Category Archives: death

When life gets holes in it….

Lord, God of my rescue, by day I cried out, by night, in you presence. May my prayer come before you. Incline your ear to my song. For I am sated with evils and my life reached the brink of Sheol..

You put me in the nethermost pit, in darkness, in the depths. Your wrath lay hard upon me, and all your breakers you inflicted… My eyes ache from affliction. I called on you, Lord, every day. I stretched out to you my palms..

As for me – to you, Lord, I shouted, and in the morn my prayer would greet you. Why, Lord, do you abandon my life, do you hide your face from me?

(Ps 88.1-3,7,8,10, 14&15)

I know someone who describes their existence since the experience of early widowhood as being like ‘life in black and white’. She is one of the most godly women I have ever known, and her life as a widow has been full of service to others and relative peace and contentment. And yet… all the colour and joy has gone.

Are you mourning today? The death of a spouse, the death of a sibling, the death of a child? The passing of a parent, or a close friend? The loss of health and autonomy? The loss of satisfying employment or a precious relationship? The loss of a dream? The loss of hope for reconciliation and renewal?  What do we do when life seems to be ripped apart by loss, when the reality of our fragile hold on health, well-being and life itself has been forcibly demonstrated and we are weak with grief, dazed with loss, stunned into dumb agony?

Our culture shies away from recognising the incredibly limited control we actually have over our lives, so that it is easy to be lulled into a false sense of security, and any experience of loss becomes un-natural and outrageous.

Dear friend, loss is not only natural but inevitable in our fallen world. The question is not will it come, but rather, how must I prepare myself to respond to it? What does my God require of me, his all-too-frail creature, that I might rightly glorify him and be sustained through this experience. What do I do with my pain?

The topic is far too significant to be addressed in one short conversation, but today I would point you to saints who have shown the way for us, leaving words that we can use, and wisdom that we can learn from. First in this great hymn..

Jesus, lover of my soul, let me to thy bosom fly, while the nearer waters roll, while the tempest still is high.
Hide me, O my Saviour, hide, till the storm of life is past; safe into the haven guide;
Oh, receive my soul at last.

Other refuge have I none, hangs my helpless soul on thee; Leave, ah! leave me not alone, still support and comfort me.
All my trust on  thee is stayed, all my help from thee I bring; cover my defenceless head with the shadow of thy wing.

Wilt Thou not regard my call? Wilt thou not accept my prayer? Lo! I sink, I faint, I fall—
Lo! on thee I cast my care.
Reach me out  thy gracious hand! While I of thy strength receive, hoping against hope I stand, dying, and behold, I live.

(Charles Wesley: 1707-1788)

Wesley invites us to ditch our pride and all pretence of competence – fling yourself upon the Lord, plead recklessly and constantly for his aid in full confidence that he will supply your need.

Then Elisabeth Elliott – twice widowed and thus purified through extreme suffering – says this: offer up your pain to God, to do with it as he will. Make it your offering to him and then give thanks that he can – and will – work in it for your blessing and his glory. For her, widowhood became ‘ a gift, a call and a vocation, not merely a condition to be endured’. Having received it from the Lord, she then offered it up for his use, and chose acceptance and trust. (Eliott, E. The Path of Loneliness, 1988)

None of this takes away pain; it doesn’t replace what is gone: but it may transform our thinking and attitude to the losses which we will inevitably experience. The missionary Amy Carmichael learnt this lesson over many years of suffering, and pressing hard to bring it to God in the darkness of grief. Her poem ‘Nothing in the house’, is a meditation on knowing God in the midst of it. May it speak comfort and encouragement to you today.

Thy servant Lord, hath nothing in the house, not even one small pot of common oil;
For he who never cometh but to spoil hath raided my poor house again, again,
That ruthless strong man armed, whom men call Pain.

I thought that I had courage in the house, and patience to be quiet and endure,
And sometimes happy songs; now I am sure thy servant truly hath not anything,
And see my song-bird hath a broken wing.

My servant, I have come into the house – I who know Pain’s extremity so well
That there never can be the need to tell His power to make the flesh and spirit quail:
Have I not felt the scourge, the thorn, the nail?

And I, his conqueror, am in the house, Let not your heart be troubled: do not fear:
Why shouldest thou, child of mine, if I am here? My touch will heal thy song-bird’s broken wing, and he shall have a braver song to sing.

