Logos Bible Software

Dr. Harold Senkbeil: Praying in Tumultuous Times

Logos Live with Dr. Mark Ward and Dr. Harold Senkbeil

What you’ll see in this Logos Live episode

Mark Ward and Harold Senkbeil talk through what it means to set our eyes on Christ through difficult times and to pray for those facing calamity. Watch as Dr. Senkbeil shares about his own recent experience with tragedy, answers from the Word about what to do during suffering, and more.

Jump to transcript.

To catch all of our Logos Lives, follow us on Facebook or subscribe on YouTube.

Books by Harold Senkbeil

Christ and Calamity: Grace & Gratitude in the Darkest Valley

2021 Christianity Today Book Award of Merit for the Beautiful Orthodoxy Book of the Year

In times of turmoil, seek the Prince of Peace.

In Christ and Calamity, Harold L. Senkbeil speaks pastorally to our suffering and uncertainty. Senkbeil shows God’s constant and faithful grace to us. Calamities come in many different sizes, and God addresses them all in his word and by his Spirit. Even when we don’t see or feel it, God is always faithful.

It’s available in paperback, hardback, audio, and digital Logos edition.

The Care of Souls: Cultivating a Pastor’s Heart

2020 ECPA Christian Book Award Winner for Ministry Resources

2020 Christianity Today Book Award Winner for Church/Pastoral Leadership

2019 TGC Ministry Book of the Year Winner

Pastors care for a soul in the way a doctor cares for a body. In a time when many churches have lost sight of the real purpose of the church, The Care of Souls invites a new generation of pastors to form the godly habits and practical wisdom needed to minister to the hearts and souls of those committed to their care.

The Care of Souls is available in hardcover, Logos digital edition, and in the book and course bundle.

Pastoral Leadership: For the Care of Souls (Lexham Ministry Guides)

Harold Senkbeil and Lucas Woodford present a set of practical tools for church leadership and strategy based on a sound theological framework. Calling on their vast experience, they encourage pastors to protect, guide, and feed their flock as Jesus would, bridging the eternal wisdom of the word of God with the everyday practicality of hands-on leadership.

Pastoral Leadership: for the Care of Souls is available in hardcover, digital Logos edition, and in the Lexham Ministry Guides 3-book bundle.

Courses taught by Harold Senkbeil

cover image for Church Leadership and Strategy: For the Care of Souls video courseChurch Leadership and Strategy: for the Care of Souls

In this short course, Dr. Senkbeil guides church leaders through these important topics:

  • Leadership Woes
  • Preparing to Lead: Know Yourself
  • Strategic Planning
  • What’s Your Plan?
  • Eight Steps
  • Pastoral Depletion Syndrome: Early Stages
  • Capitulation: Resignation or Hyperactivity 

The Care of Souls: Cultivating a Pastor’s Heart

cover image for The Care of Souls: Cultivating a Pastor's Heart video courseDrawing on his award-winning book The Care of Souls: Cultivating a Pastor’s Heart, Senkbeil helps remind pastors of the essential calling of the ministry: preaching and living out the Word of God while orienting others in the same direction. He offers practical and fruitful advice—born out of his five decades as a pastor—that will benefit both new pastors and those with years in the pulpit.

This five-hour course answers “What is a pastor?” and nine other units:

  • The Cure of Souls: Attentive Diagnosis
  • Ten Theses on the Spiritual Cure of Souls
  • Sheep-Dogging and Shepherding
  • Shame and Guilt
  • Holiness and the Cure of Souls
  • Drawing Near to God
  • Invisible Powers
  • Christ’s “Other Sheep”
  • The Shepherding of Souls

Transcript

Mark Ward  
It’s my privilege to join a live talk with Pastor Harold Senkbeil, who joins us live from—Pastor Senkbeil, would you tell us where are you coming from?

Harold Senkbeil  
Waukesha, Wisconsin.

Mark Ward  
Waukesha, Wisconsin.

Harold Senkbeil  
Those of you who remember the news back in November. Remember we had our own calamity here because of the Christmas parade and the unfortunate tragedy. But yeah, suburban Milwaukee.

Mark Ward  
And you’ve heard Pastor Senkbeil reference calamity. That’ll be one of the subjects of our discussion, his book Christ and Calamity: Grace and Gratitude in the Darkest Valley. I’ve just read it this week and enjoyed it, actually while on a national trip across the country and back. He brought me over and over to God’s Word, and he’ll do the same for you in this conversation. And Pastor Senkbeil, I want to get a little bit of clarity out here about your two major Lexham Press books. This is not a time for just advertising. We’re just going to talk about the biblical truths that you have in these books. But to be clear, for those who are tuning in, you wrote The Care of Souls: Cultivating a Pastor’s Heart, which won a number of awards, and Christ and Calamity that we’ll talk about. You’ve also done a little book in our Lexham Ministry Guides series that plays off of your Care of Souls book, and I’ve been grateful for your work. Can you just summarize real briefly each of those three books, Care of Souls, Christ and Calamity, and your little book in the Lexham Ministry Guide series?

