12th May 2015

It’s been 3 months since I last wrote a blog and there’s a good reason for this; I’ve been seriously ill since then. Over the past five years or so I’ve had a series of problems with my heart resulting in two operations and lots of time spent in hospital. And this time a new problem has developed which has not yet been resolved. For the past 3 months I’ve been in a lot of pain and I’ve been very poorly. At the moment I find it difficult just to get through each day.

I’ve found this very hard to bear because it comes on top of other forms of suffering in recent years. In fact, if follows decades of suffering and hardship. The effects of this latest period of illness have been to put my life on hold and to bring me down. When you’re very poorly it is very hard to think of anything else but the suffering you are experiencing. You become self-absorbed and self-pitying and you spiral into a darkness which is hard to get out of.

When this happens, those around you don’t always know what to do and sometimes they make matters worse. For instance, many years ago I had the painful experience of not finishing my training at seminary and for a year afterwards I struggled to cope with this apparent setback. And in the midst of this difficult time I received a well-meaning letter from someone who wrote, “When the going gets tough the tough get going”. Such clichéd responses to someone’s suffering are completely wrong. During that same period my own Christian community did something else that was wrong; they turned their backs on me, blaming me for my suffering. In their eyes I was a failure and not good enough for them. Another wrong response that I’ve experienced in the past and in my latest period of suffering is to tell me that I’m not the only one who’s suffering. The intention is well meaning but it’s still the wrong response to someone’s suffering.

So how should Christians respond to a brother who is suffering? Well, it’s quite simple really; you walk alongside them, listening to them, sharing their pain and speaking scripture into their lives. You exercise great patience and you shine the Word of God into their darkness and in time they will be healed and they will emerge from the darkness. Never reject, abandon or ignore someone who is suffering and never rebuke or get angry or frustrated with them.

I remember the first time that someone responded in the right way to a period of suffering I was experiencing a long time ago. I was a young man at seminary and it wasn’t going well. I never found acceptance there and I experienced rejection after rejection. At one time this got to me and I experienced a period depression. When this happened a friend came to my room one evening and spent hours with me reading scripture and reminded me of God’s perspective on the situation. It worked and I got up and carried on in faith. In fact he was doing just what Jesus did with the two disciples on the road to Emmaus. However, when we do speak scripture into the life of someone who is suffering it has to be the right scripture. It has to be the right scripture for that moment in time and this needs to be revealed by the Holy Spirit.

This is what has happened to me this time. I am able to write this blog today because the right scriptures have been spoken into my life and I’ve been lifted out of the darkness. On this occasion it happened when I listened to Dr Martyn Lloyd Jones teach about the eternal decrees of God. This subject was not new to me but this timely reminder was just what I needed.