Today’s guest blogger is Heather Rice. She is an oncology nurse, with degrees also in linguistics and biblical counseling. Besides counseling at her church, she enjoys hiking, languages, linguistics, Bible study, and her church.
Part 4 of 4
The previous three posts began with the proposition that God Himself is the ultimate place of refuge for our hurting hearts. Then we examined the question of why suffering occurs at all and some benefits from suffering. Now it is time to pick up some nuts and bolts of what to do during suffering, working out applications of principles from earlier posts, and how to help others.
First, realize that while the details of your situation may be unique, you are not alone in your experience. What is happening to you is “common to man” in the sense that everyone suffers sometime and while situations may be unique, there is no unique type of suffering. Many have been betrayed. Many have suffered illness and injury. But, “God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it” (1 Corinthians 10:13). Escape often comes through obedience in the trial, not through avoidance of it. The guarantee of His help rests upon His faithfulness. Take heart! For the Christian, the Lord your God is reliable, though all others fail you. Trust Him.
Second, we need to make sure our goal is biblical. When in hardship, I am tempted to want to escape the pain more than to glorify God. It’s easy to just want relief and run to whatever will “make it all better.” There is nothing wrong with wanting a better situation. We ought to act responsibly to improve the situation where we can. But it is wrong when the desire for relief or improvement, rather than for the Lord’s will, rules the heart. Your life passion should be to please the Lord (2 Corinthians 5:9). Do you rejoice in your trial because it has “turned out for the greater progress of the gospel” (Philippians 1:12-18; 1 Thessalonians 1:6-8)? If not, examine your heart and make God’s desires those which are most important to you.
Third, exercise proper emotions in regard to suffering. Jesus exemplified appropriate emotions in response to tragedy. The Greek text uses two words to describe how Jesus felt at the grave of Lazarus, translated as “deeply moved in spirit” and “troubled” (John 11:33). Jesus was deeply concerned over what had happened, and angered about what sin and death had done to His friend. Asserting God’s sovereignty over sin should not make us nod impassively at tragedy. We should be horrified! Like Jesus, we too may feel indignation about how sin and its consequences have destroyed God’s creatures and offended Him. Simultaneously, those emotions must never control us so that we neglect to obey God.
Fourth, pray. Run to the Lord for comfort and help. Ask God for wisdom and strength to endure the trial in a God-pleasing manner (James 1:5).
Fifth, for friends and family members, give the gift of your compassion demonstrated. Comforting a sufferer means being present. Sometimes death and suffering is too profound, too grotesque, too deep for words or deeds. People do not always need solutions. Before Christ raised Lazarus from the dead, He took the time to stop, be deeply moved and weep (John 11:33-35). Think about it: Jesus took time to cry. The hectic nature of our lives sometimes makes time short, but in front of you is a person, not a problem. Instead of texting, call the person or take her out to lunch. Pray with her. Choose an encouraging verse, write it on a card, share it in conversation and leave it with the person. Also, the person who is suffering will benefit by serving other sufferers in this way.
Sixth, practice gentleness. This applies to all involved in suffering. Are you quick to listen and slow to speak? Sometimes the most hurtful words come from well-meaning folks. Conversely, those suffering can make the situation worse by lashing out in anger, impatience and “you just don’t understand.” Gentleness does not mean being a doormat or withholding truth. It does mean considering others as more important than your self, promoting peace, providing for physical needs, and giving a gentle answer to anger. A child of God should always strive to handle others as if they were fine china, not garage-sale Tupperware.
Seventh, when you are asked, “How do you do it? How do you face the suffering and death daily and maintain your sanity?” be prepared to share the hope of the gospel.
Eighth, look to the future. For the believer, there is coming a permanent, glorious transformation. Here are poignant words of hope from J.C. Ryle:
The time is short. The fashion of this world passes away. A few more sicknesses, and all will be over. A few more funerals, and our own funeral will take place. A few more storms and tossings, and we shall be safe in harbor. We travel towards a world where there is no more sickness, where parting, and pain, and crying, and mourning, are done with forevermore. Heaven is becoming every year more full, and earth more empty (Ryle, 2005, p. 19).
Adams, Jay. How to Handle Trouble. Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 1982.
Ryle, J. C. (2005). Sickness. Kingsford, Australia: Matthias Media.