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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.
But the price tag of that power of relationship is the flipside of that. 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.
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.”
There is just something in all of us, as humans, that think, “If this would change, if these circumstances, if these things could just get realigned…then…” And don’t get me wrong, I really want my circumstances to turn out well and I don’t think it’s wrong to want that.
They just don’t have the power to make your life, if they align, and they do not have the power to break your life when they don’t.
The second thing I wrote in my Bible was, “Human relationships do not have the power to make or break me.” That’s harder. It’s one thing to get your arms and your mind around things, whatever those things are can’t make or break you.
But it’s far different to come to grips with the reality and the truth that I am made for relationship, God will fulfill many of the deepest and most important needs in our lives through relationships, but a human relationship doesn’t have the power to give you, deep in your soul, what you need most and it doesn’t have the power to take it away.
People are people. And I don’t care how good, how loving, how kind, how godly. They will let you down. And so I’m commanded to not put my trust in things, and I’m commanded not to put my trust in people, and that command is rooted in God’s great love for me because He doesn’t want me to go through the horrendous experience of feeling hopeless when things, and circumstances, and people let me down.
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. 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, “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.”
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. 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.”
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.