Helping Friends Through Tough Times : When a Friend is Dying

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There are two experiences that absolutely everybody goes through – birth and death. Only a fool would go through life unprepared for what you know is inevitable.  Most of us have had people in our lives die suddenly and unexpectedly. Those deaths may have caught us by surprise. But surprise or not, death is coming for us all.

“No one can live forever. All will die. No one can escape the power of the grave.” Psalm 89:48

In one sense, we can be glad that we die because we don’t want to spend eternity on a broken planet. If we’re going to live forever, we don’t want to live in a place where there’s sin, sorrow, suffering, rape, murder, corruption, dishonesty, jealousy, gossip, and pain that make our lives tough. God wants you to one day move on from this fallen place and live with Him forever in heaven. God wants you living in a place where there is a joy and happiness.

First, we need to recognize that people react differently to death. But, there are five stages of grief that are common to everybody. Those stages include: Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, and Acceptance. We need to understand how people go through these stages. These stages were first identified by Dr. Elizabeth Kubler-Ross fifty years ago in 1969. However, thousands of years before Elizabeth Kubler-Ross, King David talked about the same five stages of grief in the Psalms.


The Five Stages of Grief: How People React to Death

1. DENIAL“This isn’t happening to me!”

Denial is actually a form of fear. Anything that you are afraid of you tend to deny. When people are afraid of death they deny that they’re dying. David was afraid of dying. As a result you live in denial because you don’t want to admit that you’re afraid.

I am frightened inside. The terror of death has attacked me.” Psalm 55:4 NCV

2. ANGER – “Why is this happening to me?”

When people realize they’re going to die they get angry. They get angry at God, doctors, their family, and themselves. David says it like this in Psalm 39,

“I was overcome with anger. The more I thought, the more troubled I became; I could not keep from asking: ‘Lord, how long will I live?” Psalm 39:3-4 TEV

This is a typical question of someone who has just found out they’re going to die. The anger stage is the questioning stage of dealing with death. The questions are really unanswerable. Why me? Why now? Why this? What for? They’re not going to get the answers to those questions.

3. BARGAINING – “I promise to … if you’ll let me live.”

In this stage you fill in the blank of what you will do if only God would let you live a little longer. You start trying to make deals with God in order to keep on living. But it doesn’t work because you can’t bargain with God.

“You can never pay God enough to stay alive forever and be safe from death.” Psalm 49:8-9 CEV

4. DEPRESSION – “I just don’t care anymore.”

When people come to this stage in dealing with death, they say “I just don’t care any more! What’s the point? I’m going to die. Why bother? Why make the effort? I give up.” They go through a period of depression.

“I’m at the end of my rope, my life is in ruins. I’m fading away to nothing, passing away.” Psalm 109:22-23 MSG

5. ACCEPTANCE – “I’m ready for whatever happens.”

“I am trusting you, O Lord, saying, ‘You are my God!’ My future is in your hands.”  Psalm 31:14-15 NLT

Not everybody goes through the stages in this order. Nor do you go through them once and then you’re done. Instead, you sort of swirl around in all five of these. But the goal is to keep moving and making progress working through them.

The most common problem in dealing with grief is getting stuck in one of these stages. You’ve got to keep moving through the process until you come to complete acceptance. It’s important to understand these stages because you need to help them your family and friends deal fully with each of these stages and then help them move on to the next stage. If you don’t understand these stages you might pull away and detach yourself from people when they are angry, bargaining or depressed. David complained about the distance that people give to those who are dying.

“My loved ones and friends stay away, fearing my disease. Even my own family stands at a distance.” Psalm 38:11 NLT

Fear and anxiety cause distance in relationships. Most people feel awkward around people who are dying. It reminds us of our own mortality. We don’t know what to say so we just stay away. Thankfully, there are seven things that we can learn to do to give our loved ones COMFORT when they need it most.


How to Comfort Someone Who is Dying

C – CONFRONT MY OWN FEARS

Before you can help anybody else you’ve got to deal with your own fears. Exposure to death exposes the hidden fears in us. You’re afraid you’re going to say the wrong thing or make matters worse. As a result you don’t do anything. To put some of those fears to rest, it is almost impossible to mess it up. This is far bigger than you.

For those of you who haven’t been around somebody dying, death is really quite ordinary. There’s nothing spooky, weird or wicked about it. Contrary to television, there are very few Hallmark moments when people die. Their heart rate and breathing slows down and eventually stops. That’s about all there is to it. One moment they’re here and the next they’re not. The biggest mistake you can make with somebody who is dying is simply not to be there.

