One of the blessings of decision-making on a sacred pace is that there’s a definite end in sight — an answer awaits you somewhere down the road. Plus, you receive the gifts that your Father in heaven wants to bless you with. Yet I would be doing a disservice if I didn’t also speak to how painful this process often is. Most of the best things in life are painful to some degree. But the struggle makes the victory that much greater.
Why do we exercise three to four times a week or stay married when we’re fighting with our spouse? Because we realize that pain has its benefits — we are healthier, stronger, closer to others for the effort. In getting neutral as in the rest of life: no pain, no gain!
To accept that pain can be a blessing was a lasting lesson from my burnout and something that is absolutely essential to opening yourself to the Lord’s will. I know in my soul that I won’t usually get more whole without pain. On some level, I think we all know it in our heads, but pushing to get this conviction deep within, where God can change us? That’s the challenge.
You don’t typically learn your true feelings and deepest desires just because you want to; they are revealed once you’ve faced the truths you tend to hide from. Especially if you push the limits like I did for so long, you may sometimes have to soak in your pain for a while before God retrieves you from those waters. Thankfully, He really does only allow as much struggle as is necessary to bring us to the place of surrender, the place of peace and clarity that we most long for — and which abiding by a sacred pace allows us to reach.
The Secret Things of God
The Bible says, “The mind governed by the flesh is death”; it is “hostile to God.” Thus, “those who are in the realm of the flesh cannot please God” (Romans 8:6-8). The “acts of the flesh” that keep us from God’s greatest gifts include not just sexual immorality and drunkenness, but “hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy” (Galatians 5:19-21). Elsewhere, Scripture describes those deathly desires as “the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life” (1 John 2:16).
So is it any surprise that greed, pride, and fear are what pressure us when we’re letting our flesh have the final say? Frankly, that’s where most of us spend most of our time as people born with a sin nature. But there’s another voice inside of anyone who has received a new nature through Jesus Christ. It’s the voice of the Spirit of God — and He rarely shouts. His voice resonates in our deepest self, and He has one theme: to reveal the heart and will and mind of God, so that you experience the abundant life and peace that Jesus promised those who are devoted to Him (Romans 8:6).
Human nature is to run with the answer we can explain, to go with the loud voice of consensus versus the lone whisper within, and to speed ahead with the solution that makes sense to our minds, our training, our background and experience (in other words, our “understanding”). “Don’t listen to your self-nature,” wrote Archbishop Fenelon. “Self-love whispers in one ear and God whispers in the other. The first is restless, bold, eager, and reckless. The other is simple, peaceful, and speaks but a few words in a mild, gentle voice.”1
This is a very profound truth, but it is also essential to ultimately discerning what God wants you to do: if you starve the lust of the flesh, your heart will start yearning to be satisfied. That yearning is your true desire — and God’s delight. That’s what you want to lock into and figure out. And that’s exactly what the Spirit wants to show you and reward you with if you will be patient and let Him do what He does best.
But you have to make a conscious decision: will you feed your greed or the desires of God?
Like a hungry infant, our greed will always take whatever it can get — it just wants to be fed. And if we feed it and wait five minutes, it will either want more, or it will demand something different to make it happy. When our heart’s desires are met, we are truly satisfied, and the contentment lasts.
Know Who Your Friends Are
Once I burned out, the number-one thing that allowed me to grow was the discomfort I’d tried so hard to avoid — pain. A lot of people fear pain when, more often than not, we have pain because of fear. Truth be told, fear is the enemy we need to slay, not pain.
Therapy itself was a lot of pain — but it wasn’t as agonizing as the way I’d been living my life. That one fact has trained me to go on the offensive and attack my dragons (my fears) before they attack me. Whenever I need to slay this beast, I try to remember that a dragon is never as bad as we think. So much of it is hollow, a façade with no substance, an ugly face. As soon as I’ve jabbed at my fear a few times with the sword of truth (the words of the Bible), it shrivels up like a punctured balloon. And that’s when I see: there’s no need to bail out of my internal pain; it’s actually a friend that I should try to embrace.
While pain is your friend, sin is not. But oh, how it seems to be! By that I mean, sin has been a companion my whole life — a tagalong who has served my selfish purposes and supported my every whim and insecurity. But once I realize this is a dysfunctional relationship, one that is actually hurting me, I can start to step back.
