A Manual for Counseling People Who Struggle with Suffering
I. Definitions, Descriptions and Symptoms (Jones, BC401 Course Lectures)
A. All suffering ultimately comes from (or at least through) the hands of our triune God who is sovereign, wise and good (i.e., loving) (Isaiah 45:7; Romans 8:28-32).
B. Suffering has two forms:
- Trials not caused by us (external)
a. People sinning against us (Genesis 50:15-20)
b. Natural disasters and non-human initiated calamities (Job 1:12, 18-19)
- Trials caused by us (internal)
a. Discipline from the Lord as a result of our sin (Hebrews 12:5-6)
b. The weight of our own sin in our lives is a significant form of suffering (Psalm 32:1-5)
II. Key Truths and Principles
A. Have a biblical worldview on suffering (Faith Biblical Counseling Ministries Manual)
- Realize the significance of Adam’s fall and Christ’s promise of suffering (Romans 3:10-12; John 15:20)
- Trust in the sovereignty of God (Habakkuk 3:17-19)
- Remember God’s ability to take revenge (Matthew 11:20-24; 2 Corinthians 5:10)
- Find joy and satisfaction in God’s love and care in the midst of suffering (Romans 8:31-39)
- God give you great grace in the midst of hardship (2 Corinthians 12:8-9)
B. Suffering does not cause ungodly or godly behavior (Jones, BC401 Course Lectures)
- Suffering does not cause sin nor does prosperity cause righteousness.
- The human heart under the heat of trials produces good or bad fruit (Job 1:6-2:10)
- a. Job responded to suffering with good fruit
- b. Job’s wife responded to the same suffering with bad fruit
C. How does God use suffering in our lives for our good? (Jones, BC401 Course Lectures)
- To enrich your relationship with God (2 Chronicles 28:22 vs. 33:12; Psalms)
- To experience a measure of Christ’s suffering (Philippians 3:10)
- To expose your remaining sin (Deuteronomy 8:2; John 15:1-2; 1 Peter 1:3-9)
- To exhibit Christ’s work in you to others (Matthew 5:13-16)
- To extend your fellowship with other Christians (Romans 12:15; 1 Corinthians 12:26)
- To equip you for wiser more compassionate ministry (2 Corinthians 1:3-4)
- To excite (or elevate) your desire for heaven (1 Peter 1:3-9, 13; James 1:12)
III. Key Verses
A. 1 Corinthians 10:13-14 – you are not alone in your sufferings and God will always provide a way for you to stand up under the suffering in a godly way
B. Romans 8:28 – God is loving and good uses your suffering for your good if you are a believer
C. Genesis 50:20 – we see from Joseph’s life that God uses suffering for good; He is in control
D. Psalm 66:10-12 – God oversees all suffering even though other people are often the ones who carry out the hurt against us
E. Lamentations 3:37-38 – God is sovereign over all suffering
F. Job 1:6-2:10 – we learn from Job and Job’s wife how to handle suffering and how not to
G. 2 Chronicles 33:12 – suffering draws us back to God
H. Philippians 3:10 – there is a union with Christ that comes with suffering like Him
I. 1 Peter 1:6-7 – suffering refines our faith and makes it stronger and purer
J. 1 Corinthians 12:26 – we can have greater fellowship with other Christians when we suffer
K. 2 Corinthians 1:3-4 – we become more competent to help others when we experience suffering
L. James 1:12 – we fix our eyes on godward things, like heaven, when we suffer
M. James 1:2-4 – we become more sanctified when we endure suffering
N. Romans 12:19 – let God avenge injustices against you that cause you to suffer
O. 2 Corinthians 12:8-9 – when we suffer we receive more of God’s grace and power
P. Hebrews 12:5-6 – suffering may come as a result of God disciplining us for sin
IV. Ministry Strategies and Steps to Counsel
A. Help your counselee face suffering honestly (Faith Biblical Counseling Ministries Manual):
- Allow and encourage spiritual candor (Psalm 6:3-7; 13:1-2)
- Instruct them to pray to the Lord about their struggle (Psalm 13:3-4; 73:16-17)
- Encourage them to receive God’s grace and comfort in the midst of the difficulty (2 Corinthians 12:8-9)
- Urge them to trust in God’s character in the midst of suffering (Psalm 13:5-6; 63:1-5)
B. Help your counselee rightly interpret “promise passages” like Jeremiah 29:11 and Romans 8:28 so they do not get disillusioned when suffering comes.
- Help them understand what “the good” is that God promises: complete happiness in heaven, growing in sanctification through suffering, etc.
- Help them erase pre-defined ideas of what “good” would be for them: health, wealth, happiness on earth, etc.
C. Allow your counselee to speak with “allowing” language. The Bible gives credence to this (example: Psalm 66:10-12). Help them to eventually see that God is still sovereign even over such “allowances” of suffering into their life.
D. Help them work through 1 Corinthians 10:13 (Jones, BC401 Lecture Notes):
- Show them how God promises trials and suffering so they don’t think these things are out of His control.
