Teach Them to Suffer Well by Chip Ingram
For other teachings from Chip, go to Living on the Edge – Chip Ingram
Well, I want to start our little journey out together, if you will, with a hypothetical, but morbid set of questions. How is that? All right? It’s hypothetical, but these are morbid questions.
The hypothetical situation is this but I want you to really do it with me. I don’t want you to lean back and go, Well, it’s hypothetical. I want you to engage and say to yourself, here is the hypothetical situation: if you knew, with absolute certainty, that you would die exactly three hundred and sixty-five days from today. Okay, have you got it?
Exactly three hundred and sixty-five days from now, to the minute, you would have a massive, not painful, heart attack, and you would be dead and you would be translated, if you’re a follower of Jesus, into the very presence of God. With that as the hypothetical situation, I have three questions.
Question number one: who are the top five people you feel most responsible to prepare for your passing? Just quickly in your mind. Who are the top five people you know, three hundred and sixty-five days from now, you are going to be gone. So who are the top five people that you need to prepare for your passing? Kids? Grandkids? Friends? People you’re discipling? Co-workers? Who would it be? You got it?
Question number two: what would you want to pass on to them in the next three hundred and sixty-five days to bless and promote their success after you’re gone? So we are going to walk out of here and you have exactly three hundred and sixty-five days to bless them, to help them, to prepare them. What do you want to pass on?
Wealth? Wisdom? Heirlooms? A business? An education? Who are they and you have three hundred and sixty-five days. What do you want them to get that when you’re dead you can say, Well, hey, you know? At least I gave them this. What is “this?”
You ready for question number three? It gets more morbid. When you make them up yourself, you can make them as morbid as you want. Question number three: if you died exactly twenty-four hours from now, instead of one year from now, what would you most regret that you did not pass on to those you love?
You got to thinking about who they are, you got to thinking about what you really want to pass on, but then what if all the rules quickly changed? And instead of a year from now, twenty-four hours from now, you find yourself in Jesus’ presence. That’s the good news.
But then when you look back and you said, “When I think of my kids, when I think of this friend, when I think of this grandchild, when I think of this young man or this young woman I was discipling, when I think of this group of men that I was in an accountability group with, when I was thinking about this women’s fellowship I was in, you know, my biggest regret was I didn’t pass on…” What would it be? What would it be?
Here’s the fact. The fact is, you and I are passing on who we are, and what we value, and what we possess every single day. For some people, this is a highly strategic, very intentional game plan that you are fulfilling. You know who the people are, you know what you want to pass on, you have a plan to pass it on, and you look at your calendar and your day timer, and you are very strategically passing on the things that matter most to you.
For most of the rest of us, it’s sort of a haphazard, hoping for the best highway of sorts, that you’re kind of passing some stuff on but you’re not really sure what you’re passing on. And it’s filled with lots of good intentions and you’re going to get really clear about it and more serious about it later, and unconsciously you think you’re going to live a lot longer than you are.
And the average person will fail to pass on the things that matter most to the people they love the most.
In reality, most followers of Christ have given far more thought and energy into developing a game plan to transfer their wealth than they have their faith or their values.
I am guessing, I won’t ask you to raise your hand, I’m guessing most people have a will. I’m guessing most people have some sort of an estate plan. Why? Because you realize there are “x” amount of dollars and there are taxes and there are issues and you want to pass on some of that wealth to a friend or an organization or your kids or your grandkids.
And so you have thought, How much, to whom, and why? And isn’t it interesting that we are really concerned about who gets money, but how concerned are we that they get our faith? And that they get our values? And they get the kind of stuff that money can’t buy?
Yet the apostle Paul commands his son in the faith, Timothy, to do just that. To pass on what matters most. Notice what he says in II Timothy 2:2. “The things you have heard from me,” Timothy, you have heard it in small group talk. Timothy, you have heard me preach it. Timothy, you have heard me face-to-face when I have had to say hard things to you. Timothy, you have heard it in Ephesus. Timothy, you have heard it after I got up, when I was beaten.
“Timothy, the things you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust,” or “pass on these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.” He was talking about the principle of transfer. He was talking, in our day, about syncing something. He was talking about, Look, Timothy, let me give you the picture. God has uploaded the truth of His Spirit and these values in my life, in my relationship with Christ, and the application to every area in every relationship, and it’s been uploaded, supernaturally, by the Holy Spirit and the Word of God and the community of the saints, I have a responsibility and, Timothy, the reason I asked you to hang out with me, I am downloading into you in your soul.
I want you, now, to upload it, to get it practical, and I want you to download it to others. But not just anybody, but to others who are faithful, so that they will do – what? They will download it to others. Transfer. Transfer. Transfer.
