Be Sympathetic

upset black woman embracing anonymous girlfriend near group of people

There is something about sympathy that causes defensive walls to crumble. Not only does sympathy get past defenses, it is healing salve for the soul. Peter wrote, “Finally, all of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind. Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless, for to this you were called, that you may obtain a blessing” (1 Peter 3:8-9 ESV).

The word Peter uses for sympathy is only used once in the whole Bible. It literally means suffering or felling the like with someone. When we are truly sympathetic, we enter into suffering with them.

The word for tender heart means have a “good gut.” It means to have compassion well up from your bowels, where it is essentially full of meaning and heart. It is about entering into the world of suffering with another person with immense meaning. When we are unified in mind (having the same mind), enter into suffering with people and mean it from our gut, treat each other with brotherly love, and are humble, that person’s world changes.

As Christians, we need to mean it when we express sympathy for one another. This was how Jesus treated people who were desperate. He entered into their world of suffering and then ultimately suffered the pain of the cross.

Keep Watch

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As we near Easter, the celebration of Jesus’ resurrection, we focus on the events leading up to the death and burial. Jesus spent a good portion of his last days warning his disciples. He warned them of danger, of false teachers, of wars, and of getting weighed down with life and being unprepared.

Jesus expected his disciples to be prepared at all times. He spoke of thieves coming in the middle of the night, masters who closed the door and locked out the people who weren’t prepared, and the foolish virgins who weren’t prepared for the bridegroom’s coming. As he neared Jerusalem for the final time, he had a stark warning for his followers:

“But watch yourselves lest your hearts be weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and cares of this life, and that day come upon you suddenly like a trap. For it will come upon all who dwell on the face of the whole earth” (Luke 21:34-35 ESV). Jesus is clear: everyone will experience the day of reckoning. The question is not how will we avoid it, but rather how prepared will we be for it.

Notably, later when Jesus was in the garden with his disciples, he told them to get up and pray that they didn’t fall into temptation. Given the context, the only logical temptation they would face was abandonment of their Lord and eventually their faith. Troubles were very nearby, and Jesus was asking them to keep watch and be prepared. Preparedness doesn’t mean that we breeze through troubles. We know this because Jesus himself had drops of sweat that were like blood. He was completely overtaken by sorrow and pain. Yet his prayer to the father was for preparedness–your will be done.

Want to Equip Others to Serve? Teach Them About Suffering

tears on face of crop anonymous woman

I routinely hear horror stories about church leaders mistreating and, in many cases, bullying people who suffer. Ironically, suffering is something Jesus did often. He and his disciples were no strangers to suffering. In fact, Jesus told them that they would experience tremendous suffering. There was no way to sugar coat it. Jesus never promised them comfort, wealth, or health. Instead, he promised them eternal life. Suffering is something that is as sure as the sun rising in the east and setting in the west. It is guaranteed for all of us.

Yet, so many of us were ill equipped by the church to endure it. Any of us who have suffered know how lonely it is. We often lose friends and family during seasons of suffering. Ask anyone who has lost loved ones. The three-month-rule is almost guaranteed. People will appear out of the woodwork to deliver sympathy cards, calls, and meals. Then after three months its as if a switch is turned off and all those people who vowed to never leave are. . . gone. This is how suffering works. It is lonely. It is heavy. And often people ridicule those who are suffering, telling them to “hurry up and get well.” But suffering doesn’t work that way. Suffering lingers, and has lingering effects. Depression and anxiety are common. Sadness is almost guaranteed.

Isaiah said of the coming messiah, “He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not. Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted” (Isaiah 53:3-4 ESV). People do, in fact, hide their faces from those who suffer. Christ was a man of sorrows and even bore our griefs and carried our sorrows. Yet people use this same Christ to bully others into believing that he rejects Christians who suffer. Abused people are told to “forgive and move on.” Depressed people are told to “have more faith.” Sad people are told to “cheer up.”

Yet Christ suffers with us. And he equips us for ministry by calling us to suffer with and for others. The Lord, through a vision, told Ananias that Paul would suffer: “Go for he is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel. For I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name” (Acts 9:15-16).

If we are going to equip one another for works of ministry, let’s begin by preparing each other to suffer. Until we suffer, we will never fully comprehend what others are going through. Until we suffer, we will fail to have empathy for those whose lives are wrecked. On the other hand, when we suffer we see people with a different lens. Compassion guides us and we understand the loneliness they feel. We should begin by teaching our children that suffering exists. But not just that it exists, but that there is a solution. We can sit with those who suffer. We can share in their pain. We can offer them love and hope. And we can be the hands and feet of Jesus to them.

Give thanks in every circumstance

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Last week we spoke about the importance of giving thanks always-to not expect thanks, but rather to give it. Paul breaks a little in 1 Thessalonians from giving thanks always (time) to giving thanks in everything (circumstances). The difference may seem inconsequential, but it is not. Giving thanks in every circumstance is incredibly challenging when storms of life are crashing against us.

