Embracing the Pain of Shame

Article by

Founder & Teacher, desiringGod.org

There is a kind of shame that you should not be ashamed of. You might say, "Well, then it is not really shame." But the Bible calls it shame, and it really feels like shame - until the miracle happens in our heart that turns our felt values upside down.

The reason this is important to me is that I am still learning - sometimes I think, just beginning to learn - how to embrace this shame. I mean really embrace, not just tolerate, the unpleasant feeling of being shamed. Until I learn this more fully, I will never be the kind of witness among unbelievers that God calls me to be.

Where do I get this strange notion of embracing shame? I get it from the story of Peter and the apostles in Acts 5. They were arrested and put in jail for healing and for preaching Christ (Acts 5:18). That night the angel of the Lord released them and told them to go preach in the temple "the whole message of this Life" (Acts 5:20). But again the Council and the High Priest took them into custody and accused them of "filling Jerusalem with your teaching" (Acts 5:28). "We gave you strict orders not to continue teaching in this name."

Peter spoke up with boldness and said, "We must obey God rather than men" (Acts 5:29). The Council was ready to kill them when Gamaliel, a teacher of the law, stood up and said, "If this plan or action should be of men, it will be overthrown; but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them; or else you may even be found fighting against God" (Acts 5:38-39). At this they changed their plans and "flogged them and ordered them to speak no more in the name of Jesus, and then released them" (Acts 5:40).

Now comes one of the most stunning verses in the New Testament: "So they went on their way from the presence of the Council, rejoicing that they had been considered worthy to suffer shame for His name" (Acts 5:41). Read that slowly and let it sink in. Notice two things.

First, they were shamed. They "suffered shame." To be made a spectacle by the respected leaders of your people and to be treated like wicked criminals and to be stripped to the waist (at least) and to be hurt so badly that you probably scream out and cry with deep sobs of unmanageable pain - that is a shame-filled moment. The Bible calls it shame. It feels like shame. And it is horrible.

Second, they rejoiced over this shame. Use your imagination. This is not light. It is not romantic. It is not a noble, heroic moment with soaring music and lots of admirers watching. This is terrifying. The pain is excruciating. Death may follow. There is no recourse. It is humiliating. But the apostles did not sue. They did not seethe at the loss of their rights. They did not swear at their enemies. Instead they sang. They rejoiced "that they had been considered worthy to suffer shame for His name."

That is what I mean by "embracing the pain of shame." Are you there yet? Neither am I. Do you want to be? So do I. What shall we do? Three things: 1) Let's pray for each other. Be specific. Pray, "Father, work a deep transforming work in pastor John and me so that we actually feel joy when we are shamed for the Name of Christ." 2) Meditate often on the infinite worth of Christ, the sweetness of his promises and the great suffering that he endured for your salvation. 3) Take a step into uncharted territory to witness to Christ. If the painful feelings of shame come, transpose that dirge into a song of triumph.

Then, the world will begin to see what is really most valuable in the universe, Jesus Christ. Until then, we look so much like them in what we enjoy, they see little reason to pay any attention.

Seeking to live more radically with you,

Pastor John