By: Jim Savastio
At some point or other in your ministry you are going to get one of those calls informing you that one of the beloved sheep has suddenly entered into a time of suffering. It may be that someone has died, it may be the diagnosis of a devastating disease to themselves or one of their children, it may be a shocked spouse whose husband or wife has abandoned them. What should you do? What should you say? How can you respond in a way that only helps and does not add to the wounds of this dear brother or sister?
In light of such recent news in my own flock, I was drawn afresh to the book of Job. Job is the quintessential book on suffering. The majority of the book deals with the discussions between Job and his three friends. Though Job’s friends are rightly viewed as the antithesis of compassion and good counsel, they nonetheless demonstrated true love in their initial approach to Job.
11 Now when Job’s three friends heard of all this adversity that had come upon him, each one came from his own place—Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite, and Zophar the Naamathite. For they had made an appointment together to come and mourn with him, and to comfort him. 12 And when they raised their eyes from afar and did not recognize him, they lifted their voices and wept; and each one tore his robe and sprinkled dust on his head toward heaven. 13 So they sat down with him on the ground seven days and seven nights, and no one spoke a word to him, for they saw that his grief was very great.
First, they desired to be with Job. We do not know the distance that they had to travel, but the news of Job’s tragedy meant that they would travel to be with their suffering friend.
Second, they desired to mourn with him. Some translations say ‘to sympathize.’ The original language speaks of allowing one’s soul to be shaken. They desired to enter into his sorrows and to mingle their tears with his.
Third, they determined to comfort Job. This indicates that there were comforting truths about God and His promises that they had intended to convey to their friend, truths that would blot away Job’s tears. The text tells us that they wisely altered some of their plans when they saw their friend. His tragedy overwhelmed them. They tore their robes, cast dust upon their heads, and simply sat silently with their friend for seven days and seven nights. In these desires they did well. Where they derailed was in their making dogmatic assertions without all the evidence.
In all tragedy there are secret things which belong only to the Lord our God. In dealing with this section of Scripture my mind ran to some counsel I offered years ago to aid others in dealing with grief. This was born out of being on the receiving end of those who sought to minister to me and my wife in the loss of a child.
1) Swift Feet. Have swift feet to come and be in the presence of those who are grieving.
2) Long Arms. Have long arms to embrace the one who is grieving.
3) Busy Hands. Have busy hands to meet the practical needs of the one who is grieving. Taking care of their laundry or cutting their grass, stocking the refrigerator and providing child care; all these can be a great blessing to one suddenly overtaken in sorrow.
4) Bent Knees. Have bent knees to intercede for the one who is grieving.
5) Large Ears. Have large ears to listen to the one who is grieving.
6) Wet Eyes. Have wet eyes that let the suffering one know that we are weeping with them. Sometimes our greatest ministry to a suffering saint is our tears.
7) Small Mouth. Have a small and well guarded mouth in regard to the one who is grieving. The temptation to ‘explain’ what God is doing and to quickly end the pain of those suffering can cause us to derail as quickly as Job’s well intentioned friends did.
May God help us to fulfill the true meaning of the body of Christ unto the end that when one member suffers, all the members suffer with them.
Jim Savastio is the pastor of The Reformed Baptist Church of Louisville and the President of Practical Shepherding. Jim is married and has 4 children.