Preaching From Pain

Author: Pastor Bill Elliff

(Preaching from Pain: The Value of Experience in Preaching)

    My best sermon was forged on the anvil of my worst nightmare. From that experience came truths I know.  Wounds suffered from those days began a process of education about forgiveness and grace that has been life-changing.  Sharing from that pain has taught me my greatest lesson on real preaching.

          We run from pain.  Nobody wants to be hurt.  Our limited view can imagine no meaning or value from life’s darkness.  Such a presupposition illustrates our limited view of God.  He is bigger than our pain and has arranged for suffering to give an undeniable authority to His ministers.  Pain breaks and molds, educates and deepens.  Pain authenticates and prepares. Pain, rightly responded to, gives us something to say.

          The greatest preacher knew the greatest pain. Christ’s preaching pierced hearts because it was straight from heaven through a willing life.  But “through” carried a price.  Through demanded intense humbling.   Through meant being “tempted in all points like we are.”  Through meant quietly enduring accusation and slander.  Through led to a cross.

          One of God’s most effective preachers wrote of the significance of suffering.  Paul, no stranger to difficulties himself, outlines a cycle that is critical for every minister to understand and to embrace if there is to be power in preaching.

Blessed {be} the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort;  who comforts us in all our affliction so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.  For just as the sufferings of Christ are ours in abundance, so also our comfort is abundant through Christ.  But if we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation; or if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which is effective in the patient enduring of the same sufferings which we also suffer;  and our hope for you is firmly grounded, knowing that as you are sharers of our sufferings, so also you are {sharers} of our comfort.

For we do not want you to be unaware, brethren, of our affliction which came {to us} in Asia, that we were burdened excessively, beyond our strength, so that we despaired even of life;  indeed, we had the sentence of death within ourselves in order that we should not trust in ourselves, but in God who raises the dead;  who delivered us from so great a {peril of} death, and will deliver {us,} He on whom we have set our hope. (II Corinthians 1:3-10a)

  The greatest thing about pain is that it’s so easy to come by.  Everybody gets hurt.  What preacher has not experienced the “crushing pressure” that the word “affliction” implies?  Sometimes it comes from familiar sources.  Sometimes from those you least expect.  The sharpest incisions come from knives wielded in the hands of fellow Christians (it wasn’t supposed to be this way).  Our expectations set us up for the surprise of suffering.

          What’s your pain?  It may be big or little, relatively obscure or highly visible. It may be cataclysmic or simply the routine frustrations of life. There is one thing for sure:  that which you think will RUIN you could become the avenue to ministry and the source for your greatest life message…if you’ll let it.  For the lesson to be gained, the daily experiences of life must be accepted as a tool in the hands of the One who is mentoring us for effective ministry.

      The word is “parakaleo” and refers to the One who “comes near.”  It is one thing to know about God, it is another to have Him draw near to you in your moment of need. 

Peter was in the inner circle with Christ.  But he was never closer than when he began to sink on water he had been bidden to cross.  Yes, he took his eyes off Christ and felt the fear of his failure.  But in that moment, Christ embraced him.  He came near.  They were close enough for Peter to smell Christ’s breath on his face.  The trial brought an experience of the nearness of Christ that Peter would never forget.

          Not everyone experiences God’s comfort in suffering.  If we resist Him in our pride, He resists us.  He draws near to those who, in humility, admit their need of Him.  On these, He pours His grace…a grace they will never forget.

The greatest fallacy of the ministry is thinking we can take people where we have never been.  How many sermons have been preached at people, shouting to them of where God is and what He’s like, when the one preaching has resisted that path himself.  Most of our listeners are smarter than that.  If the preacher is proud and God is distant from his life, it is amazingly evident.  The hearers may not know how to verbalize it, but they can feel the difference.  The authority of experience is missing.

Our job as ministers of the gospel is to be a vehicle through which God speaks to men by His Word and they are brought to God.  We’re in the “bringing near” business.  Today’s experience of earthly pain and heavenly comfort will be tomorrow’s road of ministry to others.  Only when we discover the narrow path to nearness, can we guide others to His arms.

