Any study of the life of the apostle Paul requires a serious look at the subject of pain. Suffering is not a pleasant subject to explore. Explaining Paul’s words to the Romans, John Stott writes, “It is not only our fragile body which makes me groan; it is also our fallen nature, which hinders us from behaving as we should. Our groans express both present pain and future longing. Some Christians, however, grin too much (they seem to have no place in their theology for pain) and groan too little.”
The man has grown weary of the perpetual Christian grin—frankly, so have I. If you groan and allow your countenance to reflect any measure of inner turmoil, people frown at you judgmentally, as if to suggest you’re not walking in the Spirit. Don’t get me wrong. I find nothing offensive about Christians laughing. I wrote an entire book affirming that God’s people need to laugh more. Laughter demonstrates authenticity in our lives. I simply believe there’s no need to glue a permanent Cheshire grin to our faces, lest we look like we’re not living a victorious Christian life. If a fellow believer tells you he’s going through a particularly tough time, I urge you not to insist he smile. (I tell the folks at the church not to ask me to listen to one of my tapes on joy when they notice I’m feeling down.) Don’t urge people to sing along with you on some tune you think they should be singing. Sometimes we just don’t feel like singing or smiling. After all, God gave us more than one emotion on purpose.
My desire is to help equip you for what life will inevitably sling across your path. I understand you may be bearing a burden or heartache, the likes of which I’ve never known. You may be living with pressures or some debilitating physical disease or emotional pain I couldn’t even begin to imagine. In almost four decades of pastoral ministry, I’ve often seen the evidence of inner turmoil surface on the faces of God’s people. In those times, when I feel at a loss to offer encouragement, I am most thankful for the Scriptures. In God’s Word we not only discover His will for our lives, we find words of genuine comfort for those times when life comes unglued.