The following is a sermon that I presented to Akron Alliance Fellowship Church on August 9, 2009. The audio version of this sermon is available for download at my other blog page, Psalm 37:4.
Doctors and nurses in hospitals are trained to treat patients with various ailments, and in their training one of the more conscious efforts of their care is to help the patient deal with pain. In fact, depending on the philosophy of the doctor, the management of pain will likely be the utmost concern in making sure that the patient is as comfortable as possible, especially in the event that the ailment is inoperable or terminal, or both.
Pain is certainly not an enjoyable experience for the person who must endure it. There are different types of pain, of course. Depending upon your headache and the level of pain that you are experiencing, you may decide to take Excedrin, Tylenol or Advil. Muscle aches may require a heating pad or even a muscle relaxer. All of these remedies are designed to manage the physical pain in your life. While these things are part of the course of life, we also experience emotional pain. The emotional pain we go through may have several outside sources, or it could be self-inflicted due to our own sin, remorse, and dealing with its consequences. The pain may come from one person in your life who, day in and day out, makes you absolutely miserable. Emotional pain, which is derived out of the stress and strain of contentious, prolonged relationships, can be debilitating and destructive, and even cause physical ailments to surface and become prominent if they remain unresolved.
Emotional pain seems to be more and more a part of our society. With that pain comes abuse, and while there are many cases of physical abuse, emotional abuse is just as damaging. In some cases, both may be occurring at the same time in a bad family relationship. I’ve been speaking in general terms, but let’s personalize this message for the purpose of bringing it home to the sufferer of emotional, or even physical pain or abuse, and how to break through and overcome the feelings of despair, depression, and loneliness that comes from the prolonged exposure to pain.
We now need to learn how to manage this pain. Who is the person that we need to turn to and to look to for a step-by-step recovery from the ongoing persecution and suffering that you are experiencing? The answer to all of this is Jesus Christ. This is not intended to be just a pat answer, either. The answer is indeed Jesus Christ, for He is the source of our recovery and endurance through the hardship of pain. This, in addition, is not a short-term solution. For those of us who have been involved in what appeared to be a loving relationship that turned into something you now recognize as anything but wholesome and nurturing, you have a profound understanding of the emotional pain that you have had to endure, or perhaps you know a loved one who has had to go through such an experience. Whether you are in the midst of this or observing someone close to you go through this, there is a profound feeling of helplessness and various degrees of hopelessness and despair.
One of the first things that is to be done in the process of recovery is to be honest about your feelings when you are in emotional pain. First, you need to acknowledge that you are angry. While James 1:19 reminds us that we are always to be “slow to speak and slow to anger,” we are not to seek staying angry because we can’t justify it in the long run. Anger needs to be acknowledged and dealt with. Dealing with it means acknowledging its presence in the midst of your pain. Ephesians 4:26-27 gives us the limit to our anger…
Be angry and do not sin. Don’t let the sun go down on your anger, and don’t give the Devil an opportunity.
Taking your acknowledged anger and turning it into a productive energy will move you into the direction of recovery. Next, take the steps to move in the right direction to calm yourself down. Pain has an effect on us where we need to respond to it. A severe headache forces us, in most cases, to slow down our pace considerably. In our pain, we need to slow ourselves down and calm ourselves in order to hear how Jesus Christ, our Advocate, can speak to us in the midst of our pain. We need to remember how everything we are going through is nothing new to Him:
He was despised and rejected by men, a man of suffering who knew what sickness was. He was like one people turned away from; He was despised, and we didn’t value Him. Yet He Himself bore our sicknesses, and He carried our pains; but we in turn regarded Him stricken, struck down by God, and afflicted. But He was pierced because of our transgressions, crushed because of our iniquities; punishment for our peace was on Him, and we are healed by His wounds.
Because He understands our pain, He can provide us with comfort if we call on Him. We need to examine ourselves and have a heart for repentance as we seek Him. When you slow yourself down, it is an act of humility.
1 Peter 5:6
Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, so that He may exalt you in due time, casting all your care upon Him, because He cares about you.
Jesus truly does care. His care is not like taking an aspirin to wipe out your pain. His care means that you must grow in your relationship with Him while He provides healing in your painful experience. The essence of your recovery is the desire that you will have to be in the presence of God over time. The sorrow and depression may still be present, but God does not leave you alone in the experience.
