Episode 48: How Can We Best Comfort the Suffering and Brokenhearted? (Part 1) #DontBeAMiserableComforter

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Happy Monday, friends! I want to open with a shoutout to Willem Dykstra of Minnesota, who left an encouraging iTunes review, “Excellent podcast and edifying for anyone that seeks to be in God’s Word daily. Also entertaining Chase could be an actor in movie or stage or at least a voice actor” Thank you, Mr. Dykstra!

Today’s Bible readings include Genesis 50, a chapter that spans a long chronological period and sees the burial of Jacob, Joseph forgiving his brothers who sold him into slavery, and the death of Joseph himself. Luke 3 is all about John The Baptist’s ministry, his baptism of Jesus, and his ultimate arrest for daring to call out a political leader for sinful behavior. In 1 Corinthians 4, the apostle Paul discusses humility, and delivers this powerful line, “The Kingdom of God is not a matter of talk, but of power.” Our focus passage today is in Job 16. and is based on Job’s deeply painful lamentation that his friends are ‘miserable comforters,’ rather than encouragers:

You are all miserable comforters.
3 Is there no end to your empty words?
What provokes you that you continue testifying?
4 If you were in my place I could also talk like you.
I could string words together against you
and shake my head at you.
5 Instead, I would encourage you with my mouth,
and the consolation from my lips would bring relief.

Job 16:2-5

“Grief is a very lonely experience. You know, even if all your friends are there for you in the best way possible — your spouse is there for you, all of those things — the essence of grief is a deep, pervasive loneliness. And it means so much for people around us to overcome the awkwardness — and maybe even the desire and fears that I’ll say the wrong thing — to say something. Honestly, the most painful thing is when you’ve had a loss and someone around you—because of the awkwardness — never acknowledges it. That’s what hurts the most. Because what it says to you is that person you love who died doesn’t even really merit a mention. And that’s devastating….But for many of us, when you’re carrying this huge load of sorrow and you look up, and you see someone who is shedding tears — that they are so identifying with your loss that they are in a sense carrying some of the load of sorrow for you — that’s an incredible gift to give to someone who’s grieving.” 

https://www.desiringgod.org/articles/what-do-we-say-to-grieving-people “What Do We Say to Grieving People?”
Poor Job!

Our question of the day is all about how we can help, encourage and comfort those who are going through difficult times. Part of what I’m sharing below is from my first book, Unshackled: Facing Suffering With the Real Jesus (and Not the Shack, or Pop-Culture Christianity.) Yes, that is the real title of the book, and yes it is way too long of a title. Like I said, it was my first book, but William Shakespeare said it was the best book ever written in the English language. Or maybe he didn’t, I’ve heard it both ways.

Suffering is difficult to go through. I imagine I’ve just blown your mind with that profound statement. But it might be good for us to acknowledge how hard suffering is – especially suffering that stretches on for days and weeks and months. When we suffer, we long to feel better. When our friends suffer, we want to help them, and that is a good thing, obviously, if that desire to help our friends comes from a loving concern for their well-being. Far too often, I have seen Christians make a bad situation worse by poorly chosen words or empty “greeting card” style sentiments. The fact is that when our friends and family suffers, we suffer…and we don’t want to suffer, so sometimes – selfishly – we want our friends and family to stop suffering so that WE will feel better. And that leads us to say dumb things like, ‘cheer up,’ or ‘wipe that frown off your face,’ or, ‘God needed a new angel in Heaven,’ or some dreck like that. Sometimes we fail to be good comforters because we simply want those suffering around us to stop suffering, because they are harshing our mellow. Other times, we are like Job’s friends, and we fail to properly comfort people because we make false assumptions, make arrogant statements, or just plain say dumb and inaccurate things. Let’s read Job 16 now, and see how our friends can be impacted when we are ‘miserable comforters,’ instead of healing helpers.

