Here’s a huge problem for the Christian Church: many preachers are only preaching sermons that are geared towards helping people to live a better life here and now. They are not preparing people for the soon return of Jesus Christ. When the author of the book of Ecclesiastes said (7:2) “it is better to go to the house of mourning, than to go to the house of feasting” he had learnt something that many of us will never learn – and to our eternal cost.
You see, the thing about mourning and grief is that in its own way, it really is good for us. As we shed tears over what we have lost, and commiserate with those who have lost even more profoundly than ourselves, we find that the comfort that the Holy Spirit provides us with a new and more profound way of knowing God personally. But there is a catch – you have to be willing to let go of what you have desired so intensely. The brutal reality is that sometimes the things we value most in this life are taken away from us – but we refuse to let go of what has been taken away – even though we no longer possess it! Only by truly letting go and letting God will a person ever realise what it means for the Holy Spirit as a ‘Comforter’ to be more than an abstract theological concept. For those who missed that, let me say it again differently. The idea of the Holy Spirit as a ‘Comforter’ is only ‘head-knowledge’ for many of us. Only when our objects of love and desire are taken away from us will some of us ever truly turn to God for the first time. Let’s turn to a well-known text:
Amplified Bible (AMP)
2Consider it wholly joyful, my brethren, whenever you are enveloped in or encounter trials of any sort or fall into various temptations.
3Be assured and understand that the trial and proving of your faith bring out endurance and steadfastness and patience.
James is saying is that we need to count it all joy when our faith is tested severely to the limit – because faith can only grow when it is tested! Verse 13 of the same chapter makes it very clear that God does not tempt us to evil – and then verse 14 shows us that God allows us to be tempted – in the same way that Adam and Eve were tempted, and the Son of God was tempted.
Disappointment and grief, more than anything else, cure us of the false belief that we are masters of our own destiny and bring us to a place where we truly seek God as the Shepherd of our very souls. If you are only ever in the party, hanging out with the good-time crowd, then you may never confront your own mortality until it is too late – and then you may find that however willing your spirit, your flesh is too weak to say ‘yes’ to God when the test comes.
It is one thing to say, ‘the Lord is my Shepherd’ when times are good and we are being led beside still waters. It is another thing entirely to say, ‘the Lord is my Shepherd’ when we are being led into the valley of the shadow of death itself. For every person within the hearing of my voice who has never had their faith in God severely tested, I have a warning. What will you do when you discover that the only way to complete your education is to break the Sabbath? What will you do when it seems as if the only way to feed your family is to tell an untruth? What will you do if people around you constantly compare you to other people who are financially better off than you, but who have denied God? What will you do when you spend your whole life trying desperately to do the right thing, all on your own because even the church members have forsaken God, only to find that your years of faithful living do not even guarantee you a little peace and security? What will you do when your ‘worst-case-scenario’ is no longer a hypothetical scenario but the actual reality?
Will you still say then, ‘the Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want?’ When even your own relatives and friends are telling you to give up, because God has clearly forgotten you, will you still say that the Lord is your Shepherd?
Only when we truly realise our need for the Saviour – even when His deliverance does not come on our timescale and on terms that we could choose – can we finally be freed from our terrible burdens and released into a position where we can say:
The Lord is my Shepherd – THAT’S RELATIONSHIP!
I shall not want – THAT’S SUPPLY!
He maketh me to lie down in green pastures – THAT’S REST!
He leadeth me beside still waters – THAT’S REFRESHMENT!
He restoreth my soul – THAT’S HEALING!
He leadeth me in the paths of
righteousness – THAT’S GUIDANCE!
For His name sake -THAT’S PURPOSE!
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the
shadow of death – THAT’S TESTING!
I will fear no evil – THAT’S PROTECTION!
For thou art with me – THAT’S FAITHFULNESS!
Thy rod and thy staff they comfort me – THAT’S DISCIPLINE!
Thou preparest a table before me in the presence
of mine enemies – THAT’S HOPE!
Thou anointest my head with oil – THAT’S CONSECRATION!
My cup runneth over – THAT’S ABUNDANCE!
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the
days of my life – THAT’S BLESSING!
And I will dwell in the house of the Lord – THAT’S SECURITY!
Forever – THAT’S ETERNITY!