We are surrounded by a world in pain – physical pain, socioeconomic pain, psychological pain, racial pain, relational pain, pain about the overuse of Zoom…I know you’re feeling it.
So how do we proclaim Jesus to a world that is hurting?
In John chapter eleven, when the dear friend of Jesus, Lazarus, has died, Jesus eventually shows up to comfort his sisters, Mary and Martha. And the first thing both women say to him is this: ”Jesus, if only you would have been here — My brother would not have died!”
In other words, “Where were you? Why did you allow this?”
Their question is the same one the world asks in their own heartache. If God is all-powerful, if God is as good as you Christians say he is, why does he allow pain and suffering and evil? Where is he? What is he doing?
Before Jesus went to visit Mary and Martha, he said something to the disciples, something so unexpected about the death of Lazarus, something that almost feels callous and off-putting at first; “I’m glad I wasn’t there; so that you may believe.”(v. 16)
The reality is, there is something mysterious and supernatural and powerful and comforting and unexpected that only God can do in people’s heartache, so that they may believe.
And if we can learn to use Spirit-led, Spirit-empowered relational and emotional intelligence— pain and grief can actually become one of the ripest grounds for the gospel to take root in someone’s life.
With that in mind, there are a few ways we can speak Jesus to hurting people:
In our own discomfort and awkwardness with pain, we sometimes rush to take other people’s sorrow and wrap it up in a pretty little package, put a little bow on it, and move on. But the reality is – there is suffering and heartbreak in this world that is so unspeakable and so horrific; there is evil that rises up against human flourishing. For us to try to rush past that for our own convenience, is dishonoring of the dignity of hurting people.
If the name of Jesus is going to be a life-altering comfort and anchor to those in pain, then we have to find the wherewithal to draw near to people’s pain without rushing them to a shallow happy ending. We have to learn to stop trying to answer the unanswerable with easy and quick solutions.
When our loves ones voice questions like Mary and Martha did, we have to ask for the question behind their question. “Why do you ask? What is your story? What have you been through?” Then, we have to shut our mouths and listen. When asked what he would do if he had an hour with a hurting person, theologian Francis Schaeffer is credited with saying, “I’d listen for 55 minutes, talk about Jesus the last five.”
The point is we have to be willing to bear witness to people’s pain and carry it like it is our own. Like Jesus, weeping with Martha and Mary at the death of Lazarus, we have to learn to stand side by side with hurting people and grieve with them, weep with them, be moved violently at their losses with them. But we can’t stop there.
Some of us don’t rush past people’s pain—that’s not our problem. In fact, some of you, I know, are really gifted at sitting with people on their mourning benches and weeping with those who weep. But then, we forget to muster up the courage to open our mouths and offer the reason for our hope.
Jesus wept and he grieved deeply over the death of Lazarus… but Jesus didn’t stop there. Jesus also commanded that stone to be rolled away from Lazarus’s grave. Jesus called Lazarus to rise up.
If we are going to proclaim the love of Jesus to those in pain, it is going to be when we can say honestly, “Evil is evil. We are going to stop pretending otherwise. Pain and illness and death are not okay.”
But into that reality, we must also declare God’s louder reality that resurrection power has come in Jesus, that we have victory over the grave in Jesus, and that one day all pain and all suffering will end in Jesus.
We have to open our mouths and talk about the love and salvation and healing power of Jesus to those in pain.
May we be women who can contend with paradox; who can be ambidextrous; who can honor the heartache of the world on one hand, while simultaneously declaring on the other hand that in Jesus, pain and heartache will never have the final say. May we be women who speak the name of Jesus to those who are hurting and see many come to belief.
Aubrey Sampson is the author of Overcomer: Breaking Down the Walls of Shame and Rebuilding Your Soul and The Louder Song. She and her husband Kevin, with their three young sons, planted Renewal Church in the Chicagoland area, where Aubrey serves on the preaching team. Aubrey is part of the Propel Cohort at Wheaton College and travels around the country speaking and preaching. Find and follow Aubrey on Instagram, Facebook, and on her website.