3 Lies To Combat in Suffering and Anxiety

Note: All content on this website is for informational and educational purposes only and does not constitute or replace medical advice. Consult a professional in your area of need before making decisions about your mental health.

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Suffering is often a breeding ground for temptation. Weakened by pain and disoriented by anxiety, we are uniquely vulnerable to believing Satan’s lies.

C.S. Lewis observed, “There is nothing like suspense and anxiety for barricading a human’s mind against [God].” The Devil loves to leverage our pains and fears to try to twist our view of Christ and his heart toward us.

One of the most reorienting stories for sufferers is Luke’s account of the bleeding woman and the dying daughter (Luke 8:40–56), which you can read here. At the intersection of two tragedies, we find Jesus—whose actions reveal his heart and our hope in suffering. This story also helps us identify and combat common lies we are tempted to believe in pain and anxiety. Consider three:

When Jesus asked who touched his garment, the bleeding woman—likely outcasted due to ritual uncleanness—“came [to Jesus] trembling” (v. 47). Undoubtedly, fighting through a crowd to touch Jesus was scary enough. Now, Jesus wanted her to identify herself in front of everyone—a fearful thought. Yet she still answered Jesus’ call, even while trembling.

How did Jesus respond to her trembling faith? He doesn’t say, “How dare you tremble? You should never feel fear while doing scary things or taking a step of faith!” Instead, Jesus says, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace” (v. 48).

Jesus doesn’t condemn her trembling faith; he commends her trembling faith. His response reminds us that true faith isn’t the absence of fear. True faith is trusting God and following his calling amid our fears. It is not the absence of fear but the presence of faith which God commends.

After Jesus delays his journey to Jairus’ house to care for the bleeding woman, a messenger arrives and says to Jairus, “Your daughter is dead; do not trouble the Teacher anymore” (v. 49). The verb has negative undertones and could be translated as “bother” (NIV), “annoy,” or “harass.”

In seasons of suffering, we can be tempted to think our brokenness and neediness annoy Jesus. We picture Jesus with a bothered expression, saying,

  • “You’re anxious again? Over this? How many times do I have to tell you to stop worrying?”
  • “Do you actually have the nerve to ask me for help after all the sinning you’ve been doing?”
  • “Will you quit crying? You should be done grieving by now.”

We think of Jesus as exhausted by our ongoing weaknesses and pleas for help. We see him with hair-trigger anger and reluctant compassion. But notice how Jesus responds to Jairus’ desperation: “Do not fear; only believe, and she will be well” (v. 50).

Even before Jesus heals Jairus’ daughter, he comforts Jairus’ heart. This moment gives every suffering believer a window into Christ’s heart. Jesus’ knee-jerk reaction toward anxious and hurting believers is not condemnation but compassion. Not anger but affection. I love Dane Ortlund’s observation:

“The Old Testament speaks of God being ‘provoked to anger’ by his people dozens of times … But not once are we told that God is ‘provoked to love’ or ‘provoked to mercy.’ His anger requires provocation; his mercy is pent up, … ready to burst forth at the slightest prick.”

Ritual uncleanness is one of the most important connections between the sick characters in this story. If anyone contacted a bleeding woman or dead body, that person would’ve himself become unclean.

Most would’ve avoided these individuals. Yet Jesus draws near. He heals the bleeding woman and calls her “daughter”—an endearing title for someone used to scowls and disgusted looks. But even more poignant is how Jesus treats the deceased daughter: “Taking her by the hand he called, saying, ‘Child, arise’” (v. 54).

Jesus could’ve healed the girl from miles away (cf. John 4:46–54). He could’ve stood outside Jairus’ home and shouted, “You, in there—rise!” He could’ve entered the room with a hazmat suit and healed her without contacting her uncleanness. But he didn’t. 

Jesus drew close enough to touch, likely knelt beside her, and took her by the hand—willingly associating with her uncleanness. He embraced her while she was still unclean (cf. Rom. 5:6–8).

And so Christ does for us. When we turn to God in repentance, God runs to us in forgiveness (Luke 15:20; James 4:8). When we reach for Jesus’ hand again after sinning, he doesn’t jerk back his hand and say, “Don’t touch me!” If someone tries to remove their hand after we sin, it’s not Jesus—it’s us, shrinking back in shame. Yet, praise God, Jesus promises that no one will snatch his people from his hand (John 10:28)—not even us, by our sin and shame.

