The Outer Limits of Pain, Loss and Suffering: 6 Ways to Comfort People With the Gospel

Too many Christians are quick to give a flippant and often dishonest answer to the question, “How are you doing?”

How are you doing?

“Great!” “Fantastic!” “I’m too blessed to be depressed…”

I have heard it all and so have you. Too many Christians are quick to give a flippant and often dishonest answer to the question, “How are you doing?” We feel that being “positive” shows the world that we are walking in the joy of the Lord. We act like having faith in Jesus guarantees a painless existence.

The truth is, every follower of Jesus faces times of loss, suffering and pain. When we act like everything is fine and when we cover up our struggles, we remove ourselves from honest conversations in the human family and we slam the door shut on countless opportunities to talk about the presence and power of Jesus. This became crystal clear to me while talking with a friend and Christian leader a few years ago.

Karen had told me, on many occasions, that she was seeking to naturally share the love and message of Jesus with Sue, the woman who cuts her hair. Sue was kind, but very resistant to spiritual conversations. Any time Karen brought up church, faith, Jesus, the Bible or anything that seemed religious, her friend quickly shut down the conversation. On a couple occasions Karen had offered to give Sue a Bible, but she refused. Though Karen kept praying and loving Sue, the door seemed tightly closed and locked!

One day Karen was getting ready to head over for a haircut, and she went through a process of debating if she needed to cancel her appointment. You see, Karen was in a time of deep personal mourning. Her daughter had been sick and had walked though many surgeries and very difficult times. Just that morning, the doctors had called with bad news that meant more surgery and a long season of pain. Karen was broken and discouraged and did not want Sue to see her this way. Karen wanted Sue to see joy and strength, not pain and sorrow.

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Karen made a decision. She would get her haircut, but just put a bold face on and act like everything was great. When she sat in the chair, Sue innocently asked, “Karen, how are you doing?” Tears flooded Karen’s eyes and poured down her face. She broke past the facade she had prepared. She honestly expressed the raw and honest pain and struggle she had walked through for more than a decade.

Sue listened with tenderness and compassion.

Without any thought to what she was saying, Karen talked about her pain, sorrow and struggles, and also about the presence of Jesus during her journey. Karen poured out stories of how people in her church had prayed daily for her family for more than a decade. She talked about how God had used the comforting words of the Bible to minister to her again and again through the years. Through her tears, Karen told Sue about the presence of Jesus, the hope of heaven and the heavenly strength she experienced, even when her heart ached and her tears flowed.

When her haircut was finished and her tears all emptied out on the salon floor, Karen took a deep breath and thanked Sue for listening. Sue looked at her and said, “I think I would really like that Bible you offered me.”

That day, that moment of honesty, opened the door for a whole new relationship and level of spiritual conversation between Karen and Sue. The turning point was honest and unfiltered sharing of pain, loss and suffering.

Here are six actions for effective personal outreach that we can extract from Karen and Sue’s story.

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1. Share your stories of struggle, pain and loss.

Since all people suffer, these stories connect us. Share your stories.

2. Listen to the stories of others.

Give a listening ear and caring heart when others share their stories of pain and loss.

3. Don’t act like Christians never hurt.

Any theology that presumes a painless existence for Christians is unbiblical. To act like we never face hurt and pain is to remove ourselves from the human family.

4. Let people know how Jesus meets you and comforts you in times of pain.

God shows up in our suffering and his Holy Spirit offers comfort. Let others know how you experience God’s care and tender comfort in your hard and painful times.

5. Offer prayer when others are hurting.

Be quick to offer prayer for those who share their stories of pain and loss—even those who are not followers of Jesus. In most cases, they will be glad to have you pray for them.

6. Share Scriptures that have comforted you.

If you have a few passages that have ministered to you in times of sorrow, share these. Again, if a person does not know Jesus or read the Bible, hearing Bible passages that can really impact their lives will be a way for them to begin hearing from God.

Kevin Harney is the lead pastor of Shoreline Community Church in Monterey, California, the leader of Organic Outreach Ministries International, and the author of the Organic Outreach series of books and many other books, studies and articles. He is also a regular contributor to Outreach magazine.