Be Thankful For The Pain
We are in my favorite time of the year and we are using the next few Sunday’s trying to look at the things that we have in our lives to be thankful for. I believe that we need to stop from time to time and count our many blessings, both personally and as a church family as well. It’s amazing how out attitude changes when we spend some time dwelling on all of the wonderful things God has given us in our lives.
Human nature has us wired in such a way that there will be some of here this morning that don’t feel very thankful. There are some of us here this morning that have had a difficult year, and we have endured a lot of pain. For some of us, this year has brought the sting of death. For others this will be the first thanksgiving without someone that we love. Some of us will have an empty seat or two at our table this Thanksgiving. Some of us have had to deal with the loss of a job, or loss of income that means the table will not be as full this year.
We live in a broken world that is full of pain, and it’s amazing the lengths we take to try and escape that pain. We live in a world that makes Benadryl for sinus headaches, Tylenol PM so we can sleep through the night time aches, and there is BC Power for the big headache. If the over the counter stuff doesn’t help the Doctor will prescribe Darvocet, or Demerol, or Dilaudid. If you don’t like the D’s then you can have Codeine, Morphine, or Versed. Medical science has spent a lot of time and research trying to figure out how to eliminate pain.
Because we are wired up to avoid things that are painful or uncomfortable, what we are going to talk about this morning might seem a little strange. But if you allow me to continue to cast a vision for you, we will talk about a lot of strange things. While it may seem bizarre at first, I want us to spend a few minutes this morning not trying to escape the pain in our lives, but rather I want us to learn how to be thankful for pain.
In a society that believes being uncomfortable is a mortal sin, we have taken the blessing out of the pain. If Paul is telling the truth, and I believe he is, then there is a blessing in pain that we need to be thankful for. He writes to the church in Ephesians 5:20 that we should: giving thanks always for all things to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. That little phrase all things includes being thankful for the pain.
We are wired up to only be thankful for the things that make us happy: kids that behave, a promotion at work, someone paying for our meal at a restaurant. And we despise the things that cause us pain: a call to the principals office, having to work longer hours because of lay offs, and unexpected visitors who show up as you are sitting down to supper.
We even make a distinction in the way that we talk; we say that one thing gives us pleasure while something else entirely causes us pain. Pleasure is a gift and pain is a waste. But Paul says we must learn to be thankful for all things even pain.
Now I am not being a masochist here. I don’t want you to leave here thinking that I am saying we should enjoy pain for pain sake. No one likes pain that is senseless, no one wants to suffer for the sake of suffering. But if we are suffering for a reason ………………… well that’s a different story.
Mom’s don’t like the suffering involved in child birth. I have never heard a woman giddy about the prospect of going through labor, I mean it’s called it labor pain for a reason. But every day thousands of women go through labor pain because they desire the end result, a healthy baby.
The same can be said for any type of pain. None of us are excited about the prospect of enduring the pain, but we can endure, even be thankful for the pain when we understand that it is necessary for something we really desire, when it’s pain for a purpose.
In Romans 8 Paul says that pain has a purpose in our lives. He writes in verses 16-17: And the Spirit himself joins with our spirits to say we are God’s children. If we are God’s children, we will receive blessings from God together with Christ. But we must suffer as Christ suffered so that we will have glory as Christ has glory.
And in the passage that was read for us this morning we learned that: “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.”
Paul is instructing us to be thankful for the pain in our lives because it serves a greater purpose. So let’s unwrap this idea and see if we can find a reason to be thankful for the pain in our lives.
First, We should be thankful for pain because God uses pain to shape us.
Some of us have bought into the false belief that our goal in life is to be happy. We want our families, our jobs, or friendships, and even the way that we worship to make me happy. We have been seduced by this false idea of happiness, we even sell happy meals and read books that push this idea that God desires for us to be happy.
But God never said it was His goal for us to be happy. God’s desire, His ultimate goal, is for us to become like Christ. John writes in 1 John 3 “…..when we shall see Him, we shall be like Him”. We are being shaped into the very image of Christ, and for that to happen God needs to do some work in our lives.
Becoming like Christ is not a small change. It’s not like God needs to make a small tweak to our personalities. We are broken people, and God has to do a complete remodel if we are going to be transformed into the image of Christ.
It’s like the metamorphosis that transforms a caterpillar into a butterfly. It is a slow process, a caterpillar does not become a butterfly over night. The process takes time and energy. As we go through our own metamorphosis, we must expend time, energy, patience, be committed to prayer and getting into the word if we are going to be like Christ. We struggle with our sinful nature and that struggle cannot be won in a single day. Instead each day we endure the pain of this life and stay obedient to His word, we slowly change into the image of Jesus.
The difficult things we experience in life, big and small, are not random, or accidents, or streaks of bad luck. They are allowed, and at times even orchestrated, by God to shape us into the image of Jesus.
Even though you can’t see it right now, God has been busy creating something breathtaking in you. Through everything you’ve endured. Through that confusing situation you’re facing right now we can find peace that God is working in your life. Even though we can’t see what He’s doing while it’s happening, we have the promise that Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil; For You are with me.
