by Jim Racke
October 15, 2020: It was one quick instant. Our life had been on co-pilot as I negotiated working 60 hours a week, serving God in our local church, and my wife teaching full-time at the school God called her to minister in over 35 years ago. In one quick moment we entered the period of life known as suffering.
My relatively-well wife, Shirley woke up suffering a mild stroke. The news went from “mild stroke” to being told without much compassion that Shirley had five masses of cancer in her body, which included three in the lungs and two around the stomach area. What a shock when five years earlier we had told that the chances of Shirley having problems with cancer was 3% at Duke University Hospital in Durham, NC.
In God’s Word, the Bible challenges the body of believers to encourage one another and to edify the church through our speech (Ephesians 4:29). There are many lessons the church can learn about how to encourage those who are going through suffering.
Look for those who are suffering and strive to encourage them weekly. Many Christians hear someone is suffering and do a one-time reach out to a suffering Christian, when in fact the suffering continues week after week. Sickness, chemotherapy, traveling, worrying and concern over cancer—these weigh down the believer.
Many Christians are not truly interested in encouraging the suffering; they would much rather enjoy fellowship with their group of friends at church. Those suffering live with their trials and storms day after day, minute to minute, and week to week. Take time to look for those who are suffering and pray with them and for them.
Many Christians want to share their advice, when in fact just giving an ear to a hurting Christian is just what the doctor ordered. I love this quote I heard at a Christian camp which states, “I don’t care how much you know until I know how much you care.” James 1:19 gives great counsel to those who want to encourage those who are suffering.
When you are going through suffering you find out who your true friends are. Many say they are your friends, but when the rubber meets the road many of your so-called friends become fair minded friends.
No suffering Christian wants to meet Job’s friends. A Christian suffering is usually very much aware of why suffering occurs in the life of a believer. One well-meaning Christian told me, “You may not yet know what the sin is that is causing you all this suffering.” This is not what we needed to hear in our hour of suffering and trials.
In our case we have gone through a season of trials and suffering. The cancer was followed by major house repairs, and things culminated when a supervisor at work tried to get me fired, targeting me on three different occasions. This left me with 10 weeks of no income while fighting the false charges against me. The trials have lasted almost a solid year. God has been so good and faithful to us, but the road would have been a little easier if the body of believers had taken these lessons to heart about how to minister to those suffering.
The next time you hear that someone in your church is suffering, why not make them one of your missions to build up and encourage? A quick weekly phone call, an encouraging email or letter, a small gift dropped by the house, a gift certificate to one of their favorite restaurants, or a drop-by visit to listen more than you speak. You will never know the impact the words “I thought of you today and prayed specifically for you” mean to one who is going through suffering.
Galatians 6:2: “Bear ye one another’s burdens and so you shall fulfill the law of Christ.”
Jim and Shirley Racke