This morning I read 1 Chronicles 4 where a man named Jabez is introduced. A prayer of Jabez’ is recorded in verse 10 where it says:
“Jabez called out to the God of Israel: “If only you would bless me, extend my border, let your hand be with me, and keep me from harm, so that I will not experience pain.” And God granted his request.”1 Chronicles 4:10, CSB
A while back, there was a book that was very popular in Christian circles that centered on this verse. I remember reading it but I didn’t find it very helpful or encouraging. The promise of that book (as I recall) was that if I prayed that prayer with the proper sincerity, like Jabez, I would not experience pain.
I would like to believe that if I do everything right and if I pray the right prayer, everything will turn out well and my prayer to be relieved of discomfort will be granted. Regrettably, there is a large market for books and lectures that will promise exactly such an experience if we only do it correctly. But in doing so, these authors and speakers (perhaps unintentionally) present God as a heavenly vending machine that gives us what we want if we put in the correct amount and make the right selection.
The problem is that both Scripture and experience demonstrate that this is a false hope akin to the wish of turning lead into gold.
One need look no farther than the apostles to see that living a life of faithfulness to God does not prevent the experience of pain. The Apostle Paul recounts his experience:
“Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I received a stoning. Three times I was shipwrecked. I have spent a night and a day in the open sea. On frequent journeys, I faced dangers from rivers, dangers from robbers, dangers from my own people, dangers from Gentiles, dangers in the city, dangers in the wilderness, dangers at sea, and dangers among false brothers; toil and hardship, many sleepless nights, hunger and thirst, often without food, cold, and without clothing. Not to mention other things, there is the daily pressure on me: my concern for all the churches.”2 Corinthians 11:25–28, CSB
How can we expect a pain-free life if this has been the experience of one of the writers of the New Testament? All of the other Apostles had similar experiences to what Paul has cataloged above.
I am reminded that God does not arrange our circumstances with the first priority of making us happy, safe or pain-free. He is interested, most importantly, in our holiness and our effectiveness in fulfilling our mission to make disciples.
God uses circumstances, even painful ones, to bring us into deeper relationship with himself. Perhaps we should say, that God especially uses the painful ones to teach us what he wants us to learn.
I am reminded of C. S. Lewis’ statement, ” . . . pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”
As I write this, the entire world is caught in the grip of the COVID-19 pandemic. Christians will experience this along side of everyone else. We will be affected by this disease and people we know and love will be stricken by it.
As we approach Easter Sunday, we are reminded that the one who was able to defeat death is the same one who promises to be constantly with us (see Matthew 28:20).
No matter what happens and how this turns out, we still have Jesus and the resurrection proves that he is enough.