#ThinkingTuesday – Change your thinking; Change your life.
Today, we’re thinking about suffering. How do we deal or react to suffering, not just our suffering – the suffering of others. As intercessors, what do we do when people confront us with their suffering? How do we handle it?
If we could sum up the whole character of Christ in reference to ourselves, it might be gathered into this one sentence, “He was moved with compassion.”
— Charles Spurgeon
There are two stories currently being circulated on facebook: one of a very young child being physically abused and another of this woman who was sold off to pay her father’s debt when she was little and all the suffering she endured because she ran away. Many things often sadden me on facebook, especially anything with the syrian refugees/children but upon watching these particular videos, I was really moved to anger
(likely because these incidents happened in my own country). I retreated to the corner of my bed, cried for a short while and finally got the good sense to speak to God and pray for the both of them. It went something like this:
I’ve seen a great deal of suffering in my life that previously made me question the knowledge of God but the suffering I now see, hear of, or experience often reaffirms His presence and sovereignty in all things.
As christians, when we encounter suffering, particularly the suffering of others, we must be shaken unto compassion but never moved out of our faith.
Let’s examine a few examples:
And when the Lord saw her, he had compassion on her, and said unto her, Weep not.— Luke 7:13
When he saw the multitudes, he was moved with compassion on them, because they fainted, and were scattered abroad, as sheep having no shepherd.— Matthew 9:36
So Jesus had compassion on them, and touched their eyes: and immediately their eyes received sight, and they followed him. — Matthew 20:34
And Jesus, moved with compassion, put forth his hand, and touched him, and saith unto him, I will; be thou clean. — Mark 1:41
Jesus was moved with compassion at the suffering of others but He was not so shaken as to abandon His purpose and become a King attending to the material or emotional needs of people. He did not let their suffering shake Him out of the glory that lay ahead. He could have decided not to die on the cross and become a miracle worker earth, but He was called to be something greater — our saviour.
We too should be shaken unto compassion and compelled to do what we can to help alleviate the suffering of others but we must never let the circumstances we encounter shake us out of our faith, not the loss of a loved one, the sight of suffering children, nothing, nothing should shake us out of our faith in Christ’s finished work.
Suffering has many faces. Jesus both saw and experienced suffering. The bible recognizes the many faces of suffering that come upon us. 2 Corinthians 4:8-9 says “We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed. If we are going to truly serve God, we will get broken hearts.
There have been many many days where the suffering I encounter makes me ask:
Why God? Are you blind to the plight of these people? What are you doing?
Days, where I really just want to abandon everything and go and help end the war in Syria, but I can’t do that – not because I don’t have the means to go to Syria but because God isn’t calling me to do that. God breaks our hearts through others, yet our suffering works in us an eternal hope of glory.
Don’t say “there is no God” because you see or experience suffering. We can’t see the whole picture, only God can. We can’t shout “where was God when these children were dying?” while we ignore the homeless guy we pass by everyday. Before you ask about the big picture, what are you doing to help the small one?
Are you praying? Are you interceding? Are you trusting God even as things get worse?
We are born into a fallen world of sinners, so it is reasonable not to be surprised when trouble shows up —expect trials and entrust yourself to God when you encounter them.
1 Peter 4:19 — Therefore, let those also who suffer according to the will of God entrust their souls to a faithful Creator in doing what is right
The word entrust is a term that means “to deposit for safekeeping.” When you are faced with stories of suffering, deposit your heart for safe keeping, don’t let it be overwhelmed by the news of this world. This world and all within it are passing away, and suffering is a part of that. In the world to come, there will be no more suffering, but there’s no way we can deal with suffering we experience on this earth (particularly the suffering of others) without God’s help.
Suffering is a tool God often uses to get our attention and accomplish His purpose in our lives. Suffering is designed to build our trust in the Almighty, but it requires the right response to be successful in accomplishing God’s purposes in our lives. Suffering forces us to turn from trusting in our own resources to living by faith in God’s resources.
Ask yourself “How will I react?“. Either we have a positive attitude or react negatively and compound the trouble. Be moved with compassion but don’t abandon your faith. Job was shaken by suffering and angry at God but he did not abandon his faith. We may feel angry at God at times and that’s okay; He is big enough to take that. He understands our anger, but in our anger we must not sin.
There are times people have come to me out of need, and I honestly didn’t feel like helping them out because I was dealing with my own struggles – it’s times like this I learnt that God can really turn 5 loaves of bread and two fishes into a remainder of 12 baskets of food.
Galatians 6:2 —Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ
The church is meant to be a refuge for those who are suffering. When a member is hurting, the church dresses the wounds and applies bandages; when a member is down, the church encourages; when a member is in need, the church comes alongside to help.
I’ve seen a sister cry her heart out to me and I was in shock because I just didn’t know what to do. I was going through something similar but hers had escalated into what you would call a “worst case scenario” and although I just didn’t know how to help her, I was determined not to turn her away.
We must never, ever turn others away because we’re suffering too. It’s not in the nature of Jesus to do that. Even with the syrophoenician woman. Jesus said I wasn’t sent to you, yet He couldn’t ignore her persistence. We must always try to help each other out. The person who comes to you in need may carry your solution within their problem.
Another thing is to be careful how we speak to those who are suffering or grieving. Sometimes, all people need is a listening ear and a shoulder to cry on. Especially those who seem to be losing their faith, find a way not to talk about God in abstractness but to be practical – many are often feeling too down to pray, so pray with them and keep them in your prayers.
We must do for others as much as our faith can carry.
Don’t be churchy when you comfort a person or when you’re praying for them, just be sincere and try to help them communicate their feelings to God. You don’t need to roll out the good old Romans 8:28, It all works together for your good sermon. On your own, pray for their faith in God to be restored lest they depart from God and return to their sins. Help them to the best of your ability, truly comfort them and always turn them towards God. John Newton, author of the hymn “Amazing Grace” watched cancer slowly and painfully kill his wife over a period of many months. In recounting those days, John Newton said:
I believe it was about two or three months before her death, when I was walking up and down the room, offering disjointed prayers from a heart torn with distress, that a thought suddenly struck me, with unusual force, to this effect—”The promises of God must be true; surely the Lord will help me, if I am willing to be helped!” It occurred to me, that we are often led… [from an undue regard of our feelings], to indulge that unprofitable grief which both our duty and our peace require us to resist to the utmost of our power. I instantly said aloud, “Lord, I am helpless indeed, in myself, but I hope I am willing, without reserve, that thou shouldest help me.” (Trusting God [Colorado Springs: Navpress, 1988], 195-96.
Look at his prayers! Faced with such great suffering, he prayed with such sincerity and cried out to God for help with honesty!
Here’s an honest prayer in time of suffering we can all hold on to:
God, I know that You are good and that You always have our spiritual best in mind. We’re struggling to deal with this situation—there’s so much fear and pain and suffering we feel right now. If there’s anything I can do, please instruct me on how to do it. I am here and wanting to serve You. If You want me to stay out of it, then I want to be willing to accept that as well, because I know You don’t need my help. I want to honor You in the way that I talk about this situation with others. I don’t want to be disrespecting You by calling the things You do bad or awful. I know that You made me aware of this situation for a positive reason—help me to learn everything that You want to teach me so that I can be brought closer to You even through this trial.