The message of pain.

With the new year I began a read through of the Bible. We enter with a perfect world being created – a world of hope and promise and intimacy with God. But it only last until the third chapter when Satan tempts, Adam and Eve disobey God, the world is cursed and evil enters. Now there is sin, shame, and pain.

What struck me reading through this again was how necessary pain is. Pain carries a message… But what is that message?

1. Something is wrong!

The purpose of pain is to tell us that something is wrong. A doctor working with patients with leprosy (a disease that affects the nerves and removes the ability to feel pain causing rotting flesh and injuries) said this: “Pain is not the enemy, but the loyal scout announcing the enemy…Pain truly is the gift nobody wants.” – Dr. Paul Brand (p. 20)

This is a concept I could grasp, but struggled with during the years of chronic unexplained pain (you can read more of my story here). There was no obvious reason for my pain, so what was the point? What is this “enemy” that pain is announcing? The doctors may not have been able to find what was wrong with my body, but it was screaming out a message to me that something was wrong.

2. The enemy is sin.

Not only did my pain tell me that things were going wrong physically, but it spoke a deeper message… Something is wrong with this world. Pain entered the world because of our sin, and now Pain announces the enemy of sin.

Without pain, we could be quite content with our sin and brokenness. Pain makes us aware of our brokenness, aware of the need of deliverance, and grows a longing for something more.

3. We need God

Pain is a symptom of sin, and our inability to create a world without pain speaks of our inability to achieve righteousness without sin. Until we face up to this, we will continue to strive to create and define our own righteousness. Pain causes us to cry out to God for the righteousness and healing we cannot create ourselves. Pain is one of the few realities that no-one can deny, run from, hide from, or escape, that calls us to repent and cast ourselves upon God and his grace.

“We can ignore even pleasure. But pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.” – C.S. Lewis

4. Repent!

Pain tells us that something is wrong… The enemy is sin…. We need God and cannot remedy it ourselves… So the only response is to Repent! Turn from your sin and cry out to God for the forgiveness, righteousness and healing only He can bring!

5. A deliverer is coming!

“And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed upon him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knew should bow in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Phil 2:8-11).

Pain is a path to hearing God’s voice. He speaks to us through it revealing our brokenness, and our need for a Saviour, but also revealing the depths of God’s love, because he himself entered into our pain. Right from the moment we caused it, he had a plan to deliver us from from it: “He shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.” (Genesis 3:15)

“For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from it’s bondage to decay and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.” – Romans 8:19-21

6. The depths of God’s love are revealed.

It is in the depths of our pain that we begin to glimpse the depths of God. The God who humbled himself, who entered into and beyond our pain, who suffered and died to deliver us from it. If you have ever doubted the goodness of God, look again at the cross and the immeasurable pain Jesus experienced to save us. That is love!

“But He was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed.” Isaiah 53:5

Jesus was wounded for us. He knows intimately our suffering, whether that is physical or emotional. He was wounded to become our healer. The depth of His compassion and committed love and grace can sometimes only be found in the depths of our pain. Cry out to Him from those depths, and listen for an answering depth. A depth of mercy answers our sin. A depth of strength answers our weakness. A depth of healing answers our brokenness. A depth of love answers our woundedness. A depth of grace answers our failures. A depth of sovereignty answers our fear. A depth of devotion answers our loneliness. Whatever depths you are experiencing now, there are greater depths found in Him. With His stripes you are healed.

7. Look to eternity and our coming King!

He is bringing a Kingdom with no sin and no pain!

“He will swallow up death forever; and the Lord God will wipe away tears from all faces, and the reproach of his people he will take away from all the earth, for the Lord has spoken.”
Isaiah 25:8

The message of pain perpetually calls to us “there is more to come!” This life cannot be all there is. It lifts our eyes to our Saviour – Jesus, and to the hope of that day when he will wipe away every tear from our eyes.

“For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of living water, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”
Revelation 7:17

“For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.”
Romans 8:18

I pray that God would reveal his glory to each one of you in your suffering. Let your pain drive you to him, and make you look to eternity. There is hope!

Because of Jesus,

Hephzibah

Please comment… Share your thoughts, encourage or challenge me to grow in Christ and in my writing. Let’s do this together!

Bible, Christian, Digging Deeper

Pain, Purpose, and Priceless Treasures. – Part 1

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Betrayed by God?

Have you ever felt betrayed by God? When prayers you have desperately prayed, seem to go unheard and unanswered? When the promises you have clung to appear empty and without fulfilment? When the hope you have kept alive is finally dashed beyond repair…

“Has his steadfast love for ever ceased? Are his promises at an end for all time? Has God forgotten to be gracious? Has he in anger shut up his compassion?” – Psalm 77:8-9

Maybe your prayers have sounded like this at times… or your secret thoughts. What is it that causes that deep grief?

