Those who have been in Christian ministry leadership for any length of time have learned an important lesson: pain has a purpose.
Pastors and ministry leaders know that God saves us, shapes us, sets us in an assigned ministry, sustains us in the work, and then secures us safely home. We also know that part of God’s plan for shaping us for effectiveness in ministry assignments includes the painful experiences in our life.
2 Corinthians 1:3-4 is a confidence-building reminder for those who are experiencing, or have experienced, painful trauma. The text says, “Blessed be God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies, and the God of all comfort; Who comforteth us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort them which are in any trouble, by the comfort wherewith we ourselves are comforted of God.”
I speak to pastors and ministry leaders regularly, if not daily, who minister not only out of their giftedness and calling, but also out of their pain. A pastor who lost a parent to suicide, or experienced abuse as a child, or has suffered depression, or survived marital difficulty will bring a perspective to ministry, framed by biblical conviction and personal experience that others will not have.
This fact is not an encouragement to pray for more pain. God forbid that we would desire more trouble than is already built into the Christian life and ministry leadership calling. It is, however, a call to develop a heavenly perspective on our problems, or to take a different look at our trouble.
What could be our response to the reality that our kind and loving Heavenly Father redeems the pain that was done to us and uses those painful experiences to equip us for ministry to others? Here are five possibilities:
- A Calm Assurance: Walk through any mall or sidewalk gathering and you will see someone with a t-shirt emblazoned with the words, “Keep Calm and (fill in the blank).” Followers of Christ can keep calm knowing that God is with us in the suffering and will ultimately use it for his purposes.
- A Collaborative Agreement: Misery loves company. That is not just a byline from a country music song, it is also a truism of human nature. Learn from others who have suffered pain who have also seen God use their pain for a noble purpose. Agree with believers down through the ages that suffering is not in vain for Christians.
- A Confident Assessment: Nothing has happened to us that God in His sovereignty did not allow. There is no question that God rules heaven and earth and watches over His children. If one of His children suffers unimaginable pain, then he or she can have confidence that God is aware and will be with them in the suffering.
- A Contagious Adoration: Let us praise the Lord who saves us and shapes us even when the shaping includes our pain and suffering. This in no way implies the pain is not serious, and that those who inflicted criminal pain should not be brought to justice. Of course, they should be. However, when we can praise God on the other side of suffering then God gets glory and we find joy.
- A Clear-Headed Advancement: My worst response to pain has been deep-seated anger resulting in bitterness. On my best days I have been able to see pain and suffering as an unwelcome element of living in a fallen world. I eventually reached a place of acceptance and by the grace of God decided to move forward for the advancement of God’s larger mission.
If you are suffering right now, at this moment, it is hard to hear that God will use your pain for His glory and your good. However, know for certain that the day will come when you see that what the Devil—and possibly others—meant for evil, God intended for good. Good for others, good for His glory, and ultimately good for you.
May the Lord Himself meet you and comfort you in your pain.
One thought on “Shaped by suffering”
Really good word, Dr. Gray! As you are aware, a church close to both of us is going through a very difficult season. Yesterday, I spoke with half a dozen church members and shared with them what the Lord had reminded me of that morning, there’s purpose in the pain. Your article was a strong affirmation of that truth.