Pain, Sorrow, Grieving, and the Gospel

“[We do not] grieve as others do who have no hope.”  ~ 1 Thessalonians 4:13

Grief and sorrow are not wrong (see Acts 8:2 and John 11:35), but in our grief we must not exhibit hopelessness. There are plenty of Bible passages that point to the hope we have as Christians (cf. Job 11:18, 13:15; Psalm 33:22, 42:5; Prov. 23:18; Isaiah 8:17; Jeremiah 31:17; Lamentations 3:24; Romans 8:24; 1 Peter 1:3 just to name a few) and there’s something very real about this hope in our God (see Romans 5:5). It’s not just a concept to discuss but a reality to embrace.

But if we’re brutally honest with ourselves, that can sometimes be a truth that feels so far off and distant that it doesn’t feel real to us, right?

I find that term to be extremely relevant to me right now… “brutally honest.”

Without bearing the troubles of my soul for the world to see at the click of a button, let me just say that there is significant pain in my life right now–pain that brings me to my knees and confronts me with deep sorrow and heartache; pain that make me think of Romans 8:26 (out of context or not) when it talks about “groanings too deep for words”. All of us either have or will experience this sort of pain–a deep rooted, can’t shake it sort of pain.

So what do we do with it? How is this hope helpful now?

When looking at those words again–brutally honest–I think of the Psalms. Have you looked at them recently? I used to think they were just happy prayers of rejoicing, disconnected from the very real essence of the emotions that I feel when I am struggling with things deeper than my words could express.

But look again.

In Psalm 22, David is crying out “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me from the words of my groaning? O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer, and by night, but I find no rest.” (v.1-2)

We can relate to this, right? This sort of deep deep sorrow; a deep pain or impossible to describe struggle where we need God’s intervention; we need Him to step in. So what does David do about it? Does he call out for God to send down angels to take him out of his situation? Does he forsake God because He is seemingly absent in his pain and heartache? Let’s keep reading.

“Yet you are holy, enthroned on the praises of Israel. In You our fathers trusted; they trusted, and You delivered them. To You they cried and were rescued; in You they trusted and were not put to shame.” (v.3-5)

David reminded Himself of the trustworthiness of God; that God is always true to His character (Hebrews 13:8) and that when man cries out to God, they are rescued.

Now I will make one brief mention that this “rescue” is not always what we had in mind. God is not a genie in a bottle granting us the wishes we ask of Him, but we can trust that if we are going through something.. God has a reason for it. Before you write this off as just another “look at the bright side” blog, know that I have not made it to that rescue yet, but then again neither did David in Psalm 22. He was still experiencing that pain, that sorrow, that deep sense of grieving when he confessed the trustworthiness of God.

That is the hope we can have, and that–I believe–is something that 1 Thessalonians 4:13 (listed above) gets at. We grieve. We hurt. We have pain sometimes that just tears us apart, but even in that we have an abiding hope. We can look forward to a time that we are rescued, that it all will make sense. Sometimes this rescue and this hope doesn’t become a reality to some until death when they are united with Christ in Heaven, but please hear my plea:

Christian, there is hope.

I still don’t have all the answers. I still am angry with God for the pain I’m experiencing (I said we were being brutally honest, right?). I still don’t know why this is happening to me. I still wish I could do something to make this go away.

But even in the midst of all of this.. there is hope. And that is what I can cling to when everything else around me is shaking.

Take a second to read Hebrews 12:26-28; God sometimes shakes up things in our lives–relationships (ie friendships or a significant other), jobs, comforts, life plans–to establish unshakeable truths about Him in our lives; to make them real to us. To remind us that we look towards a Kingdom that cannot be shaken. That we strive, as Romans 8:19 says, with eager longing towards that day.

At the end of the day, we can have this (abiding) hope because Jesus Christ made a way for us to be reconciled to God. Jesus bore our shame, our guilt, and our suffering on the cross (1 Peter 2:24, Hebrews 12:2, Jeremiah 33:8). He is referred to as a “man of sorrows, acquainted with grief” (Isaiah 53:3). Jesus is not unfamiliar with our pain and suffering, but well acquainted with it, and because of that, we can draw near to Him (Hebrews 4:15-16).

