Vulnerability

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.

What is Discipleship and How Do We Do It?

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Discipleship. It’s a word we throw around in the church, and it’s a word that’s not explicitly used in the Bible. We do find the word “disciple” in Scripture—a noun that means learner, pupil, or follower. Jesus uses this word to describe his followers—those who learn from him, walk closely with him, and obey his teachings.

We also find the phrase “make disciples”—a verb phrase that is found in the Great Commission where Christ’s disciples (and all his followers from that moment on) were told to preach the gospel, baptize new believers, and teach them to observe the commands of God.

But what is discipleship?

INVITATION TO A PROCESS

Christ charges his followers to go and make disciples, “teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you” (Matt. 28:16-20). This “teaching” includes the sharing of nuggets of wisdom with a believer that you may only encounter once.

But this command is also an invitation to more. It is an invitation to a lifelong process of teaching, also known as discipleship.

Discipleship, as we define it today, can look many different ways, but it must include this aspect of teaching one another to observe the commands of the Lord. This doesn’t have to happen in a coffee shop and it doesn’t have to involve a hard and fast structure or a deep curriculum. It doesn’t have to be conducted by a pastor or minister.

Rather, as believers, we are charged to teach and disciple one another by inviting one another into our lives, sharing what we know to be true about the Lord, and encouraging one another to walk in obedience to God’s commands.

Discipleship is not an activity reserved for the pastors and staff of your church. In fact, the primary way the church body will mature and multiply is through the commitment of every single church member to disciple those behind them.

BIBLICAL UNDERSTANDING

Hebrews does an excellent job of summing up what discipleship is:

“Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called today, that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.” –Heb. 3:12-13

This word exhort literally means to call to one’s side, to comfort, to instruct, to encourage, to request help, to strengthen. The author of Hebrews hints at the ever-present temptation for believers to be “hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.” Jeremiah teaches that “the heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick” (Jer. 17:9).

As believers, we are all desperately in need of the strength and exhortation that other believers can provide. We are all desperately in need of discipleship.

Inherent in this instructing, teaching, and exhorting is a level of vulnerability and humility that is key to discipleship. In order to be encouraged and admonished, you must be known by someone at a level that allows them to call out your sin and challenge you to deeper obedience.

This is what we are called to as believers, as disciples, as “Christians engaging in discipleship.”

We are called to know one another in a way that we are able to instruct and strengthen one another.

No Christian is exempt from this and no Christian is unequipped for this.

The life of a believer is a life in community with the church. And if you have been redeemed by the Lord, if you have been brought from death to life, if you have any knowledge of the Lord, then you have a story that can encourage, exhort, and strengthen a fellow believer or nonbeliever.

Every Christian is capable of discipleship and called to discipleship.

THE STRUCTURE

Countless models, structures, books, and curricula have been created in order to lay out a process of how to “do discipleship.” There are seemingly infinite resources on what it looks like to mature a believer in the faith. This poses a benefit and a challenge to those seeking to engage in discipleship.

Oftentimes, a believer seeking to disciple another believer is overwhelmed simply by the sheer amount of material and opinions regarding this topic. They feel the pressure to pick the right curriculum, to have the right material to teach, or to understand a complicated discipleship structure and process.

While it is true that discipleship is an intense and important process, believers need to give themselves permission to step out from under this pressure because, believe it or not, discipleship can be simple.

While the method and structure of discipleship may vary, there are a few vital factors to consider: intimacy, commitment, vulnerability, and prayer.

From my experience, discipleship is most effective with a very small group (2-4 is ideal for fostering intimate connections) of same-sex believers, who are committed to meeting regularly and who desire to be vulnerable with the difficult and ugly parts of their lives. These groups must be bathed with prayer and members must be committed to relying on the Word of God, not their opinions or desires, to guide and direct them.

Books and discipleship structures can be helpful, but for those seeking a simple process, these four elements provide a great place to start.

THE CHALLENGE

One of the lines I hear most often from young men and women in the church is, “I would love to be discipled, I just don’t know anyone who would want to disciple me.”

Funny enough, I often hear wise and experienced men and women in the church say, “I would love to disciple someone, I just don’t know anyone who would want to be discipled by me.”

Church members, you’re looking for each other!

If you are a young believer who is seeking this type of relationship, I encourage you to ask a more spiritually mature man or woman in the church to begin meeting with you. I guarantee you that person will be honored and excited about the opportunity to pour into your life.

If you are an older man or woman who has wisdom and a life of experience walking with God, I encourage you to find a younger believer to meet with. I guarantee you they will be thankful for the opportunity to learn from you.

As believers, we must bravely pursue discipleship relationships if we desire to grow into mature followers of Jesus.

THE CAVEAT

While there are likely many incredible men and women in your church who can disciple you, be careful to never let the role of a spiritual mentor come before the Holy Spirit’s role of discipleship in your life.

It is the Spirit who gives life and indwells every believer. It is he who applies Christ’s benefits to us and it is by his power and instruction that we grow in our faith.

There will be a time where you are awake at 2:00 a.m. in a crisis of faith or a time of deep confusion (if this hasn’t happened to you yet, just wait, it will), and before you reach for your phone to call that wonderful spiritual mentor in your life for advice, I challenge you to first reach for your Bible and dig into the Word of God for the truth that is there. I challenge you to spend time in prayer and to seek guidance and comfort first from the Lord.

If you don’t have someone in your life right now who can pour wisdom into you, press into the truth that is found in the Bible and be encouraged by the living Word of God.

It is crucial that, as believers, we all learn how to feed ourselves from the Word and to go first to the Lord for wisdom and guidance and comfort. And then we can bravely seek exhortation and wisdom from the trustworthy disciples in our lives.

DISCIPLESHIP FOR THE GLORY OF GOD

So what is discipleship and how do we do it?

Discipleship is a lifelong process of growing in knowledge of and obedience to Jesus Christ.

As Christians engaging in discipleship, this means we humbly teach, strengthen, and exhort one another to know and follow Jesus more closely. This means we bravely pursue relationships centered on intimacy, commitment, vulnerability, and prayer, all the while relying on the power of the Spirit and the Word of God to mature and mold us.

We do all of this for the purpose of more deeply knowing God and magnifying his glory among all people.


Lauren Bowerman currently lives just outside of Denver, CO but has been privileged to call many cities, states, countries, and continents home. Her transient life has cultivated in her a deep love for diverse cultures and people. As a writer and a pastor’s wife, she is passionate about encouraging God’s people through writing on her blog (www.lauren-bowerman.com) and through discipleship.