Romans 12:15 is one of the most powerful, profound and short verses in the Bible on real friendship and ministry to people in general.

Rejoice with those who rejoice; weep with those who weep.

Romans 12:15

I was recently in a position of suffering, and was profoundly helped by friends and brothers and sisters in Christ. As I mentioned a few days ago, I spent a night in the hospital last week. I thought it was a big deal, but it ended up being tachycardia brought on by some medication I take to treat my relatively mild asthma. At one point, however, I thought I was having a heart attack. (I wasn’t!) and my wife was visiting friends and family back in our home state of Alabama 2,200 miles away. I was in a pretty anxious state, and my wife didn’t know how to help. So – she made what ended up being a very wise and helpful decision. She called our friend and church member Kevin Low and told him what was going on. A short while later, Kevin was at the hospital, and he stayed with me for hours. Literally. I encouraged him to go home several times as it got later and later, but he stayed with me until well after 1 AM, when I was good and settled in a room.

I’ll never forget that act of kindness. It’s not so much that Kevin knew exactly the right things to say (though he did a very good job of that!) but it was his presence that made the difference. Other friends came too, and I am grateful for their ministry. None of them were pastors, and none of them were professional-hospital-visitors, but they all did a wonderful job of communicating God’s love and grace to me by their mere presence. We sometimes don’t help people who are suffering because we don’t know the precise words to say, but generally speaking, its not about that at all. When somebody is going through a crisis – it is not your WORDS of wisdom that they need, but your PRESENCE and your LOVE expressed in obvious ACTION. The book of Job is very, VERY clear that we aren’t always going to understand our suffering and the reasons behind it. It is also very, VERY clear that trying to explain the reasons for something that ONLY God understands is folly, and likely to earn the wrath of God and increase the misery of your friends. If you don’t know the right things to say, just stand in the right place. (Nearby!)

Recently, my wife and I went to the funeral of one of our dear friend’s sisters. She died suddenly, and her mother, Mrs. Martin, was left to bury her daughter – something that often happens in this cruel world, but should never, ever happen. Mrs. Martin is a Godly, vibrant and joyful woman who has hundreds of friends through the church that she has been a member of for almost 30 years. The visitation for the funeral was quite crowded, and Mrs. Martin – though herself suffering the loss of her youngest daughter – was kindly ministering to everybody that had come to see her. She was hugging them all and smiling at them – deeply grieving inside, but not so much on the surface. I watched as one of her friends walked up to her; one more mourner in an extremely long line of friends. This friend was a tall woman that seemed a bit awkward. She said nothing, but simply leaned over and hugged Mrs. Martin and cried – not gentle and appropriate tears, and not loud and attention grabbing tears…but deep, heartfelt tears that came from a genuine place of mourning. The two ladies just hugged and cried for quite some time – no words were said. As the taller lady walked away, she noticed one of her friends in the line, and looked at her friend and simply said, “I didn’t know what to say, so I just cried.” Though there is no way to know for sure, I believe that this lady – out of hundreds of people that came to the funeral that day to comfort Mrs. Martin – was probably one of the most comforting by far. No words were exchanged – but it was obvious to an outside observer how much it meant to Mrs. Martin to have somebody actually weep with her.

This will be a topic that we will explore tomorrow, and maybe the day after that – the call to comfort the suffering is important enough to warrant a few days of focus for us, especially as we behold the day by day botched job of Job’s friends in that department. I’ll close with an encouragement from one of my heroes of the faith, George Muller:

When sometimes all has been dark, exceedingly dark, with reference to my service among the saints, judging from natural appearances; yea, when I should have been overwhelmed indeed in grief and despair, had I looked at things after the outward appearance; at such times I have sought to encourage myself in God, by laying hold in faith on His mighty power, His unchangeable love, and His infinite wisdom, and I have said to myself: God is able and willing to deliver me, if it be good for me; for it is written: “He that spared not His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things? Romans 8:32.” 


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