Where is Jesus in Our Grief?

Most of us have been pierced by one of the painful arrows of grief. Can you and I find Jesus in the face of our grief?

But Mary was standing outside the tomb weeping; and so, as she wept, she stooped and looked into the tomb; and she saw two angels in white sitting, one at the head and one at the feet, where the body of Jesus had been lying. And they said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” John 20:11-13

This is part of John’s account of how some of Jesus followers reacted to the empty tomb of Jesus. John chooses to tell the story from the perspective of Mary Magdalene.Mark also records Mary Magdalene’s visit to the tomb. Both Mark and Luke tell us that she had at one time been possessed of seven demons before she met Jesus. This trip to the tomb was very personal for her. Was she the sinful woman in Luke chapter seven of whom Jesus said, “She loves much because her sins which are many are all forgiven?” I think she was.

If so, her deliverance from demons and her wonderful experience of forgiveness resulted in a deep personal commitment to the Lord Jesus.  That is revealed at the cross, when she was one of the only disciples left with Mary. The rest ran away. Her presence at the tomb was prompted by her love for Jesus and the grief she experienced following His death. Her initial experience at the tomb was confusing. She ran to Peter saying, “They have taken away the Lord, out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.” John 20:2b  

Imagine the agony she endured watching Jesus die! Sudden, tragic death often leaves loved ones in some degree of shock. Overwhelmed by the events of recent days, as well as by her own emotions, Mary Magdalene made the pre-dawn trip to the tomb in the grip of grief. I want to examine her grief and relate it to the experience of grief that comes to us all. In a recent search for definitions of grief, I found the following explanations.

Grief is the normal and natural emotional reaction to loss or change of any kind. Grief is the conflicting feelings caused by the end of or change in a familiar pattern of behavior. It is defined as keen mental suffering or distress over affliction or loss. It is described as sharp sorrow or painful regret. I’m sure you understand. Most of us have been pierced by one of the painful arrows of grief. Grief comes as a result of losing someone you love. Sometimes we grieve the passage of a stage of our life—unrecoverable days that we wasted or lost. We can grieve a disability that comes into our lives or grieve over a great disappointment or personal loss. Grief comes in many ways.

My purpose will be to examine the grief of Mary. In the midst of her grief, Mary was looking for Jesus. Can you and I find Jesus in the face of our grief?

Mary Was Weeping at What She Knew to Be True.

At first, to Peter she said, they have taken away the Lord and we… Later she said to the angels, “They have taken away my Lord and I…” John 20:13b   This was deeply personal for Mary. She was grieving over the basic facts of what she knew to be true. This is the first way we approach grief. We deal with the heart-breaking facts. We face the hard and cold fact of death, of loss, of pain, of sorrow, of suffering that accompanies grief.

Mary Was Weeping on the Basis of Things She Assumed to Be True. 

I have heard many people state the truth of how they feel in the midst of their grief. Many of those feelings are based on assumptions made in the pain of the moment. From the personal perspective of sorrow, both the present and the future are clouded by the fog of grief.

“They have taken away my Lord.” Was that true? No, but in that moment, it appeared to be true to Mary, and it deepened the grief of the moment. Be careful about assumptions you make in the midst of your grief. Be careful about decisions you make while in the throes of grief. Be especially careful concerning conclusions you make about God in your sorrow. 

God often sends us comfort in the midst of our grief. Thankfully, most of us have friends or family or a minister who will help us walk through our personal sorrow. Have you ever noticed how hollow such comfort sounds when coming from someone not standing in your shoes? The words are often true and sincere. If you will notice, not even the testimony of angels countered the faulty assumptions Mary Magdalene made by Mary in her grief.

In Her Grief, She Failed to Recognize the Presence of Her Lord.

Have you found it to be true that it is hard to see the Lord through your tears? As we read the story, we raise all kinds of questions about why it was that she failed to recognize Jesus. But mainly, it was her grief and the resulting shock and despair that followed the recent loss of someone she loved. Those of you who have walked the road of grief know that this period of grief can last a long time.  There seems to be no sense of God’s presence. There seems to be no word from God. There is an overwhelming emptiness and sense of being abandoned, not only by the person you lost but also by God. Mary, for a brief moment, experienced a dark night of the soul when, although her Lord was there, she was not able to know it.

Jesus Was Present in the Midst of Her Grief.

