(The following is the next entry in a 31-day blog journey through John Piper’s, Brothers, We Are Not Professionals: A Plea to Pastors for a Radical Ministry [Broadman and Holman, 2002.]
I cannot imagine being a pastor in Haiti in the aftermath of the great hurricane, or in NYC after the Towers fell. When I read of Calvin’s work to the ill and displaced in Geneva, of chaplains’ work to Union or Confederate soldiers, of pastors who served feed slaves during the Jim Crow era, or of those currently planting churches in countries where believers are being killed for their belief in Christ, it is hard for me to think of how I could credibly, faithfully, and meaningfully comfort believers in the midst of tragedy and loss of these magnitudes. However, I am aware that such a day might come, albeit probably something local rather than national, such as a family losing a loved one in an accident.
In responding to the Columbine and 9/11 tragedies, Piper compiled a 21-point response to help sustain and strengthen his people in calamity. I am reproducing all 21 points here, but without the vast amount of Scriptures Piper referenced. (I apologize for the formatting, but I cannot get the auto-format to cooperate.) I hope they will encourage you and grant you wisdom, as they have done so repeatedly for me.
- Pray. Ask God for his help for you and for those you want to minister to. Ask Him for wisdom and compassion and strength and a word fitly chosen. Ask that those who are suffering would look to God as their help and hope and healing and strength. Ask that He would make your mouth a fountain of life (174).
- Feel and express empathy with those most hurt by this great evil and loss; weep with those who weep (175).
- Feel and express compassion because of the tragic circumstances of so many loved ones and friends who have lost more than they could ever estimate (175).
- Take time to touch, if you can, and give tender care to the wounded in body and soul (176).
- Hold out the promise that God will sustain and help those who cast themselves on Him for mercy and trust in his grace. He will strengthen you for the impossible days ahead in spite of all darkness (176-177).
- Affirm that Jesus Christ tasted hostility for men and knew what it was to be unjustly tortured and abandoned, and to endure overwhelming loss, and then be killed, so that He is now a sympathetic mediator for God with us (177).
- Declare that this murder was a great evil, and that God’s wrath is greatly kindled by the wanton destruction of human life created in His image (178).
- Acknowledge that God has permitted a great outbreak of sin against His revealed will, and that we do not know all the reasons why He would permit such a thing now, when it was in his power to stop it (178).
- Express the truth that Satan is a massive reality in the universe that conspires with our own sin and flesh and the world to hurt people and to move people to hurt others, but stress that Satan is within and under the control of God (179).
10. Express that these terrorists rebelled against the revealed will of God and did not love God or trust Him or find in God their refuge and strength and treasure, but scorned His ways and His person (180).
11. Since rebellion against God was at the root of this act of murder, let us all fear such rebellion in our own hearts, and turn from it, and embrace the grace of God in Christ, and renounce the very impulses that caused this tragedy (181).
12. Point the living to the momentous issue of sin and repentance in our own hearts and the urgent need to get right with God through his merciful provision of forgiveness in Christ, so that a worse fate than death will not overtake us (181).
13. Remember that even those who trust in Christ may be cut down like these thousands who were in New York and Washington, but that does not mean they have been abandoned by God or not loved by God even in those agonizing hours of suffering. God’s love conquers even through calamity (182).
14. Mingle heart-wrenching weeping with unbreakable confidence in the goodness and sovereignty of God who rules over and through the sin and the plans of rebellious people (182).
15. Trust God for his ability to do the humanly impossible, and bring you through this nightmare and, in some inscrutable way, bring good out of it (183).
16. Explain, when it the time is right and they have the wherewithal to think clearly, that one of the mysteries of God’s greatness is that He ordains that some things come to pass which he forbids and disapproves. The clearest example is his ordaining that his Son be killed (183).
17. Express your personal cherishing of the sovereignty of God as the ground of all your hope as you face the human impossibilities of life. The very fulfillment of the New Covenant promises of our salvation and preservation hang on God’s sovereignty over rebellious human wills (184).
18. Count God your only lasting treasure, because He is the only treasure and stable thing in the universe (184).
19. Remind everyone that to live is Christ and to die is gain (185).
20. Pray that God would incline their hearts to his word, open their eyes to his wonders, unite their hearts to fear him, and satisfy them with his love (185).
21. At the right time sound the trumpet that all this good news is meant by God to free us for radical, sacrificial service for the salvation of men and the glory of Christ. Help them see that one message of all this misery is to show us that life is short and fragile and followed by eternity, and small, man-centered ambitions are tragic (185).