Right Idea – Wrong Words

Yesterday I blogged a post entitled, “Top Ten Mistakes Made by Suffering Pastors“. This post kind of dovetails with that one. Regardless of position in church, when one individual desires to comfort another, often they communicate something correct using the “wrong” words. Let me give you my top five:

Right Idea, Wrong Words:

  • “God’s Sovereign”
    • Right Idea: God is sovereign. There is nothing that is not under his complete, sovereign plan and purpose. He not only knows the suffering I am going through, but he knows the purpose behind it, the duration of it and the intensity of it.
    • Why it’s Wrong: Often this becomes the “default” phrase when someone doesn’t know what to say to a suffering individual. Instead of communicating that God is in control, it just leaves the individual swaying at a merciless whim of a super-power.
    • Make it Right: Help the suffering friend to see their situation in relation to how God views their situation. Don’t utter a trite phrase, issue an invitation for them to share openly, freely, taking all the time they desire to communicate their struggle and distress.
  • “I’ll Pray For You”
    • Right Idea: We are called to hold one another up in prayer. A sovereign God shows himself caring, loving and gracious in the product of answered prayer.
    • Why it’s Wrong: Again, this becomes a cliche’ that really communicates: “I’m done with this conversation”
    • Make it Right: Tell your suffering friend that you will pray for them and, then, take time as soon as immediately possible to pray with them. Bathe them in your love and grace as you pour out your lament and petitions to our sovereign God on their behalf.
  • “Are You in Sin?”
    • Right Idea: Psalm 32 is pretty clear that living in unrepentant sin will physically affect an individual. A suffering soul needs to examine themselves for sin that might be repented of. Not all suffering or distress comes as a result of sin, but sin does cause physical problems.
    • Why it’s Wrong: Often this is an attempt by a “holier-than-thou” to provide input into a sufferer’s life. Accusation is never comforting. Even when the situation demands rebuke, it is not to be done without those receiving it knowing that the giver is doing so out of love and they are assured of that love.
    • Make it Right: Enter the struggle with the individual. In the process of conversation, explore and probe their spiritual state. Gently guide and urge a complete examination of their own heart. Take the time necessary to get messy with the distressed individual.
  • “You’re Lying to Me”
    • Right Idea: Often a suffering and struggling individual will not want to burden others unnecessarily. There are a couple of reasons this happens: 1) they truly don’t want to burden others and 2) they may be inviting further probing and care into their life
    • Why its Wrong: If they truly aren’t wanting to be a burden to you at this point, they aren’t lying about their condition. It might not be the right time to open up as is needed. Or, if they are “asking” to see if you are truly genuine in your concern for them, an accusation is a poor way to demonstrate it.
    • Make it Right: If someone is hurting, and you know this for certain, and they communicate that “every thing is fine”, take the time to let them know that you are available at any time to listen to them. Make sure they know that even at this very moment you are available and would find great pleasure in bearing their burden with them.
  • “You Haven’t Suffered as Much as Jesus”
    • Right Idea: There isn’t an individual that you know, who is alive and breathing before you, that has experienced the full cup of God’s wrath. For that we are certain, and grateful.
    • Why it’s Wrong: This minimizes the very real suffering of the distressed individual. It is a comparison that shames the sufferer. Certainly no-one would compare themselves to Christ in their suffering.
    • Make it Right: Jesus Christ is the suffering Savior. Because of his suffering we know how to suffer well. Because of his suffering we get a glimpse of God’s purpose in our suffering. Because he suffered in our place, we won’t have to bear the Father’s wrath. Help this suffering individual to see that they do indeed have much in common with a suffering Savior. Communicate that he knows their suffering, that they are never alone in their suffering.

All of these phrases have been spoken to me within the past 12 months. As a sufferer of chronic pain, I have appreciated the love and input from fellow-believers. Their intentions are right, their words may be wrong. The purpose of this post is to assist us in growing in our compassionate care for one another.

Did you notice a common theme in all of the “Make it Right” responses?


What other phrases are you aware of that need “reworking”?


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