Are we willing to thank God for pain?
Dr. Paul W. Brand, the noted leprosy expert, was chief of the rehabilitation branch of the Leprosarium in Carville, Louisiana. Dr. Brand had a frightening experience one night when he thought he had contracted leprosy. He was getting ready for bed one night. He took off his shoes, and as he pulled off a sock, he discovered there was no feeling in his heel. Because of his expertise concerning leprosy, Dr. Brand knew that one of the early signs of the disease is the loss of feeling—numbness in the lower extremities.
In her biography of the doctor, Ten Fingers for God, Dorothy Clarke Wilson says, “He rose mechanically, found a pin, sat down again, and pricked the small area below his ankle. He felt no pain. He thrust the pin deeper, until a speck of blood showed. Still he felt nothing. Like others who work with leprosy patients, he had always half expected it. In the beginning, not a day had gone by without the automatic searching of his body for the telltale patch, the numbed area of skin. All that night the great orthopedic surgeon tried to imagine his new life as a leper—an outcast, his medical staff’s confidence in their immunity shattered by his disaster, and the forced separation from his family. The next morning, hoping against hope, Dr. Brand tried again to induce pain. With steady fingers he bared the skin below his ankle, jabbed in the point—and yelled.”
The doctor cried out in sweet pain. He was thrilled to experience pain. And, he realized that during the long train ride, the day before, while he was sitting immobile for several hours, he had temporarily numbed a nerve. But from that day forward, whenever the doctor had a headache, cut his finger, turned an ankle, even once when he suffered from “… agonizing nausea as his whole body reacted in violent self-protection from mushroom poisoning, he responded in fervent gratitude, ‘Thank God for pain!’”
Not many of us are willing to “Thank God for pain!”
But pain can be a help to us. Physical pain is the physical body’s way of telling us that something is wrong. Thank God for pain.
And, do you remember the phrase “No Pain, No Gain?” It’s true that as we begin to work muscles that have for a time been dormant, we feel pain. But that pain reminds that we are working and that our workout is being effective. Thank God for pain.
Of course, I am also reminded of the Tee-shirt that portrays Jesus Christ on the cross and declares, “His Pain, Our Gain.” The pain that Christ endured on the cross provided atonement for our sin. Thank God for pain.
Noah is well known for his mountain top experience—on Mountains of Ararat. But prior to landing on Mount Ararat, Noah and his family lived through the pain of ridicule as they obeyed God and built the ark. Then they endured the crowded conditions and the hard work of caring for every breed of animal, along with the stench of an ark filled with every kind of animal—the pain of 150 days on the ark. But, that pain brought with it the deliverance of God. Thank God for pain.
Joseph suffered the pain of slavery and prison—but through it became the Prince of Egypt. Thank God for pain.
The Israelites lived with the pain of 40 years of wilderness wandering. But Canaan—the Promised Land—was at the end of their pain. Thank God for pain.
And now, your Missouri Baptist Convention is experiencing some difficulty. ACP (Annual Church Profile) statistics indicate that our churches are not as effective as in the past. Similar to poor physical health, poor church health is often realized because of pain. The realities of poor church health are painful to observe:
• The pain of a decline in attendance—watching friends and family members walk away from the church is painful. Do you remember when the sanctuary was full and when you had to find room for that new Sunday School class?
• The pain of a decline in ministry and evangelistic effectiveness—do you remember when the baptismal waters were stirred week after week? And, do you remember the joy of seeing God at work in the life of your church and in the lives those to whom you ministered?
• The pain of declining budgets/receipts—declining church income results in unmet needs in the church and community, facilities in disrepair, even the reduction of ministry/church staff.
• The pain of church fights and splits—conflict in the church, left unchecked, leads to open fighting and church splits. There is little that is more painful than broken relationships within the body of Christ.
And, as with physical pain and the physical and/or medicinal therapy designed to remedy the pain, often the cure is as painful as the disease. And, the road to recovery in our Missouri Baptist churches also will be a difficult, even painful road.
The Church Health Task Force has begun their work. They are, in fact, working hard to understand and expose the symptoms of an unhealthy church. Next, they will do the painstaking work of establishing Missouri-specific criteria that will determine the health of our churches. Currently, the individual members of that group are carrying out their assignments—doing research, gathering data, and formulating strategy to bring Missouri Baptist churches from weakness to strength. But the path to church health will be a difficult path to walk. Just as the pain of poor church health is real, the pain of recovery also will be real:
• Some of us will have to face our own ineffectiveness. That painful reality will be the first step toward church health. Thank God for pain.
• Others will be forced to confront their lethargy. While it will be painful to acknowledge personal deficiency, that acknowledgement demonstrates progress in the march toward church health. Thank God for pain.
• Missouri Baptists will take some difficult steps on the road to church health. Nevertheless that pain will serve as clear evidence that church health is in our future. Thank God for pain.
Yes, the road to church health will be painful. But, thank God for pain. In The Problem of Pain, author
C.S. Lewis declares, “God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our consciences, but shouts in our pains. It is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”
Thank God for pain.