How To Encourage Hurting Christians
How do we help those who are hurting? When the phone rings and the voice on the other side tearfully reports that their house has burned to the ground, that their son has died, or that their spouse has left them, what will we say? How do we help those who are hurting?
Jonathan faced this dilemma in 1 Samuel 23:15-18. His best friend David struggled with fear because Jonathan’s Father, King Saul, and his armies sought to kill David. While David jumped about the caves seeking to remain a step of ahead of Saul’s sword, Jonathan sought out his exhausted brother-in-the-Lord. to David and encourages his . The Scriptures recounted , “And Jonathan, Saul’s son, rose and went to David at Horesh, and strengthened his hand in God (1 Sam 23:16).” How did Jonathan encourage David?
He went to David, reminded David of his identity, and he befriend David.
To encourage others, we must go to them. When we hear that someone is fearful, when we learn that someone is struggling, and when we realize someone has experienced a trial, we should seek them out. We should not wait for them to make the first move. Those who possess the heart of Christ, go without being asked. Remember Jesus said, “For the Son of Man is come to save that which was lost.” The apostle John reaffirmed this sentiment in 1 John 4:10 writing,
In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.
God did sit in heaven waiting for us to ask for help. No, he sent his son to seek the lost while we were still at war with him. Those who love God will seek out those who hurt. When Christians get the midnight phone call, they ask if they can come visit. They go to the hospital to see their sick friend; they drop by the depressed man’s home. They go because their savior has come to them. They go to their David.
But what do we say when we go? How do we encourage others? Again, we can learn from Jonathan. He tells David,
Do not fear, for the hand of Saul my father shall not find you. You shall be king over Israel, and I shall be next to you. Saul my father also knows this (1 Sam 23:17).
Jonathan reminds David of God’s promises.
Fear is driven by misconceptions of God. We fear because we believe house fires, bad medical reports, and broken relationships reveal that God has stopped being good. We think our circumstances say more about God’s love for us than what God says about his love for us.
In Psalm 54:3, a song written during David’s flight, David laments that
For Strangers have risen against me; ruthless men seek my life; they do not set God before themselves.
He is being hunted and so he fears. David doubts that he will live and be king. He doubts the promises of God.
The solution to doubt and worry is meditation upon our identity in Christ. Jonathan tells David to remember that God has promised him the kingdom. Saul will not kill David because God is on David’s side. Even though circumstances indicate that David is more likely to die than be king, God’s word remains true. David will be king.
When we talk with the hurting, we should take the same approach. If we can alleviate pain or suffering, we should do so. But we should remember our greatest weapon against fear, depression, and anger is the promises of God. The WWII era pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer reminds us,
Our salvation is external to ourselves. I find no salvation in my life history, but only in the history of Jesus Christ.
Like Jonathan we need to tell our hurting friends that they are children of God who will reign in heaven with God. Paul reminded the fearful Thessalonians,
For God did not appoint us to suffer wrath but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ. He died for us so that, whether we are awake or asleep, we may live together with him. Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing (1 Thess. 5:9-11).
We need to tell the weak of how God saved them from their sins and how that nothing including death, sickness, and loneliness can separate them from the love of God. We need to remind them that God’s love, care, and compassion for us never falter or fail.
As Lamentations 3:21-24 says,
But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. “The Lord is my portion,” says my soul, “therefore I will hope in him.”
In Psalm 54:4a, David concludes,
Behold, God is my helper; the Lord is the upholder of my life.
David will be king because he serves a great God. You will be with God in heaven for you serve a great God. Remind the hurting of their identity in Christ.
And last, we need to reaffirm our friendship for the hurting. Jonathan reaffirmed his covenant with David in verse 18. Instead of fleeing from David, fearing that David’s bad mojo would rub off on him, Jonathan embraced David as his friend. We should do the same. We should be quick to reaffirm that sickness, tragedy, and broken relationships do not affect our love for our friends. We should affirm the faith of the hurting. We should sit next to them at church. We should reach out to them, inviting them into our homes and going to their homes when appropriate. We should befriend them.
How do we help the hurting?
We go to them. We remind them of their identity in Christ. And, we befriend them.
Are you ready for your next late night phone call?