Third Purpose of Pain per C.S. Lewis

i_give_upContinued from here.

The final primary purpose of pain identified by C.S. Lewis in his book, The Problem of Pain, is harder to explain, but grasping this truth can transform you powerfully. Here’s how Lewis explains it:

We cannot therefore know that we are acting at all, or primarily, for God’s sake, unless the material of the action is contrary to our inclinations, or (in other words) painful, and what we cannot know that we are choosing, we cannot choose. The full acting out of the self’s surrender to God therefore demands pain; this action, to be perfect, must be done from the pure will to obey, in the absence, or in the teeth, of inclination.”

Let me explain this concept in another way. Jesus said that to be his disciple, we must deny ourselves, take up our cross, and follow Jesus. If it feels good to follow Jesus, then we might simply be following him because it feels good. If God blesses everything we do as we follow Jesus, how does He know whether we are following Jesus because we love him versus love the blessings? When God strips away all incentive to follow Jesus – when following him results in nothing but pain – will you continue to keep following him? Or will you walk away?

Lewis says that self-surrender is achieved …

when the creature, with no desire to aid it, stripped naked to the bare willing of obedience, embraces what is contrary to its nature, and does that for which only one motive is possible.”

And that is what Jesus did, only his standard was even higher than ours. God has promised that no matter how much pain He allows into our lives, He will never leave or forsake us. However, that was not the case with Jesus:

Martyrdom always remains the supreme enacting and perfection of Christianity … initiated for us … by Christ on Calvary. There the degree of accepted Death reaches the utmost bounds of the imaginable and perhaps goes beyond them; not only all natural supports, but the presence of the very Father to whom the sacrifice was made deserts the victim, and surrender to God does not falter though God ‘forsakes’ it.”

In other words, God has promised never to leave or forsake us, so we can lean into Him as we suffer while He perfects our faith. However, Jesus stayed true to God in his self-sacrifice despite the fact that God DID “forsake” him as He separated from Christ as he carried our sins and conquered death. Jesus, who made the supreme sacrifice of self-will, is now elevated above everyone and everything, having provided us with the ultimate example. That gives me chills!

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace lying down and holding a sign that says, “I give up.” Courtesy Bitmoji.]

 

Pain’s Role in Shattering the Illusion of Self-Sufficiency

break_guitarContinued from here.

I hope and pray that nobody reading this blog entry will be as stubborn as I was in letting go of the illusion of self-sufficiency. I fought God with all that I had to my own detriment, and the process was exceedingly painful, both physically and emotionally. I repeatedly threw myself against His brick wall, but He never budged. I cannot put into words how painful the process of being sifted as wheat was, but I came out on the other side with a deep fear of the Lord. I will now do whatever God tells me to do because I’m too fearful not to – not that I am “afraid” of God – I simply fear disobeying Him. I trust Him completely and know that as long as I fear Him (trust & obey Him), I need never fear anything else. He holds me in the palm of His hand.

The truth is that God created us to be dependent upon Him. Each of us has a deep yearning to fill up with Him, but most of us seek to fill that place with anything other than God. For me, some of those idols were food, friendships, and television. For others, it might be sex (pornography), drugs, alcohol, compulsive busyness, and the like. Anything we overdo is really us trying to fill the space inside that only God can fill.

Lewis said,

The creature’s illusion of self-sufficiency must, for the creature’s sake, be shattered.”

For someone like me with lots of deep emotional pain, there was plenty to work with internally to break this illusion. For people who have been blessed to grow up in safe, loving environments, God might need to allow external forms of pain, such as misfortunes, into their lives, which often leads folks to ask why God would allow such terrible things to happen in the lives of good people. One way or another, God must lead each of us to realize that only He can satisfy us, and we learn that through experiencing pain.

I share Lewis’ sentiments in revealing these realities to you:

I am only trying to show that the old Christian doctrine of being made perfect through suffering is not incredible. To prove it palatable is beyond my design.”

When I find myself in a season of suffering, I try to remember that the question I need to ask is not whether a relationship with God is too difficult. The real question is whether it’s worth it … and it is.

To be continued…

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace breaking a guitar. Courtesy Bitmoji.]

