I was getting in my car with my son who was about early twenties at the time, just beginning his musical career. Sort of in the van stage of in the van, riding all over, doing what they call “gigs” and leading worship.
And little by little, kind of making progress. But he had a friend that he came up with and my garage was very loud for many, many years. And John and Jason were always playing music and then they would bring it inside and there were keyboards here and keyboards here and the piano here and then John would bring his drums and their buddies would bring their electric guitars.
And somewhere I said something about, “Pursue your passions,” in a moment of weakness. And John was a young man; he was a prodigy. John played guitar, piano, violin, mandolin. John could pick up an instrument, in two weeks, he’d be playing on stage.
And we had a little, small Saturday night worship and so John and Jason, even as young guys, would help out and do that. And John began to write some songs and as Jason said one time, “John had more musical ability in his little finger than in my whole body.”
And my son Jason is the focused, persevering, hard-charging, won’t give up type of personality. And they just became fast friends. And we would kid John. John was very thin. I mean, very, very thin. Like, “John, if you stick out your tongue, we think it’s a thermometer,” and all that kind of stuff.
And we would tease him and he would drink milkshakes and tried to lift weights and he was just, no matter what he did, he was just, he turned sideways, John was gone!
And Jason was traveling around and had come home and I had gotten a phone call from his mom and dad and said, “Chip, John is over here in the hospital and they have run some tests and we now know why he has been so skinny so long. And he’s got a slow growing type of cancer and we are here and his fiancé is here. Could you come by?”
And I remember sitting on the bed and looking at John and reading Psalm 46 out loud together and then going through about a nine or ten, eleven month journey or so.
And then I remember getting in the car with Jason and John was musical and so the worship leader and two or three of us and my son and he looked like he had been in a concentration camp, as the cancer had eaten him out. He was probably eighty pounds and gaunt.
And it was the last day that he lived. And we sang worship songs and then we left and John died the next day, but I sat in the car with my son, Jason. And he looked at me and said, “Dad, why? Why would God do this to John? I don’t get it, Dad. Life is not fair. Dad, I mean, he’s got more ability. Think of how God could use him. And I’m healthy and I have to try so hard, and he can just do it. Why, Dad?”
And we cried together in the car. And then I could say, “Son, here’s what you need to understand. There is more to life than right now. And I don’t have a quick, easy answer about John. I don’t understand. But I can tell you it’s a fallen world and in a fallen world, good, godly people get cancer. And it’s a hard world. And it’s an unfair world. But listen, son, God is good and God is in control. And we just have a window of opportunity where we hurt and we grieve and we choose how we will respond to suffering.”
And I will just tell you, that was one of the most profound, teachable moments I have ever had with my son. Those whom you love, how will they respond to suffering? Because they are going to get it, right? Someone is going to walk out on them, someone is going to betray them, someone is going to talk about them, someone is going to steal their money, someone is going to talk about them in church, right? Some of them are going to get cancer. Some drunk driver is going to go left of center. Some of them are going to have a kid that dies prematurely.
So are they prepared? In your spiritual will, do you have, phase number one, I will teach them to suffer well?
Now, I am going to give some really practical ways about how to do that, but before I do, I want to ask you a question: how do you respond to suffering?
How do you respond to injustice? How are you responding to some things your ex-mate has done to you? How have you responded to losing your retirement? How have you responded to the false accusations that were made about you at work or at church? How have you responded to a physical infirmity that just seems unfair and no matter what you do, you just can’t get your health back?
Because here’s the deal, here’s how life works: a disciple is not above his teacher. And when a disciple is fully trained, Luke 6:40, he will be just like his teacher.
And I would like to say that the way you do this is you write: “Learn to suffer well,” I went to this seminar and here are the notes and here’s how it works. But I’ve got news for you. You know how they are going to respond to their suffering? The way they watch you. You cannot impart what you do not possess.
Modeling everything we are going to talk about will be the most powerful means of communication, because far more is caught than is ever taught. And so I have asked myself, So, when I am suffering, do I blame others? Do I whine? Am I the topic of conversations? “I’m a victim, it’s difficult, he ran out on me, this guy did this to me, I can’t believe this, it’s Hollywood’s fault, it’s education’s fault, it’s the president’s fault, it’s Congress’s fault, well now it’s the Supreme Court’s fault. Whine, whine, whine, victim, victim, victim. Is that how you respond?
Or is denial? I’m just not going to think about this. I’m not going to talk about this. I’m just going to bury it. Or is it anger? Bitterness? Lashing out? Or is it guilt? You know how some people respond to suffering? I know I did something terrible. I’m the most terrible person in the world. It’s all my fault.
