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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Help, Lord

“Help, Lord.”—Psalm 12:1.

The prayer itself is remarkable, for it is short, but seasonable, sententious, and suggestive. David mourned the fewness of faithful men, and therefore lifted up his heart in supplication—when the creature failed, he flew to the Creator. He evidently felt his own weakness, or he would not have cried for help; but at the same time he intended honestly to exert himself for the cause of truth, for the word “help” is inapplicable where we ourselves do nothing. There is much of directness, clearness of perception, and distinctness of utterance in this petition of two words; much more, indeed, than in the long rambling outpourings of certain professors. The Psalmist runs straight-forward to his God, with a well-considered prayer; he knows what he is seeking, and where to seek it. Lord, teach us to pray in the same blessed manner.

The occasions for the use of this prayer are frequent. In providential afflictions how suitable it is for tried believers who find all helpers failing them. Students, in doctrinal difficulties, may often obtain aid by lifting up this cry of “Help, Lord,” to the Holy Spirit, the great Teacher. Spiritual warriors in inward conflicts may send to the throne for reinforcements, and this will be a model for their request. Workers in heavenly labour may thus obtain grace in time of need. Seeking sinners, in doubts and alarms, may offer up the same weighty supplication; in fact, in all these cases, times, and places, this will serve the turn of needy souls. “Help, Lord,” will suit us living and dying, suffering or labouring, rejoicing or sorrowing. In Him our help is found, let us not be slack to cry to Him.

The answer to the prayer is certain, if it be sincerely offered through Jesus. The Lord’s character assures us that He will not leave His people; His relationship as Father and Husband guarantee us His aid; His gift of Jesus is a pledge of every good thing; and His sure promise stands, “Fear not, I WILL HELP THEE.”

~ C.H. Spurgeon (From Morning and Evening, a daily devotional)

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)].