Chronic Pain and the Church: All in His Plan?

How I view God will determine how I live with pain.  My belief about who God is and how he acts will affect how I handle pain, seek treatment and continue to serve him.  There are some things that must be settled before we venture into how we handle chronic pain and how we counsel those around us in our churches who suffer regularly.  These basic beliefs are these:

  • God is sovereign.  Well, sure, we believe that regarding salvation…do we believe that he would ordain and orchestrate all things, good and bad – healthy and painful, for his maximum glory and our greatest good?  What I believe about this basic truth will affect how I view my pain.
  • God is the Creator.  Certainly.  How silly to argue this point.  Of course he created everything in six days: animals, plants, man, woman, stars and suns!  Do you believe he created you with the DNA structure that would allow for disease, pain and suffering, so that he would receive glory and you might receive good?
  • God gave me a stewardship.  Yes, he expects us to steward our finances and time well!  But our bodies?  Scripture is clear that we are to steward our bodies for God’s glory and our good, as well as our material resources.

There are many passages in Scripture we could turn to for understanding of these basic beliefs.  I would have us be reminded of one: Psalm 139.  I pray that you take time to read that passage in your own time.  I break it down for us, simply, here:

I. My knowledge of God – v.1-12
II. God’s knowledge of me – v.13-16
III. Praise for God – v.17-18
IV. Prayer to God – v.19-24

The Psalmist begins this passage with his expression of who God is.  This is vitally important because the circumstances he faces at the end of the passage don’t change and his knowledge of who God is will affect how he enters into them.  David speaks to God’s sovereignty over and over in the first 12 verses of Ps.139.  God is above the situation, knowledgeable of every nuance of life and his presence is all encompassing.  It is no surprise that David bursts out in verse 6:

Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high, I cannot attain it!

But God is not merely an observer.  He is a sovereign participator.  He enters into his creation and shapes and molds it to his glory.  The Psalmist describes the intimate knowledge of our person that God has.  He “formed my inward parts”, “knitted me together in my mother’s womb”, and I was “intricately woven in the depths of the earth”.  God observed me in my “unformed substance” and determined my path of life before I ever set foot on the earth.  He recorded my days in his own book.  David again cannot restrain himself and he exclaims in verse 14:

I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.  Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well.

The combination of the knowledge of who God is in addition to the intimate knowledge God has of his creation causes David to sing praise to his sovereign Creator:

How precious to me are your thoughts, O God!  How vast is the sum of them!  If I would count them, they are more than the sand.  I awake, and I am still with you. (.17,18)

Reality sets in during this passage.  David finds himself oppressed by wicked men.  He suffers as they maliciously mistreat and misspeak against God, and perhaps even himself.  In biblical complaint he takes his suffering to the throne of God.  He speaks openly and intensely of his feelings as well as the realities of their wrongdoing.  The knowledge of who God is and his sovereign intimacy in the Psalmist’s life has not relieved the reality of the suffering.

It is in this prayer to God that he not only prays for release, but he pleads for righteousness:

Search me, O God, and know my heart!  Try me and know my thoughts!  And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting!

In the midst of the complaint, the overwhelming desire of David is to be righteous.  Even if the suffering never goes away.  Even in the circumstances never change.  O God, let me be right in the way I live before you, David says.  In utter dependence on God, the Psalmist asks for direction in right living…in the paths that matter for eternity.

In conclusion of this lengthy post, allow me to state these few points:

  • God designed your body to be a part of his sovereign plan in bringing him glory.
  • God welcomes your praise, and complaint, in the midst of your struggle with chronic pain.
  • God desires your prayer of continued dependence and willingness to continue in a right path that he has designed for you.
  • Allow your belief of who God is to affect your behavior in how you would live for God’s glory.

Encouraging Resource to Read:
A Prayer About Resting in the Will of God
by Scotty Smith (ht: Challies) – make sure to read through to the last paragraph!

Chronic Pain & the Church: Introduction to the Series

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