(Amy Carmichael : 1867-1951)

It’s real, more real than anything I have known yet!

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth…God saw all that he had made, and it was very good. And there was evening, and there was morning – the sixth day.

(Gen 1.1&31)

Creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed…the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God

(Rom 8.19&21)

When you sow, you do not plant the body that will be, but just a seed….so it will be with the resurrection of the dead. The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable; it is sown in dishonour, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body…when the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: “Death has been swallowed up in victory.”

 (1Cor 15.37,42-44,53-54)

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away…And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God… I am making everything new!”

(Rev 21.1,3&5)

Our church does not regularly use spoken affirmations or statements of faith, which is perhaps why when I do speak out, I find it particularly moving. To hear my own voice confessing faith in God, in the incarnate and sacrificed Christ, and in the Spirit, is powerful, and strengthens my resolve to live for and with God. I have always been particularly glad to be able to say that ‘I believe in the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting’, and this truth becomes ever more precious to me as years pass and loved ones go ahead of me into glory.

On a purely personal level, I long for the day when I will see God face to face without fear or shame – because all that remains of sin and weakness in me will have gone, and I will be perfect, fully alive for the first time and with all eternity in which to be and do for and with my Saviour and his people. I will not need to hold back, to be careful, to watch my thoughts and words, because I will no longer be in danger of sinning – can you imagine how wonderful that will be?!

I also believe that, since God has shown us in Christ what a resurrection body is like – a physical presence, like and yet utterly different from our own frail flesh – that we will inhabit a physical world, one where all that is currently wrong is righted.

But all of this is also part of a much greater picture, of the cosmic plan of redemption which God is completing around us even now – bringing everything back into harmonious submission to his sovereignty. In the new heavens and earth which God is making, He will finally realise his desire to dwell with his people – no intermediaries or priests will be needed – in a perfect sanctuary, and there will be no more divisions or barriers between us. His great vision is not to take a chosen people out of the world, but to make it possible for us all to be in it together

I love the place where I live, and I know that our globe is full of wonders and marvels, most of which I will not live to see….but I do not fret, because I believe that one day, not too far off, I will dwell in the new earth and have all eternity to appreciate its wonders, and share in its hymn of praise to the creator. There is much beyond my understanding, but I trust in the one who promises that he will make me new, that I will live with him and be part of that great symphony, that expression of beauty beyond the tongue or brush of any artist or writer. Today, I groan with all creation, in bondage to decay….but one day, I will shout and sing with joy in fitting praise; one day everything I do, think, and am will be perfect. I will BE!

Praise the Lord God, who has made and is remaking us for this, glory to his name…

Going home..

And now, dear brothers and sisters, we want you to know what will happen to the believers who have died so you will not grieve like people who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and was raised to life again, we also believe that when Jesus returns, God will bring back with him the believers who have died.

(1 Thessalonians 4.13&14)

Faith shows the reality of what we hope for; it is the evidence of things we cannot see….since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin  that so easily trips us up. and let us run with endurance the race God has set before us.

(Hebrews 11.1, 12.1)

‘Don’t let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God, and trust also in me. There is more than enough room in  my Father’s home. If this were not so, would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you? When everything is ready, I will come and get you, so that you will always be with me where I am. 

(John 14.1-3)

This year will be the tenth anniversary of my father’s death, ten years since we said farewell to a gentleman, a humble servant of Christ, a faithful and prayerful member of his christian family. In the last fortnight, three more believers of his generation in my life have been called across the final divide, called out of bodies which had failed them into the arms of the God who never did.

How do we deal with our losses? Even when those who die are full of years and leave a great legacy, we mourn and feel the parting, feel ourselves diminished by the loss of what they gave us. I believe it is right that we should grieve, recognising and giving thanks for the miracle which was that particular person, like no other. God never designed us to be separated from one another in this way, and that is why it hurts so much and causes us so much pain. But his great rescue plan for us includes a final reunion, in resurrection bodies, after which there will be no more death!

In the meantime, what do we do? We give thanks for all that was, and look forward in hope to what will be, trusting in the word of Christ, who went before and showed us that resurrection, a new life in a transformed body, was the inevitable outcome of his victory for us over sin and death. Our lost loved ones, if they were believers, are safe with Christ, secure for all eternity, and the best memorial to them in our lives is to follow their example of faithful living.

