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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God’s Greatest Gift

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Have you noticed that gift giving can get a little crazy and expensive sometimes? But giving gifts is a big part of what Christmas is all about. Christmas started with the giving of gifts.

“On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold and of incense and of myrrh.”  Matthew 2:11 NIV

The best part of Christmas is not the gifts that were given to Baby Jesus, but the gifts that God gives to us.

“Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift.”  2 Corinthians 9:15 NIV

There are three things we do with gifts at Christmas. We give gifts, we receive gifts and, after Christmas, we exchange gifts. Let’s focus in on exchanging gifts, because God has this great gift exchange plan.

Usually when we exchange gifts, we give back something we don’t want for something we do want. But in God’s gift exchange is far, far greater than that. Let’s look at five specific things from God’s great gift exchange.

We give God our worst and He gives us His best.


1. When we give God our worry, God gives us His peace

We all worry, especially at Christmas. The crazy, busyness of this time of year means there’s a lot to worry about. Our bodies were not designed to worry. Study after study shows the toll worry takes on our bodies; insomnia, stomachaches, headaches and even heart attacks. The number one day of the year for heart attacks is Christmas Eve. We literally worry ourselves sick. The way to stop worrying is by taking advantage of God’s gift exchange program.

“Give all your worries and cares to God, for He cares about what happens to you.” 1 Peter 5:7 NLT

When you give God your worries, you recognize two things:

  • God is in control

We worry because we’re trying to control things. We’re trying to control the uncontrollable. When we can’t control things, we worry. Worrying then makes us think we’re controlling it. So instead of trying to control things by worrying about them, we need to recognize that God is in control.

  • God cares

No matter how big or small the worry is, God cares about it. God cares about you and what you care about. The reason why there’s Christmas is because God cares about you. Jesus came to earth because God cares about you. So take your worry, give it to God and then notice what God gives back in exchange.

“I am leaving you with a gift – peace of mind and heart! And the peace I give isn’t fragile like the peace the world gives. So don’t be troubled or afraid”  John 14:27 TLB

“I have told you all this so that you may have peace in Me. Here on this earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world.”  John 16:33 NLT

Who do you know that’s worried or needs to take heart? Who do you know that needs to know you care about them? Think of someone and send them a message right now telling them you are thinking about them and praying for them. As you do that, you’re passing along the gift that God has given you.

2.  When we give God our hurt, God gives us His healing.

Everybody’s hurting; emotionally, spiritually, physically or financially.

“He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.”  Psalm 147:3 NIV

God sees your hurt and He wants to heal the brokenhearted. The verse says, “He binds up their wounds.” When you get injured, they bind up the wound to give it time to heal. Hurts don’t heal in an instant, they take time to heal. So God binds up the wounded places in our broken hearts so they can begin to heal. 

God wants to do more than just heal us. He also wants us to use our healing to help other people who are hurting. When we receive God’s healing, we can then pass it on to someone else.

“He comes alongside us when we go through hard times, and before you know it, He brings us alongside someone else who is going through hard times so that we can be there for that person just as God was there for us.” 2 Corinthians 1:4

Some of our wounds are self-inflicted, but God never wastes a hurt. Who do you know that’s hurting with a broken heart? Take a second right now to send a message to someone you know who is hurting and tell them you are thinking about them. Invite them to come to small group or church this weekend with you. That simple invitation can change a person’s life.

Jesus Christ can make a difference in their life through you sharing what God’s done in your life. The great thing about God’s gift is it’s a gift that keeps on giving. Whenever you share the gift, your gift multiplies.

3. When we give God our grief, God gives us His joy.

We all grieve. The only way not to grieve in this world is not to love. In this world, people don’t last forever. So if you love someone you run the risk of losing them at some point, which means you will face grief.

Especially at Christmas, we think about the people that we’ve lost. As you encounter grief this Christmas, you may be tempted to just push it aside. There are three things you need to know about grief.

  • Grief often comes undeserved.
  • Grief usually goes unrecognized.
  • Grief often stays unresolved.

Christmas turns up the volume on whatever’s going on in your life. If good things are happening, Christmas turns up the volume on that. If you’re grieving, Christmas turns up the volume on grief. That’s why we need to give each other a lot of grace at Christmas. You don’t know what grief or confusing emotions people are experiencing.

The way to deal with your grief is not to deny it, but to give it to God. Only God is greater than your grief. When you give your grief to God, He gives you something even greater than comfort.

“You will grieve, but your grief will turn to joy.”  John 16:20b NIV

We give Him our grief and He gives us His joy! That seems unbelievable that God would give us joy in the midst of grief. God gives us His joy when we recognize this world is not all there is. As we realize that the person that we’re grieving isn’t gone like we think they are gone, that if they are a beliver, we will see them again in heaven. There is hope when we know, in heaven, God will resolve the circumstances that didn’t work out like we wanted.

That terrible tragedy in your life, God’s going to turn that tragedy into a blessing in heaven. If you hang your hope on this world, of course you will grieve. But if you put your hope in heaven, God will turn your grief into joy. It doesn’t happen instantly, but over time God turns grief to joy.

