Jesus’ words are clear: “in this world you will have trouble” (John 16:33). We are never deceived by God concerning the suffering that exists in this world. It has been said, though, that often it is harder to watch those we love struggle than it is to suffer ourselves.
Often we find that when our friends break down, we don’t know how to help. Graciously, our Lord understands the pain of watching loved ones struggle. The Bible gives us several suggestions for responding to the suffering we witness around us in a loving, Godly way.
1. “Weep with those who weep” (Romans 12:15 NLT)
When Lazarus died and his sisters mourned, Jesus wept. Standing with His friends, mourning their shared loss, Jesus knew that He was going to raise Lazarus from the dead. He knew His friend wouldn’t be in the ground forever. Yet Jesus, fully man and fully God, grieved (John 11).
So often our first reaction when we witness pain is to want it to end immediately. Rather than experience natural emotions, which God Himself created and experiences, we want to skip to what we’re comfortable with. Yet, as the passage in Romans 12 states, we are to weep with those weep.
Like Jesus, even as we know that God has a sovereign plan to work all things for good, we sometimes need to wait on the “fix”. We are, instead, to experience sorrow and other emotions alongside others. There is a time for all things, as Ecclesiastes 3 says, including feeling what is only natural to feel.
2. “Stay here and keep watch” (Matthew 26:38 NIV)
As the time of His death approached, Jesus withdrew to the garden of Gethsemane, bringing with him three friends. He told these three disciples to “stay here and keep watch”. Although the disciples fell asleep and failed to do as Jesus asked, we learn much about what the Lord values in this passage.
At such an emotional time (Jesus sweat blood in anguish) Jesus desired to have loved ones nearby. They were simply to keep watch, waiting while He prayed and wrestled with the Lord.
The Greek word for “keep watch,” which is transliterated “grégoreó,” literally means “stay awake”. Jesus just wanted His friends to be awake with Him in the difficult hour. Many of us have friends whose troubles have them spending sleepless nights and lonesome days wrestling with God and crying out to Him.
What a simple task it is to simply be there, and be aware. The disciples weren’t asked to intervene or intercede. They couldn’t possibly know all the turmoil in Jesus’ soul. But they could stay near.
3. “Comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God” (2 Corinthians 1:4 NIV)
There comes a time for comfort when we suffer. Just as much as we need to share each other’s burdens, we also must build each other in hope. Paul alludes to our hope –our comfort- in 2 Corinthians 1. He explains that through the experiences that we cannot bear ourselves, we learn to rely on God. And our God is our deliverer. Our comfort and our hope, shared in all circumstances, is received from God.
No word that we can come up with is as comforting as the truth of the Lord. Suggestions that everything will be okay, or that it will get better in time, are words spoken without full assurance. Plenty of things aren’t okay and don’t get better in this world. Yet we have comfort to offer, and that is what (who) God gives us: His only son.
In times of trouble, our hope is secure. Our God is unchanging. Jesus saves us. Nothing can separate us from His love. He works all things together for good according to His purposes. He is perfect. Christ is sufficient, His power made perfect in our weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9). This is the comfort we receive, and this is the best comfort we can give.