This morning we are going to talk about how to deal with seasons of pain and turmoil in life. And I am going to try to do my best to encourage you to trust God with the WHY’s of life.
Now I don’t know what situation you find yourself in today. Oftentimes it is crisis that causes someone to come to church for the first time, or the first time in a long time. And maybe you are in crisis today. If not, then today is a good training day – to learn something to store away for the day you might need to remember it.
You might, today or someday – find yourself in a situation that has you asking, “Why me?” As kids learning how to write stories we learn the importance of answering the five W’s, right? Who, what, when where and why?
When it comes to seasons of pain and turmoil in life, the first four are relatively easy to answer. Who? Me! What? In Pain! When? Now! Where? Right here! Why? Well that’s the real question, right? Why?
Here at Journey we often advise people to meditate and pray through Psalm 23 -daily if possible. Psalm 23 is a multi-vitamin for our soul. I’ll put it up the first four verses for you to read through. I’m putting it up in the King James version because many of us learned it in that version, and even if you’ve never been to church ever before you have probably heard this version in movies.
It’s a great Psalm. It reminds our soul of all the important things. And one of the reasons that it’s so powerful is because it declares that God is willing to lead us through life – he is willing to provide and care and lead all who trust him. But the middle of that Psalm says that sometimes God leads us into the Valley of the shadow of some very scary, very painful things.
And the good news is that God is with us in those times. And perhaps this alone is enough reason for me to be able to encourage you to trust God in the WHY ME seasons of life. He is with you even there. He knows where he is going. He is with you and will see you through it. So there is no need to fear.
But still, it’s a fair question to ask, why do we need to go through the Valley at all? Isn’t there another way around?
If God is a good shepherd who loves me and guides me, and if God is all powerful, then answering the WHY of pain and suffering is not always an easy thing to understand.
Now the Bible is not afraid to tackle this issue. As a matter of fact, the book of the bible that is probably the oldest, is the book of Job. Which tackles this question, Why do bad things happen to good people?
We can trust God in the seasons of WHY? So let’s jump in And as we jump in – let’s start by first acknowledging that there are different types of pain in life.
1. There’s pain that is just a part of life in a fallen world. (Gen 3 – By the sweat of your brow you will work the land)
2. Some pain is self-inflicted. You reap what you sow. (Gal 6:7) If your car is littered with Double Cheeseburger wrappers today – don’t be overly surprised that you have health issues in the future right?
3. Some pain is meant to be corrective. (Hebrews 12:6) The Lord disciplines those he loves.
4. Some pain is meant to strengthen our faith. (James 1:2-4 Consider it joy when you encounter trials of many kinds because the testing of your faith produces ultimately a more mature faith)
5. The kind of Pain that Paul is enduring is what I call purposed pain. It’s pain for the benefit of another.
Now these are somewhat helpful categories of suffering, but perhaps a little too tidy. Because God often blends them and uses self inflicted pain to bring about spiritual maturity, right?
And ultimately – as a nod to the skeptic in the room who is thinking this – none of these gets God off the hook for allowing the pain in our life. Ultimately all of these are sifted through God’s decision making matrix – ultimately God is involved at all levels at all times. Because if God is truly sovereign then He is the one who allows these things into our lives.
But this morning I want us to talk about this last kind of pain. The kind of pain that is actually orchestrated by God for purposes that we cannot always see. And what we find is that there are some seasons of pain that come because something needs to happen that can only come through suffering.
And we are going to come across that kind of pain today as we look at Philippians chapter 1. We are taking a good chunk of time this summer to slowly work our way through the book of Philippians, which is actually a very short letter that was written to the church that met in the city of Philippi, which is in modern day Greece – there’s a google maps picture of Philippi today…
This is the city where the first church in Europe was started by the Apostle Paul. And we talked about how the church was started a couple of weeks ago – and if you are curious you can read about it right now in the book of Acts, chapter 16. You will read that it was started by a god seeking woman named Lydia, a demon possessed slave girl and a Soldier guarding the prison. It’s quite interesting, really.
Paul is writing this letter about ten years or so after starting the church. Since Paul was a missionary, he didn’t stick around long after starting churches.
In the ten years since Paul started the church in Philippi, much has happened, both to him and to the church. The church itself appears to have seen much growth, both in numbers as well as in internal structure. Paul addresses the church leaders and the deacons – people who have been given authority to govern aspects of the church.
Paul too has seen much in those ten years. And much of what Paul has experienced lately can only be described as difficult. Paul has seen some difficult times since he traveled to Philippi.
And so the Philippians, we can imagine, are excited to receive this letter. They want to hear how he’s doing. How are you Paul? After blessing his friends and praying a beautiful prayer for them in the first few verses, Paul finally lets them know how he’s doing. And he writes this…
12 And I want you to know, my dear brothers and sisters, that everything that has happened to me here has .
Okay – let’s just stop there for a minute. This is an important pause. Can I tell you what has happened to Paul first? And then, I’ll let you tell me how you might fill in the blank…
About four years prior to writing this letter Paul found himself back in Jerusalem. And by this time Paul had made some serious enemies. Paul had had too much success for the Jewish leaders. After all, at one point Paul had been commissioned to hunt down Christians. But after a face to face meeting with Jesus himself, on the road to Damascus, Paul instead became a follower of Jesus too. And everywhere he went he was preaching about the good news of Jesus.
