The Purposeful Pathway of Pain

In my book, Defying Gravity, I describe nine gauges on the “leadership instrument panel” that can keep leaders from losing perspective and spiritual altitude as they encounter life’s storms.  These gauges are helpful to any believer encountering difficulties.  Last time I checked – that’s all of us. 

Wisdom For the Wounded

One of the gauges that surprises readers, and has been the subject of interesting conversations during recent radio interviews, is the topic of “Indispensable Pain.” At first, this does not seem to be an essential or positive idea for leadership survival.  Yet, on further consideration, we should all see that pain and wounds are crucial to our maturity and longevity.

C. S. Lewis said, “God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks to us in our conscience, but shouts in our pain: It is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world.” Pain is God’s way of awakening and shaping leaders as well. Seasoned and enduring leaders always have stories of pain and loss that have powerfully shaped their character, approach, and longings.

I’ve heard it said that before God can use a man greatly, He must first wound him deeply. Oswald Chambers was right when he taught, “If we are ever going to be made into wine, we will have to be crushed—you cannot drink grapes. Grapes become wine only when they have been squeezed.” Charles Spurgeon understood this when he wrote, “I am certain that I never did grow in grace one-half so much anywhere as I have upon the bed of pain.”

That Strange Flight Gauge Called Pain

Of the nine gauges of the leadership instrument panel, none may be more paradoxical than pain. It may be indispensable, but it is rarely welcomed. Yet God uses it for good. Consider these paradoxical truths about the role of pain in our lives:

  • Wounds are the preface to true greatness.
  • Before God can remake us, He must first break us.
  • Leaders tested by adversity are better able to understand and minister to those they serve.
  • Authentic, high-impact ministry results from an honest admission of the hard-earned lessons of life.
  • Before you bless, you must bleed; before you can help, you must first hurt.
  • Our wounds become tender scabs but later empowering scars.
  • Through our wounds God notarizes our leadership as true and authoritative.

Wounded Heroes of the Faith

Eventually leaders learn from experience that before God can remake us, He must first break us. The truly lasting lessons are learned through suffering. Wounds are the preface to true greatness. Just a few of the many biblical examples convince us:

  • Job lost his family and fortunes and endured painful misunderstanding from friends before he was blessed with a deeper knowledge of God and the restoration of his life.
  • Joseph was rejected by family and forgotten in a prison he did not deserve before he saved the day for Egypt.
  • Moses endured the desert in forty years of obscurity and bewilderment before he became the great leader of Israel’s deliverance.
  • David ran for his life many years, facing painful rejection and perplexing delays, before he became Israel’s king.
  • Hosea endured the pain of repeated infidelity after marrying a prostitute before he became a powerful prophet.
  • Peter felt the regret and brokenness of his own failed loyalty before he preached with power at Pentecost.
  • Paul was blind, broken, and banished on the back side of a desert in preparation for his world-changing ministry of church planting and inspired biblical writing. He became even stronger through the weakness of a nagging thorn in his flesh.

I’ve always loved Paul’s undisputed statement of his credibility as a leader in reply to his critics. Facing the recurring pain of criticism and personal attack, he wrote, “From now on let no one trouble me, for I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus” (Galatians 6:17). The marks of pain are a crucial component of every leadership instrument panel. Remember them. Trust them. They are your friends through the turbulent seasons of life.

Embracing Our Wounds

Years ago, when my wife and I were going through a terribly painful season of ministry, our elders sent us to a retreat center designed for ministry couples. While there for 10 days, the Lord healed our hearts and restored our hope through the wisdom of biblical counselors and time to pray and think together about the Lord’s calling on our lives.

One afternoon, I experienced a breakthrough as I sought to write out the deep reflections and truths the Lord was pouring into my heart. I wrote the following poem. It has been a great help to my heart on many occasions since then and has blessed many other leaders over the years. Perhaps it will provide the encouragement you need today as you receive God’s grace in your pain, and His wisdom to “defy gravity” in the midst of life’s storms.

The Wound

They didn’t warn me about the wound in seminary

So it has come as quite a shock to my unsuspecting heart.

At times it seems so deep—beyond the repair of stitches.

Even divine sutures seem insufficient and vain;


The breadth of the wound overwhelms me at moments:


Then, some days the wound is inconsequential.

I busy myself with administrivia to anesthetize its presence.

I try to enjoy my family and hope it doesn’t surface.


After the well-delivered Sunday sermon, I forget it is there.

But by Monday, its stench and pain has reappeared,

Creating a noticeable limp in my ministerial gait

And a dullness to my vision and faith.


I would like to ignore it: just pretend it’s not true.

But its dull, sometimes sharp prompting won’t leave me alone.

It goes with me—following me everywhere—

Within me at all times, reminding me constantly.


It has become the unwelcome mirror of my weakness and vulnerability.

The wound is a grinding present memory of my failures;

Its reality shoots through the nervous system of my inner-man,

Calling out for attention, at least a fair estimation.


So now, in these quiet moments, I sit—

face to face with my woundedness.


Oh, my wound—my horrible wound—you unwelcomed intruder

Why have you come? Why won’t you go?


Perhaps I have no recourse but to make you my friend.

You must know that I would not have chosen you as a companion,

For in so many ways you are ugly and troublesome to me.


But now, I must love you, embrace you—

integrate you gladly into the very fabric of my being.


What? What is that you say?

You are the intimate friend of my Savior Jesus?

You found your discriminating way into His life?

His hands, His feet, His brow, His side are marked by your presence?

His heart, too, wears your brand?


Oh wound—precious wound. Forgive me, for I did not understand.

It is you that gave my Master the privilege of suffering for me.

By you I was forgiven and healed, in Him.

So I must welcome you, beloved wound.


Yes, make yourself a part of me.

Offer your touch to the hurting world around me,

that they, too, may see your wonder—

and know your healing grace.


Oh wound, you are my enigma.

But you are my friend.

Without warning you came.

Now, without question—please, please—stay.


© 1999, 2010 by Daniel Henderson


This e-devotion was adapted from Chapter 10 of the book Defying Gravity – How to Survive the Storms of Pastoral Ministry by Moody Publishers.  To order your copy, or a copy for a spiritual leader you know, CLICK HERE or find it on the Store section here on our website. 

Copyright © 2014 Daniel Henderson. All rights reserved.