There is the whole cosmos, but it’s really all your fault. And then you live with this guilt and then you pass that on and your kids or disciples or grandkids or friends, they suffer in the way they watch you.
And if you’re a whiner, they whine. If you feel guilty, they watch you, they feel guilty. If you’re a blamer, and a screamer, and bitter, and a denier, that’s what you’re going to produce.
So as much as we are going to talk about how to pass on the things that matter most, there is going to be a pretty heavy-duty application about asking a pretty gut-level question. Because, boy, I need to suffer well. I need to manage my wealth wisely. I need to work unto the Lord. I need to make great decisions, right? I need to be what I want them to become.
Now, that’s sobering for our first time together, isn’t it? But here’s the deal. You can’t do it. Right? I can’t either. It’s impossible. But Christ can do it in you. And Christ can do it through you. And sometimes we listen to these commands of God and it’s like, God, I can’t do that. Yay! I’m thinking, Now you’re on the right track.
So I need the strength of Your Word, I need the community of Your people, I need to ask, I need to trust, I need to take steps. And when you do that, you can, by the power and the grace of God, suffer well. And they will watch that it’s not you, but it’s the Christ in you, empowering you to do that. And that’s really what you want to pass on, right?
Now, let’s get really practical in terms of, Okay, okay, I got the theology, Chip. Now, how does this work? Roll up the sleeves with me, how do you grow through suffering, Okay, I know I need to do it, I need to pass this on to kids and disciples, to coworkers, church members, men’s groups. Okay, how do you do it? Let me give you four really practical ways.
Number one: teach them to face it, to identify what they are concerned about. Teach them to face it. It sounds so basic. Help them to identify, and here’s the key word, what they are concerned about. We all tend to repress, we all tend to avoid, we all tend to deny things that are difficult. We just do! We just push them down.
And all the psychologists will tell us, as we push down hard things, ninety-five percent of all depression is anger turned inward. A lot of our migraines, a lot of our stomach problems, a lot of our health issues are we suffer and, I don’t want to face it, and so I push it down and that’s a pattern. And you don’t talk about bad things. You don’t share anything. You don’t ever…
In other words, anything you say where you’re being honest about where you’re struggling, Hey, no complaining in this house! Hey! We’re going to be positive around here.
Well, you need to be positive, but you also need to be honest. Help them think about it. Help them talk about it. Help them write it down. One of the most powerful questions I know and around our supper table growing up with my wife, on a regular basis, we still do this little exercise, ask them this question: “What are you concerned about?”
And then, by the way, don’t fix it, don’t interrupt, and don’t tell them, “You shouldn’t be concerned about that. Everything is going to be okay. Duh!” That’s not helpful. The goal is not that you fix it.
“What are you concerned about?” “Oh, nothing.” “Well, no, no. Just tell me.” Say it’s one of the kids. A teenager. “What are you concerned about?” “Um, I don’t know.” “Well, I mean, you’re in football tryouts. Are you concerned you might not make it?” “I mean, yeah, maybe.” “Well, how’s it going?” “Not very good.” “Well, how come?” “I dropped a bunch of passes in practice.” “Well, how are you feeling about that?” “Well, this young kid, he’s only a freshman. Man, he was catching them…” “What are you concerned about?” And you shut up.
“What are you concerned about? What else? What else? What else?” I have grown kids now and they have little kids and I am learning there is this new world. I like to hang out with my boys and I have always been able to talk and we play basketball and do stuff and then we would be sweaty and we would sit down and talk.
Well, now they have these little kids. And every time I’m around them, little kids, little kids, little kids, little kids, little kids. I haven’t had a meaningful adult conversation with my sons in, like, a year and a half! I mean, a snippet here, a snippet here.
And Theresa and I were talking about this and so she came up with this plan. I’ll have everyone over for dinner, and we did a week ago. And then, I don’t know how, it wasn’t as well planned as I am going to make this sound, but the girls were doing the dishes and this and that and we cleaned things up and they were in one room.
And somehow, me and two of my sons ended up in the kitchen around one of those little counters. And we had been talking. It’s not like it’s always superficial but I’m kind of one of those language of love guys. I want to know what is really going on.
And when we don’t get there, I just feel like we’re going through the motions. And so it was a simple question. I turned to my oldest son. I said, “Here in California, you moved out here a while, who is your best friend?” And his face just changed.
He goes, “Dad, I don’t have a best friend.” He goes, “I have started this new business, I have two young kids, I’ve got an awesome wife.” He said, “Dad, I’m working from morning to night. I’m putting in all these hours. And this guy wants to go surfing and this guy can be kind of spiritual. There are several different people but I don’t have a guy like,” and he named two good guys that were real friends, “that we can go deep spiritually, that want to go somewhere with their lives, that want to be committed to their wives, and want to be a good dad. I don’t have that guy here.”