Harold Senkbeil
Okay, I’ll do my best, but first of all, I want to apologize. I have a chronic voice condition. So I’m trying to be as clear as I can and also sip water. So, yeah, The Care of Souls originated many, many years ago as I began to explore that whole tradition or heritage that belongs really to all Christians. We talked about pastoral care, or the work of a pastor, and we all have a general idea what that means. But the ancients, I’m talking about third and fourth century, viewed this as something called cura animarum or the care of souls. They approached working as shepherds of souls much like a medical doctor would today; you work from symptoms back to the underlying disease, and then you treat not the symptoms but the underlying disease. That’s the general framework. 

So I spent a number of years exploring that and working with some wonderful colleagues in something called Doxology: the Lutheran Center for Spiritual Care and Counsel. And our focus there was to unearth this whole rich heritage and to bring it into the 21st century with all the complexities that we face these days. And it really revolves around the Word of God and bringing those wonderful realities that Christ our Lord died and rose to bring to us and to give to his people. So, Care of Souls is all the complexities it takes to listen carefully to the ailments, if you will, or the dysfunctions of any human being—be they pagan, or Christian—because all of us are infected by sin. To bring not just the truth of the gospel, but the reality of Jesus to bear in their hearts and lives to help them regain equilibrium and a measure of health. To be sure, this side of the eternity you’ll never be perfect, but to find their fullness in Jesus. 

So that’s what The Care of Souls is about, and the subtitle, Cultivating a Pastor’s Heart, is what I call the habitus or the mentality, the approach, the mindset of a shepherd, to be in tune with Jesus first of all, and in tune with his people and to bring the two of them together. So there are many things that involve—any worthy enterprise has its own habitus, but then you have the application of that. So the goal of that book was to address the underlying framework, if you will, of what it means to be a pastor, especially in our day. So there’s a whole series of books now, the Lexham Ministry Guides, coming out of that book. All of them have a subtitle also For the Care of Souls or In the Care of Souls, and my wonderful editor at Lexham has identified several scores of, I should say a score of, titles or more that we hope to bring out in the future. I think we’ve got three so far, three more, in the pipeline and others down the road. So I did coauthor one of those, the first of those volumes on pastoral leadership and care of souls. So but then as the pandemic broke in 2020, Lexham asked me to write a devotional guide for people who are perplexed by all kinds of calamities. It begins with a pandemic setting but it goes beyond that into all kinds of tragedies that people might face.

Mark Ward  
That’s Christ and Calamity. And you know, I’ll just be pretty open here, I don’t come from a Lutheran tradition, and I wasn’t sure what to expect when picking up The Care of Souls and Christ and Calamity. And with the exception of a few Latin words like habitus that, you know, are not common in my tradition, I just felt I felt at home, I felt that here’s a fellow pastor. I, at the time when I read Care of Souls, was an assistant pastor. My church subsequently has actually closed. But I felt “Here’s a fellow pastor who’s been further down the path than I have, and he’s looked to the same Lord and to the same Bible.” It’s Bible—Bible all throughout your books. And that was something that I jotted down as I was reading through Christ and Calamity, and I’ll have some questions about that. You know, I know that the Lord the Good Shepherd has sent you some suffering in these past two years, and you were just referencing it in personal conversation before we went live here. Could you tell us what calamities has the Lord sent you?

Harold Senkbeil
So recently, I wrote a blog post on the Lexham blog about my experience, and so it’s called “The Last Enemy”—death, namely—so when I wrote the book, we were just after the, I think it was in April or May of 2020 or fall, those days, a long time ago now. And a lot of water over the dam, but there was a lot of uncertainty, a lot of panic, frankly. And that panic hasn’t thoroughly subsided yet. But so the attempt was to address this on the basis of God’s Word, as you say, to find an anchor, so that we are not quite so anxious about the various complexities that come our way and to point always to Jesus through his Word. So there’s like there’s 11 chapters in that book. So it was a remarkable exercise, kind of a spiritual exercise for me, and I sat out here in our patio, watching very little traffic on the streets in those days, I remember, and just kind of pouring my heart out into this text. Little did I know that within months, that would become very personal for me because my wife who had been ill for quite a time, and myself, both of us had some health crises. She ended up on home hospice care that fall. And so she asked me early on to read from that book, Christ and Calamity. That was our nightly routine as we closed the day together. 

