How NOT to Be a Comfort

Sometimes as peacemakers we are called to minister to people in moments of suffering and one of the things we should seek to avoid is making the suffering worse. This is because we’re called to minister to the suffering in a biblically faithful, tender, and caring way.

Something that I commonly see (and, sadly, have done myself) is giving poor advice, hurtful words, or empty phrases to people who want to be comforted. This is why I found the following two posts helpful and wanted to share them with you.

The first is an excerpt from Justin and Lindsey Holcomb’s book Rid of My Disgrace recommending what not to say (and what to say) to a victim of sexual abuse. Although their book is written for people who have been sexually abused, I found a lot of their advice to be applicable in most situations of suffering and well worth reading.

Don’t say:

  • I know how you feel.
  • I understand.
  • You’re lucky that ___________.
  • It’ll take some time, but you’ll get over it.
  • Tell me more details about what happened.
  • I can imagine how you feel.
  • Don’t worry, it’s going to be all right.
  • Try to be strong.
  • Out of tragedies, good things happen.
  • Time heals all wounds.
  • It was God’s will.
  • You need to forgive and move on.
  • Calm down and try to relax.
  • You should get on with your life.

Do Say:

  • I believe you.
  • Thank you for telling me.
  • How can I help?
  • I’m glad you’re talking with me.
  • I’m glad you’re safe now.
  • It wasn’t your fault.
  • Your reaction is not an uncommon response.
  • It’s understandable you feel that way.
  • You’re not going crazy; these are normal reactions.
  • Things may not ever be the same, but they can get better.
  • It’s OK to cry.
  • I can’t imagine how terrible your experience must have been.
  • I’m sorry this happened to you.

(HT: Crossway)

This second article, written by David Powlison, gives some insight into how and why we should be aware of how our words are heard:

We could all generate a Top Ten List of words we spoke or received that make us shudder when we think about them. Here is one that, I suspect, makes a lot of lists.

“What is God teaching you through this?”

Hmmm. This is orthodox. God does teach us in our suffering, and he is working all things together for good. We agree with C.S.Lewis when he writes that pain is God’s megaphone to arouse a deaf world. But the story of Jezebel and her entrails being food for the dogs is orthodox too. We are after orthodoxy that is relevant, pastoral and edifying.

Consider a few of the possible problems with this question.

  • It tends to be condescending. If you heard this question from someone, you probably didn’t hear compassion.
  • It suggests that suffering is a solvable riddle. God has something specific in mind and we have to guess what it is. Welcome to a cosmic game of Twenty-Questions, and we better get the right answer soon; otherwise, the suffering will continue.
  • It suggests that we have done something that has unleashed the suffering.
  • It undercuts God’s call to all suffering people, “Trust me.”

To briefly respond to these four problems,

  • Suffering compels us to modesty. Scripture gives us a number of insights into human suffering, but no insight is exhaustive. The mystery in suffering reminds us that we are still like children who don’t understand how good parents can impose difficulties in our lives. In light of the mystery, humility is natural and necessary. For those who speak to suffering people, humility before the Lord is expressed in humility before the suffering person.
  • We over-interpret suffering. I am speaking with a person now who has gone through horrible suffering in her life, and “What is God trying to tell you?” has been the question everyone asks. She has wondered for years why she doesn’t have an answer yet. All she can figure is that she is too sinful to get it or God is not giving out the answer key – so she is alternately guilty and frustrated. Job in the Old Testament and the man born blind in the New Testament (John 9) should keep us from endless speculation about God’s precise intent. Neither one was supposed to get what God was teaching them.
  • Focus on a sin-suffering nexus to your peril. Granted, the question might not assume that the suffering person is in sin. The question might have been intended more positively, as in “How are you learning about the Lord in this?” But unless there is an absolutely clear connection between a person’s sin and suffering, and it is obvious to every believer on the planet, then we shouldn’t make the connection and do everything we can to keep the suffering person from making the connection. Most of us see more of our sin during our suffering – I know I do – but that doesn’t mean our sin was the cause of the suffering.
  • Insight can work against faith. By that I don’t mean that we should be mindless stoics in our suffering. But when our primary goal is to discover a personal message about a specific deficiency in our lives, then we are resting in our human understanding rather than the plainly revealed character of God. Faith is our calling in suffering – faith in Jesus Christ. This is not a mindless leap into the unknown. It is a turn of heart, away from us and to Jesus. In our suffering we want to remember that God is, indeed, good and compassionate. Jesus’ incarnation and his voluntary suffering culminating with the cross are the undeniable evidence. Then we trust him.

