“We don’t ignore the suffering around us, but we live with the hope that makes every suffering grow impossibly dim. All things will be made new, and it will be far more beautiful than the most creative human mind can begin to imagine.”Read More
At my most anxious, when I’m trying so hard to meet every spiritual requirement, my prayer life looks more like a repeated checklist than an honest plea. I pray for suffering people, organizations and missionaries, leaders, pastors, and everything except the things that creep into the back of my mind while I’m praying. And even though those other prayers are really honest, it almost feels like I’m just avoiding the persistent unanswered questions and unhealed wounds that I’m afraid to bring to God. What do I do with the whys and pleas for help that enter my mind?
The Psalmists bring them to God.
David, in Psalm 22, writes,
“My God, my God, why have you abandoned me? Why are you so far from my deliverance and from my words of groaning? My God, I cry by day, but you do not answer, by night, yet I have no rest. But you are holy…” (Psalm 22:1-3)
In the middle of his lament, he remembers God’s holiness and all He’s done for his people. This psalm is one of lament and deep sorrow, but it is also worship. In bringing this to God, he is already expressing dependence and acknowledging that God is powerful enough to sustain him through his pain.
God desires us to run to him with both the things that bring us joy and the things that bring us pain. He wants us to sing praises to Him with a strong voice, and collapse at His feet when we are at our weakest. He knows every part of the human experience, so why do we hide away the deepest sorrows of our hearts? When we lament, He listens. When we repent, He is quick to forgive. He hears our prayers, and it is at our weakest that His strength is made even more apparent.
I will still pray through the things on the list in my mind: for leaders and pastors and friends. But when I feel like I have no strength left, when I can’t see God’s plan for the situation I am in, when I don’t understand why friends have to suffer, I will bring it to God and collapse at His feet. He is so much more powerful than I can even comprehend, but He still cares for his people and listens to their prayers. For that, I worship.
One thing common to every believer is suffering. Many people have experienced the overwhelming isolation of some kind of hurt, and depression, whether it’s there for a season or most of a lifetime, can be found casting shadows over the lives of church members everywhere. There could be a person silently struggling sitting next to you on Sunday morning or talking and laughing with you in your weekly small group. Maybe you’re the person who’s silently struggling. One thing that could greatly benefit the collective church and the lives of individuals is openness. There is always a need for testimonials, people willing to mentor and guide others, and accessible people who can share their own story as encouragement to others to keep going. Though it’s often difficult, this openness would greatly build up the church.
Openness brings the church together.
For one thing, it is necessary in order for God’s people to carry out the “one anothers” commanded in the New Testament.
Through love, serve one another (Gal. 5:13)
Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ (Gal. 6:2)
Speak the truth with one another (Eph. 4:25)
Pray for one another (James 5:16)
Love one another (John 13:34-35)
In many cases, these things require openness.
How can Christians love and care for one another if they don’t know what other people are going through? How will they know how to pray for each other? How can believers bear one another’s burdens if they don’t know what burdens there are to bear?
People want to be truly known and feel like they’re part of a community, and Christian community is a gift from God! Without some level of vulnerability and openness, believers will continue to live life on the surface. Allowing other church members in to know your needs and to know the things you’ve been struggling with allows other people to care for you in a way they wouldn’t be able to otherwise.
Openness encourages the church.
Being open about various trials can also communicate truths about God. It shows others how the gospel has shaped lives, and it further communicates all the ways God continues to sustain and provide for His people, through the darkest nights and the brightest days.
In Paul’s writings in Philippians and 2 Corinthians, he writes about his own sufferings and what God is doing through him with the goal of building up the churches in Philippi and Corinth (and it now reaches churches worldwide!). Paul was imprisoned, beaten, stoned, went often without food, water, or clothing, and was in constant danger, but he didn’t write about his incredible strength to muscle up and power through it all. Instead, he shared his story to magnify the power of God.
He writes, “Join in imitating me, brothers and sisters, and pay careful attention to those who live according to the example you have in us” (Phil. 3:17 CSB). Paul uses his own life and experiences to encourage the church--to provide an example for them and to offer wisdom rooted in life experience. He says in 2 Corinthians, “If boasting is necessary, I will boast about my weaknesses,” and later writes that God said to him, “‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is perfected in weakness.’” Paul knows that his weaknesses show God’s power, and he knows that the church will be edified by the telling of his story.
It is encouraging to talk to other people who have been through the same things. Hearing stories you identify with reinforces the idea that God is faithful, that He is good, and that He can use people, not just apart from their weaknesses, but even through them, to make much of Himself.
Openness and vulnerability do cost something. They often cost comfort. Sometimes they will cost a certain reputation. But do we really want others to see us as shining images of perfection, or do we want to be known for who we are and loved anyway? Should we desire to be seen as all-powerful, or as weak but saved and sustained by the one who is truly all-powerful?
Openness encourages believers, it cultivates unity and community, and it magnifies the one who is great and greatly to be praised, so let’s take the risk. Let’s share our struggles with one another in order to encourage one another, care for one another, pray for each other, and make much of our God who is far more powerful, faithful, and loving than we can even comprehend.