Helping Friends Through Tough Times : How To Help Your Friends (part 1)

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Sometimes when the people around us are struggling, we feel powerless to help. We aren’t sure how we can help our friends through tough times. How many people around us would say they know in a crisis that we would be there for them — whatever it took? We want to know how we can help people know God, find freedom, discover purpose and make a difference in someone’s life during those tough seasons. The Bible tells us that wise friends are a gift from God. It also tells us about the characteristic of a friend.

“Two are better than one… If one falls down, his friend can help him up. But pity the man who falls and has no one to help him up!” Ecclesiastes 4:9-10 NIV

“Friends love through all kinds of weather.” Proverbs 17:17 MSG

In 1967 there were a couple of very well known psychiatrists who did a study correlating the connection between stress and illness. Thomas Holmes and Richard Rahe did a study of 5,000 medical patients. They developed a scale of 43 common stressful events and assigned them numbers from one (no stress) to a hundred (the most stressful thing you can do in life). They discovered that anybody with over three hundred points of stress was at risk of developing a major illness during that year. 

Based on the study they concluded the most stressful event in life was the death of a spouse. The second most stressful event is a divorce from a spouse. The third most stressful event in life is a separation from a spouse. It’s powerful that either by death or by divorce the end of a marriage is about the most painful thing you can go through in life. We want to learn to be good friends to those who may be dealing with the loss of a relationship. There are some principles that we can use to help our friends who may be going through a devastating time, specifically the loss of a relationship, but these principles are also transferrable to many different struggles our friends may face. 


How To Help Your Friend

1. Show up

When your friend is going through a tough time they’re going to get emails, cards, texts, calls, and opinions. Real friends show up when they are in that crisis. It’s in a crises that your friendship is defined with the other person. Crises can make, define and bond friendships. The Bible says that even when people turn their back on God they still deserve to have friends.

“When desperate people give up on God Almighty, their friends, at least, should stick with them.” Job 6:14 MSG

God says even when they turn their back on Him we should still befriend them. The first thing everybody needs in a crisis is other people. They don’t need hundreds or even dozens, they need a support group of mature Christian brothers and sisters who are there to love, care, comfort, encourage, support and meet needs.

Maybe you say, Wait a minute! Don’t you need to pray first?” Of course, if you can! But the truth is in a crisis you’re usually in so much stress and shock you don’t even know what to pray. Sometimes you can’t even think straight in a crisis. It’s at that point that you need other people around you praying and believing for you.

This is what happened in the story of Job. He was the wealthiest man in the world, but in one day he lost everything.  He lost all his wealth, his family, and his own health. Job’s friends did the right thing when this first happened to him. 

“When Job’s three friends… heard about all the troubles that had come upon him, they set out from their homes and met together by agreement to go and sympathize with him and comfort him.” Job 2:11 NIV

They formed a small group. They decided they were just going to show up and be with Job, their friend. And that’s how we can help our friends. If you’ve earned that right in their life, you show up. So often we say if you need anything let me know. But in a crisis they don’t have the vision to delegate. They don’t need to come up with stuff for you to do. If they don’t have anyone else showing up, you show up. Just help.

2. Share their pain

There is an interesting thing about pain and about joy. When you share a joy it gets multiplied. If you tell someone something good that has happened in your life and they celebrate with you, then it’s doubled. It’s the opposite with pain, when we share a pain it’s not doubled, it’s halved. All of a sudden I’m not sharing the pain all myself.  Another person is helping carry the load. 

When you share joy it’s doubled. When you share pain it’s halved. 

The ultimate form of love is compassion. Compassion says, “I’ll do anything I can to stop your hurt.” When you read the Bible you’ll find that Jesus was repeatedly moved with compassion. This included Him going to cross to die for us. It does not mean you have to take on a friends pain or dysfunction into your life. You don’t have to have the pain to be able to share their pain. In fact, God may have put you in their life because you’re strong where they are weak and they’re strong where you are weak. You don’t have to go through a tough time to share a tough time. Compassion is exactly what Job’s friends did right at first as well.

“When they saw him from a distance, they could hardly recognize him; they began to weep aloud, and they tore their robes and sprinkled dust on their heads.” Job 2:12 NIV

That was a Middle Eastern way of showing sorrow, mourning. They’re identifying with Job and sharing the pain but that doesn’t mean that they had to go destroy their home or put themselves in the same situation as Job.

Then they sat on the ground with him for seven days and seven nights. No one said a word to him, because they saw how great his suffering was.” Job 2:13 NIV

Job’s friends showed up and they stayed quiet. They didn’t give any pious platitudes or offer advice to try and talk him out of his pain. Good friends are not really quick to give advice. They make sure the other person is actually heard. 

3. Support them with prayer

When friends are going through a divorce, a death, a bankruptcy or anything else you will want to pray with them and you’ll want to pray for them. It takes great faith to respond to situations with prayer. Sometimes we might ask why we pray if God already knows the future and is in control of everything. We pray for a variety of reasons.

First, scripture tells us prayer is a form of serving God and obeying Him. God commands us to pray. Reading through the gospels we can see Jesus thought it was worthwhile to pray. Ephesians 6 tells us prayer is the means of strengthening others spiritually. It shares that prayer is not about getting God to do our will on Earth, rather prayer is how God’s will gets done on earth. Prayer is how we discern His will.

In one sense, prayer is like sharing the gospel with people. We do not know who will respond to the message of the gospel until we share it. In the same way, we will never see the results of prayer unless we pray. A lack of prayer demonstrates a lack of faith. We pray to demonstrate our faith in God. And prayer is our primary means of seeing God work in other people’s lives. Because it is our means of God’s power.

There are three verses that give us three ways to pray for a friend who’s hurting. The first thing you want to pray for a friend is, “Lord, help them recognize your presence.” When someone is going through a tough time, especially a situation like a relationship ending, they feel very alone. But God draws close when our heart is breaking.   

“The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.”    Psalm 34:18 NIV 

The second thing you want to pray is,“Lord, help them receive your grace.” Grace is the power to see it through. Grace sustains and is the energy to help you keep going when you feel like giving up. It is the power to change. And God’s grace in your life is what you  need when you’ve got nothing to give. We can come to God for help, and we receive that kind of grace to stand up under sorrow and stress.

“Let us approach the throne of grace with confidence, so we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.” Hebrews 4:16 NIV

The third thing you pray is, “Lord, help them to release their pain.” You encourage them to cry out to God. Crying out to God means coming before Him passionately and telling him exactly how you feel. There’s a prayer that we have probably prayed at least a million times our lives. “Help! God, help me! I don’t know what to do! I don’t know where to go! You’ve got to help me in this!” That’s called crying out to God and He loves it when you cry out to him. 

“I cry out to the Lord; I plead for his mercy. I pour out my complaints before him and tell him all my troubles. For I am overwhelmed, and you alone know the way I should turn…” Psalm 142:1-6 NLT

It is okay to complain to God, He wants to hear your complaints. In fact, he’d rather have you complain to him than other people. The reason you have emotions is because God gave them to you. God has emotions and you were made in God’s image. This is important because when you’re going through a crisis or you’ve got a friend going through a crisis, you are a bundle of emotions. You’re going to feel hurt, rejection, despair, frustration, regret, and failure. In those moments God wants you to bring those emotions and express those to Him. 


Check Back

Check back on your discussion from last week. What do you remember from your discussion about looking to the cross to remember God is for you and forgiven you? Or the empty tomb that reminds you of God’s promise for your future?

Listen to the sermon: online, iTunes podcast or Google Play Music

Hear the Word

Spend some time in the word. Read Job chapters 1 & 2 and Psalm 142.

As the title indicates, this series will lead us through how to support and help a friend through a difficult time. This week we’ll look at our first three responses when a friend is in a crisis. Next week we’ll look at four more.

Application

1. SHOW UP.

  • Friends walk in when everyone else walks out. How can just being there for someone make an impact?
  • How can a friend comfort another friend when trouble occurs?
  • Why is it important to have dependable friends before a crisis happens?

2. SHARE THEIR PAIN.

  • How can the sympathy of a friend ease some of the pain we feel when we are in trouble?
  • Why might it be important to be aware of some boundaries when sharing pain? What are some wrong ways to share pain?
  • Just sitting down with a friend can make a huge difference. What are some of the excuses we might use that prevent us from sitting with a friend in crisis?

3. SUPPORT THEM WITH PRAYER.

  • What does Psalm 34:18 say about the Lord?
  • Why do people sometimes turn from God when they get divorced instead of running to him?
  • How can it make a difference when a brokenhearted person hears their friend praying for them?
  • Why do people hesitate to “honestly tell it the way they feel,” like King David does, when it comes to praying?

Tell Someone Else

What friend in your life is going through a tough time? How can you use these first three steps?

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