Read the whole thing over at CCEF’s blog

Nancy Guthrie on DG Live TONIGHT

One of our conference keynote speakers, Nancy Guthrie, will be on DG Live tonight!

Here’s the blurb from the Desiring God blog:

Tonight from 7:00 – 8:30 (EDT) we’re pleased to have Nancy Guthrie as our guest on DG Live. Nancy will talk about her life and testimony, as well as discuss her new book from Crossway, The Promised One: Seeing Jesus in Genesis. A little about Nancy:

In today’s modern world, few parents have to face the bitter task of burying a child that they love. But David and Nancy Guthrie have faced the grave twice now, burying two children who lived only six months.

When Nancy gave birth to a daughter, Hope, in 1998, club feet, extreme lethargy, an inability to suck, and a number of other small problems hinted at something more significant. On her second day of life, Hope was diagnosed with Zellweger Syndrome, a rare metabolic disorder that is characterized by the reduction or absence of peroxisomes (cell structures that rid the body of toxic substances) in the cells of the liver, kidneys, and brain. There is no treatment and no cure for Zellweger Syndrome and most children with the syndrome live less than six months.

For Nancy, her husband David, and their son, Matt, the diagnosis was devastating and disappointing. Hope’s brief life—a life of only 199 days— made a significant impact on them and those around them, causing them to dig deep into their faith to make sense of such suffering.

We hope you’ll join us!

Having watched a few DG Live’s, I can say they’re very well done and worth taking the time out to watch.

Also, if you’re interested in seeing Nancy at our annual conference in Orlando this year, don’t forget to register before August 5th for the best price!

Is There Someone You’re Trying to Change?

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Whenever you are trying to show someone his fault, remember that there are limits to what you can accomplish. You can raise concerns, suggest solutions, and encourage reasonable thinking, but you cannot force change. God may use you as a spokesperson to bring certain issues to the attention of another person, but only God can penetrate the other person’s heart and bring about repentance. Paul clearly describes this division of labor in 2 Timothy 2:24-26: “And the Lord’s servant must not quarrel; instead, he must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful. Those who oppose him he must gently instruct, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth, and that they will come to their senses and escape the trap of the devil, who has taken them captive to do his will” (emphasis added).

Taken from  The Peacemaker: A Biblical Guide to Resolving Personal Conflict by Ken Sande, Updated Edition (Grand Rapids, Baker Books, 2003) p. 182.

Food for Thought

Is there someone you’re trying to change? Here’s some biblical counsel: Stop! You may want to take a moment to write these words down on a note card and tape it to your mirror so that you see it every morning:

MY JOB: To speak the truth in love
GOD’S JOB: To change people

Our sense of what’s “workable” or “practical” may be our biggest enemy in biblical peacemaking. God doesn’t call us to be peacemakers in a given situation because it “works” (though often it does–even in ways we can never imagine); God calls us to be peacemakers so that people can see Christ in us. So next time you’re in a conflict and in thinking about peacemaking you find yourself tempted to say, “Well, that’ll never work in this case!”, remember the difference between God’s job description and your own.

Why Do We Fight?

Over at the Biblical Counseling Coalition blog they have a series on our motives for fighting. I recommend reading the whole thing, but wanted to pull out this gem out just to give you guys a taste:

…deep within the human heart are self-loving desires that are so strong and so determined to be satisfied that, when thwarted, lead to conflicts with those who get in the way of their fulfillment. “You lust and do not have; so you commit murder. And you are envious and cannot obtain; so you fight and quarrel” (James 4:2).

