by Jared Shaw
A few years ago, as I sat in my living room, I read a thought-provoking story. The story began with a little girl and her mother returning home from church. As they were walking the little girl saw the next-door neighbor sitting on his porch. Upon closer inspection, she could see him crying. Moved by what she was seeing the little girl asked her mother if she could go see the man. The mother replied, “Not right now It’s time for lunch.” The little girl followed her mother into the house, ate lunch, and went on with her day.
The next morning the little girl noticed the man outside on his porch crying again. After finishing breakfast, she asked her mother if she could go see him this time. This time, the mother allowed it. When the little girl returned the mother asked her what the conversation with the man was like. The little girl replied, “We didn’t talk, I just helped him cry.”
The local church is full of brokenness. It’s messy, it’s lovely, and it’s full of people who endure suffering. Suffering alone is something that many Christians do, but they don’t have to. Many Christians, especially men, might shut people out altogether. Vulnerability can be hard. At times, it’s downright uncomfortable! But suffering with one another can also bring much peace
In Romans 12:15, Paul calls his fellow brothers and sisters to “rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep.” One might see this verse in their bibles under the heading “true Christian living.” For Paul part of what it means to be a Christian is to share all of life together. In the good times (rejoicing) and in the bad (mourning). This makes sense when we begin to understand that we are a part of one body.
In 1 Corinthians 12, Paul uses the illustration of human anatomy to describe how important each individual member is to the church. Paul has such a high view of the church, and how it should function that he writes, “If one part of the body suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together” (v. 26). That is why when someone leaves the church– by death or by choice– the church changes.
Suffering can take place in a plethora of ways. It can occur through being ill for a long period of time. One could suffer from anxiety. Another member of the body might be mourning the death of a family member. It could take the form of a strained relationship. You yourself may be suffering right now. Whether it’s you or someone around you, God has called us to bear one another’s burdens.
That sounds great and all, but how do we fulfill this God-given command? I would like to set out four practical ways that we can foster this idea of suffering together in the local church.
Be Vulnerable. Many times, Christians suffer alone because they are afraid of being judged. Maybe they’re embarrassed to admit that they are depressed. Maybe it’s a family remembering a deceased family member on what would have been their birthday. Whatever the situation, admitting that you’re struggling is a good place to be in. The church body also shows vulnerability in this area because listening to the ways others suffer might make them uncomfortable as well. It’s when one is open to being vulnerable that the next point will begin to make sense, and that is intentional follow-up.
It’s when one is open to being vulnerable that the next point will begin to make sense, and that is intentional follow-up. We have all heard testimonies of people who made themselves vulnerable by inviting others to suffer with them, who then never experienced genuine follow-up from those they confided in. When it becomes a priority to intentionally follow up, that person begins to recognize they are not alone in their suffering. How many members have ever had problems with other people in their family? Strained relationships occur inside and outside of the church. Perhaps a certain member has said they are going to be having a difficult conversation with a family member who has wronged them. We should feel the weight of that as a body. Then we should follow up with that member to see how that conversation went.
Weep with those who weep. So often we believe that we have to say something profound or sweet to comfort those who are hurting, but sometimes the best thing we can do is simply to weep with them. I remember attending a funeral for a newborn baby who died shortly after being born. This funeral was hard for my wife and me. Not only was it the funeral for a baby, but it was a funeral for the baby of some of our closest friends. Friends we had done life with, ministered with, laughed with, and loved dearly. I remember seeing Jimmy, wrapping my arms around him, and just weeping. I had no words to say. I didn’t know the pain he was experiencing. But there was a brotherly love that spoke louder than words. I uttered to Jimmy, “I love you, brother,” and that was it. About a week later Jimmy texted me and said, “I forgot to say, I love you too.” We don’t always have to know what to say to bring comfort to those who are suffering, but we can remind them of the One who cares about all their suffering.
Remind one another of God’s character. Although suffering does not always make sense to us, it is sovereignly ordained by God and it is for our good (Romans 8:28). God is righteous in all his ways, even in our suffering. God works all things to the counsel of his will, and nothing that he does is wrong. God loves those who are His, and he brings them through the deep suffering of life by giving us himself. This is a reminder that we all need. John Rippon captures this idea beautifully when he writes “When through the deep waters I call you to go, the rivers of sorrow shall not overflow; for I will be with you, your troubles to bless, and sanctify to you your deepest distress.” When God calls you to go through the deep waters of suffering, he provides you with brothers and sisters to go with you. The church reminds one another of God’s character by singing, hearing Scripture read and preached, and praying for one another. As we regularly practice these, we remind one another that God is holy, God is loving, and God is our Father.
After Paul writes about the electing love of the Father in predestining some to the adoption as sons, he prays that the Ephesians would know what is the hope to which they have been called. When suffering takes place, it’s easy for the believer to lose sight of the hope to which they have been called. The body of Christ is called not only to suffer with those who are suffering, but we are also to remind one another of our status before God. We are sons and daughters of the King. We are called to remind one another that this world is not our home. This can bring encouragement to the suffering soul.
Suffering is temporary; sonship is eternal. Suffering is for a moment; our adoption is for a lifetime. Suffering lasts for the night, but the joy that comes with the morning is a fresh reminder that God is good. One of the greatest ways that we remind one another of our status before God is by song. There is something about hearing the people of God sing that is profoundly good for the soul. There are many songs that have been penned throughout the centuries that convey this idea of suffering, but there is one that stands out to me during my times of trouble, “At Calvary.”
This song captures the beauty of the gospel by reminding us that we will never have to suffer the unmitigated wrath of God, which is far greater than any temporary suffering we face. The writer of “At Calvary” writes “By God’s word at last my sin I learned, then I trembled at the law I’d spurned, till my guilty soul imploring turned to Calvary. Mercy there was great, and grace was free, pardon there was multiplied to me, there my burdened soul found liberty, at Calvary.” This song displays your status before God: a sinner saved by grace because of the faith that you confessed in the finished work of Christ. The church declares these truths to one another, and in times of suffering one can truly find rest.
 https://hymnary.org/text/how_firm_a_foundation_ye_saints_of (public domain).
 https://hymnary.org/text/years_i_spent_in_vanity_and_pride (public domain).