And so she recently died in December. So those 12, 14 months were, were interesting. I wouldn’t trade them for anything. They were extremely perplexing and difficult on one level, but they were also very enriching because my conviction is, it’s through tribulations that we learn more of the riches of the bounty of God’s love in Christ Jesus. And that was true for us. So I wanted to share with those who are watching. This is a picture of our family. We were privileged in the middle of her hospice care to celebrate our 50th wedding anniversary, and that’s a picture of this taken on that day of our three children and four grandchildren. And you see Jane right there in the middle. So she was a wonderful woman, and I don’t want to make this all about her. It’s all really about Jesus in a place together because her faith in Christ was what sustained her in those times and was enriching for me as a great example for me. She used to always say “I love you.” I’d say “Are you sure about that?” She’d say, “I’m sure about two things: my Lord Jesus and my husband.” So the book found a home, if you will, within our home and this very room where she spent her final days. And we were together in that and enriched by God’s Word because the book as you say, it’s really not about my experience, but rather experience of Christ. My conviction is, as we go through various trials and tribulations and afflictions, even pain and suffering finds its meaning in light of the cross of Jesus, in His glorious resurrection over death. So that’s my goal in the book to point to that.

Mark Ward  
One time early in my own pastoral ministry, I was talking to someone who did have very different life experiences from me, and she said that to me, she said, “You have no room to speak to me, because you don’t know what I’ve been through.” And I actually thought, “Yeah, like, I really am sorry that the Lord didn’t send you a minister who does understand better what you’ve been through. I’m sorry that I’m the one who had to be here.” But one great thing about Christ and Calamity as I’m reading through is that I don’t get the sense this is a 22-year-old who’s writing out Bible verses that he looked up in his topical guide to suffering, but this is somebody who’s actually calling these Bible verses to mind, calling the Lord’s words to mind because they’ve been deeply ingrained in you through that suffering. So I have some questions I’d like to pose to you maybe we could talk through. You know, God, God hasn’t given me much suffering to be frank. He’s given it to my loved ones, however, as you just described, which is its own kind of suffering. But when you come to difficult types of suffering, like the one that you just went through, and when you try to counsel others through their difficult times of suffering, when you come to others who are watching others suffer, what are some of the first words of Christ that come to your mind to give to them?

Harold Senkbeil  
One probably, his invitation “Come to me all you who labor and are heavy laden, I will give you rest. My yoke is easy. My burden is light.” As I mentioned in the book, sometimes I think we’d like, if we’re honest, we’d like to argue with Jesus a little bit about that because sometimes the burden doesn’t seem very light at all. But in the light of his suffering and anguish on the cross, our calamities find their meaning, and even even our personal suffering. So we find strength in the middle of that because we know we’re not alone. He says, he promises “Lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” So in the middle of that, it’s not just in the good times, that he’s with us, but in the middle of our stress as well. So we need to look to him to find our hope in him. Today in my daily Bible reading, I’m using Jane’s daily Bible reading guide. She read through the Bible a number of times in her lifetime. And so I’m trying to learn from her and I was reading in Joshua, “Be strong and of good courage for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” And so to be alone in the middle of this, whatever personal tragedies we face is the worst condition because then all we have is our fears. But our Lord invites us out of ourself and into him and his promises, then we can find courage and strength and peace even amidst the trauma.

Mark Ward  
I really just cannot claim much trauma in my life. The Lord has blessed me so much, but, actually, these past two years because of COVID [brought] some of the greatest suffering of my own life, which feels so little compared to the suffering of losing a spouse, but still is real to me, and I’ve had to work through it. My suffering has been over the politics of COVID. I don’t want to get into the politics per se. But the division in the Christian Church, the bitter infighting, I have to think and I think I’ve seen this, people on all sides of whatever debates—masks and social distancing and church closures and all that—all the politics related to it. I see grief on both sides. That’s been my suffering. It’s been a calamity for me in some ways.

Harold Senkbeil 
So many pastors who love their people are literally torn in pieces because they’re in the middle of this fight, if you will. So there’s polarity and politics or a combination and that’s what we’ve been in for like three years or more.

Mark Ward
That, Senator, sounds like the next title of your next book: Polarity and Politics for the Pastor. So what were you telling yourself in these times that I just have to assume affected you, too, all this bitterness and infighting?

Harold Senkbeil
Well, paradoxically, the, the path that we walked together, Jane and I, kind of removed us from a lot of it. We were left with God’s promises. She was on hospice care. So a lot of people came into our home, some of whom are not believers, but they were all enriched by her and caring for her. And our pastor came to visit us. So it’s kind of watching from the sidelines if you will, but I know because of my previous contacts, and my current colleagues in ministry all around the world, that this is very, very distressing. And so I think the answer there is again to remember who you are and whose you are. It goes back to the other book, Care of Souls. If you try to trudge up ministry from within yourself and try to put out all the fires that you’re going to face, especially in this intense polarity and antagonism, you’re going to be burned out in a hurry. So you have to go into deeper wells, and there I think every pastor needs to see themselves as a channel through whom our Lord God is caring for people through his Word. And so, therefore, as much as possible, it’s like John the Baptist: “I must decrease, he must increase.” And so to the degree that I’m trying to solve the problem by myself and by my own puny resources, for that degree, I’m going to be all torn and twisted by the whole process. But to the degree that I look to him and I try to bring his resources, his presence into the midst of this turmoil, then we can find peace. I think that’s been the history of the Church through the generations, through the centuries really, and now as we look at wars and rumors of wars. Even more so I think we need to learn from previous generations of Christians. That’s one of the problems I think we have in America, we have a very short memory and we tend to try to think, to operate as though we’re the only people who’ve ever lived. And it leads to problems, I think.

