Greg Laurie - The Pleasure in Pain
How many of you are runners? You love to get out and run. Raise your hand up. Not a lot of runners. Seriously? No, wait. None of you? How many of you like to run? Anybody? Okay. A few of you. All right. How many of you like to eat donuts? Raise your hand. Oh yeah. Now I understand. Everything makes sense. By the way, I'm with you a little bit there. I don't know about you but I don't... I hate running. I'll just tell you that straight up. I don't like to go to the gym at all but I do. And the reason I do is because well I need to. It helps me. It strengthens me to do what I need to do. But now, I don't do the same things I did when I was younger. Now they have exercises where you stand up and sit down. Stay mobile right.
But no, seriously though, the thing is as I've realized, if you don't do this you're going to pay for it later. You've heard the expression "No pain no gain". In a way, God has a gym, if you will, and in his gym he breaks things down to build them up. You break muscle down to build muscle up. So I'll often go to the gym. I'll make up every excuse as to why I don't want to go there, but after I'm done I'm glad I went because of the results. The same is true in the Christian life. There are times when we go through trials and suffering and we don't like it one bit. We go into it kicking and screaming saying, "Lord, no. Not again. I don't want this". But afterwards, we see the results.
Hebrews 12:11 from a modern translation says, "At the time, discipline isn’t much fun. It always feels like it’s going against the grain. Later, of course, it pays off handsomely, for it’s the well-trained who find themselves mature in their relationship with God". You know, there is pleasure that can come as a result of pain. There's not a lot of pleasure in pain, of course. Now I think a good illustration of this is when a woman gives birth. I know nothing about this. None of us know anything about it. But for you ladies who have done this, you moms out there, you know that there can be pleasure mixed with pain. There's the pain, of course, of childbirth, but there's a pleasure of bringing a new life into the world. So the same is true for us. God will allow us to go through times of pain to bring forth something far greater. But here's what we need to remember: we are loved by God.
Here's an illustration: Lazarus, Mary, and Martha were friends with Jesus. I don't know about you, but if I had the cell number of Jesus, if I was in an ongoing conversation with him, we're texting back and forth, we're communicating all the time. I would make sure everybody on earth knew it. I mean talk about having a friend in high places. Oh yeah Jesus, we're close. And they were close. He came over to their home all of the time. Martha was an amazing cook, chef, and Jesus loved to bring his disciples over. Spend time with them. So one day Lazarus got sick and they sent word to Jesus, "Lord, the one that you love is sick". That was accurate. "Lord, your buddy, your friend Lazarus, he's sick".
They probably thought he would just get there as quickly as possible and touch Lazarus or speak a word and Lazarus would be healed, but here's what we read in John 11:5, "Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. So, when He heard that he was sick, He stayed two more days in the place where He was". Huh? What? Why didn't he rush back and heal Lazarus? It actually says because he loved Lazarus, Mary and Martha. You see, sometimes we feel if God loves us he will get us out of the problem we're in. But sometimes the Lord will allow us to go through it because he has a plan and a purpose to make us stronger. Why? Because he loves us and because he wants us to grow up. You see, they wanted a healing: Jesus wanted a resurrection. Of course, you know Jesus raised Lazarus again from the dead.
So here's what we want to remember as we talk a little bit about suffering in this message is that we are loved by God. Let me take that a step further. God loves you as much as he loves his own beloved Son because Jesus said in John 17:23 in his prayer to the Father, "Father, my prayer is that the world may know that you've sent me and that you've loved them as much as you love me". Wow that's incredible. You're loved by God and because you're loved by God, he fills you with the Holy Spirit as one of his children, bringing me to my first point.
Spirit-filled people are spiritually minded people. I think we get really confused when we use the word "Spirit-filled". Sometimes Christians will say to other Christians, "Are you Spirit-filled"? What do you mean by that? "You know, Spirit-filled". Well every Christian in a technical sense is Spirit-filled. Having said that, every Christian should also be constantly asking the Lord to fill them, refill them and fill them again. But sometimes people do weird things in the name of the Holy Spirit. You know you'll be talking to them and they'll say, "Well, you know - ah!". "What was that"? "It was the Holy Spirit. It's okay". What? What?! Or they'll take a strange intonation in the way they speak and they'll say, "You know I wanted to just say unto thee...". What are you doing? "It's the Holy Spirit". No it isn't. You're just being weird. That's all it is. It has nothing to do with the Holy Spirit.
