How can Jesus transform our grief into gladness? Part 2

“Most assuredly, I say to you that you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice.” John 16:20a

As technology advances at exceedingly high rates, we may come to the conclusion that life should be easy. After all, we have all of these gadgets that are intended to make life easier for us. Things like automatic dishwashers, microwave ovens, central air-conditioning, garage door openers, GPS, cell phones, etc. Once we obtain these gadgets, we think we cannot live without them.

There is nothing wrong about finding ways to make life easier. But when we do, we can often shift this attitude into a demand that life must be easier. And when life does not comply with this thought, we can easily become angry or even bitter. Our grief over the problems in life can turn into depression.   

We are learning from Jesus’ instructions to His disciples how He can transform our grief into gladness. We discovered in John 16:16-19 that Christ can do this when we ask Him to help us properly understand His word as it relates to our situation. Today we see that our grief can be transformed into gladness when we ACCEPT THAT PAIN AND SUFFERING ARE PART OF LIFE (John 16:20a; cf. 16:33).

Christ said to His eleven believing disciples, “Most assuredly, I say to you that you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice.” (John 16:20a). Jesus assures His disciples (“most assuredly, I say to you”) that they “will weep and lament” over His departure when He dies on the cross. These words combine the thoughts of deep grief and the outward expression of that grief. Watching their Lord endure false accusations, beatings, mocking, and the shameful, humiliating death of crucifixion, would be extremely difficult for the disciples. Yet while they would experience great anguish at the crucifixion of Christ, the unbelieving “world will rejoice.” The religious leaders especially rejoiced over Christ’s sufferings and death because they had removed the One Who threatened their power.

When we see evil appear to triumph over good, we will experience grief and sadness. For example, when militant Muslims murder innocent Christians and boast about it on TV, Christians will feel deep sorrow over this. Believers must realize that being a Christian does not insulate us from grief and sorrow. Christ never promised believers that life would be easy. It is not sinful to experience grief and sadness since both Jesus and His disciples did (cf. Matthew 17:23; 26:22, 37-38; Mark 14:19, 34; Luke 22:45; John 11:33-35; 16:6, 20, 22). In fact, the prophet, Isaiah, describes Jesus as “a Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief” (Isaiah 53:3). So feeling grief and sadness is not ungodly. It is Christ-like.

There is some teaching in Christian circles today that says life should be easy if you are a Christian. If life is not easy for you, then you must be the problem because God wants all His children to have it easy. Is this true? No. Jesus said, “In the world you will have tribulation” (16:33). He did not say “you might have” tribulation. He said you “will have” tribulation. The word “tribulation” (thlipsis) is used of a narrow place that “hems someone in”; it is an internal pressure that causes someone to feel confined (restricted, “without options”). Christ uses this word to refer to “persecution, affliction, and distress.” 1

Jesus also said, “Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.” (Matthew 6:34b). Most people would agree with this. On Monday, your electric bill arrives, and it’s three times as much as you have left in your bank account. On Tuesday, your car won’t start. On Wednesday, your child is exposed to COVID and your entire family must quarantine. On Thursday, your spouse tells you they don’t love you any more. On Friday, you find out you have lost thousands of dollars in a poor investment. And the list goes on and on. Jesus did not say Christians would have it easy. He said life would be difficult. He wasn’t being pessimistic in these verses, He was simply being honest.

Life can also be internally difficult for us as Christians because there is this internal battle going on between our sinful flesh and the Holy Spirit (Galatians 5:16-17). All people are born with a sinful flesh that has a bent toward selfishness, laziness, immaturity, distorting reality, lust of the eyes, lust of the flesh, the pride of life, etc. (cf. Psalm 51:5; Romans 3:23; 7:18; Galatians 5:19-21; I John 2:16). 2

The apostle Paul describes this battle when he says, 15 For what I am doing, I do not understand. For what I will to do, that I do not practice; but what I hate, that I do. 16 If, then, I do what I will not to do, I agree with the law that it is good. 17 But now, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me. 18 For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) nothing good dwells; for to will is present with me, but how to perform what is good I do not find. 19 For the good that I will to do, I do not do; but the evil I will not to do, that I practice. 20 Now if I do what I will not to do, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me. 21 I find then a law, that evil is present with me, the one who wills to do good.” (Romans 7:15-21).

