Christian Biblical Counsel: CHRONIC ILLNESS AND DISABILITIES

Chronic Illness/Disabilities

God’s Peace in the Midst of Pain

by June Hunt

I.     DEFINITIONS

People in pain need peace. Most people who suffer from chronic pain assume, If I could just get rid of this illness, I would have peace. But peace is not dependent on wellness. Although Jesus, the Prince of Peace, was to drink from a different cup of suffering, He yielded His will to the will of the heavenly Father. He modeled how people in pain should pray …

“ ‘Abba, Father,’ he [Jesus] said, ‘everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.’ ”

(Mark 14:36)

A. What Is a Chronic Illness?

•     A chronic illness is a persistent, unhealthy condition of the body that lingers over a long period of time.

•     The word chronic comes from the Greek word chronos, which means “time.”

•     A person who lives with chronic illness suffers physical weakness, frequent discomfort, and often a life of persistent pain.

•     This cup of suffering holds not just physical stress, but sometimes also a large measure of emotional distress because of a decrease in caring relationships, social opportunities, and spiritual understanding.

“My life is consumed by anguish and my years by groaning; my strength fails because of my affliction, and my bones grow weak.”

(Psalm 31:10)

Q  “What is the difference between a chronic illness and a physical disability?”

A person who has a physical disability such as blindness, deafness, or paralysis may have excellent health otherwise. The impairment may have resulted from a onetime illness. Some disabled persons, however, live with the pain of an ongoing or chronic illness.

“Why is my pain unending and my wound grievous and incurable?” (Jeremiah 15:18)

Common Chronic Illnesses / Disabilities

•     Acid Reflux

•     Addison’s Disease

•     AIDS

•     Allergies

•     Alzheimer’s Disease

•     Amputations

•     Anemia

•     Angina Pectoris

•     Arthritis (both Osteoarthritis and Rheumatoid Arthritis)

•     Asthma

•     Autism

•     Bell’s Palsy

•     Blindness (sight impairment)

•     Bronchitis

•     Bursitis

•     Cancer

•     Cardiovascular Disease

•     Cataracts

•     Cerebral Palsy

•     Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS)

•     Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD)

•     Chronic Pain

•     Cirrhosis of the Liver

•     Colitis

•     Congestive Heart Failure

•     Crohn’s Disease

•     Cystic Fibrosis

•     Deafness (hearing impariment)

•     Dermatitis

•     Diabetes

•     Diverticulitis

•     Emphysema

•     Epilepsy

•     Fibromyalgia

•     Gall Bladder Disease

•     Glaucoma (Chronic)

•     Gout

•     Grave’s Disease

•     Hemophilia

•     Hepatitis

•     Hodgkin’s Disease

•     Hypertension

•     Hyperthyroidism/Hypothyroidism

•     Hypoglycemia

•     Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)

•     Kidney Disease

•     Leukemia

•     Lou Gehrig’s Disease (ALS)

•     Lupus

•     Lyme Disease

•     Macular Degeneration

•     Mental Illness

•     Migraine Headaches

•     Multiple Sclerosis

•     Muscular Dystrophy

•     Paraplegia/Quadriplegia

•     Pancreatitis (Chronic)

•     Parkinson’s Disease

•     Pneumonia

•     Prostatitis

•     Sickle Cell Anemia

•     Sleep Disorders (Sleep Apnea, Insomnia, Narcolepsy)

•     Stroke

•     Tinnitus (ringing in the ears)

•     TMJ

•     Tuberculosis

•     Ulcers

•     Urinary Tract Infections

•     Venereal Diseases

•     Yeast Infections (Chronic)

“For he has not despised or disdained the suffering of the afflicted one; he has not hidden his face from him but has listened to his cry for help.”

(Psalm 22:24)

Q  “Is it okay to take medication when you are suffering with an illness, or does that demonstrate a lack of faith in God?”

Using medicine is biblical. Our creator, God, placed medicinal qualities within His creation … within nature. You can certainly exercise faith in God and at the same time take medicine as prescribed. Though not all people who take medicine are healed, the Bible clearly states that God made “… leaves for healing” (Ezekiel 47:12).