Jesus remains a hand-holding Savior, even when we are most unclean. Even when we feel like letting go of Jesus, he never lets go of us.

One of the most curious details in this story is that the woman had been bleeding for 12 years, and Jairus’ daughter was 12 years old. While it’s hard to know the full significance of this connection, one thing is clear: Jesus knows every detail of our pain. He knows how many days (or years) we’ve suffered, the number of times we’ve tossed in bed, and the exact number of tears we’ve shed (Ps. 56:8).

We gasp both times we read 12 years—but for opposite reasons. For the bleeding woman, 12 years was grievously long. For the dying daughter, 12 years was grievously short. Who can’t relate to these pains? Much of our suffering comes from painful things lasting too long and good things not lasting long enough. God acknowledges both forms of suffering in this story.

I wonder if the Holy Spirit inspired Luke to include these numbers in part to say to every sufferer, “I see you. I know your pain. I know your timeline. I know your joys are often short-lived, and your sorrows feel unending. And I won’t leave your suffering unresolved.”

As Jesus said to Jairus, he says to you: Do not fear. Only believe. I am coming soon. When I do, everything will be made well. Until then, I will hold your hand—and I won’t let go (cf. Isa. 41:13; Ps. 139:10; Heb. 13:5).

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Blake Glosson is a pastoral resident at Chapelstreet Church in Geneva, Illinois, and an MDiv student at Reformed Theological Seminary. He has been published by The Gospel Coalition and Crosswalk.com and republished and/or referred by Eternal Perspective Ministries (Randy Alcorn)Challies.com (Tim Challies), Moody Radio (herehere, and here), The JOY FM (The Morning Cruise with Dave, Bill, and Carmen)ChurchLeaders.comThe Aquila ReportMonergism.com, and numerous other sources. Previously, he served as the director of young adults at New Covenant Bible Church in St. Charles, Illinois.

Watch or listen to “Grace That Is Greater Than All Our Sin” here.

Read “Which Jesus Is ‘With You’ in Suffering?” here.

Read “In Suffering, God Isn’t (Simply) Teaching You a Lesson” here.

Read “7 Things to Say to a Hurting Loved One” here.

Which Jesus Is ‘With You’ in Your Suffering?

One of Christ’s most hope-giving promises to sufferers is “I am with you” (cf. Matt. 28:20). Yet our ability to draw strength and hope from this promise rests entirely upon our view of Jesus. Who exactly is this Jesus who is with us in our suffering?

We’ve all met people whose presence makes suffering worse. They spew negativity. They drip with judgmentalism. They seem more interested in fixing us than understanding us. They might even blatantly shame us. If these people promised, “I will be with you in your suffering,” we would cringe and hope it isn’t true. We’d rather suffer alone than with a disparaging presence.

Others are a balm in our struggles. They are safe. They encourage us. They ask questions and listen well. They speak words of truth and life. We say of these people, “I don’t know how I could’ve made it through that without her.”

How do you view Jesus? When Jesus says, “I am with you in your suffering,” which emotions stir inside you? Comfort? Fear? Hope? Shame? Apathy? Consider three views of Jesus, and ask yourself which “Jesus” you relate to most.

The Apostle Paul observed that Satan disguises himself as an angel of light (2 Cor. 11:14). Yet sometimes the devil doesn’t need to disguise himself—we do it for him. We grab hold of Scripture’s description of Satan, dress him up as Jesus, and then look to him in our suffering. Unsurprisingly, Satanized Jesus only makes our grief and pain worse.

This Jesus looks at us with disdain in his eyes. He doesn’t need to say a single word—we can tell by his expression that he’s judging us. He condemns us. He heaps burdens on us. He says, “Quit crying. It’s your fault you’re suffering anyway. God is getting back at you for your sin.”

Satanized Jesus hisses accusations, and we accept them as the voice of God. He is harsh, impatient, and impossible to please. He offers no forgiveness. No encouragement. No mercy. No help. This “Jesus” makes suffering intolerable.

Unlike Satanized Jesus, Neutralized Jesus doesn’t make suffering worse—but he doesn’t make it better, either. His presence is like a wallflower, always in the room but rarely noticeable. We could live with or without him. He’s neutral.

