Many grieve a death of a loved one poorly, even Christians in Bible-believing churches. Many sink into despair and blackness. But it doesn’t have to be this way. Sorrow is normal and healthy. But excessive sorrow can lead to sin, depression and despondency.

This past April while Becky and I were in California, we stopped by John MacArthur’s church. While there we visited the campus bookstore, and I bought a small book written by the Puritan, John Flavel, entitled Facing Grief. The original title was A Token For Mourners. Flavel, who was a pastor in England, wrote the book in 1674 after the death of his second wife. His first wife died in childbirth along with the baby. He lived in an age that was well acquainted with suffering. Flavel was clearly a man who experienced grief through tragedy. I found his book to be a huge encouragement in battling fear and anxiety.

Flavel’s book is an extended meditation on Luke 7:13, “When the Lord saw her, his heart went out to her and he said, ‘Don’t cry.’” From this verse, along with many others, Flavel helps readers navigate the painful terrain of grief. He helps us think Biblically about grief. He charts out a path to help us distinguish moderate sorrow from immoderate. Flavel says that even true Christians can easily fall into self-pity and excessive sorrow which are destructive and damaging.

The chapters in Flavel’s book are as follows:
1. The Text Explained
2. Moderate and Immoderate Sorrow
3. Sorrow Permitted to Christian Mourners
4. When Sorrow Becomes Sinful
5. Counsel to Ungodly Mourners
6. Godly Mourners Comforted
7. Pleas for Immoderate Grief Answered
8. Rules to Restrain Excessive Sorrow

Flavel spells out what is appropriate for a Christian mourner and what is not. While his words may strike some as more of a scolding than comfort, this is because of the age we live in. Flavel writes as a pastor who has suffered a lot. As John Piper has noted, Americans live in an emotionally fragile culture. Dr. Paul Brand, who ministered to lepers in India for decades, said that Americans are traumatized by the sheer fact that they suffer at all. Brand says that we are often more traumatized by the fact of suffering, than what we are actually going through.

Flavel’s book is full of wisdom and Biblical reminders of God’s loving providence. As I read the book slowly over several weeks (it’s a short book), I found myself greatly refreshed with hope and joy in the Lord. I truly did. I was reminded, again and again, where my real hope needs to be placed. It was truly a powerful book for me.

This is my second John Flavel book. He has now become one of my favorite writers. His Biblical insights, wisdom, depth and candor are incredibly refreshing in an age of shallow and superficial Christian books. The other Flavel book that I read was entitled The Mystery of Providence”, published in 1678. I read it in Saudi Arabia a few years ago. It was Biblical, nourishing and robust in its portrait of an all-powerful God who is in full control of all things. Flavel reminds us of the real God of the Bible who is far more interested in our holiness than our happiness. He reminds us again and again of the wisdom of Isaiah 55:8 “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD”. Do yourself a favor, and prepare yourself for grief before it strikes. Or…if you are currently grieving, let Flavel help you grieve well, so that you come out of it in a healthy manner

by Pastor Jay, Senior Pastor