Mark was at the pinnacle of his career. He had successfully led two mission organizations, one to unprecedented growth with global notoriety. He is an exceptional networker. His strengths are clearly in community building for ministry.
Mark had been warned about the dysfunction of the board of directors that oversaw the organization for which he was recently “head-hunted” for the position of CEO. However, he had hopes and plans to help the organization develop greater vision and was excited to begin building their community.
He put together a plan for replacing the offices of the ministry, networking with a Christian developer to greatly expand both the physical space of the offices and the visibility of the mission. The multi-million dollar project would cost the organization almost nothing.
However, it became apparent that the board chairman had a toxic streak Mark hadn’t counted on. The chairman began torpedoing his every move. It wasn’t the chairman’s idea, and so it would not succeed. By the time Mark was fired from his position, the dysfunction had reached new heights. Despite having had a very positive job evaluation recently, there was little or nothing said to him as they took his keys and escorted him from the building.
After a year, Mark was still deeply wounded and unsure of what the Lord had in mind for his future. Despite having had morning devotions for as long as he could remember, for several months he had little interest in reading his Bible.
James, the brother of Jesus, said, “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” [James 1:2-4 (ESV)]
“Count it all joy?” Could James have come up with a more shocking statement to lead into “when you meet trials of various kinds?” How is it possible to have joy when suffering?
He goes on to say we become better people and more prepared for walking in His grace through that trial. This is extraordinary encouragement for the Christian. We know a sovereign King who rules over the affairs of man and knows just how to make us stronger and more fit to be His image-bearers. He is constantly forming us into a people who fulfill His creational mandates of relating to his world and others in redemptive ways. This seems to happen through trials primarily.
Unfortunately, verses like these have been used as battering rams by well-meaning Christians seeking to encourage the faint-hearted. “Weep with those who weep” seems to be forgotten when a good “teaching moment” appears in the form of a trial faced by a brother. It would have been easy for Mark’s friends to bludgeon him with verses on reading scripture and challenge his attitude towards the Bible at that time.
I understand that often Christians struggle with how to respond to the brother burdened by trial and temptation. We have many beautiful passages such as in James that are intended as comfort food for the weary. You may have been encouraged by them yourself. But, how can we best use those passages to comfort others? I would suggest it is less how as when?
We are called by the Lord to build up the weak, encouraging one another daily. But, it is just as important to allow the Lord to do what He does best in the hearts of men. This may be the interpretive guide we need when considering Romans 12:15 in conjunction with Hebrews 3:13. In Romans Paul encourages the saints to show compassion by joining with their brother in joy or sadness. The preacher in Hebrews suggests daily exhortation of the brother. These are two very different approaches to a counseling opportunity.
There is no absolute guide to which step to take with the suffering brother. But, above all else, it is important to remember that the Lord knows His own and He can be trusted to guide and encourage the broken-hearted by His Holy Spirit. He gives us opportunity to be part of that, yet He does not need us to critique the “false thinking” of the broken at every turn.
Anyone who has been in counseling situations can tell of a myriad of times when suffering alongside in silence and concern has been just what the doctor ordered. It is extraordinary how God can take the thoughts and complaints of the sufferer and turn them to the truth of His Word and promises. Just allowing, in faith, the Lord to do so will encourage your own faith in His ability to get the job done in His time.
We see this clearly in Psalm 73 where Asaph is struggling with the arrogant. He envied them and he couldn’t understand why God did not simply strike them. After 16 verses of complaining, he says he “went into the sanctuary of God and discerned their end.” He gained perspective by being in God’s presence. By the end of the Psalm he is heartened:
But for me it is good to be near God; I have made the Lord GOD my refuge, that I may tell of all your works. [Psalms 73:28 (ESV)]
We know not what others may be facing as they battle a toxic boss or abusive individual. But, we know that God knows them and what is necessary for their growth. Unlike Job’s friends, maybe we need to sit quietly and trust in God’s ever-present help in the time of trouble.
In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. [1 Peter 1:6 (ESV)]
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