09 Jul What your grieving heart needs to hear
Though it was four and a half years ago, the haunting memory of peering down into the deep, narrow, empty pit that was about to become the last resting place of the precious body of my first wife is still very vivid. In those few seconds I realized the naked truth that my Sue really was gone from this world: that I would not see her, touch her, or turn to her for support, comfort or understanding ever again in this veil of tears. I felt more profoundly alone than I had ever done in my whole life. And as I took it all in, I felt my faith profoundly challenged by all that I was seeing and experiencing. And yet, whatever fears flooded my soul at that moment, the Lord was not about to fail me in my greatest time of need. Indeed, he had surely planned to use those very sad times to temper that faith, so it might become stronger and more useful both to myself and to others.
He would do that by meeting with me, in his word and through his kind providence. Let me tell you about three such striking ‘meetings’.
The first ‘drawing near’ was at the graveside itself. There we hundred or so mourners sang with loud voices and fervent faith the hymn, ‘Thine be the glory, risen conquering Son’. It was an outpouring of our united hatred and contempt of death. But it was so much more. It was a strangely joyful, and certainly faith-enhancing expression of our confidence that Christ had, by his death and resurrection, removed the sting from death and opened through it the gateway to life. And by it comfort and peace flooded my soul.
The second very significant experience (of many that I could share) of the Lord drawing near with his truth was in the Spring of the following year. I was sat alone in a preaching service, again very aware that my beloved was no longer in my life. The preacher had come from hundreds of miles away, and little did I realise that the Lord had sent him all those miles especially to speak most especially to me. Then he read from John chapter six, dealing with Jesus as the ‘bread of life’. During his sermon he stressed that Jesus is a complete saviour and wouldn’t consider his work complete until he has rescued the bodies of his own from the grave. And there it is in the text. No less than three times John records Jesus as promising ‘and I will raise them up in the last day’ (verses 39, 40, and 44). I returned home with deep joy in my heart.
The third experience by which the Lord has significantly strengthened my faith is much more recent, well after the completion of ‘The Last Valley’ and its acceptance for publication by EP. This was in my own personal reading of Luke chapter sixteen, and our Lord’s very sobering parable of ‘The Rich Man and Lazarus’. The words that particularly came home to me were that, in contrast to the rich man’s notable burial, Lazarus the beggar – who life is strikingly sketched by the Saviour as appallingly wretched – was ‘carried by the angels to Abraham’s side’ or ‘into Abraham’s bosom’ (verse 22). Think of what the Saviour is telling us. The angels, who are the instruments of God’s tender and faithful compassion, carry wretched Lazarus into a life of the bliss of God’s dwelling place! There he is enjoying fellowship with the greatest of the Lord’s servants! And there my humble, servant-hearted, flawed Sue has also gone! And there, by the unfailing promise of my covenant God, this feeble servant of the Lord will follow one day soon – unless, glorious thought, the Lord should come for all his own first.
Graham Heaps was pastor of Dewsbury Evangelical Church for four decades and is now retired. Three years after Sue’s death he married Barbara. They still live in Dewsbury.