Learning through Pain

This post was started on April 16th, 2014 but has been repeatedly revised to incorporate additional thoughts and updated to reflect my current status.

Current Summary (June 15th, 2014)

From early April to early May I had suffered a flare-up of sciatic pain which kept me from sleeping more than a couple of hours at a time.

Shortly after my last post and my third visit to the Healing Rooms, I experienced complete healing and freedom from pain. With the benefit of hindsight I have now written a separate page detailing my accumulated insights regarding the relationship between Divine Healing and Reproducing Discipleship.

For those interested, here is my experience prior to full healing:

On May 6th, 2014 I wrote:

For the past week (since receiving prayer at one of 1,500 international “healing rooms”) I have been able to sleep for up to four hours and woken with less pain, and then been able to get back to sleep fairly quickly by changing position. But I am still living with pain in my right hip and numbness down my right calf.

Would you pray for God to be glorified in leading me to learn all He wants me to learn through this experience, including the roles of both suffering and miracles in demonstrating God’s Kingdom to unbelievers?

More Detail (4/19/14)

I generally feel good when standing, but when I sit or lie down sciatic pain builds quickly, except in a couple of positions which open the lower front of my spine.

Feel free to comment below with suggested therapies or treatments. However I am receiving more suggestions for remedies than I feel led to pursue. And relief is NOT my top priority; my priority is learning whatever God may want to teach me through this experience.

My attitude epitomizes this joke I heard once about a popular ministry known for seeking to discern God speaking through their circumstances:

Three men were talking in Hell.
The Calvinist said, “I know why I’m here. I was predestined.”
The Arminian said, “I’m here because of my choices.”
And the YWAMer said, “I am still trying to understand what the Lord is trying to tell me.”

Please pray for me as the Lord leads, and let me know your thoughts regarding the roles of healing and suffering in advancing God’s Kingdom. Thanks! (If God leads you to let me know you are praying for me, I will update you as my condition changes.)

The Gospel: More than a Ticket to Heaven

The “Gospel of the Kingdom” is far more than an offer of eternal life based on the death, burial and resurrection of Christ to pay for my sins. Christ’s death, burial and resurrection are certainly central—“of first importance” according to Paul (1 Co 15:3–8). But this is not the whole Gospel of the Kingdom.

The Gospel of the Kingdom also invites us into intimacy with God, experienced through:

  • adoption into His family, filling with His Holy Spirit, and Jesus’ abiding presence,
  • blessings, purpose and authority to show God’s love and destroy the devil’s works.

Demonstrating God’s Kingdom

Jesus didn’t send His disciples out to describe or explain the Kingdom, but to:

  • demonstrate God’s Kingdom,
  • call others to repent, and
  • invite them into God’s family and family business (Jn 15:15).

Mark 3:14 tells us the disciples were called

  • first to be with Jesus,
  • then sent out to preach, and
  • to have authority over demons.

At times God used Peter (Ac 5:12, 15–16) and Paul (28:8–9) in healing everyone who came to them, and the author of Hebrews expects spiritual maturity to include tasting “the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the coming age” (He 6:5).

Yet there were also occasions when Paul appeared unable to heal:

  • Paul left Trophimus sick in Miletus (1 Ti 4:20), and
  • Paul could not rid himself of his “thorn in the flesh”
    (2 Co 12:7 is unclear whether this was a physical ailment).

Regarding my sciatic pain, I sense that this “thorn in the flesh” (if that is what this is) is linked to God’s intent to train me in training others to walk in greater intimacy with Christ, and this in greater authority in representing His Kingdom.

I recall hearing or reading somewhere that many with powerful healing ministries have some unresolved health issue of their own. So I am praying that, if this sciatic pain is part of God’s schooling for me, it may have its full benefit in my maturing faith (James 1:2–4).

One thing I am certain of is that God does not follow a formula, but loves and treats me as an individual according to who I am and what He wants to accomplish through me. There is no formula I can apply to receive a pre-determined outcome from Him.

