Robert Jeffress - Moving From Grief to Acceptance
Hi, I'm Robert Jeffress and welcome again to "Pathway to Victory". No one is exempt from grief. It doesn't matter how much money you have or the level of fame you attain, or the kind of medical attention you receive. It's impossible to escape the inevitable seasons of sadness and sorrow. So today I'm going to show you what the Bible says about overcoming painful moments of loss and loneliness. My message is titled "Moving from Grief to Acceptance," on today's edition of "Pathway to Victory".
A young New York assemblyman surrounded by well-wishers and flashing a toothy grin stood on the floor of the house and re-read the telegram that had just arrived. His wife had given birth to their first child the night before. He was overjoyed. But before leaving for home, he had a few more bills to guide through the legislature. A few hours later, a second telegram arrived, still smiling, he began to read it. The sparkle in his eyes suddenly disappeared. His face turned grave. He must hurry home. His mother and wife were both dying in the same house. He ran to the station and jumped on the first train to New York city, arriving at Grand Central Station at 10:30 that evening. He ran through the fog covered streets to his home on west 57th street. His house was dark, a single gas light flickered on the third floor.
Rushing upstairs he found his wife semi-comatose. Taking her in his arms and listening to her labored breathing, he pleaded with God to spare his wife's life. At two in the morning, a message came from downstairs. If he wanted to see his mother one last time he needed to do so now. An hour later, his mother died from typhoid fever. Gazing into the lifeless face of his beloved mother, he said to his brother, "This house is cursed". Heartbroken he trudged back upstairs into his bedroom where his wife laid between life and death. She held on for 12 more hours, finally succumbing to bright's disease at 2:00 in the afternoon. That evening, February the 14th, 1884 valentine's day, he opened his diary, scrawled a large X on the page and wrote beneath it, "The light has gone out of my life".
On the day he dedicated to the celebration of life, Theodore Roosevelt mourned the loved ones he lost. Though he would go on to heroics in the Spanish American war, serve as governor of New York, as vice-president and then president of the United States, remarry and father five additional children, Theodore Roosevelt never fully recovered from the losses he suffered on that valentine's day. All of us are going to suffer some kind of loss and experience the accompanying grief. How do we keep grief from overshadowing every other aspect of our life?
Well, today, as we continue our series, "Invincible," I thought it would be a good day to talk about a common experience we all have, losing a loved one and discover the road that leads from grief to acceptance. The fact is every one of us is going to die, unless we're a part of the rapture. Every one of us rapture or no rapture is going to experience the death and the sorrow that comes from losing a loved one. Let me mention four stages of grieving that the Bible mentions specifically. First of all, shock, shock. When we learn of the death of a loved one whether that death was anticipated or not, it carries with it a sense of shock altering our reality. Eventually that initial shock gives way to despondency. Another word for despondency is apathy. Some people talk about the laziness of grief, that's despondency.
There's a third stage and that's regression. There comes a point when somebody who is grieving, although they seem like they're making progress through the tunnel, it sounds like they're going backwards. They regress, they start to become angry. By the way, when somebody is going through this, be very careful about what you say. This isn't the time to give them answers to questions they're not asking you. There'll be a time maybe to share God's perspective on death, but unless they specifically asked you to this isn't the time to be preaching to people. And then finally, a fourth stage is adaptation. The time when a person gets to a new normal. Notice, I didn't say they start feeling normal. People who are grieving they've asked me, "Pastor, how long will it take until I start to feel normal again"? My answer is forever, you'll never feel normal again. That's like asking an amputee, "When will you stop missing that limb you lost"? Well, never, never. It's the same way when you lose a loved one but there is a new level of normalcy that you will experience.
The Psalmist described it in Psalm 30:5, "Weeping may last for the night, but a shout of joy comes in the morning". If you have your Bibles turn to John chapter 11, because here we see a great case study in moving from grief to acceptance. And the story is a familiar one, John 11, beginning with verse one John writes, "Now a certain man was sick, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister, Martha. It was Mary who anointed the Lord with ointment and wiped his feet with her hair, whose brother Lazarus was sick". Jesus loved in a special way Mary, Martha and Lazarus. Did you know Jesus has favorites? Has people he enjoyed being with more than other people, just like you do and I do. He loved this family, he hang out with them in Bethany, as often as he was able to. And that's why it was only natural when Lazarus, the brother became sick, that the sisters would send word to him.
