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About this series
Overcoming the Pain of Your Past
Pain. It is part of the human experience, and one of the things that helps us grow to maturity. But for some of us the pain we have experienced feels crippling. Broken promises, dysfunctional families, damaged relationships and rejection keep us from experiencing the abundant life Jesus promised. Sometimes it's a challenge just to get through the day, let alone to extend love and strength to those around us. The Bible, however, offers great hope for pressing on. From the book of Ephesians, learn who you really are and why the pain of your past doesn't have to obscure God's plan for your future.More from this series
Few things in all life compare with the satisfaction and joy and connectedness that come when we’re deeply loved and when we love deeply in authentic, meaningful relationships.
By contrast, few things in all of life can hurt as badly and as deeply as the wounds and sorrow and the alienation that comes when a relationship is broken.
I think the hardest and most difficult thing in all the world is to overcome the pain of broken relationships, because all those thoughts of, “It’s probably because I don’t measure up,” and you’ve been rejected, and your dreams are usually revolving around doing things with people, and part of those things often come because things are unjust.
God brought a passage that, I will be honest with you, I don’t understand but I know it’s where I want to be and it’s where God wants you to land. And you just can lean back and listen, if you want to check it out later it’s in Habakkuk chapter 3.
Beginning in about verse 17, the historical situation is a devastation that is coming upon a group of people that is a result of their broken relationship with God and this is the statement of a prophet in the midst of everything and anyone that could ever bring delight to His soul.
He says, “Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines and though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls yet, I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Savior. The sovereign Lord is my strength, He makes my feet like the feet of a deer and He enables me to go on the heights.”
And at the bottom of my Bible I wrote a couple things that are hard for me to remember. And I jotted down “Circumstances do not have the power to make or break me.”
The second thing I wrote in my Bible was, “Human relationships do not have the power to make or break me.”
The third little thing I put in my Bible is, “Only God can fulfill and sustain the deepest needs of my soul.” And He does it through Christ.
Now, I think most of us would agree, the question is, “Then how does God do that?” I want Him to… you know, think of all the songs. I want Him to “be my all in all,” I want to grow up to all the fullness of the measure of Christ; I long for Him and Him alone to be my soul’s satisfaction.
But unless you’re living on a different planet than me that doesn’t come real easy to me and I have times where, at least in my emotional experience, circumstances seem to break me, and some people when they let me down, or they don’t fulfill the dreams that I have, or even unintentionally, when I feel rejected, they seem to make me both feel and act in ways that I don’t like at all. And I have to come back to this.
And in the context of the book of Ephesians, he’s written about these two groups that, for centuries, through hatred, and miscommunication, and wounds, and prejudice, they have had hostility and hate for one another.
And he’s told them, in the second chapter of this book, that through this one word he says over and over, “Through this one person, Jesus, there is peace and in this peace of these two groups, Gentile and Jew, coming together in the person and the work, in this mystery and secret that’s been hid from all generations, this new supernatural unity, the Church and this temple of these men and women from Jewish and Gentile backgrounds, coming together before God, on the basis of the cross and the resurrection, he says, “His presence and His power dwell.”
But he’s talking to them in the context of very broken relationships. And chapter 3, verse 14 opens with a, “Therefore… therefore.” And in context, we often quote this and the apostle Paul, quite interestingly, the first three chapters are, of course, doctrine and truth about us and chapters 4 through 6 are about practically living out what’s already true about us.
And what’s interesting is at the end of the doctrine he stops and he prays. Because there is something about living out this life that in dependency of the Holy Spirit, it’s when we cry out to God that His Spirit takes His written word and makes it the living Word, and transforms us from the inside out, and where we experience with Him this fullness of love in such a way that we can actually be givers instead of takers, we can be makers of unity instead of manipulators, we can not look at every relationship by, “What did I get or why didn’t they do that?”
