The Shepherd of Hope blog is here to serve you, to help you know Jesus better and to find hope in Him. This blog relies on the Spirit of God using the word of God to build people of God. All material has been prayerfully submitted for your encouragement and spiritual edification. Your questions and comments are welcome.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Life Pains

A woman, when she is in labor, has sorrow because her hour has come; but as soon as she has given birth to the child, she no longer remembers the anguish, for joy that a human being has been born into the world. – John 16:21


Life is filled with pain. There is physical pain, psychological pain and even spiritual pain. Pain has a purpose. Pain warns us that something is wrong or that something needs attending to. Pain can indicate injury. Pain can indicate distress. Pain indicates hurt. Pain means something is breaking or broken. Pain indicates something needs to be fixed or is being fixed. Pain causes discomfort. Our natural response to pain is to try to alleviate it. We run from pain. We bandage over pain. We medicate pain away. But pain can be good. Pain is evidence of life. Pain indicates the body is working. Pain can indicate something is happening in our mind or spirit. The body or person who doesn’t feel pain has a problem. The absence of pain indicates deadness or death. The dead do not feel pain. Pain is a part of life.

Life is birthed through pain. I was present with my wife for all of the births of our three children. Pain was involved, lots of pain, for all three of those births. My children have grown to be beautiful people. They have grown and married and have their own children now. Each of the births of their children, (my grand children) involved pain. Any woman who has ever given birth will tell you that with birth comes discomfort and pain. But she will also tell you, as she holds that precious little one in her arms,  that the pain of childbirth was worth it.

It wasn’t always that way. There was a time before humanities’ infection with sin that child bearing was pain free. Imagine that ladies! (cf. Genesis 3). Sin brings pain. Dealing with sin, being birthed out of it, involves pain. Jesus told the religious leader Nicodemus, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God. . . . Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’” (John 3:3, 5-6). All Nicodemus could say to that was, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born? . . . How can these things be?” (John 3:4 and 9). It was a preposterous and maybe a painful thought to this grown religious man to conceive of being born again. Is the thought of being born again painful to you?

Just as we needed to be physical conceived and birthed to experience life, so too we need to experience a second birth to experience spiritual eternal life. When we are physically born it involves physical and mental pain. When we are spiritual born again it involves mental and spiritual pain. It can be painful to come to the realization that we are lost in sin. We don’t want to admit our guilt for our sins. We are tempted to blame others or deflect blame by pointing to our personal life circumstances as excuse for our sins. But we must personal admit and turn from our sins to Jesus in trust if we are going to be forgiven our sins. That can be painful.

It can be painful living without Jesus. Those pains of life in sin without Jesus are all part of the birth pains of our spirit. But even after we experience our second birth there are pains associated with the new life in Christ. As God creates new life in us pain is involved. Remember, pain is a sign of life. Because of our pain we know something is growing. A child will sometimes experience literal growing pains. Similarly, we experience pain when we are growing in our relationship with Jesus.

The disciples of Jesus experienced such growing pains. Jesus forewarned them about it. He said, “A woman, when she is in labor, has sorrow because her hour has come; but as soon as she has given birth to the child, she no longer remembers the anguish, for joy that a human being has been born into the world. 22 Therefore you now have sorrow; but I will see you again and your heart will rejoice, and your joy no one will take from you. (John 16:21-22). It would be painfully necessary for Jesus to leave His disciples and go to the cross. But the only way Jesus could birth forgiveness for our sins and new life in Himself was to die on the cross and be birthed from the tomb. Pain precedes life. Pain is presently a necessary part of birthing eternal life.

Anyone whose lived at all can tell you that life and growth involves pain. We experience the pain of our bumps and bruises as we learn to turn over, crawl, stand and walk. There will be the pains of falling. There will be the pains of play like those associated with learning to ride a bike or playing sports. There are the pains of relationships. We will experience the emotional pain of broken friendships. There will be the pains of breaking up with those we think might have been our true love. There are the pains of success and failures in school. There are pains of work on the job and if we lose a job. When we grow to get married and have our own children there will be pain their too; any married person or parent will confirm that. There are the pains of growing older and then being “old.” There is pain in every stage and season of life. Pain is a part of life.

