For several months I prayed I would enter more deeply into God's heart. In the months that followed much of what He showed me related to suffering. I'd never wanted to think about God's pain, but He revealed His heart of grief. Then, ever so gently He exposed my selfish attitude. I wanted to enjoy the gifts of relationship with Him, but I didn't want to share in His pain. Since that time God has gently led our family to discover and respond to the suffering of the world.
Part of intimacy with Christ includes this aspect of suffering. Bob Pierce, founder of World Vision, once said, "Let my heart be broken with the things that break the heart of God."
No one enjoys having her heart broken, yet Scripture often reminds us to take care of those who hurt-to visit those in prison, care for the widows and orphans, and give food to the hungry. I'm learning that it is important to choose to expose our family to the suffering of others if we are to experience the fullness of intimacy with Christ. Our baby steps in this area have included reading about the plight of the hurting and praying together for specific needs. We've volunteered at food banks, helped with Operation Christmas Child projects, and sponsored children in third world countries.
Still, I know our family is only beginning to understand this part of our journey toward Christ. I recently met Janey DeMeo, one of the people on the front lines of this ministry of suffering, who founded Orphans First (http://www.orphansfirst.org). She helped me explore the concept of entering into Christ's suffering.
Janey says the place to start is always prayer. "When you pray, the first person to change is yourself," she said. Janey's ministry to suffering children began when she started praying "around the globe", for them. As she entered God's heart of pain, she found He gave her the ability to make a difference. It wasn't long before she opened her first orphanage. Now she is involved with ministries to orphans in many different countries. "Prayer for the suffering increases your capacity to take on more of God's burden.
"Find out about the needs of the hurting and pray for them." Said Janey. "Choose to willfully and deliberately expose yourself to suffering. Determine not to turn away."
Janey believes it is important to take our children with us on this path into the heart of God. "God wants us to teach our children to get their eye off themselves onto the needs around them," said Janey. "American youth need to realize how much they have. Just visit a mall and observe. Teens swarm, flaunting themselves, buying the latest fads. They live far from reality, trying to fill their life and self-image with material things. We need to help them learn to be generous, to see all they've been given, and to share it. Teaching them about the needs of children around the world gives them perspective."
According to Janey, our culture feeds a perpetual indulgence of being entertained. "There's nothing wrong with entertainment, but too often seeking entertainment becomes the constant goal for kids. It assumes a place of importance that isn't healthy. We need to help our children see reality."
Janey suggests using small pain to help children understand the larger suffering in the world. "We can use our imagination to better understand God's heart and the pain of others. Next time your child falls or experiences some type of hurt, ask them to imagine for a moment what it might be like to be in pain and have no one to comfort you. Many children around the world have no one to hold them or dry their tears. Talking about these things will help your child develop compassion.
"All of us will suffer in life," continued Janey. "Part of the purpose of suffering is learning to comfort others. Instead of running from pain, we sometimes need to allow ourselves, and our children, to let our minds park there."
One thing that keeps many of us from learning about the poor and oppressed is the concern that we will be overwhelmed with what we discover. We're afraid of discouragement.
"God wants us to identify with his suffering heart, but He doesn't want us to be without hope," Janey says. She encourages people to put aside a time to pray for the needs of the suffering of the world, then to walk forward believing and living in hope. "When you see answers to prayer, your heart rejoices and your faith is enlarged so you can continue to identify with those who suffer."
Janey also recommends keeping a healthy balance. "It's important to identify with suffering, but we must do it with balance. Start with small chunks of prayer. Don't start too big. Live a well-rounded life."
According to Janey, focusing on the character of God also helps fight discouragement. "God is good. He is there in the midst of suffering. Discover God in Scripture and hold to the promise that He will someday wipe away all tears."
For many of us, fear of suffering is another hindrance to our ability to enter this place in God's heart.
"Fear is one of the most horrific pains anyone can suffer," says Janey. "Think of your fear. Now, how much more must that street kid who is suffering have fear?" Janey encourages people to use their own fear as a catalyst to identify with those God wants them to pray for. "We don't have to be afraid of identifying with God's burden. The fear goes away as we learn to pray for the suffering. We become more and more like Christ. He strengthens us to share His burden."
Janey also said that God gives us control of our mind and the right to choose how much one enters into the suffering of others. "He allows you to identify with the suffering to the extent that you are able."
Janey suggested that we also discern the roots of our fears. If praying for the suffering of others brings up hurts from our past, she recommends seeking the Lord to heal those places before trying to care for people in a similar situation.
"Entering into the suffering of others is about intimacy with Christ," says Janey. "He wants us to share His burden. It's really about being His bride. Like a loving wife we choose to share His pain and co-labor with Him. As you choose as a family to partake of the suffering heart of Christ, you will grow toward God and each other. He will strengthen you for the task and show you ways to be his caring hands to the world."
Orphans First is a ministry expressing God's heart to hurting children. Their website, www.orphansfirst.org, offers stories of specific children and ministries to children around the world. You can also subscribe to receive periodic prayer requests by clicking http://welovegod.org/groups/orphansfirst/ Opportunities for financial assistance are also listed on the website.
A home schooling mother of four, Paula Moldenhauer is passionate about God's grace and intimacy with Jesus. Her website offers home schooling hints, book reviews, and a free weekly devotional, Soul Scents. Subscribe to Soul Scents at www.soulscents.us. You can contact Paula at Paula@soulscents.us.