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"Everything We Need for Life and Godliness" - 2 Pet. 1:3 ... Dr. Ed Bulkley is President of the International Association of Biblical Counselors. For more information, go to

Monday, April 18, 2011

Part 3 – Why God Let’s You Suffer: So You Can Experience the Joy of Comforting Others

Twenty-five years ago my father suffered a major heart-attack and needed by-pass surgery. That’s a frightening prospect for anyone at anytime. Even so in his case, because the technology wasn’t where it is today and his heart was so damaged, the weight of the whole thing was particularly heavy. You can imagine the anxiety we were feeling.

A few of days before the surgery a man from our church stopped by the house. He had heard about our situation and wanted to share some things with us. It turns out that he had suffered a heart-attack and had been through by-pass surgery just a couple of years earlier. Very slowly and carefully, he told my dad everything that was going to happen; everything he would experience. He not only told him what the doctors would do but what each phase of the process would feel like. For example, “When you first wake up from the surgery,” he said, “you’ll feel like you’re drowning because you’ll have a big tube stuck down your throat. Your tendency will be to fight it, but that will only make it worse. Just try to relax and you’ll adjust.” As he continued to tell my father what to expect, he talked to him about the goodness of the Lord and how God had comforted him throughout his ordeal. He told him that God would do the same for him, and He did.

We had never met this man before that day; we were new to the church and it was very large on top of that. After he prayed with us and was ready to leave, my father asked him why he came by. He said that God had ministered to him during his time of need and he wanted to do the same for someone else. I didn’t know it at the time, but the Bible actually says that one of the reasons we suffer is so that with the comfort God gives us we can comfort others. That’s exactly what Jack was doing that day. In God’s providence, one of the reasons this man had suffered a heart attack was so that he could minister to us in just the right way at just the right time. Paul said, “If we are afflicted, it is for your consolation” (1 Cor. 1:6). Just before that he said, God “comforts us in all our tribulation, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any trouble, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God” (v. 4).

Why does God let you suffer? One of the reasons he allows us to go through the trial is so that He can comfort us. He’s the only One who can give true comfort, peace, and assurance during a storm. He wants us weaned from this earth and dependent on Him because He’s better than anything the world has to offer. He wants us to get the true joy and satisfaction of being comforted by Him. His presence and ministry to our hearts is even better than being delivered from the trial. It’s hard for us to imagine such, but it’s the truth. He wants us to know His peace in our hearts. That’s a very different thing than peace based on circumstances. God gives peace despite our circumstances. But He doesn’t stop there. As He gives us comfort, He wants us to turn our attention to others and minister to them. He wants us to comfort others with the comfort He’s given us.

Sometimes it’s hard to give words of real comfort to others if we haven’t suffered ourselves. It’s not impossible; the Word of God is the thing that has the authority and carries the weight and power by the Holy Spirit when we speak to others in their grief. But God uses people to minister to people and he uses people who have suffered to minister to those who are suffering in a similar way.

My father-in-law passed away this week. I’ve spoken many words of comfort to my precious mother-in-law and God’s Word has an entrance into her heart. But, when my mother speaks to her and tells her how she’s going to make it, those words have a special affect because my mother is speaking from experience. She lost her husband (my father) almost twelve years ago. It was tough, but God gave her strength. She is now able to testify to my mother-in-law of that strength; that strength that the Lord will definitely give. And, I have no doubt that my mother-in-law will have some comforting words to share with another grieving widow down the road.

Think about this: I had a tumor in my spine a few years ago. The pain was excruciating and I got to the point where I couldn’t walk. But then I had surgery and I’m better than ever now! About a year later, my neurosurgeon called me and said a woman was suffering from the same thing I had and she was very anxious about going under the knife. She wanted to know if I would talk to her. I can’t describe how thankful I was that God had allowed me to go through that trial. I was able to tell that women how she was feeling physically because I had been through it; I was able to tell her what I felt like now; I was able to tell her how God had met me and given me peace; I was able to do for her what Jack had done for my dad! And I’m not kidding when I say that it was an absolute joy to be able to do so. I had to suffer prior to that to be able to minister in that way, but what a pay-off – to give the comfort that God had given me to someone else.

Why does God allow you to suffer? So you can one day experience the joy – the sheer joy – of sharing Christ in a unique way with someone else who is suffering. God will comfort you so you can comfort someone else for their good and His glory.

Dr. Paul Dean invites you to discover more about yourself, God, and others . . . and develop a Christian worldview. Dr. Dean is a pastor, cultural commentator, and author. Receive a FREE commentary and learn more at

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Part 2 – Why God Let’s You Suffer: So You Can Endure to the End - Dr. Paul Dean

The old saying “when it rains it pours” seems to be true sometimes when it comes to the trials we face in life. There are occasions when we seem to be in one trial and get hit with another. That feeling or reality, as the case may be, is not far from what James actually tells us. He lovingly says, “My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials” (Jas. 1:2).

