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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.
When you think about life and ups and downs and everything you have been through, or will ever go through, probably the greatest thing you’ll ever, ever taste on this earth is that deep, authentic connection where someone loves you for you. Not for what you have, not for what you can do, not for where you’ve been, not for who you know, they love you and then it’s reciprocal and you love them.
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.
For some of you it may be a long time ago. If you can ever remember the first time you actually fell in love, began that early connection maybe as a late teenager or an early adult - and for whatever reason you had that first breakup.
And remember the emotions, how devastating and older people told you things like, “It’s puppy love and there are other people and everything’s going to be alright,” but you didn’t want to eat, you couldn’t think.
And then you grow up, and for many you go through a separation, or a divorce, or a lifelong friendship with someone and something happens that divides it. Or something occurs in a family relationship where you no longer talk to one of your kids, or a brother or a sister, and Thanksgivings are weird because there are two empty chairs. There are certain people’s names that when they come up they used to be close, they used to be people that you just, it was you couldn’t imagine going through life without them and at this point in your life you’re estranged from them.
They walked out, they betrayed you, maybe you messed up and your apologies have fallen on deaf ears.
And we’ve talked about overcoming the pain of shattered dreams, and we’ve talked about overcoming a warped self-image, and we’ve talked about unjust suffering. I think the hardest and most difficult thing in all the world is to overcome the pain of broken relationships, because all those things play into it.
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.
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.” 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. And he’s praying about how will all this work, and what do we need to believe, and what do you ask God for so that He can be your all in all, especially when it goes against all your emotions. Those Jews do not want to love those Gentiles and those Gentiles do not want to love those Jews. But they’re one new man now.
And then when he ends, at the end of the book he goes through the entire book and talks about how to walk in a manner worthy and talks about the period of our life being filled with the Spirit in our marriage relationships, in our parenting, in our work, and in the context of spiritual warfare.
And then how does he end the book? He stops again 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 that you can forgive and that you can look at relationships by, “I wonder where they’re coming from,” and you can be a little Christ as He’s working in you, and though you would like circumstances to be different, though you would long for relationships to be restored, you can say with integrity, 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.”
A sovereign God who has created all things, the author of every relationship, the one who has unlimited authority and unlimited resources, the one who really cares, notice it’s a Father. The Jews have a Father, the Gentiles have a Father. There is someone bigger than your network or my network. They have a Father. The kids that are alienated from you, they have a Father. The family member that isn’t on the same page with you, they have a Father. There is someone that’s in control of everything.
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.
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 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 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 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? 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 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 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 is 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.”
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. 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.
Fathers care. 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 is all this mess and I want to bring them to You and I want You to heal them.”
And when you pray, what it does, you know what? These weren’t “Now I lay me down to sleep,” prayers, okay? These were not, “Oh, help my girlfriend to love me, help my leg to get better, help the new coach to like me, help everything to work out okay, oh God…”
These were the most honest, penetrating, “I can’t go on unless You show up, and You’ve gotta be real, and You’ve gotta give me what I can’t get from anything or anyone,” prayers.
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 that’s why sometimes you hear me and you feel like I’m just railing on the Evangelical church, and railing on Western Christianity and, see, this shortcut, “God will make everything wonderful; you’ll be healthy, wealthy, and wise; there are a formula; just love Jesus, and people are digesting that and are disappointed with God and are feeling like God is unfaithful, and unfair, when God never said any of that and God never promised any of that. That’s human centered Christianity where Jesus becomes your pilot for the fulfillment of the American dream.
And here’s the thing, it doesn’t deliver. And so how do you restore a broken relationship and overcome the pain? First, you talk to your Father.
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.”
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. It 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 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,” 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 the 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 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; 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 is 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.
How many of our prayers, have you ever thought about when you look at the prayers of Scripture versus how we pray? How many of our prayers are what I call, “Logistical prayers,” or “Strategic prayers” around, “God, will you do this?” Things. “God, will you do this?” People. “God, will you rearrange that? God, will you shift that? God, will you change that? God, will you restore that?”
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 wonder what would happen to all those people that we love if they started experiencing that? I wonder how much of the sin that we commit, both mentally, and with our tongue, and with our behavior is really chasing after things that we think will satisfy, because down deep we don’t feel deeply loved and accepted for who we really are, so we feel like, “If I accomplish this then I’d be a someone,” or, “If he or she would like me or if we could go here or…”
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 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.
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.”
I turn the clock now ahead many, many years and I thought to myself, “I found a girl and a wife and a woman I could never…” my best choice wasn’t good, and so I gave that to God, and I did not marry that girl. And God gave me Theresa. And I found after multiple injuries, my idol of basketball… a new coach came, I got injured again, but the last ten games of the year we played the number one team in the nation, we finished strong, and out of the blue I got an envelope asking me to play with this team of other college athletes, and we played all throughout South America all the summer of ’76, all the summer of ’77, and then I joined an Australian team.
And I’m this little NAIA player, a small college guy playing with guys from UCLA and Oregon and USC and Erskine – we’re playing every Olympic team throughout South America, and sharing Jesus at half time. And with my heavenly Father just leaning down, smiling, going, “It wasn’t about the basketball, Chip. It was your heart.”
And then I graduate from college and that bricklayer said, “You want to learn how to do ministry?” And he said, “Why don’t you come and you can mix mud for me and we’ll start another ministry here together.” And we did. And it was out of doing that with him that God called me to be a pastor.
My dad actually got more than sober, he got godly. But it was a journey. When I look back? Hopeless. Ten, fifteen, twenty, twenty-five years? Exceedingly, abundantly, beyond anything I could ever ask, think, or imagine.
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. 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.