“But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David, a Savior has been born to you; He is Christ the Lord.”  Luke 2:10-11 NIV

Christ is our Savior. The word “Savior” means Rescuer. Grief turns to joy when Jesus rescues us.

“Rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep.”  Romans 12:15 NASB

Who do you know that’s grieving? Here’s a chance to send a message to someone who could hear that you are praying for them. When we share somebody’s grief with them, we help them realize God is a part of their lives. Tell them they are not alone.

4. When we give God our fears, God gives us His love.

The way to deal with fear is to find something greater than the fear. God’s love is greater than any fear you’re facing. God’s love is greater than any problem. God’s love is greater than any illness. How does God deal with your fear?

With His love, He will calm all your fears.”  Zephaniah 3:17 NLT

“There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.”  1 John 4:18 NIV

Fear has to do with punishment. Often we’re afraid because we think we deserve what we’re getting. If you think that God is out to get you because of the wrong you’ve done, you don’t understand the message of the Bible. God is not out to get you, God is out to love you. God is not out to punish you, He’s out to forgive you. As you lean into that truth, the fears in your life are driven out by God’s love.

Who do you know who needs to hear the message of God’s love for them? Who do you know who needs the most famous verse in the Bible?

“For God so loved the world, that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.”  John 3:16 NIV

To be part of the whoever, you need to believe in Christ. Think of the least likely person to accept an invitation to come to church with you and invite that person. Take the risk to let them know that you love them and God loves them. This might be the year when they really need that invitation. This might be the year when their heart’s ready to respond to God.

5. When we give God our sins, God gives us His forgiveness.

“When people sin, they earn what sin pays – death. But God gives us a free gift – life forever in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Romans 6:23 NCV

Sin promises so much, but in the end, the payoff for sin is always death. Jesus tells us that instead of death, I’m going to give you eternal life.

If you’ve never accepted that gift, you can accept it right now. You can pray, “Jesus Christ, I accept the gift of your forgiveness. I accept the gift of your eternal life. Thank you for dying on the cross to rescue me.” It’s a very simple prayer that changes everything, it changes your eternity.

Can you remember who first shared the message of God’s forgiveness with you? Who’s the person you need to share it with? God gave you the gift through someone else, who do you need to share the gift with?

“God was in Christ, offering peace and forgiveness to the people of this world. And He has given us the work of sharing His message about peace.” 2 Corinthians 5:19 CEV

There’s no better time than Christmas for sharing this message. At the bottom of this post is a digital invitation you can download and text or email to a friend. Invite someone to come to a Christmas weekend service with you. You can also invite them to one of our three Christmas Eve services. These services will be different from the weekend services.

On Christmas Eve, we’re going to celebrate the message of Christmas using the popular Christmas movie, Home Alone. Jesus would do this, not with a movie, but He would use familiar stories to illustrate a spiritual truth. So, at the Christmas Eve services we’re going to examine the film Home Alone. Tucked amid the laughter and fun of that familiar Christmas movie is a message that many people struggle with at Christmas. On Christmas Eve we will use some clips from Home Alone to illustrate the sermon. 

God’s greatest gift is the gift of peace, healing, joy, love and forgiveness. Everyone needs these gifts. We all have people in our lives who need these gifts.

“As you share your faith with others, I pray that they may come to know all the blessings Christ has given us.”  Philemon 1:6  CEV


Check Back

Check back on your discussion from last week. Do you have any more thoughts, questions or conclusions about the message on Ephesians 6:10-17? Have you been using your spiritual weapons to gain victory?

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

Hear the Word

“Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!”  2 Corinthians 9:15 NIV

As we celebrate Christmas with the giving and receiving of gifts, let’s remember that God invites us to exchange our worry, hurts, grief, fears and sins for his peace, healing, joy, love and forgiveness. Each of these gifts are ours because Jesus came to earth and died for us. As Christmas nears, let us give up the things that bind us and receive what only God can give.

Application

“I have told you all this so that you may have peace in me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world.”  John 16:33 NLT

1. Discuss a gift you have received in exchange for your worries and sorrows.

2. How can a sorrow on earth become worry free, allowing you to experience the gift of peace of mind and heart?

“But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I will bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord.”  Luke 2:10-11 NIV

3. How can grief keep people from fully experiencing God’s joy this Christmas season? Share a time when you were struggling with grief. Which one of God’s promises could help someone find joy in the midst of grief? How might helping someone walk through their grief bring them more quickly to joy?

“When people sin, they earn what sin pays – death. But God gives us a free gift – life forever in Christ Jesus our Lord.”  Romans 6:23 NCV

4. Reflect on a time when Jesus healed one of your hurts. What did you learn about God? What did you learn about yourself? How can the healing you experienced improve the way you help those around you who are suffering or struggling? Why is love the greatest gift we can give another person?

“With His love, He will calm all your fears.”  Zephaniah 3:17 NLT

Tell Someone Else

Who can you encourage to find God’s peace, healing, joy, love and forgiveness this Christmas?

Download Digital Invitations

 

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