B. What Is the Confusion about Afflictions?

God’s suffering servant Job revealed his bewildered heart and expressed the questions that trouble the mind of a person with chronic illness.

•     Why did this happen to me?

•     Did I do something to make God angry?

•     Is God punishing me?

•     What have I done to deserve this?

•     Has my sin brought on this illness?

•     Why do I feel guilty?

•     Does God really care about my suffering?

•     If I have enough faith, will God heal me?

“If I have sinned, what have I done to you, O watcher of men? Why
have you made me your target? Have I become a burden to you?”

(Job 7:20)

Q  “Is a physical affliction the result of sin?”

Sometimes yes; sometimes no. Based on the Bible, sickness can be the consequence of sin or can be permitted by God to accomplish His higher purpose.

•     a consequence of sin:

“Therefore, whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord. A man ought to examine himself before he eats of the bread and drinks of the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without recognizing the body of the Lord eats and drinks judgment on himself. That is why many among you are weak and sick, and a number of you have fallen asleep.” (1 Corinthians 11:27–30)

•     not a consequence of sin:

“As he [Jesus] went along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, ‘Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?’ ‘Neither this man nor his parents sinned,’ said Jesus, ‘but this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life.’ ” (John 9:1–3)

C. Are there Blessings from Afflictions?

When blasted by the winds of adversity, the heart that is sheltered in the hands of God still produces a life that is full of meaning and purpose.

•     Suffering softens your heart toward obeying God’s Word.

“Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I obey your word.” (Psalm 119:67)

•     Suffering opens your heart to make you more teachable.

“It was good for me to be afflicted so that I might learn your decrees.” (Psalm 119:71)

•     Suffering mellows your heart to make you more compassionate.

“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God.” (2 Corinthians 1:3–4)

•     Suffering strengthens your heart to make you more mature.

“Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” (James 1:2–4)

•     Suffering humbles your heart to keep you from being conceited.

“To keep me from becoming conceited because of these surpassingly great revelations, there was given me a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me.” (2 Corinthians 12:7)

•     Suffering uncovers your heart’s weakness so that Christ is your strength.

“ ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.” (2 Corinthians 12:9)

•     Suffering gives your heart a desire for eternal values.

“I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.” (Romans 8:18)

“Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him.”

(James 1:12)

Q  “Why would a loving God want me to Suffer?”

God does not delight in your suffering, but He allows suffering in order to refine your faith, to develop Christ’s character in you, and to bring glory to Himself.

“In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.” (1 Peter
1:6–7)

 

II.    CHARACTERISTICS OF THOSE WITH AFFLICTIONS

A. Processing the Pain

Grief is a natural and appropriate response to a chronic illness, and denial of your sorrow can do more damage than physical suffering. The cup of pain does not pass only to the afflicted one, but is also shared with family and friends, for they too drink deeply from this cup. If you honestly and openly experience each stage of sorrow, you can know that in His time, God will heal your heart.

“He [God] heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.”

(Psalm 147:3)

The Five Stages of Sorrow

#1  Denial … avoiding the pain of reality

•     “The test results are probably wrong. I’ll go to another doctor.” (It is, however, always good to get a second opinion.)

•     “I’m feeling much better. I’m sure I am improving.”

•     “There will be a cure for this soon.”

“Surely God does not reject a blameless man or strengthen the hands of evildoers.” (Job 8:20)

#2  Anger … opening up honest emotions

•     “Why has this happened to me?”

•     “Others don’t have to suffer like this.”

•     “God is not fair.”

“I loathe my very life; therefore I will give free rein to my complaint and speak out in the bitterness of my soul.” (Job 10:1)

#3  Bargaining … attempting to change reality

•     “I am going to live a healthier lifestyle, and maybe I’ll get well.”

•     “I have not been a good person. I’ll change, and God will forgive me.”

•     “If I have enough faith, God will miraculously heal me.”

