Category Archives: Suffering

How Should the Body of Christ Respond When One of its Members is Suffering?

In his book, True Community: The Biblical Practice of Koinonia, Jerry Bridges has a great quote concerning the experiential aspect of Christian fellowship.  In it he illustrates what should characterize the body of Christ whenever one of its members is suffering – we should behave like our physical bodies do:

Can you imagine the ear making the following comment to the eyes, “Say, did you hear about the serious trouble the foot is having?  My, my,images (35)isn’t it too bad?  The foot surely ought to get his act together.”  No, no, our bodies don’t behave that way at all!  Instead the entire body cries out, “My foot hurts!  I feel awful!”

Why does the body hurt when only one part is injured?  It is because all the parts of the body make up one indivisible whole.  And when one part hurts, no matter what the reason, the restorative powers of the entire body are brought to bear on that hurting member.  Rather than attacking that suffering part or ignoring the problem, the rest of the body demonstrates concern for the part that hurts.  This is the way the body of Christ should function.

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How Christians Say, “It’s Gonna Be Alright”

Last week I spent some time thinking about the empty phrases we often use to comfort each other when things are hard.  In light of those thoughts I thought it would be of benefit to re-post one of last year’s blog entries.

Keri and I were sitting in Taco Bueno with the kids eating dinner this past weekend when the old song, “Rock a Bye” by Shawn Mullins started playing (remember, the song where the guy basically just talks during the verses and then kicks it into high falsetto during the chorus). You may remember it because the chorus just repeats the phrase, “Everything is gonna be alright” over and over.  After the song had been playing for a bit, Keri said, “Do you remember when you were a kid how comforting it was to have your mom or dad hug you and tell you ‘it’s gonna be alright’ after you hurt yourself or got scared?”

Her question got me thinking about how we comfort one another.  I do remember being comforted by those words as a kid because I knew that my parents knew things that I didn’t.  Their experiences in life gave them the knowledge that the pain of a bloody knee would pass and the likelihood of being struck by lightning during a storm while inside our house was pretty slim.  Often times, however, the words “It’s gonna be alright” are used in our world to comfort others without much certainty at all.  It happens in movies all the time.  Something tragic takes place and, sure enough, a main character repeats those words to calm people down and give them hope.  But the reality is that without certainty, the words “It’s gonna be alright” only provide empty comfort and false assurance or, at best, a shadow of those things.

As Christians, however, we have certainty that everything will be alright; maybe not today or next week or even next year, but at some point in the future everything will be alright…  actually, so much more than alright.  In 1 Thessalonians 4, Paul spends a few verses instructing his Christian brothers and sisters about the return of Jesus.  He tells them that Jesus will descend “with the sound of the trumpet of God” and those Christians who were alive will join those who were dead in the sky with Jesus (vv. 14-17).  At the end of verse 17, Paul gives these words of certainty to the Thessalonians, “so we will always be with the Lord”.  Then, in verse 18, he tells them, “encourage one another with these words”.  So, how do Christians say “It’s gonna be alright”? By saying, “A day is coming when we will always be with the Lord!”  That’s comfort and hope that is anchored in something true!  Most likely you will encounter a Christian this week who is hurting or struggling through hardship.  Choose to give that person real hope about a real future, established in a real Savior, who really died and really came back to life!

 
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The Psalmist’s Theology of Suffering

I find these verses from Psalm 119 some of the most helpful in the Bible for grasping a right perspective of suffering and what we should remember as we’re walking through trials:

Psalm 119:67 – Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I keep your word.

v. 71 – It is good for me that I was afflicted,
that I might learn your statutes.

v. 75 – I know, O Lord, that your rules are righteous,
and that in faithfulness you have afflicted me.

v. 92 – If your law had not been my delight,
I would have perished in my affliction.

 

 

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Not Alone in Doubt and Suffering

I’m on vacation with my family this week, so I’ve rallied some guest bloggers to take the helm.  Today’s post is written by Steven Thorn, a professional writing major at the University of Oklahoma, one of my former students, and a dear friend.

 

“God and the Problem of Evil” has always been a stumbling block for me. In good times, it’s a conundrum that can keep me up at night. In trials, it’s a cause for doubt and spiritual crisis.

Thank God, I am not alone in this struggle. Job and C. S. Lewis wrestled with this issue.

In the Book of Job, this “blameless” and “upright” man loses his children, thousands of livestock, many servants, and his health in a short span of time (Job 1:1-2:10). Job spends the rest of the book asking God a simple question: “Why?”

After Job and his friends discuss the Problem of Evil for almost forty chapters, God appears. He refuses to answer Job’s questions. Instead, God interrogates Job.

God basically tells Job, “I’m God and you’re not. Who are you to question me? I created everything. What have you done?” Intimidated and humbled by God, Job can only repent. His questions about suffering remain unanswered, and he receives a new understanding of God’s power and glory.

There are two main things that I love about the Book of Job. First, the book’s approach to the Problem of Evil is complex. Suffering is not a formula.

Sometimes, God strikes down the unrighteous with cause. However, in the Book of Job, Satan incites God against the righteous Job to ruin Job “without cause” (Job 2:3). The cause of suffering was external to Job. He didn’t deserve it. However, throughout the suffering, Job refused to curse God (Job 2:3, 10).