There are many ways we neutralize Jesus in our minds. Some believe Jesus is powerful but doubt his care (cf. Mark 4:38; Luke 10:40). Others believe Jesus cares but doubt his ability to help in their (seemingly) unique situation (cf. Matt. 8:26; 14:31; John 5:6–7). Still others believe Jesus is hamstrung by their sin, unable to move in their life until they clean themselves up (cf. John 4:13–18).

“I am with you” means little to those living with a neutralized Jesus. They say, “It’s a nice gesture, but his presence doesn’t make a difference in my broken life.”

For the promise of Christ’s presence to fortify us in our suffering, we must reject the Satanized and neutralized misconceptions of Jesus and renew our minds with the Jesus revealed in Scripture.

According to God’s Word, Jesus isn’t only with us; he’s unremittingly for us (Ps. 56:9; Rom. 8:31). His presence is always a favorable, advocating, affectionate presence—yes, even after we sin (Rom. 5:8; 1 John 2:1). Dane Ortlund remarks, “He’s not only there; he is on our team. He is for us. … He is looking at us and saying, ‘I am rooting for you. I am in your corner. You [can] fall into my open, nail-scarred hands any time you want.’”

In our suffering—even that which we’ve brought on ourselves by our sin—the true Jesus remains on our side. He faithfully disciplines us (Rev. 3:19) and calls us to repent and follow him—yet he does so with unmatched tenderness. Ortlund again: “Jesus is not trigger-happy. Not harsh, reactionary, easily exasperated. He is the most understanding person in the universe. The posture most natural to Jesus is not a pointed finger but open arms.”

The story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego (Dan. 3) gives us a powerful picture of Christ’s heart in our suffering. God famously saved these men from a blazing furnace after they refused to worship the king’s golden statue. But how God saved them is curious and often overlooked.

Before Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were delivered from the fire, a fourth man—whom Timothy Keller and others identify as a pre-incarnate manifestation of Christ—appeared “walking in the midst of the fire” with them (Dan. 3:25). How strange is this? Christ could’ve easily appeared next to the king—safely and comfortably removed from the flames—and called out, “Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, come out of the fire!” This would’ve showcased his power and authority. Instead, Christ joined his people in the fire, preferring to endure the heat with them before saving them.

And so Jesus does for us. Our Savior refused to sit back and watch us suffer alone. He refused to stay at a safe distance from the flames of our affliction. Christ became man to identify, suffer, and walk through the fire with his people before saving us, forever binding himself to us intimately.

When Jesus says, “I am with you,” he says it as one who knows the pain of suffering. He understands our weaknesses, fears, and struggles. He has felt the heat of the fire himself. And those flames were hottest on the cross, where Jesus was scorched for us, so we would never have to walk through the fire of affliction alone.

One day, Jesus will return to extinguish the fire of affliction forever. Until that day, we must remember that our Savior is unreservedly committed to us, and he walks in the midst of the fire with us, even now.

“When you walk through the fire, you will not be scorched, and the flame will not burn you. For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, and your Savior… Do not fear, for I am with you.” (Isaiah 43:2‭–5)

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Blake Glosson is a pastoral resident at Chapelstreet Church in Geneva, Illinois, and an MDiv student at Reformed Theological Seminary. He has been published by The Gospel Coalition and Crosswalk.com and republished and/or referred by Eternal Perspective Ministries (Randy Alcorn)Challies.com (Tim Challies), Moody Radio (herehere, and here), The JOY FM (The Morning Cruise with Dave, Bill, and Carmen)ChurchLeaders.comThe Aquila ReportMonergism.com, and numerous other sources. Previously, he served as the director of young adults at New Covenant Bible Church in St. Charles, Illinois.

Read “In Suffering, God Isn’t (Simply) Teaching You a Lesson” here.

Read “7 Things to Say to a Hurting Loved One” here.

Read “How to Pray with a Hurting Loved One” here.

The Day ‘Darkness Rejoiced As Though Heaven Had Lost’

Today is Holy Saturday—the day between Christ’s death and resurrection—the day darkness rejoiced as though Heaven had lost.

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I visited Taylor University last week. The chapel service was one of the most enthusiastic worship gatherings I have ever experienced. Multiple times I thought, “Is an Asburian revival about to break out?”