And you can be so filled with the fullness of God, you can say with integrity, “Though the fig tree doesn’t blossom, though the olives don’t produce, and though there are no sheep in the pen or cattle in the stalls,” notice it’s not “I feel,” “I will,” I choose, “to rejoice,” yet, I’ll choose the Lord sovereign God, He’ll be enough for me.
And so the apostle Paul, in chapter 3 verses 14 to 21, is going to walk us through a model prayer about how you restore broken relationships.
The first thing he says in verses 14 and 15 is, “Talk to the Father.” I mean here’s this steward of these divine mysteries looking at the supernatural groups that have come together with all this conflict and he says, “For this reason I kneel before the Father from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name.”
So he’s thinking, he’s praying not only for those on the earth but the families, those in heaven, the angelic realm he says, “I’m praying to the Father who is the Father and the Creator of all,” and interesting he says, “I bow the knee,” and literally that word is, he comes prostrate before God, in reverence before God, and he says, “Only You can solve this problem.”
And so the first thing Paul says, “Kneel. Humble yourself.” And then he gives the reason why. Because prayer is our passport to God’s perspective. When you think about the Habakkuk 3 passage that I read, what really is that? It’s just perspective, isn’t it?
His circumstances, they don’t sound any good. The people situation, that doesn’t sound any good. But he has a perspective.
Jeremiah 33:3 says, “Call to Me and I will answer you and I will tell you great and mighty things, which you do not know.” What we taste and long for in every human relationship is a built in desire to be loved and to be accepted just for who we are.
People are the primary avenues of this, but since they’ll always let us down, God will take us through times, often through broken relationships, where He allows us to experience that He is the only one you can fully depend on and something happens in a saint’s walk with God when that occurs.
For me, I have to go back a long way and I hope for your age and maturity you won’t consider this as trite because it wasn’t trite to me. I had been a Christian about two and a half or three years and by this time I’m growing, I’m in the Bible, I’m in a Bible study, God had given me a chance to lead a number of people to Christ.
Some guys on the basketball team were kind of getting it, I had been dating a girl now for about a year and four months who was a Christian that loved God, I had taken her home to meet my family, I had gone home to meet her family. And as far as I understood, this was the one for me and I was going to marry her.
Down deep in my heart, if I could look back objectively, I would realize that this girl became an idol, that basketball was really an idol, and although I sensed in my spirit that I was wanting to use it for God’s glory, every time something would happen like a stress fracture in my foot and I pulled a muscle in my right thigh, and it was like God kept the velvet vice of His discipline in my denial and in my ego.
And so, in that third year of college it became clear that this gal, no matter what, was going to live across the street from her parents. She was an only child… she was born late in life to them, and they had already bought a house across the street with a white picket fence. It was classic.
And they let me know that they really liked me, and they really loved their daughter, and the absolute expectation for us to be married would be to live across the street here, on the Ohio River.
And all I can tell you, this may sound crazy, but I’m twenty years old, I’m not like some little kid. I loved that girl with all my heart. And she loved God. And I got to this crossroads where, as I was doing ministry on the basketball team and I was leading some Bible studies, and I just had this inner sense from God that His will and vision for my life was not to live on the Ohio River, with the white picket fence with that woman there, even though that’s the woman I wanted to live with.
And the lordship issue was about common vision. She was awesome, and loving, and kind, and godly, and beautiful. And I remember coming to the point where I just… how do you tell a girl, “I really love you, this won’t work.”
And I remember making that decision. And then, I didn’t date anybody for a year because I didn’t want to date anybody - because I loved her. And I remember, she was in a dormitory and I knew it was fourth floor, third light over and there was a little crest on a hill, and I would go sit on that hill, and I would cry and I would ask God to change her heart and allow her to say to her folks, “You know what mom and dad? I really appreciate that but I just, I really need to, I need to do life with Chip.”
But she felt a very honest responsibility to older parents and she said, “I need to be across the street, and in probably ten years they’re going to be having health issues and…”
And at the same time, we had a little change in the basketball world, and I had yet another injury that just took me out of my college basketball for a period of time. I was injured, I couldn’t play, and in the midst of it, we had a coaching change. So, all I know is that basketball in the future is going to be completely up in the air.
