We live in a sinful world where all of creation is distorted by sin’s devastating effects, so until we die or Jesus returns, we will have much opportunity to serve those who are suffering. As you know, from the times when you have suffered, we Christians need each other in the midst of pain, but because the pressure of suffering is so strong, emotions are heightened and sensitivity is paper-thin. Therefore, we must take great care in helping our suffering brothers and sisters persevere with hope and faithfulness. How do we do this without being insensitive or annoying? Here are some suggestions.
1) Show up, listen, and pray – You’ve probably heard this before, but your initial step in helping should be to just be there. Listen as your friend pours out his/her heart, and don’t be afraid of long pauses and silence. Then, take a few moments to pray for them in their presence. This communicates so much more love than we realize. I have a problem with wanting to fix a problem as soon as I hear of it, but people aren’t Buicks and if we immediately pop open the hood and begin unscrewing things, we will likely lose the opportunity to be of much help to the people we are seeking to serve.
2) Give a God-focused book by someone who has suffered greatly – Though we have all suffered, many of us have suffered little in comparison to others, so giving counsel to someone in the depths of pain can often be met with thoughts of “Yeah, that’s easy for you to say”. So on your second or third effort in ministering to a suffering Christian, give them a book by someone like Joni Eareckson Tada, a quadriplegic for more than forty years. There is much more credibility in her words than mine… and frankly, because of her suffering, she knows Jesus better than I do.
Here’s Joni’s perspective on her suffering:
My quadriplegia is not a jigsaw puzzle that I’m supposed to solve. No, it was not a quick shocking jolt to get me back on the right track. My paralysis is a long, arduous, delightful adventure into intimacy with my Lord Jesus Christ because he permits what he hates in order to accomplish all that he loves (To Know Christ, Now, and Forever, The Journal of Biblical Counseling, Fall 2004).
Here are some books of hers that you may want to have on hand to give away:
- Joni: An Unforgettable Story
- When God Weeps: Why Our Sufferings Matter to the Almighty
- A Place of Healing: Wrestling with the Mysteries of Suffering, Pain, and Gods Sovereignty
3) Read the book yourself and follow-up with its content – After giving the book, allow the person some time to read it (or at least part of it). Suffering people need time to work through God’s truth in view of their pain. A good God-centered book can be a great counselor because a person can pick it up whenever they need it or whenever they are ready. After a few weeks, invite them to coffee for some discussion. If you discover they haven’t read any of the book, that’s okay because you have and you’ll be able to speak to some of its main principles. At this time, though sensitivity is still required, you are most-likely primed and ready to give compassionate counsel and instruction.