“Blessed is he who has regard for the weak” Psalm 41:1.
What does it mean to enter into suffering with another person?
What are some of the dangers to watch for in our desire to encourage and help others?
How do we know when God is calling us to be the comforters and servants who carry the light of the gospel into the darkness of suffering?
We will address these questions but let’s begin by acknowledging what David assures us in Psalm 41; that God will bless those who show kindness and compassion to the poor, weak, and afflicted in these ways:
A. God will be merciful to those who show mercy to others.
In Psalm 41, David says that when we show mercy to others, doing what we can to help relieve their burdens through acts of love, God will show mercy to us when our own day of trouble comes.
While this doesn’t mean we will saved from all suffering, God does assure us that He will spiritually deliver, protect, and keep us from the enemy’s evil attempts to destroy our joy, witness, and very lives. In fact, not only will the Lord sustain and strengthen us in times of sickness and suffering, but He will use our dark seasons to give us greater revelations of Himself and to bring forth new spiritual health and life!
Reflecting God’s Mercy in the Darkness
There will be times when we feel completely helpless in our desire to show kindness to one who is in pain and yet, our mere presence can be what God uses to helps a suffering saint trust that He has not forgotten them. Although believers may still agonize over unanswered questions, we can offer assurance, through the gospel, that God is with them in their darkness.
What are some concrete ways we can show mercy? What does it mean to enter into a person’s suffering? How can we guard against wrong motives or selfishness that may distort our sincere offer to help others? Consider these avenues of gospel driven mercy:
- Take notice of another’s affliction. In our face paced world, slowing down enough to actually recognize when someone’s soul is downcast (Psalm 42) requires us to listen closely to God’s Spirit throughout our day. Asking how someone is doing, with a sincere and patient desire to listen, can help a person feel seen and understood. Praying for them will remind them that the God who hears our cries will not forget the afflicted (Psalm 5, 10).
- Take time to remind suffering saints of God’s promises, being careful not to add or subtract to God’s Word in an effort to lessen their pain. Encourage the hurting one to wait patiently and expectantly for God to act on her behalf in His time and way. We can’t ignore the fact that we live in a fallen cursed world where bad things happen, but we can remind others that their pain isn’t the end of the story.
- Take care not to communicate judgmental attitudes that insinuate a person’s suffering must be due to sin in their life. This is what Job’s friends are remembered for and God was not pleased with them. Words of grace will come forth as we remember that, while sin is always at work in all of us, God’s ways are often mysterious; and there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.
Nothing is more devastating to a person who is already battling the darkness than to have someone say she should snap out of her grief, put on a happy face, and move on. When we recognize the enemy’s attempts to drown a broken saint in waves of unrelenting morbid despair, we must seek God’s help as we lovingly comfort them with the hope of the gospel.
I have learned from my own suffering, the suffering of others, and the mistakes I have made in my feeble attempts to help that, in most cases, we do not have information or wisdom enough to make snap judgments concerning those who are battling the dark night of their soul. Does that mean they don’t need to hear truth? Of course not! But timing and the spirit by which we speak will determine how helpful we will be. To that end we must:
Approach the afflicted with wisdom and tenderness. James cautions; Be slow to speak and quick to listen; but when we do speak words of truth, let them be clothed in love and compassion, offered with humility and gentleness.
Listen for the theology of suffering that’s expressed by those in the wilderness. Because pain and confusing circumstances often test and reveal what we believe, it affords us the opportunity to help people recognize false beliefs they may have adopted about the God they worship. As we walk alongside of others, God’s Word provides revelation of His righteous character when sufferer’s are most prone to misinterpret His intentions towards them.
When suffering tempts us to question God’s love for us, the Gospel reminds us of what Christ accomplished on the cross to purchase our everlasting joy. No matter what else we may think to say to our suffering friend, this is the truth that they most need to hear and we have failed them if they don’t! But, always, we must depend on the Holy Spirit to use us in a way that will be spiritually helpful, rather than hurtful.
- Finally, use the gifts God has given you as an expression of Christ’s love to the one who is feeling weak and helpless during a short or long trial.