         When God draws near in our moments of difficulty we come to know things unobserved by the inexperienced life.  There are at least five primary truths that every minister must know if he is to effectively preach.  These are discovered when pain is present and God is near.  We understand that…

1.   Pain is inevitable and common

Before pain’s intervention in our life, we naively hope that somehow we will escape life without scars.  Suffering dispels this myth. If we are unschooled in this truth, we become discontent and wallow in self-pity when pain knocks on our door.  This is a critical truth to know and to communicate to those under the sound of our preaching.


2.   Pain has a purpose

Satan’s great lie is that God is deceptive, distant and disinterested.  Pain is one of his opportune moments.  He shouts to us of pain’s meaninglessness and God’s callused inattention.  If we, as preachers, have discovered the VALUE of pain, we can shout too!  We can vindicate God’s nature and goodness.  We can tell of a Father who “works all things together for good to those who love Him and are called according to His purpose.”  We can expand others’ vision to a Sovereign who is stronger than suffering – big enough to take the worst the world, flesh, and devil can give and make “beauty from ashes.”  But, if we are unequipped with this understanding, we find ourselves merely questioning God along with those we are trying to lead.


3.   We are helpless

Pain pushes us to our limits. Paul and his companions were “burdened excessively beyond (their) strength,” yet they voiced no resentment or frustration.  They accepted their circumstances as a valuable reminder of their poverty and need of God.  They saw their limitations as a gift that drove them to Someone beyond themselves.  The proud preacher will vainly go solo in pain-often angry at the difficulty-and his followers will do the same. Such leadership only offers a Christianized version of humanism that boasts of its “power” and “endurance.”  The preaching that leads men to God comes from men who are vitally aware of their own inadequacy.


4.   God is the Source

When we understand our need, we look for a supply.  Paul discovered “the Father of mercies and God of all comfort.”  His pain brought him to an experience of the singular Source of power and help, love and grace—Jesus Christ! To wallow in despair at our need is not the ultimate answer.  We must come to God.  Our job is not finished until we have taken others from their poverty to His riches.


5.   God is Sufficient!

Not only is God the Source, He is an inexhaustible Source (“the God of ALL comfort” emphasis mine).  Corrie Ten Boom’s sister, Betsy, reminded her in a Nazi concentration camp that “there is no pit so deep, but that God is deeper still.”  Such words, preached from such a place, carry power.  The preacher who has known God’s great supply in the midst of his great need knows the limitlessness of God.  He is able to confidently proclaim to anyone, anywhere that God is always enough!

  All of the experiences of hurt, comfort, and understanding are intended to bring us to one position…TRUST.  Paul said, “we had the sentence of death within ourselves in order that we should not trust in ourselves, but in God who raises the dead.”  We are born INDEPENDENT.  All of the experiences of this life are intended by God to lead us to DEPENDENCE upon Him.  When we are thus connected, we are restored to the position of greatest joy and purpose. 

          If the preacher has not moved to a greater level of trust in God this year than he was last year, he is taking his people nowhere.  God desires to speak through His messenger’s life to move others to deepening dependency upon Him.


       Most people who have experienced the difficulties of life are merely grateful to survive.  Satisfied that they have lived through the ordeal and even experienced God’s comfort and new levels of understanding, they are unaware of what they now hold in the conduit of their life.  They have been EQUIPPED by their suffering.  Their willingness (and ours) to share the depths of pain and the heights of God’s comfort are the tools of ministry. 

Our job as preachers is to “equip (people) to do the work of the ministry (Ephesians 4:11)”  When we preach God’s truths with transparency and openness and it helps others, they realize their life message can be used in such a way. Their pain need not be a place of embarrassment, but of equipping for ministry and multiplication.  Our preaching must take people fully through their experience to the intentional sharing of their life message with others.

  After preaching a message from the pain of my past, a woman came to me after the service. “ Would you be willing to meet with my ex-husband and our children and tell that story again?” she said, “We are terribly estranged and bitter.”  Gladly I met them in a business office on a Saturday morning.  I watched in amazement as God used the message He’d hammered into my life to bring a hardened man to repentance and faith.  I cried as a family was restored by God’s grace.  It was glorious! 

I had thanked God, out of faith, for my painful experience of the past.  But as I got back in my car, I exploded in thanksgiving for the privilege of suffering.  That particular pain and His intervention had enabled me to preach of His sufficiency and grace in a way that changed a life.  

And that, for a preacher, is why we live.