O – OFFER MY PHYSICAL PRESENCE

Your physical presence is the greatest gift you can give someone who is dying. When people are dying they struggle with the fear of abandonment and the fear of dying alone. You don’t have to say anything profound or necessarily even be talking to them. Just get in the same room with them. It doesn’t matter what you’re doing, just simply be in the room. You can hold their hand or put your hand on their shoulder assuring them of your presence. Also remind them that God is with them. God has said He will never leave them nor forsake them.

“Even when I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will not be afraid for you are close beside me.” Psalm 23:4 NLT

When God is near you lose your fear.

M – MINISTER WITH PRACTICAL ASSISTANCE

Do whatever they need done by running errands or help in practical ways. When someone is dying they usually don’t feel good. They’re often in pain. David says this in Psalm 38,

“I’m burning with fever and I’m near death. I’m worn out and utterly crushed. My heart is troubled and I groan with pain.”

What do you do when somebody’s in that situation? You do whatever you can do. You offer practical assistance to relieve their pain. It’s the little things that show love. The Bible says,

“Encourage those who are timid, take tender care of those who are weak. Be patient with everyone.” 1 Thessalonians 5:14

This important because another one of the biggest fears that people have when dying is the fear of losing control. Control is being taken away from them more and more. One of the ways you can minister to people who are dying is to give them choices. Every time you give them a choice you give control back to them. So even when you say something as simple as, “Would you like your slippers on or off?” You’ve empowered them. Every time you give people a choice you give them a little bit of power back.

F – FORTIFY THEM WITH EMOTIONAL SUPPORT

Carry each other’s burdens, in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.” Galatians 6:2

The law of Christ is to love your neighbor as you love yourself. We should also pray for them and with them. Praying with them gives them emotional support. You can pray whatever they say, just mirror it back to God in a prayer. When the person who is dying says, “This really frustrates me….” You pray, “Lord, Susie’s really frustrated by this.” When you take whatever they say and turn it into a prayer to God you are lifting their burden. When somebody is sick, sometimes they’re too sick to pray. They don’t even have the energy to pray. When you turn their thoughts into a prayer, you are interceding for them.

O – OPEN THEM UP WITH QUESTIONS

When people are dying they’re carrying an enormous emotional load. You can help them open up so they can get off their chest all the heaviness they’re carrying about their impending death. Ask open ended questions, questions that can’t be answered by a simple yes or no. People ask questions all the time that we don’t know the answer to. For example: Why me? Why now? Why this? No one but God knows the answer to those questions. But the truth is, they don’t need the answer to those questions, they need comfort. An explanation doesn’t provide comfort.

What they really need is just to talk it out. When you get asked an unanswerable question by somebody who’s dying, rephrase it and ask it back to them. If they say, “Why am I going through this?”, you don’t know why, so instead of answering that question rephrase it back to them, “What does dying mean to you?” Then wait for them to answer. This way you have gotten them talking. Ultimately, the question is not the question. The question is a symptom of something deeper they need to get out.

R – REMEMBER THE FAMILY HAS NEEDS TOO.

This is where you can really be a friend to other people. If you’ve got a friend who is ill and they’re dying, you can really help the whole family, not just them. Sometimes as a friend you can say things that the family can’t say. Sometimes you can ask questions the family can’t ask. Sometimes you help move relationships toward healing. Remember the family is moving through these same five stages of grief.

T – TURN THEM TO JESUS

When someone is facing death we want to turn them to Christ so they’ll spend eternity in heaven. That is the hope of our faith. Jesus came to take away your fear of death by dying on the cross to pay for all your sins, then being resurrected to show that there is life after death. The Bible says this in Hebrews 2:

For only as a human being could Jesus die. And only by dying could He break the power of the Devil, who has the power of death. Only in this way could He deliver those who lived all their lives as slaves to the fear of dying.” 

God doesn’t want you to be afraid of dying, He wants you to look to the hope of heaven.

We need to help those who are dying to do the same. When someone’s dying we want to encourage them to do what David did.

“Death itself stared me in the face. But in my distress I cried out to the Lord.” Psalm 18:5-6 NLT

Have you ever done that? You can’t offer to other people what you haven’t received yourself. If you haven’t settled the issue of your destiny you are gambling with your eternity. If you were to die tonight are you absolutely certain that you would go to heaven?

If you don’t know the answer to that question, it can be settled right now. There is a prayer written below that you can pray in your own heart. You can say it aloud or quietly in your mind and God will hear you.

