The passing of my father-in-law has been a sad experience to say the least.
However, though I have been full of sorrow, I have been renewed by a few events that followed. I have been encouraged by the spiritual impact that his passing has left on my life. In a very real way, his passing has brought me closer to the Lord and greatly improved my pastoral abilities.
One event that was significant came through the passage that was chosen to be read at my father-in-law’s memorial. As my wife’s older sister practiced reading the passage beforehand, then read it officially at the memorial, and even now as I read the passage again; I am deeply moved and encouraged by Paul’s words.
“Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope. For 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 word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left until 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 one another with these words.” (1 Thes. 4:13-18)
I am sure that I have read and/or heard this passage a number of times. However, I never really understand the magnitude of what God led Paul to write to the Thessalonian church. We will and do grieve. Yet, we do not grieve like those who do not know Christ as their Savior.
One day we will all meet again and stand with our Lord. The pain and sorrow are deep, but we have hope. Why, until this week, have I not really understood how great of a promise this is? My father-in-law’s passing has solidified these words in my heart and I am changed because of it.
The subsequent series of events that continued to impact me were based in my leadership as a pastor. Prior to my father-in-law’s passing, I frequently shied away from families who were dealing with a death or serious injury. As someone who prides himself (through insecurities) on having it all together, I often avoided serious situations because I could not control them, nor could I control how I or others would react.
This has all changed this week. I now feel a deep longing to comfort those who are grieving or those who are seriously injured.
It started within my father-in-law’s final hours. There was so much unknown and we were in a ward of the hospital where each room I passed held a patient who was seriously afflicted with some terminal ailment. As I peered into each room, I saw each face and the pain they carried.
All of a sudden, I felt compelled to tell a nurse that I was a pastor and that I would be available to other patients for prayer if they wanted it. I found myself baffled at my words, because of my past insecurities within this area of pastoral care. Yet, I was compelled to notify the nurse.
This renewal of pastoral leadership continued through his passing, as I felt compelled to ask my mother-in-law if she would prefer me to notify my father-in-law’s friends (contacts from his cell phone). It was a difficult task that I would never offer to do in alternate circumstances. Yet once again, I was compelled to assist in this manner. Strangely enough, I now feel that I would be willing to complete this task for anyone, if they so wished.
When it came time for someone to transport his ashes, I felt compelled again. This compulsion continued right up to yesterday, as we scattered his ashes and a special location. I felt compelled to step up and bless my family by reading the Scripture and praying. Small tasks I agree, but prior to this week I would have faded into the background when these duties were called, never mind willingly offering.
After reading my words, I hope they do not sound prideful or arrogant. This is not my intention. I simply desire to record the growth that God has chosen to bestow upon me during this time of loss.
I am amazed at God’s faithfulness to provide certain gifts and abilities at the exact time when they are needed. Regardless of insecurities and fears, the Holy Spirit will overcome and compel us to act in accordance to what is needed. We have a wonderful and truly faithful God.
When was the last time you were compelled to act or speak?