the shape of leadership

How Not to Waste Your Pain

Find purpose in your struggles

Pain is an inevitable part of leadership. It appears in every shape and size imaginable. As a pastor, you get to deal with your own pain, as well as the pain of your congregation. Over time, it’s easy to develop a callous heart or experience compassion fatigue.

One leader who experienced his share of pain was Joseph. In Genesis 37, Joseph had two dreams in which his brothers and parents bowed before him — two dreams that he excitedly shared with his family. That experience started a series of events for Joseph that describe four common types of pain we may experience today.

The Pain of Family Rejection

Joseph’s jealous brothers decided to rip off his robe, throw him in a cistern, and sell him to some Ishmaelites for 20 shekels of silver (Genesis 37:28).

When the people you love the most treat you the worst, it does something deep inside your heart. That can be true in church too. It’s not uncommon for pastors to experience rejection from the very people they have served, loved and ministered to in their greatest time of need. Unkind acts and hurtful words sow seeds of rejection that can slowly take root.

The Pain of False Accusation

After the Ishmaelites took Joseph to Egypt, they sold him to Potiphar, the captain of Pharaoh’s guard. Potiphar’s wife repeatedly tried to entice Joseph to sleep with her, but he refused to dishonor God or Potiphar.

One day, Potiphar's wife grabbed Joseph’s robe as he fled and then later told her husband, “That Hebrew slave you brought us came to me to make sport of me. But as soon as I screamed for help, he left his cloak beside me and ran out of the house.”

As a result of this false accusation, Joseph ended up in prison.

Have you ever been falsely accused? In ministry, people may make up stories about you, spread false rumors, and even blatantly accuse you of things you never did. In those moments, you need God’s help to keep bitterness and anger from opening the door of your heart and setting up shop.

The Pain of a Forgotten Existence

While in prison, Joseph interpreted the dreams of Pharaoh’s baker and cupbearer. Joseph told the baker he would face execution, but told the cupbearer he would return to his position in the kingdom. After interpreting these dreams, Joseph asked the cupbearer to plead his case before Pharaoh.

What happened? The cupbearer completely forgot about Joseph, never giving him a second thought (Genesis 40:23). For two years, Joseph remained forgotten, with a jail sentence he never deserved.

Maybe you feel overlooked and forgotten. Perhaps you’ve pastored for years, even decades, and you feel invisible. Nobody sees how hard you’ve worked or the sacrifices you’ve made, and your life feels confined to a jail cell made of four walls: insignificant, unappreciated, inadequate and unwanted. Surely, that’s how Joseph must have felt.

The Pain of Failed Dreams

At the age of 17, Joseph carried an inspiring dream in his heart, but those dreams must have felt null and void as he sat in a prison cell. How could those dreams ever come true?

Following your descent into pain, God wants to lead you on an ascent into purpose.

Similarly, many pastors and leaders start out with grand visions of what God is going to do through them, in their churches, and across their cities or communities. But over the years, the pain of life and leadership seems to silence the dreams and sentence them to death.

These four pains — family rejection, false accusations, forgotten existence, and failed dreams — are quite discouraging. But many leaders give up too quickly and buy the lie that their story will end with pain while God hands out blessings to everybody else.

But our pain shouldn’t go to waste. God doesn’t view your pain as a final destination, and you shouldn’t either. Following your descent into pain, God wants to lead you on an ascent into purpose. You may be in a situation you loathe, but He can help you leverage it. That’s what happened in Joseph’s case.

One day, Pharaoh had two dreams that nobody could interpret. That jogged the cupbearer’s memory, and he told Pharaoh all about Joseph and his ability to interpret dreams. After Pharaoh summoned him to the palace, Joseph correctly interpreted the dreams and told Pharaoh how to prepare for a coming famine.

Pharaoh was so impressed with Joseph that he was elevated to second in command of the land of Egypt. Joseph was an overnight success … 13 years in the making.

What’s my point? God didn’t waste Joseph’s pain. The rejections, accusations, and feelings of abandonment and failure led to something extraordinary — a purpose that would serve the entire land.

God may not have been the cause of Joseph’s pain, but He wasn’t absent in his pain either. God showed Joseph favor, working behind the scenes to catapult Joseph into his divine calling.

God does the same today. He works in the silent places. He takes the threads of your pain and weaves a beautiful story of purpose. God doesn’t waste your pain. The question is, will you?

We don’t waste pain when we choose (and it is a choice) to have faith in God and to serve faithfully. That was Joseph’s posture. Regardless of where he found himself, Joseph served faithfully and never lost his faith. As a result, God’s presence and favor were always with Joseph.

God didn’t deliver Joseph from his pain for 13 years, but the fingerprints of His favor were found in the places of Joseph’s pain.

Don’t waste your pain. Like Joseph, have faith in God, and serve Him faithfully. But do one more thing as well: Draw the purpose out of your pain.

No, you may not know the purpose of your pain, but you can certainly find purpose in it. How? By leveraging your pain to help people who are experiencing similar pain. Finding the purpose in your pain is how God redeems it for good.

Author and evangelist Christine Caine says, “God is preparing you for something He’s already prepared for you.” It may not make sense in the moment, but trust Him and faithfully serve Him. Broaden your perspective, find purpose in the pain, and then use it for good.

As the apostle Paul wrote, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28).


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