Mark Ward
Yeah, I’ve been noticing that as images of the war in Ukraine have flashed across my TV and my phone and my computer. I just try to make myself remember that the World War II comparable images actually did happen in color and in perfectly high definition to the people who were there. It feels so foreign to somebody of my generation to think that this could happen again. That had to be the feeling of people in World War I, and that’s been a bit of a settling and grounding reminder for me. Nonetheless, I wanted to ask, and I had it listed in my questions for you—there’s war, and that is unsettling even for people here in the US who are you know, perhaps not physically touched by it, although some of us are because of relatives over there in Ukraine. What are the words of Christ for people in this kind of calamity? What kinds of Bible words are coming to you now?

Harold Senkbeil 
Well, I think it’s important to remember his words to Pilate. He had power, and Jesus said, “You wouldn’t have any power if it were not given to you.” And then “My kingdom is not of this world.” I think that’s the thing we need to remember. And we pray for our leaders in our country. Every Christian in every country is doing the same. And there are Christians on all sides of this conflict. But we need to remember, I think, the bigger picture that we serve one who was the Lord of all nations, and so he is the Prince of Peace. We need to pray for the peace of Jerusalem, to pray for everyone involved in this conflict. And chiefly, of course, those who are suffering right there in the front lines, but you’re right. It’s like watching one of the old newsreels from World War II. Some of us perhaps, well, our great great grandparents were during the time of World War I, which you may remember was billed as “the war to end all wars.” And yet the 20th century wars killed more people in battle than any other in all of previous history. So, our Lord has said, you know, “There will be wars and rumors of wars. But when these things begin to take place, then look up because your redemption is drawing near,” and it’s something that we as Christians need to know in every time. Maybe when you get to be into your eighth decade like I am, you have a little bit different perspective. I mean, I can remember at the age of 17 or so the Cuban Missile Crisis, and you know, we lived in daily dread that the opposing fingers were on the nuclear button at any given time. And now the specter of nuclear war raises its head again. God forbid, but we have to have a bigger picture. And so our, our little bit of inconvenience is nothing compared to those refugees that are torn out of their homes or faced the destruction of their houses and their loved ones. I saw on a picture in the Wall Street Journal today on the front page a picture of a mother and father at a graveyard bidding farewell to their soldier son who died at 23. So, there’s a lot of suffering in this world. It comes in all sizes and shapes, but we need to see this in light of our Lord’s suffering for us into being an agent of peace and tranquility as we are able within our own households, among our neighbors and friends. Jesus said we are leaven in this way. And we also have light in the dark. So let your light shine before men that people may see and give glory to your God.

Mark Ward  
Right. Yeah, you talked about suffering coming in all sizes and shapes, and I was just thinking about how in your book, one thing that struck me was, of course, you wrote this in 2020. And at a certain point in your book, you talked about the hundreds of thousands of people who had fallen ill and actually died because of COVID-19. And I just read the other day that it’s now at 6 million globally. The number of people who have died, you know, the number of people who’ve gotten it is much, much larger. So somewhere, you know, between in these almost two years, it’s been millions of people the suffering has compounded massively. Does your pastoral counsel to the world change from when this is a comparatively minor amount of suffering? I mean, a couple hundred thousand is still a lot, but it’s nothing compared to six million that’s the Holocaust. Does your pastoral counsel change in between the smaller number and the greater number?

Harold Senkbeil  
I would say yes and no, The level of panic and anxiety rises exponentially in those situations. But personal tragedy is just as grievous. The kids on the street that are being shot in our city of Milwaukee and, I’m sure, everywhere around the country, daily for nothing really. That’s caused just as much sorrow in their families as any of the other tragedies. So we have to have the same approach, I think. We are agents for the Lord Jesus in our vocations and we need to see ourselves not as a secret agent but rather a public witness and bring that to bear as we are able to provide encouragement to one another. So when panic arises, we calm down a little bit, take a breath. And, you know, talk about the level of this, of the impact of this particular disease caused by this virus. You know, the biblical picture is  when pestilence occurs, it drives people to repentance. That’s one of the problems I think that we’ve seen in this whole three years. There’s very little repentance on the part of anyone, even Christians. They tend to just rise up in arms and choose sides and come out fighting. No one’s saying, you know, “Where am I with my Lord? What is there in my life that needs to change? And maybe I need to come down a few notches, lower the decibels, and examine my own heart and life and then be an avenue for God’s love and mercy and compassion to others who are suffering.” Thanks to social media, we all have a constant stream of information, much of it false. And we leap to conclusions and then we take to social media to simply vent our little bit of wisdom for the day, which usually is misinformed as well. So I think it behooves us to speak truth, and to speak it in love. So that’s the challenge that we have in every generation.