So let me ask you: what are you going to leave your kids? What are you going to leave your friends? What are you going to leave the people that you disciple? What are you going to leave your grandkids? What are you going to leave your spiritual children? What are you going to leave your church? And will it make them? Or break them? Will it give them what they need to make the kind of choices and the kind of decisions that will allow them to be God’s man, God’s woman in their generation?
Will they have the values and the perspective and the faith and the regard and the view for God that will sustain them through a world that keeps getting crazier and crazier and crazier and more carnal?
Or will they sit in the little room and have someone pull out a little will and they will read a few little lines and find out they got the grandfather clock, they got the earrings, they got eleven point five percent of the estate, but they never really knew your heart.
They never knew your passion for the Word of God. They never knew the secrets you learned in your marriage. They never knew the forgiveness that you received after your abortion. They never knew what it was like to grow in Christ and what it was like to live with an ailing mate and to serve them and love them for years and where you got the strength. See, that is the stuff that will sustain [them] that you pass on.
The apostle Paul talks a lot about life as a race. In I Corinthians 9, he talks about running a race and not wanting to be disqualified. When he gets to the very end of his life, II Corinthians chapter 4, he says, “I have run the race, I have fought the fight,” and this picture of a race is not only just finishing well, but Paul sees life as a relay race.
And he sees that, in the relay race, the truth and the life of Christ deposited in him are like a baton that he has to pass on to the next runner. And if you’re a sports [fan], especially track and field, you realize that we, as Americans, in the last Olympics and in the last World Cup, in terms of track and field, world nationals, we have had the fastest team twice. And we have dropped the baton in the Olympics in the four-by. And then two years later, they dropped the baton again!
And see, that’s where failure in the race usually occurs. It’s in the exchange. And what we are going to talk about in our time together, is, What is it that really needs to be passed on? And how practically do you pass it on to those that you love the most?
And you’ll see here, it says: “Five core values that we must pass on to the next generation.” And I remember a very sobering moment. It was a number of years ago and some of you remember the Columbine shootings.
And I was pastoring a church at the time in California. It was growing very rapidly and lots of people were coming and I had kids at all different age levels. And I remember thinking, because of the nature of the people who committed those crimes and what happened, I remember asking myself, What is it that I want to pass on to my kids and what is it that I want to pass on to the church that money could never buy?
And I began to think and pray and by that time, I had been a Christian quite a few years and a pastor for a number of years. And I realized, You know what? At the end of the day, it’s not all these little rules or it’s not how often they do this. And it’s not this external behavior. And it’s not how often they go to church, it’s not that they just read their Bible here, or if they do this, or if they learn to give off the top. All those are practical things.
But what I realized is, there are values. And if there were some core values that you could upload, in your heart, from God – and download into their hearts, and they were really a part of who they were, you wouldn’t have to worry about anything else.
And as I began to pray and ponder that, I realized what I really wanted to pass on to my kids, my grandkids, my friends, and the disciples in the church, I wanted them to learn to suffer well. I want them to learn to work unto the Lord. I want them to learn to manage their wealth wisely. I wanted to teach them to make wise decisions. And I wanted to have them learn to live grace-filled lives.
And I just can’t wait to share those five things in our time. And just not what they are, but how do you pass them on?
And so let’s start with, it says, “Radical, sustained change always begins with our thinking, not our behavior.” And I really want to emphasize this. In our day and especially among Christians, I think we have overemphasized behavior. And out of our fears, we want our kids or the person we are discipling or our grandkids or our friends or the people in the women’s group or the men’s accountability group: their behavior, their behavior, what are they doing? What are they doing? What are they doing? What are they doing?
And somehow we get to thinking if we can just get them reading the Bible, and praying, and giving, and going to things, and maybe even a short-term missions trip… and we focus on this exterior.
And, by the way, no problem. All those things, when done for the right reason, are very, very, very wonderful conduits of grace.
Lasting change always starts with your thinking, not your behavior. When the apostle Paul wanted to teach about how lasting, supernatural change occurs, after eleven chapters of truth, he opens up Romans chapter 12 and says, “It begins with offering yourself as a living sacrifice.” And then he says, “Don’t be conformed any longer to this world, but be transformed,” it doesn’t say, “by going to church more often.” It doesn’t say, “By trying harder.” It doesn’t say, “By cleaning up your externals.”
“But be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” It’s a change of perspective. It’s realizing God is on your team. It’s looking at sin differently. It’s realizing that the things the world offers are cheap and insignificant and won’t pay off and you agree with God about those things.
He changes how you think. And He says, “By the renewing of your mind, and then you will test,” literally: experience or approve, “what God’s will is – that which is good, acceptable, and perfect.”
