Pain is an essential and necessary element to you identifying and fulfilling God’s purpose for your life. I know that statement doesn’t sound very encouraging, but it’s honest. Don’t get me wrong: I don’t like pain, and I don’t believe anyone does. However, when you leverage your pain and don’t simply live through it, you will learn to unlock one of God’s greatest gifts to you this side of eternity.
Here is a principle I would like you to consider on your journey as a leader: Your most defining moment of pain can open the door to destiny. I have found this to be true, not only as I look at Jesus and many of the people in the Bible and throughout history, but this has been true for my own life journey.
The hidden truth of life is that none of us will walk through life free from pain. Jesus promised, “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 16:33a). In saying this, Jesus was preparing His disciples for His departure. There are three eternal and transferable principles from this passage I want to draw your attention to:
- The words and life of Jesus produce peace when you allow them to penetrate your heart, in spite of the pain you will face.
- Pain is part of the human condition that cannot be avoided, but it can be wasted.
- If you are in Him, or give your pain to Him, He will cause you to overcome the thing that came to overcome you.
A key aspect of the gospel is that God redeems the whole of a man and not just the soul of a man. It is from this vantage point that we are called to lead people. As leaders we don’t promise people the vapor of a pain-free life because we don’t have the power to produce this. Through Christ we give people a vision of a purpose-filled life. Innovation, creativity, ministry, business
and the like exist to alleviate or eliminate pain. One of the roles of a leader is to help people—whether they are customers, constituents, congregants or team members—solve problems that are producing or have the potential to produce pain.
PAIN HAS A PATHWAY
Pain will lead us down a pathway. If we don’t predetermine the direction that we will take when pain is present, our lives will be the byproduct of reacting to pain instead of responding to it. Our lives will naturally move in the direction of our pleasures, pain or purpose.
- Pleasure: A life in the constant pursuit of pleasure is a life marked by discontent, destruction and excess. This is why Solomon says, “Death and Destruction are never satisfied, and neither are human eyes” (Proverbs 27:20).
- Purpose: When people don’t know their purpose, they choose pleasure as a means to deal with their pain. The fastest way to help someone through their pain is by showing them God’s purpose.
- Pain: To manage or make sense of our pain, we will turn to pleasure, self-pity or purpose. Only one of these responses has redeemable qualities.
Our inability to identify the source of our pain will cause us to misdiagnose our problems and lead us in the pursuit of the wrong solution. Because our unprocessed pain prevents us from being fully present, pain has the potential to get in the way of us fulfilling God’s plan for our lives. Pain can bless us with some of life’s most important gifts, if we are willing to repurpose it. Here is the key: If pain is left in our hands, it only leaves us with heartache, regret, anger and fear. When pain is placed in God’s hands, He produces insight, empathy, endurance and power in us.
Like most people reading this, I have experienced my fair share of pain. Beginning at birth my biological father made the decision to abandon my mother and me before I even took my first breath. The absence of his presence left a void in my soul and a longing for affection that I spent most of my life searching for. I immersed myself in gang culture, committing crimes and becoming a father at 14.
In all my searching for love, meaning and community I didn’t realize that God was searching for me: “For the eyes of the LORD range throughout the earth to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to him” (2 Chronicles 16:9a). I would not discover this truth until I was 17 years old, but once I did, it was the most transformational moment of my life.
I had aged out of the juvenile correctional system and was released back into my environment. As mentioned earlier, I came from a pretty dysfunctional home, steeped in poverty, substance abuse and many other life-impacting behaviors. Upon my returning home to my girlfriend, Angela, and our two-year-old daughter, Kaylee, I knew something had to be different. I just didn’t know how to change it.
After being home for a few weeks, I began to ask life-defining questions such as, Is there a God? Is there a heaven and hell? Who determines who gets in or out? Where will I go if I die? These questions pressed on me as I considered the eternal consequences of my lifestyle. All of this culminated in my living room on August 23, 1997.
I was filled with overwhelming guilt as I considered all the pain I had caused the people who loved me the most. After everyone had gone to bed, I stood in my living room, aware there was nowhere I could go to escape the eyes of the One who had witnessed every shameful and horrible thing I had done with my life up to that point.
I spent hours pacing back and forth in my living room, telling God all I had done—things I would be too ashamed to tell another human being. In a moment of desperation and hope, I cried out to this unknown God who knew me. After hours of crying and confessing, I collapsed on the floor in my dimly lit living room and uttered a prayer from the pain of my soul: “God if you are real and will reveal yourself to me, I will give you my life.”
The next morning, I heard a knock on the door. To my surprise there were two people standing at the entrance to our apartment.
“You’re a pastor, aren’t you?” I asked.
“Yes, I am, and this is my friend, Marshall,” he replied.
I was shocked, stunned and filled with peace all at the same time. After I had invited them in, Pastor Illian shared the gospel with me and asked if I wanted a new life. Through tears I said, “Yes, desperately!”
That day Pastor Illian introduced me to Jesus. On the day of my salvation, I knew three things were true. The first thing I knew was that God is real and my sins were forgiven. Second, I knew what I would do for the rest of my life: introduce lost people to Jesus. Last, I knew where I would do it.