Mark Ward  
That’s been so painful to watch actually, it’s painful to watch the Ukrainians being killed. It’s painful to watch Russian soldiers being killed too, to see anybody die in what it seems to me (and I’m not trying to make a political statement, I’m not a master of these things) an unnecessary war. That is a kind of suffering but the worst kind of suffering for me has come from watching (I was just reading this in the news this morning and last night) watching disinformation campaigns being waged by other governments. Again, this is all happening right now. I am not a master of these things, but I can see on the TV, what sure seems to be definite evidence that what the Russian government is saying is just not true. And I thought about Jesus’ words, “Blessed are you when people revile you and say all manner of evil things against you falsely for my sake,” and in my own life, that has been mostly material.

Peter says, you know, if you suffer for things that you’ve done wrong, you know, that’s no credit to you, but if you suffer because of things that you didn’t do . . . and that’s been what’s most difficult for me watching.

Harold Senkbeil  
There is, as you’ve pointed out, suffering on all sides of this conflict. The refugees are holding the bag, but one of the pictures that came across my screen was very pointed, I thought. It was a Russian soldier whose vehicle had been stalled. I think a lot of tanks and such run on gas. And the Ukrainians are surrounding him and giving him lunch because he doesn’t have any food. Somebody handed him a cell phone and he calls his mother and he’s weeping on the phone. And so anybody can identify with this and that’s true with all wars. That doesn’t mean that they don’t need to be fought because we need to defend our homelands. But I think as Christians we need to as I said, calm down first of all, and tend to our own affairs in terms of our own spiritual relationship with God and then be agents of love and mercy as we’re able. Sometimes that means taking up arms to defend our family and our home.

Mark Ward  
Well, Martin Luther was part of the Augustinian order, and it’s Augustine who gave us just war theory as I understand it. And one of the points of it is that we need to defend the weak. Now I wrote down another quote from your book that really struck me, made me think of another Bible passage. You said, “It’s unrealistic to assume that your faith should constantly seem strong and resilient. By its very nature”—this is what struck me—”by its very nature, faith usually is mingled with doubt.” Could you explain a little bit what you meant by this?

Harold Senkbeil  
Well, “Who hopes for what he sees?” says the Bible, right? So what distinguishes faith and knowledge is I make deductions, logical deductions, from my sensory experiences, something I detect and I can prove, scientifically, even empirically, but there are things that are not seen and yet they are real. That calls for faith. So automatically, there’s an injection of uncertainty, and sometimes the devil fans it into actual doubt. That should not itself discourage us. Thomas said, “Okay, guys, you say you saw Jesus alive, but I won’t believe it until I actually touch his flesh.” And then finally, he saw Jesus a week later, then he said, “My Lord, oh my God.” But remember, our Lord said then, “you believe because you’ve seen me. Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe.” So faith  is believing that which we don’t see. So, my appeal here in the book is when you’re plagued with uncertainty, don’t assume that you’ve lost your faith. Rather, look outside of yourself for the confident promises of God and his Word, then your faith will find strength in the middle of that situation.

Mark Ward  
You make me think of Jesus’ words at the end of the Sermon on the Mount, I just wrote these in an article that was about parenting, which is a kind of suffering sometimes. Parents are sometimes suffering because of this behavior or their own sin against their children, or worries, fears over what my children will turn out to be. Especially as a Christian parent, what could be a bigger fear of mine than that my children will prove to be unbelievers. And yet I said in this article, “When all I can do is find handholds on the rock, that is, the Word, and Jesus said, ‘If you build your house on that rock, the rains are going to come, the floods are going to descend, and great will be the fall of the person who isn’t on the rock, but your house will stand if you’re on that rock.’” Throughout  your books, both of them, but especially the one I’ve just read, Christ and Calamity, I felt like you were doing this—you were showing people handholds on the rock, and I’ve got another one here from your book. You said, “Shen you wrestle through personal tragedy and turmoil, God’s Word creates inner peace. By prayerful meditation on what God tells you instead of what you tell yourself.” I just love that. Instead of obsessing over your fears, listen to Jesus instead. Reminds me of something David Martyn Lloyd Jones said, you know, “You need to talk to yourself instead of listening to yourself, and ultimately what you need to say to yourself is what God has said to you.” You quoted these words of Jesus, “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give to you, not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.” This quotation here and this Bible quotation really, they just typify your book to me. The title of your book could have been Christ and Calamity, Listen to Jesus Instead of to Yourself. You just quoted so much Bible, and I was so appreciative.

Harold Senkbeil  
All of us have an internal dialogue that’s going on all the time and in the middle of stress, we go into a kind of a loop, a very disruptive loop: “Oh no, what if, what’s going to happen next?” And we have to break that cycle and get out of ourselves. Jesus said, “Come to me. My sheep hear my voice,” says Jesus. “And they follow me, and I give them eternal life.” So the voice of Jesus speaking through his Word sees us through these personal distresses, as Jane and I found, and our corporate stresses as well that we’re undergoing right now.

