A bit of understanding can help touch an under-served group to expand the reach of your church
Every group of people in your community is worthy of a presentation of the gospel. Here’s how to understand one group that your evangelism teams might not have considered. | by Todd Lollar
Human beings will do almost anything to avoid having to suffer or witness suffering. It makes us uncomfortable to confront suffering in others so we tend to protect ourselves from it. We set up the right precautions. We execute protection plans. Anything to avoid suffering.
But what about those who are suffering all around us? Can we approach them with love and hope? Here are the top three secrets to understanding suffering:
You cannot avoid suffering.
Did you see that coming? Or is this a surprise? Are you shocked each time you suffer? Do you feel like you didn’t deserve it?
Or, do you sometimes look at a person who is suffering and hear your inner pharisee whisper, “It’s their own fault.” Remember, even the followers of Christ asked about the blind man, “Who sinned, him or his parents?”
The truth is we cannot avoid suffering. It’s not hard for me to prove that fact. Here goes: I was born.
To be exact, I was born with cerebral palsy. All my life I’ve rolled around in a wheelchair and talked with a speech impediment. There is nothing I can do to avoid this.
I spent most of my early years attempting to avoid the elephant in the room and pretend like my cerebral palsy didn’t exist. Pretending like suffering doesn’t exist always worsens the suffering. Why? Because then we have to find a way to cope with the suffering. We often escape to gambling, relationships, alcohol, junk food, sex, and the list goes on. The proof is in the revenue made in these industries that capitalize on human suffering.
It took years for me to catch on that my suffering existed and that, apart from a miracle, always would. And even more years passed before I learned to embrace it. When I did, God catapulted me into a ministry that has taken me around the world to help fellow sufferers which, if we’re being truthful, is everyone.
The first step to understand is suffering is inevitable. The Bible states: “You have to suffer various kinds of trials for a little while” (1 Peter 1:6 ISV).
Go through the suffering with Jesus
True freedom is found when we stop dealing with suffering in our own ways and start suffering with Jesus. The Apostle Paul beautifully illustrates this through these words while in prison: “For you have been given not only the privilege of trusting in Christ but also the privilege of suffering for him” (Philippians 1:29 NLT).
For a long time, with friends all around me, I experienced deep loneliness. I preferred talking with people about my suffering rather than talking and experiencing my suffering with the all-powerful creator of the universe.
“For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses. Instead, we have one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet he never sinned” (Hebrews 4:15 ISV).
When I started being with the Friend who sympathizes more than any other, when I started talking with Him intimately about my suffering and being transparent and vulnerable with Him in my suffering, it was then that Jesus, the Wounded Healer, began to free me and heal me.1
“He personally carried our sins in his body on the cross so that we can be dead to sin and live for what is right. By his wounds you are healed” (1 Peter 2:24 NLT).
Experience the victory of the resurrection
Suffering with Jesus allows us to experience true hope and victory. One of the themes of my life is found in this Scripture:
“Although he was crucified in weakness, he now lives by the power of God. We, too, are weak, just as Christ was, but when we deal with you we will be alive with him and will have God’s power” (2 Corinthians 13:4 NLT).
Seeking Jesus deeply about my cerebral palsy led me to this life-changing truth: “But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.ʼ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me” (2 Corinthians12:9 NIV).
One day as I read that passage during a daily quiet time, I caught it. I immediately praised Jesus and thanked Him for the opportunity to experience suffering. Because now, what the world views as suffering is my victory and strength through the power of the resurrection. My life is a victory and a blessing, not despite my cerebral palsy but because of Godʼs power through the disability.
How can you help the suffering people of your community feel welcome and embraced in your church family?
First, recognize that none of us can avoid suffering. Rein in all thoughts that there is wrong-doing or “not enough faith” or “giving up” involved and just love the person who suffers in the midst of their suffering.
Second, help that person grab hold of Jesus as never before. Provide them with a deep-dive discipleship just as you would any healthy, less-suffering person who attends a Bible study or home group.
Third, experience the victory of the resurrection even in that person’s suffering. Celebrate Christ in that person’s life. Love Jesus for loving the people who suffer.
I want to add a fourth point to this “what you can do” part. That is, I encourage you to take some time to reflect on your own type of suffering. What or who do you go to in your pain? Do you take all your pain to Jesus? I’m a minister and hang out with ministers and I realize we all suffer. Jesus understands that.
1 “The Wounded Healer” is a term coined by Henri Nouwen