And so what we are going to talk about, and I just want to get this on the table early is, this is not going to be a bunch of different things we can get people to start doing. Now, they will do things. But what you want to do is give them a new worldview. You want to give them a completely new perspective. You want them to think differently so it soaks from their head, in concept, about what the Scriptures teach and who God is and who they are and their identity and how they think about values and money and people and relationships and sex and priorities.
And what you want for them is to have a completely different worldview, and a set of values that plant in their heart so they begin to live out of this identity in Christ. And they own it for them versus external, religious activities of trying to somehow please God and get a couple of brownie points on that big refrigerator in the sky, wherever it is. And so that’s what we are going to talk about.
Transferable concept number one, and this may sound strange, but, “Teach them to suffer well.” You’re thinking, I’m going morbid all night, but I’m not. Teach them to suffer well.
We have raised a generation of people, when they think of suffering, the only concept they can think of is how to get out of it, how to limit it, and how to avoid it. And unfortunately, it’s not biblical and unfortunately, it sets them up with really bad expectations.
Let me give you a theology of suffering, if you will. I’ll go through it rather quickly and each time, I’ll give you the theology and then we will talk about the practice. But a theology of suffering goes something like this, from Scripture: Life is hard but God is good.
Okay? Life is hard. Your kids, your disciples, your grandkids, your friends, people in the ladies group, they come to Christ, something hard hits them – gosh, what is going on? And you can tell them, “Life is hard!”
The very last thing Jesus said, He could have said a lot of things, John 16:33, “In the world, you will have tribulation, trouble, difficulty, but I have overcome the world.”
We need to help people understand: life is going to be hard and filled with trouble. But God is good.
Jot, if you will, Psalm 84:11, next, in your notes, to, “God is good.” “The Lord God is a sun and a shield; the Lord gives grace and glory. No, no good thing will He withhold from those who walk uprightly.” He has a good plan for us, He loves us, He is for us, He delights to be generous to us. But it’s in the context of a difficult world.
Second, life is unjust, but God is sovereign. Sovereign is the key word. Life is not fair. Luke 13, you might jot down. A group of people came to Jesus and said, “Hey, what is going on here? Did you hear about this? The Tower of Siloam fell on this certain group of people.” And Jesus said, “Well, do you think they were more unrighteous than other people?” His point is, it’s a fallen world. Bad things, are you ready for this? Non-Christians get cancer. Are you ready for this? Christians get cancer.
Non-Christians get hit by drunk drivers. Are you ready? Christians get hit by drunk drivers. The economy caves in. I don’t know about you, but I don’t think, Was it isolated? Only non-believers’ 401-ks are now 101-ks. Right? It’s a fallen world.
But God is in control. Romans 8:28: He will work all things together for good,” – to whom? “to those that are called, to those that love Him.” But the good isn’t always external circumstances going your way. The ultimate good is He will use everything – what? To make you like His Son. Because God’s primary agenda is to make you holy, not happy. Now, there is a lot of happiness that comes with it.
Let me give you the Old Testament roots of this, it’s Genesis 37 through 50. It’s the story of Joseph. Now, think about this. There are fifty chapters in the book of Genesis. This is the most foundational book of all of Scripture. Almost every major doctrine is introduced in Genesis. It’s the book of beginnings. We get creation, we get Abraham, we get the entire line, we get Noah… you get all these thousands of years and, yet, thirteen chapters, that’s over twenty-five percent. It’s about twenty-eight-plus percent of the entire book about one man.
Why? What is the story about? It explains what happened between Genesis 1 and 2 and 3. In Genesis 1 and 2, we have a perfect world with a loving, perfect God, in a perfect environment, who wants His best for His people.
And then we have coup. And there is a rebellion. And this rebellion is, “God, I don’t want Your way,” and there is a willful sin and so sin enters in. “The fall,” is what theologians call it.
And so sin enters the human race and we have been a rebellious people ever since. But God is a redeeming God and so He takes Adam and Eve and gets them out of the garden and sets a guard so that they can’t eat from the tree of life and be in this state permanently.
But now God, in His sovereignty and in His love is going to orchestrate, even to the bad decisions, the ups and downs and the evil and the sin, He wants to work for man’s good. And the life of Joseph is the story of how God works good in us and through us in the midst of a fallen world, to bring about the highest and best for us and to accomplish His purposes.
And that is why, for those of you who are still in the “reading stories to your kids” stage, Joseph needs to be one of the most [important] heroes in your home. Or you grandparents? Or those of you who are doing Bible study? You need to, early on, get people identified with Joseph.
