Today, part of our service will be devoted to remembering the brothers and sisters who were a part of this congregation in some way and have passed away in the last roughly two years. In many cases, we were not able to visit and comfort people in our families, loved ones, because of Covid restrictions and for some we weren't even able to have a public funeral.
This Sunday, therefore, is a time when we want to remember and pray for each person this congregation has lost, in a very small way, honor their memory - and this we will do after our regular worship service is over.
My lesson, however, is not about those who have left us, but about those who remain, those who are left behind, those whose common companions are sorrow and hurt. The common experience is that when someone dies, it's like an earthquake, it's like a bomb blast. I used the analogy, because like these events, the death of someone close and important to us changes our lives instantly.
And at first, there's a lot of action swirling around us. Just like when a bomb goes off, lots of action. In normal times, funeral preparations and paperwork and the phone calls start coming in, and the family comes over and church visits and food donations, and you have 52 casseroles in your freezer. And did I mention the constant phone calls?
However, after the initial impact and rush of attention focused on the sad event, once that's over, you know, after everybody goes home, after the world moves on to the next terrible event, all that is left is pain. And the only companion we have is hurt. Suffering quietly, silently, suffer daily in the middle of night, you wake up just for a moment thinking that things are normal, and then you realize that they're not. Or as you walk down the street doing your everyday things, you're reminded over and over of the hurt that you suffer. I used the death of a loved one as an example, but it's the same experience for every incident that causes hurt in our lives.
For example, long after you announce that you have perhaps a terminal cancer. When everybody hears the news and responds with sympathy and cards and kind words, and then they have to go on, because they're healthy. They got to go back to work, they got things to do, there's T-ball, the season that's starting. And then you have to deal with your fear and your hurt by yourself, 'cause the world is busy. Another example, long after people have stopped bringing meals because of your heart attack, for example, you have to live with the pain and the uncertainty and the loss caused by it.
You're the one that cries for nothing. You used to never cry, and now you cry at the drop of a hat. And most of the times you do it by yourself.
No matter how good their intentions, people's comfort and care never outlasts the hurt caused by your own personal tragedy. Most of us have to learn to live and cope with our hurt by ourselves, because the train of sympathy stops at our house for only a little while, before it just moves on.
I learned this early in life when my own father died. I missed a few days of school because of the funeral. And when I came back, the teacher kindly asked me how I was, how I was feeling. There was this awkward moment when I walked into the class and that's the guy's father died. And then bring, it was recess. And everything was back to normal, and my assignments they had to be in 24 hours. A day later it was business as usual, and I was expected to toe the line or not or get detention. And it was hard for me at 15 years old to understand, since nothing had changed inside of me in 24 hours, my dad was gone. I still hurt, but the world had already forgotten and moved on to something else.
So whether it's a momentous thing like the death of a loved one, or a very personal thing like an ongoing illness or the loss of mobility. Everybody else is walking around, up and down the stairs, and this and that, but you, you have to walk slowly now. You need help sitting down and getting up. Or the loss of income. You used to spend whatever it costs, and now all of a sudden for whatever reason, you don't have that income anymore. Personal pain is personal, and it's ongoing. And whether people know about it or not, the hurt is the same. Suffering publicly or suffering privately is the same. One is no easier than the other.
For this reason, we have a Lord who understands pain. Fortunately, we have a Lord who is always there to help us with our hurts. Jesus Christ is the Lord of the heavens, yes, and he's the Lord of the earth, yes, and thankfully for those who suffer, he's also the Lord of hurting. And the Lord of those who hurt provides several important avenues of relief for those who believe and trust him. And I would like to share a couple of these with you this morning in my lesson.
The Lord of Hurting Provides:
1. An avenue of prayer
People neglect prayer, and they don't think much about prayer until they need to pray. Can you imagine, just for a moment, what life would be like if you couldn't pray, you couldn't. No God to appeal to, simply your fate to suffer, you make the best of it. God didn't care. No use praying, because God is not interested in your welfare.
Imagine if that was the truth. But God has revealed himself and his will in the Bible, and throughout its pages we see example after example of men and women pouring out their hearts to God, who listens, God who cares, God who answers prayers.
- Abraham who prayed for a son and received one when he was old in age.
- Samson who prayed for one last chance to defeat his enemies and brought down the Philistine temple with his bare hands.
- And Hezekiah who cried and wept and prayed to the Lord to save him from a terminal illness and was given 15 extra years of life.
- And the women who prayed for Dorcas to be released from death and Peter raised her up by God's power, because of their prayers.
And the stories are multiplied by the dozens of men and women who used the avenue of prayer given to them by God in order to gain relief from the psychological and physical hurt in their lives.
Jesus promised us that not only was the avenue of prayer open to God for our hurts and sorrows, he promised two other things to comfort us in our pain.
1. That in prayer, he would personally take the burden of our hurts upon himself.
Come to me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest.
- Matthew 11:28
2. That in prayer, no less than the Holy Spirit would assist us in coming to the Lord.
26In the same way the Spirit also helps our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we should, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words; 27and He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because He intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.