Several factors might’ve contributed to the energy in the room that day. It was Friday. It was sunny. Spring is here. College students are lively. And honestly, I wonder if God is answering prayers and bringing genuine revival among college campuses.

But beyond that, on that Friday—just two weeks before Easter—there was a true sense of resurrection victory in the air. Christ’s power over darkness was the theme of the service, and the joy of Jesus’ resurrected life was palpable.

This joy was perhaps most noticeable as we sang Death Was Arrested, a song that… well… I had somehow never heard before that morning.

You say, Um… what? Are you even a Christian?

I know, I know, I live under a rock when it comes to modern worship music. Shortly after the service, I asked one of my friends, “Have you ever heard that song before?”

She said, “I’ve known that song for like six years, Blake…”

Sheesh!

Anyway, in case you, like me, have *miraculously* never heard Death Was Arrested, let me explain what makes this song so moving.

As the title suggests, Death Was Arrested heralds Jesus’ victory over sin, darkness, and death. Through the grace and endless love of Christ, ashes become beauty; orphans become children; tears become dancing; prisoners become free. Christ defeated death with death and rose triumphantly to give us new life. The song glitters with little gospel gems.

But something happens in the middle of the song that—for first-time hearers like me—is quite striking.

Midway through the song, we sing,

Our Savior displayed on a criminal’s cross

Darkness rejoiced as though Heaven had lost

Then, unexpectedly, the music fades. Several (long) seconds of silence ensue. (In the live North Point Worship version, the lights cut out, and darkness floods in.) For a few moments, the room fills with the ominous aura of Holy Saturday. The day of silence. The day of waiting. The day darkness rejoiced as though Heaven had lost.

Twenty-four long hours for Christians to wonder, Is it true? Has Heaven lost? Has darkness won? 

When darkness feels like your closest friend

Our lives are full of moments and seasons of this tension, this silence, this waiting. I experienced one such moment several months ago.

It was a month of praying, fasting, struggling, and waiting. One morning, I spent several hours in my bedroom, seeking the Lord, wrestling to discern his will for my life. I felt like God was not answering me. No—let me rephrase that. I felt like God didn’t even hear me. It wasn’t like he was giving me an answer I didn’t want to hear; it felt like he wasn’t answering at all.

By God’s grace, this was a very unusual experience for me. Normally, God attends my prayer times with a strong sense of his presence, blessing, and even direction. But this day felt different. It felt like darkness. I even asked him, “Are you not going to meet me today?”

He didn’t answer.

At least, I didn’t initially feel like he had answered.

So, I did what any good seminary student would do—I prayed Psalm 88. It was the first time in my life that I pulled the Psalm 88 card on God in prayer. I wasn’t messing around.

Psalm 88 is known to be one of the only Psalms that does not end with a word of hope. In fact, the prayer ends with “Darkness is my closest friend.”

That’s what I felt that day.

It wasn’t complete hopelessness—God has proved himself faithful far too many times for that—but my experience was, “At this moment, it feels like darkness has won. It feels like God is absent. It feels like God doesn’t hear me. Where is God in all of this?”

But as the day went on, it dawned on me that the very existence of Psalm 88 was a profound evidence of God’s presence, love, and care.

When God’s people suffer, he doesn’t say, “Stop hurting! How dare you feel like darkness is your closest friend!” No, no—quite the opposite. God is actually the one who gave us these words to pray in the first place!

God doesn’t only give us permission to express our true feelings; he literally gives us step-by-step instructions. He knew we would, at times, feel drowned by darkness in this life, so he gave us a way to process our feelings with him—a way for our souls to breathe.

Ed Welch describes the Psalter as a self-diagnosis manual through which God asks us, “Do you feel like I have left you? Do you feel like I have forgotten you? Do you feel like I have rejected you? Do you feel like I don’t care? Do you feel like I don’t hear? Do you feel like I sleep while you suffer? Do you feel like you are drowning in my waves? Do you feel like darkness is your closest companion?” God graciously gives us words to pray when we have none. He even gives us words to express our frustrations with him!

Like any good counselor, God isn’t threatened or offended by our feelings. He knows his own perfection and doesn’t need to defend or justify himself. Rather than interrogate us for our feelings, God illumines us about our feelings. In love, he helps us understand ourselves.

