Are You an Encourager or an Analyzer?

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How can you have a ministry of comfort and encouragement? First, be compassionate and humble. Use scripture lovingly and tenderly. Keep it short and simple. Listen attentively. And anticipate their needs.

In Philip Yancey's book "Disappointment With God," he says that Christians have three questions that they don't usually voice out loud because they sound unspiritual. The first is, "Is God unfair?" That's the question that Asaph struggled with in Psalm 73. "God, why do I see the righteous suffering and the wicked seeming to prosper?" The second is, "Is God silent?" That's the question Job asks. "How come God doesn't speak to me in this?" And the third question is, "Is God hidden?" In other words, "Where is God when I suffer?"

Suffering comes to every person. We see that in the Bible very plainly. It comes to young and old, spiritual and unspiritual alike. As we see in Job, God allows some suffering to take place, for His purposes. Even if Satan is the source, he can only act by permission, and his power is limited by God's sovereignty. God still operates by the principle that He rewards the righteous, and punishes the wicked. But we don't see this immediately.

A spiritual person can suffer so intensely that they can say things they wouldn't ordinarily say. Job has been stripped physically and emotionally, and now he is struggling spiritually. And so, swamped in disillusionment, he voices his frustration. "Look, I go forward, but He is not there, and backward, but I cannot perceive Him" (Job 23:8).

Those around him were no help at all. His wife told him to curse God and die. His friends told him there must be sin in his life or he wouldn't be suffering. Contrast this with Jesus, when Mary told him that if he'd been there Lazarus wouldn't have died. He didn't rebuke her. He understood, and He let her say it.

My deep prayer is that God will raise up encouragers among us rather than analyzers. How can you have a ministry of comfort and encouragement? First, be compassionate and humble. Use scripture, but use it lovingly and tenderly. And keep it short and simple, just like your prayers. Listen attentively, because a suffering person needs to tell their story. A good listener is like a walking intensive care unit. And anticipate their needs. Don't tell them to call if they need you. Give them your help without being asked.

If you're the one who is suffering, remember that Job's worst pain was that he didn't know why, and that God seemed hidden. But in 23:10 he says, "But He knows the way that I take; when He has tested me, I shall come forth as gold." God is aware of your suffering and pain. David said, "For the Lord watches over the way of the righteous" (Psalm 1:6). God is aware, and He is at work.

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