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Suffering powerfully highlights what has always been true—we were not created for independent living. Suffering reminds us that God’s grace doesn’t work to propel our independence but to deepen our vertical and horizontal dependence. The strong, independent, self-made person is a delusion. Everyone needs help and assistance. To fight community, to quest for self-sufficiency, is not only a denial of your spiritual need; it’s a denial of your humanity. Suffering is a messenger telling us that to be human is to be dependent.
My friend TobyMac so wonderfully captured with these words: “What does it look like to admit your need and open the door to God’s warehouse of provision?” Consider these seven steps.
1. Don’t Suffer in Heroic Isolation
There’s nothing noble about bearing down and suffering alone. In fact, it’s a recipe for disaster. Everyone has been designed by God for community. Healthy, godly living is deeply relational. Worshipfully submissive community with God and humble dependency on God’s people are vital to living well in the middle of the unplanned, the unwanted, and the unexpected.
The brothers and sisters around you have been placed in your life as instruments of grace, and as I’ve said before, they won’t be perfect instruments, they won’t always say and do the right things, but in the messiness of these relationships God delivers to us what only he can give.
In my own suffering I’ve had to fight with the temptation of self-imposed isolation. I know I need the presence and voices of others in my life who can say and do things for me that I could never do for myself, and I know that the relationship I have with these people is God’s gift of comfort, rescue, protection, and wisdom. Are you suffering in isolation?
2. Determine to Be Honest
The first step in seeking and celebrating the gift of the comfort of God’s people and experiencing how they can make the invisible grace of God visible in your life is to honestly communicate how you’re handling what you’re going through. Honest communication is not detailing the hardship you’re going through and letting all the people around you know how tough you have it. Complaining tends to drive people away and to attract you to other complainers, which is far from healthy and helpful. Rather, every sufferer needs to be humbly honest about the spiritual battle underneath the physical travail so that brothers and sisters around you can fight that spiritual battle with you.
And don’t worry about what people think of you. Remember, you don’t get your identity, peace, security, and rest of heart from them but from your Lord. No one in your life is capable of being your messiah; people are tools in the hands of your Messiah, Jesus. It would be impossible to fully communicate the depth of the comfort, strength, and counsel I have gotten at crucial moments of spiritual battle from the dear ones God has placed in my life. Are you humbly and honestly communicating to others about how you’re handling your hardship?
3. Let People Interrupt Your Private Conversation
You have incredible influence over you, because no one talks to you more than you do. The problem is that there are times when it’s very hard to say to ourselves what we need to hear. The travail of suffering is clearly one of those times. It’s hard then to give yourself the hope, comfort, confrontation, direction, wisdom, and God-awareness that every sufferer desperately needs.
So you need voices in your life besides your own. You need to invite wise and loving people to eavesdrop and interrupt your private conversation, providing in their words things you wouldn’t be able to say to yourself. And don’t take offense when they fail to agree with your assessments; you need these alternative voices. They’re not in your life to hurt your feelings but to give you what you won’t be able to give yourself, and that in itself is a sweet grace from the hand of God. Who have you invited to interrupt your private conversations?
4. Admit Your Weakness
Doing well in the middle of hardship is not about acting as if you’re strong. God’s reputation isn’t honored by our publicly faking what isn’t privately true. The grave danger to sufferers is not admission of weakness but delusions of strength. You see, if you tell yourself and others that you are strong, then you won’t seek and they won’t offer the enabling and strengthening grace that every sufferer needs. And remember, the most important form of weakness that we all face isn’t the physical weakness that accompanies so much of our suffering but the weakness of heart in the midst of it.
Determine to be honest about your weakness, and in so doing, invite others to be God’s tools of his empowering and transforming grace. When you suffer, you view weakness either as an enemy or as an opportunity to experience the new potential that is yours as God’s child. Is your habit to admit or deny weakness?
5. Confess Your Blindness
This side of eternity, since sin still lives inside us and blinds us, there are pockets of spiritual blindness in all of us. As you walk through your travail, there may be inaccuracies of belief, subtle but wrong desires, wrong attitudes, susceptibilities to temptation, wrong views of others, struggles with God, and evidences of hopelessness that you don’t see.
