You are grieving the death of your husband. Who can best help you process the loss of a decades-long companion? To whom will you voice your heart-rending pain? Who can help you navigate the difficult transition to living alone, to managing life and making choices all by yourself?
Your pastor or a counselor may help. But you know a lady with a vibrant faith who experienced the same loss years ago. You contact her and schedule an unhurried lunch appointment so you can talk things over.
Your mood plummeted recently. There is no direct cause that you can identify. The dark, low-lying clouds merely rolled in and stayed put, resulting in a sad countenance and a robotic, lethargic state of being. You can’t muster the enthusiasm needed for tasks and projects that you typically enjoy. You can’t wait until bedtime, since sleep is the only respite from the all-encompassing gloom.
You plan to see a physician to rule out possible physiological causes. You’ve made an appointment with an experienced Christian counselor, hoping she will help you manage the symptoms and their impact on your work and relationships. Yet your greatest felt need is for someone whose godliness you respect, who has opened up in the past about his or her own descents into despondency. That’s the person who, due to your initiative, you are meeting for lunch tomorrow. You are desperate to know how this person keeps going and lives fruitfully for Christ, even when the sun stays behind the clouds.
Your grown son has apparently abandoned the faith of his childhood. Yes, you are somewhat embarrassed to admit it, yet you are mostly concerned for his sake. You aren’t estranged from him, yet he doesn’t want to participate with you in conversations about his disinterest in spiritual things. You want him to know that you love him unconditionally, no matter what he does, or does not, believe. On the other hand, you want to make a winsome, reasonable case for Christianity without him perceiving it as preachy, because you know that eternal consequences are at stake. Of course, you pray regularly for him, but you want to know what else to do, how to deepen your relationship with him despite the grief you feel.
Who can help you think through this dilemma and assist in identifying appropriate action steps? The first person who comes to mind is a highly-respected retired missionary. He’s a person you would put at the top of a “Spiritual Heroes” bulletin board. Yet despite his impeccable character and outrageously fruitful ministry, one of his grown children shucked his faith and stayed away from God for many years.
You call him, and he agrees to meet with you.
Someone Who Understands
In all three cases, the hurting person gravitated toward someone who could identify with his or her pain. Someone who would understand, experientially, what was happening inside the needy person who initiated the contact. Someone who has “been there, done that.” Someone who would appreciate the complexity of the suffering and filter any counsel through his or her own gut-ripping affliction. Someone who could offer realistic, proven ideas instead of superficial bromides. Someone whose lessons were learned the hard way, who wouldn’t equate the needy person’s suffering with a lack of faith.
That’s precisely what prompts me to run to Jesus with my perplexities and heartaches.
When my back breaks from an overload, when a crack zigzags across my heart, when a rivulet of tears forms on my cheeks and I cry so violently that my body convulses, I drop my burdens and sorrows at His feet because He knows what I’m going through. Though sinless, what He experienced as a man means He identifies with my suffering. He gets it. He has been there, done that.
Oh yes, I need others in the body of Christ (Galatians 6:2). My Lord often comforts me through them. Yet the most favorable outcomes of prayer stem from a direct approach to the Lord’s throne. A few times, when I was hurting years ago, I consulted others and solicited their prayers without a fervent, persistent outpouring of my own heart to the Lord. I’d ask others to intercede without agonizing in my own private pleadings.
Examples of His Suffering
Have you fought long and hard to resist the lures of Satan, an enemy who keeps attacking no matter how many times you successfully repel him? Do you sometimes wonder how long you can keep up the fight, when giving in would be so much easier? Jesus knows full well that the lures of the enemy are strong and persistent (Luke 4:1-13).
Have folks in your sphere of influence ever disrespected you, rejected you, or refused to believe that your message or testimony is credible? Jewish religious leaders adamantly opposed Jesus, even going so far as claiming He was demon-possessed. During His triumphal entry into Jerusalem, while straddling a colt, Jesus wept over the Jews’ unbelief.
Have good friends or other loved ones ever pierced your heart with their betrayal and disloyalty? All of Jesus’ inner circle of followers scrammed when the heat was on the night of His arrest. Despite his previous fervent pledge of loyalty, three times Peter denied even knowing Jesus.
Have others publicly ridiculed or verbally abused you? Prior to His crucifixion, Roman soldiers spit on Jesus, verbally abusing Him and sarcastically bowing before Him. Before He breathed His last, onlookers mocked and insulted Jesus because He wouldn’t prove His divinity by coming down off the cross.
Have you endured horrendous physical pain that left you immobilized, searing jabs that no meds could relieve? Soldiers thrust a crown of thorns into Jesus’ head, piercing his scalp and causing blood to trickle down His face. They beat Him, leaving bloody whelps on His body. Later, they hammered huge nails into His hands and feet before propping up His cross.
Have you ever felt abandoned by God the Father? Has He remained silent when you repeatedly begged Him for something that you deemed important? In Gethsemane, immediately preceding His arrest, Jesus felt “very distressed and troubled” (Mark 14:33). His soul was “deeply grieved to the point of death” (Mark 14:34). Three separate times that evening, He pleaded with the Father to “remove this cup” (the cup of His wrath that would be poured out on Jesus as He bore our sin).
Jesus had predicted His death. He understood that He would die as our substitute and pay the penalty for our sin. Yet I don’t think His anguish in the garden was explained by the anticipation of physical torture on the cross. I believe His pain was psychological or emotional. For the first time in all eternity, Jesus was facing temporary estrangement from God the Father. “He who knew no sin became sin for us” (2 Corinthians 5:21). The Father could not say “Yes” to Jesus’ plea to “remove this cup” without forsaking us and leaving us in our sin. That’s why, while on the cross, Jesus bellowed, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” (Mark 15:34).
Indeed, as the prophet Isaiah predicted in Isaiah 53:3-6, Jesus “was despised and forsaken of men, a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief.” He was “smitten of God, and afflicted.” He was “pierced through” and “crushed.”
Don’t ever think that Jesus doesn’t understand your pain.
Yes, Jesus’ power is a crucial variable in my motivation to pray to Him. Who appeals to someone who’s impotent?
Yes, Jesus’ compassion prompts me to approach Him with my needs. If He doesn’t care for me, why would I bother Him?
Yes, Jesus’ numerous invitations to take our needs to Him nudge me to run to Him when I’m hurting.
Those three reasons are necessary factors that help fuel my motivation to run to Jesus. Yet from my perspective, those are insufficient incentives unless I’m also convinced that He identifies with my temptations, my physical pain, and my emotional suffering.
He understands. He gets it. He has, indeed, been there, done that.
Yet He’s God.
If you memorize Hebrews 4:15-16, you’re more likely to run to Jesus when you’re weak: “For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and may find grace to help in time of need.”
Here, you can clearly see what the “therefore” is there for!
Do you want to be more like Jesus? Then model how He prayed: “In the days of His flesh, He offered up both prayers and supplications with loud crying and tears...” (Hebrews 5:7).
I’m glad Jesus was fully man, as well as fully God!