This month we have been looking at some game changing ideas that can significantly improve our lives and strengthen our faith. The first week we learned that Jesus is greater than our problems AND Jesus is with us, which means that no matter what situation we are in, we can have hope that things can improve. The second week we learned that anything new comes with a learning curve, so we have to start small and keep going. “New” comes from a long obedience in the same direction. Last week we learned that one way we can keep moving forward is to introduce a new habit or routine, specifically one that will help us focus on God and change the rhythm of our lives. Today we are going to look at a game changer that in time can touch all of us, because today’s game changer has to do with how we deal with pain.
Pain is the great unifier because we all deal with people. We have all been through seasons of pain, or are in a season of pain, or we will enter into a season of pain in the future, so pain comes to all of us. The pain might be physical. Many of you have had your lives touched by the physical pain of cancer, heart disease, diabetes, MS, or accidents, and you have seen this pain in those you love. If it is not physical pain, then maybe it is financial. We struggle with mounting debt or shrinking assets. We have retired and now aren’t sure we have enough to get us through, or we are just starting out and looking at school loans that seem insurmountable and never ending.
If you have ever loved anyone or anything, you have been through emotional pain. I remember the day we had to put our dog Ginger to sleep. Ginger was the first dog I remember, and she was my pal. She helped me learn to walk, taking my hand to hold me steady, and she was my constant companion. She also had epilepsy, which led to an enlarged and weakened heart. I remember the day she had a seizure at an unusual time of the day and the vet said, her heart just can’t continue. I sobbed. If you have ever loved anyone or anything, you have felt emotional pain.
And if you have been married for more than about 15 minutes, or dated someone for more than a few days, then you know what relational pain is like, and let’s not forget spiritual pain. If we have any kind of relationship with God, we go through those moments of doubt and darkness where we wonder if God is with us. Does God care for us? Will God do anything to help us? Does God even want to help us?
Pain is the great unifier because we all go through it, and we go through it many times in life. So how do we deal with pain?
Some people allow pain to bury them. These people become overwhelmed by pain and never get past it in their lives. They break down, they shut down, and they are never able to move forward. We often see this in people who have been so hurt in a relationship that they vow to never love again. They have allowed relational and emotional pain to bury them.
Some people simply bury pain. The deny it, ignore it, force into some deep, dark hole and never openly or honestly deal with it. While we think we can overcome pain by doing this, the truth is that we can never really bury pain. Buried pain will pop up in our lives when we least expect it, or when we are most vulnerable, and it will keep us from moving forward, and fully experiencing the freedom and joy of living and loving.
These are the extremes in dealing with pain, but there is a middle ground, and there is even a way of using our pain to lead us to a better place in life. Before we move on, however, if you have just realized that you deal with pain by burying it, or if you have let pain bury you, and you want to begin to honestly deal with it, then I want to encourage you get some support and help. Pastor Terry, Pastor David, and I are all willing to sit and talk with you, and we are all willing to direct you to counsellors and people who can help you process life’s pain. We have several competent counsellors in the congregation who are also willing to help you or direct you to the right help. If you want to work through your painful times, then please let us know.
To help us learn how we can look differently at the pain we go through, we are going to look at a painful moment in the life of a family who loved Jesus, and a family whom Jesus loved. Mary and Martha were two sisters who had come to know Jesus, and whenever Jesus was in the region of Bethany, a town not far from Jerusalem, Jesus would stay with them. They also had a brother named Lazarus, who was also a close friend of Jesus. When Lazarus became sick, Mary and Martha sent word to Jesus, hoping he would come quickly and heal their brother. We find this story in John 11:1-7.
Did you notice that when Mary and Martha sent the message, they didn’t have to mention Lazarus’ name? This shows us what a close relationship these two had. And they didn’t say, Jesus the one who loves you is sick, but the one YOU love is sick. This was a special friend to Jesus, and yet, Jesus did not drop everything to run to Lazarus’s side. In fact as we keep reading, it appears that Jesus actually allowed Lazarus to die. John 11:11-15
Why would Jesus wait and allow Lazarus to die before he went to visit? Did Jesus not love Lazarus? Did he not care about Mary and Martha? No, he loved and cared for them deeply. What this story shows us is that our circumstances are not evidence of how God feels about us. This might be the game changing truth you need to hear today. Our personal circumstances are NOT evidence of how God feels about us. In other words, if we are going experiencing pain, it does not mean that God is not with us, or that God does not care about us, or that God doesn’t want to or is unable to help us.
The evidence of how God feels about us is not found in our circumstances but in the cross. The cross is the constant reminder about how much God loves us. For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only son. And no greater love is there than this, to lay down one’s life for his friends.So God sent Jesus into the world to live for us and die for us, which means that it is the cross that shows us just how much God loves us, and the cross doesn’t change.
