Why Is Life So Difficult? (The Payoff of Pain) by Jon Eng

At Gateway Church in Austin, we concluded our series called Why Is Life So Difficult?

None of us likes to experience pain or pressure in our lives. But sometimes the hardest times in our lives can prove to also be the most important times. How can we identify the payoff to our pain?

Work through the following questions and Scriptures on your own, and get together with your running partner, life group, or friends and family to talk through what you are learning.

Next Steps:

Work through the following questions and Scriptures on your own, and get together with your running partner, life group, or friends and family to talk through what you are learning.

The Payoff of Pain Next Steps

Message Notes from Jon Eng:

How’s it going?

It’s a pretty common question.

You ask it probably every day to your co-workers, to your loved ones, to your friends.

And we all know the pat answers. It’s a social game almost.

In my case, I’ll sometimes get the question, How’s everything going with your new campus Gateway Pflugerville? How’s the new church coming along?

8 months into campus planting, you want to be able to say, “Yeah, it’s been the most amazing adventure in our lives.” That’s the story I’d love to come and tell you today. But unfortunately, it’s not reality.


Here’s reality.

The past 8 months have amazing.

We’ve seen God move in some crazy and unexpected ways, but what I often don’t share is how these past 8 months have also been the hardest, most challenging run in my adult life.

I’ve experienced more spiritual resistance than ever before. Ever since we announced at our 20 year celebration that I’d be spearheading our Pflugerville campus, it’s felt like I’ve had multiple targets on my back.

  • I’ve received more angry emails than I can count.
  • I’ve been called more hateful names than I can remember.
  • My sense of calling and identity have been pushed up against like never before.
  • I’ve encountered confusion and miscommunication.
  • And, I’ve run into more difficulties and more brokenness than I’ve seen in the past 10 years that I’ve served in vocational ministry.

In some ways, it’s not terribly surprising.

God does say that we’re gonna encounter spiritual forces that oppose God’s church.

And so, as I’ve experienced more of the spiritual opposition in my life, it’s been weirdly affirming. And yet it’s hard.


It’s been a tough run.

BUT there’s something I’m beginning to believe, and it’s this:

In as much as these months have been the most difficult for me, I’m beginning to believe that they’ll also prove to be one of the most formative seasons of my life.

Because pain has a payoff.

Pay Off

What do I mean here?

1 Peter 5:6 – 10

Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, so that he may exalt you in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him, because he cares for you. Discipline yourselves, keep alert. Like a roaring lion your adversary, the devil, prowls around, looking for someone to devour. Resist him, steadfast in your faith, for you know that your brothers and sisters in all the world are undergoing the same kinds of suffering. And after you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, support, strengthen, and establish you. To him be the power forever and ever.

There’s some great truth here. And I mean that in 2 ways.

  • On the one hand, there are some incredible promises that invite you into God’s presence, that beckon you towards peace, that call you towards intimacy.
  • On the other hand, there are some other promises that don’t sound great, that there is an adversary, that evil is prowling around, looking for someone to devour, targeting you, me.

That’s what 1 Peter 5 can do to you. It kinda gets you moving in opposite directions. You’re filled with fear, and you want to run away. There’s pressure, there’s pain. And yet there’s tremendous promise and joy and liberation on the other side – if only you can get through the pain and fear.

And here’s where it comes together:

  • Resist evil.
  • Stay steadfast in your faith.
  • Endure suffering.
  • And you will be restored, strengthened, and established.

So what’s your pain? And do you believe that God can use it for your good?

When it comes to suffering, there are 3 things that I’ve observed. And it’s actually really eye-opening to see how the scripture we just read can come to life in real-time. And many of you will find this to be true, too.

As you connect your heart to God’s, you begin to sense God’s invitation to journey through the pain.

So consider this first observation.

#1 Pain reveals the problem.

We often think pressure in our lives is the problem.

Here’s what I’m observing

We feel pressure in our lives, and we cry out, “God, take this pressure or this stress or this problem away from me. Just take it away!”

