Greg Laurie - Hope for Hurting Hearts
Why don't we grab our Bibles and turn to John chapter 11 and the title of my message is hope for hurting hearts. Well it's a day like any other day. You get out of bed, you get dressed, you have breakfast, cup of coffee, check your emails maybe, hopefully you read your Bible before that, and then it happens. That phone call out of the blue from a police officer or a friend delivering bad news, or a note on your counter from your spouse saying they want out of the marriage. A new pain in your body you had never noticed before. A call from your doctor saying he's concerned about a test that was just done on you and he wants to do some more tests.
Crisis - it hits fast, it hits hard, and it takes no prisoners. Pain has knocked on your front door, it's moved in without your permission and it refuses to leave. And this crisis that you've experienced can alter the course of your life dramatically. In fact, you wouldn't even wish it on your worst enemy, but yet it's happening to you. For Job, his whole world came crashing down on him in one day. For Joseph, it was a betrayal by his brothers that changed the course of his life. For Jesus, it was the religious leaders and one of his own friends who actually betrayed him, and for you it might be something else. You feel like you're in an unexpected, overpowering storm and your little ship is starting to capsize and you're even beginning to lose hope. It's been said, "Man can live 40 days without food, three days without water, but not even minutes without hope".
We all need hope in our life and that day happened to me. It's been 11 years now on july 24, 2008, when we heard the news no parent wants to hear that our son Christopher had left this world and had gone on to the next one that he was now in heaven. He was killed in an automobile accident. To say an event like that is devastating - it's an understatement. It's life-altering. I felt like all the air was sucked out of the room. I was in an immediate state of shock. I collapsed to the ground. I thought if I could die from hearing something, I literally could physically die from that information that was given to me and somehow I survived it and so as I was dealing with this new reality that I did not want to face, I had people who had gone through it say, "You should keep a journal".
Well I've never really had a journal, you know. When I think of journal I think of something a little kid has maybe with a little lock on it or something - a journal. So I started opening up word documents and just kind of typing my thoughts, the way I was feeling each day, and then they began to sort of take shape. And I read some other books on sudden loss and I thought, you know, I want to share this with other people, so it turned into a little book that became known as "Hope for Hurting Hearts".
Over there years I have written 70 books. I didn't say anyone has read them. I just said I've written them okay. This is probably the most important book I've ever written for this simple reason: I've heard so many stories from people who told me how it helped them in an hour of crisis and I wrote it from the valley. It's a dispatch from the valley of the shadow of death. It's not theoretical. It's real. I was very honest in the book. In fact, if I were to rewrite the book today, it'd be a much better... Not better... I'd say a much different book than it was when I wrote it and I don't think necessarily a better one because it's close to when it happened in real time.
Basically, the book talks about what happens when pain or hardship comes, and in my case, it was the loss of my son and then the hope that I found from scripture. The hope that I found from my relationship with God. The hope that has sustained me all these years and continues to sustain me as other hardships come my way, and this hope is here for all of us right here right now. You do not have to be hopeless no matter what you're facing at this particular moment.
You know, we have a generation that has been dubbed the hopeless generation - that's generation Z born from 1995 to 2008. The hopeless generation is also the most depressed generation. In fact, this generation for them antidepressants are the best-selling pharmaceuticals and they also have the highest suicide rate. Well listen, I have hope for the hopeless generation. I have hope for the millennials. I have hope for the baby boomers. I have hope for the greatest generation. It's the hope of a relationship with God through Jesus Christ, and I want to share that hope. Because I'll tell you, when you're going through hardship, the thing that helps you are not pious platitudes: the thing that will help you is the Word of God.
Psalm 38:15 the Psalmist says, "In You, o, Lord, I hope; You will hear, o Lord, my God".
Psalm 130:5, "I am counting on the Lord; yes, I am counting on him. I have put my hope in his word".
That's where we're going to find the hope - from God and from his word. I just finished a three-part series, as you know, called God's answer to fear, anxiety, and worry, and one of the points I made was 85% of the stuff you worry about will never happen to you, okay. So why stress out over that stuff? Today, I want to talk about the other 15%. When that thing that you feared actually does happen to you. When the worst-case scenario takes place. When you hear the worst news imaginable and you wonder if you can survive it. The answer is yes. Yes, you can.
For me, at first, it wasn't getting through the day. It was getting through the next five minutes. I felt like I had the weight of the world on me. I felt almost a physical weight on my chest, and I'll tell you what helped me was reading scripture. See, living in grief and grieving is a little bit like wiping out on a wave. You're in like just like this washing machine of white water and you can actually lose direction. More than one person has gone down when they should go up. So if you have a boogie board or some kind of a flotation device with you, it's probably attached to your leg. So here's what you do: if you're caught in white waters - this is a tip for summer, you might thank me later - if you're caught in white water and you have a boogie board or something, grab your leash and pull on it. Go in the direction of the leash. It will always take you to the surface.
