Monday, March 17, 2008

Ministering in Pain

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God.” 2 Corinthians 1:3-4

Standing in stark contrast to the beauty so characteristic of the Hawaiian Islands, the leper colony Molokai was home to some of the most deplorable and wretched conditions on the earth. Missionary Father Damien arrived on the scene in 1873 to spread a message of hope and to minister to those who had been sent to the island to die. He erected a church and worked tirelessly to provide decent shelters and improve the quality of life for the lepers who dwelled on the peninsula. People politely attended the church services, only out of respect for this man who selflessly gave of his life for them. In their minds, religion remained something for those who did not suffer from the disease. Damien began every sermon the same way: “My dear lepers . . .”

Years passed. One morning as Damien prepared breakfast, he accidentally spilled boiling water on his foot. There was no pain. Damien realized that the dreaded had happened. He had finally contracted the disease. That Sunday morning, he began his sermon differently: “My fellow lepers . . .”

The news that Damien was now one of them spread like wildfire throughout the leper community. As the curious lepers watched, Damien continued to live out the rest of his life in dedication to the God he trusted. Religious revival swept the colony. God had suddenly become very real to the lepers while displayed in the life of one who suffered as they did.

God can turn our pain into an avenue of His grace and mercy.

For two years, my husband has been working through clinical depression. It has become his constant companion. Most days are a battlefield for him, as he struggles to fight thoughts which are not based in reality, but instead are a result of a brain which, in effect, is malfunctioning. He has been a true warrior, determined to cling to God and trust in the midst of his pain. But much of what he has endured has been an internal, solitary, and silent struggle.

Last week, we got a call from an old friend. Someone close to her was struggling with depression. The situation was getting desperate. They needed help. Why would she call us? Because she knew we had faced (and continue to face) their exact struggle. We understood what others could not.

So they came over. And as Steve and this young man talked, they realized that their symptoms were identical, even down to the thoughts of despair and failure which plagued them. They had found a lifeline in each other. While they were both in the midst of rampant pain, they could encourage each other by providing companionship through the journey. Knowing you are not alone is a balm to one who suffers.

When painful circumstances strike, our first prayer is for the Lord to take them away. Much of our prayer times sound like a Christmas wish list, as we tell God what to “fix” in order for life to be more comfortable for us. While there is nothing wrong with bringing our concerns before the Lord, we should also be praying about our own response should the Lord choose to allow that circumstance to remain in our lives. We need to pray for endurance and grace. Our goal should be that God might be glorified through us and that we would remain faithful to Him through the trial.

One of the reasons God brings painful circumstances along is so we can effectively minister to those around us. After walking through pain ourselves, we can listen and respond with an understanding we could not have had without going through the experience. Having been there gives credibility to our spiritual counsel.

Knowing this should revolutionize our prayer lives. In the midst of the pain, we should be looking for ways God makes Himself real to us through the struggle. We must ask God to make us sensitive to what He is endeavoring to teach us. Because one day we will be given an opportunity to pass what we learned in the experience on to another who is in the midst of the battle. And they will need what we can give them.

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