Jerry Bridges writes, “Resentment, bitterness, and self-pity build up inside our hearts and eat away at our spiritual lives like a slowly spreading cancer. All of these sinful inner emotions have in common a focus on self. They put our disappointments, our wounded pride, or our shattered dreams on the thrones of our hearts, where they become idols to us” (The Practice of Godliness).”

Read the rest here.



Don’t Fight Fire with Fire

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In responding to an angry reaction, remember that “a gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger” (Prov. 15:1). Respond to anger with a gentle voice, relaxed posture, and calm gestures. Communicate in every way that you take the other’s expression of anger seriously and want to help resolve the problems that prompt it. Plan ahead how to respond to possible objections and deal with them specifically and reasonably.

Taken from  The Peacemaker: A Biblical Guide to Resolving Personal Conflict by Ken Sande, Updated Edition (Grand Rapids, Baker Books, 2003) p. 178.


Food for Thought

If you’re counting on excellent self-control or a naturally sunny disposition to keep you from responding harshly to a burst of anger from someone else today, you’re drawing from an awfully shallow well. Chances are your “well of gentleness” will run dry … at exactly the worst moment.

The source of the “gentle answer” to anger that’s recommended in Proverbs isn’t you at all. It is none other than Christ, as he desires to make an appeal through us precisely at the moment that another unloads anger. As Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 5:18-19, “All this”–including the ability to respond to anger with a gentle answer–“is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation.”

So if you find yourself on the receiving end of a blast of anger today, don’t rely on yourself to respond gently. Instead, pray briefly, then invite Christ to make his appeal through you. As Paul notes, God has committed the message of reconciliation to you; it is your birthright as a Christian. Far more reliable than your own pleasant demeanor, it is a constant within you. Pray for God’s guidance to draw upon it even in the most trying circumstances.

Help Us Choose Our Tagline!

Peacemaker Ministries is developing a ministry ‘tagline’ – a concise way of informing people what we do and sparking some interest. Because of the nature of a tagline, it’s limited in its ability to unpack anything too deeply—being only one phrase, it is very much a sound bite.

Examples you may be familiar with:

“Just do it” (Nike)
“Building healthy churches” (IX Marks)
“Releasing children from poverty in Jesus’ name” (Compassion Int’l)
“Helping families thrive” (Focus on the Family)
“On the journey to true financial freedom” (Crown Financial)

We would be delighted for you to help us and give your input as we evaluate some potential taglines!

In order to do this, please complete this survey. Please give us your candid first impression—don’t dissect it too much. Most people are able to complete the questionnaire in less than 10 minutes. Your response and any comments will be treated with utmost confidentiality.

Thank you in advance for participating in the survey!

Latest Edition of Reconciled

The latest edition of our bi-monthly publication is now available for download online. I’ve included the table of contents and download link below:

In This Month’s Edition : 

  • Reflecting on the Middle EastJuly 2011 Reconciled
  • Dickson Ogwang, Ugandan Peacemaker
  • New Initiatives to Reach More People
  • Details About our Hope in Brokenness Conference
  • New E-Learning Portal for Peacemaker Ministries
  • Event Calendar
  • Connect Online

Download Reconciled

Reacting to Criticism and Confrontation

When you need to show others their fault, do not talk down to them as though you are faultless and they are inferior to you. Instead, talk with them as though you are standing side-by-side at the foot of the cross. Acknowledge your present, ongoing need for the Savior. Admit ways that you have wrestled with the same or other sins or weaknesses, and give hope by describing how God has forgiven you and is currently working in you to help you change … When people sense this kind of humility and common bond, they will less inclined to react to correction with pride and defensiveness.

Taken from  The Peacemaker: A Biblical Guide to Resolving Personal Conflict
by Ken Sande, Updated Edition (Grand Rapids, Baker Books, 2003) p. 172

Food for Thought

How do you respond to criticism and confrontation? As Ken reminds us in the above passage, our natural tendency all too often is to respond with pride and defensiveness.

