He was pierced for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on Him, and by His wounds we are healed.
– Isaiah 53:5, NIV
We all have pain in our lives – none of us escape this. Not all of us have to endure agonising physical suffering for years on end (though many do) – but we all have some kind of pain in our lives at some time or other. This is an inescapable part of life. Theologians have speculated for many centuries about the ‘problem of suffering’: why suffering and pain happen in a world created by a good and loving God – and while they have come to a number of plausible conclusions, there is no one simple answer that will satisfy.
Yes, God can use it all for good, teaching us and using us in ways that would have been otherwise impossible. Yes, it can teach us valuable lessons such as humility and the importance of community. Yes, if nobody were to die then the world would become vastly overpopulated within a very short time. There are so many quick responses that could be given to explain pain and suffering, but when conversing with one who is in the midst of a horrific situation none of these answers will do – nothing can fix or justify what they are experiencing, and no ‘answer’ will satisfy. Suffering is one of these things that causes well-meaning words to offend, or at the very least slide off unnoticed.
God knows. He knows what each of us has been through. He sees every thought, every emotion, every reaction, and He cares more deeply than we could ever imagine. He walked through it with us. He never once left our side. Not only that, but 2000 years ago He walked the earth and endured it Himself. What a God, Who loves us so much that He would choose to expose His very self to the anguish of human pain, suffering, and shame, just as we experience – He became just like us, but without sin. And it was all for the sake of showing us the way to personal relationship with the Father. It was worth it, for Him. Our relationship with God is more important to Him than a pain-free and eternally comfortable existence. He would sacrifice His own life, for the sake of our forgiveness and salvation.
Standing on this mountain top
Looking just how far we’ve come
Knowing that for every step
You were with us
Kneeling on this battle ground
Seeing just how much You’ve done
Knowing every victory
Was Your power in us
Scars and struggles on the way
But with joy our hearts can say
Never once did we ever walk alone!
Never once did You leave us on our own!
You are faithful, God, You are faithful!
– Matt Redman
So may we give our hearts to God, knowing that He sees every part. May we surrender to Him our pain, and recognise that He has walked with us every step of the way; that He has carried us in our darkest moments even though we might not have been aware at the time. May we give ourselves to Him and allow Him to heal us with His love. May we give our pain and struggles to Him, and let Him use them – may we allow Him to teach us and shape us for His glory through all that we have been through.
May we offer into God’s hands the hurt and letdown we have experienced in the past. May the scars we bear be a witness to His grace as He speaks to us and uses us through our past experiences. May His peace wash over us, equipping us to fully forgive and to give ourselves to Him more completely because of what we have been through. May we be open to His teaching and His voice speaking to us through our memories and our past struggles. May we give our hearts into His hands and allow Him to fill them with His love.
“What now does the divine immanence mean in direct Christian experience? It means simply that God is here. Wherever we are, God is here. There is no place, there can be no place, where He is not.”
– A.W. Tozer, The Knowledge of the Holy, p46
May we surrender to Him any conflicts in our life, especially those as yet unresolved. Unresolved conflict can feel like a gaping chasm inside us, or an open wound ready to inflict more pain on us whenever we think about it – even if the conflict happened years ago and we might never see the person or people again. May we surrender these conflicts into God’s hands. May we give Him our hearts and allow Him to bring healing and instruction, to guide us in the way of peace and to bind up our wounds.
I remember some years ago I had a fallout with a lady I met in another country, and at the time I tried to resolve it – I tried to apologise, to talk with her about it, to do all that I could think of that might put things right, but in the end I left that country having not been able to resolve things with this lady. I tried saying to myself, ‘it’s ok – I tried my best, and have no need to feel bad about it. I will probably never see her again, so there is nothing more that can be done, and it can never come back to bite me.’ However, it still bugged me, for years. In the back of my mind I knew that there was an unresolved conflict in my life, and it upset me. Every so often I would pray about it again, trying to surrender it to God and receive His peace.