God is intent on building a work of art out of your life. You came into this world as a huge block of stone and God needs to do some chisel work to transform you into the masterpiece you were created to be. He needs to do so much more that take a little off the sides and smooth down the top. God takes His hammer and chisel and begins to do the difficult work of transformation. There are times when the only thing you can see are the chips flying. I pray that you never confuse the chisel’s blow as evidence that God has left us or is angry with us. Rather the chisel blow of pain in your life is evidence that God is right in front of us: eyeing our progress, smoothing the rough edges, patiently bringing the image of Jesus out in your life.
James writes in James 1, Count it pure joy,… whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.
Trials of many kinds is exactly what we’re talking about, events allowed or orchestrated by God. That’s what God uses to shape us into the image of Jesus. In fact, James says, those things complete us. That’s why we need to be thankful for the pain that shapes us.
Next, We should be thankful for pain because God uses pain to purify us.
God’s purpose in His dealings with us is to purify or correct us. Sometimes the only way that can happen is for God to allow us to go through the fire.
There is an old preachers story about a ladies bible study that came across Malachi 3:3 where the prophet says: And He shall sit as a refiner and purifier of silver. They were a bit confused by what that passage meant and they decided to visit a silversmith and see what he said about the subject. They watched the process and asked the silversmith why he sat and watched while the silver was on the fire?"
The silversmith replied; "I must sit and watch because if I leave the silver on the fire too long the silver will be injured."
The women now found the comfort in the expression, "He shall sit as a refiner and purifier of silver.” Before they left, one lady asked, "How do you know when the process is complete?" "That's quite simple," replied the silversmith. "When I can see my own image in the silver, the refining process is finished."
Our trials are not random, but we are allowed to be tested because God is interested in purifying us. There are times when we face the heat and pain because we’re definitely wrong. There are times when we have jumped head first into sin and we need God’s correction and discipline. God’s desire for us to be in a relationship with Him is so strong that He will allow problems and pain to come into our lives so that we will correct our behavior.
One of my favorite parables in the Bible is The parable of the prodigal son in Luke 15. You know the story, the younger son demands his inheritance from his father and goes to a distant country to waste his inheritance. Pretty soon he was at rock bottom and began to desire the slop that he was feeding the pigs.
It’s only when the pain got to be too much for him that he was willing to correct his attitude and his actions. He admitted his sins, repented of them, and went back home.
God has not changed. When we deliberately stray from what we know is right, God has promised to correct us. Hebrews 12:5-6 says: Do you remember what God said to you when He called you His sons? “My son, listen when the Lord punishes you. Do not give up when He tells you what you must do. The Lord punishes everyone He loves. He whips every son He receives.”
God knows how devastating sin can be, that’s why He corrects us when we give in to temptation. So when we’re having problem after problem, maybe we need to ask ourselves if there is some area of our life that God is trying to correct. And be thankful for the pain that purifies us.
Finally we should be thankful for pain because God uses it to protect us.
There are times when God uses problems to protect us. That’s the story that is told through the life of Joseph. When the story begins we see that Joseph was his father’s favorite son. And as a result of this favoritism, his brothers were filled with hatred and bitterness towards him. Then one day their hatred boils over and they sell him as a slave to a caravan traveling to Egypt.
It all happened so quickly. One moment he was the favorite son, getting anything he wanted. And the next, he was in chains and being sold into slavery. Life couldn’t seem to be any worse for Joseph, but God had a purpose and a plan for his life, and He was watching over him, protecting him, even though Joseph didn’t realize it then.
The story of Joseph’s life is a remarkable one, and only the miraculous hand of God could have accomplished it, taking him out of slavery and making him a ruler in Egypt, second only in power to Pharaoh himself. Years later, during the time of severe famine, Joseph saw his brothers once again when they came to Egypt to beg for the privilege of buying food. Of course they had no idea that this Egyptian ruler standing before them was Joseph.
When Joseph finally revealed himself to his brothers they were gripped with fear. But Joseph had been shaped by the pain in his life and said to his brothers in Genesis 45:4-8: Now do not be upset or angry with yourselves because you sold me here, for God sent me before you to preserve life. …God sent me ahead of you to preserve you as a remnant on the earth and to save your lives by a great deliverance… it was not you who sent me here, but God.
Joseph realized that he endured the pain so that God could protect him and his people. While that seems so contrary to our way of thinking, God uses pain in our lives to protect us. In this time of reflection and thanksgiving we must learn to thank God for the pain in our lives. We must be thankful for the pain that God uses to shape us, correct us, and protect us. We must remember God’s promise to work out all things for the good of those who love Him.
It takes great maturity on our part to focus on what God is doing in our lives to produce an eternal reward. God wants to build character in us. He wants to mature us. He wants to bring us to a new level of obedience and humility.
You see, gifts are freely given by God, but character is developed overtime. What we develop in our character now is far more important than the pain of this life.