Because, guess what? They are going to be sold into slavery of some kind, they are going to get betrayed by someone, they are going to have someone slander them, they are going to be forgotten, right? Isn’t that all a part of life?
And do you remember the very end of the story? I call it “The Genesis 50:20” principle. Joseph is at the end. Remember, God exalts him? He becomes the ruler of all of Egypt. He saves the nation of Israel. He saves the chosen people. He actually saves Pharaoh and Egypt and all the rest.
And then when dad dies, his brothers still don’t get what is going on. And so when dad dies, they start making up little stories. This is a loose translation of the text. This is a little Ingram-ism here. So don’t read carefully tonight and go, Where did he get that? Basically, they are thinking, Joseph was really nice to us while dad was alive, but now he is gone. We betrayed him, we were thinking about killing him and we just sold him instead. We used him and abused him and I bet now he’s going to get back at us.
And I just have this picture of Joseph leaning on his staff and shaking his head and saying, “Guys, you still don’t get it, do you?” Genesis 50, verse 20, “As for you, you meant this for evil, but God meant it for good to bring about this present result,” and I think he is looking over the land, “to preserve many people alive.”
See, you have to teach your Bible study friends, you have to teach you kids, you have to teach your grandkids, you have to teach them that, You know what? It’s a fallen world, life is hard, life is unfair, God is good, God is in control, and just like Joseph, He will actually use the most painful, difficult, sinful, injustice, betrayal – everything you go through – to fulfill His ultimate purposes if you, like Joseph, say, “I don’t always understand this, but I’m not bailing out. I’m going to trust God.”
And what would it be like, God gave him this dream. “This is what I’m going to do with you.” I’m just thinking when he’s in that cell. “Hey, God, where are You?” When he gets falsely accused of rape, “God, where are You?” When he gets forgotten by the guys after he interprets the dream, “God, where are you?”
But he doesn’t. “God, I don’t understand, but I am confident of this.” And he didn’t have this verse, but it was still true then, “That He who began a good work in me will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus.” And so we need to have a clear picture.
The other biblical profile is Jesus. And Peter gives us the explanation of Jesus’ role in teaching us about suffering. I Peter chapter 2, 21 to 23. It says, “To this you were called,” put a circle in your notes around the phrase, to this, because I want you to think about, What is the, “to this”? You are called to this, whatever it is.
Because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example that you should follow in His steps. So circle the word, example, and now you’ve got the answer to the, “to this.”
You were called, I was called to – what? To suffer! What? I thought we were, if we believed in God and we loved Him and we gave off the top and read our Bible in the morning and prayed real hard and were nice to everybody and tried to be a good person, that God was going to make our lives work out and everything would be wonderful and we would never get sick and we would have more money and our kids would be upwardly mobile and someday, someway we would end up at Thanksgiving and sing Kumbaya with all the eleven grandkids. You mean that’s not the way it is? No!
Whatever part of that you get, praise the Lord. Press ahead. I’m glad for you. God didn’t promise it. Here’s what He promised: “To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should” – what? Observe it and wonder? What does it say? “That you should follow in His steps.”
And then, by the way, when you think it’s unfair, just so you get the story. “He committed no sin and no deceit was found in His mouth.” What is the point? He is absolutely innocent. I’m not and you’re not.
A lot of the suffering, I get because I’m stupid and sinful. I have made dumb decisions and I have had sinful acts and that’s how I, He didn’t do anything wrong. I get upset when I feel like, Gosh, I’m really innocent. I’m getting a raw deal. Well, He did nothing wrong.
“When they hurled insults, injustice, He didn’t retaliate; when He suffered, He made no threats.” You do this, I’ll get you back. I have a couple legions of angels, guys, you just wait. That wasn’t it. Instead, listen to what He did. “He entrusted Himself to Him who judges justly.”
Here’s what you have to understand. The model was: it’s not fair, I’m being wronged, I am being betrayed, I have done nothing wrong, I am not going to retaliate, I’m following and blazing a trail that I want you, as My children, My followers to follow with Me. And when you don’t understand it and when it hurts and when it seems unbearable, you entrust your soul to a faithful Creator, a heavenly Father who is sovereign and good and all-wise and will bring about the best possible ends, by the best possible means, for the most possible people, for the longest possible time.
It’s a classic definition of the wisdom of God. And who longs to bless and is the most generous Being in the universe and who is going to orchestrate this present injustice suffering for your good and His purposes, as you entrust it to Him in the midst of your pain. That’s learning to suffer well.
I was getting in my car with my son who was about early twenties at the time, just beginning his musical career. Sort of in the van stage of in the van, riding all over, doing what they call “gigs” and leading worship.
