Summary: The Psalmist of Ps. 40 was in deep despair when God set his feet on rock and put a new song in his heart. Can our hearts sing of the saving power of God?
Does Your Heart Sing?
January 20, 2008
I know that this may sound pretty odd…maybe crazy to you. As I look back on my years in ministry, I can say that some of the most profound experiences I have had have been associated with death and dying.
I generally tend to lump people into two groups – those with faith and those without. It has been my experience that those without faith are the ones who have the most trouble with death. They are the ones who often are completely lost and alone and don’t really have the resources to manage their grief in a healthy way.
Of course, when a loved one dies, there is profound grief. There is a huge hole in people’s lives when someone is taken from them through death. Everyone, regardless of his or her degree of faith, suffers from intense grief and pain. But let me tell you two stories that I think illustrate the difference.
Back in the late 80’s, Toni was in seminary from Monday thru Thursday night. I was the primary caregiver for our children on those days when mommy was gone. I was the pastor of a small town church and got a call one morning from the funeral director. He said that he needed to see me. I told him that as soon as I got the kids off to school, I’d be over. He said, “No, I need to see you now!”
I told him that I would be there in a few minutes. So I took the kids next door and asked if they could wait for the school bus there.” Then I headed off to the funeral home. I got there around 8:00 am and was met by the funeral director and a deputy sheriff. They told me this story.
They had found a burning car out on a country road. Their preliminary investigations were suggesting that the driver had fallen asleep and had veered off the road and hit a tree. They had only been able to identify the driver through his dental records.
He had been identified as a local high school student. He was a senior and only two weeks away from graduation. There were three churches in town, but the family had no ties to any of them, so the funeral director had called me. They wanted me to go over to his house with the deputy in order to tell his mother.
This kid worked at a fast food restaurant in a nearby town that was a little larger than ours, and often didn’t get home until about eleven. His mother worked the night shift and it was not unusual for her to go to work before he came home. She would then get home in the morning after he had left for school. So now, she was sleeping and we had to go over to tell her that her son was dead. As I think back over my ministerial career, this morning stands out as the single most difficult I have ever experienced.
Six or seven years ago, an older lady began to visit the church in Shipshewana. She came with a Texas accent and southern belle charm. It turns out that she had begun spending her winters here with her family and then going back down to Texas for the summer. She wanted to become a member of our church, so I asked her for the name and address of her Baptist church in Texas so I could transfer her membership. She was adamant that she wanted to be a member of both churches, so I found an obscure paragraph in our Discipline that enabled her to become an Associate Member, or Affiliate Member, or something like that.
She got sick and I got a call from her daughter. “Would you please come to the hospital? The doctors say that she probably won’t live long.” When I got to the hospital in Goshen and walked into her room, her family was all gathered around her bed singing. She had died just a few minutes before I arrived and now the family was singing their faith. I joined them as we sang “Victory in Jesus” over and over again.
Both of these families found themselves in the throes of grief. Both families were in incredible pain. They had both lost someone they dearly loved.
I got a sense from the first family that they just couldn’t accept it. They didn’t know where to go or to whom to ask for help. They had no deep resources of faith to get them through the valley.
The second family was just as deeply grieved, yet there was something different about the way they handled that grief. They did so expectantly. They grieved, but knew that their mother’s death was simply a transition from this life into life eternal. They didn’t see death as an enemy, but openly sang “Victory in Jesus” confident that she had passed on into her Savior’s arms.