Mark Ward  
One theme of your book that just popped up a few times, and I feel like you’ve touched on it even in this conversation, is that we’re not offering a prosperity gospel here because Jesus didn’t. The suffering may not go away, it may persist. 

Harold Senkbeil  
It might intensify actually. 

Mark Ward  
Right. And as soon as you said that, I thought of a dearly loved one who’s only in her mid 60s and has been in chronic pain for years. She goes a little bit up and a lot down and up and down. And the overall trajectory is down. And her faith remains in Christ, praise God. But my pain is real watching this loved one suffer. And I’ve often thought of the Psalms of lament, and you talk about them. You said the Psalms of lament teach us how to file a complaint with God. It may not go away, some of the symptoms may remain, but you’ve gone to someone who can do something about it. How does lament differ from whining or keeping score or charging God with sin?

Harold Senkbeil  
I think that’s an important point. I think too many Christians think that “I’m not allowed to really complain because it shows a lack of faith.” On the contrary, the Bible demonstrates that if you have genuine faith, you bring your complaint to God, and complaint means you’re not blaming anybody, not blaming God. Or you’re not saying “Poor me,” but rather you’re saying “This hurts.” If you have a little child, you don’t expect that little kid to try to muddle through if they injure themselves. [You say,] “Come to me” and [you] put them on your lap. You talk to them, you hold them close. And that’s what our God invites us to do. So the sounds of lament are a good portion of the whole collection of Psalms. And by that our Lord teaches us to bring these complaints to him. You know, if you go to your medical doctor and say “My foot hurts,” he doesn’t say “This person is a whiner.” No, he addresses what’s underlying that pain. And that’s what we want to do with our Lord too. He expects us to bring these hurts to him. That’s an expression of our faith.

Mark Ward  
I was thinking as I was reading your book, and I admit here to doing something book reviewers are not supposed to do, like saying “I wish he had addressed this.” You know, not every book can touch on everything. But I’m asking for your pastoral wisdom here. You talked about lament, but I searched your book in Logos Bible Software for the word imprecation, and I didn’t find it there. When is the appropriate time in suffering, especially when we’re in suffering generated by another sinning person—let’s just say Vladimir Putin—when’s the appropriate time to pull out imprecations? And when is that doing this same kind of whining that I think we agree is wrong, and when is it not loving your enemies?

Harold Senkbeil  
Imprecation is also saying “God, you’re the judge. You handle it. Because if I would, all hell would break loose, it wouldn’t be pretty.” So that’s the whole idea. You’re asking God to deal with a cause of unjust suffering. And so I think that’s a variation or a subset probably within lament, you’re not just bringing your personal ailment to God but you’re saying “Here’s my enemy, and you deal with him.” Often the Psalms of lament do mention the enemy and the injury that’s received of the enemy, but it always turns the judgment over to God.

That’s, I think, the key thing. You know, St. Paul, urged young pastor Timothy, to, to “pray for all people, for kings and all those that are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life godly and dignified in every way.”

He says kings in plural. But there was one chief king in the ancient world that Paul was living in, and that was the emperor in Rome, who happened at the time to be Nero, infamous for his cruelty. And yeah, he was simply a very twisted man. And yet Christians are to pray for him, because he’s the one who’s responsible for the safety and welfare of the empire. So I think there’s a lesson there. For us too. We don’t just pray for those godly leaders that we would like to see in office. And we don’t just pray against those that we perceive to be unjust, but we pray for everyone.

Mark Ward  
Those are sobering words in the New Testament, right? Matthew 5:45, “Love your enemies;” Romans 12 (says), “Vengeance is mine, says the Lord, I will repay.” Yes, those are helpful words there. You in your book talk about so many personal elements of suffering, and a colleague of mine suggested this question to me that I thought was really helpful. How do we keep faith and endure when God seems silent? I think of the book of Esther, and I think Tim Keller preached a message or a series on the book of Esther, which doesn’t even mention God. He said, God’s silence is not absence. But how do we keep praying when we hear back silence, which means God isn’t answering?

Harold Senkbeil  
Well, there’s a quote early in the book where I talk about C. S. Lewis, who said “God talks to us . . . ” 

Mark Ward
“In our pleasures.”

Harold Senkbeil
Right. “But he shouts to us in our pain,” so he gets our attention that way. It’s his way of trying to rouse a deaf world since our world is very tough toward God. And maybe that’s one of the lessons we can learn through this worldwide virus pandemic and the threat of war now in Europe that could involve all corners of the world for all we know. So rather than panicking and wondering, what’s to become of us? I think the point is to pour out these concerns, to bring them to God in prayer. And also to realize that sometimes when we’re not getting the answers we’re looking for, when God seems to be silent, remember that his most profound silence was when Jesus called out on the cross, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” And died there. And everybody thought that was the end, but that was the way he was making all things new. So that’s been the experience of Christians through the centuries. Some have experienced what they call “the dark night of the soul” when it seems as though the embers have died out within, there’s no sense of a felt experience of faith even in the middle of that. That’s a trial. That’s a test to see that we can be confident in God’s promises, even when we’re getting no feedback, so to speak, emotionally, intellectually, experientially—to trust God in the middle of that. And that’s, look to Job for example. Even his friends said “You must have done something wrong, Job. It’s gotta be your fault.” So “Even though he slay me, I will still trust him.” So that’s, that’s when faith goes through testing is to help us to see the genuineness of our faith, which the genuineness is not because of a quality in us but rather because of the riches of the promises of God and Christ Jesus in his Word.

