Introductory Note:

“I remember with some embarrassment my first attempts to lessen the suffering of people in my hometown,” writes Trevor Hudson. Trevor goes on to tell how he and a friend would hand out food to the homeless with the best of intentions, but “without bothering to get to know anyone’s name or listen to anyone’s story.” He writes, “The Spirit needed to show me how to be with those who suffer.”

In this excerpt from his book Holy Spirit Here and Now, Trevor shares wisdom about coming alongside those who suffer, and invites readers into the spiritual discipline of planned encounters with people who suffer. This isn’t a discipline we often hear about, but Trevor explains two benefits: “On the one hand, because we can easily avoid the suffering of people around us, we need proactive planning to be with them. For this reason I often encourage those young in the faith to make this practice an intentional and regular part of their new life in Christ. Otherwise, it may not happen at all. On the other hand, because we often know about poverty, joblessness, and addiction only in theory, we need flesh-and-blood encounters that confront us with these realities.”

We hope that the counsel and practice shared here will help all of us chew on the question: How can the Church—the Body of Christ—respond to brokenness and suffering with the love and power God shares with us?

Renovaré Team

Excerpt from Holy Spirit Here and Now

Being With

To catch a glimpse of how the Holy Spir­it enables us to be with per­sons who suf­fer, let me con­trast my first attempts to engage suf­fer­ing with anoth­er sto­ry. It goes like this: A West Indi­an woman in a Lon­don flat was told of her husband’s death in a street accident.

The shock of such unex­pect­ed grief stunned her. She sank into a cor­ner of the sofa and sat there rigid and unhear­ing. For a long time her ter­ri­ble trance­like look embar­rassed her fam­i­ly, friends, and offi­cials who came and went. Then the school teacher of one of her chil­dren, an Eng­lish woman, called on the fam­i­ly. The teacher sat down beside the wife and put an arm around her tight shoul­ders. A white cheek touched a brown one. Then as the unre­lent­ing pain seeped through to her, the newcomer’s tears began to flow qui­et­ly, falling on their two hands linked in the woman’s lap. For a long time that was all that took place. 

Then at last the West Indi­an woman began to sob. Still not a word was spo­ken. After a while the vis­i­tor got up and left, leav­ing her mon­e­tary con­tri­bu­tion to help the fam­i­ly meet its imme­di­ate prac­ti­cal needs. 

John Tay­lor, who tells this sto­ry, reflects almost poet­i­cal­ly: This is the embrace of God, his kiss of life. That is the embrace of his mis­sion, and of our inter­ces­sion. And the Holy Spir­it is the force in the strain­ing mus­cles of an arm, the film of sweat between pressed cheeks, the min­gled wet­ness on the backs of clasped hands. He is as close and as unob­tru­sive as that, and as irre­sistibly strong.1

Will you join me in let­ting the Holy Spir­it show us how to be with those who suffer? 

It will save us from a tox­ic char­i­ty that some­times dehu­man­izes more than it helps. It will make pos­si­ble a giv­ing of our­selves uncon­t­a­m­i­nat­ed by emp­ty words and love­less actions. It will set us free from a cold and mis­di­rect­ed activism that sel­dom dig­ni­fies the lives on whose behalf we seek to bring jus­tice. It will make us con­tin­u­al learn­ers who nev­er assume that we are experts in know­ing what the oth­er per­son needs. But per­haps most impor­tant­ly, it will pro­vide a foun­da­tion from which we can engage those who suf­fer — engage them with Spir­it-inspired words and Spir­it-direct­ed actions that bring life and blessing. 

Speak­ing and Doing

There comes the time when, in our engage­ment with suf­fer­ing, we must go beyond just being present with those in need. In order to bless and to bring life to those who are oppressed and in pain, we allow the Holy Spir­it to speak and act through us. When we read through the New Tes­ta­ment, the Spir­it does this in two chief ways. Some­times the Holy Spir­it trans­forms our human abil­i­ties; at oth­er times the Holy Spir­it tran­scends our human inabil­i­ties.2 Both are ways in and through which the Holy Spir­it empow­ers us to be part of God’s good-news sto­ry today in a bro­ken and hurt­ing world. 