But Mary was standing outside the tomb weeping; and so, as she wept, she stooped and looked into the tomb; and she saw two angels in white sitting, one at the head and one at the feet, where the body of Jesus had been lying. And they said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “Because they have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid Him.” When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, and did not know that it was Jesus.  Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking? ”Supposing Him to be the gardener, she said to Him, “Sir, if you have carried Him away, tell me where you have laid Him, and I will take Him away.” John 20:11-15

He was right there in the midst of her grief, even though she did not recognize His presence. Do you suppose that in spite of how you feel, that He might also be present in the midst of yours? In the loss of someone you love, you might have no sense of Him, but He is there!

Passing through some particularly difficult season of change, you might  have no sense of Him, but He is there! Maybe you lost your job or your sense of purpose, and you have no sense of Him, but He is there! Jesus is present in the midst of your grief.

Jesus Spoke to Her in the Midst of Her Grief.

Jesus said to her, “Mary!” John 20:16a   He called her name. He spoke to her. He asked her the same question asked by the angels. “Why are you weeping.” I wonder if He was helping her process her grief. Processing your grief doesn’t make it go away. But it causes you to grapple with what happened and what must happen next. Why was she weeping? Who was she seeking? She was weeping because she lost Jesus. But in her grief, Mary came there to look for Jesus. Yet, He was right in front of her and she failed to recognize His presence.

Is Jesus speaking to you in the midst of your grief, in the midst of your loss, in the midst of your change? Is He saying something to you that you need to hear! Yes, but to hear it you must recognize who He is.

His first question was, “Why are you weeping?” What is your loss? What is your disappointment? What is the sorrow that brings you to this point in your life. But His next question is key. “Whom are you seeking?” Who was Mary looking for? She came there looking for Jesus. Have you looked for Jesus in your grief, or have you looked for relief in other people or in other places? A person with grief over an illness might be seeking a physician, as did the woman with the issue of blood, until she sought Jesus. Who are you seeking?

A person who lost their sense of purpose might be seeking for something to fill that void? So Jesus asks you—Who or what are you seeking?  What did Jesus offer Mary? He offered her Himself. Is He speaking to you in the midst of your grief? Is He calling your name? Is He offering you the strength of His presence and the comfort of His love? Is He reminding you that you have not been abandoned by your Lord? He revealed Himself differently to various of His disciples after His resurrection. He will choose the time and place to make you aware of His Presence. 

In The Midst of Her Grief, Mary Was Afraid.

Why was she afraid? Maybe she was afraid of the same things you are. She was afraid of being hurt again. She didn’t want to lose Him again. Perhaps she was afraid of the future, or even afraid of the past, fearing that the demons who once tormented her might return. She was afraid to go on, and because of her grief her life was without purpose.

In the Midst of Her Grief, Mary Called Jesus Teacher.

She turned and said to Him in Hebrew, “Rabboni!” (which means, Teacher). Most of us, who have been so unfortunate as to experience grief, have learned something along the way. We learn things about ourselves. We also learn things about the Lord. Do you suppose there is something the Lord is trying to teach you in the midst of your circumstances?

Jesus Gave Her a New Sense of Mission as a Result of Her Grief.

Jesus said to her, “Stop clinging to Me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to My brethren and say to them, ‘I ascend to My Father and your Father, and My God and your God.’”  Mary Magdalene came, announcing to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord,” and that He had said these things to her. John 20:17-18

I am often amazed at the people who come through some tragic loss with a vision of something God wants them to do. How many times have you heard of a parent who lost a child to some rare illness, who out of that pain, becomes an advocate for other families in similar circumstances. How many cancer survivors have taken up the cause of making sure other cancer victims have adequate support? What about you? What grief changed your life? How did God use that moment to teach you and redirect you and re-purpose your life?

Some of you can identify with Mary. On the other hand, some of you are still looking for answers. You are still looking for Jesus in the midst of your grief. I pray that you will experience His presence in the midst of your grief. I pray that He will speak to you in the midst of your grief. I pray that He will be your teacher as you as you walk through the grief process. I also pray that out of the heartache of your grief, He will lead you to discover a new sense of mission and direction for your life.

Photo by Ksenia Makagonova

Waiting for Jesus

Every time I read this story, I feel so sorry for this dad. Daddies fix things for their little girls.  But he couldn’t fix this.  He couldn’t kiss it and make it go away.  So that day, by the shore of the sea of Galilee, a dad at the end of his rope, fell down at the feet of Jesus.

