The Sovereignty of God in the Suffering of His People Part 4 – Being there for those in the fire

by Mike Ratliff

A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity. (Proverbs 17:17)

Some people have a tendency to suffer alone. They prefer that no one even knows about their pain. Others love to share with everyone how hard their lot is. In fact, they will wear out anyone who is unfortunate enough to not be able to get away from them. However, most of us deeply desire for a brother or sister in Christ to come along side and comfort us, pray for us, and perhaps just be there in our time of need.

I personally believe that I’m not very good at this. I feel so helpless. I am a Database Administrator. I have been in some form of Data Processing since 1973. I believe that one reason I do good work is that I am a problem solver. I know how to logically work through problems to find the source. I love solving problems. However, people aren’t software or computers or networks. When someone tells me that a friend is suffering and they want me to pray for them, I want to fix their problems. I want to find out what the root cause is and make the pain stop. However, this is not my job nor is it yours.

Now when Job’s three friends heard of all this evil that had come upon him, they came each from his own place, Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite, and Zophar the Naamathite. They made an appointment together to come to show him sympathy and comfort him. (Job 2:11)

These three men were true friends of Job. Job was an upright man and so are these men. They were fitting company for a man of his stature. If you are familiar with the Book of Job then you know that these men, Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar are often derided because they were reproved at the end of the book. However, as we shall see in the next few verses, they had real concern for Job. Much of what they say is well-intentioned and accurate, but misapplied. Also, we must never forget that Satan is actively at work in Job’s suffering. These men could very well be unintentional tools of his to cause Job to sin.

And when they saw him from a distance, they did not recognize him. And they raised their voices and wept, and they tore their robes and sprinkled dust on their heads toward heaven. And they sat with him on the ground seven days and seven nights, and no one spoke a word to him, for they saw that his suffering was very great. (Job 2:12-13)

Whatever Job’s medical condition was, it caused him much misery and probably made him nearly unrecognizable. The reaction of Job’s friends to his condition is commendable. The wept, they tore their robes, sprinkled dust on their heads then sat with Job for seven days on the ash heap. They spoke not a word to him. Notice that their acts of mourning was all directed toward heaven. In other words, they were imploring God to heal their friend as they mourned with him.

I believe that if they had remained in this mode with Job they would have fulfilled their calling to help him. They did not have to try to “solve Job’s problem.” Instead they needed to remain his comforters and fellow sufferers. Yes, that is right. When we come along side someone who is suffering and empathize with them God uses us to sustain them.

Several years ago in Oklahoma I was a member of church in which I and one of our associate pastors were close friends. The first day my wife and I visited that church he was the one who made us feel welcome. At that time he was a deacon and Sunday School teacher. In fact, we were in his class. He was a good Bible teacher, but he was a great friend. Later, he became an associate pastor. His children and our children were about the same age. People often joked that the reason he and I were so friendly was that we had both gone to college at Oklahoma State University, but our friendship had very little to do with that.

When his oldest, a daughter, was about 14 or 15 she was diagnosed with a disease that was very rare. She nearly died. By the time doctors figured out what disease she had it was well advanced. They had to use massive amounts of medication to save her life. Of course the entire church was holding prayer meetings and prayer vigils at the hospital. She had a long recovery. My friend was not in church for many weeks.

At that time I was a deacon and when we had an invitation I always came forward to pray and be ready to help wherever they needed me. The Sunday my friend was back in church, I went forward as our pastor prayed prior to the invitation. I met my friend at the altar area as he, too, was preparing to pray. It was not planned. Without thinking, I simply gave him a hug and told him how great it was to see him. You should have seen his face. We both wept tears of joy.

Now, I could do nothing about his daughter’s medical condition except pray, but I could be there for him. It was then that I learned that is really what friends are supposed to do in times of crisis like that. We can’t “solve the problem,” but we can be the physical arms and tears they feel and see as our Lord works through us to comfort them and sustain them in their time of need.

Oh Lord, many of us are suffering as you well know. Please guide us to be there for each other. Work through us by your grace to comfort and sustain each other in our time of need. Your grace is sufficient in all of our needs Lord. Extend your grace through us to be there for those suffering. In Jesus Name – Amen.

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version™ Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. All rights reserved.

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12 thoughts on “The Sovereignty of God in the Suffering of His People Part 4 – Being there for those in the fire

  1. Very good, very encouraging post, Mr. Ratliff. A good friend of mine once pointed out that God never explains to Job about why he had to suffer. We don’t need to know the reason. We just need to trust God.

    We want to find the root cause, as you said, but our Great King is already there and is working.

