, “I know that my Redeemer lives!”
The Apostle Paul tells believers that they can embrace pain and affliction as gifts from God. They can be used to build character, hope, and faith. But I’m not sure that this is a message that an unbeliever wants to hear when they are experiencing pain.
Job’s declaration or Paul’s teaching is not something that they concluded, but a profession of what they have already received from God.
Faith is a declaration of trust in God’s promises. It’s certain of what we hope for and sure of what we do not see. Faith looks ahead instead of being mired in the present or the past.
In the middle of experiencing pain, it is hard – even impossible — to accept or recognize its benefits.
Healthy people can be like Job’s friends. Well-meaning but sanctimonious. It can be difficult to know how to respond in a meaningful way.
#2 Pain teaches but it’s a terrible teacher.
Those who are intimate with pain know the language of pain. It is a bonding force. They listen for the right questions to answer at the right time rather than assuming what that person needs to hear. That’s a big difference.
Starting spiritual conversations needs affirmation that pain is a terrible teacher.
Proclaiming real solutions
Christians eager to evangelize can get easily frustrated with unreceptive ears. Like a mirage in a sunbaked desert, self-righteous attitudes can easily mask spiritual pain and turmoil that comes from the unanswered questions pain asks.
We live in a sinful, lonely world. Believers can ask the Lord to open our eyes and be more attentive to the painful cries around us that are largely unheard and kept hidden.
Acute pain tends to isolate because nobody seems to understand or truly empathize. Over time, people tend to remove themselves from people experiencing chronic pain.
I was reminded today of Peter healing the paralytic man in Acts 3. He and John came upon a man who cried out to them for help. Peter healed the man through the power and authority Christ gave him. This act unleashed a chain of events that rapidly advanced the early Christian church.
Notice how the sick and the pained were drawn to Jesus. He once asked a man who was invalid for thirty-eight years, “Do you want to get well?” (John 5:6) The man was instantly healed. Jesus found him later and said, “See, you are well again. Stop sinning or something worse may happen to you.” (v. 14)
Jesus performed miracles and healed the sick, but that’s not what he was about. He used miracles to declare that he is the Son of God, the promised Messiah, the great physician who came to heal us from our sins.
#3 Faith doesn’t take the pain away, but people can trust that God will never take his love or forgiveness away. After Christians express empathy and affirmation to those experiencing pain, they may be granted permission to receive listening ears. They can declare, “Your sins have been forgiven. Now God promises you: Believe in the Lord Jesus, the one who took your sins on himself and gave you his holiness, and you will be saved.”
Pain asks questions that healthy people largely ignore. With patience, gentleness, and love, we can begin spiritual conversations that help lead people to receive the way, the truth, and the life found only in Jesus.