Have you ever had a bad day? What about a bad week or month or an entire season of life? Heck, you may be reading this post right now and saying to yourself, "I honestly can't recall the last time I could consider my life, good." I get it. Believe me, I get it!
Or maybe this isn't your story, but you may know someone who has this reality and your heart breaks for them, though you just don't know how you can offer them genuine love and support.
Here's the deal: outside of Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram life is hard. And for some people, life seems absolutely unbearable. Whether it's their circumstances, afflictions, living arrangements, or even their exhaustion there are times in our lives where the hardships seem to outweigh the joy and the trials seem to cast an inescapable shadow over the triumphs. This, my friends, is the reality of life!
And yet, life is good. We've experienced it. We know it and even in our own darkest days, we are reminded that this is not as good as it gets as we remember our great Savior and the promises set before us in our future glory. The problem most people face isn't an inability to believe in something better, but rather an inability to figure out how to get beyond the sorrow or the pain of a current situation in order to live into the joy that God has given humanity in the person and work of Jesus Christ.
What people need in these moments is a friend—a true wingman—who is able help them see beyond their current circumstances. Someone who is willing to walk with them towards the intended source of joy, namely, Jesus Christ.
WE ARE NOT ALONE
I know, I know, you've heard this all before. In the midst of your trials, you’ve watched in comic-yet-tragic disbelief as your well-intentioned friends have given you the cliché response, "I'm here for you if you ever need me." And most of the time these assertions are made immediately following a moment of humble vulnerability where you just poured your heart out to them, saying (as bluntly as you could) just how lost and alone you feel and how much you need the love of an ally and a friend. And then, the awkward silence (insert cricket sounds here for fuller effect).
Bless their hearts, right? I mean let’s be real for a moment. Far too often the people we need the most are amateurs when it comes to understanding and knowing how to offer genuine support to us. We know this, of course, not simply because we've been on the receiving end of noble-yet-bungled efforts at offering help to a hurting friend, but also because we've failed others when they've come to us in their most vulnerable and helpless state. It doesn’t take too many of these occasions for us to realize just how imperfect we really are. And, if we’re willing to be honest, we must also admit that even at our very best moments we are but feeble echoes of Jesus.
But I digress. This blog post isn't primarily about calling out interpersonal shortcomings. On the contrary, this post is predominantly an appeal to look beyond these shortcomings towards something beautiful. Whether you are a person in desperate need of support or a person who desperately desires to offer genuine support to someone else, this blog post is for you.
One of the many remarkable things about the Bible is how practical so much of it actually is. Often times we overlook just how relevant most of the scriptures are to our every day lives. Yes, there have been some major changes to the world and cultures over the years, but as strange as it may seem, many of the nuances of relationships aren't that much different than they were two-thousand years ago. And for this, we can be grateful, because the Bible is a (very) practical guide to how we can love others well.
I've been working my way through Paul's letters to the churches, in my own quest to grow in my understanding and practice of true community. One thing that has captured my attention, while reading through these letters to the New Testament churches, is how intentional Paul was in expressing his love. Sometimes this was done as a way to encourage the saints, other times it was done to admonish the saints, and then sometimes it was done as a way to express his gratitude for the saints; thanking them for their relentless pursuit of the Gospel, manifested in their unwavering and steadfast love for him. All this to say, there is a lot that can be learned from Paul about how we can engage those who are hurting.
LET US CONSIDER
The author of Hebrews says, "let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works" (Hebrews 10:24-25). In both of these directives, the author is capturing what seems to be at the heart of genuine relationships; the pursuit of others. The ownership gets placed on everyone to consider how to stir each other up. Regardless what condition we find ourselves in, we are to look beyond ourselves or even our current "systems" and consider how to stir others up, in the Gospel, towards love and good works.
Using this verse as a springboard, let's take a look at one way Paul did this in his letter to the Thessalonians. One thing to keep in mind is that Paul's afflictions were real. His safety and security and even his life were at genuine risk, daily. So, while it may be natural (considering that Paul was an Apostle) for us to consider Paul to be the person seeking to love those who were hurting, in reality he was the one who was probably hurting the most.
Yet, even with the real threats that Paul faced, what seemed to trouble his soul the most was not his current circumstances or even the daily threat of bodily harm, but rather the spiritual condition of those whom he loved; the church in Thessalonica. His lens was already set beyond himself. He had very real burdens, but his biggest burden was still for the Gospel and the faith of those whom he loved.
Let's take a look at one specific passage together...
But now that Timothy has come to us from you, and has brought us the good news of your faith and love and reported that you always remember us kindly and long to see us, as we long to see you-- for this reason, brothers, in all our distress and affliction we have been comforted about you through your faith. For now we live, [as] if you are standing fast in the Lord. For what thanksgiving can we return to God for you, for all the joy that we feel for your sake before our God, as we pray most earnestly night and day that we may see you face to face and supply what is lacking in your faith? | 1 Thes. 3:6-10
A BUILT-IN COMFORTER
Did you catch what happened in the verses we just read? It was beautiful! In the midst of their affliction and distress, Paul and his ministry partners were comforted by the assurance of the Thessalonians faith. Once Timothy brought Paul word of their faith and their pursuit of the Kingdom of God, his posture turned from concern to celebration. His circumstances never changed, nor did the very real threat of martyrdom, but the news of the Gospel at work in the hearts and lives of those whom he loved, was enough to comfort him and lead him into eager and glad worship.
Never underestimate the power and impact that your faith and transformation, in Jesus, can have on others; both inside and outside the Church. It's easy for us to assume that talking about ourselves (especially when things are going well) can have a negative impact a person who is struggling to find joy. But the beauty of sharing our faith, is that it really isn't about us at all. We've all had seasons of our lives where we've struggled, and yet, as Christians we are able to look beyond our immediate circumstances at the larger story that God is telling the world, in and through us. Our hope isn't in our happiness but rather it rests firmly in the promise that God will be our all-satisfying joy, even in the midst of our struggles.
So, whether you find yourself in the midst of a turbulent season of life or whether you are trying to come alongside someone else who finds themselves there, your faith is intended to be a built-in comforter for them. "Our one comfort, both in life and death, is that we are not our own. We've been bought with the blood of Jesus and we confess that we belong to him alone". God has set Christians apart for his holy purposes and is telling the world a story, through our lives. This is an unyielding truth that is not (in any way) dependent on our circumstances. We press into Jesus, trusting that regardless of the situations or circumstances that come our way, he is (notice the present tense) using them for our good and his glory. This is why Paul could say with absolute confidence (even in the midst of his imprisonment), "it is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be at all ashamed, but that with full courage now as always Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death." | Philippians 1:20
May we never forget that our faith was never intended to be private. As we choose to live and walk in a manner worthy of our calling, may we be mindful of the eternal difference that we can make in the lives of our friends; if we were willing to share with them the hope that we have in Christ.
FOUR PRACTICAL WAYS TO WALK THIS OUT
As an aid towards application, here are four ways to consider moving from theoretical to practical:
by: Jason Allen
Jason is a pastor at RSBC. He loves seeing God's people coming together, in true community, to worship Jesus eagerly and intentionally with their every day lives. He and his wife Anna are raising their three kids and discovering new ways to grow and pursue Jesus together.