Devotional 4: How to Help the Hurting People
(Excerpted from Hope for the Troubled Heart: Finding God in the Midst of Pain by Billy Graham, pp. 181-193)
We can talk about God being our Comforter, but that doesn't absolve us of our responsibility. He has given us a special assignment. The Apostle Paul said: "Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God" (2 Cor. 1:3-4) . . .
Are We Approachable?
Does someone who is hurting feel free to tell us their problem, to cry on our shoulders, if necessary, or to ask for help? Or do we change the subject, tell a joke, or quote a Bible verse to make everything better? . . . If people fell safe disclosing their problems to us, most likely we are approachable. Confidentiality is the essence of being trusted. If our non-Christian friends don't feel that they can trust us with their hurts, we may never be able to approach them with their need for Jesus Christ.
Are You Available?
. . . Desperate avoidance is practiced when we don't know what to say. It is an insensitive attitude toward a hurting person. Don't be afraid to approach a person in pain. If he or she doesn't want to talk about it, you'll know. Chances are, they want someone to listen. Inside, they may be like the Psalmist who cried, "Turn to me and be gracious to me, for I am lonely and afflicted" (Psalm 25:16). Being available is difficult, because it takes time, but being sensitive to the small amounts of time we can give could reap large rewards in someone's life. It doesn't really matter what we say to comfort people during a time of suffering, it's our concern and availability that count. . .
Bear One Another's Burdens
. . . When the Good Samaritan found a man robbed, beaten, and left for dead, he didn't continue on his trip and "report the accident." He didn't call 911 and leave the scene, nor pay someone else to go back and care for the man. The Samaritan himself got involved. He tenderly lifted the wounded body onto his own donkey and continued on the journey to Jericho. When he reached the city, he found a place to stay, and probably cared for the patient. The next day, he made arrangements with the innkeeper to pay all financial debts that the patient would incur. That is what bearing one another's burdens is all about. It's so easy to give to a charity or a ministry and feel good about it. It's not so easy to provide the personal charity. It's easier to give to someone overseas than it is to take a casserole next door. May God give us the sensitivity to recognize the needs of those around us and lend a helping hand.
Pray for Those Who Hurt
A simple prayer, a Scripture that has meant something to you, these can be great comfort to a hurting person. The Word of God is where we "find grace to help us in our time or need" (Hebrews 4:16). Rather than giving personal advice, how much better would it be for Christians to share God's loving promises. It is a comfort to hear the words of God in times of stress.
Pious Platitudes Don't Help
An overdose of Scripture at the wrong time may do more harm than good. Hearing verses on "counting trials as joy," in the midst of someone's difficulty can be like throwing gasoline on a fire or rubbing salt in a wound. A person needs time to assimilate what has happened, to assess the physical or emotional damage. Hearing something like "God must love you very much to put you through this," is not a bandage a person needs. We need to build trust through listening, through caring in a tangible way. Perhaps your friend doesn't know the Lord, and you feel awkward bringing up the subject of God as the one who comforts perfectly. You might say, "I wish I could do more for you. When you feel like it, let me take you to lunch." If you cannot find examples in your life that might relate to a sufferer, the perfect example is Jesus. He experienced people who betrayed Him. He knows what it is like to suffer. You can explain how your hurting friend can have a relationship with Him. Pray for the right words, pray for the way to comfort. Pray, don't preach.
Who are the Best Comforters?
Those who have suffered most are often best able to comfort others. I know of pastors whose ministries have been enriched by suffering. Through their trials they have learned to live through the difficulties of people in their church family. Someone who has experienced the same sort of pain is the one who can minister best. However, to say, "I know how you feel," is usually an unnecessary and frequently unwelcome approach. . . Better to say, "I don't know how you feel, I can't really put myself in your shoes, but this is how I was comforted..." Our sufferings may be hard to bear, but they teach us lessons which, in turn, equip and enable us to help others. Only God's spirit can truly mend a broken heart, but we can be a part of the healing process. We don't have to be a priest or preacher, a trained counselor or psychiatrist to be a comforter. We just need to be available, as Christ is available to us. When He was comforting His disciples before he left them, they were confused, questioning, and frightened. He said, "Now is your time of grief, but I will see you again and you will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy" (John 16: 22).