Our circumstances change, and if we are looking at the circumstances of our lives to evaluate whether or not God loves us, we will be on a roller coaster of faith. When things are going well, we will think God loves us, when we experience pain, we will think God has forgotten us. Our circumstances are not and cannot be the evidence of how God feels about us, the cross is that evidence of God’s unconditional love for us, and the cross never changes. God’s love never changes. Paul assures of this in Romans 8:35-39.
So death did not end Jesus’ love for Lazarus because it was after he died that Jesus went to Bethany. Outside of town he met Martha and they talked theologically about resurrection and life, but then Jesus met Mary. He saw her weeping and that moved Jesus. It says, Jesus wept. If there is one verse of scripture you want to memorize, here it is. Jesus wept. Why did Jesus weep? Because he loved Lazarus and Martha and Mary. Jesus wept because he felt their pain and despair. In times of pain we need to recite this verse, Jesus wept, because in our pain, Jesus weeps for us and with us.
We get bad news from the doctor, Jesus weeps with us. We struggle with the breakup of a relationship, Jesus weeps with us. We feel hopeless because of the financial struggles that seem to be sinking our lives and families, Jesus weeps with us. We experience tragic and unexplained violence in our community, Jesus weeps with us. We walk through a dark night of the soul and think that God has forgotten us, Jesus weeps with us. And why does Jesus weep with us? Because he loves us. God loves us and cares about our lives.
So here is the second game changer we need to remember when we face pain, we believe in a God who cares. God is not shaken by our pain, instead, God is moved by it. God is not overwhelmed by our pain, instead God weeps with us. This is the picture we get of God all through the scriptures.
When God’s people cried out in pain as slaves in Egypt, God heard their cry and sent them one who wouldlead them into freedom. In Psalm 23 we read, even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil for you are with me… You comfort me.
When David felt lost, alone, and abandoned by God, and everyone around him, God said to him, Psalm 34:18. The Lord is close to the brokenhearted, and saves those who are crushed in spirit.
Our pain is not evidence that God has abandoned us, or a sign that God does not love us; God is near to us in times of pain, and God is present to help turn our pain into something positive. That is what Jesus did with Mary, Martha, and Lazarus. John 11:38-44
Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead and turned the pain of this family into an example of God’s power. But this painful time also became a platform for other people to see and experience the love and grace and power of God. John 11:45. Many of the Jews who had come to visit Mary, and had seen what Jesus did, believed in him. So this painful experience for Mary, Martha, and Lazarus not only was an opportunity to give God glory, but it became a platform to tell other people about the power and love of God.
Whenever we go through painful times, it gives us a platform to point people to Jesus. In our world, the two biggest platforms we are given to point people to the power and love of God are success and pain. If you walk through the biography section of any book store, you will find stories about those who have achieved success, and those who have overcome pain. Those are both platforms for us to point people to God, but only pain is universal.
We all have, or will, experience pain, and every painful chapter of our lives becomes an opportunity, or a platform, for us to point people to God. Every struggle with our health, every difficult relationship we push through, every financial set back we face, every dark night of our soul, is an opportunity for us to point people to Jesus. Pain is universal, so when we are able to share how God sees us through the pain, others will find the strength and the courage they need to trust God as well. And if we are struggling to get through a painful moment, then we need to look to others who can help point us in the right direction.
We point people to God through support groups, blogs where we share our painful struggles with the world, as well as personal testimonies with family and friends. Every painful event gives us a platform, and using our pain to lead us to a place of greater faith, and seeing how our pain can be used by God, just might be the game changer that also helps us overcome that pain. Sharing our pain and pointing people to Jesus helps us look to Jesus to find comfort, power, and peace.
So we can allow pain to bury us, or we can bury pain, but the better way to deal with our pain and overcome it is to begin to see our pain as an opportunity to give God glory and a platform to point others to the power and love of God.
So where are we today in our own battle with pain?
Are we trying to bury pain?
Have we allowed pain to bury us?
Let’s look at a better way. How can our pain give us an opportunity to give glory to God, and what kind of platform has our pain given us to point people to Jesus?
These are game changing ideas that can help us through the pain and make this year our best year yet.
Game Changers – Pain
Game Changing Concept #1 – Our circumstances are not evidence of how God feels about us.
Game Changing Concept #2 – We believe in a God who cares.
1. In what ways have you allowed pain to bury you?
- In what ways have you tried to bury pain?
- How have both of these responses been ineffective?
2. What pain currently makes you feel far from God?
3. Read the story of Jesus and Lazarus in John 11:1-45.
4. How does this story show us that our circumstances are not evidence of how God feels about us?
- How is this good news for you today?
- Read Romans 8:28-39.
5. Jesus wept with Mary, Martha, and their friends.
- Where do you need Jesus to weep with you?
- How can knowing that “God cares” help you get through this difficult time?
6. Who do you know that needs to hear that God cares for them? How can you share this game changing truth with them?
7. Pain is a platform for us to point people to Jesus.
- What pain have you been through that can become a platform in your life?
- How can you share your story with others?
- Who can support you in this ministry?