What qualifies a person for ministering to a sufferer? Formal training can be an invaluable aid, but one can lack academic credentials and still have a wonderful minstry of helping broken hearts. Divine training is the fundamental requirement. A verse which has served as a beacon says: "The Lord God hath given me the tongue of the learned, that I should know how to speak a word in season to him that is weary." (Isaiah 50:4).
How does the Lord train us for comforting the afflicted? He uses our own experiences. Years ago, Dr. Edgar N. Jackson, whose writings on the subject of grief show remarkable insight, suffered the unexpected and tragic death of a son. Out of his own experience, he was able to help other people face their grief and to comprehend the tragedies which strike suddenly. The Apostle Paul was able to comfort others who were afflicted because he had received comfort from God in his own afflictions. (11 Corinthians 1:3-4).
The Lord can use you as a minister to the sufferer. Often a close neighbor or a good friend or fellowbeliever may help a distraught person more effectively than a minister or professionally trained counselor. The greatest ministry is that which flows from heart to heart, from friend to friend.
Now let's look at six practical suggestions for helping those who are suffering: 1. Go to that person. Your presence can help. How long you stay with the persons depends on how close the two of your are, on how many others are there to help, and on whether you are a relative or an acquaintance. Use discretion so that your presence does not add another dimension to the person's worries. Do not become a hindrance by being in the way. There is a time to leave! If you are unable to control your emotions, wait. Nothing is more upsetting to a bereaved family than for a visitor to lose his composure. Your presence should exude calmness and confidence. A brief visit is helpful, since it identifies you as an ally in facing tragedy.
2. Pray with that person. Your prayers can help. Prayer is appropriate when someone is sick or facing tragedy. The content of the prayer will vary according to the situation, but it ought to be an affirming prayer. Affirm faith in God and his benevolent concern. The prayer should be a petition for help, for comfort, for strength, for courage, for understanding and for grace on behalf of the sufferer.
3. Listen to that person. Your listening can help. While your own experiences
may form an understanding background, it is inappropriate to compare or to contrast your experiences with theirs. They may think that you are minimizing their tragedy. Be a perceptive listener. Receive his injured, shattered experience with due respect. A person can be helped by having someone to listen as he verbalizes his doubts, his frustrations, his anxieties. Do not be judgmental or harsh toward even the most outrageous complaints. The sufferer may simply be revealing his bewilderment. Be the shoulder to cry on, the one he can talk with. (Romans 12:15).
4. Talk to that person. Your conversation can help. In form, your speech should be simple and direct. Remind him of the Christian hope. This is not a time for sermonizing; neither is it a time for avoiding the questions which are paramount to the sufferer - questions about God and his purpose toward us. Talking with a person about these matters can be difficult. One remembers Job's three friends who spoke so assuredly, but so wrongly, thus adding affliction to a good man's troubles.
5. Help that person. Your activity can help. Be practical in serving. Does coffee need to be made? Do outof-town people need a place to stay? Should food be brought in? Are there others to be notified? Do dishes need to be washed? Is there laundry to be done? Does the yard need tending? Look for these needs and fill them.
6. Remember that person. Your continuing concern can help. During the first days of a tragedy, many people are interested. After a few weeks, the sufferer appears forgotten. Drop by to visit the person a few weeks after his initial sorrow.
Whatever you do, let it come naturally as an expression of true love and concern.