Selfless Pain

What comes to mind when you hear the word ministry? Perhaps you envision a church, a pastor, or an organized group of individuals called to serve others in the name of Christ. Maybe you think of all the mail you receive from ministries asking you to sponsor a child, provide Bible translations in various languages, or help provide clean water and gift-filled shoe boxes. These are all bona fide causes reminding us that ministry comes in all shapes and sizes.

Yet, while ministry is a call to lead and serve and teach and give, it is more about a willingness to enter into someone else’s pain and remain there long enough for healing to begin. Ministry, at least on a personal level, is about showing up, being present in the moment, and entering into someone else’s soul cry. It’s about denying yourself, taking up the cross-shaped alter of another’s needs, and following Jesus into their broken places. Ministry is about learning the way of Christ, the way of selfless pain.

“looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.”

Hebrews 12:2 ESV

Pain in any form, physical, emotional, or mental, naturally makes us selfish. In other words, pain puts us on the defense. For example, physical pain can elicit a withdrawal into the fetal position, a defensive posture mimicking the protection of the womb. Likewise, all forms of pain can trigger a “fight or flight” response, eliciting defensive behaviors in hopes of protecting and defending ourselves from potential hurt.

While defensive reactions to pain are natural human responses, Jesus exhibits a supernatural ability to demonstrate selfless pain, especially from the cross. And he calls us down the same path of faith and obedience.

“For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor {spouse, mother, father, sister, brother, child, friend, stranger} as yourself.””

Galatians 5:14 ESV

Dare I propose that most divorces and severed relationships take root in the soil of selfishness, not irreconcilable differences? If pain makes us selfish, then selfish pain sabotages our relationships. We like to blame our relational struggles on things like financial woes, unmet expectations, parenting tension, or infidelity, yet many of these issues and bad choices are born out of the mindset of self-centeredness. Once selfishness takes root in one or both spouses, it  inevitably chokes out the vine of God’s love and limits the chances for a family tree to grow and thrive.

So how do we fulfill this command that encompasses the “whole law”? How do we love and minister and enter into someone else’s pain in hopes to speak words of life and healing? How do we, like Christ, selflessly offer the sacrifice of our own pain to a world of hurting neighbors?

We listen and learn from the Word made flesh, the perfect Lamb who selflessly bore the pain of our sin on the cross.

“And (Jesus) said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

Matthew 22:37-39 ESV

When we put God and our relationship with Him above every other relationship, when we, like Jesus, become One with the Father, when we surrender our heart, soul, and mind to His unfailing love, then and only then can we live, love, and minister with the selfless pain of Christ. Then and only then can we supernaturally love out of our own brokenness.

Jesus endured a selfless pain as He hung from the nails. His mother, Mary, endured a selfless pain at the foot of the cross as she silently surrendered her son, God’s Son. Yet out of His great love for His mother, while enduring unimaginable pain, Jesus entrusted Mary to John as her protector and defender. Providence always provides and protects.

During this time of Lent, as we journey to the cross with Jesus, let it be a time of preparation to live out the way of Christ, the way of selfless pain. Instead of allowing our pain to make us protective and defensive, let’s allow Christ to become our Protector and Defender. Allow Jesus to enter into your pain and brokenness and remain so healing can begin and one day come to completion. Then, along with the indwelling Christ, let’s go love our neighbor with the Love of God in the midst of our own selfless, Christ-like pain.

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