From my perspective as a pastor, it seems like churches go through seasons of crises. One year it’s marital problems, and it seems like every marriage is falling apart. The next year its illness and death, and it seems like every family is suffering loss. Other times it’s just people who are struggling with emotional, spiritual, and relational hurt.
This hurt comes from a number of places. Sometimes it comes directly from our sin. Sin always promises happiness, but always leads to pain. Other times it comes indirectly from the consequences of our sin or the effects of another person’s sin. Pain can also come from the fact that we live in a fallen world where sometimes things just don’t go the way they ought to go. As trivial as it may sound, pain can even come from general disappointment in life when we realize things just didn’t go the way we had hoped.
For most people, Christians included, our initial response to these situations is to cry out to God for help and relief. No one enjoys emotional pain, spiritual pain, or relational pain any more than people enjoy physical pain. So when we hurt, we naturally cry out for relief. Unfortunately, that relief doesn’t always come. Sometimes our prayers for healing seem to bounce right off the ceiling. What then? How do you respond when God doesn’t take away the hurt? Well…here are five suggestions:
- Be honest about your hurt, and see your struggle through psalms of lament (Psalm 5, 41, 51, 76). Many Psalms fall into this category. They include lament for sin, for persecution, for illness, and for spiritual struggle. They can be shocking in honesty but always resolve with a commitment to trust and praise.
- Remember that your Great High Priest can sympathize with your struggle (Hebrews 2:14-15, 4:14-16). Jesus knows what it’s like to experience family rejection, personal betrayal, humiliating shame, the loss of a friend, spiritual anguish, and even a sense of disappointment. He is not aloof. He willingly chose to enter this mess of a world and to suffer with us.
- Trust that God is strong when you are weak, and obey God even when it’s difficult (2nd Corinthians 12:9, Deuteronomy 3:23-29). I think about Jesus telling Paul that His grace would be sufficient in Paul’s weakness. I think about Moses preparing Joshua to lead even as God assured him that he (Moses) would not enter the Promised Land. These may not be easy things to do, but they are right.
- Lean into your church family, realizing that God doesn’t expect you to ‘go it alone’ (Galatians 6:2). Too many people hurt in isolation, but this only intensifies hurt. The God of the Bible is a relational deity. Being made in His image means we are relational creatures. We are called to bear one another’s burdens.
- Remind yourself that you are an exile here, and long for the new creation (Revelation 21-22). I’ve often wondered why old people like songs about Heaven. I think it’s because a life of pain has taught them that this world is not our home. We ought to long for a new creation that is being prepared even as we hurt. We ought to realize that this place is not our home. We are strangers and aliens.
Putting these suggestions into practice is not a silver bullet or a panacea or a magic formula. But they are biblical approaches to dealing with hurt.
Landon Coleman serves as the teaching pastor of Immanuel Baptist Church in Odessa, Texas, where he lives with his wife Brooke. They have four children, Emma, Noelle, Amelia, and Clayton. Landon is a graduate of West Texas A&M University (BBA), and a two-time graduate of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (MDiv and PhD). He is the author of Pastor to Pastor: Practical Advice for Regular Pastors and Pray Better: Learning to Pray Biblically, both of which were published by Rainer Publishing. Landon has pastored churches in Kentucky and Oklahoma, and he has taught for Oklahoma Baptist University and BH Carroll Theological Institute.