And then my spiritual leader, who was the bricklayer that I talk a lot about, he got this great idea and we went from three or four people in a Bible study with him and he began to help me, and we began to help others, and pretty soon there are two hundred and fifty college kids in personal Bible study all over this campus, of about three or four thousand students.
And people are coming to Christ and everyone’s growing and he’s an entrepreneur, so he goes, “You know what? You guys got it down, you can stay in my house. Why don’t you guys live here, keep the ministry going, I’m going to go start another one in Fairmont, West Virginia.” So he leaves.
Well, at the same time, my father is working through his alcohol issues and my mom, about a year and a half earlier had said “It’s Mabel Black Label or me, your choice.” And my dad decided, wisely, it should be her. But ex-Marines who decide, “Okay, it’s her,” you don’t get counseling, you don’t figure out why you’ve been drinking. You just do it.
So, he was a jerk. And they had huge marriage problems, he just didn’t drink now. So within a year, he quit smoking three and a half packs a day, and quits drinking, and there were times I would say, “Dad, here’s a beer and let me light you up.” Which I didn’t. But it would have been a lot easier to live with.
And in that journey and that process God brought him to Jesus. And you know how it works, okay? I’m not talking to a bunch of little kids. In storybook, it would have been, he came to Jesus and everything is great.
Well, he just came to Jesus and everything got really, really hard. And then, with his personality bent, he came to Jesus, and when he came to Jesus then he went nuts… off the deep end for a while.
And so all I knew was my parents have zero to give me. The girl that I love is gone. My idol and my security is crumbling as I can’t play now and who knows about the next coach. And the one person that has been my mentor and spiritual coach for the last three years has left. And I didn’t know much about fig trees, or olives, or sheep in pens, or cows in stalls but it seemed like a pretty good parallel at the time.
And I remember one night, I made that big decision. And there was another guy on our basketball team and I won’t mention any names and kind of hope he never listens to this because he would know who he is. And in locker rooms guys share lots of things, and so I knew where this guy was coming from and I knew his dating life, and I knew …
So about four or five months after I broke up with my girlfriend, I was coming up from a game and my hair was wet, I still remember it was cold, it was West Virginia, I put my collar up and I came up the stairs. And there she was at the top of the stairs, and it was like, “Yes! This is so great, she’s had a turn of heart and she’s repented, and she’s going to be willing to do whatever God wants and…”
I said, “Hi!” And then the guy right behind me was that guard. And he walks right by me, with my girl, and walks out. And I just remember saying to God, “Unless You speak to me in a way I can understand, tonight, I’m done. I’m out. This, this is what You do for people who obey you? You take their parents away, You take my spiritual leader away? I’m hobbling up these steps, and I didn’t get to barely play tonight, and now my girl is with that snake?” That was my prayer.
And all I want to say is then I went, I literally, and you should never do these kind of things but I was pretty young and pretty immature. And I went down to my room, and I decided, God knows where I’m at… and I happened to be reading in the New Testament and the Psalms. And I said, “God, I’ll give You three Psalms. Because you know what? Either You speak with clarity or I’m done.”
And as stupid as it was, I really meant it. And so, I read Psalm 71, nothing. I read Psalm 72, nothing. And I’m thinking, “Well, this three year journey with Jesus is about ready to come to an end.”
And I read Psalm 73. And to that point, I had never heard God’s audible voice. But when I read Psalm 73, it was like someone had highlighted it and the words were levitating off the page.
And Psalm 73 is about how do you respond to injustice and “I’ve kept my heart pure and look at the proud and there are a necklace of pride around their neck and they have no concern for God and yet they have prosperity and they have this and they have that and they have that.” And I’m ready to check out.
And then he [David] stops in the middle of the Psalm and he says, “Yet if I would have said thus I would have betrayed the generation of my children.” And God brought all these guys I was discipling to mind and said, “Chip, if you bail out, they’ll bail out too.”
