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Perspective and Comfort

What a joy it is to find just the right word for the right occasion!

These are the words from arguably the wisest man that ever lived. This 23rd verse of the 15th chapter of his collection of Proverbs ought to be tattooed on the hearts of everyone, especially anyone attempting to comfort those that have experienced the loss of a loved one.

It’s great advice for any situation— the right word for the right occasion. It’s especially important to find just the right word at times of death. Unfortunately, I’ve lost count of the times I failed at this or have been on the receiving end of words that failed— words miserably missing the mark of providing comfort and perspective at critical times. Much like the fellow on the insurance commercial, I know a thing or two because of I’ve seen a thing or two.

In the Book of Job we read where a couple of Job’s friends came to him after he suffered unimaginable loss— the loss of everything of value: property, income, health, children. Unimaginable loss. Unimaginable pain.

Job needed a lot. But what he needed most was perspective and comfort. He didn’t have it. That would be tall order. He had just experienced incredible pain, unimaginable trauma. That’s why having and being a part of a supportive community is vital, especially at times like that. We need the prayerful, loving support of others to give us the things we can’t provide for ourselves.

Perspective and comfort.

Job didn’t have it. And, unfortunately, neither did his friends. Oh, they were a comfort— initially. But they messed everything up after they opened their mouth and began to speak. As the adage goes, if you can’t improve on silence, don’t try!

What were they supposed to do? What am I supposed to do when someone is going through life’s valleys? I want to show my love and support— but how? Let me suggest that the problem is in the question. You shouldn’t try to do anything. You must allow the Holy Spirit of the Living God, that raised Jesus Christ from the dead, to speak.

A microphone doesn’t ask what it should say or do— it’s simply used by the one with the message to speak. It’s the means of communicating the message— it’s not the source. Caution: this requires that the microphone is connected so the One speaking can be heard.

The verses of the 3rd chapter of the Book of Ecclesiastes verses are universally known, even by those that aren’t religious or familiar with scripture. There’s a 60s-era song written by Pete Seeger and sung by the group The Byrds:

For everything there is a season,
    a time for every activity under heaven.

The author of Ecclesiastes doesn’t spare words or, for that matter, feelings and gets right down to addressing the primary issue facing this thing we call life. He reminds us that there’s a time to be born and a time to die.

A time to be born and a time to die.

I know that— we know that! But why? Why does it have to be this way? And, while I’m in the mode of asking questions, why does it hurt so much? Is this thing we so easily call life worth all of the associated pain? As the youth might put it, is the juice worth the squeeze?

The Amplified Version of the 11th verse of the 3rd chapter reads,

He has made everything beautiful and appropriate in its time. He has also planted eternity [a sense of divine purpose] in the human heart [a mysterious longing which nothing under the sun can satisfy, except God]—yet man cannot find out (comprehend, grasp) what God has done (His overall plan) from the beginning to the end.

Have you ever tried to make or bake something without really knowing the recipe? You may be familiar enough that you think you know but after it’s finished, it doesn’t quite taste the way mama made it. Or like the stuff you get from Ikea. It looks easy enough and straightforward. No need to bother with the instruction. That’s fine until you get to the end and find you have extra pieces and things don’t quite line-up or look like the picture on the box.

If we carefully consider the text, we will see its instructive perspective and benefit.

He has made everything beautiful and appropriate in its time. He has also planted eternity [a sense of divine purpose] in the human heart [a mysterious longing which nothing under the sun can satisfy, except God]—yet man cannot find out (comprehend, grasp) what God has done (His overall plan) from the beginning to the end.

I’ve come to see and understand— first hand, that we have a heaven-sized hole in our hearts. Nothing on this side of eternity can quench the thirst my soul longs for. As the 42nd Psalm reads,

As the deer pants for streams of water,
    so my soul pants for you, my God.

My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.
When can I go and meet with God?

Unfortunately, at least for me, this only seems to be crystal clear when the props and crutches of life that have been built-up are knocked down.

