We’ve all been shocked by the flooding and devastation caused by Hurricane Harvey. So many people have lost everything they’ve worked for in this world. And yet the response we’ve seen from churches and relief organizations has been amazing to watch.
This disaster gives us all an opportunity to share God’s love in the lives of people affected by Harvey who need to hear about the abundant, eternal life in Christ Jesus. We have an opportunity to teach our congregations about facing a crisis.
Whether you’re planning to help in the Gulf region, or whether it’s the next time a wildfire, flood, earthquake, tornado, or hurricane devastates your own community, sooner or later, your congregation will be called to minister in a time of unparalleled grief. When that happens, here are five biblical principles you can teach your members about helping spiritually in the midst of a massive crisis:
First, teach them to release their grief
People feel all sorts of emotions when they face crisis, such as fear, anger, worry, depression, resentment, helplessness, and grief. The most important thing to teach people is that they must acknowledge these emotions before God. It does no good to stuff emotions or deny they exist. God created us to feel emotions, and he doesn’t expect us to act happy when we’re grieving.
Jesus said, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted” (Matthew 5:4 NKJV). That means it’s okay to be honest about our grief. “O my people, trust in him at all times. Pour out your heart to him, for God is our refuge” (Psalm 62:8, NLT). God wants to comfort us in tragedy. He is close to the broken-hearted, and saves those who are crushed in spirit.
Second, teach them to receive help from others
It’s a huge mistake to isolate yourself when you’re going through a crisis. We all need the support, encouragement, and presence of other people, particularly in the aftermath of tragedy. The Bible tells us that when we carry one another’s burdens, we obey the Law of Christ (Galatians 6:2).
Third, teach them that they can choose not to be bitter
We all have the power to decide how tragedy affects us. If we choose bitterness, then we’ll only end up hurting ourselves — and we’ll also shut the door on our own happiness because we can’t be happy and bitter at the same time.
One of the things I’ve learned through my three decades in ministry is that there’s absolutely no correlation in life between your experiences and your happiness. I’ve seen people go through shocking experiences who are able to maintain a happy, positive attitude, simply because they choose to do so. You are as happy as you choose to be.
One skill that will help people make the choice to be happy is learning to focus on what’s left — not what’s lost. God wants us to still be thankful for what we have. As I counsel people in crisis, I encourage them to make a list of all the good things in their lives. I find it is impossible to be grateful and depressed at the same time.
Fourth, teach them to see what in their lives is of real value
A crisis helps us clarify our values by showing us what really matters and what really doesn’t matter. Jesus said, “Life is not measured by how much one owns . . .” (Luke 12:15, NCV).
What he’s saying is this: Don’t confuse your net worth with your self-worth. Don’t confuse your possessions with your purpose in life. A man’s life does not consist of what he possesses.
A tragedy teaches you that the greatest things in the world aren’t things; what matters are relationships. The Apostle Paul said, “All those things that I thought were valuable just aren’t.” What matters most is the health and safety of your family.
Finally, teach them that this is the time to rely on Christ
The Apostle Paul said, “I have learned the secret of being happy at any time in everything that happens; I can do all things through Christ, because he gives me strength” (Philippians 4:11,13; NCV).
If you want to be happy no matter what happens, do the following:
Lean on Christ for stability. “Such a person will not be overthrown by evil circumstances. God’s constant care of him will make a deep impression on all who see it. He does not fear bad news, nor live in dread of what may happen. For he is settled in his mind that God will take care of him” (Psalm 112:6-7, TLB).
Listen to Christ for direction. “’I know what I am planning for you,’ says the Lord. ‘I have good plans for you, not plans to hurt you. I will give you hope and a good future'” (Jeremiah 29:11 NCV).
Look to Christ for salvation. “God is our protection and our strength. He always helps in times of trouble. So we will not be afraid even if the earth shakes, or the mountains fall into the sea” (Psalm 46:2 NCV).
A crisis creates a moment in your life when you can shift your dependence to something that can never be taken from you. Through it, God can teach us that we may lose our homes, our careers, our marriages, or our health, but we will never, ever lose our relationship with God. He promised to never leave us or forsake us — and that’s an eternal security we can build our lives on.
“We were really crushed and overwhelmed, and feared we would never live through it . . . we saw how powerless we were to help ourselves; but that was good, for then we put everything into the hands of God, who alone could save us . . . And he did help us and save us . . . and we expect him to do it again and again” (2 Corinthians 1:9-10 TLB).
By the way, I created a video for our members to help them get involved in the relief effort via The PEACE Plan: