Dave Furman (ThM, Dallas Theological Seminary) serves as the senior pastor of Redeemer Church of Dubai in the United Arab Emirates, which he planted in 2010. Dave and his wife, Gloria, have four children. He is the author of Being There How to Love Those Who Are Hurting (Crossway, 2016).
T4L: Thank you very much for agreeing to do this interview with Theology for Life Magazine, Pastor Furman. Can you tell us a bit about yourself, including the current ministries you are involved in?
Dave Furman: I’ve been married to Gloria for almost 15 years and we have four wonderful children. My wife and I met in Texas after finishing college and have lived in the Middle East for the past nine years. We moved to Dubai in 2008 to start a church in the center of the city.
Our journey has been quite difficult as I developed a neurological disorder in both of my arms before we moved overseas. My disability means I am not able to drive, buckle my seatbelt, pick up our children, get dressed on my own, or lift more than my 11” MacBook Air.
My pain also led me to a period of deep depression and despair about 18 months prior to our church being planted. Those were dark days and I felt like my marriage, ministry, body, and mental state were all being destroyed.
In God’s kindness, in the months before the launch of Redeemer Church of Dubai, I had a rediscovery of the Gospel in my life. I began to realize that the Gospel is not just for unbelievers, but for Christians too. I began to marvel at the glories of the Gospel and the fact that Jesus Christ died on the cross to save me from my sin. Diving deeper into the riches of the Gospel had a massive effect on me as the truth warmed my heart once again.
T4L: Wow, that’s quite the journey so far! I can see how this would lead to writing your book. So, how do Christians find hope in the midst of suffering?
Dave Furman: Suffering is a pain. It’s not good. Sickness, disease, and death are result of the Fall and are normal occurrences in a fallen world. How do we find hope in the midst of suffering? We must look forward to the day when these things will be gone forever in glory. There will be a day when death will die. Imagine that. Death dead! The greatest hope a Christian can look forward to in midst of their suffering is that their suffering is not the final chapter in the story. We will be with Jesus face-to-face worshiping him with all believers from all times and we’ll do it forever. Revelation 21-22 is our greatest hope.
T4L: So true! With that in mind, how do we be a faithful friend while people around us go through suffering?
Dave Furman: It’s really important to be a faithful friend to those around us who are suffering. We may think that the best way to be a friend is to have all the right answers. However, more often than not we really have no idea why our friends are suffering. Instead, the best thing we can do for our hurting friends is to just be there for them. Be a friend. Being a listening ear can go a long way in caring for someone who is hurting.
Another thing we can do is to pledge specific help and then just do it. When we say things like, “Friend, just let me know if you ever need anything and I’ll help you,” it sounds kind and helpful. We’ve all said it, but there’s a more thoughtful approach. Because let’s be honest, for many of us, asking for help goes against every fiber of our being. Even after being disabled for the past decade it’s still a battle for me to admit weakness and ask someone to help me open a bottle of water or get the door for me. What we want to do is make it as easy as possible for someone to ask for help. When you pledge general help to someone in need, it’s not likely that your friend will take you up on the offer. Sometimes a general offer of help just makes us feel good about ourselves.
When we pledge general help, we put the burden on the hurting; we expect them to come up with a way for us to help. That’s a tough assignment to put on someone grieving or in pain. They may not even be thinking clearly, and now they have to come up with ways they can be helped. Instead, we should figure out what our hurting friends need, and then just do something.
T4L: That’s a great point. I doubt many people have considered that. What are some things to do and to avoid when ministering to those going through suffering?
Dave Furman: There are several things we should avoid when ministering to a friend who is suffering. I’ll mention a few of the ways here.
1) Don’t be the fix-it person. You may find that you want to do whatever you can to help your friend. That’s a good instinct, but this desire could lead you to being like a “doctor” to your friend—always wanting to dissect the person’s problems and find another ointment or treatment that’s guaranteed to cure them. However, unless your friend isn’t seeing a doctor, they already have as much medical advice as they need.
2) Don’t play the comparison game. When you are sympathizing with a friend, you might be tempted to compare their pain with something you’ve experienced in the past. “I remember the time my grandfather passed away” or “My legs hurt once, it was horrible.” This never helps someone feel better but merely draws the attention to yourself.
3) Don’t make their pain their identity. Another way we can hurt the hurting is by making their pain their identity. We do this by bringing it up all the time. We’re asking them about it every time we see them. We won’t let them forget they have pain! The other extreme to avoid is to not mention it at all and to play the avoidance game. We need to work hard to strike a balance of inquiring about your friends’ pain, but not making that friend’s pain their identity.
T4L: Hmm, yes. I’ve personally fallen into that pitfall of playing the “comparison game”. It can be hard not to…That leads me to my next question: How do we have hard conversations with those who are hurting?
Dave Furman: Having hard conversations is very important when you minister to those who are suffering. Our suffering doesn’t cause us to sin, but it does bring out sinful tendencies that were already inside our heart. As you minister to hurting friends, you’ll want to look for opportunities to speak into that person’s life. You want to do this gently and at the right time—all with grace and loving care. And much prayer!
T4L: That’s good advice for one-on-one interactions. How should local church pursue the hurting?
Dave Furman: The local church should be on the front lines in caring for the hurting. Pastors should encourage members to “bear each other’s burdens” in sermons and other instruction. Members should all be on the unofficial care team always looking for those who are hurting. Our prayer should be that our churches would always be growing as a culture of care. By overflowing in love for the hurting we show each other and the world a little bit about what Jesus is like. It adorns the gospel words we speak as a church.