There is hope.

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope. (Romans 15:13)

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“Would you be willing to describe the god you are pretty sure you don’t believe in?”

I found it helpful, for example, when interacting with a self- proclaimed atheist to take this approach: “I can see that you are an intelligent person. I’m inclined to think that you are interested in following the evidence wherever it goes, embracing reality, whatever it may be.” Notice that I affirmed his ability to think, and gave him the benefit of the doubt that he has some measure of interest in the truth. “May I ask you to answer a question?”

Once granted permission to pose my question, I asked, “Would you be willing to describe the god you are pretty sure you don’t believe in?” This question does several things. First, it affords me an opportunity to listen, which is both honoring to him and enlightening to me. Second, it elicits from him a clear articulation of just exactly what it is he denies, an exercise that helps me understand his mental obstacles and helps him rethink his own objections as he spells them out. After all, if we are going to have differences, it will be helpful to know exactly (and not merely imagine) where they lie. Third, it—surprisingly, to him— revealed common ground. You see the puzzled and startled look on their faces when I say to self-professed atheists who know I am a God-fearing Christian, “I don’t believe in that god either.” We still have a difference, and we both know it. But at this point, he knows I treat him with respect as a thinking human being and that we actually have some thinking in common. We have something in common to build on. I don’t believe in that god either, but now he may want to know what kind of God I do believe in.

– Sam Crabtree, Practicing Affirmation, p. 22

Why Do I Continue in Mourning?

“Why go I mourning?”—Psalm 42:9.

Can you answer this, believer? Can you find any reason why you are so often mourning instead of rejoicing? Why yield to gloomy anticipations? Who told you that the night would never end in day? Who told you that the sea of circumstances would ebb out till there should be nothing left but long leagues of the mud of horrible poverty? Who told you that the winter of your discontent would proceed from frost to frost, from snow, and ice, and hail, to deeper snow, and yet more heavy tempest of despair? Do you not know that day follows night, that flood comes after ebb, that spring and summer succeed winter? Have hope then! Ever have hope! For God fails you not. Do you not know that your God loves you in the midst of all this? Mountains, when in darkness hidden, are as real as in day, and God’s love is as true to you now as it was in your brightest moments.

No father chastens always: your Lord hates the rod as much as you do; He only cares to use it for that reason which should make you willing to receive it, namely, that it works for your lasting good. You shall yet climb Jacob’s ladder with the angels, and behold Him who sits at the top of it—your covenant God. You shall yet, amidst the splendors of eternity, forget the trials of time, or only remember them to bless the God who led you through them, and wrought your lasting good by them.

Come, sing in the midst of tribulation. Rejoice even while passing through the furnace. Make the wilderness to blossom like the rose! Cause the desert to ring with your exulting joys, for these light afflictions will soon be over, and then “for ever with the Lord,” your bliss shall never wane.

“Faint not nor fear, His arms are near,
He changeth not, and thou art dear;
Only believe and thou shalt see,
That Christ is all in all to thee.”

~ C.H. Spurgeon (from Morning and Evening, a daily devotional; words adapted for contemporary language)

7 Marks of a Right Heart Before God

1) A right heart is a NEW heart (Ezek. 36:26). It is not the heart with which a person is born—but another heart put in them by the Holy Spirit. It is a heart which has new tastes, new joys, new sorrows, new desires, new hopes, new fears, new likes, new dislikes. It has new views about the soul, sin, God, Christ, salvation, the Bible, prayer, heaven, hell, the world, and holiness. It is like a farm with a new and good tenant. “Old things are passed away. Behold all things are become new” (2 Cor. 5:17).

