City Harvest Church’s favorite psychologist returned to teach two lessons recently: finding purpose in pain, and discovering one’s true self in the image of Christ.
Pain is not an option of life—everybody goes through it while on earth. Suffering, on the other hand, is a choice. Drawing a parallel with the familiar story of Jesus with the disciples in the boat during a storm, Australian clinical psychologist and regular guest speaker at City Harvest Church, Dr. Robi Sonderegger, pointed out that while everybody was in the same boat, one was able to sleep through the storm while the others panicked.
Over the weekend of March 11 and 12, Sonderegger challenged the congregation to see beyond one’s trials to its redemptive value or meaning, be it on a personal or corporate level. “Redemption comes and suffering ceases the moment you find meaning to your trial,” he said.
FINDING PURPOSE FOR ONE’S PAIN
“Man can endure almost any suffering if he can see purpose or meaning in it,” said Sonderegger, quoting Austrian neurologist and Holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl. “Conversely, he will be miserable even amid great luxury if he cannot relate his life to some larger context which makes it meaningful.”
(For more on this topic, read our interview with Dr Robi).
Sharing from the famous episode in Mark 4:35-41 when Jesus slept in the boat the midst of a storm and was awakened by the disciples, Sonderegger fleshed out seven key observations about weathering the storms of life.
First, Jesus was crossing over the sea to “the other side”. Storms do not come when one is sitting down and doing nothing. It is often when we start stepping out and doing something that we will meet with turbulence and storms in life.
Secondly, there were other boats with Him; those who were in the same boat as Jesus witnessed the miracle that just happened but those who were not had no idea that a miracle had just transpired. When trouble comes, Christians often are not able to see the hand of God in their lives, but it does not mean that God is not doing anything on their behalf.
Third, Jesus was asleep, even as the disciples were experiencing the highs of highs and lows of lows of the storm. Despite the demands of life, Jesus still embraced selah (a pause).
On the other hand, the disciples were beyond panic. They even declared to Jesus that they were perishing—to which Jesus responded with the word, “Peace,” rebuking the wind (unseen) and then the waves (seen). He commanded the elements to be still, which in the ancient translation is akin to being “muzzled.” If God can silence the wind and the waves, He can surely silence the slander and accusation levelled at those who put their faith in Him.
Finally, the disciples marvelled at Jesus—who was this Man who could silence the wind and the waves? Ultimately, the most important question each individual has to answer is, “Who do you say that I am?” (Matthew 16:15). If Christians are anchored in Him, they will be able to find meaning and purpose even in the midst of trouble.
Addressing those who are prone to anxiety attacks and depression, Sonderegger revealed that while modern science indeed shows one may be genetically predisposed in a certain way, neuroscience proves that the way one’s genes manifest is determined by what happens in the mind. He reminded the congregation of Romans 12:2: “And do not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptance and perfect will of God.” By understanding their place in Christ, Christians can overcome any biological disposition by having a renewed way of understanding and responding to the trials in their lives.
On Sunday, Sonderegger spoke on conforming to the image of Christ in a message titled “Mirror Mirror On The Wall”. He explained that people become “mentally and emotionally ugly when we believe untruths and labels pinned on us.” In order to undo negative thought patterns and negative perspectives toward others, one must focus on what one wants instead of what one doesn’t want. As 2 Corinthians 3:12-18 states, “And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.”
Thus, those who focus on the Lord’s glory will be transformed into His image. “Don’t wait till tomorrow to be the person He wants you to be today,” exhorted Sonderegger.