“This is my grief: that the right hand of the Most High has changed” – Psalm 77:10

To the psalmist’s eyes, God’s blessing had changed. The right hand signified blessing, and it seemed God had removed that or changed his character. This grieved him more than anything else. I think this is also what most deeply grieves us in any situation. It is not always the circumstances themselves that drive us to despair, but the fact that we cannot see God in them, and to us it seems that he has changed, failed, given up, or betrayed us.

God is unchangeable. He cannot lie. He cannot deny who He is. Yet there are things that we cannot and never will understand, things that we won’t be able to reconcile to a good God.

I think often our feeling of betrayal by God comes from our expectation. We read promises like “all things work together for good”, and “I will prosper the righteous”, and we imagine a life full of blessings, victories, and prayers answered how we want them. When this does not happen, we think God must be false to His promises, but maybe it is just that we never really grasped them in the first place.

I am not saying here that we should not live in expectation… of course we should! We have a great God who works to bless his people and we should have confidence in that… only that we should not define what that blessing is.

We so like to tell God what is best. Our idea of God’s best for us is health, a job or ministry we love, a happy family, good finances, and a bit of spiritual growth too. But look at the way He promises to care for us in John 15. He promises to prune us to make us grow and thrive. This means being cut back, experiencing frustration, disappointment, and loss. These may be big or little things, but He loves us enough to do whatever is necessary to make us grow, thrive, and produce an abundant harvest in Him, and that includes allowing pain and loss.

Another mistake we make is to tell God when and how. A good friend and role-model of mine said recently

When God gives you a promise, it’s because you’re going to need it.

That is so simple, but a truth very few of us grasp. If it is all going to happen now, what need is there for Him to have given a promise? When we receive God’s promises, we want to see it happen… now! But He gives us promises as hope to cling on to when it looks impossible. He gives us promises for things we are going to have to wait for. He gives us promises so we have a window into the goodness of God when we can find it nowhere else.

And this is the psalmist’s response. He cannot see it now, but he declares what he knows about God…

“I will remember the deeds of the LORD; yes, I will remember your wonders of old. I will ponder all your work, and meditate on your mighty deeds. Your way, O God, is holy. What God is great like our God? You are the God who works wonders; you have made known your might among the peoples. You with your arm redeemed your people…” – Psalm 77:11-15

One thing I have discovered is that God fulfils every promise he has made… but the fulfilment of those is very rarely what I have expected. He answers every prayer… but his answer is not always how we want.

In the preface to her book “Joni”, Joni Eareckson Tada (a quadriplegic) wrote

“To rephrase this thought, I suggest that there are likewise only two joys. One is having God answer all your prayers; the other is not receiving the answer to all your prayers. I believe this because I have found that God knows my needs infinitely better than I know them. And He is utterly dependable, no matter which direction our circumstances take us.”

He is faithful. He is enough. He is all I need. But let’s be real about the pain and confusion that can make us question, and the times we feel God has let us down or betrayed us. May God enable us to embrace each joy He gives… through the answers we want, and the ones we don’t. And may He strengthen us to hold onto truth. To hold onto the promises He’s given us for the waiting. And to hold onto the memories of His goodness to us and the anchor of our Hope – Jesus crucified for us, and certain, glorious eternity with Him.

Press on, dear brothers and sisters in Christ. Press on to receive that crown of glory He has waiting for you. It will be worth it!

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Christian, identity

Who are you?

Who are you? You might answer this question by describing your job, family, abilities, or hobbies – I’m a piano teacher with 5 home-Ed siblings, I love music, dance, baking, bonfires and fairy lights, and I’m good at everything except passing driving tests… well perhaps not everything, and I have now passed my test… but you get the idea. We define ourselves by the things we do or like, the people in our lives, or a position we hold.

One of the things illness often robs from you is a sense of identity and worth. It takes away all those things we pin our identity on – our abilities, our character traits, our usefulness. Who am I when everything I am is stripped away?

As I became very unwell, losing all my abilities, and even basic things like the ability to communicate, think clearly, or feel normally, I felt I had lost myself. But God used this, this stripping away of all I was to show me more of who He is, who I am in Him, and what defines my worth and identity.

There is too much to discuss here to fit into one post of readable length, but I will start with looking at what it means to be made in God’s image.

Part 1 – Made in God’s image

What does it mean to be made in God’s image? How is this even relevant to identity or worth?

To be made in God’s image, is to possess, in your very being, a reflection and imprint of the eternal nature, character, and glory of God.

Take this in for a moment. Soak in it. Just in being, you are a reflecting the beauty of a Holy God… for no other reason than because He made you that way. If this is not relevant to identity or worth then what is?!

Different to animals, God has given us an eternal soul. Our bodies will die, but our soul is for eternity. This, in itself, is an imprint of God’s nature. But what defines whether we are made in His image?

“So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.

And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good.” Genesis 1:27,31

It is in our creation that our worth is defined. When he created Adam and Eve, before they had done anything good or bad, he called them “very good”. They were made in his image, because that is how he created them. This means that there is nothing that can exempt someone from this.