I think we overly mystify the work of the Spirit and misunderstand it as a result. To be Spirit-filled in a technical biblical sense means to be Spirit controlled, and if you're Spirit controlled, you want to walk in the Spirit. If you're Spirit controlled, you want to obey the spirit. If you're Spirit controlled, you want to think about the things that the Holy Spirit wants you to think about. What are those things? They're identified for us right here in Romans 8. But here's what we want to put our focus on right now. There's a lot of things that God has done for us that are revealed in this amazing chapter and there's four great freedoms that God has given to us and I want to identify them for you.
1. Freedom from judgement because Romans 8:1 says, "There is therefore, now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus". After we sin, sometimes we beat ourselves up. It's our way of sort of paying penance for the wrongs we've done. But you don't need to pay your penance, you don't need to atone for your sin, your sin has already been atoned for at the cross of Calvary. It's been paid for by Jesus Christ. So when you've sinned and you ask God to forgive you of your sin, he forgives you of your sin and there is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus. It's freedom from judgment.
2. There's freedom from defeat. There's no obligation to serve sin as your master. Look at Romans 8:12. "Therefore, dear brothers and sisters, you have no obligation to do what your sinful nature tells you to do". See, before we were Christians, satan had us on a choke chain and we pretty much did what he wanted us to do. Do you know what a choke chain is? You put them on dogs. They're very tight. You pull on it. They'll gag. Yeah. The dog will pretty much do what you want when you pull on that choke chain far more than a leash by the way. If you really want to train a dog a choke chain is pretty effective.
A while ago I decided I wanted to maybe get a new dog. Now I have had a couple of German shepherds over the years and I was thinking of maybe a German shepherd but there's a guy in our church that trains dogs. Some of them are trained for the police and he's had this really cool dog. It was an adult. It was trained already. But this was the kind of dog I've never seen before. It's called a malinois. Do you know what a malinois is? A malinois is like a German shepherd that's been working out at the gym. Okay it's just like it's a German shepherd on steroids. It's like next level of German shepherd. They're used a lot by police. They're even used by the seal team.
So he brings this very trained dog with a lot of energy to me and I said wow. I don't know. That might be too much dog for me. I said this is kind of a weird request, but can I keep the dog overnight and just kind of take it for a test drive? He says absolutely. So he brings the dog over in its kennel and he shows me the commands you know for the dog that are in German or something like that and you know here's how you control the dog and here's the choke chain. You pull on this chain. Okay, so I've got it all down and so I take the dog out for a walk and so the dog, it's doing its business right. So I'm looking at it and then I pull my phone out and I'm checking something and I look back and the dog is gone. The switched on German shepherd on steroids is gone and it's not on the choke chain. It's running full speed toward another dog and so I'm like running as fast as I can. I feel like I'm running in slow motion, you know, just because this dog is so fast. By the time I get there, it's a full dog fight going on.
So I grab the malinois in a headlock. I grab the top of his jaw with my left hand. The bottom of his jaw with my right hand and I push his mouth shut. I grab the choke chain, pull it around his neck, take him back home, pick up the phone and call the guy back and I said, "You can come pick your dog up". I said this is too much dog for me. I need a station wagon, not a Ferrari. Okay. Then I ask him, "Do you have any Labradoodles"? I really didn't.
So now this dog, this malinois, went to a new owner that loves the dog and trains the dog. He doesn't even need a choke chain. He just tells the dog what to do. The dog does it. The dog just looks up at him. I'll walk over to the dog sometimes and say, "Hi, remember me? I was your master for one day". He's like "pft! Yeah. Right. You're such a loser". Looking back up at his master. "What master? Master? What? What? What master"? He loves his master so much he doesn't even need a choke chain and that's our relationship with God. We follow him because we want to not because we have to. Satan had us on the choke chain: we follow the Lord out of desire and that's what Christ has done for each of us. We're not forced by the Spirit. We're led by the Spirit.