One summer, a few years after the conflict took place, it was on my mind a great deal and I prayed about it a lot. I desperately prayed for some feeling of resolution or closure. Then later that summer to my surprise I ended up bumping into this lady, and we ended up spending some time together. During that time we talked a little about our experience a few years before, and over time we became friends. There was finally some closure in my mind, and I was relieved – though at first I felt absolutely mortified bumping into this lady so unexpectedly.
Conflict resolution is not always possible. In many cases the other party will refuse contact or refuse to get along, and in times like that it seems there is little that can be done to bring peace except for extending a hand of friendship for the other party to take it or leave it, and then to surrender it all into God’s hands and leave it there. His shoulders are bigger than ours and He can carry it for us, once we have done all that we can to humbly bring peace on our part. May we surrender to God any conflicts in our lives – those of the past and those that we are still experiencing. May we give God the distress and frustration that those conflicts have brought us, and surrender our hearts to Him. May we be open to His guidance and His peace, and may He lead us in His ways.
You, child, will be called a prophet of the Most High; for you will go on before the Lord to prepare the way for him, to give his people the knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of their sins, because of the tender mercy of our God, by which the rising sun will come to us from heaven to shine on those living in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the path of peace.
– Luke 1:76-79, NIV
May we also surrender to God any physical pain we are experiencing. Being in pain can change the whole course of our existence – it can make us think, speak and act quite differently to how we would otherwise behave, and it can make us snappy and irritable and depressed. It can hinder our relationships with God and with others, and it can stop us from being able to enjoy ourselves, as well as stopping us from being able to carry out normal everyday activities. Even a simple headache can do this – and how much more for chronic pain or illness or any other kind of physical pain.
So let us surrender it to God, and let Him fill our hearts with His peace that passes all understanding. May we give it all to Him and let Him guide us, shaping our attitudes and helping us to speak and act in a way that pleases Him and blesses others despite our pain, rather than simply acting out of how our pain makes us feel. May we give ourselves to Him and let Him cleanse and free us, teaching us and shaping us, even somehow using our pain for good. May we offer it to Him and be open to whatever He may want to do within us.
May we give God any grief we are experiencing, any mourning or pain for our losses. It is important and healthy to grieve not only deaths of people we love but also the loss of friendships, any loss of freedom or other significant loss in our lives. May we give it to God – neither wallowing in self-pity nor ignoring our loss, but praying about it and being open with God about the way we feel. May we surrender it to Him and let Him be our comforter, guiding us through it and filling our hearts with His love; using it to bring us closer to Himself. May we allow God to teach us and lead us, to shape us through our struggles and to shine His light through us as a witness to others.
Let us surrender, too, our pain at the struggles of others. We all know people who are suffering or in some kind of pain, and if we care about those people then their suffering will inevitably affect us. Let us surrender to God the pain we feel for them. I remember when I was a teenager watching my Mum go through seemingly endless times of illness and suffering, often in immense pain and sometimes bedridden – and it was terrible to watch, though I tried my best to hide how I felt. May we surrender to God our compassion for those we care about who are in pain, and the pain we feel for them. May we be yoked to Christ and let Him help us carry it, just as we carry His cross and His light.
A few weeks ago I was at a funeral of the wife of a retired man I know, and at the funeral someone told the romantic story of how the couple met as youngsters fifty years ago. It was a lovely story. After the couple married they had a few wonderful decades to enjoy each other’s company and raise a wonderful daughter together. For the last decade of her life, though, the man nursed and cared for his wife night and day, giving up his freedom, his hobbies and many of his friendships to commit to serving the wife whom he had loved dearly for so long, until she died. During and after the funeral I found myself crying a lot for him, for all that he had had to sacrifice in order to care for her, and for the loneliness that he feels now that she is gone. Many people were crying during that funeral, most of whom had lived in the village much longer than I and could remember the woman when she was happy and healthy more than a decade ago.
It is devastating and painful to consider all those we know who suffer in such a way for so long, with illness, or with responsibilities of caring full-time for sick relatives, or with bereavement and desperate loneliness. May we surrender to God our pain, and the pain we feel when we think about those we care about who are in those situations. May God use us as a comfort to those people and may He Himself show them His very personal presence with them.
