Monday, May 27, 2024

Seasons of Grieving: When Grief turns to Joy

Grief and joy, two intense extremes. What is grief? 

“Author Edgar Jackson poignantly describes grief: Grief is teaching yourself to go to bed without saying good night to the one who had died. Grief is the helpless wishing that things were different when you know they are not and never will be again. Grief is a whole cluster of adjustments, apprehensions, and uncertainties that strike life in its forward progress and make it difficult to redirect the energies of life.”  -Charles Swindoll, Growing Strong, p. 171.

What about joy?

As a third-century man was anticipating death, he penned these last words to a friend: "It's a bad world, an incredibly bad world. But I have discovered in the midst of it a quiet and holy people who have learned a great secret. They have found a joy which is a thousand times better than any pleasure of our sinful life. They are despised and persecuted, but they care not. They are masters of their souls. They have overcome the world. These people are the Christians--and I am one of them." -Today In The Word, June, 1988, p. 18.

We’re going back in time to a moment in history that is very important. It’s the moment when Jesus had gathered with his disciples, and they’re in a hidden place, and he’s explaining to them the things that are going to happen next.

Jesus is in fact giving them bad news. And this bad news is affecting them.

Jesus says in John 16:1-3, “All this I have told you so that you will not fall away. They will put you out of the synagogue; in fact, the time is coming when anyone who kills you will think they are offering a service to God. They will do such things because they have not known the Father or me.”

The reason Jesus is giving them this information ahead of time is to prepare them for it. When they are persecuted, they can remember, wait, Jesus told us this would happen. And then they won’t fall away. They’ll stand firm.

Jesus even says in verse 4, “I have told you this, so that when their time comes you will remember that I warned you about them.”

Years from now, when Peter and the other disciples are arrested and harassed and beaten by the Jewish authorities, they will think back to that conversation with Jesus and say, that’s right, the Lord told us this would happen.

They will then know, it’s normal to feel this way, it’s understandable that this is happening. I can handle this. It’s going to be ok. Often we panic when bad things happen, we assume things are out of control. But God's word reminds us, it's to be expected. We can react in foreknowledge, knowing it is well.

Today we’re talking about the topic of grief and joy. Grief and joy are emotions that surround transitions. Anytime a change is happening, we experience grief.

It doesn’t have to be a negative change either, it can be a positive change. It can be a job promotion. It can be a new baby. It can be a victory. But even with positive changes we can experience grief surrounding the changes in our lives.

I know for myself, as I prepare to move, I find myself feeling depressed at times, feeling uncertain, feeling troubled, and this weekend, my wife and I were doing fun things outdoors, going for bike rides, walks, bon fires, and I found myself pre-occupied with uncomfortable feelings. I couldn’t fully enjoy what we were doing. I felt myself grieved.

How do you deal with grief? I know many of us used to drink or use drugs, or have a smoke, or party, but we can’t do that anymore. We’re different now. So how do we deal with grief?

We have to face it head on. And that will take courage.

“In a sermon, Bill Hybels shared this story: A friend of mine has a brain-damaged daughter. Sometimes the sadness she feels over her daughter's condition overwhelms her, as it did recently. She wrote me this letter and gave me permission to quote from it:

". . . I can hardly bear it sometimes. My most recent wave of grief came just last year before her sixteenth birthday. As the day approached, I found myself brooding over all the things that she would never be able to do. What did I do? What I've learned to do again and again: I did what I believe is the only thing to do to conquer grief, and that is to embrace it. . . I cried and cried and cried, and faced the truth of my grief head on."

People who face their feelings and express them freely begin the journey toward hope.” -article from Preaching Today.

Talk about the grief. Pray about the grief. Bring your grief before God’s throne. Think about it. Express it. Consider what it means. Walk through the emotions. Spend time grieving. All of this takes courage. It’s easier to just hide from it in a bottle, or a hobby or a distraction. We hide from it by ignoring it and pretending it isn’t there. But that won’t bring healing.

Jesus notices the grieving of his disciples.

He says to them, “...but now I am going to him who sent me. None of you asks me, ‘Where are you going?’ Rather, you are filled with grief because I have said these things. But very truly I tell you, it is for your good that I am going away.” -John 16:5-7

His disciples are so grieved they are not even paying attention. They aren’t asking Jesus where he’s going. They’re just so hurt that he’s leaving.

