|Image source: https://www.amazon.com/Being-There-Love-Those-Hurting/dp/1433550032|
Dave Furman, Being There: How to Love Those Who Are Hurting, Crossway, 2016, 176 pps. $12.99.
As I dove into Dave’s book at first I found myself convicted over all the things that I complain about on any given day—even if I don’t verbalize those complaints. Reading about Dave and his wife Gloria’s story really puts my life in perspective. Dave and Gloria both have, and still are suffering much. The things they both have had to sacrifice because of Dave’s illness make the hardships of my life seem very insignificant, though I know neither of them would want me to feel that way. But I mean that in the best way possible; seeing how others have suffered puts our own suffering in perspective.
But instead of having us feel guilty or ashamed about the feelings we have, Dave calls us to acknowledge them and deal with them head on. Instead of trying to gain sympathy through his own story, he proves himself truly sympathetic to ours. Yet, from the very beginning he is open and honest about his and Gloria’s struggles. After imagining myself in both of their shoes, and reading about Dave’s intentions with the book—addressing not merely the issue of suffering but those who help those who suffer—I began to wonder who I was in this book; am I the sufferer, or am I the caretaker?
Because I’m a pastor I spend a lot of time caring for others; when the people to whom God has entrusted me to hurt, I hurt. But not only that, I am also a broken sinner living in a broken world, and so I have my own hardships and sufferings as well; so for me, I believe I am both the sufferer and the caretaker. But, I think that’s the truth for all of us, regardless of our occupation or circumstance. Different seasons of life bring different trials, but even if we somehow avoid most of those trials at some point in this life we will all suffer, and if we are faithful to live life in Christian community we will care for those who suffer at some point in our lives as well.
Dave knows these things are true, and so in his book he shows us that we will all suffer loss, whether it is through our own suffering or through caring for those who suffer; but we must be open and honest about our feelings so that we allow the gospel to minister to our hurting hearts as well as to the hearts of those we are caring for. In Dave’s first chapter, after showing that Jesus was rejected so that His people never would be, he then reminds the caretaker:
“God will not abandon you in your grief and pain in helping the hurting. Your life of service to the depressed, disabled, or wounded may be exhausting and even painful for your own heart. You may be a silent sufferer, but God hears your cries for help and he sees your every minute of sacrificial service. You need to come to him honestly and with expectance that he will be with you in the midst of it. There is hope for the hopeless” (32).
We don’t need to act as though we have it all together; the caretaker needs Jesus just as much as the one they are helping. And though admitting our loss and suffering can be as painful as the suffering itself, Dave reminds us, “If Jesus went to the cross for you, he’ll certainly be with you in your very real pain” (30).
While offering practical ways to help others and ourselves in the midst of suffering, Dave begins in chapter one by pointing us to Christ, and then continues to do the same throughout the rest of the book; he goes through nine chapters of rich gospel-content, covering a wide range of things from dealing with grief, to the church graciously pursuing those who are hurting. It’s amazing how a book about suffering can be so devotional and drive the gospel deep into your heart. This is a book about rightly caring for those who suffer, but it is a book that is gospel-centered and gospel-focused. Dave doesn’t pull any punches about how hard it is to suffer, how hard it is to care for those who suffer, and how hard it is to truly live in Christian community. As I said, we will all suffer in this world, and if we truly care for the suffering that will no doubt bring us suffering in and of it self; but again, we must be open and honest about our feelings so that we allow the gospel to minister to our hurting hearts as well as to the hearts of those we are caring for. If we are going to truly care for people we must allow them to be open with us and we should be open with them.
Our natural tendency is to pretend to have it all together because of fear of man. We worry about what others will think of us or how they will see us; but if we think about these things in light of the gospel we will be humbled and see them in the right perspective. Dave reminds us:
“True fellowship involves both individuals opening up about their lives. One major aspect of this kind of friendship is being honest in our struggle with sin. Fake fellowship allows no one to be a sinner, and so everybody must hide his sin from others. But the fact is, we are all sinners! Jesus’s death on the cross attests to this. A distinctly Christian friendship acknowledges that the cross criticizes us more than anyone else can. Looking to the cross liberates us from hiding and instead emphasizes our need for help. We can humbly confess and lay our deepest sinful secrets on the table, laying them bare because Jesus Christ went before us. He suffered the scandalous, public death of a sinner in our place. He was not ashamed to be crucified and laid bare as an evildoer, even though he wasn’t one. It is nothing else but our fellowship with Jesus that leads us to the humiliation that comes in confession. As the writer of Proverbs says, “Whoever conceals his transgressions will not prosper, but he who confesses and forsakes will obtain mercy” (28:13). The cross of Christ destroys all pride” (50).
“The cross of Christ destroys all pride”, because, “the cross criticizes us more than anyone else”… That statement is a gospel-bomb.