 

Two Purposes of Pain per C.S. Lewis

punchContinued from here.

Now that the holidays are over, let’s continue exploring C.S. Lewis’ observations and theories from his book, The Problem of Pain. Lewis asserted that pain has three primary purposes, the first of which I explained in my last blog entry. Lewis’ identifies the first two purposes of pain as follows:

If the first and lowest operation of pain shatters the illusion that all is well, the second shatters the illusion that what we have, whether good or bad in itself, is our own and enough for us.”

I provided a specific example in my last blog entry from my own life of the first purpose of pain. God absolutely refused to heal my emotional pain from the childhood abuse, no matter how long and fervently I prayed, until I did what He said to do and forgave my childhood abusers. I never would have forgiven them if pain had not been my constant companion, alerting me that all was not well in my soul as long as I remained bitter.

My soul also needed pain to break through the self-deception of being self-sufficient. I am a recovering control freak and, in my flesh, find it extremely difficult to let go of the illusion of being in control. As a child, my world was filled with pain as others controlled my life and harmed me. As an adult, I was determined to fully control my own life and not submit to ANYONE. I saw submission as ceding control to someone else and did not trust that “someone else” not to take advantage of that control over me. This wreaked havoc in every area of my life as I repeatedly refused to submit to authority. I was extremely manipulative and knew how to give the impression of obeying those in authority over me while I did whatever looked best to me.

God broke my self-sufficiency by leading me through a season of sifting. Think of a tree trunk that has grown around a vine so that the vine appears to be part of the tree. That’s how I saw myself – I viewed the vine of control as part of who I was rather than something I was doing. So, God allowed Satan to sift me as wheat and break my will, chopping down the tree below the vine so He could then grow me back without the vine. That was one of the most painful years of my life – my dark night (year) of the soul. For one year, God was silent, and I didn’t break until I was bedridden with a debilitating illness that my doctor could not diagnose.

To be continued…

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace being punched. Courtesy Bitmoji. ]

 

Learning to Walk in Faith throughout Your Day

whats_goodContinued from here.

I was blown away by this teaching and can personally testify to the truth of the importance of maintaining an atmosphere in your life that is conducive to your faith. I have not been as consistent with surrounding myself with friends of faith to spur me on, but I do have some dear Christian friends who I reach out to for prayer support when I am struggling. It helps to talk with someone who has been in the trenches and has personally experienced God’s faithfulness as you are facing your own storms in life.

If you want to be a man or woman of great faith – not just in size but in duration – I strongly encourage you to partner with others who are chasing God and to take intentional steps to control your atmosphere. Even if you can only set aside five minutes at a time, follow Daniel’s lead to set aside three times a day to pray and thank God. This simple act can radically change your outlook, shifting your focus from the size of your storm to the size of your God.

Also, remember that endurance is built one step at a time. Think about an alcoholic following the Alcoholics Anonymous program one day at a time. It’s too much to think about never drinking again, but it’s manageable simply to get through this moment. The program encourages accountability through a sponsor – perhaps find a “faith sponsor” for yourself to hold you accountable for growing your faith. And the program also encourages a change in atmosphere, such as no longer frequenting bars or being in relationships with people who are going to encourage the alcoholic to drink. In the same way, we can change our atmosphere to remove ourselves from the influences that lead us to doubt God and replace those influences with those that encourage us to keep walking toward God, no matter how stormy the waters. Just as an alcoholic can learn to live sober, you can learn to continue walking in faith, one step at a time.

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace standing by a staircase and asking, “What’s good?” Courtesy Bitmoji.]

 

Extend Your Faith through the Atmosphere You Surround Yourself With

storm_cloudContinued from here.

Pastor Ashley also made the observation that Peter’s faith faltered because of the atmosphere around him. As if stepping out onto water was not daunting enough, his feet sought to walk on a body of water that was stormy, with the waves crashing against him and the wind whipping him. This atmosphere was a distraction from his faith, leading him to doubt and sink.

Pastor Ashley pointed out that we are responsible for the atmosphere surrounding us, and the best way to change that atmosphere is through praise and worship. Amen to that! I have been living this reality for a long time now. In fact, God had led me to meet with him in prayer followed by praise & worship three times a day – first thing in the morning, midday, and then before bed.

