Suffering

How to Cultivate Communal Comfort in Your Suffering

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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.

Wrestling with God

When I was nineteen years old, a doctor told me I might have a disease that would allow me only a few more years to live. I had been ill, and, because of my not-so-enviable family genes, a team of doctors was analyzing me in a clinic far from home. I left the clinic that night, knowing the details of the disease and contemplating what it would mean for my life. Back in the apartment where I was staying, I began to send messages to a friend back home in Oregon. I detailed the symptoms I was experiencing, and the ones coming if my diagnosis was accurate.

The very places we already inhabit are places that we have been sent with the good news of Jesus

His response: “The Lord gives and the Lord takes away. May the name of the Lord be praised.”

My response as I read those words: “Jerk-face! Who says that when a friend shares hard stuff?”

Thankfully, I only thought it and didn’t type it back to him. It had taken thirty minutes before I began to question if he was right. If God rules the world, does all I have belong to him anyway? Am I called to praise him even when I wrestle in suffering?

My friend’s message initiated my struggle with God, with pounding questions in cycles of suffering to come.

Indescribable Loss and Incompetent Comforters

Job was blameless in the eyes of God, as well as rich in commerce, greatness, and family. He feared God, caring about what God thought first and foremost. There was still a cosmic debate. Satan questioned Job’s motivations, so God allowed Satan to take Job’s possessions, children, and, eventually, his health. His response was what my friend referenced—he praised God (Job 1:21, 2:10). Nevertheless, Job mourned.

As good friends, the comforters gathered first with kindness in silence. However, when the silence was broken, so was the peace. After Job’s opening expressions of despair and anger came a deluge of accusations, assumptions, and insinuations. Job’s friends knew God better than Job, so, of course, they were right. “Job must have sinned,” they said, “or God would not have allowed this evil to happen to him.”

They were master over-simplifiers. They turned the biblical wisdom literature into formulas. “Bad things happen to bad people and good things to good people,” they reiterated incessantly. Job must be bad. His only hope was to repent so that God could restore him.

Job defended himself for three rounds, responding to his friends before the cycle began again. “I am innocent,” he maintained. His friends were wrong. In his grief, Job described his pain and the character of God, all the while he was pleading for God to do something, to respond. Job knew God had put him where he was (19:6-7), yet he also knew that God would vindicate him. God was righteous and still his hope (27:1-22).

Then a fourth junior team friend speaks; Elihu comes with a more moderate position. He says that neither the friends nor Job is right, and, with an air of authority, he declares that he knows. While his argument isn’t perfectly correct either, he does shift the conversation from centering on Job and humanity’s iniquity to the majesty and faithfulness of God.

In my apartment late that fearful night, I didn’t have accusers or bad theologians as friends. But those did come later—“Your suffering was generated by God’s anger at your sin.” This allegation related to my health, my circumstances, as well as other kinds of suffering. Like Job, I’ve sometimes responded with strong words to those who told me this. Like Job, I’ve wrestled with questions about physical, emotional, and relational pain. Like Job, I’ve needed to hear from God himself.

The Astounding Interview

The LORD God answered Job out of a whirlwind. God gave him the interview he had been begging for. But the conversation consisted of questions for Job to answer, rather than the planned questions for God. God brought perspective through this correction, reminding Job of his place. He allowed Job to reexamine who he was and who God was. Job was not God. Job does not see it all. Job did not create the world; he does not rule it now. So can Job judge God? Can he evaluate if God is doing what he should?

God reminds him of the wild, dangerous, and beautiful world that exists. Through the examples of the Behemoth and the Leviathan, God shows Job this world is not tame. It is complex. Job responds with faith, faith in God’s words and God’s role. He changes his mind and is finally comforted.

In all of this, God does not condemn Job and is not provoked to punishment. He vindicates Job and tells the “friends” that they need Job’s prayers to avoid punishment from God, whom they represented falsely.

Faith in Pain

I find great hope in the fact that the struggle of Job was not condemned. Job fought to understand. He sought to know the character of God combined with what he saw happening to him. God saw and engaged. And he held him up as the righteous one among his friends. God vindicated Job by showing him that his suffering was not due to sin. But Job needed more. Later in history, the Redeemer Job hoped for came to bring the fullness of his hope (Job 19:25). Jesus mediates for us so that we can come to God with our questions and wrestle with hope. Hope because we know his response will be only love and discipline, never God’s anger towards our sin—because our Redeemer took all of that forever.

The book of Job doesn’t answer why God allows suffering. It doesn’t give us impersonal truths to cling to; instead, the focus lands squarely on faith—the faith of Job to trust in the One who he knows is allowing him to suffer. The book of Job models choosing hope in redemption from the God who brings pain into our lives.

