“Through The Furnace of Pain”
Nearly two hundred years ago, Thomas Jefferson wrote a letter to his friend Mrs. Cosway, and in it he said, “The art of life is the avoiding of pain.” Thomas Jefferson was a great man and a brilliant thinker, but I disagree. When we first hear that statement, it appears to be true. None of us deliberately looks for pain as we go about our daily activities. When it comes time for our six-month’s dental checkup or our annual visit to the doctor, we really wish we didn’t have to go. After all, the dentist might have to fill a cavity, or the doctor might order an operation or a diet! Generally speaking, all of us do our best to avoid pain.
But when you take a deeper look at the statement, you see that it fails to live up to the facts of history. Thomas Jefferson himself paid a price to help bring the American independence! Many of the patriots of that day lost their names, their homes, their fortunes, and some their lives, in order to win liberty. Our liberty was purchased by pain and death; and our liberty has been protected by pain and death. History itself shows us that human progress can only be made when somebody suffers for that which is true and right.
Even apart from history, our own personal experience teaches us the folly of this statement. The deepest pains are not physical; they are emotional and spiritual. All of us have suffered pain during our pilgrimage of life. We could have avoided the pain, but we have learned that the most important things in life usually involve suffering. If people lived to avoid pain, they would never want to grow up. But just think of what they would miss!
Take the matter of human birth. To be sure, we have modern scientific methods to protect mothers, but there is still a certain amount of pain. Jesus Himself used this as an illustration of His own suffering when He said, “A woman when she is in travail hath sorrow, because her hour is come: but as soon as she is delivered of the child, she remembereth no more the anguish, for joy that a man is born into the world” (John 16:2 1).
Think, too, of the pain and sorrow that the mother and father experience as they seek to raise that child. The old proverb says, “When they are little, children step on your feet; but when they are older, they step on your heart.” Often this is true. In my ministry I have met dedicated Christian parents whose hearts have been broken because of wayward children who failed to heed their instruction and example. If everybody really lived to avoid pain, nobody would get married and raise a family; yet people do it all the time.
We must never think that pain is something sinful. Some suffering comes because of disobedience; but not all pain is the result of sin. If Adam in the Garden of Eden had tripped over a rock, he would have felt it. To be sure, the pain of sickness and physical decline is ultimately caused by sin; but even the pain of sickness can have a good result. If you and I never felt pain when something was wrong in our bodies, we would die from neglect. A pain somewhere in the body is a danger signal, and we ought to be thankful for it. But for the Christian believer, pain has much higher ministries. I often hear people say that Christians suffer more than other people do, but I’m not so sure this can be proved. As I visit hospitals and nursing homes, I meet many unsaved people who are suffering. In fact, I believe that the dedicated Christian probably avoids a lot of the physical suffering that comes to a person who defiles and destroys his body through sin and selfishness.
What are the higher ministries of pain? Well, for one thing, pain can have a purifying power. The apostle Peter writes in 1 Peter 4:1, “For he that hath suffered in the flesh hath ceased from sin.” One of the modern translations puts it, “You must realize then that to be dead to sin inevitably means pain.” I once went through intense physical suffering, and it very definitely had a purifying effect on my heart and mind. It made me see spiritual things a lot more clearly. My priorities were rearranged. Granted, pain by itself can never accomplish this; but when we yield to Christ and ask for His help, pain can purify us.
A secondary ministry of pain is that of fellowship with Christ. In Philippians 3:10 Paul writes about “the fellowship of his [Christ’s] sufferings.” Some people turn against God when they go through suffering, but this need not be so. You and I can be drawn closer to God by faith when we are going through the furnace of pain. None of us has ever experienced all that Jesus experienced on the cross. The unsaved person has no idea of the wonderful joy and peace the believer experiences in his heart even in the midst of constant pain.
A third ministry of pain is bringing glory to God. This doesn’t mean that God deliberately makes us suffer just so He can receive glory. But it does mean that God can use our suffering to glorify His name. When Jesus faced the hour of His death, He said, “Father, glorify thy name.” And God was glorified in the suffering and death of His Son, and God honored Christ and raised Him from the dead in great glory. I have visited Christians in hospitals and homes whose lives were glorifying God even in their suffering.
