Our goal as disciples of Jesus shouldn’t be to eliminate pain.
Our goal should be to craft the kind of life that is indifferent to pain.
Those who learn how to be indifferent to pain are an unstoppable force.
This is what Jesus meant when he said, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me” (Matthew 16:24).
His challenge wasn’t to seek martyrdom – though that could certainly be part of the faith journey for a few – it was about being willing to endure pain as a disciple for his mission.
For the disciple, indifference to pain means we train themselves to view…
- cancer as an opportunity
- depression as a chance to view the world differently
- work problems as openings to practice virtue
- financial struggles as occasions to reassess what’s really important
- relationship problems as a chance to learn something new
Disciples allow nothing they face to stop them.
Instead of spending their days doing everything in their power to avoid discomfort, they train themselves to no longer need comfort to function.
How Much Time Do We Waste Avoiding Pain?
Think for a moment about how much of our lives is spent avoiding pain.
How much money have we spent on medications to drown out the pain?
How many vacations have we taken to distract us from our everyday problems?
Going to therapy to quickly stop a heartache instead of partnering with a therapist to teach us to sit with the pain a while and learn from it?
To be honest – I’ve wasted so much of my life trying to avoid pain that I have essentially earned a doctorate in pain avoidance. But that’s changing.
In my latest book Finding Favor: God’s Blessings Beyond Health, Wealth and Happiness, I mentioned…
“Between the ages of eighteen and forty-two, I could count on one hand the number of times I went to the doctor. But when I turned forty-three, for no apparent reason, I developed a severe neurological condition that triggered nonstop debilitating pain in the back-left base of my head. I went to three different specialists, and they were all baffled. Unable to find a cause, they put me on antiseizure medication.
Over the next five years, I underwent three surgeries, five MRIs, three CAT scans, and more ultrasounds and EKGs than I can remember. I had nine different rounds of medication administered via epidural injections in my back and neck. I lost most of the hearing in my left ear. I gained thirty pounds. I became depressed. I suffered extreme panic attacks. I went on an antidepressant. The pain became so severe that I could only sleep in forty-five-minute stretches before being jolted out of bed in pain.
My life verse throughout all of this was Job 13:15: “Though he slay me, yet I will hope in him.”
The turning point for me came when I realized that the Bible teaches that pain is a blessing.
Pain is to be embraced.
Lessons are to be teased out of these experiences. They come to us to instruct in the way of Jesus.
Suffering makes disciples better, not worse.
One morning I woke up and simply said, “I am completely healed” and began thanking Jesus for what I was going through. Within one year many of my symptoms disappeared. Those that didn’t have stayed on as my personal trainer in pain indifference. What was truly healed was my need for comfort over my need for Jesus.
Think about it: if pain can’t stop you, what does the enemy have left to throw at you?
Training Yourself To Be Indifferent To Pain
I know this sounds counter-intuitive – but I want to challenge you to pray a prayer of thanks right now for the pain you’re going through.
Thank him for your trials.
Thank him for the person these trials are helping you become.
Ask him to help you reinterpret the pain you’re going through, from viewing trials as “signs of His absence” to viewing them as “signs of God’s goodness.”
Every event that occurs in a disciple’s life is neutral. It can be interpreted as bad. Or it can be interpreted as good. It’s our choice.
As Shakespeare wrote, “…nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.”
One person interprets an event as a deal breaker. Another sees it as a blessing. The disciple of Jesus chooses to interpret everything that happens as a gift.
Sometimes the goodness of an event can be recognized immediately.
Things like problems with our kids, or a sickness can take years to put our finger on the silver lining.
For these situations, the poet Rainer Rilke counseled patience and cautioned us about quickly forming negative interpretations, for…
“Perhaps all the dragons in our lives are princesses who are only waiting to see us act, just once, with beauty and courage. Perhaps everything that frightens us is, in its deepest essence, something helpless that wants our love.”
Let’s be frank, some events will never be able to be viewed as blessings during our lifetimes. It will take standing next to Jesus himself and having him show us the big picture before we’ll be able to make sense of what happened.
Until then, let’s pray for the courage to pick up our crosses instead of walking around them.
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