Dear God, you are God and I’m not. You sent Jesus Christ to be my savior, so I must need to be saved. I need You to forgive the things I’ve done wrong in life. I need you to help me to know the purpose you created me for. I want to begin a relationship with you. So as much as I know how, I ask you to come into my life. I want to learn to trust you. I want to learn to love you. I want to learn to love other people the way you want me to. So I ask you today with humility and honesty to please save me as I put my trust in you. I pray this prayer in Jesus name. Amen


Talk It Over

Listen to the sermon: online, iTunes podcast or Google Play Music

In this lesson, we’ll offer some solid, proven ideas, based on the fact that, when they’re dying, everyone needs COMFORT.

CONFRONT MY OWN FEARS

Read Genesis 3:10. Why was Adam afraid of God? Dealing with a friend who is dying causes us to confront our own mortality, and that makes us uncomfortable. We don’t know what to say or we fear saying something stupid that could make the situation worse. How can we overcome that fear in order to minister to our dying friend?

Share a time when you felt good about words of comfort spoken to a dying person, or of regret for words of comfort left unspoken. By the way, what do you think Jesus would tell us to do with our regret?

OFFER PHYSICAL PRESENCE 

What is the source of David’s comfort in Psalm 23:4?

In this modern age of cell phones, text messages and emails, why is a physical hug more meaningful than comfort given from a safe, electronic distance?

Two of the greatest fears when people are dying are fear of abandonment and fear of dying alone. Even holding the person’s hand or touching their elbow can help. Discuss other ways you can comfort someone feeling these fears.

MINISTER WITH PRACTICAL ASSISTANCE

In Psalm 38:7, 8, how does David describe his affliction?

When people are dying they often fear losing control. That’s why offering a dying person a choice—even in a small thing—brings them comfort. What are some small tasks you can do for a dying person?

FORTIFY THEM WITH EMOTIONAL SUPPORT

Read Galatians 6:2. What are we to do for one another?

One way to give emotional support is to pray for the person. Don’t know what to pray? Pray back what the person says. For example, if they say, “I’m worried,” then pray about their worry. How you would pray for a person who is in pain? What are other practical ways you can show emotional support?

OPEN THEM UP WITH QUESTIONS   

What does Proverbs 20:5 encourage us to do with another person?

People who are dying often need to unload their burdens, and a thoughtful question would help draw those burdens out. One way to do that is to mirror a question back to the person. Name a situation that you feel a dying person would be grappling with, such as unfinished business, and share how you would encourage them to talk about it.

REMEMBER THE FAMILY HAS NEEDS TOO

Acts 20:35 encourages us to support those who are feeling weak. Sometimes, as a friend, you can sensitively ask questions of a dying person that the family may not be able to ask, such as, “Do you have any preferences for a memorial service?”

Discuss some practical ways you can minister to the family of the ill person.

TURN THEM TO JESUS  

According to Hebrews 2:14-15, what power did Jesus come to break?

Hebrews 2:14-15 speaks of those without Jesus as being “slaves to the fear of dying.” In what way are we “slaves” to that fear? How does knowing Jesus set us free? What does a life without Jesus have to look forward to?

Name at least one practical thing we can do to help someone worried about dying or any other present trouble to have the hope of Jesus.

What did the psalmist David do when death stared him in the face? Read Psalm 18:5.

Based on your discussion in this lesson and your own knowledge of Christ, why can we rely on him in that moment?

PERSONAL APPLICATION AND COMMITMENT:

When the final moment comes for us or for someone we love, we may experience all five stages of grief—but if you are confident in the salvation that comes only from Christ, you can move quickly to acceptance. If you have not yet asked Jesus into your life, why put it off any longer? If you have not settled this issue yet, you are gambling with your destiny. You can’t pass on to others what you don’t possess yourself.

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Week 1: How Do I Handle Anxiety & Depression?

On Easter weekend, we did a survey and compiled your most asked questions. Those questions are the roadmap for this series called You Asked For It.

This weekend, we took a look at what the Bible had to say about Anxiety & Depression.


There are hard things in life. And they can make us anxious. So anxious, we become depressed.

Different emotions produce different sensations. For instance, anger produces a burning sensation. Guilt produces a sick or nausea sensation. Anxiety is best described as tightness. Constriction.

 “Many are the afflictions of the righteous but the LORD delivers him out of them all.” Psalm 34:19 (NKJV) 

The word afflictions in the Hebrew is the same word the Assyrians used for torture. The kind of torture where they stand you up on a post, tie you to it and pile rock by rock on you until it crushes you dead. Maybe you’ve felt that way. Where you’re getting choked out, you’re suffocating, it’s getting tight and if they put one more rock on you, you’re done.

