One of my all-time favorite epic films is Ben Hur. Charlton Heston portrays a Jewish aristocrat in the time of Jesus betrayed by his childhood friend who is now commander of the Roman military in Judea. Judah (Ben Hur) is eventually imprisoned and sent off to serve as a slave oarsman on a Roman navy ship. Judah serves for three years chained to the ships under belly rowing with a hundred other pitiful oarsman as the Romans engage in sea battles.
For years I been struck by the place that pain has in our lives. Just the sound of the word causes most of us to cringe. As a charismatic (not sure this definition works for me but its the best one I have) it gets even worse, our theology of suffering and pain has historically been weak, encumbered by the false notion that Jesus died so that we could escape all pain.
Pain means to endure physical, mental or emotional suffering. Other words such as torment, agony and anguish come to mind. The prevalent suffering of us in the west seems to be more about broken relationships, dashed hopes, troubled children, financial troubles, grief, stress, etc. The trouble with pain is that it is so immediate and typically causes everything else to come out of focus, it demands our attention. This is also why physical pain can be such a blessing to us. Think of how many people you know who initially identified a real problem or disease in their body and later had it successfully treated simply due to the ability to feel pain. In these instances pain is a gift, an early indicator that something is wrong.
Judah was feeling pain. Beyond the physical pain he endured he was seething with hatred toward his friend who had dealt with him and his family treacherously. The pain of believing that his mother and sister were now dead. His life once so filled with promise as a prosperous, respected leader now in ashes in the belly of slave ship - everyone and everything of value to him was gone. Seeing life in the moment as pain often forces us to do, his feelings were confirmed. Yet seeing life in totality, the way God views our lives, from beginning to end and on through eternity it was in no way true. Consider this, Judah's pain so very real but his perspective of it was not true.
Through his pain, God was building in Judah capacity for what only God could know was coming later - his destiny in the coliseum. Using the pain of the slave rowers strained reach, day after day, God was building previously unreachable dimensions of ability in preparation for one of Judah's finest moments, but he never would have dreamed it. If you like, catch a glimpse of Judah enduring the pain of his reach here in this video clip.
Therein lies what I'm considering, that with God in our lives, pain has purpose, yes pain can have gain. James hints towards this, "My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials (pain) knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience (1:2-3). Pain is God's manufacturing process. God calls us loudly to himself through our pain. And when we process our pain with him it produces patience, endurance, forgiveness, long-suffering, vision...
Nine years ago while praying I found myself suddenly blurting out something like, "Lord, I want to know the fellowship of your suffering" (Philippians 3:10), I quickly caught myself, inwardly shouting NO! Less than one month later, my sweet pregnant wife delivered our little boy Taylor Oran who had died in her womb 12 hours earlier. A knot had formed in his umbilical cord and tightened during his 38th week. Pain, lots of it. I'll leave the rest of this testimony for another time, but today we celebrate the birthday of our now eight year old son who followed, Luke.
What is God producing through the pain of your reach?
p.s. Rebecca just woke-up with this song in her mind - MercyMe - Bring The Rain, listen here ~