Surviving Grief

Starting October 2 the Bible in a Year Blog will resume daily posts that follow a one-year Bible reading plan. You can find a link to the reading plan here. We will read through the New Testament first, and then on January 1 will begin daily posts covering the Old Testament with the final OT post on October 1 of 2019. Now would be the time to commit to a plan of reading the Bible all the way through in one year. You will read about three chapters a day on average. The Bible in a Year Blog will provide helpful commentary for your daily reading. If you prefer to start with the Old Testament first, plan on joining us on January 1.

How long, Lord? Will you forget me forever?
How long will you hide your face from me?
How long must I wrestle with my thoughts
and day after day have sorrow in my heart?

Psalm 13:1-2

“How can I survive the pain of my loss?”

I first knew grief when my dog died when I was 13 years old. No one could have prepared me for that pain, even though every person will experience grief. Similar to Kubler-Ross’s stages of dying, grieving persons pass through a variety of emotions and thoughts. Denial, anger, bargaining with God to change the outcome, depression, and hopefully a final acceptance. Many persons in the Bible suffered great loss and sadness, including Job, Naomi, and David. Even Jesus mourned for Lazarus, weeping over the death of his friend and the grief of the family members.

Grief is a normal response to loss and its pain. There is nothing wrong with grieving. Times of grief serve a purpose. Ecclesiastes says that the living should take account of death and learn from it for it is the end of all mankind. Grief gives us a new perspective on life. But we should remember that grief is meant to be temporary and that “rejoicing comes in the morning” (Psalm 30:5). Grief has meaning, but it also has limits.

The Bible account of King David’s life includes two grief experiences which were very different. First came the death of his and Bathsheba’s son after their adulterous affair. David fasted and prayed for the child for a week as the boy lay dying, but after his death David moved on.

His servants said to him, “What is this thing that you have done? You fasted and wept for the child while he was alive; but when the child died, you arose and ate food.” He said, “While the child was still alive, I fasted and wept, for I said, ‘Who knows whether the Lord will be gracious to me, that the child may live?’ But now he is dead. Why should I fast? Can I bring him back again? I shall go to him, but he will not return to me.” 2 Samuel 12:21-23

Years later when his son, Absalom, rebelled against his father and then died in battle, David’s grief experience was very different. At a time when his nation needed him to show leadership, the king was incapacitated by pain and loss.

It was told Joab, “Behold, the king is weeping and mourning for Absalom.” So the victory that day was turned into mourning for all the people, for the people heard that day, “The king is grieving for his son.” And the people stole into the city that day as people steal in who are ashamed when they flee in battle. The king covered his face, and the king cried with a loud voice, “O my son Absalom, O Absalom, my son, my son!” Then Joab came into the house to the king and said, “You have today covered with shame the faces of all your servants, who have this day saved your life and the lives of your sons and your daughters and the lives of your wives and your concubines, because you love those who hate you and hate those who love you. For you have made it clear today that commanders and servants are nothing to you, for today I know that if Absalom were alive and all of us were dead today, then you would be pleased.” 2 Samuel 19:1-6

In the first case, David took his mourning to God, but in the loss of Absalom it appears he grieved alone. When his baby died, David took an eternal perspective on his loss and was able to accept it. When Absalom died, he may have been locked in a dark present without hope in the future.

Sharing our loss and pain with others is an important part of successful grieving. When we keep our anger or pain inside, it eventually comes out in unhealthy ways such as depression. Too often the hurting shun others leading to increased feelings of isolation and misery. But some studies suggest that the best way to overcome the worst cases of grief is for the survivor to retell the story of their loved one’s death. The body of Christ eases the burdens of its individual members (Galatians 6:2) and can “mourn with those who mourn” (Romans 12:15).

We also need to share our loss with God, and we are given an excellent example of how to do this in the laments found in the book of Psalms. Psalm 13, quoted above, and Psalm 3 are good examples. Following their outline, we begin by describing our struggle or conflict. We tell God openly and honestly of our anger, hurt, or sadness. We lay our need before him. We acknowledge God’s presence with us, and then we praise him for his faithfulness.