Paul is very clear in these verses that a battle raged inside of him between his sinful nature that operated in the flesh and the new person he was in Christ that operated in the Spirit. We may agree intellectually that life is difficult both externally and internally, but deep down inside the recesses of our minds we believe the lie that says life should be easy. So when life does take a turn for the worse, we can throw an emotional tantrum.

Christian counselor, Dr. Chris Thurman, shares how many of his clients come into his office believing this lie that life should be easy, and when life proves otherwise, they have a lot of intense anger that can turn into bitterness and resentment. They refuse to accept that their problems or disappointments are a part of life. 3

Accepting that life is difficult does not mean we must like the problem or be glad it happened. But you can choose to hurt over it and accept it. Thurman writes, “Accepting it means you have faced the fact that it happened (versus refusing to), understand why it occurred (versus being in the dark about why it did), have let it hurt (versus feel numb about it), and have come to a place of peace about it (versus still in turmoil over it).” 4

We need to ask ourselves, “Am I going to face my problems or run from them?” Satan “wants us to run from our problems, both foreign (external) and domestic (internal), because he knows our problems get worse and we end up suffering at a greater level when we do. God wants us to face our problems because He knows doing so resolves them and the suffering we experience helps us mature in Christ.” 5

If we tell ourselves that life should be easy, we are going to experience bitterness because our expectations are not realistic or biblical. We will either become very angry or discouraged and depressed when life does not match our expectations. The truth is life is difficult and the more we accept this truth, then the more we can move on from our past problems and experience the joy Jesus wants us to have, even when life is difficult.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, this message really convicts me about my bad attitude. It is so easy for me to complain about problems in life and develop a lot of anger and even bitterness. Much of my anger is connected to believing the lie that life should be easy. Thank You for making it so clear that life is not always going to be easy. It can be very difficult. Even if I am living for You, Lord Jesus, You said I “will have tribulation” (John 16:33) because the world hates You and those who follow You (John 15:18-21). I pray You will help me replace this lie that life should be easy with the truth that life is difficult so I may accept that pain and suffering is a part of life. I want to invite You to walk with me as I face the pain and process it so I may move on and experience Your joy no matter what happens in life. Thank You for hearing my prayers, my Lord and my God. In Your mighty name I pray. Amen.

ENDNOTES:

1. see https://biblehub.com/greek/2347.htm.

2. Dr. Chris Thurman, The Lies We Believe (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2019 Kindle Edition), pg. 201.

3. Dr. Chris Thurman, The Lies We Believe (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1999), pp. 160-161.

4. Ibid., pg. 165.

5. Thurman, The Lies We believe (2019 Kindle Edition), pg. 209.

What can we do with the angry thoughts we have toward those who have wounded us?

“In return for my love they are my accusers, but I give myself to prayer.” Psalm 109:4

In return for his love for them, a group of people caused great pain to King David by falsely accusing him (109:2-5, 20-25). Instead of seeking revenge, David sought the Lord in “prayer” (109:4b). The phrase “give myself to” in verse 4b is in italics which means this phrase is not in the original Hebrew language. So the verse literally reads, “but I am prayer.” David’s life was so filled with prayer he could say his life is prayer. When the apostle Paul said, “For to me, to live is Christ” (Philippians 1:21), David would probably have said, “For to me, to live is prayer.” We would say he lived, ate, and slept prayer. The centrality of prayer in his life reflected his great dependence upon the Lord.

David asked God to severely judge his accusers (109:6-29). He pleaded with God to return what his enemies were doing to him back on themselves. For example, He asked God to “set a wicked man” over his enemy to oppose and accuse him (109:6). He wanted God to judge him “guilty” and put him to death (109:7-8). He also prayed the Lord would punish his enemy’s “children” and “wife” for his evil doings (109:9-10) so that no one would remember him and so that he would have no descendants (109:11-15). The reason David prayed this way was because his enemy had practiced these things David asked God to do to him (109:16-20, 28-29). David was confident that God would save him from his enemies, so he promised to “greatly praise the Lord” (109:30-31).

