Spiritual Self Evaluation – part 2
Are you struggling with major things in life? Finances? Family relationships? Health?
The believers in Smyrna, also suffered.
During the 1st century AD, people who refused to bow down and say “Caesar is Lord” were excluded from the labor unions which ran that city. This meant unemployment and potential poverty. They could also be subject to execution.
Considered to be atheists for their unbelief in Caesar as lord, Christians were hated by everyone in Smyrna. Christian shop owners were boycotted, thus they went bankrupt & lived in poverty.
My, oh, my…how things haven’t changed much in 2,000 years.
In all 7 letters, Jesus says, “I know your works…” This is both comforting & scary.
Heb 4:13 “Neither is there any creature that is not manifest in His sight: but all things are naked and opened unto the eyes of Him with whom we have to do.”
But Jesus, said that He also knew of their poverty. The Greek word used for poverty means ‘abject poverty.’
Although Smyrna was a prosperous city the Christians there were poor. The church in Smyrna, was made up of runaway slaves, freed slaves, poor people & those who had been stripped of their possessions because of their faith. Their homes were ransacked & looted; they lost their city (government) jobs &positions. During times of persecution, non-Christians often refused to do business with them out of fear.
Those who are in the midst of suffering are emotionally drained & often in great spiritual distress because their sense of the world has been turned upside down.
What do I mean? Most people believe — or at least hope — that bad people will one day be held accountable, & that good people will be accepted & rewarded by God/karma/the universe/whatever.
So when they experience suffering, one of the things that rocks their hearts is the perceived injustice that they — the good people — are going through something they don’t deserve by their own reckoning.
Today’s spiritual self evaluation is for those of us who are in a position to help those who suffer.
Helping people in the midst of suffering takes patience. Most of those who step in to help have limited time to give. At some point the helpers must leave those who are suffering & get back to the responsibilities of their own lives. But those who are suffering continue in their now forever-changed lives.
Religious organizations – primarily Christian organizations – have been at the forefront of helping in almost every major disaster in our nation, & have been similarly helpful in disasters in other nations.
Christians want to help. When they realize that their help can only be short-term they tend to share what gives them as believers help for the long-haul of life – theological truths from God’s Word.
Compassionate believers usually share things like “all things work together for the good” & “God doesn’t give us more than we can handle” & other Bible verses.
Without getting into partial citations that lead to misapplied scriptures, saying these things isn’t usually helpful in the midst of crisis because it doesn’t matter in the moment. Especially in the earliest stages of suffering people don’t need theological truth. Whatever the cause of their suffering, PEOPLE NEED HOPE.
Jesus told the believers in Smyrna, that He “knew.” Then He told them that they would face some other hard things along the road of suffering on their way to Heaven. This meant martyrdom for some. He assured them of something all believers know: faithful servants receive rewards. “Well done my good & faithful servant.” In this He gave them hope.
We are not Jesus. But very often we are His hands & feet. So, what can we say?
When people are suffering they appreciate knowing that others feel compassion for them. How they know is when people help. But that help doesn’t always include words. Sometimes the best thing to do is simply sit in silence by their side.
If words are appropriate, saying things like, “I see your trouble. I can’t imagine what you feel. I am here for you. If you need anything just let me know,” are always welcome.
What do you say to people who are suffering? You don’t say: “I understand exactly how you feel,” because you DON’T understand how they feel – even if you have experienced the same things in the past.
Whether suffering is caused by poverty & all it brings, the grief borne from the death of loved ones, the heartache of a broken marriage, a prodigal child or any other thing, you don’t understand exactly how anyone feels because the experiences of their lives up to the point of their suffering are different than your own. Plus,they are different persons.
You might have a good idea of what they are suffering because of your own experiences. But in the midst of their suffering — especially early into it — they are emotionally & spiritually raw. They don’t care to know that any o/er person has ever felt what they are experiencing. They only want their suffering to stop.
They want their dead loved ones back – but know in the deepest part of their hearts that in spite of the fierceness of their love, this is not possible.
They want their homes & all of the memories destroyed by that hurricane or tornado to be put back. Yet they know it isn’t going to happen.
They want to go back in time & behave differently so that their loved one won’t divorce them in the here & now. But they understand that it’s too late.
Whatever the source of their suffering, they want things to be as they once were. Better. That is their overriding emotion. Though they might one day seek consolation from those who have gone through similar sufferings, when their suffering is new they aren’t interested that any o/er person on the face of the earth has experienced the same thing in the past. They are suffering now.
Even though we as Christians know the scriptures teach that God…”comforts us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort them which are in any trouble, by the comfort wherewith we ourselves are comforted” by Him [2Cor 1:4], we must be wise & sensitive as to how & when best we can share that comfort.
Notice what Jesus says here: “I know what the world around you doesn’t see. I know all of the good you’ve done. I see that in the midst of this materially wealthy society you are indigent…beggarly. But I also know that you are spiritually rich.”
Jesus, was speaking directly to their hearts. Of all beings, Jesus could have said, “I understand exactly how you feel.” And because of Who He is, what He sacrificed & suffered, no one in Smyrna could have rebuked Him as being wrong.
Instead, Jesus simply said, “I know…” And because of Who He is those 2 small words carried great meaning. In midst of great suffering it’s easy to think God has forgotten. But here God Himself says, “I know…I know.”
What can we do for those who suffer? Be human. Offer tissues if they are crying, or a hot shower if they need it. Gently remind them that they should eat a little something & stay hydrated for the sake of whoever in their families will need them to be mentally alert – even though they have no appetite at all.
“Love thy neighbor as thyself.” – Biblical love is practical & active.
The Christians in Smyrna lived constantly between 2 extremes: the love found within the local congregation & the hatred found outside in the culture.
When Jesus revealed Himself to them as “the first and the last…which was dead and is alive” – He presented Himself as the Lord of the extremes.
first & least…life & death
Jesus’ self-description at the start of this letter was relevant & comforting to those who were suffering persecution, poverty & death. Why? Because as believers they knew that in God’s kingdom the first shall be last & the last shall be first.
But more importantly, as believers in Jesus, they also knew that they would one day be raised from the dead.
Rom 8:11 “But if the Spirit of Him that raised up Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He that raised up Christ from the dead shall also quicken your mortal bodies by His Spirit that dwells in you.”
Our blessed hope.
Hope. What all people need.
I Will Rise
In His Hands, Pastor Fran