Equipped for Mission 2011: Helping People Through Suffering & Crisis with Tim Chambers

Friday, September 30, 2011

How can leaders help those in suffering and make the most of crisis? This assumes suffering and crisis are moments of risk and opportunities. They almost always include intensified temptations to sin. And therein lies the risk. Sin is the greatest problem, therefore sinning is the greatest risk in suffering. But Jesus was named such because He came to save His people from their sin.

1 Peter 1:3-7 is key here. "All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. It is by his great mercy that we have been born again, because God raised Jesus Christ from the dead. Now we live with great expectation, and we have a priceless inheritance-an inheritance that is kept in heaven for you, pure and undefiled, beyond the reach of change and decay. And through your faith, God is protecting you by his power until you receive this salvation, which is ready to be revealed on the last day for all to see. So be truly glad.* There is wonderful joy ahead, even though you have to endure many trials for a little while. These trials will show that your faith is genuine. It is being tested as fire tests and purifies gold-though your faith is far more precious than mere gold. So when your faith remains strong through many trials, it will bring you much praise and glory and honor on the day when Jesus Christ is revealed to the whole world" (NLT).

Per John Donne, "...affliction is a treasure, and scarce any man hath enough of it. No man hath afflicion enough, that is not matured and ripened by it, and made fit for God by that affliction. If a man carry treasure in bullion or in a wedge of gold, and have none coined into current moneys, his treasure will not defray him as he travels. Tribulation is treasure in the nature of it, but it is not current money in the use of it, except we get nearer and nearer our home, heaven, by it. Another may be sick too, and sick to death, and this affliction may lie in his bowels, as gold in a mine, and be of no use to him; but this bell that tells me of his affliction, digs out, and applies that gold to me: if by this consideration of another's danger, I take mine own into contemplation, and so secure myself, by making my recourse to my God, who is our only security" (The Works of John Donne, Vol. 3).

The key here is to coin money that can be used from the bullion of tribulation and suffering. This is to make use of it. Individuals suffer crisis. Churches suffer crisis. Nations suffer crisis. Suffering will always abound, and God will help His people break through by making use of it.

Christianity Today surveyed church leaders regarding the type of crises that were the most demanding on their time: domestic violence, family abuse, suicide, homosexuality ina family, death of child, issues involving drug abuse, divorce, adultery, sexual misconduct, death of spouse, catastrophic death or illness. The one they said was most taxing was congregational conflict. Natural disasters, loss of home, loss of employment, victimization in a crime and more all provide significant opportunities for risk...but also for breakthrough.

1. Things to do in advance of the crisis: Teach truth pre-emptively. The best time to learn to swim is before you find yourself on a sinking ship. The best time ot make these truths your own is in advance of suffering and crisis. Following are the truths you really must get.

a. Faith in God. It is good to know Scripture on the following two truths...chapter, verse, stories, etc. in order to ensure that our faith is rooted in something concrete.

i. We've got to believe in God's goodness. We have to believe He is loving, attentive to us, and kind. You must know the gospel to know God's goodness. If we get Jesus and His righteousness, then this is like receiving 10 million dollars. When times of sickness and suffering come, asking for healing is like asking for 10 dollars. The two are so significantly different, that having the first far outweighs the second.

ii. We have to believe in His sovereign power. Nothing is outside of His power and control. You can believe in the gospel and know God's goodness, but it is conceivable that one can know the sovereignty and power and control of God separate from the gospel. However, the gospel adds meaning and interpretation of that sovereignty.

b. Good theology of suffering and death.

First, know that God doesn't always give us answers. He is not described as the God of all answers, but He is described as the God of all comfort. Job is a great example of this. God's response to Job's suffering is to describe Himself, not Job'e suffering.

Second, be settled about eternity. Short-term thinking always compounds trouble. Life is longer than today. We must look way out over the horizon into eternity to see our suffering and death in light of God's reality.

Third, the message in disaster and suffering is not to point out what sin or patterns of sin we have committed to deserve this. But rather, Jesus' teaching in Luke 13 was simply that unless we repent, we're all gonna die.

Fourth, remember that everything is broken. Nature is broken. People are broken. Marriages are broken. Nothing behaves as it was originally designed. That's why we pray, "Let your kingdom come and your will be done on earth as it is in heaven." That's why Paul prayed in Romans 8 that we yearn for the day when our bodies and the creation around us will be redeemed when Jesus returns. God placed the earth under a curse at the Fall. He did the right thing. And it is what it is. This is a particularly significant issue which we need to delve into further.

i. Romans 1:18-21.

The key thing here is that the wrath of God is being revealed from heaven. This present tense usage is important because God wants us to know that He is actively expressing His unhappiness with the earth and the people in it. What's He unhappy about? He's unhappy about all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men. The human race doesn't recognize Him, honor Him, worship Him, imitate Him. What's more, they are treacherous, idolatrious, and murderous.

But how can they avoid all of this if they don't know about God and the truth? Paul says that they could know more than they do now, and that they actually do know more than they are being honest with. Instead, they are purposefully and wilfully ignorant. When a person is planning on being offensive to God, they suppress what truth they do know. Further, God also says that there are some things that are plain about Him...evident enough to leave each person without excuse. They may not know everything, but they know enough. If these truths ARE recognized, then they ought to worship Him, honor Him, and obey Him.

