If we’re created to glorify God, then putting His reality and power on display in the midst of distress is where the rubber meets the road. When affliction is upon us, how do we keep it between the ditches? To change the metaphor, how do we keep from fumbling the opportunity God’s given us? In two previous articles, we talked about dealing with God and dealing with self. But there’s one more category we have to think about.
The third thing we have to do is deal with others. That’s where contact is made; where the linebacker wraps us up; where God’s reputation will be displayed in our lives or fumbled away. God’s given us a commission: as we go, we’re to make disciples of Jesus. We can’t call time out when it gets rough. In fact, hard times are sometimes the greatest opportunities for us to put our heads down and hit Satan square in the chest. When we suffer well, he’s knocked back and the spectators see it. Score one for God’s team. How do we do it?
1) Be wise in how you act. Paul said, “Walk in wisdom toward those who are outside, redeeming the time” (Col. 4:5). He’s telling us we have to be wise in how we act in front of or toward those who don’t know Christ. It’s not wise to grumble and complain about our circumstances in front of unbelievers for example. If we tell them God is real and in control of all things and then complain about what He’s allowed in our lives, we’re contradicting the very thing we’re trying to communicate.
Sometimes it’s really hard not to complain if you’re in a lot of pain or you’ve just lost your house in a fire. But, either God is sufficient for every situation or He’s not. Of course, I’m not suggesting that God wants you to wear a “Colgate smile” no matter what; there’s nothing wrong with crying out if you’re in physical pain and there’s nothing wrong with being sad your house burned down. We simply don’t want to grumble and complain. There’s a difference between pitching a fit and grieving.
It’s interesting that Paul connects our responsibility to be wise toward others with “redeeming the time.” He’s talking about the same thing we’ve been talking about; God gives us opportunities to glorify Him and we don’t want to fumble them away. To redeem the time is to make the most of our opportunities. It’s to recognize that we’re on mission with God one-hundred percent of the time – twenty-four-seven. We can’t simply let time and opportunities float down the stream. And, the more we think about these things and redeem the time, the more joy we’ll have; we’ll be fulfilling God’s call upon our lives more and more.
2) Prove your confession to be true. Paul told the Corinthians when they gave money for the gospel, they were obedient to their confession of Christ (2 Cor. 9:13). Those who confess Christ either live out that confession or they don’t. That’s not to say that any of us are perfect. It is to say that we think about these things and seek to put Christ on display as much as we can. Those who never think about such things are either not saved or don’t really understand the purpose of their salvation. We’re saved to shine. Yes it’s hard to shine when we’re suffering. But, if we’re able, we shine far brighter in the tough times than we do in the easy times. When we shine on the bed of affliction, we prove our confession to be true and our God to be real because the strength to shine comes from Him, not ourselves. That old cliché is true; sometimes you’re the only Jesus people ever see.
3) Try to put others at ease. When life has dealt a vicious blow and you’re hurting, people want to help; they want to be there for you; they want to do something. I’ve seen people who are so despondent in their misery that no one or nothing can bring them any kind of relief. Their hopeless words and their dejected attitude makes would be comforters reluctant to stay or come back.
Indeed, it’s not about making them comfortable per se. At the same time, if we’re witnesses for Christ, we want to be thankful for those who come round to see us. We do want them to be at ease. It’s not that we’re not suffering and need to pretend we’re not suffering. It’s that we need to let folk know that God is meeting us in our hour of need. That magnifies God’s grace and power and helps others to help us. It’s interesting; we can help others to help us. That’s the mutual edification Paul speaks of so often (Rom. 1:12).
4) Comfort others after God’s comforted you. We want to honor God when we suffer. Comforting others after the fact is the culmination of that desire and indeed the call upon our lives. God does meet us in the valley of despair. He does lift us up. He is our strong deliverer. And, once He’s brought us through, He does want us to help others who are hurting. Paul put it this way:
[God] comforts us in all our tribulation that we may be able to comfort those who are in any trouble, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For as the sufferings of Christ abound in us, so our consolation also abounds through Christ. Now if we are afflicted, it is for your consolation and salvation which is effective for enduring the same sufferings which we also suffer. Or if we are comforted, it is for your consolation and salvation (2 Cor. 1:4-6).
That’s pretty plain. Our suffering is connected to the suffering of Christ. When we’re afflicted and then comforted, it’s so that we might help others. Let’s not fumble away opportunities to fulfill the grand purpose for which we were saved and given the gift of suffering (Phil. 1:29). Honor God: don’t fumble your surgery!
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