- Help them see that their suffering is not unique to them. They are not alone. It is not as if God is somehow uniquely burdening them with these troubles. Encourage them by telling them stories about others who have suffered in the same way:
- a. The people of Israel
- b. The church of Corinth
- c. Other characters in Scripture
- d. Others in your counselee’s church who are struggling (be discreet in sharing)
- e. Yourself
- f. Jesus suffered every one of our trials and temptations (Hebrews 4:15)
- Remind them that their sovereign, faithful, mighty God assures them that these trials and temptations will not be too difficult for them to handle, by His grace (1 Corinthians 1:8-9)
- Finally point them to the fact that God always provides a path on which they can escape sin and still please God in the midst of their trials and temptations (2 Corinthians 5:9)
E. Help your counselee embrace God’s purpose for suffering. Help them: (Faith Biblical Counseling Ministries Manual)
- Focus on God’s glory and the preeminence of Christ (Colossians 1:15-18; 1 Peter 4:15-16)
- See suffering as an opportunity for personal growth (Romans 8:28-29; James 1:2-4) (NOTE: Make sure this is not the first thing we say to our counselee!)
- Rejoice that heaven is our ultimate home (Philippians 3:20-21; Romans 8:18)
- Use personal suffering to encourage spiritual growth in others (Philippians 1:12-14)
- Repent of personal sin (Luke 13:1-5) (NOTE: this would also not be the first thing you suggest to a suffering counselee!)
- View suffering as an opportunity to trust God when it’s hard (1 Peter 1:6-7)
- Demonstrate faithfulness to God when tempted to rebel
- Goals of the Counselor (Faith Biblical Counseling Ministries Manual)
- a. Use words that fit the moment. Make sure you listen and love and not simply instruct (Ephesians 4:29)
- b. Provide appropriate protection. If their physical suffering can be alleviated by you, do so (James 1:27; 2:15-16)!
- c. Prepare counselees to minister to others. They need to see the goal of their counseling to result not just in personal healing, but in ministry to other sufferers (2 Corinthians 1:3-5).
G. Helpful Diagnostic Questions & Statements (Jones, BC401 Lecture Notes):
- “I’m so sorry brother that the god of this world has blinded your eyes to your sin and that you are going through this suffering because of these choices not to follow God. But there is hope!” (For people whose suffering is a result of unconfessed sin).
- “Where do you think God is in your suffering? What do you think He is up to?”
- “Where do you think God is pruning you? Where might He be refining you through these struggles?”
- “I have plenty of hope for both of us. I know that God will give you what you need to endure and grow in this suffering situation.”
- “If you come to me without any hope, I will give you some of mine.”
- “God is good and in control of your situation. ‘God has His eyes on the clock and His hands on the thermostat.’” – Warren Wiersbe
V. Assignment Ideas
A. Read Tozer’s Knowledge of the Holy chapter on the Goodness of God and make comments.
B. Dr. Jones’ “END9” homework (chapter 9 study of Ezra, Nehemiah and Daniel) and have counselee make observations about how the calls to repentance apply to their situation. Also have the counselee envision how restoration might look in their own situation should they repent.
C. Have counselee journal on the passages from Dr. Jones’ “Seven E’s”. Have them meditate on the passages and see how they might apply to their situation. Have them pray about these and write a paragraph journal entry on the one’s that do apply.
D. Have counselee read and make comments about Adam’s Christ and Your Problems.
E. Have counselee use Dr. Jones’ Lamentations Bible Study on Suffering and Hope.
VI. Recommended Resources
A. Adams, Jay E. How to Handle Trouble. Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R, 1982.
B. Alcorn, Randy. If God is Good. Colorado Springs, CO: Multnomah, 2009.
C. Bridges, Jerry. Trusting God: Even When Life Hurts. NavPress, 1988. Also booklet excerpt, You Can Trust God. NavPress.
D. Carson, Donald A. How Long, O Lord? Reflections on Suffering and Evil. Rev. ed. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1991, 2006.
E. Jones, Robert D. Freedom from Resentment: Stopping Hurts from Turning Bitter. Greensboro, NC: New Growth Press, 2010.
F. Piper, John & Taylor, Justin. Suffering and the Sovereignty of God. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2006.
Suffering Like a Saint by Believing in a Savior
In Hebrews chapter 11 God gives us a list of many of His faithful followers who endured great hardships in their lives. In the following chapter we are told to run the race of the Christian life since we have these great stories of suffering and enduring Christians to emulate (12:1). Most importantly, we have the example of Jesus Christ to emulate (12:2). As we go through hardships in our own life, we can endure them by being reminded of how to fully trust in God just like the great heroes of the faith did.
Write out what each of these sufferers endured:
Abel (read more starting in Genesis 4) –
Noah (read more starting in Genesis 6) –
Abraham & Isaac (read more starting in Genesis 12; also Genesis 22) –
Sarah (read more starting in Genesis 16) –
Moses (read more starting in Exodus 2) –
Others (unnamed ones) (verses 36-38) –
Jesus (read more starting in Matthew 26) –
Journal about one of these sufferers each day over the next week and focus on the following:
1. How do you think they were able to endure in their suffering and continue to follow God in faith?
2. What do you think they learned in their suffering? About themselves, about God, etc.?
3. How is God speaking to you in your situation through the testimony of this fellow sufferer?
Memorize, meditate on and journal one new thought per day about Hebrews 12:1-2
Write down two new observations each day in which you see God being good to you even in the midst of your suffering.