I was surprised recently to read of someone offering their support and sympathy but promising not to share Bible verses.
My first thought was, “Isn’t the Bible our main source of comfort?” Human comfort helps, but it only goes so far.
I think I know what the person meant, though. Sometimes it’s easy to pat someone on the back, quote Romans 8:28, and go on our merry way. That’s like the spiritual version of what James says about physical needs: “If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, be warmed and filled,’ without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that?” (James 2:15-16). We’re instructed to be quick to hear and slow to speak, to weep with those who weep, to suffer with others in the body of Christ who suffer. We’re to “Remember those who are in prison, as though in prison with them, and those who are mistreated, since you also are in the body” (Hebrews 13:3). We need to enter in to someone else’s pain rather than just offer them a bandage.
We also need to discern whether others are ready to hear. God had Elijah eat and sleep before talking with him. Nathan told David a story before confronting him with his gross sin. Jesus once told the disciples, “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now.”
Once one of my coworkers suffered a miscarriage. This young woman was not a Christian. She told our manager that she didn’t want anyone to say anything about her situation when she returned to work. But one of the other ladies, a Christian, made it a point to speak to her about her miscarriage on her first day back. I don’t know what was said or how it was received. But it seemed unwise not to give this woman the time she asked for.
Someone has said that Job’s friends did more for him when they sat in silence than when they began to advise him. Sometimes a sorrow is so deep or so new, we should just express sympathy and share our presence and support. Pat answers and cliches don’t help.
Sometimes, too, when the person we want to comfort is a mature Christian, we can’t tell them anything they don’t already know. They know how to seek the Scriptures and lay their hearts bare before the Lord. That doesn’t mean we should never say anything comforting to them from the Word, but we just need to be led by the Spirit and not by our need to “say something” or “fix” the situation.
We need wisdom, grace, discernment, and the Holy Spirit’s leading when we share God’s Word with people. Job’s friends were sure that Job was suffering because he sinned. Since God said Job had not sinned, all his friends’ counsel was misapplied. In fact, Job called them miserable comforters.
But I have known what is it, as I am sure you have, to have someone share “a word spoken in due season.” When my mother passed away, someone shared in a card the verse that shaped my prayers for that time: “Let, I pray thee, thy merciful kindness be for my comfort, according to thy word unto thy servant” (Psalm 119:76, KJV). Often someone has shared a verse or sometimes just a thought or principle from the Bible at just the right time for whatever I was dealing with at the moment. That’s the kind of comforter and encourager I want to be. That can only come from walking closely with the Lord and spending time in God’s Word so the Holy Spirit can bring to mind what He wants us to share.
On the other side of this coin, though, as one receiving comfort or instruction, aren’t there times we just don’t want to hear it? Sometimes that’s because it’s coming from someone who hasn’t taken the time to really listen and enter in to the situation. But sometimes it’s due to other causes.
Sometimes we don’t want to hear because of our flesh. When you’re reaching for your third donut, you don’t want to hear about self-control. When you want to lash out at someone, you don’t want to hear verses about forbearing and forgiving. I’ve often prayed that God would help me look for the way to escape temptation that He promised rather than looking for an excuse to indulge.
Sometimes we don’t want to give up our pain because we want the person who caused it to suffer. Sometimes we might even be mad at God for what He allowed.
Sometimes we might not want to hear truth because we’re feeling a little dull or distracted spiritually.
The times when we least want to hear God’s Word are the times we most need it. A verse I like to pray in those times is Psalm 119:36: “Incline my heart to your testimonies.”
The Holy Spirit uses the Word of God to revive us.
- Jesus said, “It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life” (John 6:63).
- “This is my comfort in my affliction, that your promise gives me life” (Psalm 119:50).
- “I will never forget your precepts, for by them you have given me life.” (Psalm 119:93).
We’re still responsible for the truth we hear and read, even if the person sharing it isn’t doing so in the best way or time. Sometimes we just have to extend grace and ask God to minister to our hearts.
May God give us eager “ears to hear” His Word and make us gracious and sensitive encouragers.
. (I often link up with some of these bloggers)