Verse three, saying, "Lord behold, he whom you love is sick". Your good friend Lazarus is sick. Lord we knew you'd want to know about it since you like him so much, and we knew you'd want to come and heal him. They thought Jesus would get there as quickly as possible. They sent word a day passed, no response. Lazarus died, they buried him. The second day passed, the third day passed, the fourth day passed and finally Jesus came too late to do any good or at least that's what the sisters thought. And when Martha saw Jesus, she gave him a piece of her mind she couldn't afford to lose. Look at what happened, he was confronted by Martha who said in verse 21, "Lord, if you had just been here, my brother would not have died".
Don't sugar coat this, she was angry at Jesus. By the way, did you know God's big enough to handle your anger? Don't worry that you're going to hurt God in some way if you express your true feelings to him, he's big enough to handle your anger. Nothing wrong with telling God how you feel. But even in her anger, her faith in Christ wasn't eclipsed at all. In verse 22 she said, "'but even now I know that whatever you ask of God, God will give you'. Jesus said to her, 'your brother will rise again'. Martha responded, 'i know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day'". I know that resurrection is coming, but I need help from you now. And so they took Jesus and he stood before the sepulcher, where the Lazarus was buried. And the shortest verse in the Bible verse 35, "Jesus wept".
If grieving, weeping over the loss of a loved one is sinful. If it's an act of a lack of faith, then Jesus is sinful and he can't be our Savior, but grieving isn't sinful, it doesn't show a lack of faith. Grieving is a natural response to loss. Even Jesus who knew in a few moments, he was going to raise Lazarus from the dead, Jesus wept. Now I want to switch audiences for a moment. I've been talking about those of you who are grieving, but I want to talk to those of you who want to help somebody who is grieving. Do you know that is our calling by the way? The apostle Peter who says, "We are a royal priesthood". Did you know the church is filled with all kinds of priests. You're a priest, I'm a priest, we're all priests. Our job, our ministry is to represent God to other people. God's plan for caring for the body of Christ was not just add the paid professional staff members do it. We're to all care for other Christians who are hurting.
In Second Corinthians 1:4 Paul writes, "God comforts us in all of our affliction so that we can comfort those who are in any affliction with the comfort by which we ourselves are comforted". God wants you to know how to minister to others who are grieving. How do you do that? Let me give you real quickly what I call the ABCs of comforting those who are grieving. The a stands for act genuine. Sometimes we're hesitant to reach out to people who are hurting 'cause we say, "I just don't know what to say, I don't want to say the wrong thing". Don't worry about that. Don't worry about your words, just be honest. If you were shocked to hear the death, tell the person, "I was so shocked to hear this". If you don't know what to say, confess that you really don't know what to say. If you want to hug them, do that or if you want to say nothing, do that but just act genuine.
Secondly, the B stands for Be Quiet. We Christians love to talk a lot, we think there's healing in talking. If we just talk and say the right words, we can instantly heal the grief that a person is experiencing. Sometimes we worry about what to say. Don't worry about what to say, sometimes the best thing to say is nothing. Seek comfort by being supportive. Remember it's you not your words that are grieving person needs. Haddon Robinson tells a story of a little girl whose best friend or playmate died. One day, the little girl told her parents that she had comforted the grieving mother. The father were surprised. He said, "Well, what did you say to her"? "Nothing," the little girl said, "I just crawled up into her lap and cried with her". That's what we need sometimes. Somebody who will comfort us by being supportive.
And the D stands for do something practical. If you want to minister to somebody who's grieving, do something practical. Sometimes the best thing you can do for somebody who's grieving is the dishes. Don't ask them by the way, "Is there something we can do to help you"? A person who is grieving is in too much of a fog, many times to be able to think clearly, don't ask just to do it. There's a meal to be delivered, deliver it. If there's a lawn that needs cutting, cut the lawn. If kids need to be picked up, pick them up. For those of you who are grieving though today or we'll be at some point in the future, I want to talk in these final moments about the road that leads from grief to acceptance. Now I'll be honest with you to just spit out five principles for moving from grief to acceptance sounds almost robotic, but I do want to share some things with you from God's word that I've discovered after 40 years of pastoring, may bring some help to those of you who are grieving or will in the future. And I summarized it in this acrostic that spells out grief, G-R-I-E-F, grief, wanted to be sure I spelled that correctly.
The G stands for give voice to your emotions. If you're grieving, don't be the stoic give voice to your emotions. You may feel like you're in a deep pit of despair. Some people respond to that pit in one of two ways, some people respond with indifference. They just decide they don't want to feel anything. They'll go through the rest of their life semi-comatose, that's one extreme. Other people are feeling despair so acutely that they check out of life in a different way. The ultimate way through suicide. That is never the answer. Remember suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem. There is no more unloving, hateful thing you could do for those you love than to take your own life. How do you avoid either extreme? Psalm 120:1 declares, "In my trouble I cried to the Lord and he answered me". Cry out to the Lord, give voice to your emotions. God said, "I will answer you not immediately sometimes, but ultimately".