• We emphasize our strengths and make excuses for our weaknesses. Then when we compare ourselves to others, we naturally think, “Hey! I’m not as bad as they are!”
• Rather than humbly listening to the criticism and striving to grow in wisdom and grace, we attack the person who is confronting us. Such arrogance blinds us and dooms us to immaturity.

There is a better way. Rather than focusing on our strengths or even focusing on our confronter, we can focus our passions, energies, and attention where they rightly belong–the cross of Jesus Christ.

When we gaze at the holiness of God and see the awesome price that had to be paid for our salvation–the very death of the very Son of God–we see beyond a shadow of a doubt that whatever criticism a person might lay on us, they don’t know the half of it. As Alfred Poirier reminds us in his article, The Cross and Criticism, the depth of our depravity is so great that our only hope is to rely solely on Jesus. And his death is sufficient. His resurrection is sufficient. Because he lived and died and rose again, we need never despair.

Even when confronted? Even then.

In fact, I would go so far as to say especially then. Whether the confrontation is gracious or graceless; redemptive or just plain-ol’ mean … we can humbly listen, give it its due, grow in grace, and move on. Because just as Ken reminds us above, “God has forgiven us and is working in us to help us to change.”

Tara Barthel (Billings, MT) is a former attorney and director at Peacemaker Ministries, and the author of our Women’s Study. She currently serves her family as a homemaker while regularly speaking at women’s events and blogging on God’s considerable grace.

Meet Tim Lane: Keynote Speaker at 2011 Peacemaker Conference

The 2011 Peacemaker Conference is right around the corner. Keynote Speaker Tim Lane, Executive Director of Christian Counseling and Education Foundation (CCEF), shares with us how important the theme “Hope in Brokenness” is to Christians living in this broken world. As a pastor and counselor Tim has ministered to many broken people and sees this gospel message as the key to bringing real hope in the midst of difficult situations. In this video he asks the question

How does my relationship with Jesus shape and form the way I respond to these situations?

We will be answering this question at the Peacemaker Conference. Join us September 22nd-25th in Orlando, Florida and enjoy this sneak peek into how we’ll delve into this practical theme.


2011 Conference – Tim Lane from Peacemaker Ministries on Vimeo.

Why We Don’t Forgive

Over at the Desiring God blog,  Paul Tripp wrote up a great post on the “benefits” of unforgiveness.  In it he lists 5 reasons people don’t forgive others:

Holding onto the other’s wrongs gives us the upper hand in our relationship. We keep a record of wrongs because we are not motivated by what honors God and is best for others but by what is expedient for ourselves.

Five Dark “Benefits” of Unforgiveness

  1. Debt is power. There is power in having something to hold over another’s head. There is power in using a person’s weakness and failure against him or her. In moments when we want our own way, we pull out some wrong against us as our relational trump card.
  2. Debt is identity. Holding onto another’s sin, weakness, and failure makes us feel superior to them. It allows us to believe that we are more righteous and mature than they are. We fall into the pattern of getting our sense of self not by the comfort and call of the gospel but by comparing ourselves to another. This pattern plays into the self-righteousness that is the struggle of every sinner.
  3. Debt is entitlement. Because of all the other person’s wrongs against us, he or she owes us. Carrying these wrongs makes us feel deserving and therefore comfortable with being self-focused and demanding. “After all I have had to endure in relationship with you, don’t I deserve . . . ?”
  4. Debt is weaponry. The sins and failures that another has done against us become like a loaded gun that we carry around. It is very tempting to pull them out and use them when we are angry. When someone has hurt us in some way, it is very tempting to hurt them back by throwing in their face just how evil and immature they are.
  5. Debt puts us in God’s position. It is the one place that we must never be, but it is also a position that all of us have put ourselves in. We are not the judge of others. We are not the one who should dispense consequences for other’s sin. It is not our job to make sure they feel the appropriate amount of guilt for what they have done. But it is very tempting to ascend to God’s throne and to make ourselves judge.

You can read the whole thing here.