Some have said that the antidote to the pain of suffering (for the sake of Christ), is prayer (Psalm 3:1-8 is a great example). And, depending on what they mean, that is helpful. But so often we base our prayer on a desire to be released from the distress. But as with any pain, the more you focus on it, the worse it feels. True prayer recognises the pain but is not consumed by it. The centre of such prayer is our Lord and Saviour; as we worship and adore Him the pain gains a godly perspective. True prayer recognises the joy ahead of us, and therefore the need to reject feelings of shamefulness which suffering brings - which was how Jesus endured His sufferings (Hebrews 12:2).
In the same way that the pain of childbirth has a joyful future-focus, so Jesus endured the cross. Likewise many sporting people, playing hard with their team, will not even notice some injuries; nor will soldiers in combat. The reason is that, provided they are still able to function, the goal of winning is greater than the pain of getting there. But for the Christian, there is another motivation. The Lord Jesus suffered, and our painful experiences are like an after-shock of the cross. Our pain cannot save us or others, but it helps us to identify with our Lord and also to know that He really can sympathise with our situation (Hebrews 4:15).
Joy is often absent. It is different from happiness, which depends on the pleasure of what is happening. Joy is a genuine manifestation of the life of Christ in a believer; it is a fruit of the Holy Spirit (Galatians 5:22) and has a bonding function in the church, despite persecution (Acts 13:49-52). Like Peter whose faith and joy were replaced by fear and terror when he focussed on the waves instead of his Saviour (Matthew 14:28-31), we will lose our joy if we focus on the circumstances rather than the Lord. The promise of eternal reward is less preached now than in the past, but is even more necessary (Hebrews 11:26).
Of course, Satan uses pain to tell the lie that it marks the end of our hope and of God’s care; pain is therefore to be feared and resisted. Childbirth may feel like that at times, but there is also the prospect of new life and joy ahead. It is the same way for Christians. The anticipation of eternal joy puts today's sorrows into perspective (2 Corinthians 4:17). The well-taught believer will learn to focus on the permanent joys of God's eternal presence to come. In striving to complete the Christian life in good order, straining forwards to please the Lord (Philippians 3:13-14), the pain is dulled by praising Him today, in the anticipation of participating in His glory when He comes.
© Dr Paul Adams