Psalm 88 stands as a reminder that God doesn’t condemn us for our feelings. Yet he does want to help us take our feelings captive. He wants to give us hope through his Word (Psalm 119:4950).

The Hope of Holy Saturday

Consider the kindness of God to write Holy Saturday into Holy Week. He could’ve just as easily raised Jesus from the dead on Saturday instead of Sunday. Why wait a day?

By writing Holy Saturday into Holy Week, God communicates to every suffering saint who feels like darkness is winning: I see you. I know your suffering. I know the darkness that clouds your vision and threatens to smother your hope. But, dear child, remember that resurrection is coming! I didn’t leave Christ in the grave, and I won’t leave you in the grave, either. Darkness didn’t prevail over Christ, and it won’t prevail over you.

Believer, let this Holy Saturday remind you that our Savior willingly entered into darkness to save us. He knows what it feels like to wait. He knows what it feels like to suffer. He’s not unfamiliar with the blackness; he plunged its deepest depths—its very heart—to rescue us. And because Jesus entered into that dark abyss, we can rest knowing that the darkness we experience in this life is the darkest it will ever get. Eternal light is coming. Resurrection is coming. Jesus is coming.

“I am certain that I will see the Lord’s goodness in the land of the living. Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart be courageous. Wait for the Lord!” —Psalm 27:13–14

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Blake Glosson is a pastoral resident at Chapelstreet Church in Geneva, Illinois, and an MDiv student at Reformed Theological Seminary. He has been published by The Gospel Coalition and Crosswalk.com and republished and/or referred by Eternal Perspective Ministries (Randy Alcorn)Challies.com (Tim Challies), Moody Radio (herehere, and here), The JOY FM (The Morning Cruise with Dave, Bill, and Carmen)ChurchLeaders.comThe Aquila ReportMonergism.com, and numerous other sources. Previously, he served as the director of young adults at New Covenant Bible Church in St. Charles, Illinois.

Read “In Suffering, God Isn’t (Simply) Teaching You a Lesson” here.

Read “That Decompressing Exhale For Which Our Souls Long” here.

Read “Three Ways to Glorify God in Worry and Anxiety” here.

Song suggestions:

7 Things to Say to a Hurting Loved One

Note: This article is also published on The Gospel Coalition. It was also discussed on Moody Radio (you can also listen on Spotify and most other podcast platforms).

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Arguably no moment is more formative than immediately after a loved one shares her pain with you. Relationships are defined by what happens in these sacred seconds. Your words can bring healing or harm, communicate love or judgment, build or destroy trust.

Listening is almost always the surest way to care for a hurting friend, as it establishes trust, facilitates understanding, opens the door to self-discovery and growth, and powerfully communicates the heart and love of Christ. Jesus excelled in the ministry of listening, and he wants us to follow in his footsteps.

Yet Jesus did more than listen to sufferers; he also spoke life-giving words to them. While we should always take a listen-first approach with hurting loved ones, we should also look for opportunities to speak words of hope and encouragement. A timely word of encouragement can bring blessing and even healing: “Gracious words are like a honeycomb, sweetness to the soul and health to the body” (Prov. 16:24; cf. 12:18; 25:11).

Unfortunately, we often find ourselves ill-equipped to speak words of life to hurting loved ones. Consider seven helpful phrases to keep near.

1. “Thank you for sharing this with me.”

When someone reveals her heart to you, she entrusts you with a priceless possession, saying, “I trust you enough to handle this with care.” Recognize the preciousness and privilege of this moment. It is an honor that she trusts you enough to make herself vulnerable. Dignify her by vocalizing your appreciation of this reality.

Expressing gratitude communicates, “You are valuable to me, and I am grateful you would entrust me with something as precious as your heart.” Acknowledging the value of a sufferer’s heart and feelings is one of the easiest and most effective ways to honor her. 

2. “This is a difficult situation.”

Suffering can be a breeding ground for accusation. Sometimes this accusation is self-inflicted, but often it is perpetuated by a misguided (or abusive) authority figure, peer, or the Accuser himself, who says to sufferers:

  • “Toughen up. What kind of Christian are you?”
  • “You shouldn’t still be grieving about this.”
  • “Why are you hurting? You must not trust God.”
  • “Why are you sad? You brought this upon yourself.”
  • “Why are you confused? You must not have genuine faith.”
  • “Why are you anxious? You must be sinning.”

