The Agony of Painlessness

In Sermon Ideas by Rachel Schultz

The Agony of Painlessness


Key Passage: Hebrews 5:8, 9: Although He [Jesus] was a Son, He learned obedience from what He suffered and, once made perfect, He became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey Him.Key Thought: Even spiritual pain can serve as an important warning mechanism, a wakeup call when we are in danger of being lost.

Introduction: In Pain: The Gift Nobody Wants, Dr. Paul Brand tells the heartbreaking story of a baby girl named Tonya. This small child, 18 months old, had a rare medical problem described as “congenital indifference to pain.” Her mother first discovered it when she came into the baby’s room one day and found her tiny daughter happily fingerpainting red swirls all over the white plastic sheet in the playpen. To her horror, Mom discovered that Tonya had bitten off the tip of her own finger and was playing in the blood. Apparently she simply didn’t feel pain—ever! Cuts, bruises, bites, and even discipline were completely ineffective as danger signals. Nothing hurt and it got to the point where the parents simply couldn’t protect Tonya from herself. In fact, this child discovered that she could emotionally blackmail her own parents; if she misbehaved and they threatened anything, she would simply raise a finger to her mouth as though about to bite it, and they would cave in.

Pain a Blessing: Pain can actually be one of life’s greatest blessings. Brand describes himself as a “career lobbyist for pain.”

Sympathy: Some of you here today deal daily with unremitting pain.

1. Cancer: you already know it’s there. You don’t need the daily ache to keep reminding you of your desperate condition.

2. Divorce: after years of marriage a relationship is over and there’s emotional pain. But the pain is now too late to serve as a warning, because the breakup is already final. And you join others in asking helplessly, “Why does it have to hurt so bad?”

Ask God: There sometimes aren’t good answers to that question. When we get to heaven we’ll ask God about why He allowed our specific pains to continue so long. We’ll be satisfied with His answer then; that we know for sure. But I hope that today and for the rest of this series, we can already begin to partly understand why pain is here.

What Is the GOOD of Pain? Pain is often a lifesaver. Sufferers of Hansen’s Disease (formerly referred to as leprosy) don’t have sensations that warn them of danger. They burn fingers and don’t know it. They walk on sensitive sore spots, even raw places, on their feet, and don’t know to shift their weight to protect themselves. As a Christian missionary in India, Dr. Brand saw seeing lepers walking along briskly, almost jogging, on bleeding stumps with the bones sticking through. They simply didn’t know to stop. The element of pain was not there to protect them.

Pain Reveals God’s Design: Brand and co-author Philip Yancey relate how our bodies reveal what is actually a Creator’s loving design.

Example #1: The Eye: it’s a thousand times more sensitive to pain than the sole of your foot—which makes sense. With the eye being a tool of vision, it needs to be transparent; that limits the number of opaque blood vessels. And the tiniest intruder like a speck of dust or a fist coming toward it invokes an immediate and reflexive act of protection. Your two eyeballs have a hair-trigger sensitivity to pain and a hair-trigger blink mechanism to keep pain out.

Example #2: The Foot: your soles are tough enough to withstand a lot more pain: two hundred grams per square millimeter of pressure, as opposed to two tenths of a gram on the eyeball. This differential is built into our human design. We’re made to feel the right levels of pain in order to protect ourselves.

Dr. Brand: “The beauty of pain is that it lets you know right away when you are harming yourself. Pain, my body’s way of alerting me to danger, will use whatever volume level is necessary to grab my attention. It was their very deafness to this chorus of messages that caused my leprosy patients to destroy themselves. They missed the ‘shouts’ of pain, leading to the direct injuries that I treated every day. And they also missed the whispers of pain, the dangers of the ordinary that come from constant or repetitive stress.”

Christian Application: Spiritual pain is something God can often use as a warning of upcoming danger in the realm of the soul. For example, the first bits of carelessness begin to manifest themselves in the area of your personal devotions. You used to spend time with God each day, but for the last month now you’ve put it off. Things were hard at the office, and you just didn’t get around to having any meaningful time of Bible study and prayer. All at once, you felt the twinge of guilt, and noticed how you missed it! Or a temper flare up reminded you that things were different inside your heart. The soft tenderness had developed a bit of a crust.

I Miss The Way (Michael W. Smith, from his album Eye To Eye) a friend laments, “I miss the way His love would dance within your eyes. I miss the way His heart was the soul of your life. And somewhere in the saddest part of heaven’s room, Our Father sheds a tear for you. He’s missing you, too.” Sometimes spiritual pain serves as a jolt: “Wake up! Smell the burning coffee! Something is wrong in your prayer closet; it’s been empty far too long.”

Levels of Needed Pain: A wise God knows our spiritual pain threshold and sends just the signal we need. For some sensitive Christians, just the slightest tremor of conscience will send them to their knees. Some of the rest of us, more hardened and foolish, like the sole of Huckleberry Finn’s bare foot, have needed more drastic pain signals. A loving God provides the necessary pain, that corrective measure, to bring us back to Him.

Blocking It Out: It is an oh-so-human temptation to try to block out the pains of life. Sometimes this is appropriate. Yet both in the physical and spiritual arenas, our bottles of aspirin and sore-muscle ointments can be deadly deceptions. Pain relief in the United States is now a well over $70 billion-a-year industry; Americans, who represent five percent of the world’s population, consume 50% percent of its manufactured drugs. Dr. Brand quotes the TV commercial line: “I haven’t got time for the pain.” He wishes there would be at least one spot or ad acknowledging some benefit to pain. “I wish they would say, ‘First, LISTEN to your pain. It is your own body talking to you.’  It may be trying to tell you that you are violating your brain with tension, your ears with loudness, your eyes with constant television, your stomach with unhealthy food, your lungs with cancer-producing pollutants. Listen carefully to the message of pain before I give you something to relieve those symptoms. I can help with the symptoms, but you must address the cause.”

Drowning Out God’s Messages: We sometimes try to block out spiritual symptoms as well. We ask the coach of the team to rub some pain-killing liniment on our soul, as it were, so that we can play the entire second half without feeling pain. There are many ways to drown out the twinges of sin.

1. Busyness
2. A louder TV
3. A more frantic social life
4. Even more work at church

These all mask the pain, the still small voice of the conscience. They all block out the pain that a loving God, the “Great Physician” may be trying to use right now as a signal to your heart.

The Pain of Jesus:
 All pain is not good—either in the world of medicine or spiritually. Even our Savior underwent heartaches and excruciating pain that can only be described as horror, a price paid for our sins. Hebrews 5:8, 9: Although He [Jesus] was a Son, He learned obedience from what He suffered and, once made perfect, He became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey Him. So Jesus learned obedience through pain, and maybe God is calling us to do the same.

Grandpa’s Test: After a lifetime of helping people whose lives were tragically destroyed because they couldn’t feel pain, and after many long years of helping people compensate for that congenital handicap, Dr. Brand’s own daughter had a baby boy. So Grandpa had to personally check to make sure that there were ten fingers and ten toes and that the spine was in line. But there was one test Dr. Brand wanted to perform on little Daniel—and he waited until Mom was in the other room. With an ordinary straight pin, this loving physician gave that infant boy a healthy poke in one finger. The baby yanked his hand back, looked at the injured finger, and then at Grandpa Brand—no doubt a look of severe disapproval.

And this Christian physician held that grandson close to his heart and thanked his Creator for the intricate mechanisms that caused pain—and that would provide this small baby with protection throughout his life. “Previously I had thought of pain as a blemish in creation, God’s one great mistake. Now pain stands out as an extraordinary feat of engineering valuable beyond measure.”

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