How to Profit from Pain and Problems

Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing. – James 1:2-4

Along with death and taxes, pain and problems are “givens” in this life. Our culture teaches us to avoid all pain and problems, and when we do experience them we distract ourselves or numb our feelings with drugs, alcohol, shopping, etc. But James offers us an entirely different perspective and approach.

First, a few things to know about pain and problems.

  • They’re universal. Nobody is immune. It’s not that bad or unfaithful people experience pain and problems while good and faithful people get a hall pass. Everyone experiences pain and problems. They’re inevitable and universal.
  • They’re not from God. Jesus revealed to us that God is the giver of all good things. Our pain and our problems do not come from God. So, where do they come from? Sometimes they come from our own poor choices, like when we make a risky investment and feel the pain of loss. Sometimes our pain and problems come from other people’s bad choices, like when a drunk driver chooses to get behind the wheel of a car and kills someone you love. And sometimes our pain and our problems are just the random chance of a chaotic and broken world, like when a warm front and cold front collide and become a violent storm, or when a gene mutates and becomes cancer. There is no explanation. It simply happens.
  • Finally, they can be profoundly productive. While God doesn’t cause them, James says that God can use our pain and problems to do some amazing things in our lives. James says that through our pain and problems God can purify our faith, deepen our patience and develop spiritual maturity in us. That’s good news indeed!

So, what does James suggest we do when we experience pain and problems? Three things:

  • Rejoice. When life kicks you in the teeth, just smile with the teeth you have left. Pain and problems are inevitable, but our response to them is entirely our choice. This is not a denial of our grief in hardship, and I don’t mean to imply that this is easy. But trusting that God is powerfully and positively at work in our lives especially when times are tough opens the door for us to still live with a sense of joy. Think of it this way – when you’re walking a long, hard road you can stare down at your feet and think only how difficult the road is, or you can look up and rejoice that the destination is getting closer. You still have to walk the road, and it’s still hard, but the road of pain and problems does lead to a destination called spiritual maturity when we trust God along the way.
  • Request. Pray. There’s no better time to pray then when you’ve got pain or problems! And what should you pray for? Pray for wisdom so you won’t waste an opportunity to grow. Rather than praying, “God, get me out of this,” wisdom would encourage us to pray, “God, grow me through this.”
  • Relax. Stop fighting what you can’t control and trust in the One who promises to be at work in even the darkest and most difficult of circumstances. That’s what faith is all about. Need help with that? Check out this spiritual practice called The Welcome Prayer.

Experiencing pain and problems? It isn’t the end of the world. But in God’s hands it might just be the beginning of some serious spiritual growth!

Jeff Marian serves as lead pastor at Prince of Peace Lutheran Church in Burnsville, MN

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