And as Jesus returned, the people welcomed Him, for they had all been waiting for Him.  Luke 8:40

I like to look at a verse from the Bible and put myself in the story. How would I have felt had I been there that day? Would I have been waiting patiently or anxiously? Honestly, I guess it would depend on my circumstances. So, if I am to put myself in this story and ponder what it would have been like to wait for Jesus, I need to put myself in the shoes of some of the people who were there.

One of the people waiting was a woman who had been sick for over a decade. Think of how long she had been waiting for help or hope in her circumstances. It might be easy for you to put yourself in her shoes. You may be going from doctor to doctor, and from clinic to clinic to try to find answers for your problem. You know what it is to wait. You know the anxiety, the uncertainty, and the hurt that can follow when your wait ends in disappointment.

 Waiting Involves a Degree of Anticipation.

There was anticipation in the crowd that waited for Jesus. Some of them waited impatiently. That group would wait—but only for so long.  They were the curious, the incidental onlookers, who were simply caught up in the anticipation of the rest of the crowd. But others waited anxiously.  They counted down the hours, the minutes, and the seconds.  They strained their eyes, looking across the water to see some sign of an approaching ship.  They were all waiting.

But how long?  People today will camp out on the street for days to get a good seat at a rock concert or the latest version of an iPhone.  Those standing on the shore of the Sea of Galilee may not have waited overnight, but surely, they waited for hours. They were waiting for different reasons. Some were there with others. Some were there out of curiosity, but they were all waiting. Are you waiting for something or someone? Are you looking forward to an event, a moment, or an opportunity? Are you waiting for an answer to a prayer or the solution to a problem? If so, you also wait with a sense of anticipation. But there is a second word that describes the mood of this waiting crowd.

Waiting for Some, Involves a Sense of Desperation.

Their hearts beat with an urgency related to some need or concern. Some brought their needs with them.  Others had needs too big to carry and too urgent to be kept waiting. When you are waiting, the minutes seem more like hours. I’m sure the minutes crawled by, while the boat on which Jesus travelled meandered toward the shore. This was especially true for one man. There was a desperate need in his life. The clock was ticking in his particular circumstances, and time was running out.

And there came a man named Jairus, and he was an official of the synagogue; and he fell at Jesus’ feet, and began to implore Him to come to his house; for he had an only daughter about twelve years old, and she was dying.  Luke 8:41-42

This is one of my favorite stories in the Bible. First, because it is so real and so raw. I feel this man’s need as he made his way into the presence of Jesus. Every time I read this story, I feel so sorry for this dad. Daddies fix things for their little girls.  But he couldn’t fix this.  He couldn’t kiss it and make it go away.  So that day, by the shore of the sea of Galilee, a dad at the end of his rope, fell down at the feet of Jesus. Mark records the very words that this daddy spoke to Jesus.  He said, “My little daughter is lying at the point of death.”  Luke makes it clear that it was his only daughter. I have three daughters and six granddaughters. I know how precious little girls are to those who love them. I also know what it is to have a little girl who is sick, and I know the feeling of being helpless to do anything about it.

Jairus was an official of the synagogue.  I don’t know what it was like to be an official of the synagogue.  But I do know what it’s like to be a church official.  It becomes easy to follow the routine—to just go through the motions. But the actions of Jairus on that day were anything but routine.  These were the reckless reactions of a desperate dad. He had no watch to know how long he had been waiting, but he knew, as he waited, that time was running out.

Is time running out on something in your life? Is there an approaching deadline on the horizon? Do you find yourself waiting in desperation for some answer to prayer? If so, you know what it is to walk in the shoes of Jairus as he waited for Jesus. Are you desperate as you stand in the midst of your circumstances? How long have you been waiting for Jesus? The clock is ticking. The days are passing. As you wait with a sense of anxious anticipation, desperation mounts because you realize hope will be lost if help doesn’t come soon.

As the clock ticks here in my office, I remember several times when my family waited for Jesus. We desperately needed His help. There were moments of financial need when there seemed to be no hope. We waited in deep despair, sometimes feeling the Lord had abandoned us. The crush of the circumstances seemed more than we could bear. But those dark days afforded us glimpses of God’s glory we might never have seen had we not faced such despair. I can say from personal experience, God can take money from the mouth of a fish to provide for the needs of His people. Around thirty years ago, my wife and I paid in too little quarterly tax. At tax time, we found ourselves owing more than we could pay. I didn’t know what to do. In my desperation I reached out to a friend and mentor. I will never forget the prayer he prayed in response to our need. He said, “God, you once took money out of the mouth of a fish to pay Jesus’ tax. If you can provide for Jesus, I know you can meet the need in the life of this family.” About a week later, a deacon in our church, without any knowledge of the need in my life, walked in the back door of the church. He said, “I was in a fishing tournament this weekend. I promised God, that if I won any money in the tournament, I would give some of it to you. Every time I reeled in a fish, I said, ‘God, this one is for Bro. Eddie.’” He wasn’t there when the other man prayed! He didn’t know I owed money for my tax. But Jesus knew! The money he gave me wasn’t enough to pay my tax, but it was enough to let me know that God knew my need and was still my provider. I went to the bank and borrowed the rest of the money. I trusted God to provide for me month by month until I paid my debt.