Okay. So here's how it works for us when we're dealing with grief, we don't know which way is up, we're losing perspective, the Bible is the leash you need. You grab the Word of God and you pull on it and it takes you to Jesus. You get your head above water. You take a big gulp of air and you go, "Uh-oh. Eight more waves coming", and now you've got to under them and under them: but the point is the Word of God is what helps us in those times of need.
Well, here before us in John 11 is a story of a loved one dying. It's a story of severe grief that accompanies the death of someone you love. It's also a story of how Jesus reacts in such situations and it tells us how God can actually be glorified through difficult circumstances, but it's also a hopeful message. So we will remember that no matter what we're going through, God is going to be with you. He'll give you the strength you need in your hour of need - not necessarily before, never after - but he'll give you what need when you need it. This is the story of Mary, Martha and Lazarus.
Now, these people were personal friends of Jesus Christ. If they had cell phones in those days, they would've had his number. They would've had a text thread constantly going. Jesus liked to hang out at their house. They lived in Bethany, and he would go to their home in Bethany when he would be going into Jerusalem. Whenever he went into Jerusalem, there was conflict. There was drama. There were things going on, so he would go hang out with his friends first. By the way, Martha was a killer cook and I'm sure he loved her food as did his 12 buddies he took with him everywhere he went. So he'd just show up and Martha would whip them up a feast and Jesus liked to spend time in their home, and it can be accurately said that Mary, her sister Martha, and their brother Lazarus were personal friends of Jesus Christ. I think that's an important thing to note.
So as our story picks up, hardship has come their way. Sickness has invaded their home. John 11. "Now a certain man was sick, named Lazarus, of Bethany, the town of Mary and her sister Martha. It was that Mary which anointed the Lord with ointment, and wiped his feet with her hair, whose brother Lazarus was sick. Therefore his sisters sent unto him, saying, Lord, behold, he whom thou lovest is sick". Stop there.
So what did we learn from this? Here's point number one: is that not the most depressing point ever? Seriously. But it's true, unfortunately. Life is filled with pain and sorrow and the death of loved ones. Now, you don't know this so much when you're young, but as you get older you start seeing loved ones pass. It usually starts with your grandparents, then your parents: all very significant stages of life. But then it might be an unexpected loved one dying like a spouse or a child, and that affects you in a dramatic way. So these things do happen. You don't know when it's going to happen, but it reminds you of your own mortality. This is just a reality of life.
Point number two: Despite of hardships of life, we must remember that God loves us. You know, shortly after my son went to be with the Lord, pastor Chuck came to visit me, Chuck Smith. We sat on the steps of my home in front, and Chuck looked at me and said, "Greg, never trade what you know for what you don't know". Never trade what you know for what you don't know because when crisis hits your mind is filled with whys? Why is this happening to me? Why? Why? Why? It's not fair. Other people don't suffer like this. Why? That's what I don't know. Don't trade what I know for what I don't know.
Okay, what do I know? I know that God loves me, right. Do you know that? I know that God is in control of my life. I know that when a believer dies they go to heaven. Therefore, I know that the moment my son left this world, he entered the next one and he's there in the presence of God. I know that I will see him again. As David said when his child died, "He cannot come to me, but I will go to him," so you can spend all of your time asking the why question, the what-you-don't-know stuff, but go to what you do know and replace the what-you-don't-know thoughts with thoughts about what you do know. God loves you.
Look at verse 4, "When Jesus heard that, he said, This sickness is not unto death, but for the glory of God, that the Son of God might be glorified through it". Look at this. "Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus, therefore, when he heard that he was sick, he stayed two more days in the place where he was". Huh? What? When he heard he was sick, because he loved him, he stayed two more days in the place where he was. Now that doesn't make any sense at all to us, and in the same way when hardship hits, we're saying "Lord, where were you? Why aren't you doing something? Why aren't you engaged here? Don't you even care"?
Well, I don't know that I could answer why Jesus delayed his arrival, but here's one little thought. Jesus knew ultimately that Lazarus was going to die, and so by the time he arrives in Bethany Lazarus has been dead a number of days, but where did Lazarus go when he died? Does anyone know the answer? He went to heaven. The Old Testament version of heaven, if you will, known as Abraham's bosom, a place of comfort and bliss. So hey, Lazarus was good. Maybe Jesus thought, "I'm going to let the guy enjoy it for a little while. He'll be back here soon enough, and he won't be happy when I bring him back either".
