A couple of Sunday’s ago, I was preparing for our Sunday evening Bible study (yes, we still meet on Sunday nights), and was suddenly informed that a man from our church had passed away. He was an older man whom I had visited a couple of times in the nursing home and had been a significant part of our churches’ history.
The interesting thing was that he didn’t have to be in the nursing home – he was there with his wife, who had been struggling with dementia for many years. He simply did not want to leave her side. It was declared pretty early that I would be serving the family by officiating the funeral, and I knew this would be a long week.
Tuesday morning hits and I come to find out that another elderly lady from our church had passed away. She only recently had moved into town and was in process of joining our church. I talked with the family and set up a time to visit with them the following day as they were quite tired and needed rest. I needed rest at this point too, but this is the beauty of Pastoral ministry – I was already spent, but God would give the strength needed.
She was so sweet to me, but also ready to ‘go home.’
On Wednesday, I received a phone call in regard to the father of one of our church members, and they were asked for prayers. He was a member of a large church in Houston, and had plenty of pastoral care, but they wanted me to know and pray. Thursday morning hits, I was preparing for the funeral of the gentleman who passed on Sunday, and I receive the message that the condition of this man had become worse. It was a grave message simply asking me to come to Houston to visit the family as soon as I could, and to pray with the man before he met Jesus. I wrapped up the funeral, adjusted my schedule and hopped in the car with my cliff bar, and made my way to Houston.
Being unavailable now to visit the gentleman who just lost his mother, I asked our Deacons to fill in the gap to visit in my absence, and they did not hesitate. Arriving at the hospital, the reality of the situation was pretty serious. This beloved leader of his church and family was about to die and I was given an opportunity to hold his hand, pray with the family, and talk. He took great interest in me, my studies, our church, and my children. It was a bright moment in my day, but his as well. He shared that his “dash” between the time he was born and the time to die was just about up – and he was thankful for God for all that he had, and all that he was able to accomplish. He passed away a few hours after I left the hospital.
My eyes sweat as it had been a hard week. And it wasn’t over.
As a family, we traveled to Waco to take care of some business. I had the chance to meet with two individuals and see some friends we had not seen in some time. It was sweet… and bitter. I had some harsh news given to me of several families from our previous church whose marriages were ending in divorce, and one that had even ended in suicide. Despite being a “connected” generation via social networks like Facebook, we had somehow missed the news. We were sick. Angry. Put out. Frustrated. I wanted to cry and confessed that to Abby who told me to go to the car… but like most men, I felt there really wasn’t a moment.
Coming home to Bellville, I sat on the couch for some time and vented to the Father. I was frustrated. Not really at anyone, more spent, and realizing that pastoral ministry is a weird vantage point in life. You meet with people who are at some of their most desperate moments and you walk with them, holding their hands. I’m not the type of Pastor who can just “turn off” when I see hurt and pain in persons eyes. They tear up, I tear up. They hurt, I hurt. And I’m okay with that.
During my quite moment, the Father took his gentle hand and talked to me. And I learned three things:
1. God shows mercy to us when we seek refuge under his wings.
Ps. 57:1 says “Be merciful to me, O God, be merciful to me, for in you my soul takes refuge; in the shadow of your wings I will take refuge, till the storms of destruction pass by.”
This is just how the Christian life works – we seek refuge under his wings and we receive strength and comfort from Him. With that strength, we serve others and thus, he is glorified. That’s at least how I see 1 Peter 4:11 working. And this would be true for our church. Our pain and our sorrow does not simply just end at the pain and sorrow – it is to fuel us towards the care of one another for the sake of His glory and our good. God shows mercy to us when we seek refuge under his wings.
2. God seems to work most when the times are worst.
I’m not inviting suffering or asking for the worst of times, but I would say that in the darkest moments for me this week, I’ve seen God working the most in my heart and church. I’ve seen men and women step up in the care of those who are mourning. I’ve seen Deacons call me just to check on me and encourage me in the impossible task of Pastoral ministry. I’ve seen my wife and I reconnect in ways spiritually and emotionally that we’ve neglected in quite some time. God seems to work most when the times are worst.
3. Those dark clouds above our heads are full of mercy.
It seems that everywhere I turned, I was hearing disappointing news. I’ve already listed that above, but it seemed like dark clouds were everywhere. I came across a hymn from William Cowper that calibrated my mind and heart:
You fearful saints, fresh courage take:
The clouds you so much dread
Are big with mercy and will break
In blessings on your head.
Those dark clouds, they will break – it will be glorious and wonderful. I just need to trust Him. And that’s what I’m learning these days.