I don’t know the need that has you waiting for Jesus. I don’t know how long you have waited or the degree of desperation that may surround your life. But Jesus knows! He knew the need that existed in the home of Jairus before that desperate dad ever fell at his feet. He also knows the need that exists in your life. That is true if you have been praying about it for months. But it is also true if you have never thought to pray before now.

In the life of Jairus, a growing sense of hopelessness mounted with every passing moment. Can you identify with the sense of desperation in that dad’s life? Let me ask you a question. When do you give up? When is it time to write off your circumstances as hopeless? When do you stop waiting for Jesus and look somewhere else? If some of you were honest, you would admit you did that some time ago. You waited and prayed as long as you could. Instead of getting better, things got worse. You gave up. I understand those feelings. I’ve been there and done that. But perhaps no character in the Bible gave up more completely in His circumstances than Jairus. He had a little daughter at home who was dying. He had been waiting for Jesus. While he waited for Jesus to come to his home, someone arrived with awful news that caused his heart to sink like a stone.

…someone came from the house of the synagogue official, saying, “Your daughter has died; do not trouble the Teacher anymore.”  Mark 8:49

It was too late! Is it too late in your circumstances? Obviously, I don’t know the Lord’s plan in your situation. However, I do know that even in our moments of devastation, we still need to wait for Jesus. I remember something Dr. Henry Blackaby said in his study, Experiencing God. He said, “You never know the truth about your circumstances until you have heard from the Truth.” Jesus is the Truth. Watch as He steps in and speaks to the devastation in the heart of Jairus.

Waiting That Ends in Disappointment Results in Devastation.

Sometimes our wait ends in crushing disappointment. We don’t understand why. We don’t understand why the Lord didn’t answer our prayer. We don’t understand why He didn’t come through as we expected. The end result is devastation. Our faith is crushed. We not only give up on our circumstances. We give up on God.

 That is exactly where some of you are. You are more than desperate.  You are devastated. You’ve been crushed by the calamity that has come into your life. When you were desperate, you at least had hope—but now even your hope has perished. Some of you don’t have to try to put your feet in the shoes of Jairus.  You have been there.  You watched a child die, or stood in the wreckage of some relationship. You know what it’s like for your heart to grow cold and dead inside you.   Is there a situation like that in your life?  Does it seem to you that your circumstances are so far gone that not even Jesus can help?

Then something happened that changed the trajectory of this story. A mom sat by the deathbed of her little girl waiting for her daddy to come back home. Her hope was gone. The messenger who came to retrieve Jairus knew all hope was gone. Any anticipation, any hope that rested in the heart of Jairus vanished at word of the death of his little daughter.

An Affirmation of Hope

But when Jesus heard this, He answered him, “Do not be afraid any longer; only believe, and she will be made well.”   Luke 8:50

For the Scripture says, “Whoever believes in Him will not be disappointed.” Romans 10:11 The quote comes from Isaiah. It occurs four other times in Scripture. In Isaiah, the word means to make haste or to act quickly. How many times have you acted quickly in some apparent disappointment. You thought the Lord let you down. So you let him down. You forsook your commitment. Then all at once, the answer dawned, and you were ashamed.

Was Jairus wrong to put his hope in Jesus? No. Jesus offered an affirmation of hope as he stood in apparent hopelessness. In the Psalm of the Cross, Psalm 22, Jesus uses the same expression in his hopelessness on the cross.  To You they cried out and were delivered; In You they trusted and were not disappointed. Psalms 22:5

With that affirmation of hope Jesus cancelled was Jarius’ fear.You don’t have to be afraid anymore.  I am sovereign over your circumstances.  I am sovereign over sickness.  I am sovereign over disease.  I am sovereign over death. Jesus cancelled fear.