The R stands for Remember simple truths and practices. When you're grieving, go back to the basics, remember simple truths and practices. I remember reading a couple of years ago about an actress who was walking up the red carpet to the Oscar ceremony and she fainted unexpectedly. The paramedics surrounded her, they asked her what happened. She said, "I forgot to breathe". Sometimes when you're in a stressful situation, you forget the basics. What are the basics for Christians? Number one, pray. Pray when you're grieving. If you don't know what to pray just read the Psalms and make them your prayer to God. Pray. The second P stands for praise. You know, in Psalm 13:1 the Psalmist said, "Lord, how long will you hide your face from me"? But in verse six, the Psalmist turned to praising God for the good things he had done for them. Think of some things you can praise God for and then promises, claim the promises of God when you're grieving. John 11:25, "I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me though he were dead yet shall he live again". Or second Corinthians 5:8, "We were of good courage, I say and rather to be absent from the body and to be at home with the Lord". Remember your simple truths and practices.
The I in grIef stands for involve others in your grief. Please listen to this. There's only one person who thinks you need to take time off when you're grieving from church, who thinks you need to isolate yourself. The only person who believes that is Satan. He wants to destroy you and he knows if he can isolate you from the care and concern of other Christians, he can attack you and he can destroy you. If ever there is a time we need other people it's when we're grieving. Ecclesiastes 4:9-10 says, "Two are better than one because they have a good return for their labor. For if either of them falls, the one will lift up his companion. But woe to the one who falls when there is not another to lift him up". There's encouragement that comes church when we're together, worshiping together. But not only that, the body of Christ First Baptist Church, Dallas has some ways to help you as you go through the grieving process. Involve other people in your grief, don't try to go through that dark tunnel by herself.
The E in griEf stands for eat dress and sleep. I say that because we are physical beings, we have to care for ourselves physically during the grieving process. You know, don't sit around in your bathrobe and your pajamas for weeks and months at a time. You need a routine, you need to sleep and yes, you need to eat as well. And I know what you're thinking. You're thinking, "Where in the Bible does it say, I need to eat". I'm so glad you asked, it's in acts chapter 27. Remember Paul was on that ship going from Jerusalem to Rome, he was a prisoner and that ship was battered by a storm for two weeks and the people were so terrified they forgot to eat and notice this word of encouragement in Acts 27:33. Paul said to the group, "Today is the 14th day that you have been constantly watching and going without eating having taken nothing. Therefore, I encourage you to take some food. He then took bread, gave thanks, broke it and ate as did everyone on board. And they were," what? "Encouraged". If you're grieving, take some food, take some nourishment. Some of you are going to take this verse that I didn't know I was grieving but I am, I'm going to eat today and enjoy a big meal, that's okay. That's biblical, God created us as physical, as well as spiritual beings.
F in grief and this is so important. Forgive others. Hurting people, hurt people. The natural reaction if you're grieving is proud to make somebody else's miserable as you are, to lash out against them. That's why many times those who are going through the grief process want to blame a doctor or a drunk driver or a negligent family member or a church that's unresponsive. And they stall the grieving process and the healing process. Now listen to this, Hebrews 12:15 says, "See to it that no one of you come short of the grace of God. That no root of bitterness springing up causes trouble and by it many be defiled".
Listen to me, when you go through a heartache in your life, when you lose a loved one, when somebody hurts you, when you go through heartache, God gives you an extra measure of his grace to get you through that hurt, that disappointment. You get an extra measure of God's grace. But when you choose to be bitter and angry towards somebody, that bitterness neutralizes the healing power of God's grace. It's making a choice that completely stalls the healing process. That's why the writer says, "Don't come short of the grace of God and allow bitterness to take root in your heart".
Choosing to forgive somebody who may have a responsibility, they may have acted wrongly in the loss of your loved one. But having that root of bitterness will hurt you much more than it does the one who wronged you. Make the choice to forgive. When it comes to conquering the mountain of grief and moving from grief to acceptance, I think we all should remember what a friend of mine wrote some years ago. He said, "God's answer to grief is not a philosophy but a person, not something but someone, not a word but the word, not a myth but the Messiah, not commentary but the cross, not human reason but divine resurrection. God's answer to grief is Jesus".