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First Thoughts

Caring for the Sorrowful

Puddleglum is one of the most interesting characters in C.S. Lewis’s The Chronicles of Narnia. He’s always jolly and always looking for the opportunity to cheer up anyone who might be sad. But there’s only one problem. The more he attempts to encourage his sorrowful friends, the more he ends up making them feel even worse! Puddleglum tries to use his words to spread glee, but instead, all he does is spread gloom.

As Christians, we cannot be like Puddleglum. We must care well for those in the throes of sorrow.

But how?

It starts by learning what we need most amid our sorrow.

Matthew 9:36 helps us with this: “When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.”

This crowd is a sorrowful bunch. They are “harassed and helpless.” And Matthew diagnoses a serious problem they have. They are “like sheep without a shepherd.”

When you are harassed and helpless, when a storm of sorrow enters your life, what you need is a compassionate Shepherd who will help you to weather it.

Likewise, to care well for the sorrowful, we must introduce them to this compassionate Shepherd. And one of the primary ways they are going to meet Him is through us – through our Christlike care for them.

If we are going to meet people in their sorrow with the compassion and care of our Shepherd, we’re going to need an example. And where better to look than God himself?

Psalm 23 shows us several of God’s “shepherd-like” characteristics that we must model as we strive to care for hurting people.

  1. The Shepherd’s Presence

Psalm 23:4 says, “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.”

I have two young sons – a six-year-old and a two-year-old. Not too long ago, I walked through a cave with them. It was quite the adventure. This cave was pitch-black and damp and cold and filled with all kinds of spooky echoes and sounds.

And yet, even in such a dark and scary place, my boys weren’t afraid. Why? Because I was with them. In the darkness of that cave, they experienced the safety of my comforting and stabilizing presence.

David is saying the same thing about the Lord. In the darkest moment of his life, amid the valley of the shadow of death, what he needs most is the presence of his Shepherd. Because when the shepherd is present, no matter how scary the moment, he fears no evil.

This is key when we are seeking to care for the sorrowful. Sometimes, our words will fail us. Sometimes, our words are not required or even appropriate. But our faithful presence during their moments of greatest sorrow can be a potent reminder of the everlasting, never-failing presence of their compassionate Shepherd.

When someone in your life is going through a season of sorrow, it’s time to lean in, not shrink away. Ask if you can come to visit them. Take them out to lunch or coffee. Spend time talking on the phone. Invite them into your home. Do whatever you can to be present with them amid their sorrow.

  1. The Shepherd’s Assurance

Let’s go back to that cave with my sons for a moment. In that dark and scary place, my boys needed my presence. But they also needed my assurance. They needed me to tell them, “It’s going to be okay. We’re going to make it through this.”

And this is exactly what we need in times of sorrow. We see this again in Psalm 23:6: “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”

As David is walking through the valley of the shadow of death, one of his greatest encouragements is the assurance he has in the Lord. He knows God’s promises, he has confidence in them, and he is hoping in them.

One of the richest blessings we can give to sorrowful people is the assurance of God’s promises. Here are a few of the most encouraging promises from God’s Word:

  • God will never leave you or forsake you (Hebrews 13:5)
  • Nothing can ever separate you from the love of God in Christ (Romans 8:35-39)
  • God will one day wipe all your tears away (Revelation 21:4)

Promises like these shine rays of hope into the darkness of our sorrow.

  1. The Shepherd’s Guidance

 When my sons were in that dark cave, they needed my comforting presence and my encouraging words. But they needed more than that. They also needed my guiding hand. They needed me to take them by the hand and lead them out of the darkness of the cave into the light on the other side.

In the shadows of sorrow, this is precisely what we need too. We need a Shepherd who will take us by the hand and lead us “in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake” (Psalm 23:3). Without our Shepherd’s guiding hand, it can be very easy to get lost in our sorrow.

As we care for sorrowful people, we can guide them with the Shepherd’s hand in several ways.

We can guide them in expressing their sorrow. In his Word, God has given us psalms of lament (Psalm 6; 38; 42-43; 102; etc.) that express the deepest longings and raw emotions that oftentimes come with sorrow. These psalms give voice to our sorrow and provide us with biblical language to talk about our sorrow with God.

We can also guide our sorrowful friends to understand their sorrow. The most common question that accompanies sorrow is, “Why?” Over time, in the context of a loving relationship, we can provide biblical answers to this question from passages like Romans 8:28-29, 2 Corinthians 1:3-11, 2 Corinthians 12:1-10, and more.

Finally, we can guide them to respond to their sorrow. It is possible to respond to sorrow in a sinful way or in a faithful way. We can lead them toward faithfulness by encouraging them to cast their burdens upon the Lord (1 Peter 5:6-7) and share their burdens with brothers and sisters in Christ (Galatians 6:2).

The Sorrowful and the Good Shepherd

We can care well for the sorrowful in our lives by modeling the compassionate care of the shepherd of Psalm 23.

But even more than our compassionate care, what sorrowful people most need is the Shepherd Himself.

This shepherd has a name, and it is Jesus Christ: “I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep” (John 10:10).

As a man of sorrows who is acquainted with grief (Isaiah 53:3) and who carried our griefs and sorrows for us (Isaiah 53:4), Jesus perfectly sympathizes with us in our own sorrow. And as the good shepherd who laid down his life for us and took it up again, he promises to hold us and preserve us for eternity, completely free from tears and sorrow and grief.

And so, as you care for the sorrowful people in your life, the greatest grace and hope that you can offer them is the grace and hope of Jesus Christ himself.

Listen to Pastor Andrew’s sermon on Caring for The Sorrowful from the Sunday night series entitled Reclaiming Love: People of Compassion in a World Full of Hate.

Andrew Morrell is the Nocatee Campus Pastor of Discipleship at First Baptist Church Jacksonville. Andrew is currently pursuing a Master of Divinity from The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.

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