When you acknowledge the difficulty of a situation, you remind the sufferer that she’s not crazy, stupid, or sinning for feeling hurt or confused. As limited people walking alongside limited people in a broken and complex world, often the most fitting thing we can say is simply, “This is hard.”

Another useful phrase is, “This is wrong.” This sentiment is especially appropriate when the sufferer has been mistreated or abused. Acknowledging the wrongness of injustice is right; Christ hears your words and says, “Amen.” Jesus sees and hates the ravaging effects of sin (Prov. 8:13; Isa. 59:15), mourns with his people (Isa. 53:4; 63:8–9; John 11:33–35), and will one day return to bring judgment and make all things right (Rev. 21:1–8; 22:1–7).

3. “My heart hurts for you.”

I still remember the first time someone (a long-time family friend) spoke these exact words to me. I remember thinking, “I don’t think five words have ever made me feel so . . . loved.” Not only did this person see and acknowledge my suffering, but she cared enough to enter into it.

Expressing your sympathetic pain incarnates the heart of Christ, who enters into our pain and suffers with us in all our affliction (cf. Isa. 53:4; 63:8–9; John 11:33–35; Acts 9:1–5). It also alleviates the sufferer’s loneliness, if only for a moment. The words, “My heart hurts for you” remind your loved one that she does not walk alone. Not many assurances are more comforting to a hurting soul.

4. “Thank you for modeling Christlikness by [insert one specific way the sufferer is demonstrating Christlikeness].”

Encouragement is universal medicine for hurting souls. Do not leave an interaction with a hurting loved one without administering this tonic. Even if you can’t change her circumstances, you can buoy her by speaking a specific word of encouragement.

As your loved one explains her hardship, listen closely for things she’s doing well. Acknowledge these things and thank her for her example. Useful phrases include:

  • “I admire the way you [insert behavior].”
  • “Your [insert behavior] encourages me and glorifies God.”
  • “Your [insert behavior] is clear evidence of the Holy Spirit at work in you.”

When you acknowledge how a sufferer’s efforts encourage you, reflect Christ, or serve God’s people, it reminds her that God is at work and that her suffering is not pointless.

5. “This verse has been meaningful to me: [read/quote Scripture].”

No words help a hurting person more than God’s words. Scripture is food for famished ones (Matt. 4:4), comfort for the afflicted (Ps. 119:49–50), life for those walking through the valley of the shadow of death (Ps. 119:25, 50, 107; John 6:63). When walking with a hurting loved one, remind her of God’s presence and promises:

Praying with a hurting loved one is another effective way to use your words to bless her and point her to God’s presence and promises. One of my favorite passages to pray with hurting loved ones is Psalm 143 (especially vv. 6–12).

We do need to be careful with how we introduce Scripture to someone suffering. God’s Word should never be used to downplay suffering (band-aiding) or to show superiority over the other person (disparaging). You’ve heard the unhelpful advice:

  • You’re depressed? Philippians 4:4 says, “Rejoice always!” 
  • You’re anxious? Philippians 4:6 says, “Be anxious for nothing!”
  • You’re lonely? God’s Word tells us to pursue relationships. Have you tried spending time with people?

Unhelpful statements like these communicate arrogance (Look at how much wisdom I have that you don’t) and ignorance (Your suffering is an easy problem to fix; you just need to read this verse). A sufferer’s pain is never as simplistic as a problem to fix or a lesson to learn. Let’s be careful not to communicate these harmful messages.

6. “What can I do to help?”

During the conversation, you might ask, “What would be most helpful for me to do right now? Would it be most helpful for me to listen? To pray with you? To share my thoughts?” Asking this question (and honoring her request) will communicate love and direct you on how to serve her most effectively.

After the conversation, you can ask, “How can I best care for you in the days ahead?” Often it is useful to offer specific suggestions:

  • “Could I bring you a meal on Thursday?” 
  • “Would it be helpful if I picked up your son from school on Friday during your doctor’s appointment?”
  • “Would you like to meet before your interview on Monday to talk through some of your potential responses?”

