Week of October 30

Make Your Presence a Soothing Ointment

Read: Job 16; Acts 24-26
“Then Job answered and said: ‘I have heard many such things;
miserable comforters are you all.’”
Job 16:1-2, ESV


“If this is so right, then why does it feel so wrong?” is a question that I have asked at times in ministry. I mean by this statement that there are some occasions when folks were feeling justified for giving their spiritual assessment of a situation, but the result was not healing or hope! The words sounded right and helpful, but the results were wrong and hurtful. Job has some well-meaning friends who offered demeaning counsel. Let’s see today how we may provide sound counsel when we are seeking to aid friends who may be suffering.

Understanding the Bible Context

Misery needs the right type of company!
All too often, the advice that well-meaning friends offer during sorrow provides little relief. Little that Job’s friends had shared with him was useful and, as he indicates, much of it only “aggravated his condition” (NAC). Sadly, they had come to Job to “sympathize with him and comfort him” (2:11). Job has shouldered enough “help” from them and tells them that they are “miserable comforters” (16:2) He uses a word that means “trouble.”
I knew of a church member who would often say, with tongue in cheek, as another member entered the door, “Oh no, here comes trouble.” Job meant those words! Being, not speaking is often the greatest ministry need. The fewer the words, the more caring the presence! Let’s consider the important ministry of presence.
Practicing the ministry of presence
Avoid compounding a person’s suffering (16:2). Job sets the stage for his response by addressing all three of his “friends” who have spoken. He includes them all in his condemnation. Rather than being helpful, they were quite the opposite. Job calls them “comforters of trouble.” Job accuses them of conceiving “mischief” which refers to misery. Their friendship had only brought him more misery (16:1-2). Wow! What on earth did they do or say that was so troubling to Job?
Watch what you say to your suffering loved ones (17:3). Job wondered when their “windy” words would come to an end (cf. 8:2; 15:2). His friends were “itching” to talk. They wanted to have the last word, something that should have been given to God. Being a true friend does not require you to fill the situation with platitudes about a good attitude. I recall a well-meaning friend who offered “encouragement” to a person who had had major brain surgery. She said, “I know you are suffering, but I, too, have this bad knee, and it hurts when I climb the stairs.” In other words, “Don’t complain. Others have it bad, too, you know.”
Job tells his friends that they did not help him because they only served to increase his suffering (cf. 16:4)! The old saying goes, “Silence is golden.” In this case it would have been Fort Knox for them to hold their tongues and reach out their hands to hold their friend in his deep suffering. Some of the wisest counsel I ever received as a pastor was from a mentor in ministry. He once said, “Larry, the saying, ‘Don’t just stand there, do something’ is often reversed in ministry to the hurting. The maxim should be, ‘Don’t just do something, stand there.’”
Have something valuable to say when at last you do speak (16:5). Job uses sarcasm in verse 5. He says that he could have strengthened them by giving them nothing but words. In other words, he asks, “Is it really that encouraging when all I get from you is sheer talk?!” Wow! That stings like a whip; however, they needed to smart a bit. This suffering man spoke powerful truth into the situation. It would be best to tell friends, “If I were in your shoes, I would say to my hurting friend that which would make him or her feel better.” Let’s find valuable words to say whenever we choose to speak during suffering.

Applying the Passage to Our Lives

Young David gathered five smooth stones from a brook to slay a giant, Goliath, but he also was known for using words like balm to soothe doubtful and downcast hearts (Psalm 23). His son Solomon writes: “A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in a setting of silver” (Proverbs 25:11). I wonder if his daddy, the great warrior king, had impressed upon his son the value of words that bring peace. You and I should always keep edifying words in our possession to use like an ointment that eases disappointment, discouragement, and defeat in those who suffer.
What should we do when our loved ones suffer? To answer the question requires theological reflection. We minister best to the suffering of others when our actions emerge from within Christian motivation. It may be as simple as “love your neighbor.” Jesus was motivated to give the woman at the well living water to satisfy her obvious thirst for a meaningful relationship, but not a sermon about her immorality (cf. John 4). This action on His part showed respect for her as a life that was created in God’s image, rather than rejection and judgment. He provides the context in which God’s personal presence was experienced. He had facilitated that revelatory experience for that troubled soul, and she was later washed clean of her sins. Job’s friends had shunned the experience, but Jesus shared the journey with the woman. Journey with sufferers!

Reflecting Upon and Discussing the Passage

1. Walk through the corridors of pain and suffering that you have experienced and call to mind the hurtful and helpful words that others shared with you. Resolve to help others in their trials.
2. For Families: Your children may bring home stories from school or church about deaths in families, illness of parents or other children. Sometimes your kids catch a glimpse of tragedies on the news. When these times come, they may feel these losses with their friends, but not know what to do to help. Today’s passage is a great lesson for such a time.

Keep a few sympathy cards handy, or provide materials so that your children can make their own. Find words in a thesaurus that help your children to find the language they need to express their sympathy with others. Encourage them to write a card, draw a picture to illustrate how they are feeling, and bake a batch of cookies or take flowers or a new book ease the pain their friend may be feeling.

Spending time together may be just what will make the situation better! They don’t have to say anything. Just being there may be enough. You can guide your children to become empathetic and caring, gracious, and loving, especially to those who are walking through difficult days.

May your paths be straight,
Larry C. Ashlock