“Only grant me these two things, O God, and then I will not hide from you: Withdraw your hand far from me, and stop frightening me with your terrors.” (Job 13:20–21)

#4  Depression … feeling despair over the grief and loss

•     “My life will never be the same.”

•     “I hate being so dependent on others.”

•     “My life is over. I don’t want to live.”

“I despise my life; I would not live forever. Let me alone; my days have no meaning.” (Job 7:16)

#5  Acceptance … gaining a positive outlook on life

Acceptance (not resignation) embraces God’s grace on a daily basis. This kind of acceptance allows you to move from being a “victim” of the illness to being a victorious, shining testimony to God’s sufficiency in a world that does not know Him.

“My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you.” (Job 42:5)

Q  “Is it okay to pray for miraculous healing?”

Yes. Absolutely. It is Biblical to present your request to God for full restoration. It is also Biblical to pray as Jesus did, “Yet not my will, but yours be done” (Luke 22:42). If it is God’s will, you will receive what you asked … but, again, only if it is God’s will.

“This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. And if we know that he hears us—whatever we ask—we know that we have what we asked of him.” (1 John 5:14–15)

B. Personalizing the Pain

Coping with a chronic illness means living with symptoms that spell “loss”—loss of a way of life. It involves loss of abilities, endurance, skills, resources, and often your way of relating to others. Such a change drastically cuts through the comfort zone of living life the way you have always lived it. This change also opens the door to the Scriptural principle of gaining through losing: losing your old self-centered life and gaining your new Christ-centered life.

“Whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ.”

(Philippians 3:7–8)

Living with Loss

•     Loss of energy

•     Loss of friends and social activities

•     Loss of strength

•     Loss of financial resources

•     Loss of feeling good

•     Loss of sexual enjoyment

•     Loss of work efficiency

•     Loss of physical appearance

•     Loss of concentration

•     Loss of independence in caring for oneself

•     Loss of physical recreation

•     Loss of control

•     Loss of purpose in life

•     Loss of sense of identity

Q  “How can a life that has experienced so much loss hold any promise of joy here and now?”

As you respond to suffering by growing in the character of Christ, you will experience freedom and unparalleled joy in living for God.

“Since Christ suffered in his body, arm yourselves also with the same attitude, because he who has suffered in his body is done with sin. As a result, he does not live the rest of his earthly life for evil human desires, but rather for the will of God.” (1 Peter 4:1–2)

 

III.   Causes of Unnecessary pain

A. Responses that Reinforce Resentment

The Cup of Bitterness

“Each heart knows its own bitterness.”

(Proverbs 14:10)

•     Rejecting reality

•     Repressing true feelings

•     Responding with unrealistic hopes

•     Refusing medical advice and treatment

•     Resorting to manipulation for control

•     Resisting the help of others

•     Rehearsing complaints

•     Requiring sympathy

•     Resigning to hopelessness

•     Regarding God as unfair

“See to it that no one misses the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many.”

(Hebrews 12:15)

Q  “Why did this happen to me?”

The better question is, “Why not me?” Is anyone exempt from the common problems of the human race? No, Jesus promised, “In this world you will have trouble” (John 16:33).

B. Root Cause of Resentment

Wrong Belief:

“I will never be able to do the things I once was able to do. My life has no significance. I’m just a burden to others.”

Right Belief:

I will not be resentful because God has allowed these circumstances for His purposes. Since my body belongs to Christ, I’ll pray for my life to be an honor to Him and a blessing to others.

“Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body.” (1 Corinthians 6:19–20)

 

IV.  STEPS TO SOlUTION

A. Key Verse to Memorize

“He [Christ] said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.”

(2 Corinthians 12:9)

B. Key Passage to Read and Reread

2 Corinthians 12:7–10

Learning to Lean

Just to keep my heart humble,

 

v.   7

 

God allowed this deep pain.

 

v.   7

 

’Twas a cup of affliction,

 

v.   7

 

No relief could I gain.

 

v.   7

 

All my pleas for a healing

 

v.   8

 

Brought Your Word from above:

 

v.   9

 

In my weakness is power.

 

v.   9

 

It’s Your pathway of love.