Pain purifies. Pain draws the Christian closer to Christ. Pain glorifies God. But we must also remember that pain today means glory and honor tomorrow. Paul wrote, “The sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us” (Rom. 8:18). God doesn’t always settle His accounts in this life. In fact, no Christian should expect to receive much reward in this world. Jesus said, “In the world you shall have tribulation.” A man said to me one day, “I don’t believe in hell or heaven. You have your hell or heaven here on earth.” That man was wrong. The unsaved person had better enjoy this world all he can, because it’s the only heaven he will ever see! “It is appointed unto men once to die but after this the judgment.”
But the Christian is looking forward to the glory of heaven. Jim Elliot, one of the martyred missionaries of Ecuador, wrote in his journal: “He is no fool to give what he cannot keep, to gain what he cannot lose.” If we suffer with Christ today, it only means glory with Christ tomorrow. For the Christian, the best is yet to come.
Have you surrendered your pain to Christ and asked Him to use it for your good and His glory? I suggest that you do so by faith. God doesn’t promise to remove our pain, or even to relieve our pain; but He does promise to transform it and use it for His eternal purposes.
The great apostle Paul was in pain. He had a thorn in the flesh, given to him by God to help keep him humble and useful. Paul did what any Christian would have done-he prayed for the pain to be removed. God did not answer his prayer, but He did meet his need. He gave Paul all the grace he needed to transform that weakness into strength, that suffering into glory. And God will give grace to you and me if only we will yield our all to Him.
About the Author:
Warren W. Wiersbe is the Distinguished Professor of Preaching at Grand Rapids Baptist Seminary, and is the author of more than 100 books. Billy Graham calls him “one of the greatest Bible expositors of our generation.” Interestingly, Warren’s earliest works had nothing to do with scriptural interpretation. His interest was in magic, and his first published title was Action with Cards (1944).
“It was sort of imbecilic for a fifteen-year-old amateur magician to have the audacity to write a book and send it to one of the nation’s leading magic houses,” Warren says. But having a total of three books published by the L.L. Ireland Magic Company—before the age of 20—gave him a surge of confidence. In later years, he applied his confidence and writing talent to the Youth for Christ (YFC) ministry.
Warren wrote many articles and guidebooks for YFC over a three-year period, but not all his manuscripts were seen by the public eye. One effort in particular, The Life I Now Live, based on Galatians 2:20, was never published. The reason, Warren explains with his characteristic humor, is simple: it was “a terrible book…Whenever I want to aggravate my wife, all I have to say is, ‘I think I’ll get out that Galatians 2:20 manuscript and work on it.’” Fortunately, Warren’s good manuscripts far outnumbered the “terrible” ones, and he was eventually hired by Moody Press to write three books.
The much-sought-after author then moved on to writing books for Calvary Baptist Church. It was during his ten years at Calvary that Expository Outlines on the New Testament and Expository Outlines on the Old Testament took shape. These two works later became the foundation of Warren’s widely popular Bible studies known as the Be series, featuring such titles as Be Loyal (a study on Matthew) and Be Delivered (a study on Exodus). Several of these books have been translated into Spanish.
His next avenue of ministry was Chicago’s Moody Memorial Church, where he served for seven years. He wrote nearly 20 books at Moody before moving to Lincoln, Nebraska, where he and his wife, Betty, now live. Prior to relocating, he had been the senior pastor of Moody Church, a teacher at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, and a producer of the Back to the Bible radio program.
During all these years of ministry, Warren held many more posts and took part in other projects too numerous to mention. His accomplishments are extensive, and his catalog of biblical works is indeed impressive and far-reaching (many of his books have been translated into other languages). But Warren has no intention of slowing down any time soon, as he readily explains: “I don’t like it when people ask me how I’m enjoying my ‘retirement,’ because I’m still a very busy person who is not yet living on Social Security or a pension. Since my leaving Back to the Bible, at least a dozen books have been published, and the Lord willing, more are on the way.”
Wiersbe’s recent books include Your Next Miracle, The 20 Essential Qualities of a Child of God, Classic Sermons on the Fruit of the Spirit, Classic Sermons on Jesus the Shepherd, Key Words of the Christian Life, Lonely People, A Gallery of Grace, Real Peace: Freedom and Conscience in the Christian Life, and On Being a Leader for God.
The article above was adapted from Warren W. Wiersbe’s classic encouraging devotional: The Bumps Are What You Climb On: Encouragement For Difficult Days. Tappan, N.J.: Fleming H. Revell, 1996.