And little by little, kind of making progress. But he had a friend that he came up with and my garage was very loud for many, many years. And John and Jason were always playing music and then they would bring it inside and there were keyboards here and keyboards here and the piano here and then John would bring his drums and their buddies would bring their electric guitars. And somewhere I said something about, “Pursue your passions,” in a moment of weakness. And John was a young man; he was a prodigy. John played guitar, piano, violin, mandolin. John could pick up an instrument, in two weeks, he’d be playing on stage.
And we had a little, small Saturday night worship and so John and Jason, even as young guys, would help out and do that. And John began to write some songs and as Jason said one time, “John had more musical ability in his little finger than in my whole body.”
And my son Jason is the focused, persevering, hard-charging, won’t give up type of personality. And they just became fast friends. And we would kid John. John was very thin. I mean, very, very thin. Like, “John, if you stick out your tongue, we think it’s a thermometer,” and all that kind of stuff.
And we would tease him and he would drink milkshakes and tried to lift weights and he was just, no matter what he did, he was just, he turned sideways, John was gone!
And Jason was traveling around and had come home and I had gotten a phone call from his mom and dad and said, “Chip, John is over here in the hospital and they have run some tests and we now know why he has been so skinny so long. And he’s got a slow growing type of cancer and we are here and his fiancé is here. Could you come by?”
And I remember sitting on the bed and looking at John and reading Psalm 46 out loud together and then going through about a nine or ten, eleven month journey or so.
And then I remember getting in the car with Jason and John was musical and so the worship leader and two or three of us and my son and he looked like he had been in a concentration camp, as the cancer had eaten him out. He was probably eighty pounds and gaunt.
And it was the last day that he lived. And we sang worship songs and then we left and John died the next day, but I sat in the car with my son, Jason. And he looked at me and said, “Dad, why? Why would God do this to John? I don’t get it, Dad. Life is not fair. Dad, I mean, he’s got more ability. Think of how God could use him. And I’m healthy and I have to try so hard, and he can just do it. Why, Dad?”
And we cried together in the car. And then I could say, “Son, here’s what you need to understand. There is more to life than right now. And I don’t have a quick, easy answer about John. I don’t understand. But I can tell you it’s a fallen world and in a fallen world, good, godly people get cancer. And it’s a hard world. And it’s an unfair world. But listen, son, God is good and God is in control. And we just have a window of opportunity where we hurt and we grieve and we choose how we will respond to suffering.”
And I will just tell you, that was one of the most profound, teachable moments I have ever had with my son. Those whom you love, how will they respond to suffering? Because they are going to get it, right? Someone is going to walk out on them, someone is going to betray them, someone is going to talk about them, someone is going to steal their money, someone is going to talk about them in church, right? Some of them are going to get cancer. Some drunk driver is going to go left of center. Some of them are going to have a kid that dies prematurely.
So are they prepared? In your spiritual will, do you have, phase number one, I will teach them to suffer well?
Now, I am going to give some really practical ways about how to do that, but before I do, I want to ask you a question: how do you respond to suffering?
How do you respond to injustice? How are you responding to some things your ex-mate has done to you? How have you responded to losing your retirement? How have you responded to the false accusations that were made about you at work or at church? How have you responded to a physical infirmity that just seems unfair and no matter what you do, you just can’t get your health back?
Because here’s the deal, here’s how life works: a disciple is not above his teacher. And when a disciple is fully trained, Luke 6:40, he will be just like his teacher.
And I would like to say that the way you do this is you write: “Learn to suffer well,” I went to this seminar and here are the notes and here’s how it works. But I’ve got news for you. You know how they are going to respond to their suffering? The way they watch you. You cannot impart what you do not possess.
Modeling everything we are going to talk about will be the most powerful means of communication, because far more is caught than is ever taught. And so I have asked myself, So, when I am suffering, do I blame others? Do I whine? Am I the topic of conversations? “I’m a victim, it’s difficult, he ran out on me, this guy did this to me, I can’t believe this, it’s Hollywood’s fault, it’s education’s fault, it’s the president’s fault, it’s Congress’s fault, well now it’s the Supreme Court’s fault. Whine, whine, whine, victim, victim, victim. Is that how you respond?
Or is denial? I’m just not going to think about this. I’m not going to talk about this. I’m just going to bury it. Or is it anger? Bitterness? Lashing out? Or is it guilt? You know how some people respond to suffering? I know I did something terrible. I’m the most terrible person in the world. It’s all my fault.
There is the whole cosmos, but it’s really all your fault. And then you live with this guilt and then you pass that on and your kids or disciples or grandkids or friends, they suffer in the way they watch you.