    Have a wonderful Sunday,

    A. Shepherd
    The Aspiring Theologian

  2. Thanks Albert! You are right, faith is what is called for. Faith is what He builds in us when we endure by His grace. Yes, He is God and is working in us.

    Great comment!

    In Christ

    Mike Ratliff

  3. And they sat with him on the ground seven days and seven nights, and no one spoke a word to him, for they saw that his suffering was very great.

    I don’t think keeping silent is necessarily all that helpful. Did his friends come? Sure. And I shouldn’t knock that. But I also know that having my head spin with all sorts of thoughts is my greatest struggle.

    Fortunately, I have a couple of friends who know me well enough not to let me sit and fester. And if I’m really doing well, they remind me of God’s dealings in such a way that I feel lifted.

  4. Mike,

    Perhaps in your case or in many others I can think of you are right, but in many other cases it is. I know when we had a close friend lose a child then what else can you do, but be there? It would matter with the circumstance. In Job’s case it would have been better if these three friends had not “tried to help.” In other cases, we do need to talk things out, but in other no.

    In Christ

    Mike Ratliff

  5. I think you can help with words if you listen first and hear what they are saying. Those who are in deep grief may need to talk, or not, but often it is good to try and draw them out and let them talk about how they feel or about their loss. This shows that you care and are listening. Some people do not want to hear about someone else’s loss because it is too painful for them too, or they avoid it because they just don’t know what to say. So someone who cares and listens and gives a hug if it is appropriate, is extremely helpful. Prayer with and for is always good. Sometimes, if it is appropriate (they are not in the deepest part of the grief, but are moving forward some) then perhaps you can mention scriptural truths that may relate or how God helps us or has helped you in the past. Or ask them about how the Lord is working. If they love the Lord they will most likely have something very edifying to share. I have often been greatly blessed by the way the Lord has worked in the lives of people who are suffering. People also need us to tell them the truth (as Mike Young suggested). Truth is facts about what we know now, and the scriptures. I have a family member who is in a great physical difficulty right now and others have laid on her all kinds of unhelpful information “somebody I know that had your condition ended up “. (Incidentally, if you feel compelled to tell others who are suffering about somebody else’s bad experience, please hold your tongue! This often makes their burden that much greater) Instead, remind people that though we may not know the outcome, the Lord does and loves them. Tell them that you will pray and ask the Lord for His help and mercy.

  6. Your right, Mike! God does not call us to solve the circumstances that He puts fellow believers in. He commands us to weep with those who weep etc. and calls us to pray for them. I think of the persecuted church in this circumstance. I would like so much to free them from persecution, but God has other ideas and my ideas would interfer with His will. I can also use your advice when it comes to my family. I always feel more free to fix their problems when I should just be praying for them. Great post.

  7. julie and sarah,

    Yes, it depends upon the circumstance. That is why we need God’s wisdom and discernment when we do come along side the suffering. When I say that we need to “be there” that can include talking or just listening — with wisdom! As far as the persecuted church, what else can we do but pray and send help as we can?

    Sarah, I’m not sure I’m the best person to help you, but I would be glad to hear what you need advice with. Just email me.

    In Christ

    Mike Ratliff

  8. Mike,
    you’re always so eager to help God’s people! I meant that I can use the advice in your post…but I will take you up on asking your advice about things in the furture! :o)

  9. Keep our eyes and hearts on eternity. Imagine a man who finds a lottery ticket and is told it is worth one billion dollars. On his way to get his check at the state capital the bus he is on stops for a drink and when he opens his wallet, he sees he only has four dollars when he was sure he had five. He throws a fit, yelling and losing his tempor at the store until everyone wonders why he’s making such a big deal over one dollar. He gets back into the bus and for the next two hours he incessantly complains about the loss of that dollar. When the people on the bus are told that this man is about to collect one billion dollars they don’t believe it and what’s more they don’t believe the man believes it either. That is what it is like when we complain about anything here when in reality we are headed for ETERNAL LIFE. Thanks, Mike, and praise Him in EVERYTHING!

  10. Excellent Post Mike! There are times in ministry when all you can do is be there. You offer words of encouragement too, but the real help is that you are willing to take the time to be there…and help to bear another’s burden. And if we speak, and sometimes if the relationship is there and can bear it, we should. But let us only speak bed rock truth, not our perceived “truth” or some quick answer. This can be thoughtless, and come off cold. I think sometimes we speak, just because we can not stand the silence. This is not the right motivation either.

    Yes, this is a post that should remind us that we need to bear one another’s burden…after all we are NOT God and cannot make all right.

    Henry…great illustration! Makes us think…eh?

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