However I can grow in intimacy with God to hear and know His will as He chooses to reveal it. I am thus praying that my experience with miracles will increase as my intimacy with God increases and I learn to stand firm in the faith I receive through hearing God’s voice.

One facet of my new perspective is represented in this paraphrase of the familiar Romans 10:17: “Faith comes by hearing as God speaks to our spirit, both through His Word and directly through our intimate interaction with Him.”

Thank you for joining me in prayer that I will gain all God wants impart to me through this experience with sciatic pain.

My History with Sciatic Pain

Around 2006 an injury gave me my first experience with sharp sciatic pain in my right hip and numbness down the right leg.

My doctor correctly predicted that the pain would likely go away in six months or so, with or without conventional medical treatment. I considered a variety of treatment options, but did not feel led to pursue cortisone shots or surgery. I appreciated the free treatments I received from a chiropractor friend, but those were not helpful at that time with my specific pain.

To relieve aggravation from the injury, I learned then to work standing up. And with prayer support from many friends, the pain gradually disappeared over time.

Then in December 2013 and January 2014 the pain reappeared amidst my intense labor to prepare the Mar/Apr 2014 issue of Mission Frontiers. Apart perhaps from sitting for longer hours in this role, I can discern no trigger for this renewed pain other than the spiritual significance of this project.

Providentially a friend then offered and sent me a copy of  “Praying Medic’s” excellent book Divine Healing Made Simple. The book introduced me to several points I had not previously contemplated:

  • Jesus healed everyone who came to Him, often forgiving them as well.
    This suggests that God is just as ready to heal as He is to forgive.
  • After the Spirit descended on Jesus at His baptism, Jesus healed and drove out demons by authoritative command, through the power of the Holy Spirit—not by appealing for God’s intervention. This suggests that the Holy Spirit’s presence provides us with the same authority to command healing.
  • Jesus commanded his disciples to heal, then proclaim the nearness of God’s Kingdom. Jesus also breathed the Holy Spirit on them with authority to forgive or retain sins. This suggests that God’s Kingdom is present wherever God’s children bring authority in the Holy Spirit to heal and forgive.

“Praying Medic” and I became friends, and with his prayer and others added to mine my sciatic pain went from 100% to about 2% over five days.

However two months later (April 2014), at a training in how to train others to start movements among Ms, my sciatic pain returned and has been quite stubborn despite the prayers of many and some temporary improvements through prayer.

Again, I welcome your prayer for healing, and for my learning through this pain.

April 18, 2014 Update

My brother-in-law John was visiting. Although he doesn’t believe in God, he “happens” to be a chiropractor, so we naturally discussed our respective experiences with nerve pain. He has had a parallel experience with an inflammation of a nerve in his upper arm.

Through our discussion I understood that I can accelerate nerve healing by releasing it from irritation as often and as long as possible—that is, by staying as often and as much as possible in whatever position is most comfortable (least aggravating).

This is the opposite of my general approach to pain—stretching and using to tolerance. This latter strategy generally works for muscle pain, but is apparently the wrong approach for nerve injuries.

For my sciatic nerve, “getting comfortable” generally means extending my leg behind my body, in the opposite direction from which the leg moves when sitting.

So yesterday I napped with my right leg hanging out of the bed and resting on the floor. For the first time in days I woke without the intense pain which has previously ended every sleep.

Then after two 2-hour sleeps last night, I again woke without the “writhing” pain which previously forced me to get up and move around for some time after waking up. (For unknown reasons I am still to sleep more than a couple of hours in this position, but with this knowledge and experience I now feel hopeful that my situation is improving.)

John also helped me understand that inflammation of the nerve can be caused or aggravated by pinching—by muscle tightening or other tissue pressing against it, and that muscle tightening can result from overuse, possibly in compensation for deterioration of the joint.

As I reflect on the role of such knowledge in understanding God’s will, it does appear to me that God wants us generally to seek all the human understanding we can in a given situation, and to make use of medical science (with a clear appreciation for its limitations) while continuing to submit that knowledge to Him and seek to hear and follow His voice.