The second thing that Jesus cancelled was discouragement. When He came to the house, He did not allow anyone to enter with Him, except Peter and John and James, and the girl’s father and mother.  Now they were all weeping and lamenting for her; but He said, “Stop weeping, for she has not died, but is asleep.”  Luke 8:51-52

All of those voices were contradictory to the person and work of Christ. They were not the voices of faith. They were the voices of fear and discouragement. If you have a desperate need in your life, you also have the combined voices of fear and discouragement telling you not to trouble Jesus because He can’t help you.  Those voices tell you that your circumstances are too far gone and that it is too late for Jesus to do you any good.  But in the home of Jairus, Jesus cancelled the voices of fear and discouragement.

Now consider the third thing that Jesus cancelled. He cancelled death. And they began laughing at Him, knowing that she had died.  He, however, took her by the hand and called, saying, “Child, arise!”  And her spirit returned, and she got up immediately; and he gave orders for something to be given her to eat.  Luke 8:53-55

This is the first time that in Jesus ministry that He grappled with the powers of death.  Here was a little girl whose body was still warm having not long before taken her last breath.  And there in that room, in the presence of those parents, Jesus raised that little girl. He cancelled death.

The second time that Jesus grappled with the powers of death was as a coffin was coming out of the city of Nain on the way to a cemetery to be buried. A boy was in that coffin—the only son of a widow.  He had probably only been dead a day as the dead were often buried the same day that they died.  And as the pall-bearers went by with the coffin Jesus reached out and touched it and spoke to the man in it and he sat up.  And Jesus gave that boy back to his mother.

The third time was a little more difficult.  For this time the man had been dead for more than a day and more than two.  His name was Lazarus, and he had been in the tomb for four days. His sisters were hesitant to have the stone removed, knowing the body to be in an advanced state of decay. Certainly, Lazarus was too far gone even for Jesus.  But Jesus had them roll away the stone and He cried, “Lazarus, come forth.”  And a man who had been dead for four days walked out alive.

Of course, the greatest of all of Jesus’ victories over death was his own resurrection. And the Bible speaks of a day when all who are in the graves will hear His voice 29 and will come forth; those who did the good deeds to a resurrection of life, those who committed the evil deeds to a resurrection of judgment. John 5:28-29

No situation is too hopeless for Jesus. That same Jesus, who spoke an affirmation of hope to a daddy’s heart and cancelled his fear, is speaking to your heart today to cancel yours.  That same Jesus, who walked into that home in the midst of weeping and wailing and cancelled the voice of discouragement, is here today to cancel yours.  That same Jesus, who stepped into that home and cancelled the circumstances that faced that family, is here today to cancel yours.

Now we go back to where we started. How was it that Jairus secured Jesus to step into his circumstances? He had been waiting for Jesus. Will you, or will you act quickly in your despair and disappointment? Will you judge Jesus to by what appears to be the truth of circumstances, or will you wait for a word from the Truth?

Photo by Simeon Jacobson

Soul-Troubling Sorrow

I have a vivid memory of walking with the family into the cemetery. The tiny coffin that contained the body of the baby was cradled in the arms of that grandfather and carried to the graveside.

Following Christ does not insulate you from trouble. In fact, trouble comes to all believers. When troubles come, they vary in intensity. Trouble can impact us financially, it can impact us physically, and it can also impact us spiritually. Life brings seasons of soul-troubling sorrow. I have faced those seasons in my own life. I have a daughter who is a severe diabetic and wears an insulin pump twenty-four hours a day. I have another daughter who has epilepsy and suffers from dozens of seizures daily. On one hand, you might consider those their problems and not my own. However, if you are a parent, and your children have medical issues, you know the questions, the concerns, the helplessness, as well as the sense of hopelessness it brings. When I speak of soul-troubling sorrow, I speak from personal experience.

In one of my seasons of soul-troubling sorrow, my heart was touched by the story of a woman who lived in the days of the prophet Elisha. He was a man whose character separated him from the ordinary men of his day.  His life was marked by the miraculous. In the Old Testament, the presence of a prophet brought a person a special connection with God. Therefore, a person seeking God, or direction from God, would seek God’s prophet.

In the little town of Shunem, lived a precious couple who opened their home to Elisha. He passed their home often while on assignment for God. The woman of the house had a strong sense of spiritual discernment. Whenever Elisha passed that way, she always provided him a meal. She realized there was something special about Elisha. So, as an act of kindness, they added a little upper room to their house as a resting place for Elisha from his journeys. In that room, they placed a bed, a table, and a lampstand.  Whenever he came, the woman of the home prepared him food. By opening their home to Elisha, they opened their home to the blessing of God.