My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.
When can I go and meet with God?

I’m comforted by the knowledge that I follow and worship a savior that not just sees and understands what we go through and grieve over, but a savior that actually relates on a human, guttural level. He gets it. He experienced it.

In the 11th chapter of the Gospel of John is an interesting story of how Jesus (yes, Jesus the Christ) responds to the news of his friend Lazarus’ illness. The call went out from their sisters that their brother— Jesus’ friend was sick. Does Jesus hurry to be by his side? Nope! In fact, he stays two more days where he was at after he receives news of Lazarus’ illness.

Lazarus dies. In fact, Jesus announces his friend’s death to his group of confused followers prior to arriving. When Jesus arrives, his friend Lazarus had been dead four (count ’em, four) days! Needless to say, Martha, Lazarus’ sister was ticked!

I am so Martha! 

I not only can envision being her and saying those words, I have been in her space and said those words— you could have prevented all of this but you didn’t! What good is knowing a miracle worker if I can’t get him to do what I want when I want it?

If this were a Hollywood western, now would be the time we’d hear the music and the star would enter the scene. Something is getting ready to go down.

Jesus told her, “Your brother will rise again.”

Martha replied, “I know that he will rise in the resurrection on the last day.”

I can hear and feel the snark in Martha’s voice. I can relate. 

Don’t get religious with me, my brother is dead!

Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me will live, even though they die. Everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?”

This is where religious theory and lived faith intersect. Right here! X-marks-the-spot!

When Jesus saw her sobbing, and the Jews who had come with her also sobbing, He was deeply moved in spirit [to the point of anger at the sorrow caused by death] and was troubled, and said, “Where have you laid him?” They said, “Lord, come and see.” Jesus wept. 

Jesus wept.

It was the 16th-century Protestant theologian John Calvin who wrote, 

We undertake all things as if we were establishing immortality for ourselves on earth. If we see a dead body, we may philosophize briefly about the fleeting nature of life, but the moment we turn away from the sight the thought of our own perpetuity remains fixed in our minds.

And, as theologian and pastor Timothy Keller put it, “Death is an abstraction to us, something technically true but unimaginable as a personal reality.”

He goes on to write, I realized that my beliefs would have to become just as real to my heart, or I wouldn’t be able to get through the day. Theoretical ideas about God’s love and the future resurrection had to become life-gripping truths, or be discarded as useless.

Now’s a good time to be reminded that although Lazarus was raised from the dead, he eventually died— again. You see, the miracle didn’t prevent the inevitable: there’s a time to be born and a time to die.

Here’s the whole point: What gets us through the reality and certainty of death is perspective and comfort.

I’ve read that most experts say that anything under five years is considered fresh grief for a parent who has lost a child. For many bereaved parents, the second year can be even more difficult than the first year.

Perspective and comfort. That’s what everyone wants. That’s what everyone needs.

It was Augustine that wrote, “Thou hast made us for thyself and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in Thee.”

The person Job became was much different from the person he was prior to the loss. Was it the loss? To a certain degree, yes. Of course. But the biggest change was a result in a change of perspective. How do I know? Because he said so. After experiencing all that he had experienced he gained a perspective that can only result from being with God— our Father, Abba. In the 5th verse of the 42nd chapter,

My ears had heard of you
    but now my eyes have seen you.

Before, I knew you religiously. Now, I’ve experienced you personally.

I invite all of us to experience the comfort that only our Father can (and will) provide by sitting and being with Him.

Categories: Acts17seventeen Christian Christianity Community

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Pastor Mark

A p-k (preacher’s kid), Mark is the eighth of nine children born to Reuben and Henrietta Meeks, prolific planters of nearly 30 churches throughout the Central Valley of California. After four decades of teaching, discipling, and ministering, including to the hospitalized and imprisoned, Mark responded to God’s call to pastoral ministry. In addition to degrees in civil engineering and public administration, Mark received his Masters in Theology from Fuller Seminary.

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