The world is full of bad advice for hurting hearts.
Is your marriage struggling?
Are you depressed?
Is life wearing you down and begging you to eat your feelings?
Those are exaggerations, but they are only exaggerations of actual words our world shares with suffering hearts. Is your marriage a disappointment? Make sure you’re getting what you need out of it. Are you discouraged? Pursue pleasure. Are you hurting in any way? Believe in yourself and keep on eating. These “words of wisdom” will only compound our pain.
As a group leader shepherding God’s people, you regularly walk with others through the painful points of life. You are well-acquainted with the words the world has for those who struggle. But you also know that the words we need do exist. We have God’s words to God’s children in the painful moments, and these promises will push us closer to Him.
James 5:10 is an example of God’s Word calling us to God’s Word in our seasons for suffering.
“Brothers and sisters, take the prophets who spoke in the Lord’s name as an example of suffering and patience.”
James sends us to God’s Word. He tells us in this verse to look at the prophets and, in doing so, he points us to the Bible for help for our hurting hearts. He wants those you lead to search for hope in the stories of those who have already suffered as children of God.
Here are three simple, encouraging questions that can help you help others.
First, as you consider the prophets, ask, “How did they suffer?” This is an encouraging question to ask because you are going to see the people you lead suffer in ways you could never imagine—and you’re going to see them suffer in ways you have already experienced. Whether the suffering was great or small, it can be an encouragement to us as people who similarly suffer as children of God, thousands of years later.
The second question to ask is, “How did they respond?” The answer to this question is encouraging because in God’s Word, we see examples of people who were joyful and courageous in suffering. But we also see examples of despair and tears and doubt. In short, we see the humans of the Bible respond the same way humans do today.
Last, we get to ask the most important question, “What did God do?” How did God respond to the pain? What did God ultimately bring about for His beloved? The answer for every prophet, every person, and every child of God who has ever lived, is that God responds with grace. Anywhere you look in the Bible, you will find the grace of God. It is who He is. As James says in chapter 5, the Lord is compassionate and merciful. So when we suffer, and when we heed the call of James to consider the people of God in the Word of God, that is what we witness. Grace after grace.
The Bible tells us God is gracious. The message of the prophets that James wants us to hear—the message of the guys who most knew what God was doing—is that we don’t know what God is doing, but we know He is doing good. The prophets tell us we don’t know what God is doing, but we know He is for us in the end. As you lead in seasons of suffering, those are the words your people most need.
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 Scarlet have three little girls and lead a community group at The Bridge Church in Spring Hill, TN.