After our Desiring God event last Friday evening, a woman who has experienced much suffering in her own life asked for prayer for a friend who is experiencing a terrible degenerative disease. Her friend had some struggles familiar to me: how could God do this to a Christian? She later emailed me asking for things she could say to her friend.
Those feel like really dangerous moments. I’m no counselor. I know several good Christian men who are counselors, and I’m not them! And while we’ve experienced suffering of various kinds in our family, including a life-threatening disease, that doesn’t mean our experiences are the same. What to do?
God drew me to his word and I put this together in an email:
- She has already passed from death to life: Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life. (John 5:24 ESV)
- Suffering is common for the Christian: Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed. (1 Peter 4:12-13 ESV)
- Jesus is greater than the suffering and troubles we will experience: “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33 ESV)
- We are intimately known by God. We have not been abandoned when (not if) we walk through troubles in this life: But now thus says the LORD, he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel: “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you.” (Isaiah 43:2 ESV)
- Jesus suffered greatly; we are called to look to him! But he didn’t just tough it out; he was guided by joy: Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. (Hebrews 12:1-2 ESV)
- These things have purpose in her life, your life, your husband’s life, my life – God knows what he is doing: For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. (Jeremiah 29:11 ESV)
- Nothing can separate us from God: For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:38-39 ESV)
- God wants us to be happy – in him rather than anything else: You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore. (Psalm 16:11 ESV)
- We can be free, but only in Jesus. There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. (Romans 8:1-2 ESV)
- All suffering has a glorious purpose. Paul, who suffered greatly with physical afflictions and hardships, saw his suffering in light of eternity: So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day.For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal. (2 Corinthians 4:16-18 ESV)
- He also pointed to it in Romans: For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. (Romans 8:18 ESV)
- Paul pleaded to have his suffering (thorn in the flesh) removed. God had a greater thing in mind for Paul – more of God! But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Corinthians 12:9-10 ESV)
Then I prayed that God would use it to help.
I have no idea how the above list was received; I’m not even sure why I included those particular verses. But I know that I was happy to send it, and far more confident that it might have some long-term usefulness than anything else I had to offer.
Sometimes the experiences that God has given us are useful in making much of him and connecting in positive ways with other suffering people.
God’s word, even when it is rejected, is always useful. As one who used to reject it until God crushed my rebellion, I can say with assurance that this is true:
“For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven
and do not return there but water the earth,
making it bring forth and sprout,
giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater,
so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth;
it shall not return to me empty,
but it shall accomplish that which I purpose,
and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.”
(Isaiah 55:10-11 ESV)