People and creation have become futile because of the rebellion.

ii. Romans 8:18-25.

This futility is actually a part of God's purpose. God subjected the earth and humanity TO futility, according to verse 20. Suffering and crises and tribulation bring our minds and hearts back to the reality of sin and its presence among us. While my personal sin may not have caused a particular tribulation or crisis, I, along with everyone else, am complicit in the sin of the human race which DID cause it.

c. Be present with others in suffering and crisis. Never underestimate the power of standing side by side with someone who's suffering. Parents know this, as they see the power of calming a crying child simply by going and standing next to the crib of a crying baby. There's something about this that still rings true today of us. We are internally crying, insecure, and need reaffirmation. We need friendship, fellowship and community.

d. Receive the compassion of Jesus Himself. It's amazing to read in the gospels about the compassion and tenderheartedness of Jesus. Leaders must know that if they want to be involved in the healing of others, they must first identify with the suffering like Jesus did. Be prepared to feel what Jesus felt. This isn't something we can manufacture, but it is something we can ask Jesus to give us. We can ask Him to help us see this the way He sees it and feel it the way He feels it. Jesus is a REAL person who CAN actually minister to us in our suffering, because He Himself suffered.

e. Listen and Learn. If they are inclined to talk, you are serving them well by listening well. Eventually, there's a time to ask questions, to draw them out appropriately. Mark 9:21 gives us a great illustration from the life of Jesus. The son of a grieving father comes to Jesus' disciples asking for healing, but they are unable to. Jesus asks the father, "how long has this been happening?" Why did Jesus ask this? He asked because he wanted to hear the guy...because the guy needed to talk. He already knew the answer. But He also knew the father needed to unburden himself.

When it comes to learning, we must watch and pay attention closely to people's responses, behavior habits, thought patterns, etc. All of these things and more are common symptoms of stress and crisis. Headaches, nausea, sleeplessness, depression, fatigue, reduced ability to think, disorganization, etc. All of these things affect how you are able to help.

Humans experience therapy from story telling. This is crucial in healing. People need to talk about it, though some will not want to. Realize that there is objective information about the crisis itself. This is different though from the subjective perspective, which is affected by all sorts of other factors other than the accident. What happened before the crisis? What were relationships like? How was the person doing? Etc. Also, asking what pre-existing strengths and weaknesses the person brings into the crisis is also helpful. What kind of resources do they bring? What baggage do they bring?

f. Let people be weak. God tells us to be tender toward the weak. People who are despairing don't need a lecture. Gently feed help into the conversation. Have grace, and let people be weak. Most of the times, they'll snap out of it when given some space. If you've seen someone go through something horrific, and you've never seen them despairing or weak, that means you're probably not close enough to them. No one maintains perfect attitudes all the way through.

Job 6:14: "a despairing man should have the devotion of his friends, even though he forsake the Almighty."

We must have faith for one another in moments of weak faith. We should tell them that. An honest assessment of the Psalms will prove to us that people are in fact weak...even the godliest of people. Feelings of being forsaken, groaning, crying out, etc. are all completely normal, even for godly people! Eventually, the faith implanted in us will come through and strengthen us once again. Don't go to pieces when people get angry or despair.

g. Pray with them. Pray in faith, intending to impart faith. Always, always, ALWAYS, give thanks and praise God. Frontload our prayer with worshiping God, praising, giving thanks, worshiping, etc. This is particularly helpful when dealing with suffering people.

h. Look for gifts of the Spirit. 1 Corinthians 12 teach us that the gifts are given to comfort us.

This especially includes prophecy, which according to 1 Corinthians 14:3, is given for the purpose of encouragement, comfort, and strengthening. That said, be wary of prophecies about healing. This provides false hope for a person for whom eventual depression could set in when it doesn't come to pass. Pray for healing, but don't prophesy healing. Protect people from that as a leader. Definitely look for healing from God. This too is a precious gift of the Spirit. He desires to do us good, regardless of the outcome, though.

The gift of faith is another great level of gifting to have in time of suffering. Paul believed that he had a higher level of confidence in God that was contagious and imparted strength to others. Pray asking God to make YOU that kind of person.

Words of knowledge are extremely helpful. They bring things to the surface and reveal what God wants to deal with.

i. Serve small bites. People in crisis usually have a diminished capacity to listen and take in things.

j. Do what we can practically to help others. Luke 10, where the story of the "Good Samaritan" is found, is important here. The Samaritan had compassion, the text says. He used his own money and resources to take care of the man. Compassion should always result in practical acts of help. James 2 speaks the same language. Seeing someone in need must result in helping them.

There is a balance to achieve between helping others and seeing them help themselves. But helping them in the crisis is a means of taking their minds off it and practically helping them. Good pastoral administration can help in matters like these. Appointing an advocate to help during these times are also recommended. That person, pastor or not, can be good at finding out at what is really helpful and bringing good administration to our service.

Tim is a member of Christ’s Church, a reproducing church in Joplin, Missouri. He leads the eldership team, teaches the church, and invests in leaders. Tim married well. He and Mary have seven children.

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