Do you know someone locked in grief, or are you grieving yourself? Here are some Biblical principles to help you grieve successfully:

  1. Give your hurt to Jesus.  “Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows.” Isaiah 53:4
  2. Keep a heavenly perspective. “Sorrow not, even as others which have no hope.” Thessalonians 4:13
  3. Do not lock yourself in the past.  “Reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.”  Philippians 3:14
  4. Accept the promises of God. “Therefore the redeemed of the LORD shall return, and come with singing unto Zion; and everlasting joy shall be upon their head: they shall obtain gladness and joy; and sorrow and mourning shall flee away.” Isaiah 51:11

Give sorrow words; the grief that does not speak knits up the o’er wrought heart and bids it break. – Shakespeare

All the art of living lies in a fine mingling of letting go and holding on. – Havelock Ellis

“She was no longer wrestling with the grief, but could sit down with it as a lasting companion and make it a sharer in her thoughts.” – George Eliot

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Activating your gifts: Romans 1

Starting October 2 the Bible in a Year Blog will resume daily posts that follow a one-year Bible reading plan. You can find a link to this reading plan here. We will read through the New Testament first, and then on January 1 will begin daily posts covering the Old Testament with the final OT post on October 1 of 2019. Now would be the time to commit to a plan of reading the Bible all the way through in one year. You will read about three chapters a day on average. The Bible in a Year Blog will provide helpful commentary for your daily reading. If you prefer to start with the Old Testament first, plan on joining us on January 1.

For I long to see you, that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to strengthen you, that is, that we may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith, both yours and mine.  Romans 1:11-12

“How do I use my spiritual gift?”

Romans 1 is not the usual text for discussing spiritual gifts, but it mentions the use of gifts before any other passage in the Bible. The principle of first mention states that the first appearance of a word in the Bible often carries significance, and that is true for this passage. I would like to thank John Piper for highlighting this unique text on spiritual gifts and for exploring it further in the corresponding passage from I Peter.

Romans 1 points out that the purpose of our spiritual gifts is strengthening one another, and in particular strengthening one another’s faith. The exercise of my gift is meant to make your faith stronger. The verse emphasizes the purpose of the gift rather than the gift itself. Piper says, “You shouldn’t bend your mind too much trying to label your spiritual gift before you use it… The way to think is this: the reason we have spiritual gifts is so that we can strengthen other people’s faith; here is someone whose faith is in jeopardy; how can I help him? Then do or say what seems most helpful.” Think about how this empowers the believer. You don’t need a complete understanding of your gifts before you use them. You do what you can in words or by deeds at that moment, as God gives  you the ability to do it, to meet the present need. You aren’t limited to a specific gift but act as God gives you the power to act at that time to meet the immediate problem.

God’s grace is the power that fuels our gifts. Piper says that grace is the currency in God’s household and that spiritual gifts are abilities by which we receive the grace of God and disburse that grace to others. Look at I Peter:

As each one has received a special gift, employ it in serving one another as good stewards of the manifold grace of God. Whoever speaks, is to do so as one who is speaking the utterances of God; whoever serves is to do so as one who is serving by the strength which God supplies; so that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom belongs the glory and dominion forever and ever. I Peter 4:10-11

In Paul’s analogy we are the stewards. The house in which we serve is Jesus Christ’s church, meaning the whole community of believers and not just the space within the church building. The fund we control and use, our currency, is God’s grace, and we employ the fund by exercising our spiritual gifts. There are two main areas in which we disburse God’s grace:

  • with our words; “Whoever speaks… speaking the utterances of God”
  • with our actions; “whoever serves… serving by the strength which God supplies”

It’s true that other passages such as Romans 12, I Corinthians 12, and Ephesians 4 list specific ways that the Holy Spirit enables us to use our words (preaching, teaching) or actions (mercy, giving); but in Romans 1 and I Peter 4 we see the purpose and main thrust of spiritual gifts. We use them to strengthen another’s faith. We do it by speaking God’s word or by acting in God’s power, and the result is that God will be glorified. Don’t get too hung up on what gift you will use. Instead, in the moment of another’s need, give grace as God enables you by word or deed in order to strengthen that person.