There are two things I didn’t know: namely, when I would do it or the path God would have me follow to get there. So, for 18 years we prayed. What I understand now, that I didn’t understand then, is that on August 24, 1997, God had given me a heart for church planting and a supernatural love for the city in which I had caused so much pain. God used my pain to push me toward Him and His purpose for my life.
I wish I could say from that moment I never fell short again or caused the people I loved pain, but that would be a lie. Shortly after meeting Jesus, I found a local church, got plugged in and began learning and serving. A year after my salvation, Angela gave her life to Jesus! These events convinced me life would be better than it had ever been, and it was—for a season.
Unfortunately, I allowed the pain from people within the church to send me back down a road I swore never to walk again. At 19 years old I was convicted of a serious felony and was sent to prison where I would spend the next seven and a half years of my life. Some pain in life is caused by others, and some pain we bring on ourselves.
LEADING WITH A LIMP
One of my mentors once said, “Never follow a man who doesn’t walk with a limp.” Of course, this is a reference to the story of Jacob wrestling with God. In the encounter, God touched his thigh and, as a result, Jacob walked with a limp for the rest of his life. The place you’ve been wounded is the place God wants to use you. What you’ve gone though is a testimony that allows you to rejoice and others to find the grace they need to overcome.
This principle can be seen in the book of Revelation’s description of how the end-times church overcomes: “They triumphed over him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony; they did not love their lives so much as to shrink from death” (12:11).
One of the reasons your testimony has power is because people will be impressed by your strengths, but they will relate to your weaknesses. As leaders we must decide if we want to be impressive or helpful. Everyone in your business, church and life is experiencing some form of pain. Unbelievers aren’t showing up to our churches looking for Jesus; they are looking for answers. As Christian leaders we know that Jesus is the One who has the healing they seek. Our willingness to be honest about the pain we have experienced gives the people around us permission to do the same.
The pain we have experienced isn’t something we should hide from the people we lead. Consider that the greatest among us not only endured the cross, but has chosen to identify Himself by the scars that still dwell in His body. Thomas couldn’t believe that someone could experience the pain of the crucifixion and survive. “So the other disciples told him, ‘We have seen the Lord!’ But he said to them, ‘Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe’” (John 20:25).
Jesus could have removed the scars after He rose from the tomb, but He chose to reveal them to us. This truth should not only bring you peace and comfort, but confidence in what God can do with your pain. Some people cannot believe in a God who can overcome their pain, unless you show them the scars from you overcoming yours.
FROM PAIN TO PURPOSE
Some of life’s most impactful lessons will come from your most painful experiences. The pain you experience is what expands your capacity to endure, if you can heal and learn from it. While I was in prison, God used the time to teach me so much about myself, Him and how to lead others. While there, I started attending Bible college to better prepare for what I knew God was calling me to do once I was released.
Angela stayed by my side as I completed my seven-and-a-half-year prison sentence, and we were married 30 days before I was released from prison. We will celebrate 30 years of life together in 2024! She is my best friend and the love of my life. Since returning home almost 20 years ago, God has done so many amazing things in our lives.
One of the most important roles a leader has is to help people believe there is something on the other side of their pain and then to teach them how to build a bridge to get there. This is the genius of Jesus. Jesus would cast a vision and create steps for people to get from where they were to where God wanted them to be. All throughout the gospels Jesus meets people in their greatest moments of pain and empowers them to live a purpose-filled life.
This has been the story of our lives and the lives of the thousands of people who are part of our church family. Every day I drive past our downtown location I am reminded of what God can do with our worst days. It is literally across the street from the store I robbed when I was 19 years old. Every day I drive past my greatest point of pain into my greatest place of purpose. Every day I am reminded that God uses our pain to fulfill His purpose.
We found our way out of our pain and into purpose because we allowed God to place us in family. This is exactly what God said He would do. The Psalmist writes, “God sets the lonely in families, he leads out the prisoners with singing; but the rebellious live in a sun-scorched land” (68:6).
ARC (Association of Related Churches) became the family that we longed for and needed. Through the friendships we have formed in ARC, we have been able to heal, learn, grow and make a lasting impact in the lives of so many people. One of the things that my pastor, Chris Hodges, says to us a lot is, “You need to find mentors and models.” In my ARC family, I have found both. The key that has unlocked the door for us to move from pain to purpose is finding people who push us toward purpose, pull us out of the ditch of self-pity and remind us that God does some of His best work on the other side of our pain.
Pastor Quovadis Marshall and his wife, Angela, and a group of friends planted Hope City Church in the fall of 2015 in their hometown of Waterloo, Iowa. Their vision is to help people know God, find community, discover purpose and make a difference. Today, Hope City Church is a fast-growing multiethnic, multisite church in Iowa’s Cedar Valley. For multiple years Hope City has been recognized as one of the 100 fastest-growing churches in America by Outreach magazine. Pastor Q is a coach with Courageous Pastors and works with government services, agencies and families impacted by crime. Pastor Q and Angela have two children. In his new book, Fighting to Thrive, he tells more of his story, along with inspiring truths to help people thrive in life and relationships no matter the adversities that they face.