And, man, we got down to life. And then as we talked a little bit, I said to my other son, who is a pastor, I said, “What is the biggest challenge you are facing right now?” And he gave me a little twenty-five percent response.
And then his other brother had to leave and there are dynamics, always, forever with brothers. And these guys are close and all that. And as they left, he started to share. And I realized, he and I got talking, and they left, I didn’t get to say goodbye.
And so he began, for the next hour, to unfold the biggest challenges in his heart, his ministry, his wife is pregnant, she is tired, she is throwing up, he goes, “Dad, I go to work all day. I come home, she’s on the couch. She’s feeling terrible. I fix [dinner] for the kids, I put the kids to bed, I try and help her feel better and she is throwing up.”
And then he said, “And then here’s what’s happening in my heart. It’s a real privilege to serve her, Dad.” And for an hour, man, we talked at a level that I haven’t talked to him in a year. Teach them to face it and identify what they are concerned about.
Second, pray honestly about it. And pray with them. You need to model this. They can’t hear all your good, theologically sanitized, cleaned up prayers. Oh, Lord, I know that You are in control and that, though it’s a car wreck and they stole our money and we’ll be in the hospital and they canceled our insurance. I just want to tell You, I just praise the Lord. I just want to tell You, Lord, that I know You’re in…
You know? When was the last time they heard you say, God! I am ticked off and it’s unfair and why? And I have met with You and I loved You and my priorities are in order! And this happened! I don’t get it. I don’t get it. When was the last time they heard you pray the way Job prayed? Hey! Tell you what, Lord, come on, right now, let’s argue about it. Man, I have kept myself pure. Right now, right now, God.
Or one of the lament psalms. Why have You forsaken me? Where are you, God? You have been unfaithful. I am upset. I’m hurt. You hear David pray, he says stuff to God, you know what? He can handle it. You need to vent, I mean, reverently. But I’ll tell you what, “God is near to those who call upon Him,” Psalm 145:18, “to those who call upon Him in truth.” And when you hurt, bring the pain. When you’re mad, bring the anger. “The Lord is near to the brokenhearted, He saves those who are crushed in spirit.”
We play games. We think God doesn’t understand what’s going on. You don’t connect with Him until the real you shows up and you lay it all out and your disciples or your kids or your grandkids need to hear some prayers like that to know it’s legal!
And then God spoke to Job, didn’t He? And, boy, Job got a lot bigger God. And most of David’s psalms end with, “And yet, O Lord, when I look back, You have been faithful and I thank You and I praise You and I didn’t understand, but I had to share this. I had to get this out.” That’s how you learn to suffer well.
Hebrews describes Jesus, who, in His days on earth, with loud groaning and cries, calling out to God. When was the last time you actually wept in the presence of the Lord? When was the last time you prayed with someone and you cried together? This is very, very important.
Third, help them to share where they are suffering with someone they trust. As wonderful as you are, and as wonderful as I am, of course, sometimes you’re not the right person to help them.
Sometimes it’s an area and it’s a concern and they need someone else and so you need to say, “Hey,” point them to some mentors that are older or wiser. I praise God when my kids were teenagers, that there was a youth pastor that was godly, that they would tell stuff to him they would never tell to me.
There are times where one of my sons had a mentor in our church and he happened to be a counselor and, you know what? There were some issues that he was working through. I kind of think I know what some of them might be. But they’re the kind you’re not really excited to share with your dad.
And this guy and he, they would meet and drink coffee and talk and share and then go surfing. And I have watched my daughter with godly women involved in ministry, just make connections.
What you want to do is help orchestrate what God is doing, but you don’t have to do it all. So mentors.
Second are peers. And part of that is let them in on your struggles. I was talking with my son who is a songwriter and producer and, by God’s grace, he has become extraordinarily successful and he is now experiencing, “Oh my lands, this person from American Idol wants to write music with me because she is a Christian, but I’m already booked, so I’m working from seven until four and she is going to fly in for two days and from six until two in the morning, I am going to write with her, and, well, then this has happened and this is happening. And, God, Dad, what do you do when the blessing of God is success? My priorities are getting totally out of whack. I’m exhausted. I have to build in some...”
And, man, we talked on the phone for forty-five minutes about, “Hey, son, been there and done that. Let me just tell you something. Those great opportunities are not like they are never going to come around again. It’s a faith issue. And for people that are wired like you and me, Satan puts the brakes on some people to discourage them. And for people like us, that, I don’t think the brakes will work, he just pushes on the gas pedal. And he gets people like you and me so overloaded doing really good things, that we crash.”