Here's another point: we have access to God. Romans 8:15. "You did not receive the spirit of bondage again to fear. You've received the Spirit of adoption by whom you cry out Abba Father. The Spirit bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs...", underline the word heirs, "...heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ". I love the fact that Paul tells us that we can say Abba Father. This has no reference to the band Abba. No dancing queen here. Abba is the Hebrew version of "Daddy" or "Poppa". If you go to Israel today you'll even see small little children saying to their father, "Abba," and they'll call their mother "Ima". But it's an affectionate word. It's not like father. It's more like daddy and there's an intimacy implied there.
So it's a relationship. A special relationship a parent has with their children and I might add their grandchildren. You know when your child calls you hear it. They'll say daddy or poppa or mommy or mama and you'll respond because that's your child. Same is true, as I said, for your grandchildren. This is the kind of relationship we have with God. We can call out to him. Sometimes it's a cry of delight. "Poppa, look what I found. Look what I did. Look what I drew," and you need to pay attention and show your delight. And sometimes it's a cry of pain "Help, abba father. I'm in trouble".
Jesus did this very thing in the Garden of Gethsemane. We read that he came to this olive grove called Gethsemane. He said to his disciples, "Sit here while I pray," and then we read he was deeply troubled and distressed, and he said, "My soul is crushed with grief to the point of death. Stay here and watch with me". He went a little distance from them and he prayed these words, "Abba Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours be done".
This is an incredible thing that he does for each of us. I am a son. I am a daughter. I am a child of God. But sometimes we act like a slave. Timothy Keller in his excellent commentary on Romans contrasted the difference between a slave and a son. See, sometimes we think we can increase God's acceptance and blessing by our work. If that's what we're doing then we're entering into a slave mentality instead of a son mentality. As Keller pointed out, a slave obeys God under compulsion because they have to. A son obeys God out of love for their Abba. The slave says if I slip up my master will beat me. The son says if I slip up my father will welcome me.
And this is illustrated perfectly in the story of the prodigal son. He went out and messed up. Drug the family name through the gutter. One day came to his senses and said "I'm going home. But I'm no longer a son that's clear. Dad would never let me back in the house again. I'll just be a slave. I'll just be a hired servant because even they have it better than I have it right now". But Jesus says, when that boy was still a great ways off, the father saw him, ran to him, threw his arms around him, kissed him and said "This my son who was dead is alive again. He who was lost is found". And he put a ring on his finger implying son-ship, a royal robe on him, so the bottom line is he was a wayward son but he was still a son.
We have all of these things given to us by God. Why would anyone not want to become a Christian? God will forgive you of all of your sin. He'll adopt you as his own child. You will have access to his throne and his presence 24/7. You have the guaranteed hope that you'll go to heaven when you die. But I have to be honest, there's something else that comes along with this Christian life.
Christians will suffer in life, but God will be with us. Yes, in one way the battle is over - our battle with God. We're no longer fighting with him. Now we're surrendering to him. But ah, a new battle has begun with the devil, with the world, with the flesh. The Bible tells us. Verse 17, "If indeed we suffer with him, we will be glorified together for I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared to the glory that will be revealed in us".
Some might read that and say, "Well, I didn't sign up for this. I don't do suffering". Really? Then you don't do Christianity, my friend, because the Bible says all that live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution, trials, hardships, difficulties and yes even suffering will come into every believer's life. James tells us in chapter 1 verse 2, "Count it all joy when you fall into various trials". He did not say count it all joy if - no, It's not if, it's when. It's just a matter of when - it's going to happen. I love a modern translation of James 1 that says, "Consider it a sheer gift, friends, when tests and challenges come at you from all sides. You know that under pressure your faith is going to be forced into the open and show its true colors".
Sometimes people say, "I'm going through a hardship right now that's so bad, I'm losing my faith. I'm losing my religion". Good. Lose your religion, and replace it with relationship with God. Listen to this, the faith that cannot be tested is a faith that cannot be trusted. So if your faith is so weak that it can't stand a test, then maybe it's not real faith anyway. That's the whole point. Real Christians will have their faith strengthened through hardship not weakened through it. You break it down to build it up as I was saying in the beginning.
