Comfort in Strange Places

I have been working on a number of projects over the last few years. Recently, I have been editing and formatting a few of them. The one I am posting today comes from November-September of last year. This last year proved to be one of the more challenging that I have faced in my young life.

During that time I gained a lot of strength and help from certain Biblical books. This meditation in particular is focused on the book of Job. I have come to dearly love and appreciate this book. These thoughts come out of thinking and wrestling with my own life and the text of Job. My desire is that it would be of help to you. Here is the link to the document: Comfort in Strange Places: Musings on the Book of Job. Your feedback is much appreciated. Thanks.

Counseling a Despairing Man

I think Scripture is loaded with great instruction for engaging with people in all seasons of life. This post focuses on engaging with a believer during a difficult season in their life.

1. Give them voice

Job 6:26 says, “Do you think you can reprove words, when the speech of a despairing man is wind?” Let the wind blow where it will. Healing comes, in part, through giving voice to the fullness of our pain. Metaphors that push the limits, passionate exaggeration, scandalous theological statements, expressions of doubt, and bold argumentation are the standard language of the man in despair. We see this in Job, Jeremiah, Moses, and the Psalmists. When we encounter a man in this place we often feel uncomfortable. Their statements alarm us. It appears to us that they are losing their grip on the truth. We are tempted to correct their statements and reprove their “unbelief.” Without knowing it we often compound the pain of the despairing man by silencing his voice. If we can understand that this type of expression is a natural and even biblical way of moving through darkness to the light it will help us walk with people in their pain. See this helpful article on the subject: John Piper- When Words Are Wind.
2. Give them time

Psalm 42 and 43 are one unified unit of Scripture. The refrain that runs through these psalms and ties them together is this expression: “why are you cast down o my soul.” It occurs three times throughout these two psalms. The first time it occurs is early on in Psalm 42. The next two occurrences come at the end of both psalms. The interesting thing about this refrain is that the Psalmist is striving to bring himself out of a place of despair. In fact, that is the point of the Psalm. He is calling himself out of the dark place he finds himself. He gives himself every reason to leave the pit and yet at the end of both Psalms he remains there. These two psalms together teach us that the journey out of despair can take time. The suffering man should not be put on our healing timetable.  As we walk with people in this place we will love them much better if we can remember this.
3. Give them grace

1 Thessalonians 5:14 says, “And we urge you, brothers, admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all.” The term translated fainthearted here is literally “little souled.” The language communicates a soul shriveled and shrunk by some kind of difficulty or suffering. Those who are crushed and small in soul need an infusion of hope and encouragement. According to Paul, patience is a must as we engage with people in this place. Impatience will only exacerbate their pain. We must take our cues from the master comforter. Recall this word about Jesus, “a bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not quench (Matt 12:20).”
 4. Trust the indwelling Spirit

Roland Allen was a missionary to China in the early 1900’s. He was also one of the foremost missions thinkers of his time. His work continues to impact missions practice to this day. One of the principles he emphasized in church planting was trust in the Holy Spirit. He believed that missionaries should place their confidence in the Spirit that indwelt new believers to lead, expand, and multiply the church. He understood the significance of the third person of the Trinity residing within a human being. He believed that the Spirit would accomplish what God promised he would in all believers. Like the apostle Paul, he was convinced of the Spirit’s faithfulness: “And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ” (Phil 1:6). I am certain that this principle can help us as we walk alongside hurting people. When we trust the Spirit in other people we can journey with them without anxiety when they are struggling and hurting.

The Trinity and Suffering

We are working through the book of 1 Peter at our church. We are currently in chapter four and discussing the issue of the Christian and suffering. I have been studying this text and have been helped in fresh ways by its perspective. Read through this passage and look specifically for the three persons of the Trinity.

12 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. 13 But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed. 14 If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you. 15 But let none of you suffer as a murderer or a thief or an evildoer or as a meddler. 16 Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in that name. 17 For it is time for judgment to begin at the household of God; and if it begins with us, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God? 18 And“If the righteous is scarcely saved,what will become of the ungodly and the sinner?” 19 Therefore let those who suffer according to God’s will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good.

Did you notice all three persons in the text. Peter is helping us see that the Trinity is intimately involved in our suffering. It is for the name of Christ that we suffer (4:14). It is the sufferings of Christ that we share (4:13). It is the Holy Spirit who rests upon us and enables us in the midst of our suffering (4:14a). It is the Spirit sent and given by the Father who causes us to persevere (4:14b). It is the will of the Father that we suffer (4:19). It is the Father who tests us in suffering (4:12). It is the faithful Father that we entrust our souls to in the midst of suffering (4:19). It is the Father we magnify through suffering (4:16). Peter is helping us understand that God is with us when we suffer for God. There is a unique sense in which we commune with the Triune God in our suffering. Through suffering we come to better know the suffering Servant, we experience more intimately the Spirit of glory, and we grow in our trust of the faithful Creator. This should be a tremendous encouragement to us in the midst of our suffering. God has not left us—-He is as close as ever! I believe the Triune presence and purpose in our suffering is what enables us to rejoice in any circumstance as we are called to in this passage.