My sweet friend Lisa lost her mom to cancer last night. We've been praying for her and for their family for a long time, but the last few weeks have been filled with those pressing kind of prayers that almost come without thought, unbidden and prompted simply by the Holy Spirit. In the midst of our trials and challenges this week, I have spent much time thinking about what it would be like to be in Lisa's shoes - thinking about loosing my own sweet Mum, and knowing how hard it was for my dear Historian to loose his. Those thoughts have brought me to my knees, knowing that Lisa would need the uplifting of our prayer support.
The blessing is that all three mothers know the Lord. I write 'know', and not 'knew', because while in life they were certainly trusting in Him, in death they see Him face to face. Lisa's mom was a 'new' Believer - and yet her fledgling faith and trust carried her through her battle with cancer. Now she is forever with the Lord. The Historian's mother was a strong believer for many many years - having walked away from the Lord in her early twenties, she found her way back to a life of faith through some of the most trying circumstances of her life. Her testimony remained strong until the end. My own dear Mum is very much alive and facing many challenges and struggles - but her faith is real, and carries her through the dark valleys. I have no doubt that she will finish well for however many more years or days the Lord has in mind for her, and until then, God will continue to be he rock and her salvation.
What a difference death is when it is merely the end of a life walked in faith. There is the tearing, of course - the sorrow and longing is natural. We were not made for death, but for life - a life of living each day with the sole purpose of glorifying God. Through the sin of one man, Adam, death entered for all men, spiritual and physical. Through the death of One Man, Jesus, eternal life is possible for those who put their trust in Him. That hope alone makes such a marked difference.
Many of you know that my sweet husband, the Historian, was a pastor for almost 20 years, first in Youth Ministry, and then as a 'Senior' Pastor of three different church families. One of the areas of strength God gifted him with was a special measure of compassion and grace for the grieving. Because of this, he was a part of many funerals over the years, bringing comfort to families with his quiet, gentle spirit. In doing so, he ministered as well to the funeral directors he came in contact with - and gained some insight into the 'business' end of comforting the grieving.
On more than one occasion he was told by the funeral director how different it is to plan a funeral with a 'church' family who's loved one lived a life of faith, than for the 'non-church' families. Over the years each expressed the differences differently but it all boiled down to the same idea - the church families had hope and peace, and despite their grief, had an assurance of eternity. The non-church families were often overwrought with hopeless despair, bitterness and anguish - they had no solid basis for ever thinking they truly might see their loved one again. These men saw clearly, but many never made a personal commitment to Christ - putting it off for 'someday', even though they knew only too well that any day can be your last. The Historian gave them a clear and simple reason for the Hope Believers have because of Christ, and presented the Gospel at each and every funeral - whether or not it was requested. He did it with such love and tenderness, giving the 'Good News' when it was most needed.
It's odd to feel that I have gained the perspective of age, but as a child, I never understood the sweetness of heaven, or the blessing the 'home-going' of the faithful can be, in the way I do now. I read these verses in I Thessalonians 4 and puzzled at their meaning - how could the idea of being suddenly whisked away from this comfortable, pleasant earth possibly be encouraging? What about the being asleep would cause grief? I know now that throughout Scripture, 'death' and 'sleep' are often used interchangeably - and that neither is a problem for God. I understand better now how much comfort there can be in thinking heavenwards, and in looking ahead to the coming of the Lord.
Brothers, we do not want you to be ignorant about those who fall asleep, or to grieve like the rest of men, who have no hope. We believe that Jesus died and rose again and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him. According to the Lord's own word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left till the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever.Therefore encourage each other with these words.