I have learned much from watching others bring the comfort of Christ to those who are in pain. As our family has endured a long season of suffering, I have been blessed to see the gospel lived out in very practical ways. Here are a few:
Offer the gift of presence: One of the things sufferers often struggle with is feeling abandoned by God, which can be disorienting. They become prone to isolation because they lack energy to be good company or they sense others’ discomfort with their pain. To guard their hearts from further sorrow, they may be tempted to build walls of self-protection. While we should never force ourselves on another person, when the Holy Spirit prompts us to reach out to one who is struggling, we should be ready to respond, trusting God to show us how to be a godly presence in their lives.
Acknowledge that what they are going through is really hard. People who suffer are often confused and mourn that their life no longer looks the way they thought it would. Remind them that God is both for them and with them, sovereign over all that touches them. Encourage them with the gospel which reminds us that God can redeem even our darkest hours for our good and His glory.
Don’t confuse rescuing someone with comfort. As tempting as it is to try to relieve a person’s suffering, we must remember that God uses pain and suffering to accomplish His work in our lives. There is only one Rescuer and we must trust that He will bring relief when His purposes have been accomplished.
Discern what questions they are grappling with by helping the sufferer articulate their deepest struggle. Use God’s Word to bring truth to bear on any false beliefs. Remember that sometimes simply listening and praying for another person brings great comfort to one who is hurting.
Patiently offer grace when the sufferer expresses doubts, fear, or is self-absorbed. Inner pain can suck us down into ourselves so that we barely notice what’s happening around us. In affliction, while we may know in our heads that God loves us, despairing emotions can make us question whether that’s really true. Sometimes it’s a daily exercise of faith for one in pain to hang onto the belief that God is actively working in and through them and that, in His economy, this momentary affliction is preparing them for an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison…2 Corinthians 4:17. A godly comforter is not afraid to gently call out sin while demonstrating much grace, even when a person seems resistant.
Take your own doubts and fears to the Lord rather than avoiding others or drowning in their pain. Let the gospel minister to your own heart first so you can offer comfort that flows out of the comfort God has given you.
Encourage sufferers by sharing ways you see Christ being glorified through them. A person who is in a long trial of suffering often struggles with feeling set-aside and fruitless, and wonders why God has taken them out of the game, so to speak. Help them see that their trust, perseverance, and faith exalt Christ and that God may actually be using them more now than when they were busy doing many other seemingly important things.
Look for practical ways to serve one who is in a long season of darkness. This may mean sending a note of encouragement, a phone call, cooking a meal, taking their children for a day, doing laundry, or anything else that offers a cup of cold water to a thirsting soul.
Coming alongside suffering saints is both our calling and privilege. God uses His people to serve as instruments of His grace and peace to those who desperately need to be refreshed and empowered by gospel truths through loving action.
Who is God calling you to serve today?