Updated: Sep 16, 2020
“Then the priests and the prophets said to the officials and all the people, “This man deserves the death sentence because he has prophesied against this city, as you have heard with your own ears.” (Jeremiah 26:11)
I’ve been struggling with back pain consistently now for a couple months, and I was finally able to make an appointment with physiotherapy and massage, to try and figure some things out…to, hopefully, decrease the amount of ibuprofen I was taking and just... feel better.
The therapist gave me stretches and exercises, to help strengthen my core muscles, reminding me that in doing the exercises and other physical activity, there is both “bad” pain and “therapeutic” pain.
Isn’t pain just….pain?
Over time and with experience, we learn to differentiate between the two. The bad pain is often sharp, and sudden; it tells you “don’t do that.” In contrast, therapeutic pain is a gentle ache, the soreness of muscles that you were working when you practiced the exercises. This kind of pain tells you, “yup, these are the muscles you are building.”
The therapeutic pain comes from the muscles you are trying to target, to gain strength and growth.
How we tell the difference between the two becomes a matter of perspective. If we struggle to experience pain, we will more often perceive all our pain as bad, whether it’s a sore muscle or an actual muscle tear.
However, as we begin exercises that are unfamiliar, targeting weaker muscles, we begin to notice the aches and soreness. We can start to accept that some soreness will be necessary to achieve the strength we need for things, like my back pain, to improve.
The pain we experience in our physical bodies, relates to the difficulties we experience as we live a life that follows Christ. Nobody likes to experience suffering. Hardships and challenges place a pressure on us, can increase our anxiety and overwhelm our emotions.
But what if we viewed our hard times as therapeutic pain? As an opportunity to grow in the areas that are weak?
A Difficult Calling
Jeremiah was called to people of Judah. He spoke words to admonish them, that they would “mend” their ways and turn back to God. Yet, astonished at the proclamation that Jerusalem would fall - in chapter 26 - the priests became very angry, demanding his death.
Does it make you wonder why God would call Jeremiah to this task?
I mean, why bother prophesying if they won’t listen anyway? Why allow him to be persecuted and suffer?
Standing in front of the jury, dangerously close to a ruling against him, Jeremiah stood. "But as for me, behold, I am in your hands. Do with me as seems good and right to you. Only know for certain that if you put me to death, you will bring innocent blood upon yourselves...for in truth the Lord sent me to you to speak all these words in your ears." (26:14-15).
Bold words for a man facing the death sentence.
In fact, this chapter also points out that another prophet of Yahweh named, Uriah, was sought after and killed for speaking God's words. Yet, this time, the officials and the people advocated for Jeremiah, so he was spared imminent death.
Reflecting on Jeremiah, I wonder if I am equally ready to understand that God calls me to difficult tasks. That what He calls me to every single day won’t be easy, and that there may be pain and suffering involved.
When we look to our Savior, the Suffering Servant, we are reminded that He too, had a difficult calling. "For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God" (1 Peter 3:18). The result of His sacrifice is, for us, the opportunity for the best possible life. A life filled with joy and blessing as we glorify God and serve others.
God's purposes are for His glory. Only through the words that Jeremiah spoke, would the people be reminded of the reason for their exile and of the promises of a new covenant, the future restoration.
We can't always see the purposes in what God asks us to do, and when it's hard it can be discouraging. But we hold on to trusting His plans for the renown of His name.
Our calling has a lot to do with who we are becoming. The transforming work of the Holy Spirit in our lives, as He teaches us and reminds us of the Word given to us.
A Calling to Be Set Apart
In the pursuit of following Christ, we are called to a life set apart from the world, to believe truths that don’t fit a secular norm. The Gospel is not a message that the world wants to hear, but it’s what it needs to hear most.
John 16 reminds us that, “In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” As we are called to live, act and speak truth and love to the people around us, we will begin to notice that we don’t fit in, and that’s a good thing. Our calling is to be the light of the world, and the salt of the earth; to be a people who love deeply and serve wholeheartedly.
This will bring discomfort, and perhaps animosity, but these struggles are therapeutic, as God is glorified in lives that honour and proclaim Him.
A Calling to Surrender
Following Christ is a life of obedience, surrendered completely to Christ, that includes all of what lies ahead for today. This can feel like a tall order when circumstances in life don't fit with what we expected, and when decisions are hard.
My own daily obedience begins with loving and serving my people, my husband and my kids, to care for patients well, support my colleagues, and carry out my coursework with my best effort.
Intentionality requires sacrifice. It means putting aside my selfishness and putting others first. It means trusting God when my situation isn't what I want it to be.
Yes, it's hard to give up what we want, or desire, and setting aside ourselves will cost us, but it reaps a bountiful harvest in our character and integrity.
A Calling to Fight Sin
Our struggle isn't against others, although sometimes it may feel that way. The battle of our life is against the flesh, the world and the devil. Temptations easily seize us, we compare our "little" sins to other "big" ones and figure, we don't measure up that bad.
Consider that "measuring up" isn't what we do, it's what God does. Scripture teaches us right living follows right believing. So, are we attaining to the perfection required of us?
Short answer, nope.
In striking contrast we read the words of Hebrews, "In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood" (Hebrews 12:4). We keep on with the battle, confessing our sins because he is faithful and just to forgive us.
This also is a therapeutic pain. We learn to rely on more on the grace of God when we face the sin that is repeatedly before us. We are drawn to humility, confession and repentance.
Relief of All Pain and Suffering
As we wait for the return of Christ, longing for all things to be made new, we will face a hard calling. But we hold onto this hope:
"And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen and establish you." (1 Peter 5:10)
Resolution to some of our suffering may be enacted in our lives here on earth, but we know they will most certainly be abolished in eternity with Christ. Hold onto hope and joy today, as you experience the therapeutic pain of a life that abides in the Vine.
Where are you experiencing therapeutic pain in your journey with Jesus?