We acknowledge that the meaning of our deepest experiences is often hidden from our eyes. John 11 is one of the more emotional windows into the ministry of Jesus. In this chapter, Jesus confronts grief, and in the process, teaches us valuable lessons.
Mary and Martha, the sisters of Lazarus, send word to Jesus that Lazarus, the one Jesus loves, is sick. This was not an explicit invitation or a request for immediate intervention. However, the assumption is that once Jesus heard, he would immediately come.
Mary and Martha knew of his tender compassion. They understood Jesus’ heartfelt affection for their brother. And yet, when Jesus receives word about his good friend’s condition, he delays even beginning his journey to Bethany for another two days.
The Gospel writer tells us that Jesus delayed because He loved them. He delayed that God would be glorified. And yet, imagine waiting for Jesus. He has the power to heal, he has a history of healing (even raising the dead), and yet he delays! How could Jesus be so callous?
By the time Jesus arrives in Bethany, Lazarus has died and been in the tomb for four days. Jesus walks into a setting of pain, tears, and grief. According to Jewish thinking, the soul of the deceased hung around the body for three days. And yet, Jesus purposely waited until the 4th day to show up. To those who grieved, the situation was utterly hopeless by the time Jesus showed up. But as we know, Jesus specializes in bringing light to hopelessly dark situations.
Consider the silence of God.
Joseph is thrown into prison in Egypt, and many would conclude that God had forgotten him. Moses spends 40 years on the backside of the desert while the Israelites suffer under the hands of the Egyptians. Where was God when his people needed him the most?
In contemporary situations, a Christian is falsely accused of misconduct by a co-worker which leads to years of lawsuits and hundreds of thousands of dollars of legal fees and his reputation is largely ruined. Then, he is acquitted of all charges. We wonder if God cares.
In the midst of COVID-19, loved ones slip into the arms of Jesus, alone in ICU. There is no funeral, no opportunity to grieve in the presence of family and loved ones, and no closure. And in our grief, we question God’s compassion.
And yet, we know that God is good. We acknowledge that the meaning of our deepest experiences is often hidden from our eyes. We find comfort in admitting that we do not fully understand our lives.
If we equate our perceived silence of Jesus with a lack of his love and care, then from our limited human perspective, it seems as if there are times when God ceases to love his children.
Oh, that Jesus would free us to not know. We need an ability to walk honestly in the mystery of our days. There are times when we cry out to God in grief, and his response is silence. These are times of deepened trust.
In John 11, Christ delayed in coming to those he deeply loved. He instituted a period of perceived silence in order to (1) strengthen their faith, (2) push them along in embracing the mystery of the Almighty, (3) glorify God, and (4) deepen their love for Lord Jesus.
In times of grief, questioning, and silence, may we sing and dance in the ever-deepening mystery of God’s love.
Unquestionably, in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, there is pain, grief, and death all around. Today, if you are hurting, you need to be assured that God weeps with you. Jesus is not unaware. He is not a stoic, distant, rigid, isolated God. Rather, God is fully aware! He is close, active, and individually caring for every person.
Jesus is unique. He is matchless. He individually distinctively responds to every one of his children. What a truth! Jesus knows our particular challenges. He is at work, even now, uniquely working in my life to orchestrate everything for my ultimate good and for his ultimate glory. Because of the distinctive nature of every person, Jesus responds to grief in a uniquely individualized approach.
When Jesus enters Bethany, he first encounters Martha. She hurries out to meet Jesus and says (v. 21) “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” Martha expresses the heart of every believer after facing disappointment, “Lord, if you had only been here…” There may be an accusatory tone in her voice. Jesus, where were you? In essence she is saying, “Jesus, if you would only have followed the script I wrote for you, my brother would be alive!”
This is the heart of many. Where were you God when my loved one died? Where were you when my marriage dissolved? Where were you when my husband cheated on me? Where were you when my father was abusing me? Where were you when my parents divorced? Where were you when my child rejected the values we worked so hard to instill in them? Where is the Lord in the most painful of days?
Yes, we are his children but that does not mean that we are not allowed to express our pain to the Lord. Some have bottled up feelings and anger towards the Lord for years. Perhaps today is the day that your heart needs to be expressed before Him.
Jesus speaks truth when he tells her that her brother Lazarus will rise again. When Martha assures Jesus that she knows this, Jesus makes the great declaration, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die.”
A short time later Jesus encounters Mary who falls at Jesus’ feet and amazingly makes the exact same statement. “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”
Jesus responds by weeping with Mary. The word here means that tears ran down the dusty cheeks of Jesus. We have a great God who loves us, delays, and stays away and then comes and completely enters into our sorrow. This is the great mystery of the Lord!
Two identical statements. To Martha he responds with truth and to Mary, Jesus responds with tears. Sometime grief needs to be met with truth. Jesus is our shepherd. He promises to be with us in even the darkest valley. Other times, grief needs to be met with tears. With Martha, Jesus speaks and with Mary he is speechless. With Martha, Jesus is bold and direct and with Mary he is broken and trembling. With Martha, Jesus confronts her mind while with Mary he enters into flow of her heart.
Too often, we lack perspective. Do I judge Jesus’ love by my circumstances? Or do I judge my circumstances by Jesus’ love? Ask the Lord Jesus to grant you the wisdom to know how to lean into grief. Jesus is the perfect combination of the ministry of truth and tears. When we lean into grief, we will need both.
‘All will be well. All will be well. All manner of things will be well’.
Whenever I read this saying from Julian of Norwich, it puts my heart at peace. I know both theologically and from personal experience, how true these words are.
I created some cards with this saying on them ten years ago. It was during the recession. The company I’d worked with for 17 years had terminated my traveling to teach seminars with no notice and no benefits; I had a serious health challenge. Many people struggled far more than my husband and I did. God got us through as He always does.
