The Upside-Down Blessing – Pt 2 – Grief

Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted… – Matthew 5:4

This is the second devotion in a series on the Beatitudes. The first is here.

These blessings are upside-down because each of them name a state that none of us want to be in, and then share that in that state, God is blessing you. Today’s is mourning, sadness… grief.

Which turns the mind immediately to a funeral. After 22 years of ministry I can say, in the most respectful way I can, that there is nothing like a funeral. It is the Holy ground that no-one wants to walk upon. Our lives are stopped, and we gather to mourn, and if it is a blessed service there will be several things that stand alongside our sadness. One of which is the presence of God.

Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no evil; for you are with me; your rod and your staff–they comfort me.

Psalm 23:4

That’s the upside-down blessing of God. In your sadness, God will be there. Not necessarily to take the sadness away, but to sit with you through it, and bring comfort. I have seen God fulfil this promise in so many different ways across 22 years of ministry with the grieving. Often, this is one of the places the Lord uses the fellowship of the church in truly Christ-like fashion.

It is in every casserole, every salad, and funeral dinner, as well as the knowing and caring hands that prepare them. It is in the fellowship those around the family, the support, the temporary suspension of ages-long family arguments, the arrival of long distant friends, and the recovery of near-forgotten connections.  It is in the friends and family who surround those most in pain during the weeks, months… years, that follow. And perhaps most profoundly, it is in the quiet promise of heaven, for those who call on the name of the Lord. That promise stands like a silent but welcome guest who comes and takes a place standing right beside the pain of loss.  So that grief is not the only voice heard on that day.   

But there is another way to interpret this verse as well, because there are other types of sadness.

John Wesley, when he preaches on the sermon on the mount interpreted this with a specific kind of mourning in mind. 

Repentance: A classic ‘church word’ that means a change in your life’s direction. You were headed one way (usually ‘away from God’) and now you have chosen to walk a different way (to walk ‘toward God’). Sadness is often a part of repentance, because repentance is about sin and its consequences.

When we are deep in sadness about our sins, our failures, the times we have let ourselves, others, and God down.  Then this upside-down blessing also applies. The Holy Spirit meets us in our confession and brings the comfort of forgiveness and restoration.  It is the presence of Jesus with the woman caught in the act of adultery in John 8 as he meets her on the dusty ground, forgives her, helps her stand, and says “Go and sin no more.” 

This kind of sadness is, in a sense, essential to faith formation. It dramatically, and painfully, illustrates our need for God and our position before the presence of God. We come in need of forgiveness, and the Lord meets us in our grief and brings the comfort of His love, His forgiveness, and in a sense, his continued belief in us. Kind of strange isn’t it, that we need to believe in God, in order to notice that God believes in us. For many, God is the first one who picks us up, dusts us off, and says “Yeah… that went very poorly. But you’re still here, and I’m still here, and together we’ll walk through this.” That silent vote of “I’m still with you” is echoed by any other people in our life who come along, offer forgiveness and help us repair what needs repairing, each of them an echo of the goodness of God.

So…

When you are sad, like deeply mournfully sad, God is there. The comfort of God’s presence is a promise, and something to look for in those moments of grief and pain. When you’re busy praying for relief, for the quick fix, for the whole thing to end, take some time away from looking up for rescue and look to your side. You’ll find Christ there, walking through every moment with you, standing beside the pain, making sure that sadness is not the only voice in the room, and reminding you that God believes in you, and will walk through this with you, if you but only notice that God is there.

2 thoughts on “The Upside-Down Blessing – Pt 2 – Grief”

  1. I’m really enjoying this series I’ve read part one and part 2 and both have spoken to me. Over the past year or so I have struggled with an empty soul as I see what’s happening to the world…. I went back to reading scripture and found more changes that I need to make in my life and more sins I need to repent of… It’s almost overwhelming but recently I’ve also had a peace…. God keeps his promises even if you don’t know what they are!

    1. One time, after a conference, my friends and I were having lunch and talking about how the speaker was just phenomenal. The guy had literally memorized huge portions of the Bible so that he could bring scripture into places where the book itself was illegal. As we were having lunch, he walked into the restaurant to eat, so we asked if we could sit with him. I asked him your ’empty soul’ question, because I was experiencing it too.

      He told me about a 16th century Spanish priest that history calls St. John of the Cross. That priest wrote a poem, and a small book walking through the poem, called “The Dark Night of the Soul.” Honestly the title alone was enough for me to be interested, so I read it (and it was hard reading for sure), but I found such comfort in discovering that this author, some 500 years before me, was asking the same questions I was asking. And he chose faith instead of despair and taught me to consider that God is still present even if I cannot feel it. That has been such an important thing for me to remember throughout my life. Sometimes, when church isn’t working, or songs and prayers seem hollow, that kind of faith is all I have to bring me back to God.

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