How to Apply the Gospel When Grief Strikes
Sometimes life is hard. Sometimes life turns in a direction we never imagined. Where do we go when this happens? Who do we turn to? How do we traverse the heavy burdens of grief?
A few weeks ago, Ami asked if she could share some of her story with the Intentional By Grace community. After listening to her heart, and reading her blog, I quickly said, “Yes!”
I have never walked through tragedy of this nature, but I know that Ami is not alone, and I pray that her story and words will encourage you in your moments of grief, or even as you walk through difficult times during your Christian pilgrimage.
This is a guest post from Ami at When Mercy Found Me.
I lay in a heap, crumpled on the bathroom floor, sobbing. The pain was wave upon wave, crushing me, threatening to drown me in its intensity. I was not pregnant.
“Why God? Why could you not give me a piece of him? Why is there no child with his smile or his eyes? How is this possibly good?”
I cried, accusatory jibes tumbling from my mouth.
It had only been a week or two since my husband died. Grief was all consuming.
Now even the hope that I could be pregnant shattered like glass. There would never be children with him. The curly headed, blue eyed, little boy of my imagination wouldn’t exist.
God had taken it all. I lay there not only grieving my husband, but every dream I’d ever formed. I would never be a mother. I would grow old alone. I grieved the t-ball games Jon would never coach, the diapers he would never change, the babies that would never sleep on his chest.
“This is too big! I’m drowning!”
Desperately I clung to the figment of grace that flickered dimly in the corner of my mind.
“God is good. He is doing good. Jesus satisfies.”
While the anguish was so raw, it was the only bit of truth around which I could wrap my mind. I said it out loud.
“God you are good. You are doing good. You satisfy.”
Slowly the wave subsided. Grace was tangible, and peace flooded my soul.
1 Thessalonians 4:13 says that Christians grieve not as those who have no hope, but it doesn’t say we don’t grieve.
I wrestled with the deep questions. God do I even believe you are who you say you are? Are you listening God? Where are you?
Grief does get easier, but it definitely got worse before it got better. Yet I have learned that there is always grace.
I’m no super saint. I struggle. A lot. But I’m learning to actively preach to myself. For, it’s when I listen to myself that I become trapped in a downward spiral of despair. It’s then I forget that I have hope.
Perhaps you also feel ensnared by worry, anxiety, fear, or despair. Joy is a carrot dangling from a string. Maybe it’s not death, but perhaps it’s illness, finances, or children who are far away from God. The waves threaten to drown you. God seems distant and truth merely a figment.
So how do we take hold of grace when it seems illusive? In sorrow and distress how do we get out of the spiral?
Well, talk to yourself.
I mean, I wouldn’t recommend an out-loud conversation with yourself in the grocery store. You might draw some funny looks. But, talking to yourself is taking an active stance. It’s a conscious effort to kill the lies with truth.
But this I call to mind and therefore I have hope, the steadfast love of the Lord never ceases. His mercies are new every morning. Great is your faithfulness. ~Lamentations 3:21-23
“These things I remember, as I pour out my soul…” ~Psalm 42
Call to mind truth. Remember what you’ve known before.
I don’t have it all figured out, but I want to give you some practical ideas that have helped me talk to myself rather than merely listen.
How to Apply the Gospel When Grief Strikes
1. Cling to the simple truths. Sometimes they are the most profound. (Romans 8)
God is good.
God is doing good.
God is sovereign and in control.
God loves me
God says He will never leave me.
Jesus died for me.
He is enough.
When I speak truth to myself even when I don’t feel like it, at some point my emotions surely follow.
2. Recall your identity. (Ephesians 1)
If you are a believer in Jesus you are …
- spotless, clean, above reproach
- a full-grown heir with all the privileges of sonship
- under grace
- fully known and fully loved
My pastor puts identity this way. On the cross Jesus became unclean so that you would be made clean. Furthermore, not only did he take you from negative infinity to zero, but from zero to positive infinity!
You have all his righteousness, and when God looks at you he sees his son. Another beautiful reality is that you don’t just get Jesus’ stuff, you get Jesus! He is the reward.
3. Develop your understanding of the gospel. Preach it to yourself all the time.
The gospel is bigger than merely how to get to heaven.
Romans 1:16 states that the gospel is “the power of God unto salvation.”
Now God is all powerful and creation displays His majesty, but NOTHING in Scripture is actually called the power of God EXCEPT for the gospel.
The gospel is the perfect life, substitutionary death, burial, resurrection and reign of Christ. It is necessary and applicable to every aspect of life. It’s like a diamond with many beautiful facets:
- Justified– Just as if I’ve never sinned. Just as if I’ve always obeyed.
- Redeemed– Bought back with a costly price.
- Reconciled– Brought into a right relationship with God.
- Propitiated– On the cross Jesus bore all the Father’s righteous wrath.
- Sanctified– I am being changed into what God has already declared me to be.
- Glorified– One day I will be never ending new.
Don’t these truths just stir your soul! The more I understand the facets, the more I can preach them to myself. The more I preach them to myself, the more beautiful they become. For example, if God did not spare His own Son, will He spare any omnipotent effort to do good to me?
Check out God is the Gospel by John Piper.
