“Blessed is he who has regard for the weak” Psalm 41:1
- A couple that prayed for a baby is plunged into the darkness of grief as they bury their stillborn child.
- A wife who prayed for God to protect her marriage, upon discovering that her husband has been unfaithful, is cast into the darkness of rejection and fear.
- A young mother who asked God to help her parent for His glory, now battles the darkness of pain, weakness, and hopelessness in a long season of illness.
- A man who rejoiced when God answered his prayers for a godly woman, battles the darkness of despair and loneliness when he loses her to a senseless accident.
- A couple who sought God’s wisdom in their finances are cast into the darkness of confusion and doubt when they are driven to bankruptcy .
- A single woman who has prayed for a husband finds the darkness of discontentment blinding her to hope for her future.
J.I. Packer says; “Sooner or later, God’s guidance, which brings us out of the darkness into light, will also bring us out of light into darkness. It is a part of the way of the cross.”
Suffering is a part of the Christian life that’s often difficult to reconcile with God’s love. We trust God is for us because the gospel tells us that He gave up His life on our behalf. And yet, suffering feels so very unloving!
Today there is much written about suffering and those who battle the darkness. But I would like to speak to those God calls to walk alongside of these suffering saints. We will begin (in this first post) by considering four reasons we may be tempted to avoid drawing near to those going through a season of despair.
- We feel inadequate. Have you ever felt like you simply don’t know what to say to someone who is going through something you can’t even imagine? Often, we feel awkward or uncomfortable around suffering, worrying that we will say the wrong thing. And when we feel powerless to help someone in any meaningful way, we can be tempted to stay away altogether.
The truth is that none of us are adequate! Christ alone is sufficient for our deepest needs, especially in the midst of suffering. Thus, when we fail to go to someone who is hurting because we feel our inadequacy, it may be that we are actually more concerned about ourselves than those who need us.
Just as God’s grace is sufficient for those who suffer, God’s power will be made perfect in our weakness when we depend on Him and not ourselves to comfort others. (2 Corinthians 10:9-10).
- We fear our false sense of security will be shaken. Perhaps we have bought into the lie that the upright won’t have to suffer. After all, doesn’t the Bible say that God will protect and guard the righteous? (Proverbs 2:8; Psalm 5:12) Thus, being face to face with suffering, particularly with someone who has walked faithfully with the Lord, can make us feel vulnerable to the realities of life we’d rather not think about. It’s far more comfortable to live with a false sense of comfort than to face the reality that the Christian life includes suffering.
Jesus told His followers to expect suffering, as it’s the way of the cross. His disciple Peter said, “Don’t be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you,” (1 Peter 4:12). Jesus learned obedience through what He suffered and “a servant is not above his teacher” (Matthew 10:24).
As believers, we can trust that God will use every drop of suffering to further His good work of transformation in us. Suffering exposes false doctrines we might believe, leading us to repent of idols we are worshiping apart from Christ. It also teaches us to rest in God’s sovereignty, knowing that He allows only what serves His good purposes for our lives.
- We lack compassion because deep down we believe a person is probably getting what they deserve as a result of sinful choices.
This can be a tough one to acknowledge even to ourselves and, yet, it’s important to recognize and confess. Job’s friends struggled with this belief, even though Job’s suffering was not due to his sin but a battle that was being waged between God and Satan in the heavens.
The truth is that we all deserve eternal death and suffering for, in God’s eyes, we all offend His holiness even on our best days. It’s only because of God’s great compassion and kindness that He offers us mercy through His Son Jesus Christ.
As recipients of God’s grace, He calls us to have compassion on those who desperately need to believe that He loves them.
- We are busy people. This last excuse is probably the most common reason we use to justify our absence among the suffering. Sadly, we often leave little margin in our lives to invest the kind of time we perceive a suffering person may want or need from us. And so;
- The card we meant to send never gets mailed.
- The call we intended to make is never made.
- The meal we wanted to take never gets made.
We may feel a twinge of guilt, but that soon fades as the tyranny of the urgent reminds us of all the other important things we’re convinced we must do.
The Blessings We Miss
Do any of these reasons ring true in your heart? I confess that, at one time or another, I have chosen to stay away because of every one of them. Extreme suffering isn’t something we are naturally comfortable with or want to believe could happen to us. It’s easier to turn a blind eye, ignore the sorrows of those around us, blame others for the pain they’re in, or busy ourselves with things we’re far more comfortable with. But, sadly, when we avoid opportunities that God provides to enter into the griefs and afflictions of others; we can also forfeit many blessings He desires to give us. Let’s look at a few:
- We miss the opportunity to be the hands and feet of Jesus in another person’s life. Because God knows that suffering tempts us to wonder where He is, He sends His people to comfort others on His behalf. When we do not receive the assignment given, God will call another, but we miss out on the blessing.
- We miss the opportunity to display the love of Christ and His gospel to someone who may be struggling with doubt and fear. God uses suffering as a megaphone to drive the message of the cross home to us. Will it be our voice, or another’s, that He uses to reassure them of His love, in spite of their unanswered questions?
- We miss having a front row seat to see God demonstrate his power and grace in the midst of weakness. Suffering highlights weakness, but when we turn away from the fragility of those in pain, we also forfeit the blessing of witnessing God’s transforming power. We will also stunt our own spiritual growth when our highest aim is to remain safe and comfortable.
- We miss the joy of sharing in the celebration of God’s faithfulness to us and those He has called us to minister comfort to in their season of darkness.
- We miss using our gifts in the fullest way God intended. One reason God gives us gifts is to bless others in the name of Christ. When we give way to the temptation to use our gifts for our own selfish purposes, we forfeit the eternal reward that God designed to bless us.
In Psalm 41, David wants us to know that when God’s people show kindness, concern, and consideration for the poor, weak, and afflicted, God will bless them!
While this doesn’t mean that we are called to walk closely beside every person who is grieving a loss or traveling a long road of suffering, it does mean that, at the very least, we should show compassion, kindness, and consideration for those who are struggling with sin, suffering, or the effects of a fallen world.
I am thankful that I can personally testify to God’s blessing in my own life when I’ve purposely confronted selfish excuses that can tempt us to avoid getting close to those battling the darkness. Yet, at the same time, it’s been a journey that has required grappling with difficult questions, seeking the Lord’s wisdom, and learning to discern when I’m taking on more than God is asking of me.
Next time we will look at what it actually means to enter into suffering with another person, as well as the many ways God blesses us when do.
Thanks for letting me share my thoughts with you,