Don’t assume you know what a sufferer needs (whether in the conversation or after the conversation). Feel free to offer suggestions, but—generally speaking—it’s best to let her tell you what would serve her most effectively.

7. Nothing.

Silence is, at times, the most appropriate response to someone’s suffering. For example, immediately after a friend loses a loved one or undergoes a traumatic experience, words can be stifling or even hurtful. The same is often true whenever a loved one begins weeping while sharing her pain. In moments like these, often the best way to show love and support is non-verbal. Hug her. Weep with her. Hold her hand. Usually, when someone’s suffering is intense, what she needs most from you is simply for you to be there (see Job 2:12–13).

A good habit when a sufferer shares her pain is to say nothing for at least five seconds when it’s your “turn” to talk. This intentional pause gives the other person a chance to breathe and share anything else that is on her heart or mind. It also communicates, “I am here to listen and understand, not merely to fix you or share my thoughts.”

When someone shares her pain, you have a golden opportunity to put the heart of Christ on display. Make the most of this opportunity by listening well, praying for the Spirit’s help, and speaking words of grace and love.

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Blake Glosson is a pastoral resident at Chapelstreet Church in Geneva, Illinois, and an MDiv student at Reformed Theological Seminary. He has been published by The Gospel Coalition and Crosswalk.com and republished and/or referred by Eternal Perspective Ministries (Randy Alcorn)Challies.com (Tim Challies), Moody Radio (herehere, and here), The JOY FM (The Morning Cruise with Dave, Bill, and Carmen)ChurchLeaders.comThe Aquila ReportMonergism.com, and numerous other sources. Previously, he served as the director of young adults at New Covenant Bible Church in St. Charles, Illinois.

Listen to Moody Radio’s discussion of this article here (or on Spotify here).

Read “In Suffering, God Isn’t (Simply) Teaching You a Lesson” here.

Read “When to Give Advice and When to Listen” here.

Read “Four(teen) Ways to Improve Your Listening” here

Read “Three Ways to Glorify God in Worry and Anxiety” here.

In Suffering, God Isn’t (Simply) Teaching You a Lesson

Note: This article is also published on The Gospel Coalition.

Sufferers often ask, “What lesson is God trying to teach me through this hardship?” Their friends ask them, “What is God trying to teach you?”

Generally, these are helpful questions. Suffering is difficult and confusing, and at times it feels pointless, so it’s natural and healthy to look for lessons to learn. It’s also true that God graciously uses trials to produce sweet fruit in our lives (James 1:2–4), often using difficult circumstances to teach us some of life’s most valuable lessons. Praying, “Lord, teach and grow me through this trial,” is always useful for us and precious to God.

Yet, there is a danger in reducing suffering to “a lesson to learn”—in believing (or communicating to others) that God allowed our suffering merely to send us a corrective message. Here are five potential problems with this line of thinking.

1. It’s unbiblical.

Consider two famous biblical examples of suffering: Job and Jesus. The opening chapter of Job does not say, “Job was walking in disobedience to God, so God brought suffering to teach him a lesson.” Rather, it says Job was “blameless and upright” (1:1), and God allowed suffering (in part) to prove his genuineness (1:8–12). If Job’s suffering was initially brought about to teach someone a lesson, the student to be corrected wasn’t Job but Satan (1:6–12).

Jesus, meanwhile, experienced the greatest suffering in human history. Yet the purpose of Christ’s suffering wasn’t to teach him a lesson but to bring sinners to God (1 Pet. 3:18).

In God’s kindness, both Job and Jesus learned through their suffering (Job 42:1-6Heb. 5:8), but in neither case does the Bible reduce the purpose of suffering to a lesson for the sufferer.

2. It can unjustly condemn sufferers.

If we are too quick to ask, “What is God trying to teach you through this suffering?” we can (at times) place an unnecessary yoke on the back of the sufferer. It adds guilt if she hasn’t “figured out God’s lesson” yet, and it can imply that she’s at fault for her suffering:

  • “Maybe if you didn’t idolize being a mother, God wouldn’t have allowed your miscarriage.”
  • “Maybe if you didn’t idolize your career, God wouldn’t have allowed you to lose your job.”
  • “Maybe if you were a better Christian, God wouldn’t have to teach you lessons like these.”