Jesus spoke of planetary pains preceding His return. He spoke of human as well as natural upheaval that were “the beginning of sorrows” or literally the labor pains of a prophetic ends times plan of God (Matthew 24:8). Paul spoke of this too saying, “For when they say, ‘Peace and safety!’ then sudden destruction comes upon them, as labor pains upon a pregnant woman. And they shall not escape” (1 Thessalonians 5:3). God’s prophetic plans are going to give birth like a pregnancy. Are you aware of this prophetic pregnancy?

I have heard of television programs about young girls who were pregnant but didn’t know it. I didn’t watch the programs and can’t imagine someone being pregnant and not knowing it. But apparently it happens. I think for that to happen there has to be a lot of (willful?) ignorance and denial of reality. It’s much more common for people to not be aware of the planetary prophetic pregnancy of God’s plans. Don’t ignore the birth pains. Signs of Jesus’ coming are all around you. Jesus is going to return and birth a whole new world! And it looks like we are in the last stages of that pregnancy.

Pain is part of our individual spiritual life. Jesus’ promise is that when what God is birthing is born, we will forget all the pain involved in the process of that birth. Paul likened ministry and seeking the salvation of the lost as a birthing process. He said, “For though you might have ten thousand instructors in Christ, yet you do not have many fathers; for in Christ Jesus I have begotten you through the gospel” (1 Corinthians 4:15). There is pain in prayer and in the process of waiting for our loved ones to be birthed in Christ. It is very painful to watch people grope and flounder and experience unnecessary pain in their process leading up to their being born again. There is pain for the saved who are praying and seeking to save the lost. There is pain for the lost who need saving. Pain precedes spiritual life.

But even after we are born again there are pains associated with spiritual growth and development. We get an idea of these spiritual growing pains from a comment by Paul in his letter to the churches in Galatia. He wrote and told them, “My little children, for whom I labor in birth again until Christ is formed in you” (Galatians 4:19). These words give us insight into the pains of a pastor who labors in prayer and the ministry of the word for the people Jesus has put in his charge. Some children are spiritually birthed directly through the pastor’s ministry. Sometimes he is called upon by God to adopt those who have been birthed elsewhere. There are spiritual orphans and those who needed adopting into the family of God in a host of unique circumstances. Whoever they are or from wherever they come, the good shepherd loves and cares for the flock God gives him.

There can be a lot of pain for the pastor as he oversees people in various stages of spiritual growth. There are the baby steps of the newly birthed in Christ. The pastor is constantly watching and assuring safety and nourishment for those precious newborns. Then he guides them through their adolescent early years with the Lord. He counsels and disciplines them through the turmoil of their spiritual teens. Sometimes there are conflicts to maneuver through. But he disciples the spiritual children through to marriage to a ministry of some sort. Sometimes such a marriage involves letting them go off on their own. There is always a letting go and letting them go and letting them grow in God. There is a fine balance between intervention and letting go. There are all kinds of ups and downs and turnarounds through the various stages and seasons of spiritual growth. And yes, there is pain involved.

Hannah was a barren woman mocked for her empty womb. She was in one of those duel marriage predicaments where the fellow wife of her husband pumped out prodigies for her husband with prolific reproduction. I’m sure Hannah thought “What about me?” as time went by and still she bore no offspring. To be barren in her culture was evidence of God’s disfavor. But Hannah was a prayerful woman of God.

Hannah was unwilling and didn’t sense that her barrenness was from the Lord. Therefore she turned to the Lord with her “bitterness of soul, and prayed to the Lord and wept in anguish” (1 Samuel 1:10). She poured out her heart desperately before the Lord. Desperate prayers have a way of getting through to the Lord. The Lord is compassionate and when He sees one of His people despairing and desperately crying out to Him it moves Him; it gets hold of His heart. When that happens things change.