And God gets that.

But the reality is, just like the doc, God’s got different goals.

The doc knows something. That with pressure, there’s purpose.

Pressure and pain aren’t the chief problem. Pressure and pain point to the problem.

Pain reveals the problem.

God and Pressure

Here’s the gift I received over these past several months.

I’ve received the gift of INTENSE pressure being put on me and on our family.

God, my doctor, put pressure on me, and no joke, I wanted the pressure to stop.

As Gateway leadership and I have teamed together to move towards God’s vision for our church.

Through things like our You Belong Here Series, Gateway U Classes like Beyond Colorblind, and our Reconciliation and Justice Network, planting new campuses to reach the growing population and diversities among us in Austin.

These are all fresh expressions of a vision that Gateway has always lived by: to bring life and freedom to every people group we touch.

THIS is what our world needs today: People of Peace who carry God’s peace to all places and all peoples.

But this vision is opposed. And I started catching pushback.

And overtime, those things just started stacking.

It literally felt like papercut after papercut after papercut.

Until 1000 papercuts later, I’m left barely standing.

I wanted God to take it away.

I didn’t like that I was all of the sudden receiving these emails left and right that were meant to tear me down.

God! Make it stop!

Have you ever cried out to God like that?
When the pressure has felt too overwhelming, when the pain seems to be too much.

And here’s what I’ve been slow to realize.

God wanted that pressure on me.

Not because God’s sadistic or that God delights in pain.

No, it’s because, like a doctor, God wanted me to be restored.

Just like what the scriptures talked about in 1 Peter.

It’s not because God doesn’t love me, but precisely because God loves me, I felt this pressure.

There’s been some deeply rooted things in my life that needed to be addressed.

Can any of you relate to this at all?

I want the pain to stop.

I want to feel good again.

And of course, there are times when changes outside of ourselves need to be made, but I’ve also come to realize that even if nothing outside changes, God’s up to something inside of us when we feel pressure.

Disproportionate Reactions

So what is God up to?

One of the things that God is invested in is your character. And pressure, in some circumstances, can be a tool that creates curiosity.

How do we know if pain is driving us like a nail to God’s love?

“Suffering can drive us like a nail deep into the love of God and into more stability and spiritual power than you can imagine.” – Tim Keller

Pressure reveals reaction.

And sometimes, the reaction is BIGGER than the pressure applied.

Like that normal kind of pressure would have been fine if there wasn’t a problem.

But when something’s wrong, so we cry out disproportionately to the pressure applied.

Connect: When have you cried out disproportionately to pressure applied in your life?

  • Maybe it was when you found yourself getting short with your kids.
  • Or you ended up having a blow-up towards someone.
    • They didn’t deserve that at all.
    • The mistake was innocent enough.
    • But you tore into them.
    • And in an out-of-body experience, you surprised yourself and ended up also hurting the person in front of you.
  • Be curious when your reaction is disproportionate to reality.

Do you want to be free today? Do you want to discover the payoff of pain?

Getting to that place of freedom isn’t always easy. It requires us to be curious.

It requires to be dangerously honest with ourselves.

Because our default reaction is to defend and deny.

“But I’m right to be angry!”

“What that person did was wrong.”

“What that company or that church did was messed up.”

And this is where it gets difficult, b/c all those things may be true.

And what’s also true is if our reaction is disproportionate, it’s telling us something.

And if we’re honest, we’ll hear it.

You see: If we don’t discover what’s truly going on, it’s gonna wreak havoc on our lives and our relationships.

God uses pressure and pain to reveal things in me and in us that need to be revealed.

The purposes of a person’s heart are deep waters, but one who has insight draws them out. – Proverbs 20:5

Disproportionate reactions should make us curious.

Our hearts are deep waters. Our character is deep waters..

Our make-up is deep waters.

And this needs to be drawn out, identified, worked on, healed.

#2: We will defend the indefensible.

When it comes to problem areas of our lives, what do we opt for?