 

v.   9

 

Now the “why’s” are all silent,

 

v.   10

 

For His truth I have seen.

 

v.   10

 

I shall rest in my weakness,

 

v.   10

 

And on Christ I will lean.

 

v.   10

 

Q  “If I truly follow Christ and pray with total faith, doesn’t the Bible say I will be blessed with health, wealth, and problem-free living?”

No. The Bible clearly reveals that Jesus and the apostles, who truly gave their lives to Christ, did not experience health, wealth, and problem-free living. But Scripture does state that when you “share in the sufferings of Christ,” you are blessed by God.

“Rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed. If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you.” (1 Peter 4:13–14)

C. The Cup of Life

The common enemy of all chronic sufferers is stress. Tension tends to aggravate both physical and emotional pain. Learning to live with any chronic illness requires an adjustment in lifestyle. This adjustment means aligning your life with God’s priorities to alleviate the needless cycle of stress.

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.”

(Philippians 4:6–8)

Learning to Live

•     Learn to cry.

—  Your tears help you identify and deal with your feelings.

—  Know that your tears are noticed by God.

“Record my lament; list my tears on your scroll—are they not in your record?” (Psalm 56:8)

•     Learn to let go.

—  Give up expectations of life as you once knew it.

—  Trust God with your future.

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight.” (Proverbs 3:5–6)

•     Learn to rest.

—  Get physical rest whenever possible.

—  Rest in the adequacy of God.

“Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.” (Psalm 46:10)

•     Learn to defer.

—  Modify your activities and address to fit your needs.

—  Count on God’s strength to replace your weakness.

“He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak.” (Isaiah 40:29)

•     Learn to laugh.

—  Refuse to take yourself or your condition too seriously.

—  Enjoy the funny things that happen in life.

“A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones.” (Proverbs 17:22)

•     Learn to be disciplined.

—  Rely on your doctor’s advice to develop the habit of regular exercise.

—  Work up a plan with a professional nutritionist to help meet your nutritional needs.

“Plans fail for lack of counsel, but with many advisers they succeed.” (Proverbs 15:22)

•     Learn to give thanks.

—  Show gratitude to family and friends who help and support you.

—  Praise God daily for who He is and for His love and care for you.

“Give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” (1 Thessalonians 5:18)

Q  “How can a life that is severely restricted have any meaning?”

All who have the presence of Christ living within them have God-given worth, meaning, and purpose.

“I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” (Galatians 2:20)

D. The Cup of Truth

Accepting God’s Truths … The Key to Coping with Limitations

“My soul is weary with sorrow; strengthen me according to your word.”

(Psalm 119:28)

•     Your troubles are temporary—your glory is eternal.

“Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” (2 Corinthians 4:16–18)

•     Your physical body is designed to decay.

“By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return.” (Genesis 3:19)

•     Your afflictions are allowed by God in order to teach you.

“It was good for me to be afflicted so that I might learn your decrees.” (Psalm 119:71)

•     Your temptations are made bearable by God.

“No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.” (1 Corinthians 10:13)

•     Your crushed spirit will be sustained when you are indwelt by the Spirit of God.

“A man’s spirit sustains him in sickness, but a crushed spirit who can bear?” (Proverbs 18:14)

•     Your suffering enables you to see God.

“My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you.” (Job 42:5)

•     Your life is being conformed to the image of Christ through your suffering.

“We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.” (Romans 8:28–29)

Q  “What is the truth about physical healing? I expected a miracle when I prayed with faith, but I’m not healed.”

God can heal anyone at any time in any way. However, many godly people of genuine faith do not receive physical healing. After all, we don’t see Christians living to be two hundred, three hundred, or four hundred years old! Don’t place all your expectations in physical healing. Pray for God’s will for your life, for He is able to give you more than you can imagine.

“Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.” (Ephesians 3:20–21)

E. Accepting God’s Truths

The Key to Accepting Affliction

 

•     Your   troubles are temporary—your glory is eternal.

“Therefore we   do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are   being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving   for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not   on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but   what is unseen is eternal.” (2 Corinthians 4:16–18)

 

•     Your   physical body is designed to decay.

