This will be my final flow of thought in this series of entries entitled “It’s hard to be a Christian.” To begin with…
It’s just plain hard to be HUMAN – Christian or not!
Specifically, life is hard for everyone – whether you are a Christian or not. And it does not stop being hard and painful when you become a follower of Jesus.
Following Jesus does not come with a promise that “from now on, no bad things will happen to you, and you’ll never experience pain again.”
It is also true that unbelievers may seem to be experiencing prosperity, blessing, and ease while believers suffer. Jesus spoke about this reality in Matthew 5:45
“…for He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.”
You can read that passage this way: “Good things happen to believers and unbelievers alike (sun and rain).” But you can also read the implication: “Bad things happen to everyone too.” As long as we are sojourning in this fallen world, we will experience the difficulties that come with it.
Think of the floods, fires, earthquakes, tornadoes, hurricanes, mudslides, droughts, and other difficulties happening around the world every day. There are not magic force-fields around the church buildings, Christian schools, homes, and businesses owned by believers. Everyone is experiencing the same thing. But not everyone is looking at it the same way. More on this toward the end.
Again, Jesus said in Matthew 6:34b
“Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.”
In other words, Jesus taught that each day has a “measure” of trouble in it.
Every day. Trouble. Fact. Period!
How should we think about pain?
I don’t like pain, and I don’t pray for painful things – nor do I rejoice when I see other people going through pain. But pain is an interesting thing. Did you know that the ability to feel legitimate pain is a sign of health?
If I put my hand over a hot stove, my sensitivity to pain will compel me to pull it away. That is a sign that my hand is healthy, and that everything is working properly.
Having felt that pain will also give me “radar” for others when I see them about to do something that has hurt me in the past. It will compel me to say, “Stop! Don’t do that. I did that, and it hurts.” In that sense, my painful experience can be used by God to help others.
What do you mean “legitimate pain?”
Let me explain it this way. Legitimate pain is what you feel when the surgeon’s needle penetrates the skin around a deep cut while he is sewing you up. It hurts, but it is helping you.
It is the deep discomfort you feel in your body when you have not eaten properly.
It is the sorrow you feel when someone you love dies.
It is the soreness you feel in your muscles after you start exercising again.
It is the emotion that floods your mind when you hear that your friend is getting a divorce.
It is the unspeakable pain that a mother feels when she is bringing a baby into the world.
It hurts, but it must hurt in order to get to the desired result – THE NEW LIFE! It is a pain that yeilds life and hope.
It must hurt if you are emotionally healthy. It must hurt if you have a caring bone in your body. The pain you feel tells you that you are NORMAL! Christian – DON’T BE AFRAID TO SAY OUCH IF YOU’RE IN PAIN! It’s normal.
People who run from legitimate pain become physically, emotionally, and spiritually sick. They also make it hard for others because they fail to develop discipline, empathy, compassion, and tenderness – having trained themselves not to feel.
What about “illegitimate” pain?
Illegitimate pain on the other hand is the self-inflicted pain of poor decisions, rebellion, and living outside of God’s created order. Illegitimate pain could be illustrated by things like…
Intentionally cutting your finger.
Using drugs to cope with your problems.
Misusing God’s design for human sexuality.
Using your money foolishly instead of frugally.
The pain you felt at the end of the experience was unnecessary. It is illegitimate.
The pain may teach you, but it may also bend you and break you in ways that God does not intend.
Look at Jesus and it will start to make sense…
Jesus “bore our griefs” and “took our sorrows” and took on human flesh. He became human. He was FULLY HUMAN (some of us need to meditate on that, and learn to be fully human ourselves – instead of pretending to be super-human).
He allowed himself to FEEL.
He was sorrowful, disappointed, lonely, and felt betrayed.
He was tempted in every way like we are, but did not sin.
He was let down by friends, felt rejected by God, and experienced incredible physical and emotional agony.
That is what makes him our “Great high priest.” He is familiar with our pain. He bore it. He overcame it. He is the only one who can teach us how to process pain in a way that leads to wholeness.
This is why Jesus said, “A servant is not greater than his master.” If you want to follow Jesus and be like Jesus, you must (and I must) learn to deal with legitimate pain.
Wait, don’t get depressed…
At the beginning of this post I said “everybody hurts.” But what is NOT true is “everybody has an answer.”
Some people try to live life without a relationship with the God who made them.
They try to be human, and experience humanity without the God who made humanity (and who became humanity and lived humanity in perfect relationship with God and others). Only the God who made them can help them to understand what their life means. Only the God who made them can help them to interpret their pain and disappointments in a way that shapes them for good.
If you are a Christian, it will still be hard to be human, but you will not be living life without God, and without God’s people to cheer you on and love you through your pain.
It’s hard to be a Christian, but I would not want to go through this sometimes-painful life without Christ.
I’m praying for you!