Mark Ward  
You also wrote in your book, I’ll quote you again, “The cosmic riddle of evil cannot be solved using human reason and our unaided senses. Rather, as we undergo the reality of human calamity and pain, we need to be guided by the Holy Spirit through his Word. Ultimately, you don’t solve suffering. You endure it.” I wonder, as you went through your own recent sufferings, did those words work for you? Was that true in your own life?

Harold Senkbeil  
Well, I will mention what I quoted in my blog post. Jane sometimes, frequently, actually, as I was reading from that book, she’d say,  “You’re sure you didn’t write that for me?” In God’s providence, maybe I did. I don’t know. We certainly both derived some encouragement from it. So yeah, it’s in those tight spots and when we’re down and out that we need to look up. And when our faith is put under pressure like that, we realize that in us we don’t have the strength to face it. We can’t just cut through it. You can’t just grin and bear it. And I said I think in my other book Care of Souls, that the job of the pastor in the middle of a person suffering is not to try to put a best spin on it, or to paint a smiley face on human suffering, but rather to demonstrate that in the middle of that, not in spite of it but in the very midst of that, that’s when God is at his best, when we are at our worst.

Mark Ward  
“His strength is made perfect in weakness.” Yeah. You said a moment ago that when we’re in suffering, we need to look up, but there’s also a way, isn’t there, in which we could say we can look to the side, that is, that Jesus actually took on flesh. And the Bible says “he was tempted in all points like as we are” and that he even learned obedience through his suffering. And that actually raises another quote that I pulled out of your book, “That’s the off-field secret concealed within affliction. God is right there in the middle of it. Ever since Eden, God has disguised himself to get closer to us human beings. He hides his glory in shame, his power in weakness, his riches in poverty. His majesty in lowliness.” (That’s a beautiful sentence, by the way.) “We can see this most clearly in the incarnation of God’s eternal Son in human flesh. Christ’s divinity is wrapped in humanity, his life enclosed within his death. It sounds weird,” you wrote, “but that’s God for you. He deliberately wraps his faithfulness around those of us who are in misery.” I wonder how does that information change the counsel that you can give to suffering people? 

Harold Senkbeil  
Jesus doesn’t just understand, he has experienced everything and more that you’re experiencing in a human body just like yours. And my wife, besides her illness, was a chronic pain patient for over 20 years. My best friend suffers from chronic pain. So I myself have had very little pain recently, I sprained my ankle, and I’m complaining a lot about that, but there’s every hope that I can recover. But a lot of people don’t. They just live with pain every day. And so, rather than saying, “Well, that’s too bad. If you were a real strong Christian, you’d be able to overcome that.” No. You can go to one who shares your flesh and blood, and even in his ascended glory he still bears the scars of his wounds of his death. Human suffering, human flesh, skin and bones, nerve endings just like yours. So what you are undergoing is not unique. And in the light of the suffering of Jesus, your suffering finds its meaning and you can find hope in the middle of it. That’s the message.

Mark Ward  
And as Lewis said, you know, when you’re suffering is temptation. We’ve never endured temptation to the point of blood as Jesus did. He endured the full strength of temptation and we have not, yes. Your words are so comforting. You know, as I was listening through, I told you earlier on in our little conversation here that in both of your books, I was wondering, okay, where’s the Lutheranism? Where’s the distinct Lutheran element? And again, I was grateful to see that across both Protestant traditions, I share so much understanding with you. And there was one point, however, where I thought, this is, I think I’m hearing not just Lutheranism, but Martin Luther himself, the kind of thing he would say, and for all I know he wrote this. I should know this, but you quoted at the very end of your book, at least in the audio version, you quoted a hymn, “Jesus Priceless Treasure.” And when I heard these words, I think there’s an organ playing in the audio version, and then you read these words, “Satan, I defy thee. Death I now decry thee. Fear I bid thee cease. World, thou shalt not harm me, nor thy threats alarm me.” And I just thought, I just hear the spirit of Martin Luther. He liked to talk to Satan like that. Am I right?