We can find every reason in the world not to open up to people, but the fact is, more often than not the reason we don’t open up is because of pride. But the cross of Christ was not only the instrument of death for our Lord and Savior, but it’s also the instrument of death for our pride. Preachers often say things like, “Jesus loved you so much that He died for you; and if you were the only person on this earth He would still die for you…” And while there’s some truth in that statement, one implication of that statement that is often neglected is that our sin is so bad that even if we were the only sinner in existence it would still take Jesus’ perfect-life, sacrificial-death, and death-defeating resurrection to save us from our sins—we are that sinful. And that’s what the cross tells us: that we are so sinful that the God of the universe had to die in our place to save us from our sin and God’s wrath. If that doesn’t humble us, nothing will. But it should also encourage us, because we know that through the cross of Christ comes redemption. As Dave puts it later in the book, “Because of the cross, we all have the freedom to stand up and be honest that our lives aren’t perfect” (109). Though the gospel reminds us that we aren’t perfect, it also reminds us that Christ was perfect for us.
In view of this truth Dave encourages us:
“Lay your life bare before your hurting friends. James 5:16 exhorts us to ‘confess our sins to one another.’ The mask you wear before men will only leave you and your friend isolated, and it will lead to self-destruction as you hide your sin in the darkness of your heart. Confession is so powerful because in humility it combats and brings a dreadful blow to the pride in your heart. It brings sin into the light. And it will help your hurting friends open up. You are modeling true fellowship for them. . . . Open up your life and let your friends speak truth into your life. You need their help and they need your help, and it will encourage them when you open up to them in your struggles” (51).
And so again and again Dave points to our need for the gospel and the pride destroying beauty of the gospel. As a pastor though I must admit that I all to often forget the gospel; at least that’s what my emotions and actions often suggest. At one point in the book I felt like Dave was talking about me when he said, “My job is to teach God’s Word, and yet my temptation each day is to forget the gospel” (65). But that is why books like this are so important, and that’s why Christian community is so important. As Dave puts it, “The gospel is not simply for unbelievers, but it is the very truth that believers—even ones that preach it themselves—need heralded to them each day” (65).
Though Dave lays out some extremely practical helps and methods on how to minister to those who are suffering, and how to minister to our own hearts in the midst of helping those who suffer, at the core of all the things he lays out in this book is the gospel. And this makes sense if you understand his view of the Christian ministry. He says:
“This is the heart of a Christian’s ministry—it’s the sharing of good news for the benefit of not only non-Christians but also Christians. Once we follow Christ, we don’t move on from the gospel to more advanced stuff. There is no spiritual quantum physics to move to beyond the gospel. As redeemed sinners, we never get beyond this. It is our job to bring everything in our lives ‘in line’ with the thrust and direction of the gospel. Our work is a continual realignment process” (66).
Ministering to those who suffer is much like the Christian life; it’s an ongoing process of pressing the gospel deeper and deeper into someone’s heart and having the gospel pressed deeper into our own heart. As the gospel goes deeper into the heart the gospel realignment process happens; and this is fundamentally what discipleship is all about. So you may not feel like you need to read a book on suffering and how to minister to those who are suffering, but I think you’ll find that this book is applicable in every area of the Christian life because it better equips us to be gospel-centered disciples who make disciples.
There’s so much more I could say about this book, and so much more I want to say, but for the sake of the length of this post I’ll resist. I have purposefully left out much of the practical advice that Dave—pulling from his experience, other theologians from church history, and the Word—gives for ministering to the hurting so that you have ample reason to buy and read this book. But, I hope I have included just enough for you to realize how gospel-rich this book is, and therefore how beneficial it could be for you. As Dave’s wife Gloria puts it in the closing of the book, “Fellow believers need their faith to be strengthened by grace, and our nonbelieving friends need to have that grace dawn on them for the first time” (149). And this book shines out the beauty of that grace—of God’s grace in every chapter.
It can be intimidating to take on a task like ministering to those who are hurting, especially if we don’t feel like we can relate to them. But Gloria says it well when she reminds us, “a hurting person’s deepest problem is the same as your deepest problem. We were all made for unbroken fellowship with God, but our sin separates us from him. Our deepest need is to be reconciled with God, and our only hope is Jesus and his cross. Holding the truth of the gospel in your mind, respond to God’s call on your life to serve others in word and in deed with the strength that God supplies so that Christ gets the glory” (149). That’s a summary of the call of this book, and the content of the book will show you the way.
In God’s providence I read this book at a point in my life when someone very near to me was suffering. I didn’t realize when I began this book just how helpful it would be for my current season of life, but it has turned out to be a gracious gift from God in recent days. This book is by no means perfect, but it does point us to the perfect Savior, and He is who we all need at all times, especially in times of suffering. Suffering isn’t easy, nor is ministering to those who suffer; but the reality is we all will suffer, and so will the people around us. We will all cry tears of pain and frustration as we live out the Christian life in this broken world. But let us never forget, one day, “Christ’s nail-scarred hands will wipe our tear-stained eyes dry forever” (67)… Until that day comes books such as this one are a tremendous help along the way. With that in mind I hope and pray that you buy it, read it, and then live it out, for the glory of Christ and the good of His people.