Ok. So the phrase “kingdom sufferer” doesn’t inspire. But it does make a connection.
We instinctively avoid the topic of suffering because we would rather find relief from our pain than swim in it. Few of us want to be perceived as a self-absorbed hypochondriac who dominates group prayer meetings and fails to reach out to others in need.
Yet, I know human suffering is a part of our daily reality because of the response I receive when I preach on the subject. My focus varies, but the topics that seem to always strike a chord are breakdowns in relationships, depression, and grief. Aside from the fact almost any trial can involve some aspect of these they all have one thing in common: they can all be experienced in silence.
I use the word “silence” instead of “private” because it is possible to suffer in silence when we are surrounded by others. Who can forget the pain Jesus experienced as He sweat drops of blood in the Garden of Gethsemane? He cried, “Father, if it is possible let this cup pass from me!” His disciples were in the Garden with Him, and Peter, James and John were about a stone’s throw away (Luke 22:41). Yet, as Jesus poured out His heart before His father, His disciples slept. His suffering wasn’t private, but it was silent, since none of the disciples seemed to fully grasp what was about to happen to their Master.
Have you ever suffered in silence? If you have, then you know what it means to go to bed with your head spinning and wake up with a sick feeling in the pit of your stomach. You know how it feels to walk through a room and wonder if anyone noticed you were there. And you have experienced that awkward moment when your thoughts start to flood in a conversation with a friend, and his or her body language suggests you have said too much.
We must acknowledge it truly is possible to let our struggles overtake our good sense, and our Christian charity. If we find ourselves over-generalizing others’ lack of concern, or being critical of people for failing to meet our expectations, we should spend some time in prayer and reflection. We should ask, “Have I been a friend to others?” “Am I aware of the trouble my brothers and sisters in Christ are experiencing?” “Am I being totally honest about what others have or have not done for me, or am I maligning the people who love me to gain sympathy?” These things may or may not be occurring in our lives, but they are common pitfalls in the sufferer’s life and we should work to avoid them.
However, our silent suffering is often overlooked. And if people in our lives are preoccupied with their own issues, we can slide deeper into the pit before anyone notices. We might identify with Elijah as he ran from Ahab: “I have had enough, Lord!” (1 Kings 19:4).
The important thing is to remember kingdom people suffer internal anguish just like everyone else. I realize we have the Lord in our lives and the indwelling Holy Spirit as our Counselor, and I don’t mean to diminish their importance. But being in the kingdom doesn’t make us immune from suffering, silent or otherwise. In fact, believers face the additional dilemma of reconciling their circumstances with God’s presence and providence.
I must interject this critical word of advice: If you ever suspect you are clinically depressed, get help. Don’t hold out, thinking God will deliver you in time. He could be delivering you by making you aware of your condition and prompting you to seek professional counseling.
Apart from this, try practicing three simple acts. “Pray,” because God needs to hear from you so He can comfort you and help you avoid the root of bitterness in your heart. “Push,” since we must consciously make ourselves interact with others when our emotional and mental energy is spent. And “Ponder.” Alright, so I had to find a third word that starts with “P” and Ponder might be stretching it. I only know we need time to refresh our minds and heal our hearts, and sometimes the best place to do this is walking, jogging, reading, or even sleeping. I know people who Ponder best when they are rocking a baby.
I haven’t addressed other kingdom suffering, such as persecution and physical illness. These and other forms of suffering have unique characteristics of their own and similarities with the things I have shared here. I do want you to know there is no reason to lose heart. No matter how much we suffer, God will never leave or abandon us. And He never stops loving us.
He is here right now. I hope you can sense His presence. And if you are suffering I hope you know you in His hands.