The righteous will answer Him, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry and feed You, or thirsty and give You something to drink? When did we see You a stranger and invite You in, or needing clothes and clothe You? When did we see You sick or in prison and go to visit You?’ The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of Mine, you did for Me.’ – Matthew 25:37-40
The compassion of Jesus is often demonstrated in small ways. It can be a drink of water to a thirsty person. A visit to a stranger who needs a friend or a listening ear. These are the simple acts of mercy and kindness that the King of heaven will one day reward. As a minister of God’s grace and comfort, there are many practical ways you can assist in offering comfort to those who are grieving, as you bring spiritual food and drink to the soul that is hungry and thirsty for the Lord’s refreshment.
The purpose of this chapter is to provide counsel concerning things to keep in mind when making contact with someone who has just lost a close friend or loved one. What do we need to be conscious of? How can we offer biblical hope and encouragement to those who are deeply hurting? These are the kinds of questions this chapter addresses. The focus here is on ways to show compassion when the loss is still very fresh. The chapter that follows this one will consider long-term bereavement care.
If there is one character quality, or posture of care, that we must model as servants of the Lord, it is gentleness.
As the Lord’s servants we are called to be kind and gentle to all, even to those who oppose us (2 Timothy 2:24-25). If this gracious posture is required of us, even toward our enemies, then how much more must we be careful to exhibit a gentle spirit and speak gentle words to those in our flock whose wounds of grief are still open and bleeding.
Gently Bring Them Comfort by Your Quiet Presence
Sadly, Job’s counselors will forever be known as miserable comforters, for that is what they were when they sought only to blame Job for his trials, which included the deaths of his ten children. However, there is one thing these three men did right. Here’s what the sacred text says (pay special attention to the last sentence):
When Job’s three friends, Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite and Zophar the Naamathite, heard about all the troubles that had come upon him, they set out from their homes and met together by agreement to go and sympathize with him and comfort him. When they saw him from a distance, they could hardly recognize him; they began to weep aloud, and they tore their robes and sprinkled dust on their heads. Then they sat on the ground with him for seven days and seven nights. No one said a word to him, because they saw how great his suffering was. – Job 2:11-13
The one thing these friends did right, which contributed to Job’s comfort in his time of great trial, was to offer him their silent presence. I’m convinced we often fail to recognize how powerfully our quiet presence may minister to someone in the first hours and days of their deep valley of sorrow. When someone you love loses someone they love, it can be powerfully therapeutic to them (in the best sense of the word) to carefully close your mouth, open your ears, and perhaps even offer a tender touch if it is appropriate.
As you care for those who are grieving, be sure to take time to truly mourn with those who mourn (Romans 12:15). Don’t be too quick to offer answers. (This is especially true in the case of suicide.) Let them cry. Allow them the freedom to feel numb. Pray for them. And pray that you will speak wisely when the time is right. Let them know you care by simply being there.
Quiet presence is an important part of our ministry to one another in times of loss; however, it is not sufficient. At the appropriate time, we must gently speak words of grace and truth, and do so in love — for their comfort and the nurturing of their faith in Christ (Ephesians 4:15). Make sure your words are saturated with God’s words, but not in a preachy manner or tone.
Pursue gentleness (1 Timothy 6:11).
There may come a time for stronger exhortation later down the road if you sense that their grief is becoming self-consuming and debilitating. However, even then, be careful that you speak for their benefit, not simply to make yourself feel better for getting something off your chest. Come alongside them with God’s words of promise, comfort (2 Corinthians 1:3-4), and compassion (Colossians 3:12) in a timely manner (Ephesians 4:29). Aim to practice incarnational ministry — a ministry that models the mind-set of Jesus as you strive to be “full of [both] grace and truth” (John 1:14).
Gently Lead Them to the Good Shepherd
As important and necessary as our personal presence is to those who are grieving, ultimately it is the Lord’s presence that will meet the deepest needs of the hurting soul. Knowing this, it is vital that we lead the members of our flock to think deliberately of the truth that Jesus is not only Lord and Savior but also the faithful Good Shepherd. One example of how to do this is to tie Psalm 23, “the Lord is my shepherd,” with Jesus’ description of Himself — “I am the good shepherd” (John 10:11).
Read to them Psalm 23, gently reminding them of the Lord’s care for His sheep. Especially draw their attention to the assurance of God’s continued presence. The Lord does not leave us to suffer alone. No, He walks through the valley of the shadow of death with us! He comforts us in our times of grief by walking with us, holding our hand as we face indescribable pain.
Move from Psalm 23 to Jesus’ words about being the good shepherd. Read to them John 10:11 – 15 and connect the dots.
Explain that the promises found in Psalm 23 belong to those who have embraced Jesus. Those who belong to Christ not only receive great and precious promises for the life to come, but gracious assurances for life here on earth. When we know the good shepherd, Jesus, we may confidently say with David,
The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing. – Psalm 23:1
Jesus, the good shepherd, has already laid down His life for them (verse 11). When Jesus first spoke the words, “The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep,” His sacrificial death was still in the future. But that work is now complete. His sin-bearing work is finished, and the sinner’s debt is paid in full (John 19:30; Hebrews 9:27-28). By consciously remembering this past demonstration of Jesus’ great love, the heart of the grieving believer is further assured of the Lord’s continued love and care, now — each and every day — and to eternity. Jesus, the good shepherd, will never act like a hired hand by leaving his sheep (verse 12). Instead, the faithful shepherd stays right by his sheep. He will never leave them; He will never abandon them in their grief (Hebrews 13:5). He will never leave them to wage war alone against the enemy of their soul.
Jesus, the good shepherd, is committed to and concerned for each of His sheep (verse 13). The hired hand flees because he is self-centered, but Jesus continues to lead, feed, and comfort His own. Why? Because Jesus’ commitment to His sheep is contained not in empty words but in deep promises, like the promise to remain present in the dark valleys of life. Jesus, the good shepherd, knows His sheep in relationship, just as He knows the Father in relationship (verses 14 – 15).
Jesus knows those who are His own, and those who are His own know Him.
What a wonderful truth! Especially since Jesus in the next verse likens His relationship with us to His relationship with the Father, which has existed for eternity.
Knowing Christ includes a deepening intimacy of relationship with the good shepherd. As we listen to His word and gently speak it to those who grieve, they will find comfort and security in the enduring love of God.
The good shepherd continues to love and care for those who trust Him. When we set our minds on these truths and carefully minister gracious words, the grieving members of our flock will find their hearts resting securely in God’s presence.
Excerpted with permission from Comfort the Grieving by Paul Tautges and Brian Croft, copyright Zondervan, 2015.
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