It may be the cruelest childhood disease of all—a real kid killer: Familial Dysautonomia attacks only one in 400,000 children, yet this genetic disorder does so in the most sinister way. It short-circuits the autonomic nervous system so its victims feel no pain.

On the surface, painlessness may appear beneficial, but that only proves the subtlety of this heartless enemy.

Because an afflicted child feels no pain, there is no way to know if a bone is broken, an ear is infected or a tooth is decayed. The eyes become dry and insensitive to foreign objects. Burns don’t register. Cuts go unnoticed. For the few who survive adolescence, 95 percent have spinal curvature, pneumonia, depression and hypothermia—all from the lack of pain.

Pain is nature’s flashing yellow light, a built-in warning signal. A human body incapable of experiencing pain makes as much sense as Venus de Milo with a wristwatch. It’s a nice thought, but it serves no useful purpose.

Pastors are no strangers to pain. It’s as familiar as a church bulletin, as common as a potluck, but it’s not the pain of those in the hospital or in a counseling session to whom I’m referring, but rather the pastor’s own pain.

What pulpiteer hasn’t felt intense pain from the vicious comments of pew-sitting critics? Name a pastor who hasn’t ached over an unrepentant sinner, church feuds, power struggles among staff members, or heresy within the congregation.

Who among us hasn’t chaffed over unsigned letters? We vow we’ll never read them, but we always do—and memorize the more poisonous lines. Each attack has lasting pain.

Some pastors claim they’ve developed thick skin, but that’s a crock. In most cases, a pastor’s skin is thinner, more sensitive than most. That’s why we’re in this work—we care so much.

It was God’s tug at our tender hearts that first wooed us to guide wayward sheep. It was our soft souls that jumped when God came calling for volunteers. No, this is not an industry of thick skins.

Even the Savior appeared to have thin skin. “During the days of Jesus’ life on earth, He offered up prayers and petitions with loud cries and tears.”

Paul was deeply moved over people’s indifference to the things of God. He wept repeatedly.

Biblical writers routinely used the words pray and cry interchangeably because one usually led to the other. The pain we feel is real, and it serves an important purpose. God intended it to serve us and others.

The New Testament’s most common word for pain is basanos, an Oriental word meaning “a touchstone.” A touchstone is a velvety-textured black quartz. This very dense stone was used in ancient days to assay gold ore. A strong-armed goldsmith would rub pure gold against the flat touchstone, leaving a golden colored streak. Then the suspect alloy would be struck repeatedly beside the golden mark. After rinsing away the broken debris, the two colors were compared, and the authenticity of the alloy would be determined.

Being pounded against the touchstone was necessary in order to find true gold…or expose the fake. Many of us are going through that pounding process right now.

Repeated blows to determine our mettle tend to discourage even the best of pastors.

The process may seem unfair, but God’s methods always have included pain.
• The cross served as Jesus’ touchstone. His pain and death were cruel and undeserved, but they revealed His pure gold.
• Abraham’s touchstone was a mountain on which he was asked to sacrifice his precious Isaac. The end result was pure gold.
• Job’s cataclysmic losses, and the unfair accusations of his friends, ultimately revealed pure gold.
• Joseph’s betrayal by his brothers began a downward spiral of every conceivable dignity. Yet he became pure gold.
• Paul’s hostile receptions, beatings and prison time revealed the purity of his gold.

Each was struck hard against a personal touchstone. Each felt intense pain, but each revealed pure gold.

Is it possible to pastor a church without experiencing pain? Apparently not. Is it possible to turn that pain into pure gold?

What do you think?

Ron Walters is a former pastor who now serves as senior vice president ministry relations for Salem Communications in Camarillo, California.

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