Spirit of Grace Ministries
Spirit of Grace Ministries
-- Feeding Jesus' sheep
-- Equipping His servants
-- Proclaiming His Gospel

The Value of Pain


by Dennis Pollock

To become a child of God is to embrace a life of discipleship under our Master and Lord Jesus Christ. Old ways and attitudes must be discarded and, to quote the apostle Paul, “All things have become new.” This new lifestyle we adopt is to be marked by self-control. Whereas in our previous existence, self ruled with absolute authority, now self must bow before the Lordship of Jesus.

It is interesting to read of Paul’s attempt to convert the Roman governor Felix. The Scriptures tell us, “Now as he (Paul) reasoned about righteousness, self-control, and the judgment to come, Felix was afraid…” We can understand Paul preaching on the themes of righteousness (our lack and Christ’s provision) and the judgment to come, but self-control seems almost out of place here. When most of us witness to non-believers, we may speak of heaven and hell, we may emphasize Jesus’ willingness to forgive sins and bring peace to our hearts, but rarely would we deal with the concept of self-control. We would think of that as belonging more in a teaching class for believers than in an evangelistic presentation to an ungodly governor.

Apparently Paul thought Felix needed to know from the outset that becoming a Christian means more than merely praying a short prayer or acknowledging a set of doctrines; it means following Jesus in a life of moderation and self-control. Paul had good reason to believe this. Jesus made it plain that without self-control there is no discipleship: “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me.” While our world frequently hammers away on the importance of self-love, Jesus had more to say about the necessity of self-denial.

The problem with self-denial is that it is quite painful. From birth onwards we spend our most vigorous efforts on pleasing ourselves and “looking out for number one.” To make self-denial a normal part of our daily lives is to incur a certain measure of pain and discomfort that we instinctively yearn to avoid. 

Why Deny Self? 

Why does Jesus insist upon self-denial as a prerequisite for discipleship? The Scriptures make it clear that living for self-gratification is at the heart of all misery and evil in this world. Peter writes, “…by which have been given to us exceedingly great and precious promises, that through these you may be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust.” Peter tells us that all the corruption (decay, moral rot) in our world is due to the lusts of men and women. People want the wrong things in life, and they want them very badly! If we could somehow surgically remove our appetite for selfish pleasures, our world would be a paradise.

The more often we yield to selfish passions and lusts, the more powerful they become in our life. Desire becomes craving, and craving evolves into obsession. Here is the reason for addictions of all sorts. Senator George McGovern wrote a book about his daughter, Terry. He tells the tragic tale of how a bright, outgoing young woman descended into the depths of depression and alcoholism. She lost the father of her children, then lost her children, and eventually lost her life when she walked out of a bar drunk on a cold Wisconsin winter night, collapsed in a snowbank, and froze to death. In her last years, she wrote the following in her diary: “How could I want to keep company with the same agent that has snatched from my grasp all that I have loved? God forgive me.”  Though her alcoholism would bring so much pain and misery to her, somehow the act of saying no to drinking was even more painful for her. Her unwillingness to deny the desires of her flesh cost her everything.

It is this refusal to accept the pain of self-denial that leads to all sorts of misery and bondage. Here is a grossly overweight young lady who is depressed and suicidal. She has eaten herself into such a physical state that no man would ever ask her out on a date. She spends her lonely weekends eating pizza and ice-cream and watching romantic movies on television, knowing this can never happen to her. Yet as painful as her life is, the pain of walking away from the table without being completely filled is even more unbearable. Saying no to a surly, demanding appetite is just too intimidating. She cannot do it.

The unwillingness to accept the pain of self-denial can be seen in the housewife whose unbridled anger is destroying her marriage and alienating her children, and in the man who, in debt up to his eyeballs, has just charged that $2,000 large screen television. Of course he could get by for years with his old 25 inch TV, but after seeing all the features and the brilliant picture of this new model, it was just too painful to pass up.  

Marshmallows and Munchkins 


Continual yielding to self is not only displeasing to God; it is counterproductive to our own happiness and success. One of the most fascinating scientific experiments with children is known as the “Marshmallow Experiment.” Four year old children were seated alone in a room. They were given a marshmallow on a plate and told that they could eat the candy if they chose, but if they waited for the adult to come back in aboutfifteen minutes, he would bring another marshmallow and they could have two instead of one. Of the 653 youngsters, the results broke down pretty evenly. About a third ate the first marshmallow immediately, about a third waited for a few minutes and then gave in and ate the marshmallow, and about a third waited until the adult returned, and enjoyed two marshmallows.

Fourteen years later, as the kids were now about to graduate from high school, a questionnaire was sent out to parents, teachers, and academic advisors to determine any differences between the students who grabbed the marshmallow immediately and those who were willing to wait the entire fifteen minutes for the second marshmallow. The results were astonishing.

The kids who were able to delay gratification and wait the fifteen minutes were far more successful in school, better adjusted, happier, made friends easier, and scored a whopping 210 points higher on their SAT scores than those who lunged for the marshmallow at the first opportunity. Their ability to delay self-gratification was a far better indicator of future success than their parents’ level of education or economic status. 