What is the message he preached? Jesus had come to earth to bring an invitation. It was an invitation to become a part of the Kingdom of Heaven. Where Jesus himself, as the good shepherd, will personally supervise the days of your life. He will wisely and lovingly govern the life of anyone who trusts him.
Jesus himself – by dying on the cross and shedding his innocent blood, made it possible for our sins to be forgiven; for our relationship with God to be restored; and for us to become a new kind of human being.
Everywhere Paul traveled he preached the good news – a fresh start with God is possible. Transformation from the inside out is possible. Jesus is willing to be our good shepherd. The Kingdom of heaven is available upon request to all who will turn and walk into it.
Well that simple message got Paul into much trouble with the religious establishment. And so when Paul goes back to Jerusalem the religious leaders see their chance to take Paul out.
And they form a mob who accuse Paul of doing something he was completely innocent of doing. And they begin to beat paul and they intend to kill him.
We can read it in Acts 21. The only thing that saved Paul from being beaten to death was the Roman soldiers nearby who are alerted to this mob – and they arrest Paul.
But they don’t release him. As a matter of fact, Paul is unjustly incarcerated in Israel for two years. Why wasn’t he released? Mainly, it’s politics! The Romans were looking to curry favor with the Jewish leaders. And so to keep them happy they keep Paul in prison. Well, after two years Paul finally demands an appeal – and he is sent to Rome, which was his right as a citizen.
And as Paul is writing this letter, he;s been sitting in a Roman prison for two more years. Four years in prison – he did nothing.
And so when Paul writes, 12 And I want you to know, my dear brothers and sisters, that everything that has happened to me here has .
How might you fill in the blank, if you were he? Four years sitting in jail for nothing. He did nothing. Four years in prison.
How would you fill in that blank if you had been through what Paul had been through? Check that – how do you fill in the blank having been through what YOU have been through?
Because some of you in here feel like you could match Paul – wound for wound. But that said, we don’t have to match his pain to feel our own. And some of you in here have tasted more than your fair share of suffering.
How do you fill in this blank. Everything I’ve been through has been… complete bull? It’s been torture. It’s been unjust. It’s been ridiculous. Who would argue? It’s been unfair. Ticked me off? Made me into an angry person? Makes me not trust God? Makes me want to walk away?
There is no end to how that blank might be filled in. And in a minute I will put up there how Paul finishes the sentence. And let’s be real, we know he’s going to totally nail it. But part of the reason Paul endures what he endures is to help us in our time of need. If He could nail this test, then so can we.
And by the way – let’s just jump to how Paul ends this section of his letter. He writes “so I rejoice. And I will continue to rejoice.” (v18)
All of the junk that Paul has been through – hasn’t affected his ability to be joyful. And you know, that’s not a bad goal, right? How exciting would it be if we could get through our season of suffering and remain a joyful person? I rejoice and I continue to rejoice.
So let’s see how Paul deals with his unjust imprisonment – how he fills in the blank, and maybe we can walk away prepared for those miserable moments – those painful paths that God leads us through.
Paul writes 12 And I want you to know, my dear brothers and sisters, that everything that has happened to me here has helped to spread the Good News.
Paul was on a mission. He mission wasn’t to start churches. His mission was to get the invitation to the Kingdom of Heaven into as many hands as possible. His mission was to spread the good news about Jesus.
As a matter of fact, if you were to look at the book of Acts – it’s common for people to look at Acts and break it up into two parts – sometimes people say the first half of Acts is about Peter – the second half is about Paul.
But it’s actually not about Peter or Paul. The book of Acts is a story about how the good news – how the invitation into the Kingdom of Heaven – travelled from an upper room of frightened disciples – to the very center of the known world – Rome.
How did the Good News go from this insignificant group of people in Israel, to the very heart of civilization itself – Rome?
This explains why Acts ends weirdly. It ends with Paul sitting in prison. The end. Well, what happened to Paul? It doesn’t really matter, ultimately. It was never about Paul. It was about the good news.
And Paul understood this. He knew that he had a role to play in helping others come to experience the freedom and hope and purpose in life. Paul knew what really mattered. And what really mattered was getting the good news into hearts and lives that need it.
This week I read some sad news that suicide rates in the United States were at an all time high this past year. This past year, more people decided death was better than life.
Now researchers are struggling to understand why – and most are pointing to economic issues, divorce rates – general feelings of hopelessness.
How important is this message we bring? How many would benefit from experiencing the abounding love of God? How many would benefit from the hope that comes from following a good shepherd? Of a life filled with hope instead of despair?
Last year more than ever people have filled in the blank – “Everything that has happened to me has caused me to give up hope that life is worth living.”
Paul knew what really mattered was getting the good news – the invitation to become a different kind of human being, into the hands and hearts of as many people as possible.
So in this sense, Paul knew that there was purpose to his pain.