- Romans 8:26-27
God provides an avenue of prayer for hurting people, whereas the entire Godhead, the Father who hears, the Son who shares the burden, and the Holy Spirit who interprets are all involved with our hurt.
Take it to the Lord in prayer is not just a song, it becomes the first line of ministry by God for souls who are hurting. I'll tell you this, if you're hurting, but you're not praying, you're suffering more than you need to, and not taking advantage of the basic medicine that God offers for times such as these.
The Lord of hurting also provides:
2. An avenue of teaching
Pain does not teach you anything all by itself. All by itself, pain is debilitating and discouraging. But sometimes pain focuses us to search, to question, to think. And for those times, God provides his Word, which is able to teach us tremendous lessons, once our hurting brings us there. God's Word is filled with stories of real people who hurt exactly as we do. Their lives give us hope and instruction and empathy for our lives and our hurt and our healing.
Through his Word, God provides us with a mirror of our lives. When we look into the mirror, we not only see ourselves in the lives of those contained there, but we also can know the experience of the people we read about in the Scripture.
How many times did I read and how many times did I preach about Paul the apostle who had a thorn in the flesh. A thorn in the flesh that made him unable to minister at the level he wanted to, that somehow reduced him as a man.
I preach that so many times, and I read it so many times, but I only understood it when I myself became sick two years ago, when I myself had to stop working, because of the illness that I had, because I saw in myself that I was becoming less and less of the person and the minister that I was once upon a time. I saw in him, and he showed me the same thing in myself.
When my hurt drives me to the Word:
- I am lifted by the faith of Abraham
- I am moved by the loyalty of Ruth
- I am humbled by the wisdom of Solomon
- I am comforted by the perseverance of Job
- I'm assured of my own forgiveness when I see David receive pardon for his wickedness
- I am steadied by the promises of Jesus
- I am moved to action by Paul's life and his work, despite his thorn in the flesh
God does not leave us to suffer in darkness. The Lord of hurting shines the light of encouragement and hope on our pain through the lives of fellow believers contained in the Word.
And then finally, the Lord of hurting provides:
3. An avenue of help
No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it.
- I Corinthians 10:13
The Greek word has two meanings that apply in this passage.
A temptation meaning a seduction to do evil.
- In the cases where we are tempted to sin, the window of escape may be the Word of God to guide us into what is right and to what is wrong (II Timothy 3:16).
- The Holy Spirit who moves us to do what is right (Romans 8:13).
- The church to teach us and guide us and discipline us (I Timothy 3:15).
- The example of those who came before us and what happened to them who obeyed and disobeyed (I Corinthians 10:11).
Temptation as a trial or a test.
In situations where we suffer because of a trial or a test, God also provides concrete help to get us through. The window of escape in these hurting situations may be a brother or a sister to lean on, or perhaps something we can do, or resources that we need, or an insight to guide us through our period of hurting.
Whatever it is, it is sent to help us endure our hurt, cope with our pain, keep us from losing faith and hope, because that's the problem of pain. The problem of pain is that it saps us slowly of our faith and our hope, because we're using all of our energy to deal with our pain.
God always provides the right person and the right thing and the right situation that we need. For example, who else could comfort Jesus in the desert for 40 days and nights but angels? And angels are who God sent to comfort him. And the island in the storm for Paul when he was shipwrecked was exactly what he needed. And the vision of John while he was in exile on Patmos, probably thinking, "All is lost, my ministry is finished. I'm separated from the people. I'm on this prison island here." And God gives him a vision. And from that vision comes what we know as the Book of Revelation.
Our hurt is never so personal, it's never so great that the Lord of hurting cannot provide exactly what we need in order to help us escape despair.
A shining example of all of this happened on April 19, 1995, when Oklahoma suffered the Murrah Building bombing and the terrible loss of life, and the suffering and the hurt it caused for so, so many people. Many at that time threw themselves on God's mercy and prayer and found the only one who truly could console them for their terrible loss and pain was the Lord himself. And so many newspapers and magazines, as well as books were full of reports detailing the wonderful things that people learned because of this tragedy. And of course, the world gave credit to the wonderful spirit of Oklahomans for the love and the help that poured out to the victims at that time. But we know whose Spirit that was acting through those people.
We know that God opened wide a window of love, so that the hurting people of Oklahoma would not sink under the burden of pain and sorrow. Of all the many blessings to come from that dark day, I would say that one of the greatest was that we were able to witness so clearly, so beautifully, the Lord of hurting ministering to the people of our state.
And so I ask, as I close out this morning, what about you? What is your hurt? Have you tried to deal with your hurt by yourself without anyone's help? Why not let the Lord of hurting take your hurt unto himself and provide for you a window of escape today? He promises that he can and will give you one if you ask.
Maybe, maybe your window of escape is the water of baptism, where you will escape judgment and eternal punishment for the hurt that you have caused. And maybe your window of escape is the prayers of the church where you can be restored from being unfaithful or separate from God and your brethren. Whatever your hurt, the Lord of hurting is waiting to minister to you.