And if you’re a whiner, they whine. If you feel guilty, they watch you, they feel guilty. If you’re a blamer, and a screamer, and bitter, and a denier, that’s what you’re going to produce.
So as much as we are going to talk about how to pass on the things that matter most, there is going to be a pretty heavy-duty application about asking a pretty gut-level question. Because, boy, I need to suffer well. I need to manage my wealth wisely. I need to work unto the Lord. I need to make great decisions, right? I need to be what I want them to become.
Now, that’s sobering for our first time together, isn’t it? But here’s the deal. You can’t do it. Right? I can’t either. It’s impossible. But Christ can do it in you. And Christ can do it through you. And sometimes we listen to these commands of God and it’s like, God, I can’t do that. Yay! I’m thinking, Now you’re on the right track.
So I need the strength of Your Word, I need the community of Your people, I need to ask, I need to trust, I need to take steps. And when you do that, you can, by the power and the grace of God, suffer well. And they will watch that it’s not you, but it’s the Christ in you, empowering you to do that. And that’s really what you want to pass on, right?
Now, let’s get really practical in terms of, Okay, okay, I got the theology, Chip. Now, how does this work? Roll up the sleeves with me, how do you grow through suffering, Okay, I know I need to do it, I need to pass this on to kids and disciples, to coworkers, church members, men’s groups. Okay, how do you do it? Let me give you four really practical ways.
Number one: teach them to face it, to identify what they are concerned about. Teach them to face it. It sounds so basic. Help them to identify, and here’s the key word, what they are concerned about. We all tend to repress, we all tend to avoid, we all tend to deny things that are difficult. We just do! We just push them down.
And all the psychologists will tell us, as we push down hard things, ninety-five percent of all depression is anger turned inward. A lot of our migraines, a lot of our stomach problems, a lot of our health issues are we suffer and, I don’t want to face it, and so I push it down and that’s a pattern. And you don’t talk about bad things. You don’t share anything. You don’t ever…
In other words, anything you say where you’re being honest about where you’re struggling, Hey, no complaining in this house! Hey! We’re going to be positive around here.
Well, you need to be positive, but you also need to be honest. Help them think about it. Help them talk about it. Help them write it down. One of the most powerful questions I know and around our supper table growing up with my wife, on a regular basis, we still do this little exercise, ask them this question: “What are you concerned about?”
And then, by the way, don’t fix it, don’t interrupt, and don’t tell them, “You shouldn’t be concerned about that. Everything is going to be okay. Duh!” That’s not helpful. The goal is not that you fix it.
“What are you concerned about?” “Oh, nothing.” “Well, no, no. Just tell me.” Say it’s one of the kids. A teenager. “What are you concerned about?” “Um, I don’t know.” “Well, I mean, you’re in football tryouts. Are you concerned you might not make it?” “I mean, yeah, maybe.” “Well, how’s it going?” “Not very good.” “Well, how come?” “I dropped a bunch of passes in practice.” “Well, how are you feeling about that?” “Well, this young kid, he’s only a freshman. Man, he was catching them…” “What are you concerned about?” And you shut up.
“What are you concerned about? What else? What else? What else?” I have grown kids now and they have little kids and I am learning there is this new world. I like to hang out with my boys and I have always been able to talk and we play basketball and do stuff and then we would be sweaty and we would sit down and talk.
Well, now they have these little kids. And every time I’m around them, little kids, little kids, little kids, little kids, little kids. I haven’t had a meaningful adult conversation with my sons in, like, a year and a half! I mean, a snippet here, a snippet here.
And Theresa and I were talking about this and so she came up with this plan. I’ll have everyone over for dinner, and we did a week ago. And then, I don’t know how, it wasn’t as well planned as I am going to make this sound, but the girls were doing the dishes and this and that and we cleaned things up and they were in one room.
And somehow, me and two of my sons ended up in the kitchen around one of those little counters. And we had been talking. It’s not like it’s always superficial but I’m kind of one of those language of love guys. I want to know what is really going on.
And when we don’t get there, I just feel like we’re going through the motions. And so it was a simple question. I turned to my oldest son. I said, “Here in California, you moved out here a while, who is your best friend?” And his face just changed.
He goes, “Dad, I don’t have a best friend.” He goes, “I have started this new business, I have two young kids, I’ve got an awesome wife.” He said, “Dad, I’m working from morning to night. I’m putting in all these hours. And this guy wants to go surfing and this guy can be kind of spiritual. There are several different people but I don’t have a guy like,” and he named two good guys that were real friends, “that we can go deep spiritually, that want to go somewhere with their lives, that want to be committed to their wives, and want to be a good dad. I don’t have that guy here.”
