Over the last two weeks we have been considering how we are to understand both God's sovereignty and our suffering. While we merely broached the topic, we trust and pray that your hearts have been encouraged with the God who "works all things for good." If you haven't yet had the chance or wanted to listen again you can find the two sermons here and here.
Also listed below are practical ways that we can serve one another in seasons of suffering. This is a very practical list of things to do (and not to do) while walking with one another. The list may look familiar to those who have taken our CLC class on Biblical Counseling led by Pastor Rob. We pray that it will be a useful resource as we walk with each other in seasons of rejoicing and weeping.
As we press on to the goal, let us keep our eye on Christ the "author and perfecter of our faith" knowing that God uses even suffering for His glory and our good.
16 So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. 17 For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, 18 as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal. (2 Cor. 4:16-18).
Speaking into Suffering
By Robert Freire
Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ… (Ephesians 4:15)
Before we speak, we need the right goals.
- to be an agent of sight
- to be an agent of repentance (change)
- to be an agent of encouragement and comfort
There is no formula for speaking truth in love.
And we urge you, brothers, admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all. (1 Thessalonians 5:14)
- The diversity of needs requires a diversity of approaches.
- Notice that patience is the one constant in 1 Thessalonians 5:14.
- Speaking truth in love includes speaking in the midst of trouble—suffering and sin.
Speaking into suffering
1. Express compassion verbally.
Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. (Romans 12:15)
2. Remember and follow-up.
Bear one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. (Galatians 6:2)
3. Look to God’s word for comfort.
- Christ’s presence with us in our suffering. (Psalm 23)
- Future peace and the resurrection. (Revelation 7:17)
- The temporary nature of suffering. (2 Corinthians 4:17)
- The honesty of the Psalmist as he pleads, complains, and cries out to God. (Psalm 13)
- God’s willingness to listen to his children. (Psalm 34:17-19)
- God’s love. (Remind your friend, “Christ loves you.”)
- What else would you list?
4. Be sure that you yourself are finding comfort in God’s word.
- Seek comfort in God’s word before you direct others to do the same.
- Minister out of how God has been ministering to you.
5. Ask what you can do to help.
- Better to ask, “How can I help you?” than to say, “Let me know if you need anything.”
- Follow up and ask again after they’ve had a chance to think about it.
- Think of ways to provide unsolicited, practical help (e.g., groceries, childcare, outing).
6. Remind the person of your love for them.
7. What are some “don’ts”?
- Don’t say, “It could be worse.”
- Don’t “match stories” or be quick to say, “I understand” or “I can totally relate.”
- Don’t demand that your suffering friend “feel” a particular way right now (e.g., stop fearing, stop grieving, stop being discouraged). Rather, point them to truth from
- Scripture that will provide comfort and will, by God’s grace, help them to feel differently.
- Don’t rush to find meaning in the suffering or to discern what God is teaching through the trouble.
Some Miscellaneous Notes:
- The time may very well come to help our friends discern what God is teaching through their suffering, or to find comfort in passages like Romans 5:3. But I suggest not trying to do this in the immediate aftermath of loss or in the initial stages of a helping relationship. Don’t rush. Don’t circumvent compassion. Don't treat suffering like a riddle to be solved. The Holy Spirit may very well use you to help your friend see the good in their suffering, but don’t rush to that. Ask the Lord for help to speak appropriate words in season.
- Next week, when we consider how to speak about sin, we’ll see how the gospel comforts us (with indicatives) but also calls us to repentance and acts of obedience (with imperatives). We’ll give more attention to the role of those imperatives (commands) as we think about how to address sin in others’ lives.
- All of this requires humility. It requires us to see ourselves (like our friends) as weak and in need of patience and grace. It requires us to acknowledge the difficulty of living in a fallen world. God is the one who rescues his people from suffering. He’s the one who helps the Psalmist who cries out, “How long, oh Lord?” We need to humbly ask him to use us as instruments.
- God treats us with gentleness in our suffering. Let’s seek to do the same for our friends. Remember that we want to “love with an agenda,” and our agenda should be the good of our friends — their sanctification. That is, after all, God’s agenda. But let’s prayerfully keep in step with the Spirit so that we can be useful instruments to that end. We will no doubt fail, and when we do, let’s confess that and seek forgiveness. What an encouragement it is to know that even as we seek to help our suffering friends, God is at work sanctifying us, too!
- How have people ministered to you in your suffering? What helped? What didn’t?
- How has God’s word comforted you lately? What is it about Christ or about the gospel that God has used to bring encouragement and peace to you recently?
- Think about the person you are seeking to help. Is he or she suffering? How? How can you help him/her find comfort in God’s word?
- Are there simple, practical ways you can help him/her?
- Given the busyness of life, what measures can you take to help you remember your friend and follow up with him/her?