For her service to God through ministering to God’s prophet, she became a recipient of a very special promise from God.  2 Kings 4:11-17 tell us of that promise and its fulfillment.

 11One day he came there and turned in to the upper chamber and rested. 12Then he said to Gehazi his servant, “Call this Shunammite.” And when he had called her, she stood before him. 13He said to him, “Say now to her, ‘Behold, you have been careful for us with all this care; what can I do for you? Would you be spoken for to the king or to the captain of the army?’” And she answered, “I live among my own people.” 14So he said, “What then is to be done for her?” And Gehazi answered, “Truly she has no son and her husband is old.” 15He said, “Call her.” When he had called her, she stood in the doorway. 16Then he said, “At this season next year you will embrace a son.” And she said, “No, my lord, O man of God, do not lie to your maidservant.”  17The woman conceived and bore a son at that season the next year, as Elisha had said to her.  2 Kings 8:11-17 (NASB)

 God rewards faithfulness, and He rewarded this faithful woman with the blessing of a son.  Across the years, Elisha came to know and love this family, as well as the child God brought into their home.

As time passed, the child grew from a babe to a young boy.  Then came a tragic day when a season of soul-troubling sorrow came into the life of this mother.  In her response to that sorrow, I find some principles that help me grapple with seasons of soul-troubling sorrow in my own life.

18When the child was grown, the day came that he went out to his father to the reapers. 19He said to his father, “My head, my head.” And he said to his servant, “Carry him to his mother.” 20When he had taken him and brought him to his mother, he sat on her lap until noon, and then died.  2 Kings 4:18-20 (NASB)

In those three short verses, we learn of the sorrow that crushed the heart of this dear servant of God.  In those days, the only medicine a sick child often received was the love of a mother.  When a child is very sick, you can sometimes feel the fever rise as you hold it in your arms. I can imagine her feelings of helplessness as she rocked back and forth with this boy in her arms, sensing, as only mothers can do, that his life was about to slip away.

Down through the years, I watched godly men and women as they struggled through their own seasons of sorrow.  In that moment when circumstances are beyond your control, and when the solution is out of your reach, the character of a person’s faith is revealed.   Observe how this dear, broken-hearted mother grappled with her sorrow.

21She went up and laid him on the bed of the man of God, and shut the door behind him and went out.  2 Kings 4:21 (NASB)

What was it about the bed of Elisha that made this mother choose that spot rather than the bed of the child or that of her own?  It is likely that this woman spent many nights in her own bed, listening to Elisha, as he made his bedside an altar where he called on the Lord.  She claimed that bed in the prophet’s chamber as an altar of her own, and she laid the body of her son before the Lord. Thus we discover our first principle of dealing with soul-troubling sorrow:

Lay that trouble before the Lord.

 She laid her son on the bed of Elisha, and she shut the door behind her.  She was not closing her eyes to the trouble that invaded her life.  She was committing it to the care of the ONLY ONE she knew who could help in her hour of need.

This was the first thing she did.  Before she made steps to do anything else, or made requests of anyone else, she laid the body of her son on the bed of the prophet and shut the door. She laid her trouble before the Lord and committed her broken heart, as well as the body of her boy, into His care.

Unless you have faced the heart-throbbing crush of some tremendous crisis, you can’t fully enter into the next verses.  They reveal an urgency, concealed by a composure, designed to protect others in that home whose faith might not be as strong as her own.

22Then she called to her husband and said, “Please send me one of the servants and one of the donkeys, that I may run to the man of God and return.” 23He said, “Why will you go to him today? It is neither new moon nor sabbath.” And she said, “It will be well.”  2 Kings 4:22-23 (NASB)

She approached her husband and requested a servant and a donkey that would provide her the opportunity to run to the man of God and return. Apparently, she never shared with him that their son was dead.  And so, when he quizzed her about why she needed to go without the presence of some special occasion, she soothed his concern with “It will be well”.

Those words reflected a deep faith in her own heart, as well as a desire to protect the heart of her husband from the distress that raged within her.  It is from those words, that I draw a second principle on dealing with soul-troubling sorrow:  First, you lay it before the Lord. Second:

Wrap That Trouble in a Cocoon of Faith and Hide it from the World.

