“How to Help Those Who are Suffering” By Ben Hartwig



During a recent Faith Pulpit Day on the campus of Faith Baptist Bible College and Theological Seminary, Pastor Ben Hartwig (Calvary Baptist Church in Greene, Iowa) outlined how to help people who are going through intense suffering. I found his thoughts helpful and practical. Here’s what he had to say…

Things that do not help:

  1. Comparing their suffering or minimizing suffering.
    • Regardless of the severity of the suffering that someone may be experiencing, it is very real to them. When we minimize their suffering by saying that it is no big deal, we are not helping them to work through it Biblically.
  2. Play God and say this is why this is happening. “You must have committed some sin.”
    • We don’t know all things. We cannot say with certainty why something is happening. God may have multiple reasons for something. We can instead ask others to consider, “What do you think God wants to teach you through this?”
  3. Address the natural and not the spiritual.
    • Do not just ask about the treatment plan, about the medical stuff, about what they need to take care of. Lots of other people will do that. Do not offer unsolicited medical advice. There may be a time and a place to share ideas, depending upon your relationship with the person. However, as a fellow believer, we are to address the spiritual. What does God want to teach them through this time of suffering? What do they need to remember about God?  “We waste our cancer if we spend too much time reading about cancer and not enough time reading about God.” John Piper Don’t Waste Your Cancer
  4. Offering help but then not following through with it.
    • Sometimes people consider the source before they really believe that someone will do what they say that they will do. However, it adds hurt to people when someone offers to do something and doesn’t follow through. It is one thing if you cannot do it –tell them! But fading away without responding hurts. Do not offer to help if you don’t really intend to do so, and don’t overcommit.

Things that help:

  1. Show up.
    • Sometimes in our uncertainty of not knowing how to help someone who is suffering, we keep at a distance. One important things for us to do is to show up -to be there for them during their time of difficulties. Call them. Text them. Visit them. Send them a card. Let them know that you are praying for them. Call and leave a message. Don’t expect a response. (It can be a lot keeping up with correspondence, even for those who really do try!) By reaching out to them in their time of hurt, you show love and care for them as a person. In a world of loneliness and shallow relationships, people need others to show up and care.
  2. Give people time and space to talk. Listen.
    • When Job’s friends first arrived, they sat there in silence (Job 2:11-13). They listened. They grieved with him. We need to be careful of trying to provide answers and help when we just need to listen to someone. We need to recognize that for most people, it is not a lack of knowledge of the truth, but an emotional problem as they try to come to terms with what they are going through. People who are suffering often don’t need answers, but someone to love them by listening to them.
  3. Offer more specific help than: “Let me know what I can do for you.”
    • People mean well when they say this. Many times, the offer is legitimate and people would do a lot for those who are hurting. But when people say that, what they have done is placed more responsibility upon those who are hurting, to contact people for help and hope that they follow through with what they promised. Instead, put forth an idea of how you can help and then present it to them in such a way that they can say no if it doesn’t work. You don’t want to push yourself at others, but you also want to provide practical help. Often times there are needs and ways that others can help, but it is awkward to ask for help. Offer services that you excel at: Cleaning, childcare, mechanics, lawn, etc.
  4. Purpose to support those in your church who are going through an ongoing suffering.
    • You can’t support and encourage everyone you know that is going through an extended period of suffering. You shouldn’t. But if there is someone in your church, or someone God has specifically laid on your heart, be there for them along the whole journey. Most people will contact someone who is hurting once. Send one card, a phone call, a gift, one meal. That’s normal, that’s natural. They often will pray for a longer period of time, but only will contact once. But those who are suffering need some people to continue along with them the entire journey. This should take place through their local church, that they stand behind them the entire journey.
  5. Help Financially.
    • People often have many increased expenses during times of suffering. “Do you have financial needs?” One lady asked me that at one point on our journey, and I gave her a glimpse of where we were at financially. Later she talked to me and apologized, saying, “that’s not how you give a gift.” “Do you need this gift?” If you are led to give a gift –give it! I thought that her perspective was good because it shows the mindset that people should have toward giving. Sure there is a time to ask for specific needs. However, don’t just give because someone may be scraping by. Give because you feel led to give, because you want to give. Seek to be a blessing to those who are suffering. Sometimes it may be that they have nothing else. Other times, you may be blessing them above and beyond.
  6. Remember the rest of the family.
    • The whole family is affected, not just the patient. Seek to encourage the rest of the family (siblings, spouse, parents) through the time of suffering. Use your creativity and be a blessing.
  7. Invite us.
    • People who suffer are often busy. Their schedules change, and they are not able to do the things that they used to do. In response, people can begin to assume that they are too busy to come, so they stop inviting them to hang out, or to come to events or activities. Maybe they are too busy, but if they stop getting asked to do things with their friends or church, they can feel that loss of relationships. Let the person decide if they are too busy. Don’t assume that for them. Invite them to do things like you normally would. Give them the freedom to back out, even last minute if things come up. Maybe they will never come, but it still is nice to be asked. Something might actually work out!
  8. Share truth appropriately.
    • Not casually, or flippantly, but appropriately. “Just remember Romans 8:28-30,” is usually not a helpful thing to say casually. Or, “God is really going to use this in your life. God is using this in the lives of others.” Those things are true, but can be hard to grasp at the time. Sometimes all that those who are suffering can think about is this:  “I don’t care how God is going to use this –I just want to get through this.”  Yet, you must share truth. Just like there are times to listen, there are times when we must share truth. Share it appropriately. The truth is what will guide believers to walking with the Lord through times of suffering. Take time to pray and think about what you will say.
  9. Encourage active involvement in your local church.
    • When people suffer, they naturally want to withdraw from others. It is hard to talk about the things that hurt. Sometimes it is hard to talk appropriately about those hurts. It is easier most of the time to avoid facing people. Yet it is people whom we need. We need the body of Christ. In line with this also, is that by serving others, it helps the person who is suffering. Sometimes what those who are suffering really need is to help others, for it gets their eyes off their own struggles and helps them remember that others are hurting as well and that God’s grace is sufficient to meet all needs.
  10. Choose to be thankful.
    • With Christ, there is always something to be thankful for. However, it is a choice. We need to take time to express our thankfulness to the Lord. Gifting a journal or notebook is really helpful in this for people to record blessings or things that they are thankful for along the way.

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