As God’s children, we are not to be observers; we’re to participate actively in the Lord’s work. Spectators sit and watch, but we are called to use our spiritual gifts and serve continually. – Charles Stanley

 

When the house is on fire, don’t tell me what your spiritual gift is. Just grab a hose and put out the fire. – Andy Stanley

Proofs of Belief: I John

First, some important news. Starting October 2 the Bible in a Year Blog will resume daily posts that follow a one-year Bible reading plan. We will read through the New Testament first, and then on January 1 will begin daily posts covering the Old Testament with the final OT post on October 1 of 2019. Now would be the time to commit to a plan of reading the Bible all the way through in one year. You will read about three chapters a day on average. The Bible in a Year Blog will provide helpful commentary for your daily reading. If you prefer to start with the Old Testament first, plan on joining us on January 1.

“How can I know that my salvation is secure?”

Doubt plagues all believers at some time. For some it is a frequent occurrence. How can a Christian have assurance of their salvation? With the book of First John as a starting point, let’s look at how some great writers have answered the question.

The book of First John provides seven tests that a believer can use to confirm his salvation. First there is the test of obedience: “And hereby do we know that we love him, if we keep his commandments” (I John 2:3). True faith leads to action; it isn’t abstract or theoretical but practical. Next comes the test of brotherly love: “We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love our brothers. Anyone who does not love remains in death” (I John 3:14). As you consider these tests, note that salvation is not a result of these behaviors. Rather, the existence of these behaviors reveals our born-again condition. Because we have the Holy Spirit we are able to love our brothers as we should. John also wrote about the test of the Holy Spirit. Those who are saved receive the Holy Spirit, and the Spirit within them testifies to the truth of their salvation (3:24, 4:13).  Additional tests in First John are the test of faith (believing the Gospel), the test of confession (being willing to admit our sin), the test of worldliness (hating the ways of the world and instead devoting ourselves to Jesus), and the test of habitual sin (no one who belongs to God continually repeats the same sin without remorse or repentance).

John MacArthur provides a series of questions to ask yourself:

  1. Have I experienced the leading, encouraging, assuring work of the Holy Spirit in my  life?
  2. Have I experienced any aspects of the fruit of the Spirit?
  3. Have I known and shown love for other members of the body of Christ?
  4. Has my heart longed to commune with God in prayer?
  5. Do I  have a love for God’s word and are its truths clear and compelling to me?

John Piper mentions five New Testament texts that deal with assurance:

  1. Romans 8:7-9. Do you submit to God’s commands or are you rebellious?
  2. I Corinthians 12:3. Is Jesus really your Lord? Do you seek His will in all things?
  3. Romans 8:15-16. Do you have a humble confidence before God that casts out fear? Do you cry out, “Abba, Father!”?
  4. I Corinthians 2:14. Do things of the Spirit attract you? Are you hungry for His truth and His fellowship and His power in your life?
  5. I John 4:7. Do you love people? Do you have good will toward them? Do you find fulfillment in working for the joy of their faith?

Charles Spurgeon urged his listeners to first examine their public life. Was it full of dishonesty, stealing, swearing, or drunkenness, or taking God’s name in vain, or failure to keep the Sabbath? Then he said they should look at their private life. Were they praying, studying the Bible, meditating on God, or were they a stranger to God and spiritual matters? Going deeper, “Hast thou ever wept over thy lost condition? Hast thou ever bemoaned thy lost estate before God? Say, hast thou ever tried to save thyself, and found it a failure? and hast thou been driven to rely simply, wholly, and entirely on Christ? If so, then thou hast passed the test well enough.” Finally, he asked, can you say that Jesus Christ is in you? If not, you are lost. “But if Jesus Christ be in thy heart, though thy heart sometimes be so dark that thou canst scarcely tell he is there, yet thou art accepted in the beloved, and thou mayest ‘rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory.’ ”

Finally, put yourself on trial. If you were brought before the jury, and asked to give proof of your belief, could you do it? Would you have evidence to present of the change in your heart, in your thoughts, and your habits? Would those closest to you be able to give convincing testimony? What would your checkbook say about your priorities? What would you, yourself, say about the changes in your attitudes since you met Jesus? If these questions give you only doubts rather than conviction, today is the day to erase your fears and confirm your salvation. If, instead, you do well on today’s tests, then celebrate your victory and keep these proofs close in your thoughts so that you may be well equipped to persevere in your faith.