It’s ten years later and the world has a challenge that makes the previous recession seem minor in comparison.
The good news is that we have the same strong and good God. I was going over some things and remembered this saying and what an encouragement it was to me and others at that time.
The context of the saying by Julian Norwich
Julian of Norwich was a 14th-century mystic and contemplative. She lived through The Black Plague (originating in China, brought to England via the international trade routes of the time), which makes her words even more appropriate for us during this time of the challenges of the Covid19 virus.
Following is the passage she wrote from which the quote is taken:
And thus, in my folly, afore this time often I wondered why, by the great foreseeing wisdom of God, the beginning of sin was not stopped; for then, methought, all should have been well…. But Jesus, who in this Vision informed me of all that is needful to me, answered by this word and said, Sin is unavoidable, but all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well.
For if we never fell, we should not know how feeble and how wretched we are of our self, and also we should not fully know that marvellous love of our Maker.
The fullness of Joy is to behold God in everything.
God is all that is good, in my sight, and the goodness that everything has is his.
If there be anywhere on earth [where] a lover of God is always kept safe from falling, I know nothing of it, for it was not shown me. But this was shown: that in falling and rising again we are always kept in the same precious love.
He did not say, you will never have a rough passage, you will never be over-strained, you will never feel uncomfortable, but he did say you will never be overcome. – Julian of Norwich in Revelations of Divine Love
This current challenge is difficult, but our God hasn’t changed
As difficult as it is with the current challenges of the virus, I can’t imagine how terrifying it must have been for Julian and her peers when they had no understanding of how horrible diseases and plagues spread and where the ill and dying were often simply abandoned.
But here we are. Like Julian, we can take this time and use it to grow our relationship with our Lord and to bless others with what we’ve learned.
My prayers and encouragement are with all of you that we might trust our God that truly, “all will be well.”
None of us could have imagined that at the start of this year we would be in national lockdown again as Covid 19 continues to have a devastating effect on the UK and all over the world.
As we know, all areas of life have been drastically affected including of course church life. It has been a monumental shift for many in ministry to try an adapt to new ways of doing church and moving to online services. Whether high tech or the most basic provision it is proving exhausting and challenging to preach and pastor in new and innovative ways.
Here at ESPS Ministries we are constantly looking to produce and source articles that will be helpful and inspirational for you in ministry and in life. Follow the link below to excellent FREE resources from Global Leadership Network where they have pulled together a variety of resources to encourage and equip pastors and leaders during this pandemic. It’s always helpful to hear form others with their insights and experience.
As well as great leadership and inspirational links on the page, I’d like to draw your attention to the Max Lucado link “Anxious for nothing” for a free bible study based on his book of the same title. These will be so helpful, especially if we are feeling stressed and anxious.
I cannot recommend his book highly enough. It’s a wonderfully kind, loving and encouraging book full of his own stories as well as biblical examples to build us up in our faith and help keep our eyes on Jesus.
** PLEASE GET IN TOUCH WITH US VIA OUR WEBSITE OR FACEBOOK PAGE IF YOU HAVE ANY ENCOURAGING STORIES OR PERSONAL TESTIMONIES OF WAYS YOU HAVE TRANSITIONED CHURCH DURING THE PANDEMIC. WE WOULD LOVE TO SHARE THEM WITH OUR READERS.**
The start of a New Year gives us a wonderful opportunity to review both our personal and marriage relationships. It’s good to take time to ponder any changes we may like to make and seize the day in implementing them. We can purposefully use some of this time of Lockdown to declutter our lives and focus again on what’s really important and what we want to give priority to.
I came across a wonderful FREE tool from ‘Focus on the Family’. It’s a questionnaire you can take about you and your marriage. After taking you through a set of questions, you get a review at the end summarising areas of strengths and weaknesses, similar in a way to the outcome of a Myers-Briggs Test. This could provide a great opportunity to initiate dialogue with our spouses about our relationships as we look to live and love well and grow and mature together.
Remember in reviewing any results, to do so without accusation, but in love. Look on it as a stepping stone into some honest and helpful discussions we may need to have with one another. It’s important we continue to nurture our marriages as ‘together we really are stronger’.
As couples or individuals, there’s nothing to lose, but plenty to gain. Go on, give it a shot.
‘Don’t be anxious about tomorrow. God will take care of your tomorrow too. Live one day at a time.’ Matthew 6:34 TLB
The story’s told of a clock that spent a great deal of time worrying about its future, reasoning that it had to tick twice each second. ‘How much ticking might that be?’ the clock thought. So it began to calculate that it would tick 120 times each minute, which is 7,200 times each hour. That meant in a twenty-four-hour day it would have to tick 172,800 times, and 63,072,000 times every year. By this time the clock began to get overwhelmed and sweat profusely. Finally, it calculated that in a ten-year period it would have to tick 630,720,000 times – and at that point the clock collapsed with a nervous breakdown.
Psychologists reckon that about 95 per cent of all we worry about never happens. What about the other 5 per cent? Four out of five times things turn out better than we anticipated, including a lot of outright blessings! In the end, only 1 per cent of all the bad we think might happen actually does, and of this it’s rarely as bad as we feared. That’s why Jesus said, ‘Don’t be anxious about tomorrow. God will take care of your tomorrow too. Live one day at a time.’ The apostle Peter gives us the right perspective to live by in these words: ‘Casting the whole of your care [all your anxieties, all your worries, all your concerns, once and for all] on Him, for He cares for you affectionately and cares about you watchfully’ (1 Peter 5:7 AMPC). So the word for today is – don’t obsess over the future.
This was todays reading from UCB. You can find it here –