So in love, God has placed his children in your life to function as instruments of seeing. They offer to you insight that you wouldn’t have by yourself. Because they can see what you don’t, they can speak into issues in your life, and by so doing be not only instruments of seeing but also God’s agents of rescue and transformation.
It’s humbling but true of every sufferer that accuracy of personal insight is the result of community, because sin makes personal insight difficult. Since we all have areas where we fail to see what we need to see, we need to welcome those whom God has sent into our lives to correct and focus our vision. How open are you when those near you help you see things in yourself that you don’t see?
6. Seek Wise Counsel
It’s dangerous to make important life decisions in the midst of the tumultuous emotions and despondency of suffering. Often in the middle of hardship, it’s hard to see clearly, to think accurately, and to desire what’s best. The shock, grief, and dismay of suffering tend to rattle the heart and confuse the mind.
When you are suffering, you need to humbly invite wise and godly counselors into your life. I’m not talking here about professional help, although that’s good if necessary. I’m talking about identifying the wise and godly people already in your life who know you and your situation well, who can provide the clarity of advice, guidance, and direction that is very hard to provide for yourself.
Don’t be threatened by this; it’s something we all need, and wise sufferers welcome it and enjoy the harvest of good fruit that results. Have you invited wise and godly counselors into your life to help you decide what would be hard to decide on your own?
7. Remember That Your Suffering Doesn’t Belong to You
2 Corinthians 1:3–9 reminds us that our sufferings belong to the Lord. He will take hard and difficult things in your life and use them to produce good things in the lives of others. This is one of the unexpected miracles of his grace. When it seems that my life is anything but good, God picks it up and produces what’s very good in the life of another. Every sufferer needs to know that the comfort of community is a two-way street. Not only do you need the comfort of God’s people, but your suffering positions you to be a uniquely sympathetic and insightful tool of the same in the lives of others.
Your suffering has given you a toolbox of gospel skills that make you ready and equipped to answer God’s call to be an agent of his comfort in the lives of fellow sufferers. God calls you not to hoard your suffering but to offer it up to him to be used as needed in the lives of others. And there’s blessing in taking your eyes off yourself and placing them on others, because it really is more blessed to give than to receive. Have you hoarded your suffering, or seen it as a means for bringing to others the good things that you have received?
Yes, it’s true that the God of all comfort sends his ambassadors of comfort into your life. They’re sent to make God’s invisible presence, protection, strength, wisdom, love, and grace visible. So welcome his ambassadors. Be open to their insight and counsel. Confess your needs so that God’s helpers can minister to those needs. Live like you really do believe that your walk through hardship is a community project, and be ready for the good things God will do.
Content taken from Suffering: Gospel Hope When Life Doesn't Make Sense by Paul David Tripp, ©2018. Used by permission of Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers, Wheaton, Il 60187, www.crossway.org.
Paul David Tripp is the president of Paul Tripp Ministries, a nonprofit organization. He has been married for many years to Luella and they have four grown children. For more information and resources visit paultrippministries.org.
When I resigned from the church I worked at for fifteen years, I transitioned into the world of business. There were consequences I didn’t see coming. God opened a role as an associate at an eCommerce company. Over the course of the first year, I realized that my projects were bringing me into an ethical arena I was unprepared for. It became clear that I could only continue earning a steady paycheck if I was willing to work in shades of gray I previously would have rejected. I chose to compromise.
This plunge into the world of commerce changed my perspective on Christian morality. I developed strong opinions on subjects about which I had previously been ambivalent. For example, while working on an online store selling tattoo and piercing supplies, I got a glimpse into the body modification community and saw a deep darkness in it; a desire for mutual acceptance predicated on pain and exhibition. I came to see commercialism and consumerism as powers and principalities—forces that enslave people while making them feel as if they are in control; things that pretend to be God but aren’t. Idols that, by action or inaction, I was helping to build.
I began to mourn. I mourned the loss of my ministry position and its relative simplicity. I mourned the state of the world and the lostness of the people I share it with. I mourned my own weakness and willingness to compromise when my livelihood is on the line.
BLESSED ARE THOSE WHO MOURN
Scripture has much to say about mourning. Some books of the Bible are dedicated to it. Jesus addresses mourning in one of his Beatitude declarations at the very beginning of his revolutionary Sermon on the Mount: “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted” (Matt. 5:4)”
Jesus doesn’t specify why a person is mourning, or when they can expect to be comforted. He simply promises that they will be. What are we to make of this?