Here’s the thing: we all play the game.

It’s a built-in mechanism. It’s our fight or flight response system. It’s engrained within us to help us survive. But the thing that helps you to survive yesterday often doesn’t help you to thrive today. We’ll defend the indefensible.

Why is this important to recognize?

Because unless we finally come to the end of ourselves, we’ll ignore what pain is trying to reveal in us.

You’ll keep running into yourself,

Until you surrender to the God who’s ready to transform you.

#3 God’s got some different goals

Let me draw a couple lines here

These lines both represent desire.

This top line represents God’s desire for my life

I believe God is a loving, good, just, and gracious God.

I believe God wants good things for me and for you, for us.

But I also believe that we make false assumptions about what’s truly good.

And that’s where this second line comes in play

It’s a desire line as well, but it’s mine

Because we are creatures that are created in God’s image and yet also very flawed.

We go back and forth, sometimes all in the same moment, between our selfish side and our spirit side. God’s desires are up here, and my desires…my selfish desires, they’re down here.

I want to want

On my line, I know what God wants, and in my most transparent confessions, I can say

I want to want that.

And this is where some of us might throw in prayer.

Except it’s the kind of prayer that’s really self-driven.

What I mean is this.

Prayer becomes warped.

It becomes our attempt to move God’s line down to our line.

“God, please give me this, give me that. Do this for me. Do that for me.”

Basically, we’re saying,

“Hey GOD! Come down here to my line!”

A couple ways this doesn’t work out though:

One, God’s line doesn’t really move.

And two, it’s pain that helps get my line to move up to God’s line.

It’s pressure that drives me like a nail towards God’s love.

The space between God’s line and my line, it’s closed through pain.

If I’m willing.

I shared earlier how I’ve been in a battle over the past 8 months.

Through my own trials and pain, I realized I was becoming the very thing that I wanted to heal, that God wanted to heal.

And it was a gut-check. Did I really believe that God has reconciled us through Christ and called us towards unity across our differences?

The pain and the pressure moved my line closer to God’s line.

I’m still not fully arrived.

But I’ve come to encounter God’s Spirit transforming me, just like it says in 1 Peter 5.

And after you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, support, strengthen, and establish you. To him be the power forever and ever. – 1 Peter 5:10


One of the most liberating things to happen is when you’re free from the problem the pain revealed.

For some of us that means hearing God say, “I didn’t create that line you’re living on. You created it. Come up here where you can be at peace with yourself, just like I’m at peace with you already.

Some of you may be experiencing difficulty in your own life. What might God be wanting to unearth in you? Not out of a sense of guilt or shame.

But because God loves you.

And still for others, liberation is actually hope past the suffering.

Some of you may be suffering from illness or anxiety. And it’s painful.

I don’t know what restoration may look like for you.

What I do know is that God is for you. That God can transform that suffering and turn your pain into something productive, and good, and a source of blessing for others.

Will you walk with God into freedom?

I can’t think of a better example of walking into freedom than Juneteenth, which is right around the corner.

Juneteenth is a state-recognized holiday that celebrates the effective end of slavery in Texas, even though the Emancipation Proclamation happened almost two years prior to the date in 1863. Could you imagine if you were a slave living in Texas, oppressed under the evil system of slavery for 2 extra years b/c you didn’t have access to that information. And then suddenly, the Union army lands in your town and EVERYTHING about your status changes. You were once enslaved, and now, Today, you’re free. Imagine what that must have produced in African American community – the men and the women and the children. How that shift in identity impacted their lives.

Liberation is the declaration that we’re free. Free from the oppressive forces of evil. Free from living at your line rather than God’s line.

You can have the courage to face yourself.

In Christ, you are free!

So don’t live like you used to.

Live in Christ.

Pay attention to your pain. What is it revealing in you?

Stop defending the defenseless. Instead, come to the end of yourself, because that’s where God begins. Where you end is where God begins.

And after you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, support, strengthen, and establish you. To him be the power forever and ever. – 1 Peter 5:10


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