Take some time to read through the book of Acts if you want to see how the Holy Spir­it worked through the ear­ly Christ-fol­low­ers’ speak­ing and doing. When they pro­claimed God’s good-news sto­ry, the Holy Spir­it brought many into God’s fam­i­ly. When they shared their mate­r­i­al pos­ses­sions, the Holy Spir­it blessed peo­ple in need. When they min­is­tered to the sick and lame, the Holy Spir­it gave remark­able gifts of heal­ing. When they reached out to peo­ple from dif­fer­ent cul­tur­al back­grounds, the Holy Spir­it cre­at­ed a new kind of com­mu­ni­ty that had not been seen before in the first-cen­tu­ry world. When they opposed unjust prac­tices, the Holy Spir­it set peo­ple free. When you step into the fifth book of the New Tes­ta­ment, you see how the Spir­it trans­formed these ear­ly Chris­tians’ human abil­i­ties and tran­scend­ed their human inabil­i­ties as they engaged their suf­fer­ing world.

Con­tem­po­rary Stories

The Holy Spir­it con­tin­ues to do this today. Let me share three sto­ries. First, I think of a good friend of mine who serves as the human resources direc­tor in a medi­um-sized com­pa­ny that employs about six hun­dred peo­ple. He knows most employ­ees by name. He vis­its their homes when tragedy strikes and advo­cates on behalf of the work­ers for a more equi­table shar­ing of prof­its. He cre­ates jobs wher­ev­er he can. He has set up train­ing pro­grams to empow­er and to equip those who were pre­vi­ous­ly dis­ad­van­taged. Recent­ly he facil­i­tat­ed a wage agree­ment for the next three years, which was agreed upon by the work­ers involved. I am amazed at how the Holy Spir­it trans­formed his nat­ur­al abil­i­ties for the sake of the com­mon good. Yet he also tells me that the out­comes of his efforts have far exceed­ed what he could have achieved in his own strength and wis­dom. With­out a doubt, the Holy Spir­it has been at work! 

The sec­ond sto­ry comes from the class­room of my wife. Ear­ly this year Deb­bie asked learn­ers in one of her new class­es about their dreams for the future. Ler­a­to shared her wish that all the teach­ers in the school be killed. Deb­bie, while tak­en aback, offered a Spir­it-inspired response. She decid­ed to greet Ler­a­to each morn­ing by name. She went out of her way to express inter­est in her life. She affirmed her as often as she could. One day Ler­a­to asked Deb­bie if they could speak pri­vate­ly. Dur­ing break time Ler­a­to told about her painful past of abuse, neglect, and strug­gle with pover­ty. From that con­ver­sa­tion onward Lerato’s atti­tude changed total­ly. Today Ler­a­to is one of the best learn­ers in the class. I view this shift as the Holy Spir­it at work, trans­form­ing Debbie’s teach­ing abil­i­ties and chang­ing anoth­er per­son on the inside. 

The third sto­ry involves a pas­toral encounter I had with some­one who felt com­plete­ly for­sak­en by God. Ear­ly one Fri­day morn­ing, a friend brought a sui­ci­dal woman to my office. For over two hours I lis­tened to her dark and des­per­ate sto­ry. I felt total­ly inad­e­quate to know how to respond. Before she left, I asked if we could pray togeth­er. As we sat togeth­er silent­ly before pray­ing, three let­ters came into my mind. They were BOB. I asked her if this meant any­thing. She recount­ed a hor­rif­ic sto­ry of rape by some­one named Bob. I told her that I believed the Holy Spir­it had giv­en this name to me as a reminder that God under- stood and had not for­got­ten what had hap­pened to her. This moment became a turn­ing point in her rela­tion­ship with God and in her strug­gle with despair. The Holy Spir­it had tran­scend­ed my human inabil­i­ty to help some­one in a life-and-death sit­u­a­tion by giv­ing me a piece of infor­ma­tion to share with her that I could not pos­si­bly have known by myself. 

As the Holy Spir­it helps us engage those who suf­fer, we can depend on the same Spir­it to bring life and bless­ing through us. What­ev­er our speak­ing and doing abil­i­ties may be, the Holy Spir­it can trans­form them. They could be our com­put­er com­pe­ten­cy, our lead- ership strength, our orga­ni­za­tion­al capac­i­ty, our peo­ple skills, our home­mak­ing tal­ent, or many oth­er apti­tudes. The Holy Spir­it can set them on fire! But let us also remind our­selves that the Holy Spir­it can tran­scend our human inabil­i­ties with spe­cial abil­i­ties that come from God. The Spir­it can give us spe­cial grace-gifts3 of knowl­edge and wis­dom, of heal­ing and mirac­u­lous pow­ers, of dis­cern­ment and prophe­cy for par­tic­u­lar sit­u­a­tions. We would be wise to learn as much as we can about how these grace-gifts oper­ate and to con­vey an open­ness to them. 