And then he says, “Then I went into the courts of God and I perceived their end.” That the unrighteous or this is a real loose translation but the picture that came to my mind, they’re on a slippery slope like on a banana peel and it looks good right now, but in a minute everything changes and they have no hope, they have no real stability.
And then, in verse 23 through about 26, he says, “Whom have I in heaven but You? And besides You, I desire nothing on earth. My heart and my flesh may fail but You are the strength of my heart and my portion forever.”
Verse 23 through about 26, he says, “Whom have I in heaven but You? And besides You, I desire nothing on earth. My heart and my flesh may fail but You are the strength of my heart and my portion forever.”
And when I read that word “portion” I had this picture of a pie, and God has a slice for everybody. This is your life. I remember my grandmother, “You get this slice of pie for you, this slice of pie for you, this slice of pie for you.”
And Jesus was saying to me, “The slice you get for your whole life is Me. I’m your portion. Basketball is not your portion, circumstances aren’t your portion, your spiritual leader is not your portion, the girl that you love is not your portion. Your heart and your flesh may fail but I’m the strength of your heart and your portion forever.”
That began a level of relationship with Jesus that I didn’t know was possible. And it started because I talked with my Father. And what prayer does, when you talk and notice it just, you don’t talk just to God. Fathers care, don’t they? Fathers protect their kids, fathers provide for their kids.
So, Paul looks at the situation and he bows his knees and the word, it’s a picture, he prostrates himself down before God and he says to the Father, who really cares, “There are all these broken relationships and there are all this mess and I want to bring them to You and I want You to heal them.”
And unfortunately, it usually takes God taking the pillars of the things that you trust in, out from under you, so that everything collapses in your life except Him and Him alone.
And I would learn later that if there were a kinder or gentler way for Him to let me experience Him as my fullness, I would have got it a kinder and gentler way. But for this son He needed to pull all those pillars out.
And so how do you restore a broken relationship and overcome the pain? First, you talk to your Father. Well, if you’re going to talk to Him what do you ask? You’re going to notice he just doesn’t ask, “Make it better.”
Ask God for the inner strength to yield rather than resist His work in your life. Well, what you have to pray here is you gotta pray, “God, would You help me lean into, and yield to, and accept, and embrace, not fix the things or change the people.” That’s what we tend to pray.
Notice what he says, “I pray that out of His glorious riches,” in other words, all these resources he’s talked about in the first three chapters, “He may strengthen you with power,” how? “through His Spirit,” where? “in your inner being so that Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith.”
The word “strengthen” here is power, or the infusion of power, and he uses it earlier. It’s the exact opposite word of being discouraged. It’s God infusing you with the strength to go on and deal with the situation. The inner man is the heart, the place of reason, or conscience, or will. It’s the deep-seated place of where you deeply, not just think about stuff, but where you make up your mind and heart, and will and volition, about what you’re going to do with your life.
And through the Holy Spirit, who has the ministry of giving grace, and power, and wisdom… and notice the purpose clause, “that Christ may dwell.” It’s a compound word: “Kata” for down; “Oikeo” is for a house. He says, “I want you to pray that out of this abundance, riches of God’s mercy, and grace, and concern for you, He’ll infuse a strength inside of you, by the power of His Holy Spirit in the deepest portions of your being, so that you could allow Christ to be at home, and at rest, and be in complete control of every room in your spiritual home.”
Where the future room, and the study, and the entertainment room, and the relationship room, and the money room and…
He’s just, “Where Christ could dwell in fullness.” And Christ only dwells in fullness where He’s in control. And He only wants control to give you the highest and the best, so that you fulfill purposes that bring honor and glory to Him.
And, often, it’s through pain, and only through pain, that we get to the point where we can allow Him to be at home in our hearts. Why? Because God longs to make your heart Christ’s home. He longs for you to be a dwelling place of the living God.
