I remember a Made for TV Movie a few years back where the story was based on a young girl who had been buried for ransom and then left for dead. She didn’t have a cell phone, or any way of communicating to those who believed her dead, to tell them that she was still alive. It was heart wrenching to see the camera shots of her in the buried box just lying there crying because no one was coming to the rescue. I remember thinking, “How sad to be thought dead when you are very much alive.” It also frustrated me when the police and her family were sitting around trying to think of where to look instead of actually looking everywhere they could. Of course, they were able to get to her to save her, but at that one point she was very dead to them. Sometimes when we go through suffering and trials, some get to thinking that we have fallen off the map, but we haven’t! If we have breath in our lungs and purpose in our heart we are still alive and ready to serve. But we also need others to come alongside us to help us get out of the suffering. Peter in 1 Peter 3:17-22 speaks to the matter of suffering and how to handle it. In today’s world we see so much suffering, and it makes you wonder if God can handle it all….He can. Suffering is a reality in life because we live in a fallen world, and the effects of suffering can be used to defeat us or make us stronger. I choose the latter. Oh, don’t get me wrong. I don’t want to suffer anymore than anyone else, but I will suffer from time to time. Just like now. I am going through a time of suffering that is a little confusing, but understandable. I understand where it all comes from, but how it keeps going is the confusing part. This suffering should be over by now, but it lingers on. So I keep on going in the strength only God can give. The suffering is still there, but I am learning as I go through it. Learning valuable lessons about people, and life, and God, and myself. I am learning these lessons looking at the situation through God’s perspective and getting more understanding about how to handle things from God’s Word and His wisdom. Peter said in verse 17 that if you are going to suffer, then suffer for doing something right, not doing something wrong. Makes sense doesn’t it? When you suffer for doing something right the integrity of the whole thing screams out for good, but others don’t know how to react to it. It’s kind of like they bury the reality of what you are going through somewhere back in the far recesses of their minds because they don’t want to have to go through it with you. I actually believe this is where the “I’ll pray for you” came into being. Those four words were the replacement for actually helping someone in their suffering and ministering to their needs. I know those words have come out of my mouth too many times without much action to follow them up. But over the years I have come to realize a new characteristic that is strengthening in my life. It is called empathy. Empathy is much different than sympathy because with empathy you actually “feel” what the other person is going through and you take on the burden with them. Let me give you an example. A few years ago when I was a youth pastor we took our group on a mission tour to Jackson Hole, Wyoming. Jackson Hole is at the base of the Grand Teton Mountains and this lovely part of America has many recreational things to do. Our group decided to hike up to a waterfall in the mountains that amounted to about 2 miles of walking up a pretty steep grade at times. As we made our way up we realized that the change in altitude and the heat of the day was really starting to impact a few of our group. One our girls was really starting to struggle and she proceeded to sit down and say, “I can’t make it!” She was suffering from the elements, and she couldn’t help it!! All the people in our group started sympathizing with her and talking about how bad they felt for her. Pretty soon I had enough. I leaned over and said, “Get up and I will carry you until you feel like walking on your own.” She said, “You’ll carry….me?” I not only nodded yes, but proceeded to give her a piggy back ride for about 200 yards down the hill. Was she heavy? Yes, even though she was very skinny. Did it hurt me? Yes, I was really feeling the stress, plus we couldn’t rush ahead to the next thing on the agenda because I was helping her. What was the end result? I carried her and she rested on my back, but we kept moving and then the last time I rested, she said, “I believe I can make it on my own.” Then she said it, “I’m still alive.!” Problem solved. The group feeling bad for her was sympathy. Me carrying her was empathy. In verse 18 Peter alludes to a great act of empathy by Christ for each of us as he says, “For Christ also died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust, so that He might bring us to God.” Jesus didn’t talk about dying for our sins. He physically died for our sins. EMPATHY!! We are not dead. We are alive, because of His sacrifice. Real Empathy!! And now, even in the midst of our suffering, our Savior has empathy for us and gives us the strength to go on. He carries us! Our strength is not totally gone, but His strength coupled with our strength helps get us over the time of suffering. I’m Still Alive!! I have suffered, but don’t give up on me, just help me get over this hump and you will be blessed.
Which brings to mind. Which do you give the most of? Sympathy or Empathy. If I am going to love like Christ loves, I am going to have empathy. I will sympathize, but it will be connected with action. I heard about a young couple who needed help moving out of their apartment. At the time my back was killing me, but they needed physical help, not just prayer. I saw their suffering and did what I could to empathize with them, even with a weak back. We got their furniture moved and that suffering was done. Action, not just words. That’s the Jesus way! Are you suffering? Are you in need? Hopefully someone will empathize with you and hear your cries of “I’m Still Alive!” When they hear your cries, they have the great opportunity of carrying you on their back until you get back on your feet. Then you can do the same for someone else. Paying it forward….
The Pilgrimage continues…