Sorrow is a fact of life. It comes uninvited and sometimes, unexpected. When it comes, it leaves life in pieces. If you are walking in the midst of sorrow, or in its aftermath, you understand what I mean. There are times when the sorrow we face is a loss so great, so completely overwhelming, it seems like a bad dream. Ultimately, reality sets in, leaving us broken.
With two brief verses, we are told of such a heart crushing moment in the life of the Old Testament character, Abraham. Now Sarah lived one hundred and twenty-seven years; these were the years of the life of Sarah. 2 Sarah died in Kiriath-arba (that is, Hebron) in the land of Canaan; and Abraham went in to mourn for Sarah and to weep for her. Genesis 23:1-2
The only time the Bible mentions Abraham weeping was when he wept over the loss of his dear wife Sara. Where I live, the lines are longer at the funeral home when a young wife loses her husband or a young man his wife. But the grief is deeper and the loss is greater for that aged couple who spent their lives together, raised their children together, buried their parents together, each having invested a lifetime of hopes and dreams in the life of the other. Then, all at once, life falls to pieces when the one who shared their deepest joys and sorrows closes his or her eyes in death.
The Bible says in Roman’s 8:28 that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God and are called according to His purpose. But what could possibly sanctify sorrow?
The sorrow in your life today. may be very different from that which entered the life of Abraham. It may be from a fractured marriage, or from some disappointment that invaded your life and rocked your world. How can your sorrow and my sorrow be so sanctified, that God might use it to impact eternity and advance His Kingdom? Abraham’s sorrow was sanctified sorrow. It was sanctified by the way he faced it. It was also sanctified by the One who shared it with him and carried it for him.
When sorrow invades our lives, life seems to come to a stand-still. But life can’t stop. It goes on. The Bible tells how Abraham went through the process of acquiring a burial site for his wife Sarah. He did just what you and I have to do when we face sorrow. We have to face reality. In the depths of his sorrow, Abraham got up and took one step forward, and it was a step of faith. That one step may be the only step you are able to make but make it in faith! Do the one thing that must be done, depending on God to give you the strength to do it. Face the future, trusting that God, who foreknew your sorrow, walks with you in your sorrow, and has a plan to sanctify this this painful season of your life.
David, the great king of Israel, faced an incredible sorrow in his own life. He had a little child who lay dying. David did what any parent would do. He prayed! He grieved over this illness in the life of his child! He fasted! He refused to eat! He lay all night on the ground praying that the child would live! David lived like that for seven days. When the child died, his servants were afraid to tell him. His grief was so great over the child’s illness, they were afraid that when he learned of the child’s death, he would take his own life. As they were coming with the news, he perceived the child was dead. Do you know what he did in the midst of his grief? He got up off the ground. He bathed. He changed his clothes. He anointed himself with oil. He went to the house of the Lord, and he worshipped! The servants couldn’t understand the change in David. They asked him why he was acting so different now that the child was dead. This is what he said. “While the child was still alive, I fasted and wept; for I said, ‘Who knows, the Lord may be gracious to me, that the child may live.’ But now he has died; why should I fast? Can I bring him back again? I will go to him, but he will not return to me.”2 Samuel 12:22-23
In his grief, David found a way to express his faith in God and in the life to come. Just like Abraham, he got up from the ashes of his grief and turned his face and his faith toward God. That is sanctified sorrow!
When we recognize we don’t walk alone in our sorrow, when we step forward by one step of faith to face the future, that sorrow becomes a sanctified sorrow. Sanctified sorrow is a sorrow God can use to touch the lives of others.
In 2013, Rick Warren, the author of The Purpose Driven Life, faced the suicide of his son. As he stood in the midst of his sorrow, a skeptical public waited to see if he would fall apart and his faith would fail. But like Abraham and David, Rick Warren was able to take a step forward and express his faith to a watching world, even in the midst of his sorrow.
Rick Burgess, (of Rick and Bubba radio show) did the same thing when his two-year old son drowned. God enabled him to speak at his son’s funeral and express his family’s faith, even in the midst of their incredible sorrow. Steven Curtis Chapman, Christian Musician, did the same thing when his own son accidentally backed over and killed their five-year old daughter in the driveway of their home.
Out of those seasons of incredible sorrow, God gave them the incredible strength to express their faith, as an unbelieving world watched and listened. Your audience may not be as large, and the immediate impact may not seem as great, but there will be those who watch your life to see how you face the sorrow that God allowed into your life. Their lives will be impacted by it. God will use your sanctified sorrow in such a way that it has a ripple effect from here to eternity.
Sanctified sorrow is sorrow surrendered to God.It is committing yourself to God amidst unbearable heartache and trusting Him to help you go on.
Dr. Donald Grey Barnhouse once related the story of a young woman whose husband had been killed on the battlefield. When the telegram came, she was at home with her parents. She read it, and without explaining what she read, she said to her Mother, “I am going up to my room. Please don’t disturb me.” Her mother, realizing the news, sent for the father at work and told him to come home. He went upstairs intending to comfort his daughter. He opened the door quietly. As he looked inside, he found her kneeling by her bedside. The telegram was spread open on the bed before her. She was praying, “Oh my Heavenly Father, oh my Heavenly Father.” Without a word, he went back down the stairs and said to his wife, “She is in better hands than mine.”
That is how a person of faith responds in the hour of grief. When we commit our deepest hurts to our Heavenly Father, trusting them to His care, our sorrow is sanctified.
Are you dealing with some deep brokenness in your life? Someone is waiting to see how you respond to that sorrow. The way you handle it is going to impact the lives of many people. In your hurt, others can be hurt, if you handle it the wrong way. But if you surrender your sorrow into the hands of God, He can take it, sanctify it, and use it to touch the lives of people from here to eternity.
I, too, have faced sorrow. There were moments when the heartache seemed inconsolable. However, God was always one step ahead of me. He had a plan that would sanctify my sorrow, teaching me incredible truths about his love and mercy. It is my prayer that God would guide you through your season of sorrow, to the place of His presence, where He will wipe every tear from your eyes.
You keep track of all my sorrows. You have collected all my tears in your bottle. You have recorded each one in your book. Psalm 56:8 NLT
Photo by Andrea Bertozzini