We have a rather rosy-looking view of Christianity in modern America. It revolves, primarily, around individual and corporate comfort. Any inconvenience or trial is met with considerable protest, including folks wondering what they must have done to anger God. We have equated blessing with ease. This is unbiblical. We rush to quote the popular promises of Scripture like Jeremiah 29:11:
“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”
It all sounds quite nice, doesn’t it? But seldom does someone recite the verse just before that one. There, it’s made clear that this “plan to prosper” follows 70 years of captivity in Babylon. Not quite as rosy.
Lest we take a dim view of the idea of this not-so-easy way of life, it’s important to recall that the Scripture speaks of trials aplenty. I can think of two ways that hurting in our life can actually serve to help us:
Reading the end of the book of Job is great fun. The patient man endures hardship and is given great reward from God in the end. He gets twice the stuff he had before: donkeys and camels and sheep and kids. It’s wonderful. To read about him dining around the table with his family, you almost forget that a few chapters back he was sitting in a pile of ash enduring the incessant chatter of his well-meaning, foolish friends.
Go down the list of all your favorites: Noah, Abraham, Moses, David, the Prophets, Peter, Paul, John…it’s hard to find someone who did not identify with suffering. But suffering is not mentioned as a bad thing in the Bible. In fact, it is talked about like a tool in the hand of God to make us more like Jesus.
Romans 5:3-4 says, “…we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.” In fact, suffering is encouraged in the New Testament, like in 2 Timothy 2:3: “Join with me in suffering, like a good soldier of Christ Jesus.”
We’re not encouraged to suffer because God wants what is bad for us. Rather, He wants what is best for us. James famously talks about how suffering is a tool in the hand of God to grow us.
“Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.”
So it seems that hurting in our lives can actually help us to grow individually into the likeness of Jesus. But suffering isn’t the only time hurting can help.
For people-pleasers like me, confrontation is tough. I don’t like confronting other people, and I don’t like it when I am confronted. The problem is, sometimes it is completely necessary. Necessary as it may be, it is seldom easy.
In Matthew 18, Jesus prescribes how confrontation should occur: First, you confront someone privately. If that doesn’t work, you take a couple other people along. If that doesn’t work, you confront that person more publicly (to the whole church). If that still doesn’t work, you consider the person a non-believer.
The bigger the circle of knowledge gets about the confrontation, the more painful it becomes. In fact, it can end up hurting a lot of people. But that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t happen. Remember, sometimes hurting helps. Seldom is this help obvious throughout the confrontation. But over time, restoration can take place and the whole community is better off. True, that may come at some cost for individuals. But the whole is healthier.
For modern American Christians who value peace, we sometimes rush to achieve tranquility before we do the hard work of confrontation. But as Eugene Cho says, “peace is rarely possible without justice.” I would add that justice is rarely possible without confrontation. As believers, we must do the hard work of confrontation. When we run from it we do not truly experience peace. A cease fire may seem better than a battlefield, but it doesn’t settle the matter. We are called to be peacemakers and sometimes the first step toward making it is confrontation…whether we like it or not.
Hurting can help in suffering, and hurting can help in confrontation. It’s true. But here’s the thing: it still hurts. There are tears and sleepless nights and counseling sessions and long conversations and inconvenience and drama and swallowing our pride and taking counsel and moments where you feel like you can’t go on. It’s painful.
On the first day of cross country practice in high school we would run 800 meter sprints — about five miles worth. If we didn’t run it in a designated amount of time, we had to run them again. Our coach would scream out over our exhaustion, “I’ve got to break you down before I can build you up.” I hated it. But two months later I was running 12-14 miles without stopping and completing races (3.1 miles) in about 18 minutes. He was right.
No pain, no gain.
You may strain and hurt and hate every second of the hurt you feel as you go about the business of living for Jesus. But with every bead of sweat and every gasp of air and every agonizing moment of suffering or confrontation, remember this truth:
Sometimes, hurting helps.