Two of the words James uses are powerfully descriptive. The word “fall” is a compound word in the Greek: peripipto. The word pipto means “fall” and the little prefix peri means “around.” It’s the prefix we use in words like perimeter or periscope. The picture I get is trials falling all around us like rain. If you think about rain, there is space in between each raindrop. However, because there are so many raindrops and they are so closely spaced together, you can’t help but get hit by some of them. So too, because we live in a fallen world with trials falling all around us, we can’t help but get hit by some of them. Indeed, when it rains it pours!

The other descriptor is “various.” It means multi-faceted or multi-colored. It’s the same word used in the Greek translation of the Old Testament to describe Joseph’s coat of many colors. As we go through life, we get hit by raining trials that are multi-colored. In other words, we face many different kinds of trials. The truth is that you are just coming out of a trial, in the midst of one, or about to go into one. That’s not a thrilling prospect, I know.

But, James tells us to “count it all joy when we fall into various trials.” What in the world does he mean? How can I be happy about pain and suffering? How can I be happy when devastating things are going on in my life? Well, he doesn’t tell us to be happy; he tells us to “count it all joy” and that’s something very different. The word “count” is a term used in the courtroom and in the accounting field. In the courtroom, a guilty man may be counted or declared innocent. He may be one thing but he’s counted another. In the accounting world it refers to putting something on one side of the ledger or other. James says that we are to look at the difficulties we face and declare them joy; put them on the joy side of the ledger; or in simple terms, to consider them joy. Trials are not joyful but we are to consider them as joy.

Now before we unravel what James is saying completely, we have to understand that joy and happiness are two different things. James is not saying be happy in or about your trials. There are some circumstances where it would be extremely difficult if not impossible to be happy.

Besides, God gives us emotions for a reason. Of course, we must control our emotions and not let them get the best of us. For example, grief is good and is an expression of the very real loss we experience as human beings in relation to others or even ourselves. But depression resulting from grief is not good. A depressed person has lost hope; he’s lost the will to fulfill his God-given responsibilities. God doesn’t want us in that state and is there to strengthen us if we look to Him. Part of looking to Him is thinking rightly about our trials and that’s what James is getting at.

So James recognizes that heartache is just that: heartache. We can’t always be happy about our circumstances. What James is getting at is joy. Christian joy is the certain knowledge that God is in control and nothing has happened to us that He did not allow for a good purpose in our life; that He loves us more than we could ever imagine; and that we can trust Him to do what is best and right no matter what. We get peace in knowing these things. That’s joy.

That helps. But how can we really count our tough times joy? James says we can do that because we know “that the testing of our faith produces endurance.” Part of the reason God allows trials to come into our lives is to test our faith. The second half of that is to produce endurance in us. He tests our faith not so that He will know whether or not we are trusting Him (He knows already), but so that we will know how much or how little we are trusting Him. He tests us for our benefit. In the trial, we really learn where our focus is; we really learn where our hope is; we really learn where our peace, joy, and satisfaction is. If we find our trust is in Him and not ourselves or something else, we get real happiness from that. If we find our trust is in something other than Him, we turn our hearts to Him and find peace in so doing. The test helps us see.

Then, the benefit of being tested is what it ultimately produces in us: endurance. This word in the Greek is also compound and means to bear up under the load. God tests us with trials along the way to produce in us a greater and greater ability to bear up under the load of suffering. That’s important because suffering is simply a part of this life. At the same time, the Bible says that believers must enter the kingdom through much tribulation (Acts 14:22) and that suffering is part of what it means to be a Christian; we participate in the sufferings of Christ (2 Cor. 1:5). But the good news is those sufferings will give way to great reward when we see Christ face to face (2 Cor. 4:17).

We need endurance to make it all the way to the end of life without laying down and dying from depression and without walking away from the Lord Jesus Himself. If life were a hundred-yard-dash it would be easy. We need no endurance for that. But it’s not; life is a marathon: a long-distance race; and we do need endurance for that.

Have you ever thought about what a coach does with a marathon runner? He doesn’t make him run twenty-six miles the first day of practice. But, he does put him through a workout. It doesn’t feel good; it’s tough. And the next day they do it all over again and as the days go by the Coach adds to the runner’s regimen. He makes him run further distances; he times him and makes him run those distances faster; he does interval work, pace work, and sprint work. He puts him in the weight room and then he makes him run some more. It’s tough on this runner; it’s not pleasant; he’s not happy. But, he does have joy – because he knows that what he’s going through is going to give him endurance to run the marathon. And when he runs the marathon with endurance, he gets the gold medal.

Paul says we work for a medal (crown) that’s imperishable (1 Cor. 9:25).We’re told in Hebrews to run the race with endurance. How? By looking unto Jesus, our great reward (Heb. 12:1-2). That’s why James says “Let endurance have its perfect work in you that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing” (v. 4). That’s what God is doing; He’s getting you to the victor’s stand – and that’s something to look forward to.

Dr. Paul Dean invites you to discover more about yourself, God, and others . . . and develop a Christian worldview. Dr. Dean is a pastor, cultural commentator, and author. Receive a FREE commentary and learn more at