I have been starting my day with God (the first hour) for years now, and I noticed that it was easy to hold onto my faith in the mornings. No matter what storms hit me at work or in my personal life, I could rest in the stability of a God who loves me and is in control. However, by midafternoon, I was much more susceptible to becoming unstable in my faith. Why? Because I allowed the atmosphere surrounding me to change. Too much time had passed since I filled up with the Living Water in the wee hours of the morning, so the storms of life that could not touch me before lunch had the ability to shift my focus from Jesus to my problems in the afternoon. The antidote has been engaging in prayer, praise, and worship after lunch to provide me with the stability I need to maintain my faith throughout the afternoon. This is what Daniel did, which is how he managed to maintain his faith in the lion’s den. If we want Daniel-type faith, we need to do what Daniel did and maintain an atmosphere that focuses on our God rather than on our problems.

To be continued…

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace standing under a dark cloud with lightning and pouring rain. Courtesy Bitmoji.]

 

Extend Your Faith through the Company You Keep

need_new_friendsContinued from here.

Pastor Ashley’s first piece of advice for increasing the duration of your faith is to surround yourself with people who are chasing God. He pointed out that Peter had the faith to step out of the boat when he was surrounded by the other disciples. However, he stepped out alone and wasn’t next to Jesus yet when he doubted and began to sink. Perhaps if he had stepped out of the boat with James and John, the story would have had a different ending.

Contrast this with two other stories in the Bible about people who surrounded themselves with others of faith and were successful. Pastor Ashley’s first example was Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, who together refused to bow to an idol, even at the price of being throw into a fiery furnace. Pastor Ashley pointed out that in every group, you typically find a rule-keeper and a rule-breaker, both of whom can influence the group. You want to surround yourself with people who want to keep the rules in following God and break the rules of your circumstances that say that something is impossible. Perhaps Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego might have buckled under the pressure if they had stood before King Nebuchadnezzar alone, but by standing together, they were able to extend the duration of their faith on to victory.

He second example was the men who lowered their paralytic friend through the roof of where Jesus was preaching. Alone, each one might have given up because it seemed impossible to get their friend to Jesus because of the crowds. However, these men worked together and refused to leave until they got their paralyzed friend to Jesus. I’m sure it was not easy to carry a paralyzed man onto the roof, cut through the roof, and lower him down to Jesus, but they did it by working together. They urged one another on, extending the duration of their faith. Pastor Ashley’s advice is to surround yourself with other people who will help spur on your faith so that it will last.

To be continued…

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace looking sad and opening a door under the words, “I need new friends…” Courtesy Bitmoji.]

 

Increasing the Duration of your Faith

runningContinued from here.

As I shared in my last blog entry, the story of Jesus telling Peter he has “little faith” after he walked on the water (albeit briefly) makes much more sense if you consider that Jesus was not judging the size of Peter’s faith when he stepped out of the boat but, instead, making an observation about the short duration of that great faith, which ceased when he began to doubt. As Pastor Ashley pointed out, doesn’t this happen with us? We are inspired at church on Sunday and take a great leap of faith in moving that mountain that has been blocking our way for decades. However, by Tuesday, the duration of our faith has ended as we begin to doubt and sink back into our circumstances. We conclude that our faith on Sunday must not have been real, but perhaps, like Peter, it was great faith … it just didn’t last because we doubted.

The Bible tells us that doubt makes us double-minded and unstable in all that we do. Peter was able to walk on the water briefly, but it wound up being inconsistent because he doubted. And don’t we do the same thing? God tells us to come through impossible circumstances, and we respond to that call, taking a huge step in faith that feels “right” in the moment. But then we break our eye contact with Jesus and focus our attention onto the storms around us, leading us to doubt and sink. Our lack of faith and consistent focus on Jesus makes us unstable, causing us to have great leaps of faith followed shortly by sinking back into our circumstances, causing us to doubt that we ever had any faith in the first place. Sound familiar? It sure does to me!

I’ll share what Pastor Ashley advises to do about this in my next two blog entries.

To be continued…

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace running. Courtesy Bitmoji.]