They are filled with grief. Jesus again is explaining the future to the disciples. The disciples are broken in these moments. Devastated. They love Jesus and they don’t understand what is happening.

But they are learning they must face the grief head on. They are in it. They must walk through it.

And Jesus explains that on the other side of grief, they will find that the change is actually good. It’s God's plan. It’s the right thing.

In my times of darkest grief, which have been many in my life, I’m grateful to the Holy Spirit who is with me, in me, in my mind and heart, communicating to me constantly about God, the truth, and justice.

As Jesus says in 7-11: “Unless I go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. When he comes, he will prove the world to be in the wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment: about sin, because people do not believe in me; about righteousness, because I am going to the Father, where you can see me no longer; and about judgment, because the prince of this world now stands condemned.”

The Holy Spirit ministers to us in grief, often through another person, or in our minds and hearts, or through the word of God.

The Lord continues, “I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear. But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come. He will glorify me because it is from me that he will receive what he will make known to you. All that belongs to the Father is mine. That is why I said the Spirit will receive from me what he will make known to you.” -John 16:12-15

God will often answer my negative thoughts, God will speak immediate truth:

It’s not worth it – God says I’ve given you good work to do.

It won’t matter – God says it matters more than you realize

It won’t work – God says it’s already certain

It isn’t good enough – God says I approve of your service

It’ll never be ok – God says in my timing you’ll find peace

I can’t do it – God says with me you can do all things

I don’t have the strength – God says my power is made perfect in weakness

The Holy Spirit is always speaking to us. Sometimes it’s an encouraging word. Sometimes it’s a challenging word. But He’s speaking. And when the Spirit speaks, you know you’re hearing from God.

Next we see the disciples finally beginning to question Jesus about what he means.

"Jesus went on to say, “In a little while you will see me no more, and then after a little while you will see me.”

At this, some of his disciples said to one another, “What does he mean by saying, ‘In a little while you will see me no more, and then after a little while you will see me,’ and ‘Because I am going to the Father’?” They kept asking, “What does he mean by ‘a little while’? We don’t understand what he is saying.”

Jesus saw that they wanted to ask him about this, so he said to them, “Are you asking one another what I meant when I said, ‘In a little while you will see me no more, and then after a little while you will see me’? Very truly I tell you, you will weep and mourn while the world rejoices. You will grieve, but your grief will turn to joy.” –John 16:16-20

Jesus knows that when he is crucified the world is going to celebrate. The world is going to rejoice that they finally got rid of Jesus. And he knows the disciples will mourn bitterly.

But Jesus knows that when he’s crucified that won’t be the end. It’s just the beginning. Because 3 days later Jesus will rise from the dead and be alive again.

And in those moments, Jesus knows, the disciples grief will turn to joy.

Similarly, in the big transitions in your life, the big moments of change, difficulty, grief, struggle, you mourn for a season. You grieve. You weep and shake in the difficulty. You come home each day thinking, “How can I keep going?”

But then after a certain amount of time, your grief slowly turns to hope, peace, even joy.

My wife and I just got married two months ago. And its been such a big transition in our lives. Huge transition. It’s throwing both of our routines into chaos. We’re both in our thirties, we’re set in our ways. And both of us are grieving in a way. Even though it’s a great change, it’s a blessing, it’s wonderful, it’s marriage. We both love it. But the change itself is hard.

But we talked yesterday, both just feeling out of whack, out of step, and we talked and said well in a few months we’re going to find a new normal. New patterns. And our struggle with turn to peace and a new comfort with the new patterns we’re forming now.

How does that work exactly? How can someone go from profound grief or pain, to joy and peace?

Jesus explains it will in verses 21-22, “A woman giving birth to a child has pain because her time has come; but when her baby is born she forgets the anguish because of her joy that a child is born into the world. So with you: Now is your time of grief, but I will see you again and you will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy.”

One of the most painful things in planet Earth is a woman giving birth. I’ve never felt the pain myself but I understand it’s brutal beyond words. But, when she holds that new baby in her arms, she forgets the pain, because joy overcomes the pain, so much so that the pain isn’t even remembered.

Joy overcomes grief. That’s a pattern in life. When I got saved in 2012, suddenly, what had been the most profound season of grieving in my life switched to a new season of profound joy.

