2020 has affected all of us in some way, shape, or form, and for most of us, we’ve experienced some serious suffering. Loved ones have passed on far too early or all too sudden. Racial tensions are at all-time highs and divisions amongst political parties are only beginning to ramp up. Names like JCPenney, Lord and Taylor, Nieman Marcus, Men’s Wearhouse, Hertz, GNC, and Chuck E’ Cheeses have all filed for bankruptcy. Jobs have been lost, high school graduations and sports seasons have been, and are still, being cancelled.
If you’ve made it through 2020 completely unscathed, you are either an outlier or an outright liar!
For those of us who have felt some loss, pain, or suffering, talking about it is an important part of the healing process. Thankfully, as we suffer, we can have some important conversations. I see three different conversations in the Bible, and the first is the most important.
- Talk to Jesus
Because I wrote a book called Red Letter Challenge I’m now known as the “Red Letter Pastor.” The red letters are in reference to the words of Jesus, which are largely laid out in the 4 Gospels of the New Testament: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. However, deeper in your New Testament, there are just a few places where we see more red letters of Jesus.
One of those places is 2 Corinthians 12:9, which we’ll look at in just a moment. But first, let’s understand the context.
In this particular book written to the Corinthian church, Paul’s authority has come under question. To prove his authority, he goes through a list of qualifications. In Chapters 11 and 12, he highlights an impressive resume of suffering he has endured in order to follow Jesus. This proves to us that following Jesus does not equal escaping suffering in this world. And many times, it may be because we are following Jesus that we are suffering.
After listing his resume of suffering, Paul then turns his attention to a conversation he had with Jesus. Whether this happened on this earth or through an out of body experience or a dream is up for debate, but read these words Jesus says to Paul: “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Not only do I love the specific words that Jesus gives to Paul here, but for our purposes today, I love the fact that in the midst of long-suffering, Jesus talks to Paul. We have a God who cares deeply for us and will enter into our stories of suffering with us.
Remember that one of the names of Jesus is “The Suffering Servant.” He knows what you are going through and is able to empathize with you in your weaknesses. No matter what you are going through, and especially if you are suffering, you have a God who wants to talk to you and encourage you.
The apostle Peter, who certainly relied on Jesus in his times of struggle offers us this powerful advice in 1 Peter 5:7: “Cast all your cares on Him, because He cares for you.”
God promises He will never leave you or forsake you. Just because you are going through hard times doesn’t mean that our God isn’t with you. In fact, He has a history of coming down into the midst of turmoil and suffering to not only comfort us, but to also rescue us.
The problem is when his rescue schedule or plans don’t match ours. As human beings, we tend to rush through suffering as quickly as possible, as if it is something to entirely escape. And while in heaven we are promised a land of no more tears, pain, or suffering, in this world we are not. Rather than rushing through it, embrace the moment to lean into relationship with God. What is God trying to teach you through your suffering? Can you learn anything about the character of our God in the midst of your suffering?
Often times when I look back at my suffering, I have found that pain and suffering have been some of my best teachers. Some of the greatest things that have been against me in retrospect have been some of the best revelations of God that I’ve experienced.
- Talk to a Christian friend
The burdens that we face in this world weren’t meant to be carried by yourself. God set up the church to be filled with brothers and sisters who would care for one another, love one another, and be kind to one another.
Galatians 6:2 says, “Carry one another’s burdens; in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.”
When we go through suffering, it can be very easy to keep to ourselves but you are not meant to carry your burdens by yourself. We are living in a world that is pulling us more and more towards isolation but God has wired us for real Christian community.
Amazingly, even though relationship between man and God was perfect in the garden, when God saw Adam, He said, “It is not good for the man to be alone.” This is the first recorded revelation of God to mankind and highlights the importance of relationship with one another. He is declaring that as important as relationship between man and God is, that you were also made for relationship with others.
If you have been going at your suffering alone, be bold and challenge yourself to open up to a Christian friend. I do highlight “Christian friend” because often times when we go through suffering we have to be careful who we are talking to and getting our counsel from. Bad theology and advice abound in particular when dealing with suffering. It’s important to confide in someone who is strong in their relationship with God.
- Talk to yourself
The harshest and rudest comments about myself often come from myself. According to Cleveland Clinic, the average human has 60,000 thoughts per day, and of those thoughts 80% are negative. That’s a lot of negativity shouting at you every day.
It doesn’t have to be that way!
King David in the Old Testament was not immune to suffering. As he was following God, he records in Psalm 43 some adversity in which he faced. Many enemies were trying to overthrow him, and he even felt like God had abandoned him. But after reflecting on all of this in the first 4 verses, he decided to take a different posture and a new conversation in verse 5.
Look at this:
Why, my soul, are you downcast?
Why so disturbed within me?
Put your hope in God,
for I will yet praise him,
my Savior and my God.
David, in the midst of great adversity and suffering preached to his own soul.
Rather than focusing on your circumstances, and even if you may not “feel” God in the moment, it’s important to remind and preach to your own soul the promises of God.
Suffering is hard. But it’s also an opportunity.
It’s an opportunity to talk to Jesus and come near to Him. God will reveal Himself to you.
It’s an opportunity to come near to a Christian friend and establish and grow in a real relationship with someone else.
And it’s an opportunity to speak truth to your very own soul.
Which of the three do you need to talk to today?
One resource that can really help in a time of suffering and grief is a brand-new book by Sharon Zehnder. This book will give many words of encouragement from God to help you in your time of trouble that will ultimately bring you to a place of healing. To see more, click here.