And here are some examples of how I’ve preached the gospel to myself.
I remember. The fight for joy.
4. Get truth in small chunks.
In sorrow, studying your Bible can seem so overwhelming. Your mind may feel numb or confused, so where do you even start? Well, arm yourself with resources that get you into the Word in manageable chunks.
Beware of fluff, however! Some books masquerade as devotional tools, but are merely self affirmations. Find books that point you to Christ. These are some of my favorite “small chunk” books that God has used marvelously to comfort and strengthen me.
- Every Day Prayers: 365 Gospel Centered Prayers by Scotty Smith
- The Gospel Primer by Milton Vincent
- The Path of Loneliness by Elisabeth Elliot.
- Secure in the Everlasting Arms by Elisabeth Elliot
- The One Year book of Hope by Nancy Guthrie.
5. Write down even the smallest evidences of grace.
I could elaborate much more, but for now here is an example.
6. Ask yourself questions.
We have this thing at our church called The Secret Sauce. But it’s not so secret. It’s 7 questions to ask yourself, and another way to actively talk to yourself.
- What does the situation say about God?
- What does it say about people?
- What should I do?
- But let’s be honest. How do I fail to do what I ought?
- How has Christ done this thing perfectly?
- How is Jesus’ death sufficient for my failure to do what I ought, and how does Christ’s resurrection empower me to be transformed?
- Therefore, because the gospel is true, what am I able to do?
I find that when I talk through these questions, my heart is strengthened by grace. This is life changing stuff!
7. Stay connected to community.
But what about those times when you can’t do it alone? I’ll be honest. Sometimes I struggle to get truth into my own heart. I wrote about that on my blog.
Well, it’s ok to let people know you are struggling. I know it’s a scary thing, but Christ made us a body for a reason.
One of biggest fallacies Christians perpetuate is the lie that we have to be strong. Paul said, “when I’m weak, then I am strong.” (II Corinthians 12) Some things are too big to bear alone. Resist the temptation to isolate yourself. Find those friends who can encourage with you the truth.
8. Fill the mundane tasks with music and sermons.
Here are two of the best sermons I’ve heard on trials and suffering. They are seriously worth the time!
The Difference Between Amazement and Faith (Paul David Tripp)
The Underestimated God (Ligon Duncan)
Let’s pull it all together.
Fight the lies with truth. Talk to yourself.
Remember who you are. Remember who He is. And remember what He has done.
So my friends, when grace feels like a figment, when waves crash and threaten to drown you, know that there is hope. His name is Jesus.
How have you applied the gospel to your grief? What words of encouragement can you share with others?
More about Ami and her testimony:
I’d say the most important thing to know about me is to know my Savior, Jesus. I’m redeemed, justified, made alive because of the finished work of Christ on the cross. Jesus paid the penalty for my sin. but He didn’t stay dead. He rose again! He ever lives and pleads for me. He chose me and calls me His own. I want to be a true disciple.
Jon, my husband and wonderful true love, died about a year and a half ago. He adored me, but he adored Jesus and the gospel more.
I used to teach kindergarten, but currently I work for my church counseling and teaching ladies. I’ve had the privilege to speak at several ladies retreats in the last year. Also, one of my blog posts was featured on the True Woman blog, a subset of Revive Our Hearts with Nancy Leigh DeMoss. You can find that post here.
I began writing primarily to help process the roller coaster of grief. The ramblings were my honest, raw, thoughts as a 30 year old, childless widow. I felt strongly that I needed to let others see my journey, and let God use it to break down stereotypes of Christian grief. Now I write to encourage and equip with the comfort I’ve been given. I want the Lord to use my life in any way He chooses. His gospel. His glory.
My blog is found at www.whenmercyfoundme.com
Of this I can be sure, “I have engraved you on the palms of my Hand…” Isaiah 49:16 The God who rescued me, bought me, made me righteous, this God has not forgotten me. And Him will I serve, always.
Beautiful example of Christ’s bringing beauty for ashes….so practical as well. Thanks, friend!
Wow. Thank you for not only sharing your story, but for encouraging and equipping us with resources and steps to help us cling to Jesus in our grief. I’m in a season of healing from childhood wounds that has hit me way harder and affected my family way more, than I could have imagined. Many days I’ve felt lost, groping for ways to hold on to hope. I’ve started various journals to help me process my pain and record promises of hope. This post so helps me in equipping me even more. Thank you so much. My heart aches to hear of your trials and pain…thank you for choosing to pour out whatever you sense the Lord filling you with.
Ursula, thank you so much for taking a second to comment. Thank you for sharing some of what you are struggling with as well. I will truly be praying for you. I know God is able to give you the same grace He has given me. One of the biggest struggles early on was thinking that I had lost my identity. I didn’t know who I was anymore without Jon. A really good book that helped me remember my identity in Christ is called Found in Him by Elyse Fitzpatrick. Perhaps it would bless you also in your time of healing. Please let me know if I can be a blessing to you in any other way. with love, Ami Atkins
Wow. Thank you for sharing your testimony. You are an amazing inspiration. I pray that God will continue to heal your heart and use your experience to further His kingdom.
Thank you Stephanie for your encouraging comments! God is doing much good. All praise to Him. – Ami Atkins