How To Encourage Hurting Christians

hurtingHow 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?

Trials Don’t Excuse You From Ministry; They Demand It

lonlinessChristians tend to withdraw from church, ministry, and relationships when trials flood over the dykes of happiness that guard their hearts. They fly to their basements of isolation, believing distance from God and from others will help them float atop the waves of adversity. But instead of safety, they find ruin.

In 1 Samuel 23:1-5, David’s troops advocate for such a withdrawal. They are being hunted by the vengeful King Saul who commands an army intent upon their murder. While they hide in the mountains, news reaches David that the men of Keilah face an existential threat.

The Philistines have begun to move against the city of Keilah at the conclusion of the harvest season. The Philistines intend to steal the newly processed crops, leaving the people of Keilah with no food, no income, and no means of remedying their situation. The raid threatens financial ruin and even death. When David heard of the imminent attack, he asks God if he should rush to the aid of Keilah? God tells David to “Go and attack the Philistines and save Keilah (1 Sam 23:2).” Though God says yes, David’s men say no for they are “afraid.” They feared that saving others from the sword would expose them to the sword.

David’s men like so many Christians today believe that trials excuse them from coming to the aid of their brothers and sisters in Christ. Many believers think hardships such as new medical problem, a death in the family, or a financial crisis absolve them from their Christian responsibilities. They fear that singing in the choir will exhaust them because their new illness threatens to lower their energy level. They worry that volunteering to work in the kid’s ministry will be too much because they are still grieving the death of a loved one. They stop tithing because they fear living on one income will be hard. In short, they assume that their trials excuse their fear and sanction their withdrawal from ministry.

Yet when David goes back to the Lord to make sure he heard God correctly, God reaffirms his message, “Arise, go down to Keilah, for I will give the Philistines into your hand.” Why does God still send David? Why does tell the hunted and the abused to go help other people with their problems? God sends David and his men on a mission because God knows that evil circumstances have a divine purpose. Cancer, the death of a loved one, and the shrinking checking account down are not signs of God’s neglect. They are not mistakes. B.P. Power reminds us that,

The good God, who has sent you your sickness, is the one who has ordained that nothing shall be useless. God has made you and put you in your present position; and he meant you to be useful in it, of importance in it too.

God’s reigns over both the good times and the bad; and, the bad times have a purpose. God tells to rejoice in our trials, our sickness, and our hardships “knowing that suffering produces endurance, 4 and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, 5 and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.”

41HH4orqGPL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_Suffering crashes over the walls of our happiness because God wants us to be fully satisfied in him. Illness, grief, and hardships exist to strengthen and enrich the faith of the Christian. When their hearts are covered with the murky flood waters of suffering, Christians should seek to live out their faith with earnest and zeal. Instead of withdrawing in fear, they should go liberate the men of Keilah. They should serve in the choir, help with the kids, and visit the depressed.

Some will counter the above plea, talking of how their presence in choir will discourage the body of Christ. They fear that other believers will look at their sickness, their tears, and their poverty and conclude that God is weak, uncaring, and unloving. Paul says suffering servants have the opposite effect upon the church. The hurting who suffer inspire the spread of the gospel. Paul writes in Philippians 1:12-13:

I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel, 13 so that it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard and to all the rest that my imprisonment is for Christ.

The command to love God and to love others can be accomplished by both the blessed and the hurting. Christians should go liberate their Keilah.

Despite the evidence, hurting Christians may doubt God’s promise of victory. They fear that obedience to God will end poorly. Such fear flows naturally into the heart of the believer, because Adam fathered them all. P.B. Power warns,

As soon as Adam fell, he become suspicious of God; and all his posterity have inherited this suspicion from him…Now here is an evil, plain and well defined, against which we must fight. We must not be always be suspecting God. If he says one thing to us, we must not think he means another. We must not suppose that he is doubleminded in any of his ways.

Christians should not be doubleminded about their God. Their loving God who calls them to serve and to do hard things will give them the power to achieve victory. The Philistines will be destroyed and the men of Keilah will be saved. Obedience to God always results in victory.

My bride, April and I, have witnesses this reality over and over again in our lives. We have come to end of day exhausted by parenting, marriage, and church issues. If we had our way, we would go pull the covers over our head and be done with life for the next few hours, but we have had to press on because someone is scheduled for dinner or a ministry at church is about to begin. Every time we have pressed on, we have experienced amazing blessing and victory. The people and ministries that threatened to drain our souls enflamed our souls. The people of God reminded us of God’s faithfulness, goodness, and power. And the issues that seemed to define the day as a waste only moments before become small and insignificant by the power of God’s grace. Those who fight on in faith never lose.

