Don’t Waste Your Pain

John Piper was diagnosed with prostate cancer in January of 2006 and had successful surgery that February. On the eve of his surgery, he wrote a short piece called “Don’t Waste Your Cancer” that was later published as a small pamphlet. I found this resource last week while considering the hurt and pain of those around me. I have since taken the core ideas and added a few of my own in an effort to encourage all of us to see pain as a tool used by God for our ultimate good. I know that as I look back at my life, the two times where I can pinpoint God revealing truths about himself in life-changing ways have been the times of most anxiety and pain: in the hospital for ulcers in 2013 and losing our second child in 2014. May we pray to be most satisfied in God no matter the circumstances of life.

We waste our pain if we don’t hear in our groanings the hope-filled labor pains of a fallen world.

Romans 8.20 says that “the creation was subjected to futility.” The curse following Adam’s sin in Genesis 3 extended to all parts of the created world. Not only are humans now prone to rebelling against God, but our bodies are, in a real sense, rebelling against us and wasting away (2 Corinthians 4.16). The beautiful thing about Romans 8 and 2 Corinthians 4 is that both do not leave the one who is trusting in Christ to despair. Romans 8.23-24 says, “And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved.” 2 Corinthians 4.16-17 finishes with, “our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison…” We waste our pain if we do not see two truths: one, sin is horrible and two, that glorious freedom is coming.

We waste our pain if we don’t believe it is designed for us by God.

It is not enough for us simply to say that God “uses” our pain. The Bible testifies to a much bigger God than that, even if it is hard for our ears and heart to hear it at certain times. I think that we struggle with hearing that God designs our suffering because to many of us, pain and suffering is the worst thing that can happen to us. We might not openly say that (we might not even consciously think that) but if we can see that our anxiety over pain is distrust in God then that might be the first step. Hebrews 1.3, Ephesians 1.11, and Romans 8.28 are constant reminders to me of the sovereignty of God over all of creation. Hebrews 1.3 declares the awesome truth that the Son “upholds the universe by the word of his power.” Ephesians tells us that God, not only upholds the universe (and everything in it), but then “works all things according to the counsel of his will.” Finally Romans 8.28 tells us that however God upholds and works those things “works together for good.” Satan is real and does inflict pain upon the world, yet ultimately, he is on a leash (Job 2.10). Nothing comes to the people of God that has not been designed for our and the world’s good by the ultimate Architect.

We waste our pain if we believe it is a curse and not a gift.

I think that this point is best used in conjunction with point 10. There are many ways of attacking faith but two of them are health/prosperity (Matthew 13.22) and disease/pain (Luke 13.16). When we view pain and suffering as a “curse” from God, that carries with it the idea that we are somehow still under condemnation. Romans 8.1 clearly says that there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ. Christ became a curse for us so as to release us from the curse (Gal 3.13). Trials may perhaps come from God as the directive, corrective actions from a loving Father but they are not a “curse” in the same sense as the pain and suffering that is coming on the Last Day for those who deny Christ.

We waste our pain if we seek comfort from odds rather than from God.

This not advocating the approach of no medicine or treatment. The purpose and design of our pain is not to teach us to be reliant on ourselves or stats. Rather, the purpose of pain and suffering is to teach us to rely on God alone (2 Corinthians 1.9). If we seek to surround and comfort ourselves with the survival rate of a given disease or if we board an airplane quoting the statistics about the number of flights per day without a crash or if we rationalize that we will not suffer a particularly troublesome event if we can just do “x, y, and z” then we are ultimately relying on ourselves and not God. Psalm 20.7 compares those who trust in chariots and horses (statistics, facts, websites, etc.) and those who trust in God. This is a hard truth to balance because we want to be wise in our actions. We want to be knowledgeable about healthy eating and we want to fly on airplanes that have qualified mechanics but we don’t want to find ultimate comfort in those things. We have already seen in point 2 that God is the hand behind history. The reason that planes stay in the air is, ultimately, because God wants them to for His purpose of bringing Him glory. The reason that a particular strain of cancer only has a 5% survival rate is, ultimately, because God has orchestrated those events for His purpose of bringing Him glory. The reason a person is healed from their cancer by chemotherapy and/or surgery, is ultimately, because God worked for His purpose of bringing Him glory.

We waste our pain if we refuse to think about death.

Fact: We will all die one day if the Father’s time for Christ return is delayed longer than our days. Most people don’t like to think about death. For many it’s sad to think about leaving behind loved ones or things we wanted to do. My attack whenever those thoughts come into my mind is that any joy I got from anything on the Earth is simply a foretaste of glory divine that awaits me on the other side. I don’t know if tennis will exist exactly as it is here, but I know that I will experience God fully and so whatever enjoyment I found in tennis will be nothing compared to that. The fact of a “stingless” death (see 1 Corinthians 15.55-57) should be our avenue for wisdom and action. Ecclesiastes 7.2 encourages us to lay the fact of death “to our hearts.” Psalm 90.12 echoes that encouragement by asking God to teach us to number our days so that we might have a heart of wisdom. Wisdom is using our resources (time included) for their best ends. The reality of death should focus our time and energy like a laser.

We waste our pain if we think that “beating” our pain and suffering means staying alive rather than cherishing Christ.

