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Wednesday, 15 March 2017

"Pleasure" in pain.

As I am speaking, on Sunday afternoon, to a group of Anglophones, on the subject of the Persecuted Church, I have been doing a lot more research into that subject, than I normally do. I am also speaking on the subject of "The Power of Prayer" on Sunday morning and, in a prior e-mail conversation on the specific topic of so-called "unanswered prayer" with which I shall, DV, be dealing, a particular instance of prayer for healing that has continued for some twenty years, was raised.

It has been claimed that the amount of physical suffering that a person feels is not necessarily determined by the extent of the injury or physical trauma. In fact, I am assured, it can be modified by a person's past experience, and their expectation of what lies ahead.

Most people are aware of the Russian Nobel Prize winner, Ivan Pavlov, and his experiments with conditioning the responses of some dogs. However, not everyone is familiar with the full details of the experiment. Did you know that he was illustrating the above claim by associating feelings of pleasure with sensations of pain? When he brought an electrical current into contact with their paws, the animals (understandably!) growled and barked furiously. However, when the physiologist offered them some tasty food immediately after each painful stimulus, their reactions began to turn from fury to delight! Eventually, they even wagged their tails as they received the mild electric shock, and rushed to the table for something to eat. Indeed, this behaviour continued even when the current was increased.

Although the response of the true disciple of Jesus, to Father God, is never an automatic conditioning like that of Pavlov's dogs, the experiment does portray - at least in part - an important spiritual truth. The heavenly Father desires that His adopted children become so "conditioned" by life's adversities that each new trial will result in anticipation of a corresponding amount of God's grace to sustain and reward them. Those who willingly yield to the Master can find, in every distress, an opportunity to know the joy of receiving divine provision. The Rev.Dr.Arthur Fawcett was a wonderful man of God, He was also my Church History lecturer at the Bible Training Institute in Glasgow. As I read, and hear, of some of the atrocities committed against disciples of Jesus in more than fifty countries in the world today, I recall his words: "Martyr's grace for martyr's death". It is a simple fact that some of the most joy-filled believers are those who can say, with Paul, "... I bear on my body the marks of Jesus." (Gal.6:17).

Paul, who was no stranger to difficulties, also wrote: "... we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit which has been given to us." (Rom.5:3-5). In other words, if we wish to grow in Christian maturity, we should glory in tribulation, knowing that such endurance will result in a deeper confidence in God's love and wisdom. As is often pointed out, Jesus nowhere promises that our lives as His disciples will be all sweetness and light. Usually, the very opposite is true! However, He did promise: "I will never fail you nor forsake you." (Heb.13:5).

The hymn writer put it like this:

"Trials dark on every hand, 
and we cannot understand 
all the ways that God would lead us 
to that blessed promised land; 
but He guides us with his eye, 
and we'll follow till we die, 
for we'll understand it better by and by. 
By and by, when the morning comes, 
when the saints of God are gathered home, 
we'll tell the story how we've overcome, 
for we'll understand it better by and by." (Charles Albert Tindley; "We'll understand it better by and by", v.3) 

May the pain of difficulty cause us to anticipate the Father's loving response to our every need, and situation - even if we don't understand it now. It's all part of the essence of faith!

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