Let me repeat: sin deceptively seems your friend, but pain actually is your friend. The operating room isn’t a fun place, but every time you go through another procedure, your condition should get better; you’re a little less sick. When I gave up drinking for a year and a half — just in case I was an alcoholic — boy, did it hurt initially! Same with ending my bond with materialism. In both instances it felt like I was giving up an old friend. And in many ways, I was. An old friend who was toxic and dysfunctional, to be sure, but still a companion and always available.
As we mature, though, that “friend” we used to party with can become a drain — someone we no longer enjoy so much because our values have changed. And as I get some distance from the relationship, I see how destructive it has been. I’m ready to move on; I don’t want us to be associated anymore. At that point, when I’m finally ready to turn loose of this relationship, the Lord will take away the pull of that friend to the degree I surrender. His role is to take it away; it’s mine to surrender. I will grieve this loss because my sin has been so much a part of my life, but the more I grieve, the cleaner the break will eventually be.
The only way this happens, however, is if I am surrendering my will. No process works if we don’t yearn to truly give up our old ways for better ones.
As we choose to listen, the Lord will speak in the pain of surrender. Three years after I sold half of Texon to a Detroit utility, the buyer exercised its option to purchase the other half. During the negotiations, my contact at the utility quit. His replacement did not want to buy all of Texon, and so we decided to sell our crude-oil division to a third party. I immediately found a buyer and negotiated for almost a year — but I had forgotten to seek God’s direction. (Yes, I should’ve known better. But you can see from this example that I’m still very much a work in progress.) Once I finally did get neutral, I strongly sensed in my gut that I was not supposed to sell. I respectfully discontinued the negotiations, but it cost me a year of my life, which was such a waste — and completely avoidable — if I had aligned my steps with God’s in the beginning.
We sold that division ten years later for eight times more money. But the main thing, in retrospect, was not the money. I believe God did not want me to sell initially because He had unfinished business in me that could only be accomplished through pain.
I do believe God sometimes lets us have our momentary desires, even though they will produce pain, because we will be better off by being miserable for a time and growing through the experience. Either way, it makes me think of this little-known Francois Fenelon quote: “Slowly you will learn all the troubles in your life… are really cures to the poison of your old nature. Learn to bear these sufferings in patience and in meekness.”2 Fenelon also remarked, “I agonize and cry when the cross is working within me, but when it is over, I look back in admiration for what God has accomplished.”3
To process through the four steps enables our fear and pride and selfishness to “be named, surrendered, and nailed to the Cross,” as my daughter Tanya says it. We are shown where “the fear of man” — that pull toward peer pressure or people-pleasing — may be moving us, or where our pride is getting in the way. Practicing decision-making at a slower pace allows us to admit, “Lord I am afraid of what people will think. So I’m going to surrender this and try to hear what you think.”
Going through the pain also reveals what your personal red flags are — the things you thought you’d healed from, the things that send you back to your Bible, your pad of paper, back to your knees to refocus on the Lord’s will rather than your own.
Pain is unavoidable. You can try and skim by it, but you actually set yourself up for even more of it when you take that approach. I’m not pain-avoidant like I was in my twenties and thirties, yet even after all these years of practicing these four steps over and over, I do sometimes forget how deliberate you must be to reach the place of peace in your gut. Anytime I go through the process on a major decision, I’m reminded again.
I want us all to recognize the positives of pain rather than running from it. To focus on the gains — to keep my eyes on the prize — is key for me, particularly when I’m in the middle of the fight. Though everybody’s battles are different, I’ve never gone through difficulty and struggle and not come out better for it. The process of slowing down to a sacred pace until we’ve gotten neutral may not be painless, but it is very effective. And it comes with a peaceful conclusion. If you want to know God’s will, be willing to do what it takes. Even if it means giving up some old friends and finding some new ones.
- Francois Fenelon, The Seeking Heart, Library of Spiritual Classics vol. 4 (Sargent, GA: SeedSowers, 1992), 52.
- Francois Fenelon in Gene Edwards, “The Hidden Cross,” 100 Days in the Secret Place: Classic Writings from Madame Guyon, Francois Fenelon, and Michael Molinos on the Deeper Christian Life (Shippensburg, PA: Destiny Image, 2015), 33.
- Fenelon, “The Value of the Cross,” 100 Days, 34.
Excerpted with permission from Sacred Pace by Terry Looper, copyright Terry Looper.
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None of us start down a road looking for pain; we look for joy, financial blessing, fun, happiness, good relationships… but not pain. But, the Lord knows what an effective tool pain is in our lives. Do you know that it’s your friend? Come share with us in the comments. We want to hear from you about the blessing of pain. ~ Devotionals Daily