I’ll never forget the first time someone called me looking for comfort in a tragedy. I was a 19-year-old student pastor, and my primary ministerial gifts at that point were ordering pizza and playing Halo. I was actually playing video games when the call came. It was the mom of one of my middle school students, and when I answered she was already scream-crying. It took her several minutes to tell me her daughter had run away from home. She sobbed, “Brandon, I don’t know what to do.”
My heart stopped. My brain shut down. I didn’t know what to do either. Nor did I know what to say. I tried to talk, but no one has ever mumbled so many syllables without any actual words coming out. All I remember was the mother asking me for answers and having nothing to offer. I had nothing to share with her but stutters and awkward silence.
If you disciple others, you likely have had phone calls like that in your past or will have them in the future. The people you disciple will experience pain. They will undoubtedly suffer dark moments. And you have the awesome opportunity to be ready for the moments your brothers and sisters come to you for help. When they call, you have the privilege of pointing them toward comfort.
There are passages all over the Bible that can bring hope to hurting hearts, but one great example is the powerful psalm King David used to preach to his own heart during perhaps his darkest moment of suffering. When David was betrayed and hunted by his own son and in danger of losing everything he had, he knew what to say to his soul in Psalm 3. This Psalm can be a powerful message for those you love when they are seeking comfort in their suffering.
But You, Lord, are a shield around me, my glory, and the One who lifts up my head.” —Psalm 3:3
Here are three things to share with your people when they come to you for comfort:
1. The Lord is your shield.
When those you lead are suffering, remind them God is their sovereign protector. “Lord” means “the Existing One.” Everything else exists secondarily to Him. That means everything that has power only has power to the degree that God allows it to exist. He is sovereign AND He is a shield all around us. Nothing gets to the crying mother or the group member you love without getting through God. When a suffering brother or sister calls, you can tell them they are surrounded on all sides by the sovereign Lord of the universe.
2. The Lord is your significance.
David reminded himself in his suffering that the Lord was his glory. The word “glory” means “weightiness” or “significance.” To desire glory is to desire significance. I’m sure David wanted to be significant. He was the king of the nation of Israel, but when that was being taken from him, he knew where true significance rested. Compared to the glory of God, everything else is weightless. You and the people you disciple will be tempted to find your glory in a career, or a bank statement, or a waist size, but when those sources of false significance are shaken we can remember that we matter at all only because we matter to God. The fact that we matter to Him is stunning. It is a weightiness beyond anything we could hope to scrape together on our own. When you group members suffer, remind them that God is their significance.
3. The Lord is your hope.
The Lord is the lifter of your head. In Psalm 3, David’s life was wrecked. He lost his job. He lost his family. He was homeless. Most of us probably can’t even imagine a moment that dark. But David knew who he belonged to. David had been known to sing of God’s faithfulness and unfailing love. He trusted that the heart of God was filled with love for him, so even as his head hung in suffering, he could say with hope that his sorrow would not last forever. He knew the comforting hand of the Lord would ultimately lift him up. David knew God always lifts the heads of His hurting children. And the suffering souls you shepherd have that hope, too. Our dark moments will never have the last word.
Brandon Hiltibidal is a former church planter and multi-site pastor, and he is now part of the Groups Ministry team at Lifeway Christian Resources. He and his wife have two little girls. You can read about his group ministry and his girls on Twitter: @bmhiltibidal.