Harold Senkbeil  
You’re right, he said give it back to him. You know the devil is very proud in spirit, and he can’t stand squat. So give it back to him ounce for once. But that’s very true. And the other thing, Martin Luther teaches us something about suffering too, because he himself endured so much affliction physically as well as certainly politically because of his faith and his teaching. He made the point that we can learn from the mother of our Lord. In Mary’s song she sings that the Lord is always looking down into the depths, and Luther makes this point here, human beings are always looking for the heights, how can we rise above things. But God looks down into the depths. He deliberately puts us down sometimes even lower. It’s as though God is far sighted. He doesn’t see us if we’re trying to rise up close to him. But when we’re down and out, and we’re desperate for his love and mercy, then he can pour out riches of this love. There’s that great paradox. Jesus said, If you seek to save your life, you’re gonna lose it but lose your life for me? You’ll find it. So to the human imagination, things are upside down in their life, but that’s really right side up because left to ourselves, we exalt ourselves, but we find our life in Jesus not in us.

Mark Ward  
I just preached actually, was it yesterday? I can’t hardly remember. No, it was two days ago, I was at a conference. And I love to repeat in Jesus’ words, “Whoever humbles himself will be exalted.” That is the flip flop paradox way that God does things the reverse.

Harold Senkbeil  
And Christians need to learn to love, to learn to live with paradox, and maybe a current distress maybe is going to teach us that. God willing.

Mark Ward  
You know, I listened to your book Christ and Calamity and I did that on purpose, especially once I figured out that you yourself were the one who recorded the audio. And it’s not often I get to use this special vocabulary word, but it was very comforting to hear a septuagenarian author who has actually been through times of suffering and pastored, shepherded others through those times of suffering. Just counseling me again. Over and over again with the words of the Lord, Old Testament, Psalms, and Jesus.

Harold Senkbeil  
Encouragement, that’s what it’s about.

Mark Ward  
So I can’t come to this as an academic, which I try to be, sometimes I have an academic hat. Seems you have that hat too; you’re responsible and careful with the Bible. But I come to this as a sinner and an occasional sufferer. And I just want to say thank you for shepherding me. Something you didn’t even know until today, shepherding me through my own suffering by repeating to me the words of the Lord. Pastor Senkbeil, we’ve kind of come to the end of our time, and I just want to repeat again, I want to hold up your books for people, Christ and Calamity: Grace and Gratitude in the Darkest Valley. This is a short little book. I find people really appreciate that. It’s got nice little illustrations. It’s got short chapters. You could very well use this as a devotional, something that you could take your family through in family devotions.

Harold Senkbeil  
If you don’t mind, Mark, I’m gonna show the hardcover, which is even nicer. Lexham does a marvelous job. They even have a ribbon to mark your place and so forth. Recently, there’s the audio version as well.

Mark Ward  
You know, I’m embarrassed to say I didn’t even know we had a hardcover, I’m so digital myself. I went and stole these from my colleague’s office. The editor of this book, Todd Haynes, is one wall away from me. 

Harold Senkbeil  
He needs to give you one of these. You make sure he does that.

Mark Ward  
Yeah, exactly. Yeah, that’s not fair. I need one of those too. Well, Pastor Senkbeil,  thank you so much for investing your gifts for the whole body of Christ, for speaking to people across traditions by being a herald of what comforting words Jesus has given us. Sometimes bracing words, but ultimately words full of faith. Thank you so much for your time.

Harold Senkbeil  
It’s been my joy and God’s blessing to all, whether they’re pastors or laity in these calamitous times. Look to Jesus; he’s your strength.

Mark Ward  
Look to Jesus; he’s your strength. Thank you so much.

Resources written, taught, or edited by Harold Senkbeil

Christ and Calamity: Grace and Gratitude in the Darkest Valley

Christ and Calamity: Grace and Gratitude in the Darkest Valley

Regular price: $6.99

Add to cart
The Care of Souls: Cultivating a Pastor’s Heart

The Care of Souls: Cultivating a Pastor’s Heart

Regular price: $14.99

Add to cart
Pastoral Leadership: For the Care of Souls (Lexham Ministry Guides)

Pastoral Leadership: For the Care of Souls (Lexham Ministry Guides)

Regular price: $12.99

Add to cart
Mobile Ed: LD211 Church Leadership and Strategy: For the Care of Souls (1 hour course)

Mobile Ed: LD211 Church Leadership and Strategy: For the Care of Souls (1 hour course)

Regular price: $39.99

Add to cart
Mobile Ed: PC211 The Care of Souls: Cultivating a Pastor’s Heart (5 hour course)

Mobile Ed: PC211 The Care of Souls: Cultivating a Pastor’s Heart (5 hour course)

Regular price: $189.99

Add to cart
Funerals: For the Care of Souls (Lexham Ministry Guides)

Funerals: For the Care of Souls (Lexham Ministry Guides)

Regular price: $12.99

Add to cart
Stewardship: For the Care of Souls (Lexham Ministry Guides)

Stewardship: For the Care of Souls (Lexham Ministry Guides)

Regular price: $13.99

Add to cart

Was This Article Helpful?

Share
Written by
Jason Brueckner

Jason Brueckner is the Sr. Community Manager at Faithlife. He has a master’s in biblical exegesis from Wheaton College Graduate School and over a decade of experience with digital marketing, church communications, and ministry.

View all articles
Written by Jason Brueckner