Many years later, I am still alive. The next morning the diagnosis the doctors had feared was eliminated as a possibility. But the truth still remained—God gives and takes away. I wanted to praise him no matter what. Suffering, hardship, and pain come to us in this dangerous world. Sometimes it is because of our own sin, directly or indirectly. Other times it is not.

I still wrestle sometimes. We will all likely wrestle like Job at some point in our lives, asking God to answer. The same God-in-the-whirlwind will engage us as struggling sufferers with truth. He will meet us with a reminder of what our Redeemer has done, as the full answer to our suffering. He will comfort us with hope. And he will humble us by telling us that he is still God.

Yes, Lord, you are. And we praise you.

Taylor Turkington has worked for a church in the Portland area for the last six years, teaching, discipling, and training. She loves being involved in the equipping and encouraging of people for the work God has given them. Before her church life, Taylor worked as a missionary in Eastern Europe and graduated from Western Seminary with an M.A. in Biblical and Theological Studies. Currently, Taylor is a student at Western in the D.Min. program. She loves teaching the Bible and speaks at seminars, retreats, and conferences. Taylor is a co-founder and co-director of the Verity Fellowship.

Comforting the Hurting

The Incarnation for a Hurting World

When a family-member, friend, or co-worker is suffering, we’re quick to jump to worldly comfort or perhaps the sovereignty of God. It is wise to remind those to whom we minister that no person or situation is outside of God’s grasp or concern, and perhaps a solid pat on the back is helpful every so often. However, we will find ourselves malnourished if we don’t also consider Christ’s humanity as extremely relevant to a world of hurt. For many of us it is a daily struggle to believe that the God of the universe truly cares about our lives, much less the detail of our personal hurts. Only in Christ do we find a God so concerned with the messiness of our lives that he entered into it. This article will take a short but thoughtful look at Hebrews 2:14-3:6 in order to develop an understanding of Christ’s incarnation and its application for a hurting world.

Though the author of our passage is not identified, the references to Old Testament texts and concepts throughout provide evidence that the original readers were quite familiar with the Jewish-Christian worldview. Given the counsel we see provided throughout the book, the recipients were very likely suffering through some persecution and perhaps in danger of turning away from the true gospel, making it relevant to our topic of study.

In considering the immediate context of this passage, the author begins in chapter two by discussing the danger of ignoring truth, reminding readers of the “just punishment” that may follow from disregarding one’s salvation. It then moves into the humiliation and glory of God’s Son, who had to identify himself with mortal human beings in order to “taste death for everyone.” There is a clear outline of the Son’s perfection through suffering (v. 10) and his solidarity with humanity (v. 11). The text then presents Psalm 22:22 and Isaiah 8:17 as support for this truth. From there, in vv. 14-18, the author moves to develops the implications of Christ’s solidarity in order to address the necessity of the Incarnation. Jesus partook of humanity in full in order to break the power of the devil and free those who were held in slavery (all of Abraham’s descendants). The logical connective “so that” in 2:14 expresses purpose, indicating that the purpose of the Incarnation was to “render powerless him who had the power of death” and “free those…subject to slavery.” The Son had to become human in order to become the high priest, and he had to become a high priest “in order to offer the ultimate sacrifice for sins” (vv.17-18).

A new unit of thought develops in 3:1-6 as the author acknowledges Jesus as the apostle and high priest and moves on to contrast Jesus and Moses. The author pulls again from the Septuagint, this time from Numbers 12:7, when Moses’ faithfulness to the “house” refers to his ministry to and responsibility of a “defined group of people in special relationship to God.” In short, the author’s intention is clear: to urge readers to stand firm in their faith. The author encourages this by pointing to Jesus, his superiority, and the importance of his readers’ proper response and commitment to him by shifting focus from a worldly to eternal perspective.

How Do We Counsel the Hurting?

When providing counsel to those we love (or even ourselves) in times of hurt, is this where we begin? Do we start by reminding and being reminded of the truth that God himself has come to earth? Do we marvel that he’s done so as our high priest, identifying in every way with the human struggle of pain, loneliness, grief, sickness, and death? His pain-filled and suffering pursuit of us through the Incarnation ought to act as a well of hope from which we draw in difficult times. In our counsel, we always need to echo the form of Incarnation by starting with God and working down to earth, shifting the perspective from worldly to external.

Hebrews 2:14-18 explains the necessity and value of the Incarnation and Jesus’ appointment as high priest while stressing that human beings have a responsibility to respond to him in a particular way. Chapter 3:1-6 discusses the role of Jesus as the Son over God’s house and his superior role and responsibilities to Moses. Theologically, the entire passage speaks to Jesus’ unity with humanity, the purpose of the Incarnation and the superiority of the New Covenant found in Jesus Christ’s high priesthood. It explains why that Incarnation was necessary—Christ had to “share in flesh and blood” in order to experience death (v. 14) and also render it ineffective in keeping humanity separated from God. Because Christ is now death’s master, we are no longer enslaved by it.

