“The plowers plowed upon my back; they made long their furrows.” (Psalm 129:3 ESV).
“I have no peace about it,” someone says. “So I will not do it.” With the right spirit, this is a prudent mechanism for discerning God’s will. But if what you mean is, “I will not have peace if I do it,” you might be in error.
You see, the Christian life follows Christ, the one who embraced affliction to win the church. He had a vision of what could be, but also the suffering required to get there, and endured that pain to reach his goal. We will never atone for anyone’s sin like Christ did, but once in Christ, he will further his kingdom by calling us to pockets of pain.
Our psalmist, one of the pilgrims on the way to Jerusalem, sang of the pain. The plowers had plowed upon his back. His suffering had been intense. It cost him to go to Jerusalem and worship. To follow God, to allow him his rightful place as king, the pilgrim paid the price. Some form of pain, we do not know what kind, came into the psalmist’s life. He felt his back was like a field, cut and plowed and churned up. The furrows his tormentors carved were long. The hurt was palpable and real.
Though painful, fruit comes from the long furrows of a field. Perhaps the suffering singer, pen in hand, writing the song, knew the plow would result in fruit. Maybe he realized all the suffering would produce.
Paul, after his conversion, learned all he would suffer for Christ’s sake (Acts 9:16). I don't know anyone who could handle such a revelation. But he knew, from the outset of his ministry, the hurt he would pay for the fruit of gospel advancement. The nations heard, but the hardship was great.
Paul was a Roman by citizenship and Jewish by race. He was a young Pharisee educated by the foremost rabbis but also experienced in Greek culture from childhood. He possessed a commanding intellect, adept in Scripture and society. He was an ideal candidate to bring the gospel to the Jew first and also to the Greek (Romans 1:16). But all those qualifications would have meant nothing had he been unwilling to suffer. Because he was willing, Christ’s message increased throughout the world.
Leadership, parenting, and sanctification require pain. Education, career, integrity, evangelism, disciple-making — all take hurt to accomplish. I recently overheard a mother talk to her friend about her early-elementary aged children. She complained about the childish attitudes of her children. She was flabbergasted they didn’t want to go to school, be responsible, or study hard. She was aghast she would have to work to help them learn to work. She seemed to have forgotten, perhaps just for a moment, I’ve been there, that anything worth doing is going to sting.