And then there was a plot afoot to kill Lazarus because the religious leaders were angry he got resurrected by Jesus so they wanted to kill him. Man, that's miserable isn't it? So maybe he just wanted him to enjoy it a little bit longer you know. Have a little fun like when the kids are in the pool, and it's time to go and you say, "Let's go". "Oh, let us stay". "Okay. You can have 5 more minutes all right". Jesus is thinking, "Let him have a little enjoyment up there. Life is going to get hard enough for him soon". But now, here is Jesus waiting because he has a purpose in mind.
You know, one of my favorite hope verses is Jeremiah 29:11 where God says, "For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, says the Lord, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope". That phrase "A future" can be translated "An expected end". Or as another translation puts it, "A ground of hope or things hoped for". Basically, God is saying there is going to be an outcome and ultimately it will be good. Some of you are saying, "Hold on now, Greg. What possible future can I have with my loved one who has died"? Here's the answer: if they died with faith in Jesus Christ, they're not just a part of your past, they're also a part of your future because to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord. We will be reunited with loved ones again, and God will tie up the loose ends and somehow he's going to make this up to you on the other side.
Meanwhile, Lazarus is sick. Jesus is delaying his arrival, and Mary and Martha were probably looking up that road saying to their friends, "Hey, Jesus should be here any second. He'll come right down that road. He always has those 12 guys with him. They kick up a lot of dust. You'll see". They're waiting. They're waiting. No Jesus. And finally, Jesus comes strolling into town and he's days late. Not only has he missed healing Lazarus, Lazarus has died and he missed the funeral. So as he arrives in Bethany, Martha goes up to him and says the following.
John 11 verse 20, "Then Martha, as soon as she heard that Jesus was coming, went and met Him, but Mary was sitting in the house. Now Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that whatever You ask of God, God will give You.”" Jesus said, "read my lips". No he didn't say that. But he said, "I am the resurrection and the life. He that believes me in though he were dead, yet shall he live. Whosoever lives and believes in me shall never die".
So here comes Jesus greeted by Martha with this statement, "Lord, if you would've been here, my brother would not have died". Allow me to loosely paraphrase that. "Jesus, you kind of blew it. You really let us down here. We were bragging on you to our friends telling them all how awesome you are, and you don't even show up. You even missed the funeral. You could've done something", but then there's a spark of faith in there too when Martha does say, "Yet I know that whatever you ask of God, he'll give it to you".
Okay, so she's very upset with Jesus. Have you ever been upset with God? Have you ever not agreed with what God did in your life? Have you ever been disappointed with God? Maybe saying something like, "Where were you, Lord, when my parents divorced? Where were you when my marriage dissolved? Where were you when my child went prodigal? Where were you when my loved one died? Where were you when you let me buy a cat in a pet shop? Why"? I have to throw crazy stuff in every now and then. I know this is an intense message, folks, so I'll throw in wacky humor here and there. But where were you, Lord?
We feel that way and we cry out to him and I want to say this, Mary and Martha were doing the right thing. We all have our anxieties and we all have our concerns. Don't separate yourself from God and isolate yourself from other Christians, be with them and go to God in prayer with your concerns. Listen, with your complaints. With your frustrations and say, "Lord, I don't get it and I don't like it, but I believe in you and I believe you're in control and I love you but I still don't like it". It's okay. It's just honesty.
Now Jesus is going to put things in perspective. "Martha, listen to me now. I am the resurrection and the life and he that believes in me, though he were dead, yet he shall live. And whosoever lives and believes in me shall never die. Martha, listen, death is not the end". Everything doesn't end when I leave this earth. Yes, my physical life ends, but I am a soul in a body and I live on in eternity and one day heaven, according to scripture, is going to come down to the earth. Heaven and earth will become one. God has a future and a hope for every one of his followers that's why we have hope in a seemingly hopeless world.
Okay, let's go back to John 11 verse 32, "Then, when Mary came where Jesus was, and saw Him, she fell down at His feet, saying to Him, 'Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died'. Therefore, when Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her weeping, He groaned in the spirit and was troubled. And He said, 'Where have you laid him'? They said to Him, 'Lord, come and see'". Now here's the shortest verse in the Bible. "Jesus wept". Two words. Jesus wept. "Then the Jews said, 'see how he loved him'"!