Isaiah 57:15 is a very interesting verse for me. I was on one of my Scripture memory rampages, in my younger days, and any verse that I thought was cool I was trying to memorize. I had no idea what this one meant, but I thought it was a really cool verse.
And it goes something like this, in probably multiple translations, because I tended to mix them in those days. He says, “Thus says the Lord God, the Holy One of Israel, ‘I dwell in a high and lofty place,’” and it begins to talk about, “in the heavens, in the outer reaches.” And then it says, “Also with those who are humble and contrite in heart.”
And as I read that verse, I realized there are only two places that God dwells with complete freedom. It’s in the highest of the heavens, where He reigns and they worship Him, and He’s totally in control; and when He can find the heart of a human being that has a broken and contrite spirit, and completely recognizes the desperate level of need that we have. And then we allow Him to be our all in all.
And that’s where He’s worshipped and that’s where He manifests His power and that’s where He manifests His presences and that’s where that psalmist was talking about. That’s where He’s the strength of your heart, that’s where you experience He’s your portion forever.
And I think the invitation is really what Jesus was saying, in Matthew 11:28, when He said, “Come unto Me all you that labor and are heavy laden and I will give you rest for your souls.”
And then notice the invitation, He says, “Take My yoke,” it’s the picture of the two oxen with the wooden yoke. “Take My yoke upon you,” and the picture is Jesus is in one side, and they would work very hard on the way they would make these yokes, so they would fit perfectly, so it wouldn’t rub, so as the animals would push together, two of them could do four or six times what either one of them could do individually.
And Jesus says, “Take My yoke upon you,” and then notice the journey and the humility, “and learn from Me.” And this is a side of Jesus a lot of us, I don’t think, really get. “For I am,” literally the word is, the King James is, “meek.” The word means “gentle.”
“For I am meek and lowly of heart.” In other words, “I’m going to be delicate with how I deal with you. I understand we’re treading on very sensitive issues. I get that the person that was yoked up, and you were trusting in before, may not be here. Or the circumstances that you thought would deliver and the dream that you had may be dissipating.
It might be that picture of ashes,” and He’s just saying, “Come. Come to Me. Let Me dwell deeply in your heart, learn from Me, surrender the control,” but not out of fear of a God who is harsh and is going to tell you all the things you never want to do. But a God who says, “My burden is light and My yoke is easy and you’ll find rest for your soul.” Isn’t that an amazing invitation?
And so to overcome the pain of our broken relationships we talk to the Father, we ask for inner strength to yield rather than to resist the work. And then third we ask God to help us grasp and experience His love in the midst of our pain.
And so he gets very specific. He says, “And I pray,” this is second request, “that you being rooted and established,” underline “rooted” and “established.” It’s two metaphors we’ll come back to.
“I pray that you,” and it’s in what’s called the “perfect tense.” It means “you, on a certain day at a certain time, having already been rooted,” with implications it will continue into the future, “and you having already been built,” or established, continuing into the future.
So he’s telling them, “I’m praying something for you that’s based on something you already possess, that God promises will continue on into the future, so I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power,” where? Put a parentheses around “together with all the saints.”
He says, “You’re going to be rooted and established and I’m praying He’s going to give you dunamis or dynamite or power,” where? “in the context of community, together with all the saints to do two things: To grasp and to know this love that surpasses knowledge.”
Circle the word “grasp,” circle the word “to know,” and the word “to know” here is there is two words in the New Testament. One is to know, by way of two plus two is four. It’s like a factual knowledge.
This is a word that you know by experience. You might have heard the “gnostic,” to know. This is that word. It’s a word that has to do with a mystical inner knowledge of experience of God.
And so he says, “I’m praying that you’ll have power. And this power, not rooted in some experience out there but it’s rooted in,” and this is the metaphor here is a plant that’s been deeply rooted, or a tree that’s been deeply rooted, “and established,” is the picture of a building and it’s the foundation of a building that goes deep and it’s not going to change, and so you already have that, that you’re going to have this power with fellow believers to intellectually, emotionally, and spiritually grasp, and then experience His love, that surpasses even any intellectual knowledge of His love. And then there are a purpose clause, “That you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.”
