When it comes to pain, we have a lot to learn from the Apostle Paul. Unjustly arrested and brutally beaten in the darkest, dankest part of a Philippian prison, he responds with a song of praise. And when God miraculously knocks the prison walls down, Paul—his freedom on his left hand and his former torturer on his right—stays to offer the hardened jailor grace. No wonder the jailor was so moved: it wasn’t the earthquake that shook him, but Paul’s response to it.
What if, in the midst of your pain, your first thought was not, “God, what have I done wrong?” but “God, whose life are you trying to use me in?” Too many of us, when we suffer, flip open our Bibles randomly looking for some sort of comfort, land in Leviticus, and cry out, “See, God? I knew you hated me!” Why not turn to John 16:33 and read, “In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world,” and realize that your pain is part of how Jesus is overcoming the world? He’s using that suffering to help someone else see the hope and joy you have in God. And then instead of despairing, choose to do what Jesus said: be of good cheer.
Paul’s example in Acts 16 and Jesus’ words in John 16 point to two principles concerning our pain: we need to see it coming, and we need to see it through.
1. See it coming.
Our natural response to pain is surprise. But it shouldn’t be. God had told Paul, “I’m appointing you to make my name famous among Gentiles, and part of that involves your suffering.” Psalm 112:7 says that “the righteous have no fear of bad news,” not because they won’t get any, but because in the midst of it “their hearts are steadfast, trusting the Lord.”
Does that describe your attitude toward pain? It will if you believe that God has appointed you to overcome the world, and that the way he does it not always by delivering you from adversity, but by using your adversity to reveal a hope that goes beyond this world. That takes the sting of surprise and shock out of suffering. “Jesus told me about this, so I saw it coming.”
2. See it through.
Make a choice to never cease praising God. And believe me, it’s got to be a choice. You aren’t always going to feel like it. But you can say with Habakkuk, “Though the fig tree should not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines…yet I will rejoice in the Lord” (Hab 3:17-18). Or with David, when he was at risk of forgetting his God: “Bless the Lord, oh my soul, and forget not his benefits” (Psalm 103:2).
And do it exuberantly! Talk about the goodness of God. Declare it. Sing about it. Shout about it. Why? Because the other prisoners are listening. I know many of us feel weird being animated in worship, but we usually don’t feel any reservation going nuts over a basketball game. And no amount of praise you heap on an anonymous athlete is going to make them be by your hospital bedside during cancer treatment, saying, “When you walk through the fire, I will be with you.”
When we’re in pain, all we want is to be done with it, to get past it. But pain and tragedy are our best chances to be a witness. Sadly, Christians often squander those opportunities. What if we resolved that during the worst of the worst, the best of the best would come out of us, pointing to the greatest of the greatest of all Saviors? What if we, in the “prison” of a bad marriage, an unexpected job loss, a chronic illness, turned our attention to the gospel as our hope? What if we, when presented with injustice, responded by showing extravagant grace to those who don’t deserve it? We must fight to never lose the joy of our possession in Christ. Why? Because the other prisoners are watching.
 I heard this phrasing recently in a sermon titled “A Problem Called Praise” by Carl Lentz at lifechurch.tv.