Redeeming Pain

When history speaks, do we listen?

by Terry Powell

It’s one thing to say that God’s sovereignty redeems our pain or weakness for a greater purpose. It’s another thing altogether to see a vivid illustration of the truth.

David Brainerd (1718-1747) took the gospel of Christ to Indians in Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey, often living alone with sparse food rations and exposure to cold. Extremely melancholy in temperament, Brainerd endured long episodes of joylessness, often slinking into despair over awareness of his sin, or over an incapacity to feel more love for the people he was trying to reach. Physical frailty accompanied his psychological anguish. He died of tuberculosis before his thirtieth birthday.

A couple years after launching missionary work among the Indians, in 1845, God’s Spirit brought a spiritual awakening in New Jersey. Within a year, the church Brainerd started numbered 130.

Brainerd kept diaries in which he described bouts of despondency, disclosed his consciousness of sin in light of God’s holiness, and recounted efforts to evangelize the Indians. Their pages teem with honest self-disclosure as well as desperate dependence on God for physical and emotional sustenance.

Twenty-two places in his diaries he yearned for death as an escape from his misery. Yet he persisted in proclaiming Christ, even when his own temperamental makeup eclipsed his ability to experience the joy inherent in the gospel. One entry revealed his acceptance of weakness and deeply-entrenched desire to finish well: “Oh, for more of God in my soul! Oh, this pleasing pain! It makes my soul press after God… Oh, that I might never loiter on my heavenly journey.”

After his death, the fruit of Brainerd’s life multiplied exponentially. In 1749, Jonathan Edwards, in whose home Brainerd died, took the diaries and published them as a Life of Brainerd, a book that’s never been out of print. Renown missionaries and leaders galvanized by Brainerd’s story include John Wesley, Henry Martyn, William Carey, Robert McCheyne, David Livingstone, Andrew Murray, and Jim Elliot.

The borders of Brainerd’s impact weren’t expanded in spite of his emotional and physical afflictions, but because of them.

His story resonates with so many servants over the years because when push comes to shove, they, too, wrestle with sinful propensities, episodes of despondency, and physical frailties. They believe they are candidates for the same divine grace they observe in Brainerd’s life. John Piper, himself buoyed by Brainerd’s story, offers this apt summary statement: “Brainerd’s life is a vivid, powerful testimony to the truth that God can and does use weak, sick, discouraged, beat-down, lonely, struggling saints who cry to him day and night to accomplish amazing things for his glory.”

How can God use you despite physical or emotional frailty?

For biblical indicators that God uses weak, needy people, read these texts: 1 Corinthians 1:26-29; 2 Corinthians 4:7; 12:9-10. Resources quoted are The Life of David Brainerd, by Jonathan Edwards, and The Hidden Smile of God: The Fruit of Affliction on the Lives of John Bunyan, William Cowper, and David Brainerd, by John Piper.


Terry teaches in the areas of Church Ministry and Ministry Leadership at Columbia International University in South Carolina. He has served as a Christian Education staff member for three  churches, and he’s a licensed preacher in the Presbyterian Church of America.  His current books in print are Serve Strong:  Biblical Encouragement to Sustain God’s Servants, and  Now That’s Good A Question!  How To Lead Quality Bible Discussions. Terry has been married for 46 years, and has two sons, a daughter-in-law, one grandson, and a dachshund.  His constant prayer is, “Lord, make me half the man my dog thinks I am!”

Terry has a new blog at http://www.penetratingthedarkness.com. It deals with the believer’s depression and other mental issues. Please visit him and tell him “Hi” from me.

Saved from What? What ‘s Your Story?

“If I was to ask you tonight if you were saved? Do you say ‘Yes, I am saved’. When? ‘Oh so and so preached, I got baptized and…’ Are you saved? What are you saved from, hell? Are you saved from bitterness? Are you saved from lust? Are you saved from cheating? Are you saved from lying? Are you saved from bad manners? Are you saved from rebellion against your parents? Come on, what are you saved from?”

–Leonard Ravenhill

“And he said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”

Luke 7:50

 

 

 

 

 

True Comfort, Total Rest

“I have taken much pains to know everything that is esteemed worth knowing amongst men; but with all my reading, nothing now remains to comfort me at the close of this life but this passage of St. Paul: “It is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners.” To this I cleave, and herein do I find rest.”

–John Selden

Return, O my soul, to your rest;
    for the Lord has dealt bountifully with you.

Psalm 116:7. ESV

 

 

 

 

 

Perseverance Through the Battle

“The reason why many fail in battle is because they wait until the hour of battle. The reason why others succeed is because they have gained their victory on their knees long before the battle came. Anticipate your battles; fight them on your knees before temptation comes, and you will always have victory.”

    R.A. Torrey

 

“A final word: Be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on all of God’s armor so that you will be able to stand firm against all strategies of the devil.”

Ephesians 6:10

 

 

 

 

 

Some Struggles Are Not Optional

“There are some fires you can’t get out of–you’ve got to go through the fire–you’ve got to go through the flood–you’ve got to go through the test–you’ve got to go through the struggle that you might decrease and he might increase.”

 –T.D. Jakes

 

“God never promises to remove us from our struggles. He does promise, however, to change the way we look at them.”

 –Max Lucado

“For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.”

Ephesians 6:12

 

 

 

A New Perspective About Sin

“Our first problem is that our attitude towards sin is more self-centred than God-centred. We are more concerned about our own “Victory” over sin than we are about the fact that our sin grieve the heart of God. We cannot tolerate failure in our struggle with sin chiefly because we are success oriented, not because we know it is offensive to God.”

    Jerry Bridges

 

“And I will give you a new heart, and I will put a new spirit in you. I will take out your stony, stubborn heart and give you a tender, responsive heart.”

Ezekiel 36:26

 

 

 

Be Honest With Him

“Perhaps God has been speaking to you and you wonder why you have troubles. Maybe you have suffered a financial loss and you find it very difficult to understand. Is God speaking to you in an effort to bring you back to Himself? You need to face these matters squarely and be honest with God as He deals with you.”

–Theodore Epp

“It is good for me that I have been afflicted; that I might learn thy statutes.”

Psalm 119:71

“For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison,”

2 Corinthians 4:17