Joyful in pain

Is it possible to rejoice in God when you’re in pain?

The apostle Paul says it is and he was a living example.  He was stoned and left for dead; he was whipped unmercifully and thrown into prison; he nearly died in a shipwreck.  And yet, he calls on all believers to praise God and give thanks in all circumstances. (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18)

I was thinking of these things this week as I spent time with a friend who finds it hard to think of anything but the constant pain he is suffering.

I have never gone through the suffering my friend has faced for several years. So, I recognized I had no right to speak to him about praising God in these circumstances.

Yet, what alternative is there for a believer who is deeply depressed by his illness?  More than anything, he needs God and the hope God ultimately brings.

Thankfully, my friend raised the subject himself, mentioning that someone told him he should stop complaining and be positive.

I find that hard advice.  The psalms are full of mental and emotional pain and Job is a book of disasters striking a fine, blameless man.  The Bible does not ignore suffering or wish it away.

But Psalm 42 pictures how we should approach our inner agonies.  The writer cries out to God in the midst of tears, wondering where he is in the midst of his troubles.  He is honest.

Then, he tells himself: “Why are you downcast, O my soul?  Why so disturbed within me?  Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my saviour and my God.”

It is very hard to do this when your physical or emotional pain dominates your thoughts.  But it is possible.  Many have done it.  And the results can be transforming.

In his book The Power of Praise and Worship, evangelist Terry Law tells how devastated he was when his wife was killed in a car accident.  He was bitter against God and wanted to abandon his ministry.

A much-respected mentor, who had lost a son, told him to praise God.  He was thunderstruck and resisted the suggestion.  But the following day he decided to try praising the Lord.

He began mechanically praying the words from Psalm 34:1: “I will bless the Lord at all times.” This went on for more than two hours before an inner dam broke and he wept.  For several hours more, he was on his knees praising and worshiping God.

As he put it: “Obedience in praise and worship had brought healing to my inner man.”

Praising and worshiping God became a central part of his international ministry with many coming to the Lord.

When the focus turns from ourselves to God, we are changed.

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