I remember being overwhelmed at my father’s funeral by the number of people who came to pay their respects, and honour his memory. I remember thinking that I could never live up to his example, but wanting most desperately to try. I think that is what the passage in Hebrews is about – not the thought of eyes upon me to see if I can perform, but the power of their testimony. I think of these three people who died recently, all facing different trials and tests, all seeking to live godly and useful lives, all striving to give of their best for God and to those whom they could reach.

When I am tempted to complain about my lot; when I am feeling resentful and envious; when I am tired of the struggle or of a load which seems too much for me; when I am conscious of so many blessings and the danger of taking them for granted or hugging them selfishly…then, I pray that I will remember these lives which have ended as 2018 began. Pray that I will learn to live each day obediently, generously, humbly, and thankfully – always looking to love; looking to serve; looking to witness to my saviour.

May we, like those who have gone before, look to Jesus, and find in him our joy and hope, our guide and friend, our saviour, redeemer and Lord.

The sting is drawn!

Go forth upon thy journey Christian soul! Go from this world; Go in the Name of God the Omnipotent Father, who created thee! Go in the name of Jesus Christ, our Lord, Son of the living God, who bled for thee: Go in the name of the Holy Spirit, who hath been poured out on thee!

Go on thy course; and may thy place today be found in peace, and may thy dwelling be the holy mount of Sion: through the same, through Christ our Lord.

(John Henry Newman; 1801-90)

It is not given to all of us to know when our death is near, or to have the luxury of strength and clarity of mind to prepare for that threshold, but for the follower of Jesus, it is always possible to be sure of our destination! That is because of the complete assurance we have that through our faith in Jesus, in his effective salvation of us, we can know that we are now acceptable to an utterly holy God, and that our place in glory is guaranteed to us. We can rejoice now in the peace that comes from knowing that our state of health and mind at the end will not separate us from the love of God through Christ, that no amount of confusion, pain or forgetfulness can undo that great work upon the cross.

The words at the top of this blog are another extract from the Dream of Gerontius, the poem by Newman which was so memorably set to music by Edward Elgar. This passage in particular is achingly beautiful – I love to think I could be listening to it when my time comes to leave this world, because it speaks so strongly of the confidence which I have, and which those who love me can share even as they let me go. It is a great valediction, the commending of a soul to the faithfulness of the God who has promised and done all that is needed, so that even in the dissolution of imminent death, there need be no fear. Our confidence rests in the character and revealed will of God, whose work of redeeming his beloved children was accomplished at such unimaginable cost. This God, will never set aside that sacrifice or break his covenant with us and we give ourselves wholly and confidently up to him.

I believe that the bible makes it clear that death, the destruction of the physical body and the awful separation from all that life and love mean, was never part of God’s original plan for us, His beloved children. Over and again it is described as the ‘wages of sin’, the direct result of the rebellion which humankind staged against God’s authority and rightful supremacy in our lives. Surely this is why we never get used to it, why the prospect is so awful. It is indeed an affront to the image of God which is in everyone, that we should be bereaved and die.

But in Christ, we see that for all who have faith in him, in his power to save, the apparent finality of death is not real, not true! The apostle Paul, in his letter to the church in Corinth writes:-

But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive.

(1 Corinthians 15.20-22)

As I grow older, and more and more of those dear to me pass ahead through the dark valley of death, the truth of our eternal life to come is more and more precious. It allows me to experience the loss of loved ones with hope, though not without grief. It equips me to face my own likely experience of frailty, illness, pain and perhaps confusion with confidence – because NOTHING can separate me from the love of God which is made manifest in Christ Jesus.

There may indeed be troubles ahead, times of great darkness and sorrow – none of us can escape the valley of the shadows, the only question is whether for us it will be a long journey, or a brief crossing. But we have a confidence which is gloriously embodied in the words with which I began this blog, resting upon the very character of the God above all, the Lover of our souls.

May we be a blessing to all those whom we know are close to the valley of shadows, reminding them of the sure and certain hope which they have, of our Lord’s presence in the darkness, and his welcoming embrace in the glorious light which lies ahead.