As with all single-stranded approaches to the many stranded Gospel of God’s free grace in Christ, whatever truth the “help for hurting” Gospel contains, such is, at best, a lop-sided, approach – it also runs the risk of missing or mutilating the whole Christ that we preach. A “touchy-feely” tactic may seem to initially strike short-term oil in a narcissistic, “snow-flake”, age: however, at very least, if called to bind up (spiritually) broken-hearts, we are also charged to bring sin to light and preach a Gospel that humbles pride, offers salvation to the damned, eternal life to the dead, and acquittal and adoption to the condemned and prodigal.
A number of things of late have prompted me to write this piece – the latest was meeting a friend who I hadn’t seen for some time, to whom I had to offer advice because his life is falling apart. Having sat in the sun earlier for our socially distanced chat, I have been prompted to reflect a little more on some lessons gleaned from my reading in my morning daily devotions.
A General Truth
While there are always exceptional cases that serve to prove the rule, I think this general principal holds: that there is a deep connection between, and inter-relatedness of, those who are trained by brokenness and their pastoral effectiveness. Sadly, most novice efforts of self-proclaimed helpers of the “broken and bruised” are often sincere, give symptomatic relief, but rarely heal the wound of the underlying cause.
On the one hand, there is the earnest counsellor who employs learnt or self-taught dulcet tones, soft words, timed nods, or scripted sympathetic looks, to reach out to the crushed; on the other hand, there is the “been-through-the-mill” believer who has no need to advertise their pastoral understanding, who is able to point to the fountain from which they came distraught and drank to obtain relief for Christ.
A Pertinent Text
This seems to be one of the important points that Paul is making as he begins his second letter to the Corinthians: there is both spiritual nous and experiential depth to the words of the master pastor who has endured the tempest and furnace, having passed through fire and water, with the made-to-fit help of the God of tender mercies and all compassion, in 2 Corinthians 1:3-7:
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too. If we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation; and if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which you experience when you patiently endure the same sufferings that we suffer. Our hope for you is unshaken, for we know that as you share in our sufferings, you will also share in our comfort.
In the sovereign purpose of God, brokenness and perplexity had straightened the life of Paul: time without number, the apostle, near-despair, was cast down to his knees; in utter distress, man offered no relief for tests that clearly surpassed the apostle’s all-too-human strength; Saul of Tarsus learnt to cast himself on God and cry out for His grace; in darkest hours and trials, God the Father of all Compassion, through His once-derelict, “to-Hell-and-back-for-us”, sympathetic, understanding, infinitely-experienced, Great High Priest, supplied overflowing comfort, by His Spirit, in abundance to His child. Having been to this font of Triune mercy, the pastor from Cilicia, knew where to tell the afflicted they could surely find relief.
An Application List
It would be hard to overestimate the number of potential comforting and challenging ways in which this principle can be applied to the benefit of God’s sheep. Others, doubtless, spring to mind as this passage echoes in your head – before rounding off with vital caveats, note some ways we can work out this text:
- Never despise the trial that you face, whether as the common human lot, or particularly as the pangs of faith that you endure for the sake of Christ – each trouble you face was timed, ordained and designed, in love, before the foundation of the world: each was aimed to cause you to lean on the Lord for grace in order to train you to be of future help to rescued, fellow, sheep (though believer trials, no doubt, have many other uses too). Our gloomiest griefs may be vexing and painful but they are valuable and essential.
- Those who suffer the deepest, darkest, devastating trials, if they endure them by grace, and are trained and developed by them, are usually those who. by grace, are able to help similarly-tested souls most.
- Saints who long to be serviceable to Christ, in this matter of comforting and supporting the broken and distressed (whether persecuted or perplexed), are usually prepared for this ministry by their own deep distress, or a high degree or disproportionate insight into a lesser or smaller distress – it is rare in the extreme to find a man or woman untouched by great distress who will be of enormous help. In this counselling work, experience carries a disproportionate weight – it is doubtful that if Christ’s depth of human sympathy had to be refined in the furnaces of Gethsemane, Gabbatha and Golgotha, that the skill of any infinitely lesser saint can be formed in any other mould.
- Those who are younger in life or less experienced in faith should be far slower and much less confident than they usually are to offer help to the broken and crushed: the early years are, generally speaking, times to listen and learn and study ways and woes that we may understand how to cope with trials that are sure to come along. The broken are often smashed by insensitive, thoughtless, words which have been far too rashly, rudely or readily proffered by a novice. The tragedy is the slow speed at which an unskilled counsellor often learns – there are few if any alive, but Christ, who do not need to repent of reckless or thoughtless words or become more acquainted with, and attuned to, grief to help.
- If and when you are called to pass through deep, dark, dread-filled valleys, be comforted by the fact that the deeper the pain the higher the power which can be sourced in Christ as an ever-present help. Learn to count it a privilege that you are learning, in your hardship, just a little bit more of what your redemption really cost Christ at the Cross, as you tread in the steps of (non-redemptive) sufferings for your Lord’s sake. Expect in the darkness that light will fill you heart so that, whatever the circumstance, the grace of Christ will be more than a match.
- No doubt it will be hard to forget the sorrows that you experienced in the depths – yet make it your earnest plea during and after the grief, that God would sanctify your sufferings and make it a blessing to comfort others. Cry to Christ to fill you heart with sympathy, that you may reap the maximum yield from your own harrowing harvest of heartache which will sow seeds of grace to plant, grow and bear fruit in other broken, suffering, saints.
- Sometimes, by His providence, the Lord leads us into situations where we are called to comfort the afflicted and broken in a way that exceeds our current experience – in such circumstances we should pray for wisdom, balance, tact, kindness, discernment and faithfulness, in faith, and expect to see some fruit. Often the course that is best is to say the least and seek to enlist another, more-experienced, help.