And then I shared some crashes, so that my mid-thirties son with two small kids in this career that is mushrooming could say, “Well, okay,” and I said, “I don’t have it figured out, as you can tell from schedule the last two weeks.”
And then finally, there are times where we need to direct him to a pastor or a professional counselor. Everybody gets stuck. And if you have ever been to one, make sure your kids, grandkids, disciples – when I teach on marriage, I always try, in the first session, and let everybody know, in the first year and a half of my marriage, I had to go to marriage counseling. And then about five years later, I had to go back again.
I just want to get that out on the table because somehow, they think that if you really love God and you try really hard, well, you’d never need outside help. You need outside help when you’re stuck! If I’m putting in a window and I know a little bit about putting in windows, and I go down to Home Depot and I get this and I get this and I get stuck, I don’t go, Oh my gosh. Well, I’ve got to figure this all out myself.
I’m going to go down and say, “Hey, is there someone with an orange vest that really knows about windows?” “Well, buddy, we’ve told you all that we know. Look, here’s the name of Anderson Windows. This guy is a pro. Have him come out to your house. He is going to fix the thing that you messed up.”
I tried to do windows; I can’t do windows! So, I am ashamed to ask an expert to get help when I’m stuck? Of course not. Your kids, your disciples, your grandkids, your friends, they need to know there is a time where, you know, go to a pastor, go to a professional counselor.
And then, finally, help them align specific Scripture with their specific situation. Now, I am going to give you some things here and a lot of them are not in your notes, so I’ll try and go slow.
This is the key, in terms of, you want to match, What are they going through? with truth. Because it’s as you trust the promises of God, that’s what faith is, by the way. And it’s by faith we experience God’s grace.
And suffering, imagine suffering is sort of like this overarching rainbow. But underneath of it, there may be four or five, maybe far more, there are different reasons we suffer. And if I suffer for this reason, here is the passage that I want, okay? Are you tracking with me?
So let me give you just four or five examples. First, let’s say I have a negative circumstance or a trial. Okay? The economy goes down, I had money, whether it’s in retirement or a college education, and it’s gone. Here’s the passage: James chapter 1, verses 2 to 4. “Consider it all joy when you encounter various trials, knowing the testing of your faith produces endurance. Let endurance have its perfect result that you might be lacking in nothing.” So it’s external circumstances. Okay. Choose to have this kind of attitude. Realize there is a process God is going to take you through.
Or, second, how about refining your character? You haven’t done anything wrong, you’re suffering, it doesn’t make sense, but you sense you’re really growing.
Romans chapter 5, verses 1 to 5. “Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God. And we exalt and hope in the glory of God. And we exalt, not only in this, but in our” – what? “tribulation, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope. And hope…” I can say this really, really fast. I’m talking so fast, I can’t understand me.
“And proven character produces hope. And hope produces love as the Holy Spirit has poured into our life.” There are certain times you are suffering because you are so precious in God’s eyes that He is allowing a process of drawing you in intimacy and suffering. So you respond in gratitude of God’s work.
A third time you suffer is spiritual opposition. Man, you’re making tracks for God, you’re sharing your faith, you have taken a new step of faith, you’re getting in the Bible. You’re taking a risk. You’re saying, God, I am going to do some stuff with my time and my money, and you are doing some things that is exposing the darkness.
Well, Ephesians chapter 6, 10 through 18. It teaches you how to deal with that kind of difficulty and suffering in spiritual warfare.
Or sometimes it’s persecution. You stood up for Christ and, man, you’re getting on this flak on a college campus or you’re getting all this flak at work or your lose your job because you’re a doctor and you won’t do the abortion. Or you’re a legal person and you won’t lie about something in a situation.
The passage, II Timothy 3:12. The promise is, “For all those who desire to live a godly life, in Christ Jesus, will be persecuted.”
And then, finally, there are times where you’re suffering because, like me, you make some bad choices, right? Or you just sin. You know? You say what you shouldn’t have said, you thought what you shouldn’t have thought, you did what you knew was wrong. And then there are consequences.
And then you want to go to Romans chapter 6, where it talks about presenting your members. And then I Corinthians 10:13, where, “No temptation has taken you, but such is common to man. But God will, with the temptation, provide a way of escape that you might be able to endure it.”
So what you want to do is begin to coach the kids, coach the disciple, coach the grandkid, coach the lady, coach the guy. What you want to pass on is, Here is suffering. There are at least five different reasons, maybe more. And here is the promise you can hang on to. And here is the truth to apply very specifically.
Life message, very simple. Suffering is normal. That’s what you want them to get. That’s the message. When they are suffering, they want to say, “Oh, this is normal. It’s not fun, but it’s normal.”
It will be experienced by all, it will either make or break those we love, and so teach them to suffer well.