Loss is real, and grief plagues everyone to some degree. The struggle of grief can present itself through the loss of a family member, a pet, or even a job. The overwhelming emotion of grief can hit at any time. Grief, known as the emotion experienced after loss, is one of the strongest emotions. Grief can reach far deeper and last far longer than other emotions. While the happy experience of receiving a new car can last a few weeks, the grief of losing a loved one can stretch into months and, in some cases, years. Because grief is a reality, comforting those who are grieving should be a priority for preachers who want to shepherd well. Here are a few things for shepherd preachers to be aware of in preaching to comfort through grief.
Remember People Are Grieving
Within the process of preaching, it can be challenging to remember the grieving. The demands of pastoring are tremendous. There are always pressing issues that must be proclaimed from the pulpit to the congregation. Because of these demands, comforting those who are grieving gets overlooked in sermon preparation and delivery.
However, shepherd preachers must realize that people are grieving in their congregations. Because Christians continue to live in a fallen world, people experience disappointment, loss, and failure weekly. On any given Sunday, church members are working through different stages of grief, and they need to hear how the gospel can bring comfort. Paul realized this truth. He communicated his reliance on his relationship with the “the God of all comfort” as he writes to the Corinthians.
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and the God of all comfort. He comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any kind of affliction, through the comfort we ourselves receive from God. For just as the sufferings of Christ overflow to us, so also through Christ our comfort overflows. (2 Corinthians 1:3–5, CSB)
Because the Scripture addresses grief with the gospel and the comfort provided through it, the shepherd-preacher must address grief with the gospel as well. The shepherd-preacher can remember those who are grieving by telling them that true comfort and peace can be found in a relationship with God.
Remind the Flock that God Has Not Left
One of the significant ways that Scripture addresses grief is by showing that God cares for those who are grieving. While God’s presence with His people is a constant theme in the Scripture, some may wonder if he remains present in the difficult seasons of grief. But the grieving should not worry. The Psalmist tells us, “The Lord is near to the brokenhearted; he saves those crushed in spirit.” (Psalm 34:18, CSB) and the Gospel of Matthew reminds us, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.” (Matthew 5:4, CSB).
Although the grieving may feel as if God has left them, they need to hear from their preacher that God has not abandoned them in their grief, and God is with them through the entire grieving process. Shepherd preacher tell the congregation about God’s constant presence in times of trial, and he will bring them comfort in times of grief.
Remind the Flock That God Understands
In some cases of grief, a believer will lash out at God by claiming that God has caused their grief or that God cannot understand what they are going through. Job did this exact thing as he expressed his overwhelming grief and frustration with God.
If only my grief could be weighed and my devastation placed with it on the scales. For then it would outweigh the sand of the seas! That is why my words are rash. Surely the arrows of the Almighty have pierced me; my spirit drinks their poison. God’s terrors are arrayed against me. (Job 6:2–4, CSB)
While a person grieving may identify with Job’s grief, the idea that God cannot understand grief could not be further from the truth. Christians need to realize that God understands grief entirely. So much to the fact that the prophet Isaiah prophesied identified the coming Messiah (Jesus) as a man of great grief.
He was despised and rejected by men, a man of suffering who knew what sickness was. He was like someone people turned away from; he was despised, and we didn’t value him. Yet he himself bore our sicknesses, and he carried our pains; but we in turn regarded him stricken, struck down by God, and afflicted. (Isaiah 53:3–4, CSB)
The Gospel of Matthew gives Jesus’ own words of grief as he laments over the sinful rebellion of the Hebrew people and the rejection of their Messiah.
Jerusalem, Jerusalem, who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her. How often I wanted to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing! (Matthew 23:37, CSB)
The writer of Hebrews informed his audience that Jesus, the great high priest, is not distant from our pain and trials but that he has experienced them intently that he would be able to identify with our grief and bring us comfort through any grief we could face.
For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who has been tempted in every way as we are, yet without sin. (Hebrews 4:15, CSB)
Because Jesus was a man of grief, who knew what grieving was like, shepherd-preachers can comfort their flock by reminding them that Jesus knows exactly what they are going through.
Remind the Flock That God Is Still In Control
Feeling like the situation is out of control is typical for those experiencing grief. To feel defeated is normal when grief comes. A loss in life can leave people feeling helpless in their situation, wondering why God allowed the loss to happen. A tragedy of evil can lead a person to feel as if evil will go unpunished, asking why God would allow such a tragedy. A period of loss can cause a person to question the purpose of life and the purposes of God.
The story of Joseph tells a vital truth about dealing with trials. The story begins with Joseph getting thrown into a pit and sold into slavery by his brothers. After being taken away to Egypt, he imprisoned for a crime he did not commit. Joseph was no stranger to tragedy, and he had every reason to cry out, “why would you let this happen, God?” However, he did not. Why? Because he knew that God was still in control. Joseph’s confidence in God’s control can be observed through Joseph’s explanation once he was reunited with his family.
But Joseph said to them, “Don’t be afraid. Am I in the place of God? You planned evil against me; God planned it for good to bring about the present result—the survival of many people.” (Genesis 50:19–20, CSB)
Therefore, the shepherd who desires to comfort his people will be like Joseph. He will proclaim that God is still in control.
Remind the Flock That Hope Is Available In Jesus
In times of grief and loss, one may find himself focusing their attention on their problems. In such seasons people tend to think more about what they have lost than what they still have or what the future holds. When it comes to fulfilling the role of shepherd preacher, the preacher must continually steer his flock away from the problems of the world in order to lead them to focus on the hope they can have in Christ Jesus. Examine the words of Peter.
Therefore, with your minds ready for action, be sober-minded and set your hope completely on the grace to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ. (1 Peter 1:13, CSB)
Peter calls his audience to be ready for the day and all that the day may bring by setting their hope in God’s grace through Jesus Christ. The greatest responsibility of every shepherd preacher is to point their flock to the one person who can bring them hope, the true shepherd, Jesus Christ.
Anthony Svajda is the Pastor of Harvey Baptist Church, Stephenville, Texas, and has received a Ph.D. in Evangelism and Church Vitalization from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.