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How to Suffer (and to Preach Suffering)

February 26, 2008

If you have suffered or struggle to minister, counsel, or preach on suffering, Instruments in the Redeemer’s Hands by Paul Tripp has a chapter you should read. Mind you, Tripp is not dealing with the philosophical problem of evil; he is addressing the practical issues of suffering. The chapter entitled “Building Relationships By Identifying with Suffering” holds out a deeply communal, redemptive vision of suffering. Accordingly, he frames his chapter with this insight:

You are a sufferer who has been called by God to minister to other s in pain. Suffering is not only the common ground of human relationships, but one f God’s most useful workrooms. (145)

Tripp goes on to develop “the humble character of personal ministry” in suffering, noting that God sends suffering people into our lives, not only so that they will change, but so that we will change too. (146) He pushes back against the spiritual professional approach of many pastors, who are inclined to dole out advice and counsel in suffering without identifying with others in suffering. I was convicted of this tendency to identify with sufferers “from above,” not from their level. When recounting stories of suffering and how God sustained me through them, I have typically pointed to God’s sufficiency and the triumph of his grace, but without confessing my struggles towards embracing that sufficiency and victory.

As a result, on Saturday night I changed the way I told/shared/preached the story of losing my best friend to suicide. I did my best to follow Tripp’s advice: “Tell your story in a way that breaks down the misconception that you are essentially different form the person you are helping” (155). And I incorporated these elements: 1) the difficult situation 2) your struggle in the midst of it, and 3) how God helped you. Some of us need to do more of 1, just telling the stories. Others need more 2, to be more honest about our struggles in suffering. And others need more 3, to look beyond the pain to embrace and tell of God’s all-sufficient grace in suffering.

This chapter helped me immensely. I hope that this post helps you.

6 Comments leave one →
  1. February 26, 2008 12:58 pm

    I’ve heard this book referenced so many times. Just added it to my Amazon wishlist, though I suppose I should support Westminster Bookstore.

    You said, “I was convicted of this tendency to identify with sufferers “from above,” not from their level.”

    You and me both brother!!! His advice really resonates with me. It’s so simple, but not simplistic and I think that the Spirit will use it to produce humility.

    How was your story and your sharing received this time?

  2. February 26, 2008 5:18 pm

    People seemed to really be challenged by and appreciate the sermon. I hope to get better feedback soon.

  3. richard t. permalink
    February 26, 2008 5:27 pm

    Count me as one who really appreciated the sermon. I am grateful for your willingness to be vulnerable and to share that part of yourself with us. (Also, thank you for pointing us to Tripp.) I have reflected on the sermon and God’s design in suffering the past several days. Any way to get a copy? My wife would appreciate hearing it.


  4. February 26, 2008 5:40 pm

    hey Richard! thanks for sharing that feedback. the sermon was recorded and I have the mp3. miranda and i will be working to get it uploaded to the web. in the meantime, i will email you the manuscript.

  5. February 27, 2008 8:00 am

    Good words here Jonathan. And I fully agree with you. We must seek to walk with people in times of suffering and enter into their pain as fellow sufferers on the road to glory.

  6. March 5, 2008 5:48 pm

    Thanks Jonathan. I am preaching on suffering this week. Good thoughts as I move forward in it.

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