April 23, 2014 Update

Over the weekend I traveled to teach a Perspectives class. I was ready to trust God to help me drive four hours each way, but my family pressed me instead to ride the train.

I took a pillow along and remained standing or kneeling throughout the journey, even sleeping while kneeling on my pillow in front of my seat. Sleeping this way for an hour at a time replaced the sciatic pain with milder, fleeting pain in my knees when I awoke.

The class itself gave a most encouraging opportunity to pilot training a Perspectives class in practical skills for evangelism and discipleship. The next day several students contacted the coordinator to find out how to receive further training.

Where I was staying my short naps at night again ended in renewed and more intense sciatic pain despite hanging my leg out of the bed. And this increased pain has continued through a nap and another two-hour sleep last night back at home.

While I was away and here at home I found I was able to follow each nap lying on my back with an additional nap on my stomach. But overall the pain was worse after the weekend despite the many who prayed, with great faith, with and for me. The time I spent on the treadmill praying and reading scripture this morning has not relieved my pain as it was doing before the trip.

As I reflect this morning on how the pain has fluctuated through the various things I have tried, I suspect that something may be deteriorating in my joint so that the muscles and nerve have been able to relax more when I am standing (and gravity is holding the joint together) than when I am sitting or lying down (and the muscles have to work harder). If this is the case, it may be that the Lord’s healing for me will come through a hip replacement rather than a miracle. (Want to know my preference? 🙂

Unless God speaks clearly one way or the other, I expect to explore all other options before considering such a surgery.

May 6, 2014 Update

I went to see my regular doctor about having an MRI to determine if something is deteriorating in my hip joint or elsewhere. He said that insurance requires him to have me try other therapies (exercises and pain medicine) before such expensive testing.

I had tried high-dose ibuprofen once or twice with no noticeable affect, but felt led to accept the Vicodin he offered. However after 12 hours I found this was clouding my mind and upsetting my stomach and digestion, but doing nothing for my pain. I abandoned this approach.

However he indicated that comfort while standing and walking suggests that the hip is sound, and suggested that exercises and postures which emphasize the arch in my back to reduce a pinch on the front of the spine might help. I tried some of the exercises and found that sleeping with a lumbar pillow helped slightly with the pain even though it didn’t seem to improve my sleep.

Then on April 29th Jackie and I received a visit and prayer from an international trainer in reproducing discipleship. He encouraged me in my desire to learn to pray more effectively for healing, and recommended that I attend our local healing room. We also discussed and prayed about how my experiences with my dad left me emotionally shut down and detached, how this affects our family, and how “soaking prayer” (resting in the Lord’s presence with worship music to feed my spirit rather than my mind) could help open up my emotional side.

That evening the woman who prayed for me “just happened” to have lived for four years with 24-hour sciatic pain which she only got free from after realizing and confessing that she was appreciating the attention which accompanied her “invalid” status. I didn’t experience any immediate healing there, but on the drive home God showed me a resentment I hadn’t realized I was carrying. Immediately I repented and renounced the resentment, and felt the pain leave. The pain returned at home amidst some conflict at home, but from that evening I have been able to sleep for longer stretches (up to four hours) and to get back to sleep relatively quickly. So I am no longer operating in a fog from sleep deficit.

At present I think God’s path for my healing lies in the direction of:

    • emotional healing from pain with my own dad,
    • experiencing the love of my heavenly dad, and
    • learning in our home to resolve conflict which we have been inclined to suppress.

Thank you again for your continued prayers!

About Robby Butler

— served 24 years at the U.S. Center for World Mission with Ralph Winter. — founded Mission Network & is a contributing editor for Mission Frontiers. — lives in Anacortes, WA with Jackie and their kids: Joelle, Dana, & Wesley.
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1 Response to Learning through Pain

  1. Rick Bagley says:

    Rob, It occurs to me that the latest flare-up is direct warfare from the Enemy who does not want to see T4T flourishing in the states. Keep up the good work!

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