“By the sweat   of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground, since   from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return.”   (Genesis 3:19)

 

The Key to Accepting Affliction

 

•     Your   afflictions are allowed by God in order to teach you.

“It was good   for me to be afflicted so that I might learn your decrees.” (Psalm 119:71)

 

•     Your   temptations are made bearable by God.

“No temptation   has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not   let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he   will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.” (1   Corinthians 10:13)

 

•     Your   suffering enables you to see God.

“My ears had   heard of you but now my eyes have seen you.” (Job 42:5)

 

•     Your   life is being conformed to the image of Christ through your suffering.

“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)

 

Any   illness can be a burden or a blessing. When I allow affliction to draw me   closer to the Lord, it’s a blessing—a blessed gift. And the tag on the gift   reads, “Grace from God included.”

—June   Hunt

 

SELECTED BIBLIOGRAPHY

Albers, Gregg R. Counseling the Sick and Terminally Ill. Resources for Christian Counseling, ed. Gary R. Collins, vol. 20. Dallas: Word, 1989.

Bergman, Nina Mason. Comfort from the Cross: Help for the Hurting from the Last Seven Words of Christ. Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 1990.

Brand, Paul, and Philip Yancey. Pain: The Gift Nobody Wants. New York: HarperCollins, 1993.

Chapin, Shelley. Within the Shadow. Wheaton, IL: Victor, 1991.

Collins, Gary R. Christian Counseling: A Comprehensive Guide. Rev. ed. Dallas: Word, 1988.

Dunn, Ron. Will God Heal Me? Faith in the Midst of Suffering. Sisters, OR: Multnomah, 1997.

Giroux, Louise. Taking the Lead: Dancing with Chronic Illness. Kelowna, British Columbia, Canada: Northstone, 1998.

Hansel, Tim. You Gotta Keep Dancin’. Elgin, IL: David C. Cook, 1985.

Harper, George Lea. Living With Dying: Finding Meaning in Chronic Illness. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1992.

Hunt, June. Counseling Through Your Bible Handbook. Eugene, Oregon: Harvest House Publishers, 2007.

Hunt, June. How to Forgive … When You Don’t Feel Like It. Eugene, Oregon: Harvest House Publishers, 2007.

Hunt, June. How to Handle Your Emotions. Eugene, Oregon: Harvest House Publishers, 2008.

Hunt, June. Seeing Yourself Through God’s Eyes. Eugene, Oregon: Harvest House Publishers, 2008

Hunt, June. Caring for a Loved One with Cancer. Dallas: Hope For The Heart, 2002.

Jeremiah, David. Overcoming Loneliness. Rev. ed. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1991.

Kopp, Ruth, and Stephen Sorenson. When Someone You Love Is Dying: A Handbook for Counselors and Those Who Care. Grand Rapids: Ministry Resources, 1980.

Lewis, C. S. The Problem of Pain. New York: Collier, 1962.

Stiles, Steven. Thorns in the Heart. Springfield, MO: Chrism, 1994.

Tan, Siang-Yang. Managing Chronic Pain: Strategies for Dealing with Back Pain, Headaches, Muscle & Joint Pain, Cancer Pain, Abdominal Pain. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1996.

Thompkins, Floyd, Jr. By the Pool at Bethesda. Pompano Beach, FL: Genesis 1:26, n.d.

Van’t Land, Marcia. Living Well with Chronic Illness. Wheaton, IL: Harold Shaw, 1994.

Vos, Mirth. Letters to Myself on Dying: A Journal of Hope, Pain, and Courage. Grand Rapids: Baker and CRC, 1999.

West, Kari. Dare to Trust Dare to Hope Again: Living with Losses of the Heart. Colorado Springs, CO: Faithful Woman, 2002.

Wright, Linda Raney. Hope for the Sick and Hurting. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1990.[1]

 


[1] Hunt, J. (2008). Biblical Counseling Keys on Chronic Illness/Disabilities: God’s Peace in the Midst of Pain (1–17). Dallas, TX: Hope For The Heart.

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