The Bible teaches that all suffering is a result of sin (Rom. 5:12) but all suffering is not a consequence of personal sin (John 9:2–3). To blame someone’s suffering on his sin is often presumptuous, usually unhelpful, and almost always simplistic.

Asking loved ones what God is teaching them through their suffering can be profitable and encouraging. But let’s be careful not to fall into the trap of Job’s friends by communicating that the only reason they’re suffering is that God wanted to correct them for a certain sin. 

3. It teeters on the prosperity gospel.

You’ve heard the stories:

  • “I was struggling as a single Christian. But then I realized God was trying to teach me to be content in my singleness. Once I learned my lesson, God brought Jeff into my life! #truelove”
  • “I always lived paycheck to paycheck. But then I realized God was trying to teach me to tithe more and not idolize money. Once I learned my lesson, God blessed me with my dream job and more money than I ever imagined! #Ephesians3:20”

I praise God for the lessons these people learned. But, “I learned my lesson and then was blessed with stuff” isn’t how it works for all people—and it’s certainly never promised in Scripture.

Whether intentional or not, these stories can communicate a harmful message to hearers: “Have you considered that maybe the reason you are still suffering is that you haven’t learned your lesson yet?”

Trained by this subtle prosperity gospel, we can begin putting our hope in learning our lesson rather than looking to Jesus. We throw ourselves onto our own behavior to heal us rather than throwing ourselves onto the grace of God. The lesson rather than the Lord becomes our Savior.

4. It undermines our humanity.

Whenever approaching the topic of suffering, we must remember we’re naturally weak and limited, whereas God alone is infinite in his wisdom and understanding (Isa. 55:8–9). In this life, we simply won’t understand fully why God allows the hardships he allows. Suffering can’t be fully explained, nor can it be boxed up into a nice little lesson.

When we’re suffering, our job isn’t to figure it all out—that will always be an exercise in futility. The fact that you don’t know why God allowed a certain hardship doesn’t mean you’re doing something wrong; it means you’re not God.

When we’re walking alongside someone who is suffering, our job isn’t to help her figure it all out. Our job is to be present with her, encourage her, and remind her of God’s presence and promises.

5. It can misrepresent God.

If we stray from God’s means of grace in our suffering, we can start to see God as a cruel father who abandons his child and says, “I’ll come back once you learn your lesson.” Nothing could be further from the testimony of Scripture.

God isn’t playing games with you, throwing you into a dungeon and seeing if you can crack the code to unlock his hidden lesson. He’s not holding his presence and goodness hostage until you learn your lesson.

Jesus doesn’t scoff at sufferers as they flail helplessly in a current of hurt, saying, “Get yourself together!” He, rather, enters into the current of our suffering and says, “Let me be a refuge for you.” As Dane Ortlund put it, “There’s no minimum bar you need to get over [or lesson you need to learn] to get to him. All you have to do, actually, is collapse in order to get into the heart of Christ.”

Christ isn’t looking down his nose at your suffering. He isn’t disappointed you haven’t figured everything out. He isn’t waiting for you to submit a report on the lessons you learned from your pain before he grants you his presence. He simply wants you to collapse into his loving arms.

We have a sympathetic Savior who walks with us, grieves with us, and redeems our suffering for good—often teaching us precious lessons through hardships. Let’s rejoice in these lessons while also remembering that God’s purposes in our suffering are far greater than a lesson—and that one day Christ will return to save us, heal us, and unburden our suffering fully and forever.

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Blake Glosson is a pastoral resident at Chapelstreet Church in Geneva, Illinois, and an MDiv student at Reformed Theological Seminary. He has been published by The Gospel Coalition and Crosswalk.com and republished and/or referred by Eternal Perspective Ministries (Randy Alcorn)Challies.com (Tim Challies), Moody Radio (herehere, and here), The JOY FM (The Morning Cruise with Dave, Bill, and Carmen)ChurchLeaders.comThe Aquila ReportMonergism.com, and numerous other sources. Previously, he served as the director of young adults at New Covenant Bible Church in St. Charles, Illinois.

Watch or listen to “With Us in the Wilderness” (sermon) here.

Read “When to Give Advice and When to Listen” here.

Read “That Decompressing Exhale For Which Our Souls Long” here.

Read “Five Habits That Kill Contentment” here.

Read “Three Ways to Glorify God in Worry and Anxiety” here.