The past two years have affected all of us in some way, shape, or form. For most of us, we’ve experienced some severe suffering. Loved ones have passed on far too early or all too sudden. Friendships have been ended all too early due to pandemic beliefs. Racial tensions are still at all-time highs, and divisions amongst political parties are way uglier than we like to admit. The last two years have left a whirlwind behind it. Names like JCPenney, Lord and Taylor, Nieman Marcus, Men’s Wearhouse, Hertz, GNC, Chuck E’ Cheeses have all filed for bankruptcy. Jobs have been lost, high school graduations, and sports seasons canceled.
If you’ve made it through the last couple of years completely unscathed, you are either an outlier or an outright liar!
On top of all of this, the church looks different. Most of our buildings are not as full. And we are still wrestling with how to do church online and the long-term ramifications of an online church. As a result, many pastors are thinking about whether they want to throw in the towel now.
Talking about it is an essential part of the healing process for those who have felt some loss, pain, or suffering. Thankfully, as we suffer, we can have some crucial 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 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.
Paul’s authority has come under question in this particular book written to the Corinthian church. To prove his authority, he goes through a list of qualifications. Chapters 11 and 12 highlights an impressive resume of suffering he has endured to follow Jesus. This proves 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 debated. But, in this verse, Jesus says these beautiful words 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 can empathize with you in your weaknesses. So no matter what you are going through, especially if you are suffering, you have a God who wants to talk to you and encourage you.
The apostle Peter, who indeed 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. He has a history of coming down into the midst of turmoil and suffering to comfort us and 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 escape entirely. And while in heaven we are promised a time of no more tears, pain, or suffering, in this world, we are not. So 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 amid your suffering?
When I look back at my suffering, I have often found that pain and suffering have been some of my best teachers. Some of the most extraordinary 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
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.”
It can be very easy to keep to ourselves when we go through suffering, but we are not meant to carry our burdens by ourselves. We live in a world pulling us more and more towards isolation, but God has wired us for a genuine Christian community.
Amazingly, even though the 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.” These ten words are the first recorded revelation of God to humanity. They highlight the importance of relationships with one another. He is declaring that as important as the relationship between man and God is, you were also made for relationships with others.
If you have been going at your suffering alone, be bold and challenge yourself to open up to a Christian friend. I highlight “Christian friend” because we often 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. So 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 me. According to Cleveland Clinic, the average human has 60,000 thoughts per day, and of those thoughts, 80% are negative. That’s one thought per second in every waking hour. 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 recorded in Psalm 43 some adversity 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 four 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.
Amid great adversity and suffering, David preached to his own soul.
Rather than focusing on your circumstances, and even if you may not “feel” God at 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 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?