Readers of Job see the exchange between God and Satan, as God proves that Job is a faithful servant. However, Job did not know of this heavenly confrontation, or of God’s confidence in and love for Job. In the immediate aftermath of Job’s tragedy, he has no explanation, only heartache. This inspires him to ask some of the most emotional and honest questions in the Bible—which is the second thing I love about the book.

God allows Job to question Him for a period of time. In the end, God ends Job’s interrogation and puts Job in his place. However, asking questions is an important part of expressing grief, and God gave us the Book of Job to demonstrate that truth. He also gave us the book to reiterate the fact that He is God, and we are not.

C. S. Lewis’s book, A Grief Observed, is another example of questioning God and expressing grief.

A Grief Observed is a collection of journals that Lewis wrote as he dealt with the death of his wife, Joy. Like the Book of Job, A Grief Observed is full of anguished and honest observations about life, death, and God. Neither Job nor Lewis ever doubts the existence of God, but Lewis does wonder if God is a sadist.

Throughout the book, Lewis has periods where it seems as though he has recovered his faith—but then he spirals back into darkness and despair. The book ends on a very somber note, but Lewis died a believer in Jesus Christ. He trusted the Lord, even after the death, and the questions, and the pain.

While the doubts and the questions were distressing for Lewis, reading A Grief Observed is a comfort to me—because the doubts and the questions are distressing. The knowledge that people like Job and C. S. Lewis have suffered through “God and the Problem of Evil” let me know that I’m normal and human. Additionally, the fact that these men could ask these questions and still maintain their faith reminds me that God is faithful to preserve all of His children.

Don’t lose heart if you struggle with “God and the Problem of Evil.”

Don’t lose heart in the midst of doubt and suffering.

You’re not alone. Ask questions. God is God, and He is faithful.

 

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Why Did God Include the Psalms in the Bible?

In his article, Self-Injury: When Pain Feels Good, Edward T. Welch offers this helpful tidbit concerning the placement of psalms in the Bible and how we should use them in our suffering:

Why did God include psalms in the Bible?  Certainly, they teach us how to worship the Lord, but there is more.  Do you notice that God actually wants us to speak to him when we struggle, so much so that when we are speechless, He offers us words to speak?  In one psalm after another, He invites us to cry out to Him rather than cry on our beds alone.  The psalms teach us how to talk.

With this in mind, find a psalm to call your own, one that captures your experience and turns you to the Lord… Start with phrases or sections of the psalm to get started.  Speak them from your heart to the Lord.  Talk out loud.  God is a real person: “Hear my cry for help, O Lord.”  Don’t forget that these words are not simply those of a human poet expressing his sorrow or isolation.  They are divinely authorized words that Jesus Himself used to call out to His Father.  They teach us how to call out to God who delights to hear us.

This is exactly what you need.  All other paths loop back to yourself.  It is as if you can’t get away from you and your swirling emotions.  The Psalms come down, describe and name these swirling emotions, then take us outside of ourselves and to the God who gives hope.

 
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How to Help Suffering People Without Being Annoying

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:

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.

 
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How to Make the Most of Being Sick

It’s that time of year right now when it seems as though there is an inordinate amount of people I know who are sick – the flu, sinus infections, bronchitis, strep throat, the common cold, and what many people have termed “the junk”.  People are missing work, school and church because they can’t bring themselves to do much more than keep breathing while they shuffle back and forth from the medicine cabinet to the bed.  Being sick is miserable, not only do we feel like we’ve walked through a car wash, but there’s nothing we can do about all our responsibilities that are being piled on someone else while we’re down.  When we’re sick it’s hard to bring our minds to a place where we think about something else besides how bad we feel and how much there is to do that we can’t get to.  But sickness exists inside the sovereign plan of God and he has ordained it for his glory and our good.  So, how can we take advantage of being sick?  How can we use our sickness to be productive (at least spiritually-speaking).

1)      Recognize that you are not independent and in-control – Sickness makes us drop the reigns.  If we aren’t careful we can easily get to a place where we believe the lie of self-dependence and self-sufficiency ( i.e. – “I got this”).  Being sick is a reminder from God that we desperately need him and he is the one calling the shots.  When we’re sick, it doesn’t matter how much we may want to get up and check off our to-do list; we’re in that bed until God revives us.

2)      Reflect on the agony of the cross – For most of us, being sick is not a normal occurrence, so we should not allow ourselves to miss an opportunity to let the pain we are experiencing lead our thoughts to  the torture Christ went through for us.  Remind yourself that even with as bad as you feel, it is but a speck compared to what Christ experienced when he was “crushed for our iniquities” (Isaiah 53:5).  Pray that God would use these thoughts to move your heart to worship Jesus through the suffering.

3)      Look forward to the day when sickness will only be a memory – In the new heaven and new earth God will dwell with us in perfection, which means that sin and the effects of sin will be no more (Revelation 21:3-4).  If we’re not proactive, then sickness leads to spiritual near-sightedness so that we only see the pain that is permeating our situation.  In your sickness, every time you blow your nose remember that there will be no Kleenex in heaven.  Every time you choke down a dose of Robitussin, remember that there won’t be such a thing in heaven.  And every time you wish the pain would just stop, remember that such a thought will never enter your mind in heaven because God will restore perfection to all creation through his only Son.

 
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