For anyone who would say it's not masculine for a man to cry, I have a two-word answer: Jesus wept. Jesus of Nazareth was the most masculine man that ever walked this planet. He was The Man, but he wept because it was heartbreaking. What was heartbreaking? What was heartbreaking was what sin had done. Who was he mad at? Was he mad at Mary and Martha? I don't think so. Was he mad at the people mourning? I don't really think so. I think he was mad at the grim reaper, if you will. He was mad at death itself because this was never part of God's divine plan for us to die. If Adam and Eve had not eaten of the forbidden fruit, we would live forever. If Adam and Eve had not eaten the forbidden fruit, we would never age. If Adam and Eve had not eaten of the forbidden fruit, I would have hair right now and lots of it. Beautiful hair.
I was signing copies of my book after the service and some lady came up to me and said, "I have to ask you, how old are you"? I said, "How old do you think I am"? She said, "Well, I don't really want to say". "Well go ahead. Take a shot". She says, "72"? I'm like what?! "Seriously?"! She said, "I told you I didn't want to say". Wow. It's like thank you very much. That's all because of sin. Not her. Not her. But all the effects of sin - ageing, sickness, and of course, death.
But here's my other point: God can be glorified through human suffering and bring good out of bad. Here's the thing about hope. You think, "Where/how do you get hope"? Hope grows in the garden of adversity. Hope actually gets stronger when things get harder. You say, "That doesn't make any sense to me". Well listen, the Bible says this in Romans 5:3. "We glory in tribulations", which means we're happy when things are hard. That's not easy. Knowing that tribulation produces perseverance or endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope.
You see, when a Christian suffers and still glorifies God, it reassures the rest of us that there will never be a valley so deep that God will not get us through it. It reminds us that our faith is real and will sustain us in our hour of need. When you're going through hardship, that's when you're going to find out how real your faith actually is. Okay, I've been saying these things for years. I've been telling these things to other people. Now it's time for me to get on this little bridge called faith and put my full weight on it and then move the other foot and then the other one and I'm just hoping this bridge holds me up and I had to do that and that bridge did hold me up because everything God says in his word is true. And my faith grew stronger and my hope burned brighter and it can happen for you as well, but you must turn to God, not turn away from God.
See, that was a smart thing about Mary and Martha. They went to the Lord and that's where you need to go with your pain right now, and I'm asking you in closing, are you hopeful or are you hopeless? I talked about the hopeless generation. They have probably more materially than any generation that's ever existed. They have iPads. I'm talking about the pets have iPads now. Everybody has all these great things and so many they have a high suicide rate. What's going on? I think it's because there's all these bright, shiny, dazzling things and they quickly see the emptiness of all of it and they're wondering is there more to life than this? Well there is, but it's not in stuff: it's in a relationship with God.
You know, when you're young you say, "Well, I'm not that happy now but one day when I graduate from high school I'll be happy. I'll be fulfilled". And you graduate. "Well, I need to graduate from college". And you do that. "Well, I need to get married". Then you get married, and you're like, "Huh... Maybe I need to get remarried". So you get divorced. And I'm not making light of that, by the way, but I'm using it as an illustration.
So you remarry again. "Oh, maybe I made the wrong decision. I'll get remarried again". Then you just say, "Well, kids. We needs kids. If we had kids, we'd be happy". Then you have kids. Then you say, "If we could get rid of these kids, somehow, we'll be happy". Have you ever noticed it's always just a little beyond your reach? That's because it - that thing you're looking for - isn't out there. It's not a thing you hold in your hand. It's having Christ in your heart. That's what you're wired for. That's what you're looking for.
I'll close with this verse, and this verse is 25 chapters so be patient. No, it's just one verse. Proverbs 10:28, "The hopes of the godly result in happiness, but the expectations of the wicked are all in vain". So if you're a believer and you have your hope in Christ, it'll result in happiness: but if you're expectations are in other things, it's all in vain. Jesus has what you're looking for. He'll forgive you of all of your sin and give you hope if you're young, if you're middle-aged, if you're 72, or if you look like you're 72. Or you're 85 or you're 95. Whatever your age, the answer is the same. We need Jesus.
I want to close by offering an invitation to anybody here that may not have a relationship with God yet. You know, you've come to church and I'm glad you're at church, but going to church doesn't make you a Christian. There has to be a moment when you believe in Jesus because listen to this, life without Jesus is a hopeless end, but life with Jesus is endless hope. You've heard of the endless summer. I'm talking about endless hope. It doesn't stop. Have you asked Christ to come into your life yet? If not, why don't you do it right now? Just pray this out loud right where you are. After me, pray these words:
Lord Jesus, I know that I'm a sinner, but I know that you're the Savior. I need you in my life, Lord. Give me hope. Give me purpose. I want to begin this new relationship with you. Thank you for hearing this prayer and answering this prayer. In Jesus name I pray. Amen.