Paul says, “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 ESV). Paul, of all people, knew how difficult life could become. He was routinely beaten, stoned, arrested, and hunted by people who much preferred him to be dead. In addition to the physical harm, there were always people attempting to undermine the Gospel message, spreading lies about Paul and preaching a message counter to the saving message of God. Many people hated Paul and desperately wanted him shut down.

Imagine attempting to preach when you are constantly shouted down, chased out of cities, and hated by the very people you are attempting to save. To say it would be depressing is an understatement. It would be incredibly difficult, if not near impossible, for any of us to go on. At some point, the opposition would take its toll on us. But not only did Paul prevail, he thanked God along the way. Paul knew his blessings, and he urged the church in Thessalonica to know theirs too.

Sometimes it becomes difficult–even tedious–to offer thanks to God when we least feel like it. Some people are plagued with bad heath. Others with financial woes. Still others are grieving immeasurable loss in their lives. But God still blesses those of us who are struggling. In fact, it’s in those darkest moments when we see God emerge victorious. His will for us is to offer thanks in every circumstance. We have much to be thankful for, even when we suffer.

Character Produces Hope

Hope

With the pandemic still at large, many people continue to suffer as a result. The economy has hit people hard, illness and death have taken so much, violence is a reality for others, and on the list goes. In the process, many churches are struggling to find their identity and still others are struggling to pay their preachers and keep the lights on. My best guess is that a lot of missionaries have had their budgets slashed, or have seen financial support be completely cut.

In the middle of all this, there’s a surprising lack of one word among Christians. . . hope. Hope and Change was the campaign slogan for President Obama that allowed him to win the election, twice. People long for hope and meaningful change. Hope is what drives people into the next day and pulls many out of desperation. Hope allows us to see the good that lies ahead. It gives us a reason to make it another day, while cherishing the time we have on this earth. Romans 5:3-5 says, “Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, 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.”

Hope promises something new and better. Imagine if, instead of churches splitting right now, they focused on rejoicing in their sufferings. What if people were building character–character the produces hope. People deserve a message of hope. They need to know that there is hope in Christ. If we modeled hope for others in the midst of suffering, the light of Christ would shine much brighter.

Photo by Rosie Kerr on Unsplash

Patience In Suffering

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There’s no question that there is a lot of suffering in the world. Many are suffering from poverty, starvation, disease, and thirst. Many are feeling the pain from the recent global pandemic. We’ve been doing a series on navigating the church during COVID. We’re seeing many handle the pandemic well, and many who are not. The Bible has plenty to say about suffering, so we should turn to it for guidance when we experience it.

James says that we should be patient in suffering. In fact, he says, “Be patient, therefore, brothers, until the coming of the Lord” (James 5:7 ESV). James calls his readers to be patient and to establish their hearts. Interestingly, he pleads with them to not grumble against each other: “Do not grumble against one another, brothers, so that you may not be judged; behold, the Judge is standing at the door” (vs. 9). This is important because the stress of suffering makes it easy to lash out at those we love. James warns them that they will be judged for doing so. It’s not difficult to imagine the violence and destructive speech that can be seen during times of crisis. James is right.

He continues, “As an example of suffering and patience, brothers, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. Behold, we consider those blessed who remained steadfast” (vs. 10, 11). Yes, much patience is needed in the midst of suffering. When patience and endurance keep people steadfast. The church will survive suffering. It always has, and always will. But we must remain steadfast and remember to treat people with kindness and compassion.

Photo by Tyler Milligan on Unsplash

When Children Suffer

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Nobody knows the pain of watching a child suffer better than a mother. With Mother’s Day around the corner, it is a time to honor mothers. We never want to forget the mothers who struggle on this day. In fact, for me it’s always a special day both to honor mothers and to lament with others who find this day to be a struggle. Some mothers have lost children. Others longed for children and could not get pregnant. Still others are watching their children battle horrific diseases. Whatever the case, we lament with those who suffer.

There’s a poignant story in the Bible where Hagar is thrown out like yesterday’s trash with her son Ishmael. She was a slave of Abraham and Sarah. Sarah, in her jealousy and to the disagreement of Abraham, did not want her son Isaac to grow up with his brother Ishmael. “Get rid of that slave woman and her son!,” Sarah barked. God told Abraham to let them go. They were sent into the brutal desert, where the drinking water would soon run out.

After the water ran out, Hagar put her only son under a shade tree and left him to die. Genesis 21:16 NLT paints the grim story well: “Then she went off and sat down about a bowshot away, for she thought, ‘I cannot watch the boy die.’ And as she sat there, she began to sob.” It’s painful to even read. She knew in her heart that her son would die that day. It was too painful for her to watch. Every failure began to creep into Hagar’s mind. She was just the slave woman. She was broke. She was homeless. And now she couldn’t even provide enough water for her son to live.

God showed up that day and spared Hagar and Ishmael. But this story captures the immense pain a mother feels when she is abandoned and when her child is suffering. We need to look on others with the same compassion that God has for people who suffer. We need to extend a helping hand to those in need and lament with those who weep.

Photo by Beniamin Şinca on Unsplash