And, man, we got down to life. And then as we talked a little bit, I said to my other son, who is a pastor, I said, “What is the biggest challenge you are facing right now?” And he gave me a little twenty-five percent response.
And then his other brother had to leave and there are dynamics, always, forever with brothers. And these guys are close and all that. And as they left, he started to share. And I realized, he and I got talking, and they left, I didn’t get to say goodbye.
And so he began, for the next hour, to unfold the biggest challenges in his heart, his ministry, his wife is pregnant, she is tired, she is throwing up, he goes, “Dad, I go to work all day. I come home, she’s on the couch. She’s feeling terrible. I fix [dinner] for the kids, I put the kids to bed, I try and help her feel better and she is throwing up.”
And then he said, “And then here’s what’s happening in my heart. It’s a real privilege to serve her, Dad.” And for an hour, man, we talked at a level that I haven’t talked to him in a year. Teach them to face it and identify what they are concerned about.
Second, pray honestly about it. And pray with them. You need to model this. They can’t hear all your good, theologically sanitized, cleaned up prayers. Oh, Lord, I know that You are in control and that, though it’s a car wreck and they stole our money and we’ll be in the hospital and they canceled our insurance. I just want to tell You, I just praise the Lord. I just want to tell You, Lord, that I know You’re in…
You know? When was the last time they heard you say, God! I am ticked off and it’s unfair and why? And I have met with You and I loved You and my priorities are in order! And this happened! I don’t get it. I don’t get it. When was the last time they heard you pray the way Job prayed? Hey! Tell you what, Lord, come on, right now, let’s argue about it. Man, I have kept myself pure. Right now, right now, God.
Or one of the lament psalms. Why have You forsaken me? Where are you, God? You have been unfaithful. I am upset. I’m hurt. You hear David pray, he says stuff to God, you know what? He can handle it. You need to vent, I mean, reverently. But I’ll tell you what, “God is near to those who call upon Him,” Psalm 145:18, “to those who call upon Him in truth.” And when you hurt, bring the pain. When you’re mad, bring the anger. “The Lord is near to the brokenhearted, He saves those who are crushed in spirit.”
We play games. We think God doesn’t understand what’s going on. You don’t connect with Him until the real you shows up and you lay it all out and your disciples or your kids or your grandkids need to hear some prayers like that to know it’s legal!
And then God spoke to Job, didn’t He? And, boy, Job got a lot bigger God. And most of David’s psalms end with, “And yet, O Lord, when I look back, You have been faithful and I thank You and I praise You and I didn’t understand, but I had to share this. I had to get this out.” That’s how you learn to suffer well.
Hebrews describes Jesus, who, in His days on earth, with loud groaning and cries, calling out to God. When was the last time you actually wept in the presence of the Lord? When was the last time you prayed with someone and you cried together? This is very, very important.
Third, help them to share where they are suffering with someone they trust. As wonderful as you are, and as wonderful as I am, of course, sometimes you’re not the right person to help them.
Sometimes it’s an area and it’s a concern and they need someone else and so you need to say, “Hey,” point them to some mentors that are older or wiser. I praise God when my kids were teenagers, that there was a youth pastor that was godly, that they would tell stuff to him they would never tell to me.
There are times where one of my sons had a mentor in our church and he happened to be a counselor and, you know what? There were some issues that he was working through. I kind of think I know what some of them might be. But they’re the kind you’re not really excited to share with your dad.
And this guy and he, they would meet and drink coffee and talk and share and then go surfing. And I have watched my daughter with godly women involved in ministry, just make connections.
What you want to do is help orchestrate what God is doing, but you don’t have to do it all. So mentors.
Second are peers. And part of that is let them in on your struggles. I was talking with my son who is a songwriter and producer and, by God’s grace, he has become extraordinarily successful and he is now experiencing, “Oh my lands, this person from American Idol wants to write music with me because she is a Christian, but I’m already booked, so I’m working from seven until four and she is going to fly in for two days and from six until two in the morning, I am going to write with her, and, well, then this has happened and this is happening. And, God, Dad, what do you do when the blessing of God is success? My priorities are getting totally out of whack. I’m exhausted. I have to build in some…”
And, man, we talked on the phone for forty-five minutes about, “Hey, son, been there and done that. Let me just tell you something. Those great opportunities are not like they are never going to come around again. It’s a faith issue. And for people that are wired like you and me, Satan puts the brakes on some people to discourage them. And for people like us, that, I don’t think the brakes will work, he just pushes on the gas pedal. And he gets people like you and me so overloaded doing really good things, that we crash.”
And then I shared some crashes, so that my mid-thirties son with two small kids in this career that is mushrooming could say, “Well, okay,” and I said, “I don’t have it figured out, as you can tell from schedule the last two weeks.”