Mourning is the second of eight Beatitudes, and therefore can be seen as the second step into the reality of what Jesus calls the kingdom of heaven. If we view these steps progressively, one following the other, then we can suppose that poverty of spirit, the first step (Matt. 5:3), is the key that opens the gate, and mourning is what carries us over the threshold.
As with each Beatitude, this assertion is surprising and counterintuitive. In the previous verse, Jesus claims that poverty is desirable because it opens the kingdom to us. Now he assures us that a state of mourning is positive because the comfort of the kingdom will be found on the other side. What is Jesus getting at?
HOW DID JESUS MOURN?
For any principle Jesus upholds, we can safely assume he is the best possible example of it. Jesus chose to lay down his glory and come to us as a human (Phil. 2:8)—and his response was to mourn.
In the gospel accounts, we find him looking with compassion on crowds of people because they are “harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd” (Matt. 9:6). He grieves over the stubbornness of Jerusalem (Matt. 23:27), despairs over the hypocrisy of the religious teachers (Matt. 23:16), and weeps over the body of a dead friend (John 11:35). While Jesus certainly wasn’t joyless, he did not see the purpose of his time on earth to be pleasure or comfort. He was acutely aware of the misery surrounding him in the form of sickness, spiritual oppression, and injustice.
He was also aware of the suffering that awaited him in his own torture and murder. So, he said, “Blessed are you who weep now . . . but woe to you who laugh now, for you will mourn and weep” (Luke 6:21, 25). This reinforces a strong Biblical theme: that mourning is better than laughter, and to pursue comfort and pleasure in this world is to forego it in the next.
We see in his example three compelling reasons to adopt an attitude of mourning.
REASONS TO MOURN
First, we mourn for what we leave behind as followers of Christ. When anything that was once precious to us is left behind, we must undergo a process of grieving in order to face a world in which that thing is no longer part of our lives. This could mean sin, or it could simply mean things that distract us from our missional purpose as Christians. Jesus recognized that over-attachment to his family would distract him from his mission (Luke 8:21). Once, when a man expressed a desire to follow Jesus, the Lord replied, “Birds have nests and foxes have holes, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.” In other words, the crucified life cost Jesus—and it will cost us, too. Grieving in this sense means to fully accept that there are things we once cherished that can no longer be with us.
Second, we mourn for our own sin. Jesus did not have sins to mourn, but he certainly grieved over the sins of others. My proclivity to sin is the single greatest barrier between myself and Jesus. It hinders my prayers, poisons my relationships, and hampers my willingness to come boldly before the throne of God. We cannot enter the kingdom of heaven if we have a comfortable relationship with sin. As soon as a sin is revealed in my life, I must be willing to leave it behind—to mourn its passing and let it go, knowing that I’m pressing on towards something much more satisfying. “Men loved the darkness instead of the light because their deeds were evil” (John 3:19). We sin because we love it. And like anything we love, letting go of it will grieve us.
Finally, once we’ve learned to grieve over our own sin, we find Jesus’ heart in mourning for sin and death in the world. No longer taking delight (openly or secretly) in the shame, futility, and ignorance that defines life under the sun, we become more and more preoccupied with helping those around us recognize the true and eternal hope of life in the Son. Deeply aware of our own brokenness, we do not approach the world as a judge pronouncing a verdict, but rather as a nurse serving under the Great Physician (John 3:17, Mark 2:17).
MOURNING OUR WAY TO JOY
Christ-centered mourning does not manifest in depression; it does not lead us to a joyless, judgmental life. Instead, it leads us to focus on what’s truly important. The joy of the world comes from deceit and distraction as we try to ignore, delay, or minimize the coming of death. The joy of the Lord is grounded in truth and reality—that Jesus has passed through death and into life, and that his hand is extended to each of us to do the same.
Death is real; pain is real; suffering is real. But God is more real. And so we mourn confidently, knowing that our mourning will one day give way to joy.
Elliot Toman lives with his wife and four children in Kingston, New York, where he is an aspiring church planter. He spends his spare time studying the Bible, publishing comics and occasionally writing about the church and Christian life.