Pain + Possibility

Ben Stuart
7 min read
(Adapted by our team  from Pastor Ben’s message, Pain + Possibility)

Things are getting weird. 


Introverts are missing people and extroverts have turned inwards. We’ve got Type A’s sleeping until noon and even the peppiest people we know are all of the sudden masters of zen. 


Maybe that makes this the perfect time to ask the right question: “we’re going to make it through this time, but what will this time make us?”


We’ll all have a different answer, but here’s a few we can all agree we don’t want to land on: twitchy, frazzled, exhausted and worn down. These are likely outcomes if we go about our days with a perspective that points in that direction. But, what if the path to new possibilities is paved with broken habits? What if God wants to do more in your life than what your old habits could sustain?


If that’s true, then how we handle hardship could be the heroic thing inside of all of us. Just look at the life of King David:


David was anointed by God as a teenager, told he would be king in time. He played the harp for the king, killed the giant Goliath, became the head of the military and married the king’s daughter. David was the most famous person in the whole kingdom and beloved by everyone around him.


Everyone except the king. 


King Saul was emotionally unstable and jealous of David’s success. In time, he became so volatile that he tried to kill David twice. Saul even made the murder of David state policy, and the man who was so beloved as a boy was forced to flee his home and family. Along the way, David loses his mentor and his best friend, his wife married another man and he even sought refuge among the Philistines, his sworn enemies. 


The bottom had dropped out of David’s life and in a matter of days, through no fault of his own, he was living in a cave. His position changed; from exalted to persecuted, from lifted up to cast down, from a castle to a cave. 


David’s time in the wilderness would last ten years, but something remarkable happened in those days. His quarantine, not from a virus this time but from spears, didn’t break David, it built him into a king. 


When God sends His people to the wilderness, it is not to destroy them, but to redirect them. This moment away from all he knew will turn out to be the defining moment of David’s life, more important even than his fight with Goliath. 


The fantastic thing about the Psalms is that we get to read David’s private thoughts and listen to his cries to the Lord as he walked through the events of 1&2 Samuel. In them, we can find the keys to navigating our own lives. It’s a behind the scenes playbook into handling a hard season.


So how does a king handle quarantine? 


  1. We get honest.


Let’s look at David’s prayers from this time of his life when he is feeling anxious, trapped like there is no one willing to help him and no safe place to go:


I cry aloud to the Lord;

    I lift up my voice to the Lord for mercy.

I pour out before him my complaint;

    before him I tell my trouble.


When my spirit grows faint within me,

    it is you who watch over my way.

In the path where I walk

    people have hidden a snare for me.

Look and see, there is no one at my right hand;

    no one is concerned for me.

I have no refuge;

    no one cares for my life.


I cry to you, Lord;

    I say, “You are my refuge,

    my portion in the land of the living.”


Listen to my cry,

    for I am in desperate need;

rescue me from those who pursue me,

    for they are too strong for me.

Set me free from my prison,

    that I may praise your name.

Then the righteous will gather about me

    because of your goodness to me.

Psalm 142



You may be wondering, is it even ok to pray like this, to be honest with God about our frustrations and fears? 


Yes! The Bible has a place for lament. It’s healthy. We’re not meant to hide our sadness, to cork it up and shove it down. We can’t let ourselves buy into the idea that following Jesus means burying any emotion other than happiness under distractions, which in time become addictions.


Look again: 


I cry aloud to the Lord;

    I lift up my voice to the Lord for mercy.

I pour out before him my complaint;

    before him I tell my trouble.


David isn’t reserving his cries to silent unspoken thoughts. He’s lifting his voice to God because God is his companion through the trial. God is his refuge and his rescue.


Honesty is the seedbed of intimacy. 


Think about your own life. The people you are closest to are the same people you are the most honest with, the ones who you go to when you need to be real with your situation and vice versa. Just like it’s hard to build a relationship with someone who never seems honest with you, your God is not interested in your facade of peacefulness. He is telling you to bring your cries to Him, to let Him hear you, to let it out. It may look ugly, it may even be angry, but your honesty with God is what He will use to grow intimacy between you. 


When you process with God, you invite God into the process. 


David doesn’t stop here, becoming authentic and calling it a finished process. There is still a shift happening. Look how his language changes from, “there is no refuge,” to “you are my refuge.”


  1. We Get Perspective


Then the righteous will gather about me

    because of your goodness to me.


There is hope at the end of the wilderness. Hope is powerful; it renews our vision and allows us to see possibilities. Even while David was in the cave, he knew that the time of trial would eventually come to an end. 


Have mercy on me, my God, have mercy on me,

    for in you I take refuge.

I will take refuge in the shadow of your wings

    until the disaster has passed.

Psalm 57:1


Just like David’s time in the wilderness passed, so will the days we are facing right now. The storms you have faced before have faded, and so this one will as well. God has called you through the grace of Jesus into a relationship with Him, and He will not waste a moment of your life. He will not let a single tear fall from your eye, or drop of blood from your body without purpose—your life matters to Him. God determines your story. 


See, that concept changes the cave. It’s not a prison; it’s a cocoon. This isn’t the end of you, but just the beginning. Is it hard? Yes. May the losses be significant? Yes, but it’s not the end of your prospects, it’s the opening of new possibilities. 


God is forging you into something for the future – it’s your choice to receive it or not. 


It’s perspective that changes how we encounter the wilderness and what we do in the middle of it. 


  1. We Get Moving


Look at how in Psalm 57:7-11 David has changed his tune; he moves from what God is doing, to what he is going to do in response:


My heart, O God, is steadfast,

    my heart is steadfast;

    I will sing and make music.

Awake, my soul!

    Awake, harp and lyre!

    I will awaken the dawn.

I will praise you, Lord, among the nations;

    I will sing of you among the peoples.

For great is your love, reaching to the heavens;

    your faithfulness reaches to the skies.

Be exalted, O God, above the heavens;

    let your glory be over all the earth.



David responded with action. He said to himself, “If God is moving, then so am I; if God is working, then so will I.” What happens when he does? He gains the perspective of a king and sees the other people God had led into the wilderness for the possibility they brought with them. He teaches them to sing to God, and he trains them for battle. A kingdom forms in the middle of the cave, and God honors all of it. 


David breaks a pattern, and a world of possibility opens up. 


In time David would go on to sing among the nations, just as he said. Generations later, Jesus, who the scriptures go to great lengths to make sure we know is from the lineage of King David, would go through his own wilderness.


He would be honest with God, gain perspective, and purchase redemption for all who believe in Him through His death, burial and resurrection.


There is glory in the grind of the cave. Do you have eyes to see it? Is your prayer that God would leverage your time in the cave for His kingdom? Are you asking him to use this hardship to forge you into a hero? Are you willing to leave the strongholds of habits and addictions? He will break them if you ask. He will free you from places you aren’t meant to stay. He will use this time. Will you?

written by

Ben Stuart

Ben Stuart is the pastor of Passion City Church, Washington D.C. Prior to joining Passion City Church, Ben served for eleven years as the executive director of Breakaway Ministries, a weekly Bible study attended by thousands of college students on the campus of Texas A&M. Ben earned a master’s degree in historical theology from Dallas Theological Seminary. Ben and his wife, Donna, live to inspire and equip people to walk with God for a lifetime. They live in the District with their three kids, Hannah, Sparrow, and Owen.