Thursday, February 17, 2011

It's Not Natural To Comfort Others When You Are Dying, Or Is It?

As a pastor I have had the incredible privilege of being with several people as their time on this earth came to an end. I can't think of one where I did not shed a few tears, either with the family or privately in my car. It is a profound moment as that person ceases to be an active participant in people's lives and you sense immediately the gaping hole that has been left behind. Praise the Lord that those who are disciples of Jesus find that hole filled with Christ himself. The thing I have found the most incredible is how the dying disciple of Jesus spends most of his time comforting those who are being left behind.

The first time I witnessed this I was shocked; it seemed backwards to me. I imagined that the family should be comforting the dying person but often they were too distraught to do much of anything. On a few occasions I even found myself being ministered to as I took their hand to pray with them but they turned it around and spoke blessings into my life. Their concern was not for what was to happen to them, the felt assured, but instead for those who they were leaving behind. These were some of the most holy moments I have experienced in my life because these were Jesus moments.

I do not know if you had noticed but Jesus spent the hours leading up to the cross comforting and instructing his disciples. Some may say this was not abnormal because Jesus is God but understand that Jesus was both fully God and fully man. When he was cut he bled. When he was whipped he felt pain. When he was betrayed he felt stabbed in the heart. Don't dismiss the suffering of Jesus with the thought that it was easy for him because it was no more easier for him then it would be for you and me. He was facing this which was more than just dying. He was facing torture, cruelty, abandonment, a slow painful death and the weight of the sins of this world upon him. All of us would be crying out for the comfort of our mommies but instead we find Jesus trying to prepare his disciples:

Then Jesus told them, “This very night you will all fall away on account of me, for it is written:
   “‘I will strike the shepherd,
   and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.’
But after I have risen, I will go ahead of you into Galilee.” (Matthew 26:31-32)

I've heard a lot of people talking about facing our future without fear and anxiety, trusting God with it all, but could we say that if we could actually see our future, if we knew for certain that those things would come to pass? Jesus wasn't facing any shadows or even the possibility of death; he knew for certain what lay before him but his concern was for those who would be scattered. He didn't get angry with them for what was about to happen; he did not dwell on the negative of it at all. Instead he was giving them instructions as to what they needed to do after the disaster. He told them clearly that he would meet them in Galilee. I wonder if these strange words became a beacon of hope for them in the darkness that would consume them in the next few hours?

We would do well in our own dark moments to remember Jesus' attitude and his approach to these things. We tend to focus on the moment, allowing ourselves to be consumed by it but Jesus was having the disciples look beyond it, for what would come out of it. He told them:

Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. (John 14:1-3)

In my experience with the dying, those who grew afraid at their own death were focused on that death and became focused on themselves. Those who were looking forward to what would come beyond that moment became concerned for others instead of themselves. I believe that this also applies to the dark moments, the storms, the heavy circumstances of our lives. If we concentrate on these things then we will be destroyed, we will suffer, it will be too heavy for us to bear and we will be consumed by ourselves. Our constant companions will be fear, worry and anxiety. However, when we trust the promises of God we are able to look beyond the storm and anticipate the good things that are coming. It is in this place of trust that the Spirit is able to help us stay focused on the things of the Kingdom which are people, people, people.

The trick is knowing how to do this which is no trick at all. We do this my remembering the heart of the Father, his attitude toward us, and his desire for us:

1. For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. (Jeremiah 29:11)

It was said to Israel but it is the heart of the Father toward all of his children. He wants good for us, he wants us to grow, to prosper. Our Father is not out to destroy us but instead to build us up.

2. He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? (Romans 8:32)

This is the overwhelming character of our Father, to pour out his riches on his children, to love them and to bless them.

3. And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. (Romans 8:28)

This last point is vital to understand, accept and to live. Without it we will never be able to serve in the many storms of our lives. It is in the "all things" that we must trust that God loves us and is working for our good so we just go on serving him. It is an important enough point that we should also consider the other Scriptures:

And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work. (2 Corinthians 9:8)

We never have an excuse to set aside our calling, our purpose and our mission. Ours is a place of trust as the storm howls around us. The truth remains that our Father is using all these things to prosper us by causing us to go deeper with him and to mature in our service:

Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ. (Ephesians 4:15)

Let us show ourselves to be the mature in Jesus by pressing on in the storms we face, to love and serve him with all of our heart. Let us get our eyes off of ourselves where we stay weak and immature, and let us fix our eyes on him. As we do this he will give us eyes to see the suffering people around us and in our own pain he will make us a comforter to others. As he encouraged and prepared his disciples in his darkest hours we can see the example that has been set before us. Remember, these storms are "light and momentary" and "are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all." (2 Corinthians 4:17)

No comments: