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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