We live in a broken world, crying out for deliverance!
Those of us in the community of believers pull out several sayings when folks face hardship and troubles. The truth behind these sayings can be powerful and comforting. Yet we frequently use them when we don't know what to say to folks facing hardship, loss, deep disappointment, and grief. We don't intend for them to be throwaway slogans, but they can come across that way if we use them indiscriminately or inappropriately. Let's look at three of them.
Few things are as essential as our intercessory prayer for others who are hurting. However, this statement can feel like a throwaway slogan when the wounded friend doesn't know for sure that we are genuinely praying for them, and certainly when that friend doesn't know what we are praying for them. To keep our promise from merely being a throwaway slogan, we can do several things to bless them that are personal and encouraging.
- Physically place our hand on our friend and pray for them at that moment if they are comfortable with that.
- We can specifically mention in a note, text, or phone call what precisely we are praying for them, especially letting them know that we are praying for the Holy Spirit to bring comfort, strength, and God's tangible presence to them during their time of sorrow, pain, or grief.
- We can also let them know that we will pray for them at a specific time each day or on a particular day of the week and ask them exactly what they would like us to pray.
Paul's example of praying for people in his letters in the New Testament, touch me deeply. He prays for many of them by name. He lets them know what he is praying for them. When we follow his example, our slogan becomes more than a vague promise. We transform it into a partnership of grace — a commitment to support them regularly in their struggle to regain their hope and balance in life as we invite our Father in heaven to intervene.
A second saying I've often heard is something like this:
This statement also has a close cousin: "Everything happens for a reason." Both of those statements may be true, but not necessarily every time (or even most of the time) a disaster strikes. Jesus will eliminate the devil's power to interfere in our lives when he returns (1 Corinthians 15:22-26). Until then, Satan, our adversary, will continue to try to lie, steal, kill, and destroy the lives and faith of all people, including those who love God (John 8:44, 10:10).
If we read Mark 4:35-5:43, the Holy Spirit reminds us that our primordial human fears of the deep (the sea and sea monsters), demonic (evil spiritual powers), disease (whether bacterial, viral, or genetic), and death are real. These terrors and very much a part of our broken planet in decay (Romans 8:18-25). While Jesus exercised power over them in his ministry, these malevolent forces still exist, and God's people are sometimes harshly and even mortally impacted by their vile strength. None of makes it out of life alive, unless Jesus returns while we are still living (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18). These forces will most certainly touch many we know, including our loved ones and us.
While there may be a purpose to everything — and that is a questionable assumption — that purpose may not be God's purpose, but Satan's. So, maybe a better thing to say and do than this second statement is this: "I will walk beside you and pray with you until we discover how God is going to redeem this mess the evil one has thrown your way." Then, let's honor our promise and do just that. Our conviction that God will not abandon his own in their trials brings us to our third statement.
Our third statement refers to an incredibly powerful promise made by the apostle Paul (Romans 8:28-29). On the other hand, these words can also feel like a command to hurry up and be happy, given by someone whose life is good while the wounded person feels his or her life is in ruins. When placed in the rich vein of God's grace and of the promise of God's never-failing presence in our lives through the Holy Spirit (Romans 8:31-39), this promise can be powerful, transformational, and hopeful:
We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have? But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.
In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God.
And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified. (Romans 8:22-30).
Notice several powerful truths found in these few verses.
- We live a broken existence in a broken world that groans with pain awaiting its redemption. This broken existence will not change until the day of Jesus' return when he ushers us into a new reality where the fractures of our fallen world are caught up in the glory of our revelation as God's perfected sons and daughters. God has saved us, but we have only received the first taste of our glorious future, and so we wait in hope for its full dawning.
- As God's sons and daughters, we've been given the Holy Spirit to live within us. In our time of waiting for Jesus' day of glory to dawn, the Holy Spirit blesses us in many ways. When we voice our deepest longings to God — some of which are too deep and mournful to put into words — the Holy Spirit takes what is in the deepest recesses of our hearts and presents these longings, feelings, concerns, wounds, and sighs to God. We don't have to worry about our words being appropriate or reflecting all of our longings, we only need to point our hearts to God in prayer, and the Holy Spirit brings these longings and requests to God aligned to our Father's will. Wow! What powerful reassurance!
- In the context of our broken world, our broken hearts, and the Holy Spirit's work through our prayers, G that God is at work in our lives. The Spirit takes our brokenness along our honest prayers to the Father, who promises to work in this brokenness to bring our eternal good. Our call before the Lord is to love him and to live for his purpose. As we do this, the Spirit transforms us to be like Jesus. In the darkest times in Jesus' life, God worked eternal glory, ultimate vindication, and brought us to himself as his redeemed children. In much the same way, God promises to work in our lives to bring us to himself so we can share in his glory.
Bad stuff happens in our world for many reasons — we are part of a broken planet with natural disasters and diseases used by the evil on to hurt, destroy, and kill. God, however, promises to be present and that nothing will separate us from his love for us given to us in Jesus (Romans 8:31-39). So let's believe the promise that God will work things out in the lives of others, but not be overly quick to say that to them. Instead, let's demonstrate God's love, grace, and tenderness by loving them through their struggle as God is at work in it and in them (1 John 3:16-18).
The following are questions for your personal meditation or use in small group Bible studies.
Why do we feel like we have to say something more than "I love you and will stand with you!" when someone faces tragedy, grief, and loss?
- What are other more meaningful things that we can do than offer loved ones and friends religious slogans when they are struggling?
Do you think that we use some of our slogans to defend God more than to help folks who are hurt, angry, or feel abandoned by God in a crisis?
- What should we do when folks feel this way toward God?
- How can we help them in ways more important that talk?
What do you consider to be the most meaningful promise found in Romans chapter 8?
- Does remembering that we live in a broken world crying out for deliverance help you understand our natural disasters?
- Why is it essential that the Holy Spirit intercedes for us regarding matters that are too deep for words?
- How are the promises of Romans 8:22-29 given power and meaning by the Christ hymn in Philippians 2:5-11 and the example of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane in Mark 13:32-42?