Planned Encoun­ters with Peo­ple Who Suffer

I encour­age you to begin at a sim­ple lev­el. Com­mit your­self to spend a por­tion of your week, per­haps an hour, an after­noon, or an evening with some­one who suf­fers. This per­son may be in prison, ter­mi­nal­ly ill, severe­ly hand­i­capped, eco­nom­i­cal­ly poor, or stuck in a dark depres­sion. In my own expe­ri­ence, I have found that the person’s name will usu­al­ly come to you as a result of pray­ing and watch­ing those around you. As you plan to spend time togeth­er, keep the fol­low­ing thoughts in mind. 

Before get­ting togeth­er, ask the Holy Spir­it to be with you in the encounter. When you are with the per­son, make sure that the empha­sis of your time togeth­er stress­es your being with the oth­er per­son. Be present as sim­ply as you can. Be aware of that person’s sacred­ness and infi­nite pre­cious­ness to God. Remem­ber that you are there not to give advice or to solve prob­lems — or even to help. You join the per­son in order to under­stand what it feels like to be in his or her sit­u­a­tion. Your atten­tive pres­ence is the great­est gift. 

Dur­ing your encounter, try to lis­ten rather than speak. The gift of ears is as impor­tant as the gift of tongues. Lis­ten­ing lies at the heart of all our encoun­ters with peo­ple in pain. Remind your­self that Christ wants to meet you in the life of this suf­fer­er. He may want to speak to you through this per­son. So notice your thoughts and feel­ings as you spend time togeth­er, and be alert for the still small voice of God. After the encounter, take time to reflect on your inner respons­es, per­haps not­ing them in a jour­nal. Some­times it can also be help­ful for us to talk about these reflec­tions with a soul friend who lis­tens well. Above all, ask God what you can learn from the experience. 

As with any spir­i­tu­al prac­tice, it will not always be easy to stick with this commitment. 

You may find your­self look­ing for excus­es to opt out or to put your time to more pro­duc­tive use. If this inner resis­tance comes along, speak about it with God and maybe with your soul-friend too. I have found that our resis­tance often reveals to us the hard­ness of our hearts. These encoun­ters can some­times bring us face-to-face with the deep-root­ed forces of self-cen­tered­ness that lurk inside us all. We are not always the com­pas­sion­ate peo­ple we think we are. And yet, our acknowl­edg­ment before God of this unpleas­ant real­i­ty allows the Holy Spir­it to go about qui­et­ly trans­form­ing our hearts. 

As we stick with this prac­tice, divine com­pas­sion begins to flower. Non­sen­ti­men­tal and car­ing deeds are birthed. Courage to speak truth to the prin­ci­pal­i­ties and pow­ers” flow­ers. Our hearts begin yearn­ing for a soci­ety that encour­ages jus­tice and com­pas­sion for all.4This is the Holy Spir­it at work, chang­ing us on the inside, engag­ing us with God’s good-news sto­ry for our time. 

  1. John V. Tay­lor, The Go-Between God (Lon­don: SCM Press, 2004), 243. ↩︎
  2. Scot McK­night, One Life: Jesus Calls, We Fol­low (Grand Rapids, MI: Zon­der­van, 2010), 100. ↩︎
  3. Rather than devote one spe­cif­ic chap­ter to the grace-gifts of the Holy Spir­it, I have woven in sto­ries through­out the book that show them at work in the midst of our dai­ly rela­tion­al, com­mu­nal, and mis­sion­al lives. There are many help­ful books writ­ten specif­i­cal­ly about these grace-gifts. Among the many, I warm­ly com­mend Gary Best’s Nat­u­ral­ly Super­nat­ur­al: God May Be Clos­er Than You Think (Cape Town, South Africa: Vine­yard Inter­na­tion­al Pub­lish­ing, 2007). ↩︎
  4. Trevor Hud­son, A Mile in My Shoes (Nashville, TN: Upper Room Books, 2005), 22. ↩︎

Adapt­ed from Holy Spir­it Here and Now, by Trevor Hud­son. Copy­right © 2013 Trevor Hud­son. Pub­lished by
Upper Room Books, August 11994

Pho­to by Jan Canty on Unsplash

Text First Published August 1994 · Last Featured on July 2022

📚 The 2022 – 23 Ren­o­varé Book Club

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