2) A right heart is a BROKEN and CONTRITE heart (Psalm 51:17). It is broken off from pride, self-conceit, and self-righteousness. Its former high thoughts of self are cracked, shattered, and shivered to atoms. It thinks itself guilty, unworthy, and corrupt. Its former stubbornness, heaviness, and insensibility have thawed, disappeared, and passed away. It no longer thinks lightly of offending God. It is tender, sensitive, and jealously fearful of running into sin (2 Kings 22:19). It is humble, lowly, and self-abased, and sees in itself no good thing.

3) A right heart is a heart which BELIEVES on Christ alone for salvation, and in which Christ dwells by faith (Rom. 10:10Eph. 3:17). It rests all its hopes of pardon and eternal life on Christ’s atonement, Christ’s mediation, and Christ’s intercession. It is sprinkled in Christ’s blood from an evil conscience (Heb. 10:22). It turns to Christ as the compass-needle turns to the north. It looks to Christ for daily peace, mercy, and grace—as the sun-flower looks to the sun. It feeds on Christ for its daily sustenance, as Israel fed on the manna in the wilderness. It sees in Christ a special fitness to supply all its needs and requirements. It leans on Him, hangs on Him, builds on Him, cleaves to Him, as its physician, guardian, husband, and friend.

4) A right heart is a PURIFIED heart (Acts 15:9Matt. 5:8). It loves holiness, and hates sin. It strives daily to cleanse itself from all filthiness of flesh and spirit (2 Cor. 7:1). It abhors that which is evil, and cleaves to that which is good. It delights in the law of God, and has that law engraved on it, that it may not forget it (Psalm 119:11). It longs to keep the law more perfectly, and takes pleasure in those who love the law. It loves God and people. Its affections are set on things above. It never feels so light and happy as when it is most holy; and it looks forward to heaven with joy, as the place where perfect holiness will at length be attained.

5) A right heart is a PRAYING heart. It has within it “the Spirit of adoption whereby we cry, Abba Father” (Rom. 8:15). Its daily feeling is, “Your face, Lord, will I seek” (Psalm 27:8). It is drawn by an habitual inclination to speak to God about spiritual things—weakly, feebly, and imperfectly perhaps—but speak it must. It finds it necessary to pour out itself before God, as before a friend, and to spread before Him all its needs and desires. It tells Him all its secrets. It keeps back nothing from Him. You might as well try to persuade a person to live without breathing, as to persuade the possessor of a right heart to live without praying.

6) A right heart is a heart that feels CONFLICT within it (Gal. 5:17). It finds within itself two opposing principles contending for the mastery—the flesh lusting against the spirit, and the spirit against the flesh. It knows by experience what Paul means when he says, “I see a law in my members warring against the law of my mind” (Rom. 7:23). The wrong heart knows nothing of this strife. The strong man armed keeps the wrong heart as their palace, and their goods are at peace (Luke 11:21). But when the rightful King takes possession of the heart, a struggle begins which never ends until death. The right heart may be known by its warfare, quite as much as by its peace.

7) A right heart is HONEST, UNDIVIDED, and TRUE (Luke 8:15;1 Chron. 12:33Heb. 10:22). There is nothing about it of falsehood, hypocrisy, or image-acting. It is not double or divided. It really is what it professes to be, feels what it professes to feel, and believes what it professes to believe. Its faith may be feeble. Its obedience may be very imperfect. But one thing will always distinguish the right heart. Its religion will be real, genuine, thorough, and sincere.

 ► Summary:

A heart such as that which I have now described, has always been the possession of all true Christians of every name, nation, people and tongue. They have differed from one another on many subjects—but they have all been of a right heart. Some of them have fallen, for a season, like David and Peter—but their hearts have never entirely departed from the Lord. They have often proved themselves to be men and women laden with infirmities—but their hearts have been right in the sight of God. They have understood one another on earth. They have found that their experience was everywhere one and the same. They will understand each other even better in the world to come. All that have had right hearts upon earth, will find that they have one heart when they enter heaven.
~ J.C. Ryle [Old Paths, “The Heart” (348-351)].