Satan and God have different designs for our suffering. Satan’s main objective is to turn a heart away from God and towards self. For those still dead in their sins, this is basically maintaining the status quo. For those of us in Christ, Satan seeks to turn our eyes and passions away from the glories of Christ to anything else, including healing. God, on the other hand, uses pain to deepen our love for Christ by showing us the folly of loving anything more than him. John Piper, in his book Don’t Waste Your Life, says, “Death is a fearful to the degree that it threatens to rob you of your greatest treasure” (pg. 66). Healing is absolutely from God and should be prayed for, but not at the expense of placing healing above the glory of Christ. Healing, pain, and death can glorify God (See John 21.19-20) if we hold the name of God above our fears by both praying for healing and resting in His sovereignty. Brandon said something the other night that I think would be wise here: “Instead of praying for more FROM God, let us pray for more OF God.”

We waste our pain if we spend too much time reading about our current situation and not enough time reading about God.

This point does not encourage ignorance concerning problems we are facing. This point does encourage us to check what our security is found in. We can link this point with point 4. Learning more about a certain disease or anything else is appropriate and wise, but are we seeking to find our comfort in learning more and more, rather than understanding the situation and trusting God to act according to His will? Pain and suffering are ultimately designed to fortify our defenses against loves that seek to satisfy us less than God Himself. This is the point of Matthew 13.22 – the deceitfulness of riches (or health, success, “happiness”) lulls us into complacency and we become unfruitful. As we keep our numbered days in our minds we will grow, by the work of the Spirit, in wisdom and become focused on the mission of God through us.

We waste our pain if it drives us to solitude rather than deepen our relationships.

In his letter to the Philippians, Paul tells them that Epaphroditus was distressed because he became deathly ill and wanted to see the Christians in Philippi after they had heard he was sick (2.26-27). His illness, rather than driving him to take a backseat to the mission, actually pushed him to go. He was concerned for his friends in his moment of sickness. He used his health that God gave him (2.27) to further the kingdom of God, rather than scaling back and taking it easy. Jesus himself, the night before he would be arrested, sat in the upper room with His disciples and said to them, “I have earnestly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer.” Jesus knew what was coming on the next day (See John 17) and yet he wanted to fill his remaining hours fulfilling the mission of God through the disciples.

We waste our pain if we grieve as those who have no hope.

Paul in 1 Thessalonians 4.13 is talking about those whose loved ones have died, but I think that the same message is important for those of us who either are suffering or see someone suffering. Timothy Keller once said that Christians should, at the same time, be the most optimistic and the most pessimistic people. What he meant is that we who know the true story of the whole world understand more clearly than anyone else the brokenness that is in the world, yet we also know the unwavering hope that is found in Christ and His resurrection which culminates in the restoration of all things. In our time of suffering, we grieve because of the brokenness of the world, yet we rejoice because we know this is not the end. We have a living hope that is kept in Heaven for us (1 Peter 1.3-5), knowing that our suffering is working out greater things than we could ever imagine (2 Corinthians 4.16-17).

We waste our pain if we treat sin as casually as before.

Pain, disappointment, loss – all of these things are designed and sovereignly guided by God to reveal the folly of our idols. Sinning, or finding anything more worthy of desire than God, should be exposed during these times more so than any other. C.S. Lewis wrote in The Problem of Pain that, “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.” Pride, greed, lust, hatred, inability to forgive, impatience, laziness, procrastination – these are what pain attacks. All of these are worse enemies than cancer, auto accidents, job loss, or miscarriage. Yes pain and suffering are going to be done away with on the Last Day, but so will our sinning. Until then, let us, by the Spirit, put to death these sins with the help of our pain. May pain be our brother-in-arms as we strike down these sins with the Sword of the Spirit.

We waste our pain if we fail to use it as a means of witness about the truth and glory of Christ.

Share the gospel wherever you are because you are not there by accident.  God’s people are never somewhere by coincidence. God moves and works in order to bring His people into positions to further complete His plans. Because history is a series of connected events and each event influences and affects the others, if we find ourselves in a painful situation we can rest assured that God guided all the previous events and will continue to guide the future events for His glory. You and I are called to bear witness to the gospel wherever we are (Luke 21.12-13). Tell whoever is nearby the Story of how God created the world good, why suffering entered the world, what God did to redeem His people and creation from sin in Jesus, and how our hope is set in the restoration of all things.

The purpose of our existence, whether in health or pain, is to bring glory to the Father by declaring, in word and deed, the glories of Christ (1 Peter 2.9-10). We can do this if we see our time, money, families, jobs, driving, playing, eating, sleeping, sex, TV, or anything else in all of creation as for the glory of Christ (1 Cor 10.31, 1 Peter 4.11, Col 3.17). How can we point people to Christ in these things? How can we make disciples by each of these things? How can we grow in love towards one another through these things?

This article has been written with the sickness and pain that comes to all men in mind, but I see another avenue of pain on the horizon. As we see our country actively pursue a culture that declares that the Bible is a lie and Christ is a myth, the intensity of our pain might be linked with our commitment to hold Christ higher than our lives and comfort.  In most instances, when the New Testament speaks of suffering it is referring to persecution for the Church’s witness about Jesus. In God’s sovereignty, America has been a relative safe haven for Christian beliefs for most of its history, but the landscape is changing. I argue that the more we bear witness to the truth of Christ, which includes both the truth of sin and the truth of grace, the more we will suffer persecution. The community that God has brought together at Mountain Park will become more and more crucial as the days progress. We will need encouragement from one another as we go out together into the world. Remember that Jesus sent out the seventy two in Luke 10 to the towns that He would soon visit with nothing but each other and His name.

 

Adopted from John Piper’s “Don’t Waste Your Cancer” (view)

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