We can weep, we can be angry over wrongs, we can be upset about situations. But we can’t be bitter. And of course, if we are bitter, we end up hurting people. How can we not be bitter? Because God, Jesus is walking with us through the pain. And we have comfort and strength.
The topic given to me is, ‘Embracing suffering in ministry,’ and I want to take the second half of Romans 8, and present to you six words that will help us to be joyful in the midst of the suffering that we encounter in ministry. So, if you read the passage, you come to verse 20, which says, “The whole creation, for the creation, was subjected to futility. Not willingly, but because of him who subjected it in hope.” That’s the first-word, “futility,” or, as other translations put it, frustration. Things don’t work out as we expect them to all the time. Because of the fall, the world lost its equilibrium. And things happen that we don’t plan or desire. And of course, the pandemic has made it even more marked, as our plans have to be constantly changed because of the situation around us.
Of course, Jesus himself had to face frustration. We know that Jesus had a disciple Judas, who used to steal. I mean, the all-knowing Savior of the world, had the treasurer of his group, steal from him, take money from the common purse. He prayed, “Let this cup pass away from me,” but it was not fulfilled. That prayer was frustrated because God had a greater plan. According to that, Jesus came to serve incarnationally, and incarnational ministry means he had to be one with humanity and one with humanity as they suffer. So, Jesus suffered as people suffered, and we too must suffer. Our plans, ambitious, sometimes are dashed because of problems. Even while preparing for this talk, I found event after event because of the needs of people coming in to stop me from doing the preparation I wanted to do. This happens to us often as we are servants of people. Their plans sometimes supersede ours, so that our preparation has to be done with great difficulty like financial problems. I’m sure many pastors would be encountering financial problems during this pandemic. That’s what many are facing in Sri Lanka, as people are not working, and they cannot send their normal tithes to the church because some have lost their jobs. There are problems with the weather, lockdowns, sickness, and sometimes even death, unpleasant relationships at home, sometimes with spouses, problems that we encounter. And these are all coming under the rubric of frustration. So that’s the first word, frustration.
The second word is groaning. Verse 22, says, “The whole creation is groaning together in the pains of childbirth.” Of course, childbirth means there is hope something wonderful is going to come, that is that the creation is going to be redeemed. But even while we have this hope, we groan. Because now there is pain. And not only does the creation groan, but verse 23 says, “We who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly.” We have the first fruits of the Spirit. In other words, we have experienced God. We know he’s with us. We know our eternal destiny. We have had a taste of heaven already. But now, we experience pain and frustration. And so we groan. We have been given the freedom to groan by God, to express our pain.
Now groaning is different from grumbling. Grumbling is done by those who are disobedient, who are rebelling against God’s will. Groaning in the Bible is the groaning of the obedient, who have been faithful to God, and in spite of their faithfulness, they are experiencing problems, troubles, difficulties, and deprivation. The Old Testament Psalms give many laments, maybe 60 out of the 150, depending on whose classification you follow, are laments. And one of the most famous ones is Psalm 22, which starts with the words, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” And Jesus took those words and made them his own. So we can weep. We can question God, like the psalmist questions God. We can express our pain in words, in sighs. We don’t have to bottle up our pain and our questions. That will make us depressed, and even bitter. God has given us the freedom to weep. In fact, I would say that groaning is the alternative to quitting. Some people don’t know how to groan, can’t handle the frustration, and in their frustration, they quit. We don’t quit, we groan. We express our pain to our colleagues, to God, and mainly to God. We express our pain. So that’s the second word, groaning.
Now we come to the third word, which is fellowship, the fellowship of the Holy Spirit. The first part of verse 26 says, “Likewise, the Spirit helps us in our weakness.” Though God is strong, still, while we live on Earth, we have weaknesses. Here, the particular weakness mentioned is that we do not know what to pray for, as we ought. I’m sure many of you have felt that with this pandemic that we are going through. We feel helpless. We don’t know what to pray for, we don’t know what we should pray about. Many of us, because we are leaders, ask God, “Lord, help us, help me, help me to say the right prayer to direct these people right in prayer.” There are so many situations that we cannot control, and we feel weak.