God’s Invitation to Pain

Pain is inevitable. In this life we always face a choice between two types of pain. Individuals, families, churches, organisations and nations will face the same two paths of pain. The first path is the pain of staying the same, foregoing opportunities, ignoring the need to change and not taking wise risks. We bunker down, hope for the best and bury our heads in the sand. We have relative peace, but it is a compromised and faux peace. And the key motivating factor on this path is fear. We end up with the pain of regret. Biblically this is the path of rebellion.

The second pathway of pain refuses to accept things must stay the same, takes hold of opportunities, and acknowledges that we must embrace change to build a better life and future. This pathway of pain knows that change involves loss. There may be conflict, uncertainty and challenge, but handled with patience and faith, we will prevail. The key motivator on this second pathway is hope. This path leads to the pain of growth. Biblically this is the path of repentance.

In the Bible these two pathways are powerfully illustrated in the life of the nation of Israel and the life of Jesus. Israel was given promises by God of land and national flourishing. But what should have been a 40 day journey across the wilderness to the Promised Land was extended to 40 years. Why? They repeatedly chose the first pathway of pain. They resisted change, reconstructed their time in Egypt as the “good ol’ days”, and succumbed to fear rather than faith.

Jesus, on the other hand, was faced with these two pathways of pain also. We see this particularly in the Temptation narrative and in Gethsemane. He was tempted in the desert to forego the second path of pain, to look out for himself and to avoid trying to change the world. In Gethsemane Jesus had a powerful struggle whether to drink the cup of God’s suffering on the pathway to the cross. In the end he chose the second path of pain: “Not my will, but yours”, he said.

Perhaps as a church we have two pathways before us, both involving pain. One is fuelled by fear and leads to closing inward, to stagnation, short-term comfort but longer-term regret. The other pathway is funded by hope and will involve change, new opportunities, challenges and growth. God does not allow us to choose a pain free life, but we do get to choose which type of pain.

Let one who experienced much pain for Jesus, and consequently much fruit, have the last word: “Jesus is the one we proclaim, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone fully mature in Christ. To this end I strenuously contend [literally “agonise”] with all the energy Christ so powerfully works in me.” The Apostle Paul, Col 1:28-29.

Shalom, Nicholas

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