As we open our hearts to minister to those around us, we soon discover we live in an imperfect world full of sickness, heartache, and frustrations. Many of us (many more than we realize) are facing trials which are sometimes quite severe. When we are finally invited into someone's private world and allowed to hear of their pain, it can be difficult to know what to do or say.
As we grow in grace and knowledge of Jesus, we learn of His truths: "Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances" (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18). We understand and usually have some actual experience with God's loving plan and purpose; "in all things, God works for the good of those who love Him" (Romans 8:28). But there are times when this type of advice - even this type of truth - can be a little cold and fail to comfort or draw someone closer to God.
While it's absolutely true that God will use our pain and suffering for His glory, it may not be the first response someone needs to hear when they enter a difficult trial; "There is a time for everything...a time to be silent and a time to speak" (Ecclesiastes 3:1,7). We must learn to be sensitive to the more immediate need.
When Lazarus became very sick, Mary and Martha sent word to Jesus but He did not come until after Lazarus died. Mary fell at Jesus' feet and cried: "Lord if You had been here, my brother would not have died" (John 11:32). At that moment, Jesus did NOT begin preaching "Rejoice in the Lord always!" (Philippians 4:4). There would be other opportunities for sermons, other opportunities to speak about faith and trust, but in this moment the need simply required compassion.
"When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, He was deeply moved in spirit and troubled...Jesus wept."
The Creator of the Universe wept! From the beginning of time, Jesus knew He was going to raise Lazarus from the dead; He knew many lives would soon be changed through this miracle. But "Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus" (John 11:5). Though this pain and sorrow was necessary in the context of God's sovereign plan, these were real people who were grieving and Jesus took time to show He truly cared and understood their pain.
The world is in great need of the healing power of Jesus Christ. Sin has caused separation from God and left many lives in a mess. As we minister through encouragement and the truth of God's Word, we are called to do so while "speaking the truth in love" (Ephesians 4:15). But love does not exist outside of a relationship. And in a loving relationship we will often best demonstrate God's truth by listening and comforting with a Godly compassion.