Below is a lightly edited transcript of this message.
How Do We Navigate Suffering?
Discover how your Christian identity can enable you to walk through the difficulties in your life well while at the same time point people to the one place they can find lasting hope.
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There is a good chance we are all too picky about who are close friends are. Now I know what you may be thinking… “Nick, I am reading your blog, so obviously I am not too picky.” Truthfully though, we all want to have friends who graciously and lovingly put up with our drama, but have no drama of their own. Sometimes we even keep people at arm’s length because they don’t quite meet our “ideal friend criteria” and we wind up missing out on real friendships.
God wants to use imperfect relationships to be ministers of his grace in your life. But often we miss it because, on the surface, the relationship doesn’t meet our standard. I think we are feeling the results of this even more in 2020 because most of our social activities have been removed or stopped. One of the hardest things many people are dealing with is being disconnected. In hard times we need relationships to lean on. God created us so that we would grow spiritually and emotionally when we have close relationships.
So let’s look at the way Jesus shows us how to lean into relationships, specifically in difficult times. In Matthew 26:36-39, Jesus and the disciples are in the Garden of Gethsemane. Jesus is getting ready to go to the cross and as we will see is in great anguish. He knows the physical, emotional, and spiritual pain he is about to endure. He knows how he is going to suffer on the cross. He knows that God is going to forsake him and he is going to bear the punishment for our sins and the Bible tells us he is deeply grieved. I think we have all had times this year when we felt deeply grieved, sorrowful and troubled. So what did Jesus do in this state? What do we do while we are in this state? There are a few things he does while he is going through this that I think can be a help to us today. What I would like to propose in this post is that leaning into imperfect relationships is a means of experiencing God’s perfect grace.
As Jesus is getting ready to endure the cross one of the first things he does is surround himself with his friends. Look at verses 37 of Matthew 26.
Matthew 26:37 Taking along Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, he began to be sorrowful and troubled.
Surround Yourself With Your Friends
John Piper said “The Bible teaches that surviving and thriving in a life of faith and love depends on Christians intentionally building each other in faith and stirring each other up to love.”
We need other Christians in our lives to encourage us to press on in our relationship with Jesus. We need other Christians in our lives to remind us of the promises of God. The world is constantly pumping bad, fear-filled news at us. We need to surround ourselves with Christians who can remind us of the good news of Jesus, the promises of God, and the reality of our future inheritance. It is sad to say and even sadder to see, but I have seen time and time again the people who slowly disconnect from other Christians eventually disconnect from God. This is why we are given this command in Hebrews.
Hebrews 10:23-25 Let us hold on to the confession of our hope without wavering, since he who promised is faithful. And let us watch out for one another to provoke love and good works, not neglecting to gather together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging each other, and all the more as you see the day approaching.
Get some friends in your life who you can surround yourself with when times are good and when times are bad.
So we see Jesus surrounded himself with his friends. Then in verse 38, we see what Jesus does next.
Matthew 26:38 He said to them, “I am deeply grieved to the point of death. Remain here and stay awake with me.”
Ask Your Friends For Help
It amazes me that Jesus, the Creator of all that is, pours out his soul to his creation. To people who he knew would abandon and deny him that very night. You see, for us, sometimes asking for help is more of an exercise in humility than it is about getting our problems fixed. Pride often keeps us from being transparent and asking for help and that causes us to miss out on the grace of God.
James 4:6 But he gives greater grace. Therefore he says: God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble.
Don’t let your pride keep you from being authentic and real to someone in your life, because that pride will sabotage your healing. When you are hurting, you need to tell someone. That person might not have all the answers and they don’t need to. They might even say the wrong thing. But keeping your pain inside is not the way to experience healing. Jesus pours out his heart to three of some of the closest people to him, providing for us an example of what to do with our pain. Now granted you might not be able to share all your struggle with just anyone. That might not be appropriate. But is there someone in your life you can share it with? Jesus didn’t pour out his heart to all 12 disciples, he poured it out to these three.
When we are hurting, we need to tell someone and ask for help. And when you are doing well, you need to tell someone. Share the good things that God has been doing in your life.
