No Pain, No Gain
For our momentary, light distress [this passing trouble] is producing for us an eternal weight of glory [a fullness] beyond all measure [surpassing all comparisons, a transcendent splendor and an endless blessedness]! So we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are unseen; for the things which are visible are temporal [just brief and fleeting], but the things which are invisible are everlasting and imperishable.
2 Corinthians 4:17-18
As we grow our faith, we develop the capacity to see things differently than before. In the beginning, we are able to see only people, places, and circumstances that are visible, and our choices are geared to make our lives today as successful and comfortable as possible. Gradually, though, by reading Scriptures, interacting with mature believers, and praying, we learn to perceive an invisible, spiritual world. As strange as it may seem, we begin to live for things we can’t see with our physical eyes.
In the beginning, problems are a threat to our security and success, so we avoid them as much as possible, and we fear them when we can’t avoid them. For some of us, even the smallest difficulties seem to be enormous calamities because they threaten us to the core. Living for Christ, though, changes everything. Every problem is a stepping stone of growth, and every difficulty is an opportunity to trust God more deeply, to follow Christ’s example of selfless service, and to experience God’s presence. We realize that every problem we face, as overwhelming as it may look to us, is just a dot o the infinite line of eternity. But we don’t live for the dot, we live for the line.
When we perceive our problems through the lens of the Spirit, we respond with courage and with confidence that God will reward us when we see Him face-to-face. Our faith-filled response to pain results in great gain.
Even in tragedy, God through His Word offers hope for those who seek and believe. It starts with the promise of a better tomorrow, of life everlasting, of eternal peace. It’s called faith, and it offers hope where none existed.
I’m sure many of us have observed or at least know about the transformation of a caterpillar into a beautiful butterfly. At a point in the caterpillar’s life, it will spin a cocoon around itself. After sometime, that cocoon will go through a violent shaking and twisting as the caterpillar turned butterfly makes its way to freedom. I have been told that any intervention or assistance from us will actually result in the death of the butterfly. It seems that God designed the struggle to develop a healthy butterfly.
Those who seek to increase muscle mass and strength can tell us that pushing those muscles to expand and gain strength comes from painful repetitions. Lifting the weights, adding more weights or repetitions until the muscles cry out in agony is the only way to accomplish such goals.
It should be no surprise to us then that to grow or increase our faith comes through pain and suffering. Most of us will acknowledge that it’s in difficult times that we increase our prayer life, our searching the scriptures and our pressing in to God. I’ve often wondered if we lived a pain-free, trouble-free life whether we would ever develop spiritually.
We all know that Jesus had great spiritual strength and sometimes we get the wrong impression that He was born with it. A careful study of His earthly life reveals that through struggle, He grew. The writer of Hebrews says:
Although He was a Son [who had never been disobedient to the Father], He learned [active, special] obedience through what He suffered. And having been made perfect [uniquely equipped and prepared as Savior and retaining His integrity amid opposition], He became the source of eternal salvation [an eternal inheritance] to all those who obey Him, being designated by God as High Priest according to the order of Melchizedek.
Immediately after His baptism and the Holy Spirit descended upon Him He wound up in the wilderness after forty days of fasting being tempted by the devil. Again and again we read throughout His ministry, He experienced much rejection, hostility and anger. On a couple occasions the mob tried to kill Him.
Isaiah tells us that His suffering was unimaginable.
“He was despised and rejected by men, A Man of sorrows and pain and acquainted with grief; And like One from whom men hide their faces He was despised, and we did not appreciate His worth or esteem Him. But [in fact] He has borne our griefs, And He has carried our sorrows and pains; Yet we [ignorantly] assumed that He was stricken, Struck down by God and degraded and humiliated [by Him]. But He was wounded for our transgressions, He was crushed for our wickedness [our sin, our injustice, our wrongdoing]; The punishment [required] for our well-being fell on Him, And by His stripes (wounds) we are healed. He was oppressed and He was afflicted, Yet He did not open His mouth [to complain or defend Himself]; Like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, And like a sheep that is silent before her shearers, So He did not open His mouth. After oppression and judgment He was taken away; And as for His generation [His contemporaries], who [among them] concerned himself with the fact That He was cut off from the land of the living [by His death] For the transgression of my people, to whom the stroke [of death] was due? His grave was assigned with the wicked, But He was with a rich man in His death, Because He had done no violence, Nor was there any deceit in His mouth. Yet the Lord was willing To crush Him, causing Him to suffer; If He would give Himself as a guilt offering [an atonement for sin], He shall see His [spiritual] offspring, He shall prolong His days, And the will (good pleasure) of the Lord shall succeed and prosper in His hand. As a result of the anguish of His soul, He shall see it and be satisfied; By His knowledge [of what He has accomplished] the Righteous One, My Servant, shall justify the many [making them righteous—upright before God, in right standing with Him], For He shall bear [the responsibility for] their sins. Therefore, I will divide and give Him a portion with the great [kings and rulers], And He shall divide the spoils with the mighty, Because He [willingly] poured out His life to death, And was counted among the transgressors; Yet He Himself bore and took away the sin of many, And interceded [with the Father] for the transgressors.”
Throughout the Bible we read that most of the people God used suffered. The book of Acts records the suffering of the apostles. We can conclude, then, that adversity, pain, and suffering are part of life. Jesus told us that two men built a house. One built on sand taking the easy way; the other built on his house on the rock. And Jesus said that the wind blew and the rain poured on both houses and the one built on the rock was still standing after the storm. The one built on the sand had collapsed. It’s more about the foundation than it is about the storm.
Paul is reminding us that in light of eternity we must hold on to the truth that every storm, every pain, and all our suffering will be used to mold us and strengthen us, and prepare us for all the splendor and glory that God has prepared for us.
The Psalmist teaches us the purpose of our struggles and in the midst of our suffering if we can get a glimpse of that purpose, we can find hope.
“For You have tested us, O God; You have refined us as silver is refined. You brought us into the net; You laid a heavy burden [of servitude] on us. You made men (charioteers) ride over our heads [in defeat]; We went through fire and through water, Yet You brought us out into a [broad] place of abundance [to be refreshed].”
Two things that are important to know about suffering. First of all, God never leaves us to suffer alone. He has sent the Holy Spirit to be our Comforter. Second of all, suffering has an end. Though it may seem like forever, every storm eventually ends. Paul reminds us the our suffering in this present world will be compensated by God elaborately in the world to come. If you are in a difficult place, lean on God, trust His love, and remind yourself of His promises.
Dr. John Thompson