Hannah cried out to the Lord. But why this pain of barrenness? Perhaps it was to bring Hannah to the end of herself. Perhaps the Lord was working through pain to bring Hannah to the point of full consecration and appreciation for the child that he would give her. Perhaps it was God’s way, through pain, to purify the situation. So Hannah, at the end of herself, totally consumed by her painful predicament, committed to return to the Lord any child He would give her. That’s what God must have been looking for because shortly thereafter Hannah was pregnant and gave birth to Samuel (1 Samuel 1). Samuel would grow to become a man of God that would be an instrument of God’s reviving His people Israel (cf. 1 Samuel 3ff.).

When Samuel was born, true to Jesus words, there is no mention from Hannah of any pains associated with the birth of her boy. All we see is her expression of joy. “My heart rejoices in the LORD; my horn is exalted in the LORD. I smile at my enemies, because I rejoice in Your salvation. No one is holy like the LORD, for there is none besides you, nor is there any rock like our God” (1 Samuel 2:1-2). There is no sign of bitterness or resentment from this woman of God greatly used by God. All we see is joyful full surrender and submission to God. She is caught up and embraced by God in the joy of His fulfillment in and through her.

Are you experiencing some pain? Are you discouraged by some barrenness; something that is missing in your life? Maybe you are in need of a second birth. If that is the case, if you haven’t yet admitted and turned from your sins to God and trusted in Jesus as your Savior, if you haven’t by faith in Christ received God’s gift of forgiveness for your sins, why not do so now? Sin in life works death. Living in sin is like a long drawn out debilitating battle with cancer. Sin breaks us down and inflicts pain after pain.

Sometimes sin works beneath the surface to deaden us. Often we aren’t even aware of our infection with sin until the Holy Spirit diagnoses it to us. Then we have to deal with the death sentence. And it doesn’t take long to understand we don’t have the cure ourselves. We need Jesus. The end of sin is death. But Jesus died for us on the cross. Because of that we can go to God and as we trust in Jesus as our Savior and Lord we can ask Him to forgive our sin because Jesus paid our painful debt for us. When we do that we will experience our second birth, a spiritual birth as the Holy Spirit indwells us.

But what about if we have been born again? What about if we know Jesus and are in pain? What if we are experiencing spiritual growing pains? What if we are laboring to see Christ birthed in others or to see a ministry grow? What if we are going through the pregnancy of something God is doing in and through us? Is there a word from God for those going through life pains? Yes there is. To those going through life pains the LORD says, “Therefore do not cast away your confidence, which has great reward. For you have need of endurance, so that after you have done the will of God, you may receive the promise; ‘For yet a little while, and He who is coming will come and will not tarry. Now the just shall live by faith; but if anyone draws back, My soul has no pleasure in him.’ But we are not of those who draw back to perdition, but of those who believe to the saving of the soul” (Hebrews 10:35-39). Receive that my pain filled friend.

When a woman is pregnant she knows there is none months of gradually growing pain until the birth. Sometimes a pregnancy is early; sometimes it is late. Sometimes a pregnancy is given up on; that is called abortion. Sometimes abortion is natural; sometimes it is not. Don’t abort what God is seeking to birth in and through you. Press on to delivery. God’s guarantee is that in the end there will be “great reward.” Endure a little longer. Wait on Him. Do the “will of God.” “Receive the promise.” Just a “little while” longer and He “will come and will not tarry.” “Live by faith.” Don’t “draw back.” The Lord is saddened at the lost pleasure of those who don’t proceed to birth His plans. Don’t take a detour to “perdition.” Press on and “believe to the saving of the soul” whoever that soul might be. And remember, “Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labor is not in vain in the Lord” (1 Corinthians 15:58). Take comfort in your labor. Press on through your life pregnancy because, “Faithful is He who calls you, and He also will bring it to pass” (1 Thessalonians 5:24 NASB). Let the life pains give birth.

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