Left to ourselves, we all pray that God will change the relationship, or change the person, or bring the someone back and that’s simply shortsighted. It’s fine to pray it. And God may do that. But what we really need to pray is to have a power to grasp how deeply, how intentionally, how unconditionally that just where we’re at, with what we have, with our baggage, with where we’ve been, with the struggles that we’ve had, that we are the object of God’s love and you will never be more loved by God than you are at this minute, right now.
And he wants you to get that. That’s what he’s praying.
You need to pray that for yourself. You need to pray that for your kids. You need to pray that for your friends. You need to pray that for your family. You need to pray that for your small group.
What would happen if all the people we’re praying for begin to understand, regardless of their circumstances, how deeply loved they were by God, and they experienced His love to such an overflowing measure… the fullness of Christ?
That’s that same phrase of coming to be Christlike and begin to experience all of God. It’s your heart - that He’s your portion.
I just think an awful lot of the things we struggle with, as Barney Fife would say, “Would be nipped in the bud,” if we understood His love.
The reason is authentic spiritual growth only occurs in the fertile soil of genuine love. We love because He first loved us.
The final request here is that we would just grasp the vastness of what it is. “The height and depth and length, the breadth,” you can almost tell the apostle Paul, led by the Spirit, I just, “Lord, I don’t know how to tell them about who You are and how much You love and what it is,” and it’s just, He just kind of, “Let’s see, wide, high, far, length…”
If I could ask you, “When, in your personal experience, have you felt the most loved by God?” I have a hypothesis that for many, many of us, I mean, the most loved by God, that for many of us it would not be when everything was going absolutely great, every relationship, every circumstance was just over the top.
I would suggest, it’s probably when you have experienced the greatest loss or the greatest failure, and blown it in the biggest time, and God showed up in a way that you thought, “I know I don’t deserve this.” And yet it’s like He’s putting His arms around you.
The final request is expect God to answer your prayers in a manner beyond your wildest dreams. And we often quote this apart from the rest of this, “But now to Him,” see he says, “expect God,” He’s going to answer, “to do immeasurably more than we ask or imagine,” how? “according to the power that’s,” where? At work out there? No. “…that’s at work in us.
And to Him,” notice the focus, “be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus through all generations forever and ever.” God is able! God wants to. You are the object of His affection. He’s not going to leave you. It won’t be this way forever.
He promises, often on earth but for sure in heaven, that the greatest, wildest, best will happen, and He wants to deliver you. And the reason is that your welfare, and Christ’s glory, are uppermost on God’s agenda. Your welfare, I mean, if you could, if we could just but believe.
I love Tozer’s words in The Knowledge of the Holy, in his chapter on God’s Goodness, he said, “[Oh the difference it would make in believers’ lives] if we could all believe that we [live] under a friendly sky, and that the God of heaven, though exalted in majesty and power, is eager to be friends with us.”
He’s so for you, He’s a sun and a shield. He gives grace and glory. No good thing will He withhold from those who walk uprightly. There are seasons of loss, and pain, and hurt, and broken relationships, and the goal is for you to be strengthened in your inner man, so that Christ could dwell in you and be comfortable and in control, all that you are, all that you have, so that you could learn that apart from any circumstance or any person, though you can desire both, that He and He alone can satisfy.
And His promise is, “I have unlimited resources, I’m a sun. I have unlimited protection, I’m a shield. I long to give grace and glory, undeserved blessing into your life and I promise I’ll not withhold any good thing from you.”
Don’t bail out on the process, don’t take a shortcut, don’t get yoked to anything, or anyone, or put your hope in anything, or anyone. Circumstances do not have the power to make or break your life. Relationships, human relationships, no relationship, no matter how wonderful, does not have the power to make or break your life. Only God can fulfill the deepest needs of your soul and He does that in the person of Jesus, by the power of the Holy Spirit, in the context of community, rooted in His Word.