How long, Lord? Will You forget me forever?
How long will You hide Your face from me?
How long must I wrestle with my thoughts
And day after day have sorrow in my heart?
How long will my enemy triumph over me?
Look on me and answer, Lord my God.
Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep in death,
And my enemy will say, “I have overcome him,”
And my foes will rejoice when I fall.
But I trust in Your unfailing love;
My heart rejoices in Your salvation.
I will sing the Lord’s praise,
For He has been good to me.
– Psalm 13, NIV
Our unanswered questions can be a great source of pain, too. I was talking to a colleague a few weeks ago who is so overwhelmed by the pain and suffering in the world that she says she cannot possibly believe in a loving God, let alone choose to worship Him. All around us we see pain and devastation. It is in the news each day, and in the lives of those we know. We may be tempted sometimes to yell and scream at God, demanding to know why He doesn’t step in and do something, why He doesn’t just end suffering now and bring healing and restoration and peace.
I believe it is healthy to ask God these things, and to rant at Him about them sometimes. But may we also remember His love and His mercy, and may we surrender our hearts to Him. May we give into His hands all those burning questions that make us feel so angry or upset. May we give ourselves and all that we feel, and all our questions and demands and emotions, over to Him. May we surrender our hearts and let Him lead us, showing us His way of love and teaching us to be His light to a broken and hurting world.
We know that God is pained whenever people turn away from Him and continue to reject Him and refuse His love (e.g. Jeremiah 9:1-3). He gave His life for us and yet there are still so many who refuse to even acknowledge His existence. Perhaps we feel pain, too, when we think of those friends and relatives who don’t yet know Him, who continue to reject Him and who see no need for His presence in their lives. May we surrender them to Him. May we give Him the pain we feel for them, and let Him carry it. May we surrender our hearts and let Him fill us with His Spirit.
“If God is present at every point in space, if we cannot go where He is not, cannot even conceive of a place where He is not, why then has not that Presence become the one universally celebrated Fact of the world? The patriarch Jacob, ‘in the waste howling wilderness’, gave the answer to that question. He saw a vision of God, and cried out in wonder, ‘Surely the LORD is in this place, and I knew it not.’ (Gen. 28:16) Jacob had never been for one small division of a moment outside the circle of that all-pervading Presence. But he knew it not. That was his trouble, and it is ours. Men do not know that God is here. What a difference it would make if they knew.”
– A.W. Tozer, The Knowledge of the Holy, p47
Holy and Awesome God,
Thank You that You never leave or forsake us.
Thank You that You know our anguish and pain, and the pain of our loved ones, so deeply.
Thank You that You really do care.
I surrender to You my pain.
Please send Your Holy Spirit as my Comforter and Guide.
I give You all I have been through – every experience, every emotion.
I surrender to You the pain and letdown of my past.
Please cleanse me and bring me Your healing and Your peace.
Please use it for good, for Your Kingdom.
I give You the conflicts in my life.
You know my situations, and You know what happened, and You know how I feel.
I give it all to You now. Please lead me.
I surrender to You all my questions, my desperate longing for answers, my distress and despair.
Please, Father, show me Your ways and help me to live for You.
I surrender to You my body, and the physical pain I experience.
Please, somehow, use it for good.
Teach me how to live a life focused on You, not dictated by my pain.
Please help me to respond to people and situations in love and grace, not irritability, despite how I feel.
I give You my heart – please fill me with Your Spirit and guide me in Your ways of love.
Lord of comfort, I give You my grief.
Please be my Friend and my Lord, and help me through it all.
I surrender to You my compassion, and the pain I feel at the struggles of others.
I give You my pain knowing that friends and relatives still reject You.
Please, Lord, take my heart and fill it with Your goodness.
Teach me Your ways, and help me live and speak and act in a way that pleases You.
Lord, I love You. Teach me to love you more, and to live for You.