If you live a godly life you will suffer in one way, shape, or form. But we ask why? Why does a Christian have to suffer? I get why a nonbeliever suffers. They break the laws of God. They thumb their nose at God. They do all these bad things. Yeah, you know, they suffer and maybe they deserve to but why me? I try to do everything God tells me to do. Here's why. Because if you're loved by God, you're going to be hated by someone else and that someone else is called the devil. The devil hates what God loves, and you are truly loved by God. But don't miss the promise: if we suffer together we will be glorified.
Well there's no better example of this than the story of Job, old Job. You wonder, did Job ever know he was going to become the go-to illustration for suffering? By the way, it's the oldest book of the Bible. Job was written even before Genesis. Did he ever in his wildest dreams know that he would be the guy we would talk about? Job, and poor Job, he never read the Book of Job. He didn't know how the story ended. He lived it in real time. Of course, we know how the Lord blessed him in the end, but we know that it started when God was bragging on Job in heaven, and the devil brought a series of attacks against Job and his family and his health and his possessions that the Lord allowed for his purposes.
But then we asked, "But why did this happen"? Job himself gives the answer in Job 23:10. He says of God, "He knows the way that I take and when he has tested me, I will come forth as gold". Why is this happening to you? Why are you going through this hardship? So you will come forth as gold. So your faith will get stronger. So you will become more like Jesus. God is getting us ready for heaven.
Suffering remind us that earth is not our home, heaven is. In fact, suffering prepares us for heaven. Suffering and pain cause us to not depend on ourselves, but instead, depend on God. You say, "But why doesn't God stop it"? Well, hey, sometimes he does. Sometimes he does. There's nothing wrong with saying, "Lord, stop it". He might answer that prayer in the affirmative. Remember the disciples on the Sea of Galilee. They were cruising along. A big storm came. They're freaking out. They think they're going to die. Jesus is asleep. They wake him up. "Lord, we're going to perish. What are you doing"? Jesus walks right up there in the deck of the boat, looks out of that storm and says, "Peace! Be still"! And that could actually be translated "Peace! Be muzzled"! As though he were talking to a wild dog - not an oodle, a malinois kind of dog you know. "Peace! Be muzzled"! Stops.
Sometimes he'll stop the storm, and other times he'll be with us through the storm for there's many instances where the storm raged but he was with them through it as well. But here's the thing to remember: Everybody suffers. everybody has pain in life. I don't care how rich they are, how famous they are, how beautiful or handsome they are, whoever they are, wherever they are. Everybody suffers in life. The Bible says the rain falls on the just and the unjust. Christians die in automobile accidents just like nonbelievers do. Christians get cancer just like nonbelievers do. Christians get old just like nonbelievers do. We go through the same things. But here's the big difference we don't want to miss: it is only the Christian who can know that God is ultimately in control. It is only the Christian who knows that God can work all things together for good. It is only the Christian who knows that we will one day be rewarded in heaven. And it is only the Christian that has the Holy Spirit helping them through their times of hardship.
That brings me right to my next point: We're not alone in our suffering. Look at Romans 8:26-27, "Likewise the Spirit also helps in our weaknesses. For we do not know what we should pray for as we ought, but the Spirit Himself makes intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered. Now He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because He makes intercession for the saints according to the will of God". The Holy Spirit of God is the most misunderstood member of the Trinity. There's a lot it could say about us, but here's what scripture is telling us, "He enters into our suffering with us. He does this with groanings too deep for words (verse 27).
Charles Swindoll in his commentary in Romans said this: "The greater the groan the greater the glory. God is not the source of pain. And he did not promise to prevent our suffering. Instead, he promises that no pain will go to waste. What the world intends for harm, God will use for our good". And that's true. Know this: the joy to come will be greater after you have come through the trial you are in.
And that brings me to this final point: We have a hopeful future. No matter what you're going through, you have a hopeful future. I can tell you in complete confidence today that whatever you're facing right now, the best is still yet to come.