Growing Pains

Faith may seem strong when things are going well, but when challenges arise we begin to see what lurks in the crevices of the heart. Does your faith quickly wither and die in times of difficulty, or will you remain steadfast? In the growing pains of life, defining moments in events and experiences can hit hard. Hard times test our identity as Christians. Pain and suffering reveal who and what we truly worship. We discover the authenticity of our faith: Is it genuine or merely self-deception? 

As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy, yet he has no root in himself, but endures for a while, and when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately he falls away. - Matt. 13:20-21

Each encounter I’ve had with pain, heartache, or suffering has forced me to leave behind the ease of familiarity. And if we are honest we must admit that when comfort is compromised our lives feel out-of-control. In those moments when life has seemingly fallen apart, we can feel deep confusion in the depths of our being. And when we become shaken, we have a tendency to try to run our own lives. We often place confidence in the wrong places – We can either worship God and believe he is who He says he is or we can put ourselves and our feelings in the center. How we handle these feelings can make all the difference for us, and many times the lives of others. We have a choice to make: Will we fight with perseverance in steadfast faith? Or will we fight God?

Through experience I’ve learned life is not under my control, and my emotions may shatter no matter how strong I have been. My decision to fight through the pain biblically acknowledges a God who is purposefully working in the lives of his children. My identity is secure when I’ve placed trust in Christ. I can humbly approach the throne of a God who is big enough to handle even the toughest of life’s problems. This is who my God is. In the details of the growing pains, my trials and my tears matter. God is using every moment to teach me about sin, about theology, about His continuing work, about Jesus, and about who I am in Him. He is not someone who has forgotten me.

Growing pains teach me about sin.

We reside in a world where things go wrong, yet we live day to day with the expectation that things will not go wrong. Christians are no exception when it comes to living with unreal expectations. Trials, pain, and suffering can be experienced as a result of our own sin, the effects of the sins of others, or as a result of living in a fallen world. Bottom line is that mankind’s fall brought every kind of misery to us and to our world. Sin makes us our own worst enemy, and we will not have the fullness of freedom until the Lord returns. Paul says, “this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison” (2 Cor. 4:17).

As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, - Gen. 50:20a

Growing pains teach me about theology.

Growing pains can be seen as a kind of progressive sanctification, a lifelong process that is twofold: It involves me and God’s Holy Spirit. I am not sufficient in and of myself to accomplish anything of eternal value. Martin Luther taught that suffering should not be something we choose. “It should be the kind of suffering which we have not chosen ourselves, as the fanatics choose their own suffering. It should be the kind of suffering which, if it were possible, we would gladly be rid of, suffering visited upon us by the devil or the world.”

A Christian worldview rests on huge, biblically established, theological frameworks—all of which have to be accepted all of the time. – Don Carson 

The experience of trials, pain, or suffering is one of the many ways God makes us more like him (Rom. 8:28). He uses the times that press us to expose our hearts, to teach us to depend on Him, and to train us in our faith and practice. Our role in progressive sanctification is both passive and active. Jerry Bridges explains, “progressive sanctification very much involves our activity. But it is an activity that must be carried out in dependence on the Holy Spirit. It is not a partnership with the Spirit in the sense that we each—the believer and the Holy Spirit—do our respective tasks. Rather, we work as He enables us to work. His work lies behind all our work and makes our work possible. The Holy Spirit can and does work within us apart from any conscious response on our part. We have seen this in the initial act of sanctification when He creates within us a new heart and gives us an entirely new disposition toward God and His will. He is not dependent on us to do His work. But we are dependent on Him to do our work; we cannot do anything apart from Him. In the process of sanctification there are certain things only the Holy Spirit can do, and there are certain things He has given us to do.” Daily spiritual renewal requires me to intentionally put on the new self (Col. 3:18). Whether or not my feelings warrant doing so, I continue in prayer, worship, service, and fellowship among God’s people. While walking out faithful obedience, I patiently await the feelings that are sure to follow. By way of the Spirit, I draw strength from the Word preached, taught, and read.

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” - 2 Cor. 12:9

Growing pains teach me about God’s work.

My hope is that God’s work to sanctify me will be effective even when I cannot see, make sense of, or fully know what he is doing. God is very different from us, so his works are beyond our ability to fully comprehend. Paul says “Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me” (2 Cor. 12:9). Sometimes we will not be able to see the purpose in our pain but other times, we gain understanding in retrospect. A sovereign God allows us to face differing kinds of pain (2 Cor. 10:13) and we have varying capacities of endurance. You and I are maturing in our faith walk differently. Therefore, I shouldn’t compare my own pain with someone else’s. Make no mistake here: Though we might experience confusion in the moment, we can have assurance that God is at work.

And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. - Phil. 1:6 

God is working in me and through me. In essence, my response to growing pains becomes an integral part of who I am. Whether they be physical, relational, or emotional, God is refining me in the hard moments. God is teaching me new things about himself and in the long term, He is teaching me about myself. In his refining God uses difficulty to expose our remaining sinful attitudes, and behaviors. We are made able to confess faith to our Savior while asking him to forgive us and strengthen us by way of the Spirit (John 14:26; Acts 2:38; 1 John 1:9). 

Often our typical sins emerge in reaction to betrayal, loss, or pain. Hammered by some evil, we discover the evils in our own hearts. And perhaps most often, in the hands of our kind and purposeful Father, the bad and the good both come out. A trial brings out what is most wrong in you, and God brings about what is most right as he meets you and works with you. – David Powlison

Growing pains teach me about Jesus.

The Bible teaches that creation itself suffers and will one day be redeemed (Rom. 8:22-28). Dietrich Bonhoeffer wisely said “A Christian is someone who shares the sufferings of God in the world.” When Jesus walked the earth, his response in every situation was perfect faith and perfect trust. Hebrews 4 tells us that Christ was tempted in every way, just as we are, yet without sin. This gives us great hope that we don’t have to give in or give up to pressures and that Christ empathizes with us. God uses my suffering to help me experience Christ’s sufferings (1 Pet. 4:12-13). Our salvation was bought through suffering. Even while enduring the worst of physical suffering, Christ’s example was not just for himself but for all who would follow through faith. Growing pains teach us to look to Jesus and to depend on Jesus. 

Trials are intended to make us think, to wean us from the world, to send us to the Bible, to drive us to our knees. – J.C. Ryle

Growing pains teach me about God’s love.

I may feel like I’m stranded and at times forgotten, but the truth is that God’s love for me is steadfast. Adversity is an opportunity in the hands of a sovereign and good God. Luther said, “when non-Christians run into affliction and suffering, they have nothing to comfort them, for they do not have the mighty promises and the confidence in God which Christians have. Therefore they cannot comfort themselves with the assurance that God will help them to bear the affliction, much less can they count on it that he will turn their affliction and suffering to good.” He is lovingly using trials, pain, and suffering in my life to grow my relationship, to deepen it, and make it stronger. I need to daily affirm the truth of God’s unfailing love.

God whispers to us in our pleasures but shouts to us in our pain. – C.S. Lewis

In the end, you and I can know that when life’s pain, heartache, and suffering has stripped us of everything else, we find that Christ is enough. Because God’s love is not based on my worth and merit, but on whose I am in Christ Jesus, He will never stop loving me. He may allow me to feel forsaken and alone, but even in the midst of silence He is pursuing me and He is keeping me safe. He will give me rest. He will bring me home.

You have created us for yourself, and we are restless until we find our rest in you. – Augustine

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