What to Say (and what not to say) to Sufferers

Friends wield significant power. They can build us up; they can tear us down. In God’s good design, they are one of the primary tools used to help us grow—especially during the hard times.
Think of Job. First, God allows Satan to take his property. Then his children. Then his health. So much of the Book of Job, though, is focused on how his friends react. These friends had the power to help Job, a sufferer, but ended up hurting him. Their negative example shows us what not to say to sufferers if we want to help them (For example, straight from Job’s wife’s mouth: “Curse God and die.”)
In Side by Side: Walking with Others in Wisdom and Love, counselor Ed Welch has a few other things that we should not say to sufferers:

It could be worse.

What is God teaching you through this?

God will work this together for good.

What can I do to help?

We want to be better helpers than Job’s friends. So what do we say? What do we do? Many of us feel unqualified to help those we love and helpless to help in practical ways. But as Welch reminds us, “Friends are the best helpers. They come prepackaged with compassion and love. All they need is wisdom, and that is available to everyone.”
Here are some of Welch’s ideas of how to help:

1. Realize that we are needy.

Sufferers can smell pretension from miles away. And it stinks. But a friend with humility has the sweet aroma of Christ. This friend realizes that he or she is a sinner, also, and has his or her own struggles that may seem impossible to change. “Jesus introduced a new era in which weakness is the new strength,” Welch writes. “Anything that reminds us that we are dependent on God and other people is a good thing. Otherwise, we trick ourselves into thinking that we are self-sufficient, and arrogance is sure to follow.”

2.  Realize that we are needed.

We don’t need a counseling degree to help, nor do we need decades of life experience under our belt. We mainly need the Word, prayer, and the Holy Spirit. In God’s design, the broken are assigned the job of fixing the broken. It is through broken vessels that God’s glory and love is best displayed.

3. Take the time to dig deep into those inside and outside of your circle.

Go beyond, “How are you?” to “How are you really?” Ask people more questions that will draw out their needs. Ask questions about their family, their job. Remember that we should be seeking out the alien, the lonely, those at church without friends—but also remember that we can’t save everyone. We should start with a couple people and slowly expand our net.

4. Pray, and really pray.

Welch says the best question we can ask sufferers is, “How can I pray for you?” And then pray for them right there on the spot. Then pray for them later, again and again. Follow-up the next time you see them to see how your prayers are being answered.

5. Don’t be afraid to confront people about their sin.

If we truly desire to point people back to Jesus, sometimes we also need to point out their sins to them, for sin is what separates us from God. Welch has hard words for who we are when we avoid confrontation about sin: “[W]e are Pharisees who, during a leisurely walk, avoid eye contact with the dying person we almost trip over.” Care more about their soul than what they think of you.

6. Be patient.

Love the person as you would be loved, you who have intractable sins yourself. Sins that cling, sins that you have spent years dealing with. If we need help in helping, we ask for help ourselves, from our pastors, our church. When we fail, we have even more opportunity to grow and learn and be sanctified.

Above all, be encouraged. When we participate in God’s work, it is not we who are doing the work—it is God in us. “As comfort comes, the Lord has blessed two people—both the one who prayed and the one who received comfort,” Welch writes. “Together they have witnessed the love of God and the Spirit’s power. That is how God builds his church.”
God, in His unfathomable goodness, is using sinners as bricks in His glorious building process. Let us rejoice and give thanks and “press on toward the goal of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus!” (Philippians 3:14)
Lindsey M. Roberts spent years writing exclusively for secular journalism, including such outlets as The Washington Post, Architect, and Gray magazine, before she first tried to write about Jesus. She’s thrilled to explore in words how everything from cleaning the kitchen three times a day to delighting in the maritime history of Nantucket is an opportunity to meet and glorify God. Lindsey lives with her husband, a pastor and U.S. Army Reserve chaplain, and two children in Virginia.


  • God is making Name. For Himself,your message is rich of truth by the word of God.stay lifted Beloved

  • Pastor Jack says:

    Nearly useless article with a misleading title! Don’t waste our time please.

    • Corum Hughes says:

      Thanks for your feedback, Pastor Jack. Sorry that you feel the article isn’t helpful. It’s certainly not our intention to be un-informative or misleading, and we’ll be careful to make sure others don’t get this impression in the future.

  • Jeannette says:

    Thank you.
    I found this very helpful, though I am not sure what is wrong with saying,
    “ What can I do to help?”
    Thank you again for seeking to build up the body of Christ with love and compassion.

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