April 17, 2016

By John Ulrich, Senior Pastor

John 11:17-37

In telling the story of Martha and Mary when their brother, Lazarus, becomes ill and dies, the apostle John gives us a glimpse into God’s perspective of grief (John 11:17-37).  Although Jesus already knew that He was going to raise Lazarus from the dead, when seeing these sisters in grief, He “was deeply moved in spirit and troubled”…and “Jesus wept” (John 11:33,35).  Even the Jews could see “how he loved them” (John 11:36).

Four truths in this passage about grieving:

1.  Grief is normal.

Grieving is the long-term process of working through a big loss, such as death, divorce, careers, health and lifestyle.  It is a normal process to grieve loss.

Grief is really a gift from God. Our loving Creator has made it so that our brain does not let all grief in at once; it comes in waves.

2.  Grief is Christian.

Jesus does not rebuke the sisters for questioning God’s goodness: “Lord, if you had been there, my brother would not have died” (John 11:21,32). Instead, He grieves with them.  There is a time for sorrow…”a time for everything, a season for every activity under heaven…a time to weep” (Ecclesiastes 3:1,4).

Grieving is a time when we reflect on our most basic Christian values and beliefs — ”What do I really believe?”  Working through the doubt, denial, anger, etc. toward God, when we are grieving, is one of the best things we can do for strengthening our faith and our character.  God can use grief to grow us.

3.  Jesus helps us in our grief.

Although Jesus does not answer all the questions of Mary and Martha, He recognizes and feels the brokenness of this world as he enters the grief of the two sisters and ministers to them (John 11: 33-36).

The God of this universe will help each one of us in grieving:

  • through His comforting Word in Scripture;
  • through His people (calling, visiting, etc.);
  • through His Son, “a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering,” and He is actually willing to carry our sorrows (Isaiah 53:3,4) if we will allow Him (“Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you 1 Peter 5:7).

4.  Grief is an opportunity to minister.

“Rejoice with those who rejoice and mourn with those who mourn” (Romans 12:15).  Grief is an unavoidable process that is best shared with someone else. Here at Grace Community Church we reach out to folks who might be grieving through the Stephen Ministry and the Grief Share Ministry.

Bill Rieth shared stages of grieving from the Stephen Ministry:

What do we first say to someone who is grieving? Avoid asking, “How are you?” To help them gently open up, try, “It’s good to see you. Fill me in on what’s going on.” Be aware and sensitive to whatever phase of grief the person is in.

  1. Shock or denial – They might be in a fog. Use Agape love, other-focused, unconditional love, with plenty of room for silence. A touch on the hand, an arm around the shoulder, a hug are usually appreciated. It is not about what you say…just be there. Accept the grieving person for who they are and whatever they have to say.
  2. Recoil – They switch back and forth between denial and acceptance. It could last 18-24 months with such experiences as waves of grief, disorientation, guilt, anger, loneliness, distraction and depression. Be available in person or with technology. Be aware of their important dates and do something special for them. Encourage them to get their difficult feelings out. Guard against platitudes and clichés.
  3. Rebuilding – The grieving person has more good days than bad days. They start making decisions and reconnecting with friends again. Encourage them to express feelings. Do not avoid talk about the deceased for fear of causing them pain.

Remember:  It is not about being perfect in helping others with their grieving.  It is about loving and pursuing one another.

Prayer:  May we love one another as we walk through the difficult times of life. Help us to show others that You care, and that their grieving matters.