As a deer longs for streams of water, so I long for You, God. I thirst for God, the living God. When can I come and appear before God? My tears have been my food day and night, while all day long people say to me, “Where is your God?” I remember this as I pour out my heart: how I walked with many, leading the festive procession to the house of God, with joyful and thankful shouts. Why am I so depressed? Why this turmoil within me? Put your hope in God, for I will still praise Him, my Savior and my God. I am deeply depressed; therefore I remember You from the land of Jordan and the peaks of Hermon, from Mount Mizar. Deep calls to deep in the roar of Your waterfalls; all Your breakers and Your billows have swept over me. The Lord will send His faithful love by day; His song will be with me in the night— a prayer to the God of my life.
God wants your fellowship in the midst of your pain.
With your fellowship, He wants you to continue to seek Him in prayer. There are many verses that describe prayer and its importance, but I will focus specifically on the mature prayers here to underscore the importance of the growth and development of your prayer life as you manage the pain in your life. First, the prayers must be consistent.
1 Thessalonians 5:16-18
Rejoice always! Pray constantly. Give thanks in everything, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.
Next, be persistent in your prayers.
It is your act of continually seeking solutions to deal with your pain that helps you to bear it because God is present in the process.
Keep asking, and it will be given you. Keep searching, and you will find. Keep knocking, and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who searches finds, and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.
Then, develop your prayers to the point where they are selfless. True growth comes when we develop our prayer life even in that we can find a heart for God to pray for those who brought about the pain in our life. As our prayer life develops, it becomes our way of life.
You have heard that it was said, Love your neighbor and hate your enemy. But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. For He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward will you have? Don’t even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing out of the ordinary? Don’t even the Gentiles do the same? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
In order to be able to pray for your enemies, the act of forgiveness must be at the forefront of your thinking.
And whenever you stand praying, if you have anything against anyone, forgive him, so that your Father in heaven will also forgive you your wrongdoing. [But if you don’t forgive, neither will your Father in heaven forgive your wrongdoing.”]
Here are verses that continue after the section that refers to anger without sin:
No rotten talk should come from your mouth, but only what is good for the building up of someone in need, in order to give grace to those who hear. And don’t grieve God’s Holy Spirit, who sealed you for the day of redemption. All bitterness, anger and wrath, insult and slander must be removed from you, along with all wickedness. And be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving one another, just as God also forgave you in Christ.
After reading these verses and all of this talk about prayer and forgiveness, how can we pray and forgive others or even conceive of doing this when we are in pain? The answer is that we can’t do it on our own. Look at who we have as our Advocate in all of this…the Holy Spirit. He desires for us to rely upon Him in all of the pain and suffering that we go through, and He enables us to withstand and overcome our pain because He indwells those who believe in Jesus Christ—He reveals to us the truth.
1 John 2:27
The anointing you received from Him remains in you, and you don’t need anyone to teach you. Instead, His anointing teaches you about all things, and is true and is not a lie; just as it has taught you, remain in Him.
With that truth comes one more area where we need to rely upon God’s wisdom. He wants us to be smart and wary of situations where we may come under harm or persecution.
Matthew 10:16, 19-20
Look, I’m sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as serpents and as harmless as doves. But when they hand you over, don’t worry about how or what you should speak. For you will be given what to say at that hour, because you are not speaking, but the Spirit of your Father is speaking through you.
Note the references used here about the people who more often than not are our adversaries. Wolves are predatory animals. Sheep represents innocent prey for wolves. We also remember that sheep also refers to those who listen to the Great Shepherd’s commands. Serpents represent the craftiness, or shrewdness, of those that are operating in the world. Doves are symbols of peace. Jesus wants us to be peace loving in our thoughts and actions yet be smart and savvy enough to be able to use good judgment when we are in difficult relationships or areas where we face opposition, especially from those that we know who wish to cause us pain.
This is very important in your development as you manage the pain in your life. Use God’s available wisdom and guidance through the presence of the Holy Spirit to keep you out of harm’s way.
To summarize—pain management requires the following steps:
- Acknowledging and channeling your anger
- Allowing God to speak to you
- Humbling yourself
- Persistent prayer with a heart of forgiveness
- Using the wisdom of the Holy Spirit to guide your steps and avoid further harm
All of these steps are a long, and sometimes arduous process. Some days will invariably be better than others, but a consistent approach with the steps noted above, you will be able to manage your pain and add salve to your wounds over time. God is gracious even in our pain and difficulty, and He never leaves us alone in it.
Be strong and courageous; don’t be terrified or afraid of them. For it is the Lord your God who goes with you; He will not leave you or forsake you.
Copyright © Melvin Gaines. All rights reserved.