Misdirected Discontent

This race we’re running is tiring. In hunting our happiness and fulfillment, we’ve become the hunted. Our desire for approval and love – this disconnect in our souls – both promises and denies rest. We are trapped in a self-defeating cycle, trying to catch happiness at the expense of joy.

As believers, Jesus is our identity – our daily footing and acceptance before God. Our hope in life is His death and resurrection.

But there are moments I don’t believe this. There are moments that I say I trust in one thing but believe in another. I let my heart put hope in things other than Him – subtle things like power, respect and approval.

When I find my identity and fulfillment in things other than who He is – and who He says I am – disappointment and discontent bind me. It’s not disappointment with the object but with life at large. I blame Him for my inability to recognize my own deviation from the gospel and go right back to a pick-me-up, a novel distraction from the reality that life still isn’t what it should be.

So there I am again: frustrated that I don’t have more fruit of the Spirit in my life, annoyed at sin I still struggle with and disappointed with myself – certain that God is also. The promise of God’s love goes untried, while misdirected disappointment draws my eyes back to myself and away from Jesus. This cycle feeds a deadly misunderstanding of the gospel – that it cannot save or transform me.

The problem is that we’re moving so fast we can’t see this, and we’re lucky if we slow down enough to hear the never-ending whisper of our sinful hearts: that what we can make, who we are and what we do will satisfy us – if we just work harder. But this is not the gospel.

The gospel is hard for me and maybe for you, too. I fear, along with others, that His love is no better than mine – fickle and flimsy. Truth is, this love wants me to be full of joy to the depth of my being – and this joy is found in the depth of His.

Such elusive fulfillment is freedom to quit looking inward – and to look outward to Him. It’s like we get stuck on the first few steps onto the grass, and our feet are so tender that we can’t move forward. But His love makes our feet firm.

If you think He is too good to be true, that He might be for others but not you, then you believe a lie. God is a good and loving Father who gives good gifts to His children. He gives Himself, and that has all kinds of implications for daily life.

Dare to believe that He is good, and that His love towards you is particular, knowing and intentional. Don’t let momentary distractions steal your hope. Don’t blame disappointment on the One who came to rid you of it. Slow down and look at what and who you are trusting for your happiness, identity and worth. Your daily discontent might just be enough to expose it.

Originally posted on The Village Church blog by Mason King here: http://ow.ly/aIumi

I Was Warned By Job This Morning

I take this as a serious and sober warning to people with significant influence and respected standing in the church and community. Job was a good man. “Blameless and upright, one who feared God and turned away from evil” (Job 1:1). His fall from health, wealth, and family wholeness was not owing to an evil lifestyle.

Whatever remnants of pride lying in the bottom of Job’s glass of holiness, which God meant to expose and purge, he was a faithful man, no worse than you or I.

But he was prominent. Very prominent. He was utterly successful. He was revered by the young, and respected by the old. He had authority and great influence.

For example here is a sampling from Job 29:

  • I was in my prime, when the friendship of God was upon my tent.
  • My children were all around me.
  • My steps were washed with butter, and the rock poured out for me streams of oil!
  • The young men saw me and withdrew.
  • The aged rose and stood.
  • The princes refrained from talking and laid their hand on their mouth.
  • The voice of the nobles was hushed.
  • I delivered the poor who cried for help, and the fatherless who had none to help him.
  • I caused the widow’s heart to sing for joy.
  • My justice was like a robe and a turban.
  • I was a father to the needy, and I searched out the cause of him whom I did not know.
  • I broke the fangs of the unrighteous and made him drop his prey from his teeth.
  • Men listened to me and waited and kept silent for my counsel.
  • I smiled on them when they had no confidence, and the light of my face they did not cast down.

And God took it all away. He tested Job. Are Job’s successes — even his holy successes — his treasure? Or is God his treasure? That’s the question everyone of us must ask. And there is no reason to believe that God will not test any one of us just as he did Job.

When he takes it all away, will we love him more than things, more than health, more than family, and more than life? That’s the question. That’s the warning. That’s the wonderful invitation.

Original post from John Piper on Desiring God here: http://ow.ly/9IACm