However, while I say a good answer is not always the most helpful thing it can sometimes be helpful and so it is also good if we have taken some time to work one out. This is particularly true for those who immediately surround a person in pain or difficulty and they will often be the folk who ask you the question "Why?" Pete Greig has written a terrific book called God on Mute that you may find helpful if you want to start working out some answers. Randy Alcorn has also done a very comprehensive study of the difficult questions surrounding these things in his book If God is Good . I have also been blessed by his work on Heaven which I read last year and is helpful on suffering. In 'If God is Good' he writes,
“We shouldn’t wait until suffering comes to start learning about how to face it any more than we should wait to fall into the water to start learning how to scuba dive.”
(via Tim Challies Book Review)
This post by Matt Perman is helpful called Correcting a misunderstanding on the Sovereignty of God and provides some helpful insight around what is and always will be a very searching issue. So when trial or trouble is faced what might we do as we walk along side others or indeed as we ourselves are called to walk through things.
1. Pray: It seems obvious but prayer is something we must all do. When you face trauma and pain so often prayer is the thing that is hardest to muster for yourself. We have in our church what we call a 'Prayer Chain' which is a church mobile to which anyone can text a need or the need of another and those who want to receive these texts can then pray. We have about eighty people who pray multiple times a day for all sorts of things. Sometimes these prayers are small things but they can also be extreme emergencies of sickness or difficulty. Those facing suffering or battles often need us to hold up their arms (Exodus 17) and as the body of the church that is what we are called to do. This little snippet called 'Prayer causes things to happen' I came across a while back and gave me a helpful insight that got me praying a bit more.
2. Ask for wisdom: I know in my own life that when I am amid a difficulty the way I pray is very often to ask God to get me out of it. James 1:2-5 suggests that what we actually need is wisdom and to ask God for it. Wisdom gives us the ability to process and comprehend and walk through the things we are going through and give them an eternal rather than an immediate perspective.
3. Be in community: We are encouraged to 'keep meeting together' and when we walk through pain with others they are able to carry some of the burdens. So often I am amazed and left in wonder at our church when we are called to walk through a season of suffering together with an individual or a family. It causes me anguish conversely when someone is facing suffering without the comfort and support of the body of Christ or when someone has ceased to be part of a body and then faces trial. It is often our network of home groups that come into life in extraordinary ways when one of their number is suffering which is why I would encourage you to join a community/home'/life group in your church if you are not in one. Our stepping on point for community we call Live Life.
4. Know the gospel: I have found a little book called Note to self to be a real help. The person who most quickly forgets the gospel it seems is me. Actually, in truth it's all of us who so quickly forget the gospel and perhaps at no time more so than when life hits the buffers. Reminding ourselves regularly of God's goodness and writing his grace on our hearts helps us when trouble comes. I return to this talk called 'If God is good why is there so much suffering in the world?' often.
5. Practice thanksgiving and worship: Gratitude does not come naturally. The world is full of people who when you open the door for them while entering a shop fail to say thank you. Then you realise that person is actually you! The truth is by nature we are not full of thanks and spend so little time thanking God for his amazing favour and mercy to us. We have so much to thank him for and have been blessed with so much. Learning to practice thanksgiving and to spend time in worship and to express this in generosity to others is a helpful way to prepare yourself for suffering. I have been doing this in my car recently listening to The Loft Sessions.
6. Believe God acts: As is often said we live in the now but the not yet. We are called to pray for the Kingdom to come and we are to expect it. When someone is sick we pray they would get well. When someone has a need we ask for God to meet it in the midst of their suffering or indeed we together meet that need. Matt Perman writes, 'So, even though God is in control of all things, we are never to allow that to be a reason or excuse for not helping another in need or fighting evil with all our might. (Indeed,
it’s God’s sovereignty which is our best cause for hope.)
So, what do you think? With God on our side like this, how can we lose? If God didn't hesitate to put everything on the line for us, embracing our condition and exposing himself to the worst by sending his own Son, is there anything else he wouldn't gladly and freely do for us? And who would dare tangle with God by messing with one of God's chosen? Who would dare even to point a finger? The One who died for us—who was raised to life for us!—is in the presence of God at this very moment sticking up for us. Do you think anyone is going to be able to drive a wedge between us and Christ's love for us? There is no way! Not trouble, not hard times, not hatred, not hunger, not homelessness, not bullying threats, not backstabbing, not even the worst sins listed in Scripture