Partner—GCD—450x300It is worth noting that the pain and hurt caused by our own sin can no longer force us into a downward spiral of shame or repeated poor choices. It is no longer our sin that defines us. It is no longer sin that enslaves humanity. In fact, given Christ’s work as the high priest, we ought to now consider the act of committing sin as less-than-human. In other words, Christ isn’t less-than-human because he didn’t sin, he is truly human because he didn’t sin! Though we still suffer with indwelling sin in the already-not-yet, it does not define our status any longer. To lust, to get angry, to be addicted – all of it is us acting out of a false self. Part of our counsel to those hurting from sinful choices ought to remind them that sin no longer defines them and that their true self is one redeemed and beloved by God himself.

So why the incarnation? The author provides several reasons starting in verse 17.

First,Christ’s humanity was necessary in order for him to become a “merciful and faithful high priest” (v. 17). Only because Christ was fully human could he stand in as the high priest for humanity. The function of the “chief priest” or “high priest” was to act as a representative of the people, making access to God possible through the sacrificial system. The author sees Jesus as the “one, true, faithful high priest,” which highlights his unity with humankind and his leadership of God’s people into God’s presence. As the high priest, Jesus was uniquely qualified to make atonement for the sins of the people. Christ’s work of reconciliation, where he turns aside God’s wrath by taking away the sins of the people, made the OT ritual of atonement obsolete and brought about the New Covenant community.

Second, Christ reconciles humanity to God, accomplished through his sacrificial death, which was necessary to make atonement for the sins of the people (v. 18). The author then assures his readers that Christ is able to help them in their temptation because he himself suffered when he was tempted. The tense of the verb “suffered” is significant here. The perfect tense is used and emphasizes that even though the temptation of Christ is a past event the effect continues to be felt in the present. To clarify, even though Christ suffered temptation in the past, we are continually being helped by him in our present time and can experience his help as an ongoing reality in the future. The author finishes by explaining that the readers’ perseverance in faith will act as the ultimate sign of their commitment to Christ.

The Purpose of the Incarnation

This passage addresses the reason and purpose for the Incarnation and the superiority of Jesus’ faithfulness as the Son. The author’s explanation of the Incarnation provides readers with a wonderful summary of the logic behind Christ’s humanity and his suffering. It was because Christ became human and lived a sinless life that he could stand in our place in order to make propitiation for our sins. His role as Apostle and High Priest was only made possible in the Incarnation and Christ’s opportunity to remain faithful to God. Jesus’ faithfulness to his role as Son over all God’s house establishes the superiority of the New Covenant and now provides humanity with total access to God.

This passage speaks volumes to a hurting world. Our natural response to a hurting person is often lacking, leaning mostly on worldly counsel to “cheer up” or perhaps we’ll dress it up with “God’s in control!” Maybe, when needing to counsel our family or close friends, we simply take them out to a movie in order to get their mind off things. As trite as it sounds in writing, this is the extent to much of our counsel, and though there are some good aspects in these methods, those who need true Christ-like counsel will be left wanting.

Hurting people—whether they are feeling lonely, depressed, angry, or suffering through intense pain—need to continually be assured of God’s tremendous concern for every aspect of their being. Pointing to the humanity of Christ allows us to call out two major, comforting truths: 1) Empathy; and, 2) initiative.

To start, we can find empathy in Jesus because he was “made like us in every respect.” Christ is human, which means he stared sin and shame and darkness in the face. He knows loneliness. He knows fully well the temptation to retreat and turn from God, but he, uniquely, was able to stand in power against that temptation and honor the Father in victory. Only Christ can teach us what it is to be fully human. He alone can offer us a picture of true empathy and an empowering model for fighting through temptation all the way through victory through the power of God, which is now alive in us via the Spirit.

Also, we’re given the encouragement in the truth of initiative. This person, though they doubt that God might care for them, cannot stare at the Incarnation long without being wooed away from sorrow. The God of the universe, who is unique and utterly transcendent, came to us! As fallen, mortal human beings we cannot possible “get” to God. He must first come to us, and he proves his love and concern by descending his throne and being made like his brothers and dwelling with us. We cannot possible claim that God does not care. He has first pursued us in the person of Christ, taking immense measure to dwell among us just as the Spirit does today. What worship is brought about when one considers the extent that God went to reconcile himself to us!

Ultimately, it’s worth quickly noting that neither our sin nor all the hurt in the world can or does detach us from God. Sin no longer necessarily separates. Christ bridged the gap as the true man and high priest. We can freely counsel others to turn away from sin patterns and darkness and to their loving Father who is absolutely concerned with their life.

Evan Perkins served as a teaching pastor at Scum of the Earth Church in Denver, CO for three years before transitioning to a professional sales role in Austin, TX. He holds an MDiv from Denver Seminary and currently serves as a lay-leader and elder candidate at City Life Church. He is the husband of Lauren and the father of their son, Eli.