And then finally, there are times where we need to direct him to a pastor or a professional counselor. Everybody gets stuck. And if you have ever been to one, make sure your kids, grandkids, disciples – when I teach on marriage, I always try, in the first session, and let everybody know, in the first year and a half of my marriage, I had to go to marriage counseling. And then about five years later, I had to go back again.
I just want to get that out on the table because somehow, they think that if you really love God and you try really hard, well, you’d never need outside help. You need outside help when you’re stuck! If I’m putting in a window and I know a little bit about putting in windows, and I go down to Home Depot and I get this and I get this and I get stuck, I don’t go, Oh my gosh. Well, I’ve got to figure this all out myself.
I’m going to go down and say, “Hey, is there someone with an orange vest that really knows about windows?” “Well, buddy, we’ve told you all that we know. Look, here’s the name of Anderson Windows. This guy is a pro. Have him come out to your house. He is going to fix the thing that you messed up.”
I tried to do windows; I can’t do windows! So, I am ashamed to ask an expert to get help when I’m stuck? Of course not. Your kids, your disciples, your grandkids, your friends, they need to know there is a time where, you know, go to a pastor, go to a professional counselor.
And then, finally, help them align specific Scripture with their specific situation. Now, I am going to give you some things here and a lot of them are not in your notes, so I’ll try and go slow.
This is the key, in terms of, you want to match, What are they going through? with truth. Because it’s as you trust the promises of God, that’s what faith is, by the way. And it’s by faith we experience God’s grace.
And suffering, imagine suffering is sort of like this overarching rainbow. But underneath of it, there may be four or five, maybe far more, there are different reasons we suffer. And if I suffer for this reason, here is the passage that I want, okay? Are you tracking with me?
So let me give you just four or five examples. First, let’s say I have a negative circumstance or a trial. Okay? The economy goes down, I had money, whether it’s in retirement or a college education, and it’s gone. Here’s the passage: James chapter 1, verses 2 to 4. “Consider it all joy when you encounter various trials, knowing the testing of your faith produces endurance. Let endurance have its perfect result that you might be lacking in nothing.” So it’s external circumstances. Okay. Choose to have this kind of attitude. Realize there is a process God is going to take you through.
Or, second, how about refining your character? You haven’t done anything wrong, you’re suffering, it doesn’t make sense, but you sense you’re really growing.
Romans chapter 5, verses 1 to 5. “Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God. And we exalt and hope in the glory of God. And we exalt, not only in this, but in our” – what? “tribulation, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope. And hope…” I can say this really, really fast. I’m talking so fast, I can’t understand me.
“And proven character produces hope. And hope produces love as the Holy Spirit has poured into our life.” There are certain times you are suffering because you are so precious in God’s eyes that He is allowing a process of drawing you in intimacy and suffering. So you respond in gratitude of God’s work.
A third time you suffer is spiritual opposition. Man, you’re making tracks for God, you’re sharing your faith, you have taken a new step of faith, you’re getting in the Bible. You’re taking a risk. You’re saying, God, I am going to do some stuff with my time and my money, and you are doing some things that is exposing the darkness.
Well, Ephesians chapter 6, 10 through 18. It teaches you how to deal with that kind of difficulty and suffering in spiritual warfare.
Or sometimes it’s persecution. You stood up for Christ and, man, you’re getting on this flak on a college campus or you’re getting all this flak at work or your lose your job because you’re a doctor and you won’t do the abortion. Or you’re a legal person and you won’t lie about something in a situation.
The passage, II Timothy 3:12. The promise is, “For all those who desire to live a godly life, in Christ Jesus, will be persecuted.”
And then, finally, there are times where you’re suffering because, like me, you make some bad choices, right? Or you just sin. You know? You say what you shouldn’t have said, you thought what you shouldn’t have thought, you did what you knew was wrong. And then there are consequences.
And then you want to go to Romans chapter 6, where it talks about presenting your members. And then I Corinthians 10:13, where, “No temptation has taken you, but such is common to man. But God will, with the temptation, provide a way of escape that you might be able to endure it.”
So what you want to do is begin to coach the kids, coach the disciple, coach the grandkid, coach the lady, coach the guy. What you want to pass on is, Here is suffering. There are at least five different reasons, maybe more. And here is the promise you can hang on to. And here is the truth to apply very specifically.
Life message, very simple. Suffering is normal. That’s what you want them to get. That’s the message. When they are suffering, they want to say, “Oh, this is normal. It’s not fun, but it’s normal.”
It will be experienced by all, it will either make or break those we love, and so teach them to suffer well.