Let’s talk about those rocks for a second. We’ll call them the amplifying or aggravating factors. These are the amplifying factors that make anxiety and depression worse. Again, they are not the thing that’s causing it. They are the things that are making it worse.

  • Your upbringing – how you were raised. This is your operating system. The good news is, it can be re-written and debugged.
  • Your circumstances – relationships, conflict, marriage, deadlines, divorce, a new job, parenting, expectations of others…

  • Your environment – anything from noise to lighting

  • Your body – eat, sleep, exercise.
  • Your genetics – physical, biological, and neurological factors. Because of this, for some people, medicine and counseling are a necessary part of facing anxiety and depression. Your doctors will agree that those treatments alone will fall short. There’s a spiritual side to the battle.
  • Technology – we are not equipped to deal with this constant, incoming stream of information
  • Content – not only are we letting a stream of information in all the time, we are letting in content that is not life-giving or helpful.

If you only tackle the amplifying factors to anxiety, you will never make it go away. What’s causing this constriction? What’s the source?

“In the same way, you who are younger, submit yourselves to your elders. All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because, “God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble.” Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you. Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that the family of believers throughout the world is undergoing the same kind of sufferings. And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast. To him be the power forever and ever. Amen.”  1 Peter 5:5-11 (NIV)

The Bible says your enemy, the devil, prowls around like a lion looking for someone he can eat alive. He’s looking for a family he can divide. Looking for a future he can ruin before it even gets started. Looking for a church he can divide, a nation he can divide, he’s looking for an addiction he can plant. The devil is busy and active.

When you believe in Jesus for the first time it’s like being born again. It’s a new life. The birthmark of a believer is a bullseyePeter is teaching us that we are born again into a living hope but as you are born again into hope, you are born into a very real battle. This is why Christians say “I’m under attack.”

Some people think God’s promise is that nothing will go wrong in their lives. That’s not his promise. In fact, Jesus says, “In this world you will have trouble.” Just because you love God, doesn’t mean you won’t be afflicted. But the Lord gives you the ability to stand strong and have peace, even in the face of a lion.

Look at this passage from the Apostle Paul, found in Philippians chapter 4, where he talks about how to guard against anxiety and how to have peace in the face of this lion.

“Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.”  Philippians 4:7

God says, I guarantee you can experience God’s peace. This is a promise. But with this promise there’s a condition. Verse 7 starts with the word thenIf you do these things, then you will experience God’s peace. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus. His peace will keep your thoughts quiet, keep your hearts at rest as you trust in Christ Jesus.

So let’s look at 5 things leading up to the word then that opens up this promise of peace.

First, if you want peace to guard your heart and mind, refuse to worry about anything.

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Don’t worry about anything…”  Philippians 4:6     

Paul says don’t worry about anything, because that’s where it begins. If you let things worry you again and again they become anxiety and depression. Yes, bad things may happen, but God is in control and he’s working all things together for good for those who love him. You may be sad or grieved, but do not be anxious, it’s all coming together for your good.

Second, if you want peace to guard your heart and mind, talk to God about everything.

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“…instead, pray about everything…”   Philippians 4:6

Stop talking to yourself and everyone else about all of the stuff that’s stressing you out and start talking to God. If it’s not worth praying about, it’s not worth worrying about.

Next, if you want peace to guard your heart and mind, thank God in all things.

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“…Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done.”  Philippians 4:6

“Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”   1 Thessalonians 5:18 (NIV)

It doesn’t say thank God for all things because there are a lot of things you shouldn’t be thankful for. There’s pain in the world. But it says in all things give thanks. Which means, even in the bad times, I can find something to love. You don’t have to love everything about your life to love your life and be thankful for it. You don’t have to love everything about someone to love them. You don’t have to love everything about your job to love your job.

Study after study has shown that the healthiest emotion known to human beings is gratitude. The more you build gratitude in your life, the happier and healthier you will be. We know that gratitude is one of the remedies for depression because it gets my eyes off myself and gets them on other people.

The fact is, you can always find something to be grateful for. There’s no time in your life when everything is good and there’s nothing bad in your life. There’s no time when everything is bad and there’s nothing good in your life. The challenge for you this week is to open your mouth and say out loud “Thank you for my life.” Say it every day.

The fourth way to have peace guarding your heart and mind is to think about good things.

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This is extremely important because the anxiety and stress you war with, that battle, is going on in your mind. The war with stress is won or lost in your mind. What you fill your mind with will determine your success to resist and stand strong.

