All who are thirsty
All who are weak
Come to the fountain
Dip your heart in the stream of life
Let the pain and the sorrow
Be washed away
In the waves of his mercy
As deep cries out to deep (we sing)
Come Lord Jesus come…*
Our pastor is exhorting the flock to follow Jesus, to listen to what he says and do it.
He uses as illustration the first miracle, of turning water into wine for a wedding. Mary notices the shortfall and instructs the servants: Do as he tells you.
The jugs are filled with water, which becomes the best of wine.
It should be noted that Mary is a person of faith. You can trace it back to Luke 1 where an angel gives her the startling news that she’ll carry the Christ child. She simply replies: May it be to me as you have said. Another Bible version has her reply: Behold, the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word.
The sermon noted that we don’t often do what Jesus tells us. After praying and seeking answers, even after hearing them, we often turn away, because the answers are not what we expected. Not what we wanted.
There are voices competing with His voice. That’s without doubt. Pastor Tony noted the evil character Grima Wormtongue of the movie Lord of the Rings, who casts his spells on good king Theoden, rendering him aged, tired, ineffective, a shell of himself. We must beware of the voices that compete with God’s, those poisoned voices that say: But I could never do that, I must have this, I must look this way—it’s too hard!
Sometimes these voices come from friends who would rather not see you change; otherwise they might see that their own lives lack focus. They can even come from family.
But often these voices come from deep within us, from what I’ll call the well of pain. It’s here that rejection resides, simmering among the memories of every wound cast upon your soul. There lie the fractured days of the marriage ripped to shreds, the business betrayed to bankruptcy, the child who tore your heart and ran, the illness that robbed life, and the God who did not make things smooth.
From this well we drink, when healing seems too large, far beyond what we can grasp or imagine. Here we nurse a secret pride.
I was mulling a friend’s inability to let pain go, when this poem came to me:
Like Ananias and Sapphira
You said you gave your all to God.
But there’s something you secreted away;
Something you kept and held,
Laid silent and protected,
Something that makes you feel rich.
It is the pain you kept and glorified,
And would not release.
The pain that wakes you up at night
Racked in the gut with sobs
Of what was lost in this life.
Wife, money, job, a child…
Maybe a slam, an injustice!
And they should get theirs!
God says give it up to Me.
Let it go.
But you stuff it down,
Will not feel the stripes
Of His sacrifice,
Nor let them help you live.
Lately the Lord has been showing me just how much pain I have stuffed away. In our secret times, when I wait, with worship music playing, for what He might say, seeking direction for what I might do, I sense that it is very difficult for me to let God get close. It is something akin to a wild animal that has been injured and needs care. I shrink back at the holy hand that would tend me. Not because I don’t trust or need help, but because I am so uncomfortable at having my wounds examined.
The fact is, I harbor the pain in an old habit of burying it first, dealing with it later. At the heart of that is a lack of understanding that my God wants to care for me and heal that hurt, which boils right down to unbelief that He will heal me. For many of us, proud of our ability to “tough it out,” it is considered weak to cry out to anyone, even God, for help. It is more routine to carry the pain, to live with it, stuff it, then drink from its poisoned well and forfeit every victory Christ purchased for us on the cross.
That is the great lie and the secret pride: I can carry it, it will be fine, it’s not as bad as all that. But, it will not be fine. You simply stifle your spirit at the price of saving pride.
In Elijah House prayer ministry I was taught that people would seek healing when the pain overwhelmed the shame. When you finally come to brokenness, the pride shatters, and the spirit cries out for help. And God answers.
Think of it like stripping a Band-Aid from an open wound. My mother always took off bandages at night, when we were safe from the day’s germs, snuggled up in our beds. That was to let the wound “breathe.” When you’re alone with God, let Him strip the pride off and let his Spirit breathe new life into you.
After my father died of a brain tumor at age 58, I learned truth from a counselor who told me “You have to feel the pain for it to go away.”
I took longer showers and cried tears that mixed with cleansing waters. I played songs that opened wells of grief. God gave me a vision of my dad, smiling, content and whole, finally driving his beloved 1955 Ford Crown Victoria, and I replayed that scene over and over in my mind when the pain grew intense. My dad died in 1998, the day after Christmas, and it took me four years to stop dreading Christmas. On the fourth year, I made dinner for a friend and his family, struck with the death of their mother earlier that year. They had cancelled the family Christmas for grief, but I resurrected it. Or rather, God did, through me.
My life has not been one of great tragedy. Some can retell horrific stories of pain. But like some, I spent many years in sin, choosing my own path with no thought for that voice behind me saying: This is the way, walk in it. If I heard it, I ignored it. The result of that course was many poor decisions, wasted time and heartache in all types of relationships, along with the loss of what many of you take for granted: a long, healthy marriage, children, grandchildren. I am childless, starting over at marriage, and now 48.
There is deep pain buried in this walk, the pain of loss and regret, the children who never were, the years of contentment and fellowship with God sacrificed at the altar of self-fulfillment, the absence of lifelong friendships since I have lived here and there and there and here. The locusts desired my roots.
One day, listening to God and awaiting his touch, I simply heard Him say: now lay on your side. Briefly, I questioned why, but I knew it was Him, so I did it. Suddenly, I began to heave and pain spilled forth. The depths of it surprised me. Was it the memory of every night slept with my back turned, harboring disappointment and injury? I thought of Ezekiel, bearing the sins of Israel and Judah. On each side I turned and cried. What happened that day, I don’t truly understand, but I know God’s hand was in it, and continues to be upon me, for healing.
In causing me to feel that pain, He helped me to let one more wave of it go.
We all know the man who can’t get past the divorce, who will never marry again or, if he does, will require a prenuptial. We know people hurt by cruel parents who cannot abide correction by authority, women molested who shudder at the mention of God as Father. We hear of people who lose a child in death yet will not talk of it.
Disappointments are grieved in silence until depression sets in. Bitterness brews until we are unable to discern God’s voice. Unforgiveness turns hearts to stone.
It is our choice to abide in the pain, to keep it, to cuddle it, and let it grow. Or to abide in Christ, give it over to Him, receive His love, and let it go.
How? Take it out of the dark; draw it up from the deep, expose it to the Light. Get in your secret closet and offer it up. Let God tend to you. He’ll show you that healing is possible, and hope is near.
In 1983, the artist Sting had a hit song called King of Pain. The pain of his marriage separation and band disputes poured into these lyrics:
There’s a little black spot on the sun today
It’s the same old thing as yesterday
There’s a black cat caught in a high tree top
There’s a flag-pole rag and the wind won’t stop
I have stood here before inside the pouring rain
With the world turning circles running ’round my brain
I guess I’m always hoping that you’ll end this reign
But it’s my destiny to be the king of pain.
As a child of God, I have a new destiny and a new king. One who says: Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.
Horatio Spafford knew this as he poured his pain into the lyrics of a great hymn. He lost a son, endured the Chicago Fire and was ruined financially. He put his wife and four daughters on a ship for Europe, intending to join them later. All four girls died as the ship sank and his wife cabled “Saved alone.” As he sailed to meet her, Spafford opened his heart to God, and his pen declared “Whatever my lot, thou has taught me to say, It is well, it is well with my soul.”
*Song lyrics from All Who Are Thirsty, Brenton Brown, Glenn Robertson