 I have learned this from some great saints of God who were passing through periods of intense sorrow.  I have seen them wrap their sorrow in a cocoon of faith, so that if you met them on the street or if you stood beside them as they faced their tragedy or their trouble, you would never know the pain in their heart.  They become to all around them what this woman was to her husband. The influence of her faith was a calming influence, even though a storm was raging in her heart. She said to her husband. Everything is all right.  It will be well.

I have a dear friend who is a pastor. On one occasion, a grandbaby died. The little couple was crushed, as were the grandparents. I watched my pastor friend preach the funeral of that little baby. He consoled his family and the community, even as his own heart was breaking. I have a vivid memory of walking with the family into the cemetery. The tiny coffin that contained the body of the baby was cradled in the arms of that grandfather and carried to the graveside. He also shared words of comfort for the rest of us that day. He was telling us that all would be well

As this dear mother spoke those words, it was as if she was reminding herself, as well as those around her, that in the midst of her sorrow and heartache, God was in complete control. She laid her trouble before the Lord and left it in His care.

24Then she saddled a donkey and said to her servant, “Drive and go forward; do not slow down the pace for me unless I tell you.” 25So she went and came to the man of God to Mount Carmel.  2 Kings 4:24-25 (NASB)

She left the presence of her husband, in whose presence she was been calm and collected, and entered the presence of the servant with an intensity that exemplified the urgency in her heart.  There was no time to waste!  Every ounce of energy must be given to get to the man of God!  When she found him, she would be in the presence of one who could represent her before the Lord.  In her moment of soul-troubling sorrow, she sought the Lord.

This leads me to the third principle of dealing with soul-troubling sorrow: First, lay that trouble before the Lord. Second, wrap it in a cocoon of faith and hide it from the world. Third:

 Seek God With Great Earnestness and Urgency.

 Her faith was reflected in the presence of men with a calm and collected confidence. But the faith of her feet was reflected by the great earnestness and urgency with which she sought the Lord.

 When the man of God saw her at a distance, he said to Gehazi his servant, “Behold, there is the Shunammite. 26“Please run now to meet her and say to her, ‘Is it well with you? Is it well with your husband? Is it well with the child?’” And she answered, “It is well.”  2 Kings 4:25b-26 (NASB)

 Once again, attempting to hold her composure against the great burden that weighed heavy on her heart, she approached the prophet.  She repeated the words she had spoken earlier to her husband. This was not a lie because she laid her trouble before the Lord. She placed her child on that bed that where Elisha had prayed and wept before the Lord.  Now, her own tears had been poured out upon that altar, and the love of that mother’s heart lay there in the keeping of the Lord. Her spirit was willing to keep all that grief contained within the cocoon of faith, but when she saw Elisha she could contain herself no longer, and she fell at his feet.

 27When she came to the man of God to the hill, she caught hold of his feet. And Gehazi came near to push her away; but the man of God said, “Let her alone, for her soul is troubled within her; and the LORD has hidden it from me and has not told me.” 28Then she said, “Did I ask for a son from my lord? Did I not say, ‘Do not deceive me’?”  2 Kings 4:27-28 (NASB)

 This leads us to our fourth principle for dealing with soul-troubling sorrow: First, lay that trouble before the Lord. Second, wrap that trouble in a cocoon of faith and hide it from the world. Third, seek the Lord with great earnestness and urgency. Fourth:

Cling in Faith to the Feet of your Savior.

 By coming to Elisha she was coming to God. By clinging to the feet of Elisha, she was throwing her arms around the feet of her Savior.  All her hopes were in God.  She knew that her only help was in God. She didn’t need to go all over town spreading her sorrow from place to place and person to person.   There was only One who could help.  There was only One who could bear the deep sorrow of her soul! By coming to Elisha, she was coming to gain the help of God!

Sensing what happened, Elisha dispatched Gehazai with his own staff in his hand.

29Then he said to Gehazi, “Gird up your loins and take my staff in your hand, and go your way; if you meet any man, do not salute him, and if anyone salutes you, do not answer him; and lay my staff on the lad’s face.” 30The mother of the lad said, “As the LORD lives and as you yourself live, I will not leave you.” And he arose and followed her.  2 Kings 4:29-30 (NASB)

 Gehazi is not who she came for! She didn’t want the help of Elisha’s servant.  She wanted Elisha!  This leads us to our fifth principle for dealing with soul-troubling sorrow:

 Settle for no Substitutes.

