Last time we discussed how we might gain an understanding of God’s purposes when he chooses not to heal our loved one, now we consider how we should pray during difficult times of loss…
4. So, when a loved one is dying, or deceased, how should I pray?
What are we praying for? When we accept that the death of the ailing is imminent, we pray for comfort for them and understanding for ourselves. We may also, regardless of circumstances, continue to pray for a miracle which would prolong life. When they are gone, we pray for God to help us through it and again for understanding. These are all things that God would expect us to pray for, and He wants us to be in touch with Him in these matters because He cares about everything we care about. But how should we be praying these prayers? When we pray for an earthly healing, we should seek God’s perfect will above all else, and pray for our acceptance of it, because it is perfect – far better than any idea we can come up with, even though it may not feel that way. Modern medicine at times has ways to keep people living in some capacity, but sometimes it is not really living. Hope in these abilities can sometimes cause us to avoid seeking God’s will and to hold onto earthly hope at all costs. When earthly hope seems to be nearly faded, and decisions become so incredibly difficult, this is one of the most critical times for us to seek God, for He is willing and able to give us discernment and comfort.
But to truly know how we should pray, it is best to consult with God Himself. He taught us the best way to pray in Matthew 6:
“Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name.”
First, praise God the Father. Acknowledge His holiness and revere His sovereignty. Put praising Him as priority-one in your prayers.
“Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”
Submit to His will, acknowledging that His heavenly plan is better than your own, indeed that it is perfect. Pray for your ability to accept His will, and that He will provide to you an understanding of it. Envision His kingdom, His perfect Kingdom, being right here in your midst, His perfect plan being put into place in your life, replacing all the troubles of the world. Replacing all your troubles with the joy you have in Him.
“Give us today our daily bread.”
Ask of Him just what you need to get through the day, because tomorrow is another day which will have its own troubles. Whatever you need to sustain you through the day, He will provide. “Worries about tomorrow will do nothing but rob you of your strength for today.” (paraphrased quote from Greg Laurie)
“And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.”
Acknowledge your own sin, ask for help and forgiveness, and do this only as you have forgiven others. Our tendency is to be selfish, but if we purposefully remember that others’ struggles are similar to our own, how our transgressions are similar to those of others, and how our desire to be forgiven is akin to theirs, it becomes easier to give forgiveness where it is required. And after we have forgiven, focusing on the needs of others as we pray shifts the focus away from ourselves. Things heavy on our own hearts are lightened when we give those burdens to God and when we remember others’ burdens in prayer.
“And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.”
Pray that God will guide your steps down a path that is near to Him, and for His strength when temptation comes. Pray that He would carry you through your current sufferings and testing. He wants us to bring our troubles to Him and to honestly tell Him how we feel about them. He wants to help us persevere through the troubles so that we are stronger in our faith when we reach the other side.
“For yours is the kingdom, the power, and the glory forever, Amen.”
Praise Him and acknowledge that everything, and everyone, is His to do with as He sees fit. Anyone and anything we have is on loan to us from God for only a short time. The kingdom is His along with everyone in it. The power is His to enact His perfect will, which cannot be stopped. The glory is His, because He will be praised (see Luke 19:40). Let your life, your sufferings, your joys, your family, your friends, your job, your play, your rest, your everything be surrendered to Him for His glory.
Lastly, remembering that we will all die the “second death of Lazarus,” as I have called it, remembering – truly remembering – that none of us are guaranteed tomorrow, and remembering – truly remembering – that earthly life is but a blink in eternity, should remind us of the much greater importance of the eternal nature of our soul over the temporary nature of our body.
The significance of this life is making sure we are ready for the next, and pointing the way for as many people as possible. As we focus on the eternity that God has for us, we can begin to see more of the beginning, and less of the end, that death brings.
No more questions to ponder, but tune in next time for some of my thoughts about how all this relates to fears of the coronavirus, if you can bear to hear anymore about it…
Epilogue to “The Second Death of Lazarus”:
I began write “The Second Death of Lazarus” as an outline for a Sunday School lesson, or series of lessons, a few weeks before all the hubbub began about the coronavirus. During writing this, the crisis began to grow, and I now look back on my attitude toward the situation as being somewhat callous at times. We kept hearing that many of us would get it, that most of us would be fine, and that the death rate would be similar to that as is common with the flu, so my question was, “what’s with the overblown concern?” So at times all the drama seemed downright comical to me, yet at other times it made me angry because it seemed to me to be an overreaction driven to some degree by politics. But as the numbers grew, and as we came to learn that the virus wasn’t necessarily just a danger to the vulnerable few, my attitude became less flippant. It seems a serious and dangerous virus, so maybe all the excessive precautions are warranted. Certainly the risk of death from the virus has proven to be real, and we must be mindful of those who have lost loved ones because of it, passing on to them God’s love however we can.
Comfort for those who are living in mortal fear of the virus can only come from one source, and we Christians carry that source with us everywhere we go. Perhaps one of the most impactful things we can do during this time is to not allow ourselves to regard death, particularly death from the virus, with an irrational fear. Is not fear of death in some way a betrayal of our faith? Meaning, the non-believer has every right to have an irrational fear of death because he has no hope. But we do have a hope: The Great Hope. And we know that death will come, and that when it does, we will come into the presence of God. The Great Commission (Mk.16:15) makes it an imperative for Christians to live out and demonstrate the hope that we have, for in so doing we can cause others to want what we have.
Of course no one wants the virus. Of course we need to be sensible in protecting ourselves and each other. Of course we don’t want to lose a loved one to it, nor spread it to anyone if we get it. But in those fears are we forgetting God’s perfect will? Are we forgetting that He holds the power of life and death in His hands, and that when He is ready for us to come home (and not one second earlier) we will go, and nothing can stop it? Are we allowing our relentless crusade against death in all its forms rob us of the joy God provides for us even in this life? And to rob us of our hope which can relieve us of all fear of death, if we would only let it? The death and resurrection of Jesus is that hope and our salvation is that joy!
I don’t want the virus. I don’t want to die from it. But the harsh reality of this life and this world is that I could be killed in a car crash on my way to the doctor to be tested for it. Only God knows what the next moment holds for each of us. I want to be careful, to be mindful, to be responsible, and to be thoughtful, but above all I want to remember that God is in control, and that His will may include that I may not be here tomorrow, for whatever reason. This is why I believe it is of the utmost importance that each of us regards our spiritual state as far more important than our physical state, just like Jesus explained to us, and also that we would have a passion for the spiritual welfare of each other.
My prayer is that this crisis creates a spiritual awakening within our nation and our world; that people can recognize that there are things the government just can’t save us from, and that they will seek to know who God really is. Let us believers be prepared to tell them!