Do you ever find yourself at a loss for words when you have been deeply hurt by those whom you have loved? You have these angry thoughts toward them, but you have been taught that anger is sin, so you stuff your feelings down or condemn yourself for having them? If that describes you, follow David’s example and express your anger to God in prayer. God already knows they are there, but He wants you to release them to Him, so He can heal you and work in your life and in the lives of those who have wronged you.

Harboring angry thoughts will hurt you more than your offenders. Instead of trying to get even, get honest with the Lord so He can lift your burdens and deal with those who have mistreated you. It is not wrong to pray for God to punish evil doers because He has promised to do so either in this life or in the future (cf. Acts 17:30-31; 2 Thessalonians 1:6-10; Revelation 6:9-10; 16:4-6; 19:2, 11-21). But it is also important to pray for their salvation lest they perish without Christ (John 17:20; Romans 10:1; I Timothy 2:1-7).

How can I resolve my anger?

“Be angry and do not sin. Meditate within your heart on your bed, and be still. Offer the sacrifices of righteousness, and put your trust in the Lord.” Psalm 4:4-5

The apostle Paul quotes the phrase “Be angry and do not sin” (Psalm 4:4a) in Ephesians 4:26 when he is talking to believers about not grieving the Holy Spirit with their communications towards one another (cf. Ephes. 4:25-32). Psalm 4: 4-5 teach us some important principles for dealing with our anger:

1.  Admit and feel your anger (“Be angry and do not sin” –  4:4a). The feeling of anger is not wrong in and of itself. Even God feels anger (cf. Exodus 4:14; Number 11:10; Deuteronomy 7:4; Mark 3:5; John 2:13-16; 3:36; Romans 1:18; 12:19; Colossians 3:6; Hebrews 3:11; 4:3; Revelation 6:16; 19:15; et. al). What we do with our anger can be sinful. When we admit our anger, we begin to take control of it. It is important to use “I feel…” statements which take responsibility for our own anger. Example: “I feel angry when you…” But spiritual perfectionism says, “I’m not angry.” Shame-based statements use the word “You.” Example: “You make me feel so angry!” The last two examples do not honor what God is saying here – “Be angry and do not sin,” because they do not acknowledge or take responsibility for one’s own anger.

2.  Talk to the Lord until you can be still (“Meditate [talk] within your heart on your bed, and be still”– 4:4b; cf. 4:3). As we talk to the Lord He can help us identify the source of our anger – Is it selfishness or perfectionism? Or is it because we have been wronged?

3.  Do what is right which includes forgiving others and yourself (“Offer the sacrifices of righteousness– 4:5a). Sacrifices were offered in the Old Testament as a means of forgiveness (cf. Hebrews 9:22). As God shows us the source of our anger, we can seek forgiveness if we were being selfish or perfectionistic (I John 1:9) or we can extend forgiveness to those who have wronged us (Ephesians 4:32). 

4. Trust the Lord with the situation (“And put your trust in the Lord”– 4:5b). Many believers struggle with the first two steps the most and skip right over them to forgive and trust the Lord without acknowledging or processing their feelings. But if we do not admit our anger or hurt and turn it over to the Lord, it is very difficult to forgive “from the heart” (cf. Matthew 18:35). 

Somehow Christians are not comfortable admitting their deep hurt and anger. Perhaps it is due to the perfectionism that is taught in churches today. But if we are to be more like Jesus Christ, we can learn to admit our anger and release it to God, so He can use it the way He intended – to accomplish His righteousness (cf. Mark 3:5; John 2:13-16; James 1:19-20). If we refuse to address our anger God’s way, it will result in more brokenness in the body of Christ because we are giving the devil an opportunity to lead us into greater sin (cf. Ephesians 4:26-27). But if we do deal with our anger God’s way, we can experience what David did,“I will both lie down in peace, and sleep; for You alone, O Lord, make me dwell in safety” (Psalm 4:8).