Psalm 107:32a Let them exalt him in the assembly of the people.
We need some good news! When God blesses you, or you are doing well, share it! Part of enjoying God’s grace is sharing what God’s grace is doing. Praising God in front of others adds to the experience and brings others into that experience. So when God is blessing you, share it! God designed us to need relationships in our lives to share the good and the bad. To rejoice with those who rejoice and to weep with those who weep.
God designed the Christian community to keep us from shipwrecking our faith and our lives. There may be something in your life that you feel like you have been fighting for years. Maybe you and your spouse have been going at it for years. Maybe you have a secret addiction that you have been battling that no one knows about. Maybe nobody around you is aware, but you have been struggling with depression for what feels like an eternity. My friend if you are fighting that thing on your own you are not fighting it the way that God intended.
Don’t wait to tell someone until you are so numb from the pain and so numb from the fighting that you just don’t care about anything anymore. People shipwreck their life and abandon their faith because they didn’t let anyone in and they get so numb they can’t even see or don’t even care that they are falling into sin. Follow the example of Jesus and tell people where you are at. Pour out your heart to your friends, let them know what’s going on. Again, the book of Hebrews provides helpful encouragement.
Hebrews 3:12-13 Watch out, brothers and sisters, so that there won’t be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God. But encourage each other daily, while it is still called today, so that none of you is hardened by sin’s deception.
The way we guard against turning away from God and being hardened by sin’s deception is by having intentional relationships that regularly encourage you in your faith. You need to have people in your life you can lean on it hard times. You also need to be a person others can lean on when they are going through a hard time. Without intentional-faith building togetherness, we will begin to drift away from God, become hardened by the deceitfulness of sin, and shipwreck our lives.
Now we need a word of caution here. But because we are humans, we don’t always get it right. There may be times when your friends look like Jesus’s disciples. But what we need to remember is your friends are a conduit of God’s grace in your life but they are not the giver of God’s grace in your life.
When we let the reality that people aren’t perfect keep us from practicing what we see Jesus practicing in these verses, we miss out on what God wants to do through those relationships. Jesus knew the disciples would fall asleep on him, but he poured out his heart and asked for prayer anyway. Leaning into imperfect relationships is a means of experiencing God’s perfect grace. The next thing that Jesus models for us are he asks for God’s deliverance.
Matthew 26:39a Going a little farther, he fell facedown and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me…”
Pray For God’s Deliverance
As much as you need to surround yourself with people in your life, as much as you need to be transparent and ask for help when you need help, you also need to pray yourself. One of the things that I love about our groups is they allow us to pray with other believers. Groups allow us to to corporately cast our cares on him.
Romans 12:12 Rejoice in hope; be patient in affliction; be persistent in prayer.
That word persistent can also be translated devoted. So devote yourself too praying for God to work in your life. Devote yourself too praying for God to work in your marriage. Devote yourself to praying for God to save your loved ones. Devote yourself – be persistent in prayer! But then after we have walked through all of these steps, lastly we…
Rest In God’s Sovereignty
Matthew 26:39 Going a little farther, he fell facedown and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.”
One of the things that have captivated me about this passage is how on one hand Jesus wants to be delivered from what he is about to go through. I think we can all relate to that, right? Like, “Lord, deliver us from 2020.” “Lord, deliver my marriage.” “Lord, deliver my finances.” One of the difficult things about this year is it’s not just the external circumstances we are dealing with, but it’s what these circumstances are revealing about what is inside of us. And often we cry, “If it is possible, let this cup pass from me.”
But then the way Jesus turns around and surrenders his will to God’s will is amazing. I want to be like that. I want to be able to completely trust in God’s plan even though it’s painful and may cost me everything. God is in control and we can rest in that fact. We can rest in knowing that even if we are walking through the valley of the shadow of death, God has a resurrection waiting for us on the other side. We can rest because all things work together for good for those who love him. And when we are actively and intentionally involved in a group of believers, we know that we are not walking alone. We can help each other rest in God’s sovereignty. Experience the grace of God through the people of God.