A new joy the disciples get to experience is to pray in Jesus name.

Jesus teaches them about this next, he says, “In that day you will no longer ask me anything. Very truly I tell you, my Father will give you whatever you ask in my name. Until now you have not asked for anything in my name. Ask and you will receive, and your joy will be complete.

“Though I have been speaking figuratively, a time is coming when I will no longer use this kind of language but will tell you plainly about my Father. In that day you will ask in my name. I am not saying that I will ask the Father on your behalf. No, the Father himself loves you because you have loved me and have believed that I came from God.” -John 16:23-27

What will make the disciples joy complete? By praying in Jesus name. Ask and you will receive, Jesus says.

It’s not just because Jesus is going to ask for us when we pray in His name. No, that’s not how that works. We ask in Jesus name, because that goes directly to God the Father, and God the Father loves us dearly, and will answer that prayer Himself.

What happens when we pray in Jesus name? People get healed. Souls get saved. People get delivered from addictions. The depressed are encouraged. Corruption is exposed in the world. Movies and music get made. Artwork gets created. Movements thrive. Churches grow. All because we pray in Jesus name.

And in all that, we find joy as we do God’s will. We find our joy made complete as we participate in the bringing of God’s kingdom to Earth. And when we pray in Jesus name, that’s what we do.

In any transition in our lives we want to run to prayer in Jesus name again and again and again. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been so messed up and upset and angry or hurting badly and I ran to God in prayer and found such encouragement and peace.

Lastly, Jesus says, “I came from the Father and entered the world; now I am leaving the world and going back to the Father.”

Then Jesus’ disciples said, “Now you are speaking clearly and without figures of speech. Now we can see that you know all things and that you do not even need to have anyone ask you questions. This makes us believe that you came from God.”

“Do you now believe?” Jesus replied. “A time is coming and in fact has come when you will be scattered, each to your own home. You will leave me all alone. Yet I am not alone, for my Father is with me.

“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”–John 16:28-33

I want to draw your attention to the last verse there, Jesus says that we can have peace in all these difficult transitions.

Yes, there will be seasons of grief. Yes, there will be times of joy. But in all of it, we can find a place of peace.

We will have trouble in the world. That is certain. Trouble, problems, changes, difficulties, transitions, but, Jesus has set the stage. Jesus has overcome the world system. He has defeated the enemy. He has made the way for us to heaven. We just have to walk it.

So we should take heart.

How can we have peace Jesus says? Only he says, “In me.” Only in Jesus can we have peace.

When you find yourself pressed by change and grief, take heart. Encourage your own heart. Remind your heart of the promises of God. Turn your eyes to Jesus. And the troubles of this world will turn strangely dim, in the light of his mercy and grace.

In conclusion, understand that in grief, in change, you’ll feel like you can’t stand it. You’ll feel like it’s too much. You’ll want to give up. You’ll feel overwhelmed. But don’t give up.

Many do give up. And they get left caught in the grief, and the grief never ends. They get stuck in the process, and the grief becomes a constant companion. Or they run, and miss the blessing, because they ran back to their old ways, instead of facing the change boldly, bravely, and head on.

They missed the grief, and instead of healing they buried it. So in the future they'll have to go back and dig it up again, to find healing. Because grief buried grows a weed in the mind that affects the present. Is that you today? Then it's time to go back and dig up those pains, to bring them into the light of Christ, for healing. 

But, if you face the grief boldly and walk through the pain patiently, waiting weeks, months, even years, eventually you’ll find your grief slowly turned to joy. And in the end, you’ll find a place of peace, as the process is complete. And it’ll be the new normal. And you’ll have this peace that transcends all understanding, because you didn’t give up. You kept up the fight. And you’ve found the prize of joy and contentment and peace.

Review of Main Points:
1. Change brings grief – difficult emotions surround transitions

2. Face Grief head on – go through it to find healing, if we avoid it and bury it we'll have to dig it up later

3. The Holy Spirit ministers to us in Grief – let the Spirit speak truth into your situation

4. Grief will turn to Joy – after we’ve gone through the grief we find joy on the other side, if we've been bold to face it

5. Joy overcomes Grief – Joy takes over so much that we forget about the grief

6. Joy is made complete in God’s kingdom come – prayer in Jesus name is the key

7. We can have peace beyond the transitions of life, in Christ – peace is the final end point after difficult changes