Lessons From Our Losses

Last week, tragedy struck the family of a ministry colleague.  He and his wife recently relocated to a church in another state, moving away from a city where they had lived for decades and leaving behind their adult children, grandchildren, and even their parents.  Their profound sacrifice and faithful obedience to this calling was truly notable and inspiring.

But, just last week, while still unpacking boxes in their new home, the wife incurred a massive brain aneurysm and by the next morning had passed into eternity.  Shock and disbelief filled our hearts as we mourned the sudden loss of this wonderful woman.  Nothing about it made sense – especially after all they had done to leave life as they knew it in order to serve in a new environment.

A couple of days later, I sat with the elders and staff from the church in an early morning prayer time, interceding for this dear family.  As we prayed, the Lord directed me to this unusual passage:

“A good name is better than precious ointment, and the day of death than the day of one’s birth; Better to go to the house of mourning than to go to the house of feasting, for that is the end of all men; And the living will take it to heart. Sorrow is better than laughter, for by a sad countenance the heart is made better. The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning, but the heart of fools is in the house of mirth” (Ecclesiastes 7:1-4).

I have often said that “the worst of times are the best of times; they just don’t feel like it at the time.” The Lord used this portion of Scripture to remind me of this truth, even in the midst of what seemed like a confusing and untimely loss of a sister in Christ who was just starting a new chapter of life.

Our Redeemer in Life and Death

Yet, I know, our God is a redeemer.  He redeems all things; not just our broken souls but also our shattered and senseless moments in life.  This word of wisdom from Solomon in Ecclesiastes chapter seven comforted me with a few clear applications.

The day of death is the crowning moment of a notable life – For this reason, “A good name is better than precious ointment, and the day of death than the day of one’s birth.”  The purpose of a believer’s life is the glory of God and the advancement of the Gospel. Our lives are not measured by how long we lived but how well we lived – and for whom we lived.  All the world’s goods (“precious ointment”) mean very little when we take our final breath.  But “a good name” – a life given to others, a journey that adorned Christ, a sure reward in heaven – make even the day of death a glorious tribute to the Giver of Life.

The “house of mourning” reinforces the essential lesson of life’s brevity – In a “house of feasting” (a lifestyle of delighting in the superficial and transitory stimuli of this brief life) most people are oblivious to the greater realities of our earthly journey.  In the house of mourning, every soul is once again brought back to the reality that this life is a “vapor that appears for a little while then vanishes away” (James 4:14).  According to Solomon, “the living take this to heart.” As a result, our souls embrace a fresh surrender to “the Lord’s will” (James 4:15).  Every death should remind us that life is short, eternity is long, eternal souls matter, and the real scoreboard is in Heaven.

Sorrow can make the heart better, not bitter – Returning once more to Solomon’s words, we read, “Sorrow is better than laughter, for by a sad countenance the heart is made better. The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning, but the heart of fools is in the house of mirth.” Fools dance their way through life, pretending all is well, based on superficial sources of well-being and happiness. 

It is different for a true Christ follower.  God pours grace into our loss in order to strengthen our heart with real wisdom.  Wisdom is the application of truth that allows us to see life from God’s perspective. Yes, we mourn the loss of loved ones, sometimes with hot tears, broken hearts, and honest questions.  Yet, through the pain, the Lord gives us a wisdom that infuses new purity, peace, clarity, humility, surrender, goodness, and authenticity.  God’s supernatural peace in the midst of the storm produces a deeper, more genuine godliness (see James 3:17 & 18).  Sadly, many believers harden their hearts to His grace and wisdom, resigning themselves to continual hurt, bitterness, and anger.

Author Walt Henrichsen writes, “No one escapes ‘the grim reaper.’ Mortality is 100 percent.  God brings grief into your life to sober and prepare you, not to discourage you.  God sees ‘the end from the beginning’ and He invites you to the house of mourning so that you can do the same thing.”

True Perspective

The Apostle Paul, writing from prison beneath the shadow of Rome’s murderous sword, wrote, “…according to my earnest expectation and hope that in nothing I shall be ashamed, but with all boldness, as always, so now also Christ will be magnified in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Philippians 1:20-21).  For Paul, life was defined by the opportunity to influence eternal souls for eternal purposes by the power of the Gospel.  Death was the gateway to eternal joy and reward.

In a recent Facebook post, after two memorial services in two cities (and on the occasion of his first birthday without his wife), my grieving colleague wrote, “The Lord Jesus is supplying peace that passes understanding.  I did not really know what that was until this week, but it is real and it is true.  Sadness is deep.  Our hearts are torn.  But the peace is real.”  

Yes, our Redeemer lives and reigns – even in the house of mourning.

Copyright © 2014 Daniel Henderson. All rights reserved.