Serving While Suffering

Wounded animals tend to withdraw. In a vulnerable state they retreat to a secure place of isolation. Wounded saints can do the same. It is an understandable response for the injured soul. Retreat for a time may provide a needed respite. But when a trial endures, continued isolation can endanger one’s spiritual well-being. For in that place a person can become absorbed by their anguish and lose perspective. Suffering is magnified in solitude.

Job fell into a vortex of emotions, at least in part, because he was isolated in his suffering. By the time his three friends arrived, he had been abandoned by those nearest to him and sat alone—scraping his loathsome sores and moaning in his misery (Job 2:11-13). His mind went to dark places and he ultimately concluded that God had turned against him (Job 16-17). Isolation readily creates a heart that is self-absorbed.

One of the best guards against wallowing in the suffering of an enduring trial, whatever its source, is to be absorbed in serving others. We can help sufferers who are walking through a persisting trial—be the trial physical, spiritual, emotional, or relational—by nudging them into regular works of service. There are four reasons to work toward this end.

It Is An Act of Obedience

The great call on the Christian life is to love God and to love our neighbors. Such love is most visible in sacrificial service. The Bible gives us many ‘one anothers’ in which we are to be engaged as a community of believers. At times, a trial is of such depth and severity that one’s energy and time is fully focused on recovery. But when the trial endures, we must adjust to the new circumstances and find means to be obedient to the biblical command to serve others. Personal suffering does not remove our obligation to obedience to the call to love our neighbors.

It Will Place Suffering in Perspective

When you give yourself to serving others, you quickly realize that you are surrounded by suffering saints. Few people are not facing their own form of trouble. This helps keep one’s own suffering in perspective. While comparing degrees of suffering is an unfruitful exercise, opening our eyes to the wounded ones around us helps us to realize that our journey through this world is mostly a trail of travail. Our expectations of a trouble-free life are shown to be a pipe-dream and we recognize suffering is normative. That does not remove the pain, but it helps us to know our anguish is not an anomaly. We are not lesser beings among God’s children because we suffer.

It Will Nourish Our Soul

The Apostle Paul reminded the Ephesians elders of the words of our Lord Jesus: “It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35). Giving of ourselves to others is a soul-nourishing act of obedience. Do sufferers want to experience a blessing—even in the tempest of trials? What better way than serving others in need? This is not to suggest that serving others is actually self-serving, but it was our Lord himself that set out this precept. There is blessing in serving.

It Is a Means of Serving the Lord

Those living through an enduring trial sometimes struggle to see how they can be used of God. But, when we serve others, we “are serving the Lord Christ” (Colossians 3:24b). Giving a cool cup of water in Jesus’ name is giving to Jesus (cf. Matthew 25:34-40; Romans 12:10-11). Giving ourselves to others made in his image is a means by which everyone of us can serve the Lord.

We may need to be creative in helping others find a place of service. Some trials require a reordering of our lives. Physical limitations can close many doors, but new ones also open. Even in the most limited of circumstances, saints can find a way to serve.

After the fall of the Soviet Union, I had the opportunity to travel to a formerly closed portion of Russia and teach the opening session of a new Bible Institute for pastors and preach in several churches. Shortly before leaving for Russia, I visited an elderly woman in our church who was bedridden and dying of cancer. Her nights were peppered with periods of wakefulness provoked by pain. She realized that night time in the US would be while I was teaching in Russia and determined to pray for my ministry each time she awoke in the night. Her body was confined to a bed, but her prayers flew heavenward. I took great encouragement knowing she was interceding for me.

Just like every Christian, suffering saints need to serve. We can be of much help to those facing an enduring trial when we encourage them to do so.

Photo by Jackson David on Unsplash

Craig SvenssonCraig Svensson
Dr. Svensson is Dean Emeritus and Professor in the Purdue University College of Pharmacy.