I marvel at the diverse ways I have seen the body of Christ come alongside of suffering saints when it is functioning well. God uses our small offerings of sacrifice to bless others with very practical demonstrations of His love. Our gifts may come in the form of a hot meal, a note of encouragement, ongoing prayer, a listening ear, or an an offer to babysit, clean, or run errands!
When offered in the name of Christ, what may seem to us to be little more than a few loaves and fish; in the hands of the Savior, our gift will be multiplied and used to feed the faith of those who hunger for assurance of God’s love.
More briefly, let’s look at two other blessings God wants to give us as we walk with others in their affliction.
B. God will instruct us through the poverty and affliction of others.
It is when we come face to face with the harsh realities of life in our lives and the lives of others, that we actually experience the sufficiency of God’s grace. Before, we may have wondered how we could ever endure the fire that a sister or brother in Christ is walking though, but now we marvel at the evidence of God’s faithfulness in the things we most feared. Nevertheless, as we walk with others through suffering, we need the continuous help of the Lord to serve them well. This means that, along with asking God to provide strength and endurance for others, we must look to Him for our strength as well.
- Ask God to help you stay the course and fight weariness; ask others to pray for you when serving another for a long season. (Galatians 6:9)
- Remember that God never intended for us to carry the whole burden of one who suffers. God alone is sufficient for this.
- When we weep with those who weep, we must continue to run to God’s Word for fresh oil or we will be of little help to the one we desire to serve.
- Allow others the privilege of serving with you.
- Take time to be restored in body, mind, and spirit so that you are able to continue in your service to others. This requires godly wisdom and discernment, especially when God calls us to minister for a long season.
- Ask God to guard your heart as you care for others; ask others to pray for deliverance from sin’s temptations. It might catch us off guard that we need to guard against certain temptations to sin when God calls us to walk with others in the darkness. For instance,
- In the case of a long-suffering saint who lives with us and demands great care; we may need to repent when selfishness, self-pity, or resentment rise up in us.
- In our determination to serve a sufferer, we might need to repent of neglecting other important priorities and people.
- If we have taken it upon ourselves to be all things to another person, we may need to repent of putting ourselves in the place of God who alone is sufficient to meet the deepest needs of a person’s heart.
- Should we find ourselves attempting to save a person from the consequences of their own sinful choices, we may need to repent and ask God for wisdom, compassion, and discernment that doesn’t interfere with His discipline for another’s eternal good.
C. God will deliver His children from enemies that seek to destroy us in our day of trouble.
One of the ways God can use us in the lives of others is to remind them (and us) of truth they learned in the light. Darkness distorts and makes us more vulnerable to lies and doubting truth that we once believed about God.
Psalm 41 depicts a time when David was sick with a seemingly life threatening illness and his enemies were particularly brutal and cruel. In malice they asked; “When will he die and his name perish?” (v. 5) When they came to see him they spoke empty words and imagined the worst for him. These enemies longed for his death and poured out their venom upon him.
While David had living enemies who hated him and wished him dead, we have an enemy whose designs are precisely the same. The serpent of old, who led Eve to doubt God’s goodness and authority, still seeks to steal, kill, and destroy the children God loves and died for. The devil takes full advantage of our vulnerability when suffering casts us into darkness, causing us to temporarily lose sight of God’s hand of love in our lives. It is then he swoops in with venomous lies that tempt us to question our faith. And it’s precisely at this time that we need the body of Christ to remind us of One who went to Calvary and was afflicted for our sakes, so that we will never be alone in our suffering.
This must be our highest consideration then, to encourage one another in faith and hope in Christ. As we do that for others, God promises to do that for us in our time of temptation.
In the midst of suffering, we offer the sacrifice of praise for God’s wonderful grace. We marvel at Christ’s condescension and humility in becoming poor and weak for our sake, that we might be made rich with the riches of His glory. As the light of Christ breaks through the darkness that God calls us to enter with others, we can join our voices in worship because our great enemy has been defeated in his evil attempts to get us to curse God.
This is the Good News; Jesus is the light of the world! In God, there is no darkness at all! The light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it (John 1). The present darkness we experience for a little while will soon be completely dispelled by the light of the glory of God. This is the hope we offer when God calls us to walk together in a season of suffering.
Thanks for letting me share my thoughts with you,