When the next wave of suffering hits your hurt, will you go to Keilah?

The Face of Cancer

breast-cancer

“You look good”

I appreciate the compliment; I’m glad that the signs my disease and of the emotional turmoil within do not reach the surface of my face.

Yet those who live in close proximity to me and those who have visited our home over the last few months have seen what the pictures on social media cannot convey. My church family has also been a constant source of comfort as they walk with our family through this trial week in and week out. They have watched me barely walk into church and have observed me leave worship early because of my pain. And, they have witnessed the good days in between, learning in many ways how to judge how I am feeling. Their sensitivity and love is such a blessing.

I can’t begin to show how grateful I am for those who are praying for me (literally all over the world!). Certainly an extension of the grace of God is the undeserved friendship and care of so many. How truly blessed I am that the Lord would put it on the heart of so many to pray for me, my family and my healing.

When I was first diagnosed, I entered into a type of shock. The diagnosis still is so much to process. It has felt like learning a new language, one that I really didn’t want to learn. I had no idea that there were different types of breast cancer and very little knowledge of current treatments. All the words sounded unfamiliar. My ignorance produced fear. But one morning I remember waking up and the Lord allowing me to realize that though I may know nothing about breast cancer, I hadn’t lost all I knew about Him. Now was the time to stand firm on all I did know. That has been an anchor in my rough seas.

IMG_1621I credit my husband for orchestrating the wonderful health care I am receiving. He immediately set to researching all he could about my disease and those working in the medical field to treat it. He learned to speak the language faster than I did and still knows it better than I do. When I could have just shut down, he worked to keep us moving. Because of him I am in a research study at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN and go out for scans and tests every few months. I am being observed and learning much more about my cancer because of participating in this study. I also receive great local care through the University of Virginia’s breast cancer specialists in Charlottesville. It was here that I had my recent surgery to remove my ovaries.

I have a notebook full of medical information that I have accumulated from all my doctor visits since May. Having a serious, incurable disease also requires a lot of organization. Test results, medications, appointments and the like force me to continue to engage my new way of life. I can’t ignore or escape it.

October is breast cancer awareness month. While I understand the intent, I have tried to avoid all displays of the pink ribbon and paraphernalia. My personal battle is still so raw and fresh that I don’t want to associate with yet another reminder. Perhaps I will feel differently next year.

Many people have asked about what our children know. They know Mommy has cancer which they understand as very bad germs inside of me. Each night at bedtime, we pray for God to take Mommy’s cancer away. Our 3-year-old has volunteered to people that “Mommy has cancer in her back!”

I can’t begin to list or describe all the ways big and small that cancer has affected our little family. This is the area that brings me most often to tears and my greatest source of anguish. I pray daily and fervently for my children’s salvation. My greatest desire is to live to see them firmly established in the truth. This trial isn’t just mine, it is our whole family’s. God allowed me to have cancer. God allowed my children’s mommy is have cancer. God allowed my husband’s wife to have cancer. It is hard, painful and scary. Yet our hope remains in God. That He will bring good out of this evil.

The opposite of fear is trust. I continue to fail to trust Him and let fear overwhelm me. I have many times fallen into despair. But God has not left me.

“You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you.”

Isaiah 26:3

“God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way, though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea,”

Psalm 46:1-2

“But immediately Jesus spoke to them, saying, “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.”.. Jesus immediately reached out his hand and took hold of him, saying to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?”

Matthew 14:27, 31

How many times does the Bible tell us to trust God and not be afraid? He has never failed us. He has and always will take care of His children.

I will have more scans in a few days. I am tempted to fear and doubt. But ultimately I know that my life is in God’s Hands. I should focus on my devotion to such a good and gracious Father. He deserves my undivided heart and adoration (Psalm 86:11-12).

Like so many others with similar and yet different stories, I am the face of cancer. But more than what my face looks like, it matters where my face is looking. I must now and always turn my face in the direction of Christ. I know that when I “look full in His wonderful face, the things of earth will grow strangely dim in the light of His glory and grace.” I want to reflect back what I see in Him.

I don’t know what my scans will show next week. I hope for good news. Over the last two weeks, I have had more consecutive good days with minimal back pain than I have enjoyed since before my diagnosis six months ago. I am so thankful and pray that is a good sign of my treatment working. Yet I want my heart prepared to rest and trust in Jesus no matter what is reported.

Will you please continue to pray for me? Pray for my heart to remain steadfast while also petitioning the Great Healer for my health to be restored?