Paul said it best when he said, "For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain." (Phill 1:21)
And Paul knew. He had faced hurricanes, shipwrecks, stonings, beatings, torture unimaginable, prolonged imprisonment... He knew what it was to have much and to have nothing. He knew what it was to be imprisoned, abused, starved, lonely, grieving, and ON TOP OF ALL THAT- a stinking thorn be stuck that he could NOT get relief from- "a messenger of Satan, to torment me" (2 Cor 12:7). You know he had to had times when he was like... Dear Lord- HAVE MERCY.
But he still praised God.
He still knew that the cross was sufficient to heal every wound, bind up every hurt, and crucify every enemy. He knew where his hope was found.
Paul knew that above it all, the giving of thanks was the answer to every kind of brokenness. Thanksgiving is the glorification of a perfect God that is only magnified in our vast weaknesses. I've talked before about how gratitude can triumph over guilt. Well, I'm here to tell you that gratitude can triumph over grief as well.
We all know it- Count it ALL as joy... (James 1:2).
We all know it- Do not be anxious about ANYTHING, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Phill 4:6-7)
We all know it in our heads. And we want to know it in our heart. But we forget that with all things, these brains of ours can run interference, can be easily distracted and lied to, and can lead us away from truth. They can just go totally batcrap crazy sometimes. Our minds require our vigilance, self-discipline- they require intentional, persistent refocusing and control.
Even in our deepest grief, IN ORDER TO HAVE RELIEF, we cannot allow our minds to go where ever they might lead us. We must take our thoughts captive and seek to have the mind of Christ. The Message puts Matthew 7:14 like this, "The way to life—to God!—is vigorous and requires total attention."
And what is the mind of Christ? It is a mind filled with TRUTH. It is THE WORD. It trusts The Father above all things. The mind of Christ lays down it's will to the Father in heaven. “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done.' (Luke 22:42)
Above all, the mind of Christ gives thanks. In John 11, we walk through the heart-wrenching account of the death of Lazarus, but then the astounding account of dry bones coming to life with a word from Jesus.
In this story, Christ has been confronted by both Martha then Mary with the words... the plea... the accusation: "Lord, if you had BEEN HERE, MY BROTHER WOULD NOT HAVE DIED." They may not have shouted, but I can promise you they wanted to. Lord, WHERE WERE YOU!?! You loved our brother. You say you LOVE us! Why did you stay away and allow this pain and suffering? Why did you allow this loss? You could have stopped it, and yet YOU DID NOTHING. You weren't even here. We sent for you when we need you most, and you didn't come.
Haven't you heard that in your own heart?
But that's not what they SAID. They chose to take their thoughts captive. They chose to TRUST God- to trust their Savior- to know there was a purpose for this pain and to know His Glory could still, even at this point, overcome.
And so Jesus weeps with them, and weeps with the Jews who have gathered to comfort and mourn. He is overwhelmed by their pain and fully experiences it with them, despite knowing what's coming. Despite knowing, and BEING, eternal life.
So He says to His Father, "Father, I THANK YOU that you have heard me..." and he calls Lazarus from the tomb.
He thanked and then he called forth so that those gathered could experience what a resurrected life meant. He spoke into the death, and woke it back into life, and he did this with Thanks-giving.
His GRATITUDE delivered them from GRIEF.
Our minds and hearts can be angry, questioning, frustrated, and completely hysterical with grief as it attempts to swallow us whole- like Mary and Martha. We can cry out to God, accuse him, question him, attempt to control his choices. This is not the mind of Christ; this is the flesh of death. And this flesh of death is why we can be so thankful that only our FLESH will ever have to succumb to death.
Our flesh, in the death of a loved one, cries out these accusations and questions. Our flesh focuses on the location and condition of their flesh. Our flesh looks at all that has been stolen from us- this massive, terrifying "taking away". Our flesh accuses God of being a taker and becomes anxious for who or what is next.
Job experienced this. Paul experienced this. Mary and Martha experienced this. But Christ and His Cross silenced all of these fleshly desires and concerns.
His death being so brief, that grave being so empty- it reminds us that our God is no taker. He is a giver.
Christ chose to be given.
Then He gave himself to the cross.
Then He given to the grave.
Then He given new life.
His givenness gives US eternal life.
We are given a heart of flesh.
We are given new life as a new creation.
We are given mercy.
We are given eternal grace.
We are given salvation.
We are given peace.
We are given freedom.
We are given redemption.
We are given provision.
We are given sweet relief.
We are given eternal hope.
He has the right to take- this God of ours. It's all His anyway. "The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away. Blessed is the name of the Lord." (Job 1:21) And when he takes he does so perfectly and righteously. But that's not his main "thing." God has a theme- Giver.
So to honor our Giver, for all that He has given, we give gratitude.
And in this gratitude- this hard, back-breaking work of seeing and grasping and leaning into the gratitude- he gives sweet relief from the overwhelming agony of grief.
To God be the glory.