The Bible says,

“Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise.”  Philippians 4:8 


During World War II, Corrie ten Boom and her family lived in Amsterdam. They were a Christian family that took in Jewish friends and hid them in what they called “the hiding place” in their house to prevent their friends from being captured by the Nazis and shipped off to death camps. One day, the Nazis found out and not only took the Jewish friends but took Corrie and her family and they were taken to death camps in Poland. Corrie lost her entire family. She was the only one who survived. She says in her book, The Hiding Place,

“If you look at the world you’ll be distressed; if you look within you’ll be depressed. But if you look at Christ you’ll be at rest.” 

It all depends on what you have your eyes on. Don’t look within. Look to God, look at Christ.


Read 1 Peter 5:6-7 again,

“Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.”  1 Peter 5:6-7 (NIV)

Too many of us, have been trying to cast our anxiety but we keep our pride. Pride and anxiety come in the same package. If you insist on doing it your way, then expect to feel like the weight of the world is on your shoulders, because it is.

What is in the middle of the word ANXIETY? The same thing that is in the center of  the word PRIDE. I is the center of both of those words. Spiritually speaking, at the center of your anxiety is your pride. The reason that you’re so anxious is because you’ve got you at the center. You can’t sustain it because it’s not your throne. Listen to your language. “I don’t know if I have what it takes. I don’t know if I can do it. I don’t know if I can make it.” Maybe the reason you’ve been carrying anxiety that you can’t get rid of is because you’re bearing weight that you weren’t meant to bear. If you humble yourself under the mighty hand of God, you’ll think less about yourself. It’s not a command to cast your anxiety on him. It’s a result. The command is to humble yourself under God and when you do, the anxiety goes with the pride.

Get yourself out of the center, get God on the throne and lift your hands to him and say “I need you Lord.” Bow down to him. Tell him you can’t step without Him, can’t parent without Him, work without Him, live without Him. There’s no peace without Him. There’s no joy without Him.

Is the reason you’re so anxious because of your pride? Maybe the anxiety is the fruit and the pride is the root. If you pull it up by the root, the fruit can’t grow.

Lastly, if you want peace to guard your heart and mind, be content with anything.

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Contentment is not apathy. Contentment is not complacency. Here’s what contentment is: it’s enjoying what you have right now rather than waiting for something else to happen in order to be happy.  It’s not letting what you want rob you of what you have. It’s enjoying what you’ve got right now. It doesn’t mean you don’t want to progress. It doesn’t mean you don’t have goals. It means you’re not waiting for something to happen in your life in order to be happy.

“Not that I was ever in need, for I have learned how to be content with whatever I have. I know how to live on almost nothing or with everything. I have learned the secret of living in every situation, whether it is with a full stomach or empty, with plenty or little.”  Philippians 4:11-13

“Peace of mind makes the body healthy, but envy is like a cancer.”  Proverbs 14:30 (TEV)


How?

These five strategies are easy to explain but they’re hard to do. It’s not easy to worry about nothing.  It’s not easy to pray about everything. It’s not easy to thank God in everything. It’s not easy to think about good things. And it’s not easy to be content with anything. So where in the world am I going to get energy to do these things that reduce the anxiety? God tells us, You come to me. And I will give you the power and the ability to do what will help, to do what’s best for you.

“Obey God and be at peace with him; this is the way to happiness.”  Job 22:21 (NCV)

The real reason you’re not at peace is because you’re at war with God. God sent Jesus to make peace with God for us. When you make peace with God then you get the peace of God and then you can have peace with others. There will not be peace in the world until the Prince of Peace is reigning in our hearts. So in order for you to have the peace of God, you have to first have peace with God.

“For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength.”  Philippians 4:13

You don’t feel like praying? You don’t feel like giving thanks? You don’t feel like thinking about good things? You don’t feel like being content? You have to move.

Choices lead, feeling follow. When you move against your anxiety, the strength and peace of God comes.


Application

What stood out to you in this message?

What are you worried about?

What do you normally talk to God about?

What are some things you can be thankful for? Take an area of life (i.e. job) or a person in your life you are frustrated with, and start listing things you love about that thing or person.

What are some things (i.e. television shows, gossip, information) you could filter out of your life that would help you dwell on good things?

What things in your life are you not doing God’s way? How can you humble that pride?

Are you content with the things in your life?


Tell Someone Else

Who do you need to share this message with this week?

Something that extremely aggravates anxiety and depression is unresolved or unconfessed sin. Is there anything you could share with the group or something in the group that would relieve the pressure?

“Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The earnest prayer of a righteous person has great power and produces wonderful results.” James 5:16

Who can you share this life-giving message with?