Churches have seasons marked by both joyful and difficult circumstances. Our church has been experiencing the brokenness of our world steadily showing up as a challenge. Illness, loss, surgery, bad news, relational conflict, financial challenge, and chronic pain are just a few difficulties plaguing our congregation. As these things arise, our gut-level responses join with the familiar words of the psalmist, who regularly asks, “Where are you, God?”
It’s common to blame God when things don’t go our way. The unexplainable, lousy news of a Tuesday afternoon phone call can quickly rock our declaration of Jesus as king on a Sunday morning. It’s destabilizing to be jolted from a place of relative predictability to a new reality that forces us to face our limitedness and mortality.
This experience is familiar to God’s people. Since the garden of Eden, there’s been an ongoing battle between the presence of brokenness in our world and the longing for restoration and renewal. Why must we endure hardship while God is more than able to intervene? This reflection echoes Job’s story as he laments, “For my sighing comes instead of my bread, and my groanings are poured out like water” (Job 3:24).
Lament in the presence of God is a healthy practice. It urges us not to become despairing or myopic but to look to the One who was before all things and now holds the world (Col. 1:17). As we’re oriented to God, we gain perspective, and the Spirit widens our knowledge. Asaph declares in Psalm 73:17, “Until I entered the sanctuary of God, then I understood.”
For over twenty years, gospel culture has been forged in our local church through faithful commitment to essential beliefs like the preached Word, honest confession, and commitment to Jesus having the power to save (Acts 4:12). In this season of hardship, our church has proved the gospel can be fully experienced in times of trouble just as in times of ease.The discipline of deferring to God and seeking his will showed our powerlessness, and helped us believe and declare his goodness, no matter the circumstances. Click To Tweet
As difficulty and pain have visited our community, there’s been an awakening of connection in the face of deep need. I’ve seen love in action by intentionally turning my focus away from dire circumstances and observing my brothers and sisters ministering to one another. It’s been a display of God showing off his glory in tangible ways. Here are four observations I’m grateful for in this season of our church.
Vulnerability of the Sufferer
The common theme in all the hard situations we’ve faced is the one in need didn’t hide. They quickly revealed their place of suffering and invited others to participate by publicly sharing their struggles with our church. Putting yourself out there is a risk, but the result allowed us to walk alongside them as they faced the unknown circumstances God ordained. God knitted our stories together so the sufferer wouldn’t walk alone and we’d unite in caring for one another.
Prayer As Foundation
Our immediate response to the news of tragedy and difficulty was to get on our knees and pray. It was remembering God’s majesty and power (Ex. 15:6), his sovereignty (Ps. 147:4–5), his control (Jer. 10:12–13), his love (John 3:16), and praying in accordance with what is true of him. The discipline of deferring to God and seeking his will showed our powerlessness and helped us believe and declare his goodness, no matter the circumstances. The literal posture of kneeling our bodies before God showed our need and dependence on him alone.In this season of hardship, our church has proved the gospel can be fully experienced in times of trouble just as in times of ease. Click To Tweet
The love of God’s Word is foundational to the DNA of our church. Our growth in biblical literacy in recent years produced an outpouring of encouragement that wasn’t empty platitudes but filled with rich truths the Spirit brought to mind in his people. The excitement was contagious as we saw the ripple impact of God’s Word being proclaimed over the sufferer. The same passage of Scripture was often sent by different people, which built our faith as we saw the Spirit orchestrate encouragement beyond us.
Practical Needs Met
The tangible expression of care through meals, rides, care baskets, gift cards, presence, treats, and comfort items showed God holding the needy. There’s delight and joy in serving. It’s a stunning expression showing we’re connected, whole beings. Caring for physical needs sets the backdrop for receiving spiritual and emotional care. Healing is an embodied experience, and seeing our community activate above and beyond showed the fullness of God’s touch.
This also proved to be a missional witness to those family and friends caring for the one suffering. Addressing their practical needs spread the aroma of Christ and has since led to many asking about the church and the way of Jesus.
We don’t wish for suffering or go looking for it, but God’s allowance of it can be the place of profound revelation. His allowance doesn’t mean he is distant. Instead, in the time of deepest need, we see a display of his glory and love, which shapes us in ways we didn’t know we needed.