Maturity Equals Patience 

We are essentially talking about maturity. Mature people are willing to endure the pain of delayed pleasure for future benefits. Immature people live in a continual now; mature people plan and build toward a future. They develop and practice the virtue of patience. James writes about how this is to work in the life of a believer, declaring: 

My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect (can be translated mature) and complete, lacking nothing (James 1:2-4). 

The willingness to wait, to say no to the quick, temporary fix, is a mark of maturity and equips us for fruitful service in our Lord’s vineyard. Patience is like a skilled surgeon, working precisely and beautifully in our lives, that we may be “mature and complete, lacking nothing.” Is it any wonder God so often allows the blessing of delay in the lives of His children?

The classic Biblical example of this is found in the story of Jacob and Esau. After a long day of hunting Esau comes home famished, and hungrily eyes the pot of lentil stew his brother Jacob is cooking. When he asks for the stew, Jacob demands Esau’s birthright benefits. Because of the blessings of the Lord, these boys were from one of the wealthiest families in the region, and Esau’s double portion birthright would have amounted to a huge fortune.

Esau looked longingly at the stew and considered two possible emotions: the pain of waiting to fix his own meal and the pleasure of eating the stew immediately. Sure, losing his birthright wasn’t a pleasant prospect, but that was far down the road. Esau was hungry now! Esau agreed to surrender his birthright, and devoured the lentil stew. In Hebrews the writer uses this incident as a warning to believers, saying, “…lest there be any fornicator or profane person like Esau, who for one morsel of food sold his birthright. For you know that afterward, when he wanted to inherit the blessing, he was rejected, for he found no place for repentance, though he sought it diligently with tears” (Hebrews 12:17).

There was no going back for Esau. He had passed a point of no return, and his benefits and blessings were forever lost. And all over a bowl of stew! (Just how good can lentil stew really be?) By refusing to accept the smaller pain of hunger for an extra hour or so, Esau incurred the far larger pain of losing incredible wealth that should have been his. The Scriptures call him a profane man. Though Esau was a strong man and a great hunter, inwardly he was weak and a coward. He could not endure the pain of passing up that stew.

Paul, in describing his own life of self-discipline, writes, “But I discipline my body and bring it into subjection, lest, when I have preached to others, I myself should become disqualified.” The word discipline is sometimes translated buffet. The Greek word literally means: “to beat black and blue, to handle roughly, to smite so as to cause bruises, to discipline by hardships.” Our flesh craves total dictatorship, and no mild attempts to deal with it will suffice; we must be ruthless. How many adulteries and affairs result because people refuse the pain of cutting off a relationship in its early stages! A little harmless flirting, the male / female teasing that tickles the ego… Surely there is no harm in this! Unwilling to deny self before thoughts and words turn into deeds, the result is a foregone conclusion. Families are destroyed, children are scarred for life, and reputations are ruined.  

God is not a Sadist 

God takes no pleasure in seeing His children experience pain. But in His wisdom He vastly prefers that we choose the lesser pain of daily self-denial rather than the far more terrible pain of the consequences of broken relationships, failed efforts, lives out of control, and ultimately hell itself. You will pay now or you will pay later. The pain of saying no to the lusts of our flesh is temporary. When King David saw Bathsheba bathing on her rooftop he had to have her. The resulting adultery and its consequences stayed with David for the rest of his life. Though God was willing to forgive him, He also told David, “the sword shall never depart from your house, because you have despised Me, and have taken the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be your wife.” Had David, after seeing Bathsheba, done the right thing and endured the pain of an unfulfilled lust, it would soon have passed. He had many beautiful wives to make love to; he did not need to covet another man’s wife. Instead he chose to live for the moment and paid dearly for it the rest of his days.

Beautiful things come through pain. The greatest gift God gives husbands and wives, their children, come as a result of the most terrible agony a woman can experience. Our salvation was purchased with the pain of our Savior, both at Gethsemane where the sweat of His agony was like great drops of blood and at Calvary where He hung from His hands and His feet on iron nails. Three days later, after Jesus was raised by the power of God, there was no pain. He is now seated at the right hand of God, waiting until “His enemies are made His footstool.”

We who are Christ’s can live lives of self-control and self-discipline because Jesus, the disciplined One, lives in us. You may have been like those kids who grabbed at the marshmallow at the earliest opportunity, but that does not have to predict the success or failure of your life. As you abide in Jesus, the One who declared, “Not my will but Yours be done,” He will make that same attitude a reality in your life. He is faithful.

For a full listing of all devos (written and audio) go to our Devos Catalog Page.


        For inspirational devos, bios of Christian leaders, free downloads, and the latest SOGM news:
Sign up to receive E-newsletter

Your donations are needed and greatly appreciated!



Just for you!

Missions Outreach

A major part of Spirit of Grace Ministries is our ministry in the great continent of Africa. There is a tremendous harvest going on in the world these days, and we are privileged to be a part of it. Above is a brief music video featuring video clips and pics from our recent mission in Nigeria in Oct/Nov, 2019.

Audio Devo: "Why is there suffering?"

People have debated this question for millennia. And we cannot speak concerning specific individual questions of suffering, but the Bible clearly speaks as to why suffering has always been a part of the human experience.