Giving and Receiving God’s Word

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.

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18 thoughts on “Giving and Receiving God’s Word

  1. You are absolutely right, Barbara … we need to discern, by the power of the Spirit, when to speak, what to say, and when to be still so the Lord can do His work.

    I’ve seen well meaning Christ followers lob verses at the wounded and broken, leaving them in worse shape than they already were.

    May the beauty of Jesus be seen in us in whatever way would draw others closer to Himself.

    Sometimes we simply need to weep with those who weep.

    Your final words say it all, friend – ‘May God give us eager “ears to hear” His Word and make us gracious and sensitive encouragers.’

    Bless you!

    • I’m learning that there’s not really a formula–five ways to help those who are grieving, a procedure to follow for those who are hurting. Every situation is different. We so need to be walking with God and following His leading.

  2. Discernment is such an important word, I think, and to read your person as we all are different. There are times as with Job when just being is the best medicine. I liked reading Job as a favorite book, and was clear that sometimes his friends offered too much. Incline my heart (and head and mouth at times for me) to your testimonies. Love Psalms…such good advice.

  3. This is a really interesting thought. One thought that came to me as I read was that, for me at least, I think scripture might be better appreciated if written in a note or card than if spoken in person. Again, maybe it’s just me, but I prefer seeing/reading/thinking about something rather than being confronted in person. Kind of related — recently the (unwelcome) thought occurred to me that in some ways I associate God, the Bible, etc. with stress. This is because, while I pray and read the Bible daily, the times when I am most “into” it seem to be times of stress and troubles. I hate that I have come to make this negative association and am going to pray about it.

    • I’m more inclined to share a thought or verse in a note, too, when I’ve had time to think and pray about it. And I think I’m probably more receptive to it in that form as well.

      I think it’s probably normal to go to the Bible with more urgency and sense of need when there’s some kind of problem. Maybe that would be another application of asking Him to incline our heart to His testimonies–in the everyday needs and fellowship with Him.

  4. Barbara,
    What a call to be tuned in to the Holy Spirit so as to sharpen our “spiritual IQ.” I know how much I didn’t like some scripture quoted to me in my times of suffering because it did seem trite and cliche. It takes real discernment to know the right time. We can emmulate Jesus’s example — weep first, speak second. Awesome post!
    Blessings,
    Bev xx

  5. Such a good lesson you’ve shared! Learning to be sensitive to others and to the Holy Spirit will help us have the right words to share when needed. Listening and being present is sometimes more eloquent than quoting pithy bits of Scripture, and our compassion may win us the opening to share God’s Word as well.

  6. Barbara, your post brought this Scripture to mind: “Like apples of gold in settings of silver
    Is a word spoken in right circumstances” (Proverbs 25:11, NASB). Praying this would be true of the words I speak and write each day.

  7. Some people use Scripture like a period at the end of a sentence –it stops the conversation. Or like a blob of mortar to patch a hole.
    You are right to encourage us to seek wisdom before speaking!

  8. Such good counsel. Appreciate your post. There’s a friend I know who seems unable to hold a conversation without lecturing and quoting a half dozen passages of Scripture. This sense of “I never know if this is my last opportunity to share God’s word” outweighed any inclination from the Holy Spirit or personal discernment.

  9. I appreciate what you’re saying here, Barbara. While God may be our main source of comfort, for those in the depths of pain, He sometimes feels out of reach. In those times I am grateful that God can work through other humans to give genuine and personal words of comfort. Perhaps the person you mentioned at the top of the post was just pointing out they wouldn’t share cliches of any sort. Often our attempts at sharing “Bible words” can come across as cliche and unhelpful when what people really need is a direct encounter with Jesus himself. Your closing line is very appropriate: “May God give us eager “ears to hear” His Word and make us gracious and sensitive encouragers.”

  10. As usual, I appreciate your thoughts so much, Barbara. I’ve been on the receiving end of pat Bible answers, and so I tend to err on the side of being overly cautious about doing this. I agree with Susan about including a verse in a card or letter … that’s when I’m most likely to share one too, but only after careful thought!

  11. Your post is well thought out and very true. We can feel the Holy Spirit nudging us as well as holding us back for the right season to share. May our hearts indeed be inclined to our Lord and Savior to receive a well-timed and intended word. Thank you for sharing!

  12. Amen to your prayer, Barbara. I think you definitely hit the nail on the head when you said we really need to stay close to the Lord to have the discernment we need to meet people’s needs. I also appreciate your thought that we shouldn’t be completely hesitant to share Scripture just because it sometimes gets misused. Honestly, I don’t have much to offer in the way of answers to any of life’s suffering other than God’s Word.

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