 In the Old Testament, you turned to God’s Servant the prophet to turn to God.  Gehazi was the servant of God’s servant.  He was not God’s representative.  The woman needed God, not a substitute! In sorrow, you need more than a minister. You need Christ Himself!  Lay your trouble before Him.  Wrap your trouble in a cocoon of faith and shield it from the world.  Seek the face of your Lord with great earnestness and urgency.  Cling in faith to the feet of the ONE who alone is a very present help in time of trouble.   Like Jacob of old, cling to Him, and don’t let Him go until you find the blessing you need.

 31Then Gehazi passed on before them and laid the staff on the lad’s face, but there was no sound or response. So he returned to meet him and told him, “The lad has not awakened.”  2 Kings 4:31 (NASB)

 Elisha sent Gehazi with his staff which was the symbol of his own authority.  Gehazi was going in the name of Elisha, but Gehazi’s  going produced no results.  This was not Gehazi’s assignment.  It belonged to Elisha.  Some assignments are yours alone.  You can’t be represented by another.  God has a mission for you.

32When Elisha came into the house, behold the lad was dead and laid on his bed. 33So he entered and shut the door behind them both and prayed to the LORD. 34And he went up and lay on the child, and put his mouth on his mouth and his eyes on his eyes and his hands on his hands, and he stretched himself on him; and the flesh of the child became warm. 35Then he returned and walked in the house once back and forth, and went up and stretched himself on him; and the lad sneezed seven times and the lad opened his eyes.  2 Kings 4:32-35 (NASB)

This was an assignment that couldn’t be completed by sending a representative.  Elisha had to go!  Elisha had to shut the door!  Elisha had to pray!  Elisha had to touch the dead boy’s body!  Elisha had to enter into the woman’s grief! And there beside that bed, where he often prayed for God to do the miraculous, Elisha asked God to do what only He could do!

The lad was dead! The little boy, who made that home all the more delightful to Elisha, was dead!  Could Elisha raise the dead?  No! But as he prayed, he tried every method that he knew.  Elisha’s efforts represent his own earnestness to help this boy by whatever method he could, even if it meant somehow imparting life to him from his own body. Elisha’s efforts and his patience point to the persistence of his own faith in seeking God to do what was beyond the reach of any man.

The story has a wonderfully happy ending.

36He called Gehazi and said, “Call this Shunammite.” So he called her. And when she came in to him, he said, “Take up your son.” 37Then she went in and fell at his feet and bowed herself to the ground, and she took up her son and went out.  2 Kings 4:36-37 (NASB)

Here is a woman who laid her trouble before the Lord, wrapped it in the cocoon of her faith, sought her Lord with great earnestness and urgency, who clung with faith to the feet of her Savior, neither seeking nor accepting any substitute.  She found her Lord to be able and faithful.  We learn from her one final principle of handling soul-troubling sorrow:

Regardless of the Outcome Find an Occasion For Worship.

Once again, she fell at Elisha’s feet. It was an expression of her deep gratitude to God for what He had done. All of life’s sorrows don’t have fairy tale endings. Our fortunes are not always restored. The sick are not always healed. Sorrow is not always turned to joy. But whatever the outcome, saints of God down through the ages have been able to find an occasion to honor and worship God in the midst of their deepest sorrow.

Horatio Spafford was a successful lawyer in Chicago. His finances were devastated by the Chicago fire in 1871. A poor economy in 1873 made things even worse. After that, he and his family planned a trip to Europe. Business concerns kept him from making the trip with his family. He planned to join them later. However, the ship on which they travelled sank. He learned by telegram that four of his daughters died. On his way to meet his wife, the ship on which he sailed came near the spot where his daughters perished. He wrote the following words: When peace like a river attendeth my way; When sorrows like sea billows roll; Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say, “It is well, It is well with my soul.”

The words and actions of the Biblical character Job after he lost all he had, including his children, were these:

 Job got up and tore his robe and shaved his head. Then he fell to the ground in worship and said :  “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will depart.The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away; may the name of the LORD be praised.”  Job 1:20-21 (NASB)

Even in his sorrow, Job found an occasion for worship. Now, how should you handle the soul-troubling sorrow that has invaded your life? Lay your trouble before the Lord. Wrap that trouble in a cocoon of faith and hide it from the world. Seek God with great earnestness and urgency. Cling in faith to the feet of your Savior. Accept no substitutes. Finally, regardless of the outcome, find an occasion for worship. May the God who proved Himself to this dear woman also prove Himself to you!

Photo by Samuel Martins

Facing Sorrow With Faith

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.

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. 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