We at St. Paul have much grief to deal with over the last few months. As I find myself looking for comfort and guidance, would like to share with you my journey as a Pastor who grieves alongside with you. In the October newsletter, I discussed how Jesus handled grief. For the November newsletter, I talked about finding the freedom to grieve and showing grief. And so, to finish up my discussion on grieving, I want to share with you how to move from grief into action, and moving on to life’s real purpose.
Let me start with a scripture from Nehemiah 1:1-10
Moving from Grief into Action:
Nehemiah 1 (CEB)
Loss of Jerusalem
1 These are the words of Nehemiah, Hacaliah’s son. In the month of Kislev,[a] in the twentieth year,[b] while I was in the fortress city of Susa, 2 Hanani, one of my brothers, came with some other men from Judah. I asked them about the Jews who had escaped and survived the captivity, and about Jerusalem. 3 They told me, “Those in the province who survived the captivity are in great trouble and shame! The wall around Jerusalem is broken down, and its gates have been destroyed by fire!”
4 When I heard this news, I sat down and wept. I mourned for days, fasting and praying before the God of heaven. 5 I said: “Lord God of heaven, great and awesome God, you are the one who keeps covenant and is truly faithful to those who love you and keep your commandments. 6 Let your ear be attentive and your eyes open to hear the prayer of your servant, which I now pray before you night and day for your servants, the people of Israel. “I confess the sins of the people of Israel, which we have committed against you. Both I and my family have sinned. 7 We have wronged you greatly. We haven’t kept the commandments, the statutes, and the ordinances that you commanded your servant Moses. 8 “Remember the word that you gave to your servant Moses when you said, ‘If you are unfaithful, I will scatter you among the peoples. 9 But if you return to me and keep my commandments by really doing them, then, even though your outcasts live[c] under distant skies, I will gather them from there and bring them to the place that I have chosen as a dwelling for my name.’ 10 They are your servants and your people. They are the ones whom you have redeemed by your great power and your strong hand. 11 “Lord, let your ear be attentive to the prayer of your servant and to the prayer of your servants who delight in honoring your name. Please give success to your servant today and grant him favor in the presence of this man!”
Nehemiah wept when he heard that Jerusalem’s walls had not been rebuilt. Why was this important to him anyway? In today’s society, it means very little in most present day cities, but in Nehemiah time (445 BC) these wall represented protection and beauty to the city of Jerusalem. They were also necessary to protect the Temple from attack and violation. The walls were there to ensure ongoing worship activities could be a central part of the community. You might think they these walls were as essential to the cities as electricity and water are to us. They also symbolized strength and peace. Nehemiah wept for his people and their situation that kept this Jewish community from rebuilding these walls.
It is important and interesting to note that after Nehemiah pours his heart out through tears, he also prays to God, confessing the sins of the Israel community it makes me think how often I ask for prayers before I lay out my sin before God and my follow neighbors. It reminds me that I do need to confess my sins before God and others. Then when Nehemiah is done confessing the sin of his people, he asks his Lord to listen to his prayers and the prayers of others who give honor to God’s names. What does he ask for? Success in doing what God has called him to do. In this case, it was to rebuild the walls surrounding the Temple. So, we have weeping, confessing, and being asked to carry on with our mission.
Nehemiah is deeply grieved about the condition of Jerusalem, but he didn’t just stop there. After he grieved he got up prayed, pouring his heart out to God, and the he looked for ways to improve the situation. Nehemiah put all of the resources that he had, knowledge, experiences, and people into what needed to be done next. This reminds me that when sad news arrives at our doorsteps, we should grieve, and it is important to grieve! Then we seek answers through prayer, and then finally we seek ways to move beyond the grief to actions that helps those who need it.
To summarize, let’s keep it simple, grieve, pray, and then take action.
And finally, now look at what we can do to look to the future for life’s real purpose. Let’s go back to Job and look at these versus Job 3:23-26.
Job 3:23-26 (CEB)
23 Why is light given to the person whose way is hidden, whom God has fenced in? My groans become my bread; my roars pour out like water. Because I was afraid of something awful, and it arrived; what I dreaded came to me. I had no ease, quiet, or rest, and trembling came.
Here is Job again serving as model for our life. He has been very careful not to worship all of his material possession, and believe me he had a lot! He chooses to worship God alone. No wonder he was a righteous man before God. Here he is totally overwhelmed by the calamities that have fallen on him. He complained about his trails that came to him despite his righteous living. Everything that he stood for, all the principles that he lived by were crumbling around him. Job began to lose his perspective. Trial and grief, whether temporary or everlasting, do not have to destroy the real purpose of life. Life is not given merely for happiness and personal fulfillment, although it is a part of life. Life is bigger than us. It is for us to serve and honor our creator. The worth and meaning of life is not based on what we feel, but on the one reality no one can take away from us, even death, and that is God’s love for us. And just because you know that God truly and deeply loves you, he will not always prevent suffering. God’s love cannot be measured or limited by how great we are, or how much or how little we suffer. God’s love is the one thing constant in our lives.
In closing on my study of grief, I leave you with one last Scripture reading, from Roman 8:38-39, which teaches us that nothing can separate us from God’s love.
Romans 8:38-39 (VOICE)
38 For I have every confidence that nothing—not death, life, heavenly messengers, dark spirits, the present, the future, spiritual powers, 39 height, depth, nor any created thing—can come between us and the love of God revealed in the Anointed, Jesus our Lord.
My Friends, know that this is indeed true, nothing can separate us from God! What a hopeful message for us, as we continue to grieve, to pray, to seek and to ask. Amen.