By this time, after four years of sitting and thinking about why he was sitting in prison, Paul was able to connect some of the dots that helped him understand the purpose of his plight. His being in prison actually furthered the cause more than his being free.
How so? Paul mentions two ways.
13 For everyone here, including the whole palace guard, knows that I am in chains because of Christ.
I think when they read this letter in the church in Philippi, this got a big laugh. I think everyone in the church had a huge smile. Why? Hey, Paul was in jail one night in Philippi – and he led the guard to Jesus and started a church!
Now? Everyday for four years, three watches of soldiers were assigned to guard Paul. Those poor soldiers never had a chance! What do you think Paul was doing? He was preaching!
One night, before he was in prison, Paul was preaching so long that this guy falls asleep in the balcony and falls from the balcony and dies. Paul steps off the stage, raises the guy back to life, and then keeps on preaching!
These poor guards didn’t have a chance. There was no escaping Paul – I mean if they dropped dead, Paul would have raised them up to keep listening. How many of those soldiers became followers of Jesus just for the relief!
I’m joking, but it’s actually very significant. It was very strategic of God to put Paul in prison. There’s plenty of people in here who are military people, right? I can always tell a person who grew up in a military family because I ask them if they grew up here in Nebraska and they almost always say, well, we grew up all over the place. We moved quite a bit.
Well it was no different in Rome. So Paul was leading these soldiers to faith in Jesus, and as they traveled all over the empire they brought the good news with them.
Fascinating, isn’t it? God had turned Paul’s jail cell into a Missionary training institute. And as the gospel penetrated the military the gospel made it’s way around the world in incredible speed.
So significant was the impact of Christianity upon the army that one historian called the Roman Army the “Mouthpiece of the Gospel.” It was through the Roman Army that Christianity was spread throughout the world.
After four years, Paul was able to connect the dots and see that there was a purpose to his pain. He was winning soldiers to Jesus and they were transporting the divine invitation all over the known world.
Another way that his imprisonment helped spread the gospel? 14 And because of my imprisonment, most of the believers here have gained confidence and boldly speak God’s message without fear.
With Paul unable to preach, others filled that role. Others stepped up their game and began to preach. Now, there is an interesting note here that Paul makes – he notes that there are some who are preaching the right message for the wrong reason. They are selfishly motivated. They see Paul’s imprisonment as a chance to make a name for themselves. While Paul must decrease so that I might increase!
For whatever reason, these preachers were a fan of Jesus but they weren’t fans of Paul.
What’s interesting to me is Paul’s response. Basically, Paul says, I don’t care. So long as the message they preach is the right message, I don’t care if their motives aren’t quite right.
And I can imagine Paul thinking – listen – if their message is truly right, then God will transform their motives as they mature. But ultimately, Paul recognized that it wasn’t about him. It really was about the good news.
So Paul was able to connect the dots a bit, and I think that helped him to deal with his season of unjust suffering. He could see there was a purpose to his pain. But even there, he could only see a glimpse of it.
I don’t think he knew, for instance, that God would place him in prison in order to make Paul have to write out his instructions, so that they could become what we now have in our hands – I don’t think Paul could have known he was writing what would become half the New Testament – and most of it was written while he was in prison.
But he could see enough. He could connect the dots enough to know there was a purpose behind his pain.
What about you? Are you able to connect any dots in your season of pain?
Maybe it’s still too early. Remember – Paul is writing this four years after his imprisonment. He’s had some time to sort through – to see some results. My guess is that the first week of prison, the first month or year, all he could do was say – I’m choosing to trust God in the Why. He’s up to something. And after four years, Paul is able to start connecting the dots…
But if it’s still too early for you to connect any dots, perhaps it is helped – like Paul does – to remind ourselves of how God worked in the past.
Do you have any ‘goto’ memories of God working through your pain in the past?
This week I was struck by a thought in my own personal faith Journey. God helped me to connect some dots in my own faith journey this week. See, I’m here today because there was a young unmarried woman who had gotten breast cancer in New York forty years ago.
This young lady was the daughter of a pastor in town. And when her father came to visit the daughter, his daughter said, Dad, would you please pray with my roommate? No one has been here to pray for her.
And so that woman’s dad walked across the room and prayed for my mother. And after he prayed my mother made a deal with a God she had largely forgotten about – she said, God is you get me out of this hospital alive – I will go to that man’s church.
And she did and she brought me with her. And so I stand here today to say, there is purpose in pain. God churns gold our of garbage situations. And that young unmarried pastors daughter, I can’t help but think that there were times when she might have looked up at the ceiling and ask, “Why me?”
It was too early to connect the dots about what God was up to. That daughter had no idea that God would use her pain to bring hope and life to my mom or to me, or to any of you in this church.
In some ways I can confidently stand before you and say that our Church is proof that God has a purpose in our pain.
It’s difficult to have to wait four, or forty years, to connect the dots. But I simply want to encourage you today. Right now you might be sitting in a jail cell. You might be laying in a hospital room. You might be standing, sitting, walking or working in a season of turmoil and pain.
I want to confidently exhort you to stand firm. Hold fast. And to trust God in the WHY.