“Then Samuel went to Ramah, and Saul went up to his house in Gibeah of Saul. And Samuel did not see Saul again until the day of his death, but Samuel grieved over Saul. And the LORD regretted that he had made Saul king over Israel. The LORD said to Samuel, "How long will you grieve over Saul, since I have rejected him from being king over Israel? Fill your horn with oil, and go. I will send you to Jesse the Bethlehemite, for I have provided for myself a king among his sons." (1 Samuel 15:34-16:1)”
Ministry, this side of eternity, will be marked by moments of grief, just like like Samuel's. Perhaps it will be the death of a vision, the need to discipline a trusted and influential leader, the knowledge of someone plotting against your God-given authority, sinful division among leaders, a resistant congregation, or a catalog of other difficulties that can obstruct and divert the ministry of a pastor and his congregation.
How do you deal with grief in ministry? This passage provides us with 6 observations:
1. God grieves
It's important to remember that the God you serve is a God who grieves. He's not stoic and without passion. 1 Samuel 15:35 makes this very clear: "And the Lord regretted that he had made Saul king over Israel." Don't confuse God's grief with regret; He isn't sitting on the throne wishing he could take back his decision (see verse 29). Instead, this grief is over the sad outcome of the heart choices of Saul. The appropriateness of Samuel's grief and yours in these moments is rooted in the holy grief of God.
2. You should grieve
What kind of prophet would Samuel be if he didn't look on this situation with great grief? The ungodly, proud, selfish, and unrestrained rebellion of Saul was this prophet's nightmare.
Pastors and ministry leaders, there are moments in local church ministry when it's not only right to grieve; it's your calling to grieve. As God's representative, you must faithfully depict the heart of God in these sad situations. You must not be uncaring. You must not be happy. You must not take a proud "I told you so" posture. Your ministry should be marked by moments of mourning in the face of the damage sin continues to do.
3. Your grief always reveals your heart
In his grief, Samuel almost lost his way. Perhaps he was wary of a tug in his heart between his love for Saul, his grief at Saul's demise, and his loyalty to the work God had called for him to do. So God says, "You've grieved long enough, now get up and do my will." The length and extent of your grief always reveals what’s important to you. The size of your grief always depicts what you’ve attached your hope to. The nature of your grief reveals what you’ve attached your inner well-being to.
4. Some grief begins to question God
Because grief challenges you at the point of the deepest values of your heart, it can tempt you to question the goodness of God. The danger of grief in your ministry is that in it you may be tempted to doubt the one whose grief you are called represent.
In these sad moments, we must be on guard against mourning morphing from, "I am so sad that . . .” into a "Why, God, did you . . ." anger. The danger is that you can’t represent well one against whom you're angry and you don't run for help to someone you’ve come to doubt.
5. Your grief should motivate, not paralyze
When your grief causes you to want to quit, you know that you’re not holding your grief in a biblical way. Moments of pastoral grief should motivate you because they stand as stark and clear reminders of the important gospel work God has called you to do.
As long as sin remains, these moments of grief will stain the lives of all of God's people. It’s only when God's powerful grace finally defeats sin that our lives will be grief free. Until then, grief calls us to proclaim the grace that alone has the power to defeat what we grieve.
6. There's grace for your grieving
We all need to remember that we never grieve alone. Because God is a God of tender mercy and grace, he weeps for and with his people. He always gives you the grace you need to do what he calls you to do in the places where he leads you. He is the God of all comfort who comforts us in our suffering so that we can bring his comfort to others.
So let yourself grieve, represent the heart of God in your grief, guard your heart against the dangers of grief, and remember the empowering grace that makes all of these things possible.