“Spoiled” pots

“So I went down to the potters house, and there he was working at his wheel. And the vessel he was making of clay was spoiled in the potters hand, and he reworked it into another vessel, as it seemed good to the potter to do…

‘Can I not do with you as this potter has done? declares the LORD.'”

– Jeremiah 18:3-4,6

There are passages in the Bible that describe God as being like a potter, creating each of us for unique purposes which He has chosen, some for wrath, some for mercy, some for honour, some for humble tasks, yet all are made by His hand, live by His breath, come into being by His word and at His command. Whether you believe in God or not, you are a reflection of his image, and bear the fingerprints of your creator. The God of the Bible is a hands-on God. Every person He has made carries the imprint of His fingerprints.

But what about people with disabilities – mental or physical, those who cannot understand, think, or interact with others normally? What about those living with broken bodies and physical abnormalities, or people who need care and are not as ‘useful’ as others? Is God’s image less in them?

Can a potter create something without touching the clay? No more can God give life to a person without leaving the imprint of His image on them. Yes, it is a broken image. But every one of us is a broken image! We all reflect the image of God, and in all of us it is broken and marred. I don’t believe it is any more so in those who are unwell or disabled.

Sometimes with disabilities we can feel spoiled, unfit for purpose. But God works us into other vessels, fit for different purposes, no less reflecting Him or valued by Him. Rather than wishing we were made differently, or had the same purpose as others, maybe we should ask more how to embrace the way He has made us, and discover the uniquely special purposes that He has for us.

Sin – smashed or remoulded

I believe a much bigger threat to God’s image in us is sin. Can an evil and wicked person destroy the image of God in them? Again in that passage in Jeremiah it describes God’s response to sin in our lives.

“If at any time I declare concerning a nation or kingdom, that I will pluck up and break down and destroy it, and if that nation, concerning which I have spoken, turns from its evil, I will relent of the disaster that I intended to do it. And if at any time I declare concerning a nation or kingdom that I will build or plant it, and if it does evil in my sight, not listening to my voice, then I will relent of the good that I had intended to do it.” Jeremiah 18:7-10

Sin always mars and destroys, but when there is repentance, God remoulds us to be more like Him. There is hope! It gives the picture that we are vessels continuously on God’s wheel, and that He is constantly forming us. If we submit to His work, He will continue to work on us, increasing in beauty, preparing us for eternity. But in the next chapter he uses the analogy of a smashed flask to show what will happen when we refuse to repent.

“So will I break this people and this city as one breaks a potters vessel, so that it can never be mended.” Jeremiah 19:11

When people are in rebellion against God, His image is increasingly diminished in them until the final day when it is shattered. At this point there is no going back.

Honouring the image of God

A final important impact of being made in God’s image is the way we look at, and love others. When I am struggling with someone, I find it helpful to take time to see aspects of God’s image reflected in them and give thanks for these, and then reach out to them with the love I have for Jesus because they are, in some way, reflecting Him. When we are called to love and encourage our brothers and sisters in Christ, we are being called to love image-bearers of Christ. When we are called to love and welcome those who do not know God, we are being called to love image-bearers of God. When we are called to love and pray for our enemies and those who abuse us, we are still being called to love image-bearers of God. When we are called to forgive, we are being called to forgive image-bearers of God. This makes every act of service, every act of love or kindness to another, an act of worship to God. For in all these things we are loving Him, seeing Him, and showing honour to Him.

Called to reflect

“And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is Spirit.” 2 Corinthians 3:18

And so, as we are made in God’s image, we are called to reflect Him. There are three important aspects to this:

1. “Beholding the glory of the LORD.” We may not see God fully, but we can seek Him, come to know Him through His Word and Spirit, and behold – gaze at – the glory of the Lord that is revealed to us. In the same way a mirror can reflect brilliant light when it is shone on it, so as we turn our faces to gaze at God, we reflect the brightness of his glory more and more.

2. “This comes from the Lord who is Spirit”. Ultimately this is a work of God’s Spirit in you. You cannot increasingly reflect the image and glory of God apart from His power at work in you. When you are genuinely seeking Him and His ways, you can be sure that He is transforming you more and more to His image, even at those times when we cannot see it.

3. Obedience. When we choose sin, we are choosing to fall away from God, and so reflect Him less. When we choose obedience to God, we are turning towards Him, and so reflect Him more. God’s image is either buried under sin, or washed clean by Jesus’ blood to reflect Him more. But the fingerprints of our Creator remain indelibly on us.

Not until glory does this change, when, in those who have chosen Him, the brokenness is healed, the mess is washed away, and His image is perfected in us into unmarred beauty. But for those who do not know Him, what remains of God’s image is removed, and they become what they have longed to be, and yet not realised the horror of it – free from the imprint of their Creator. All goodness removed.

So seek Him while you still can. Grow in the image and glory of your Creator. Hope in that day when you will be transformed to be like Him.

“Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. And everyone who this hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure.” 1 John 3:2-3

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