Prayer Day 11: A Christian Guide to Spirituality by Stephen W. Hiemstra

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Sovereign Lord. God of the living and the dead. Thank you for caring enough for us that you sent Jesus to hell and back for our benefit. Keep our hearts and minds safe from a fascination with evil. Set our minds on heaven so that our hearts may rest with you, now and always. In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, Amen.

Señor soberano. Dios de los vivos y los muertos. Gracias por preocuparte lo suficiente para nosotros que enviaste a Jesús al infierno y regreso por nuestro beneficio. Mantienes nuestros corazones y mentes a salvo de una fascinación por el mal. Pones nuestras mentes en el cielo para que nuestros corazones puedan descansar contigo, ahora y siempre. En el nombre del Padre, del Hijo, y del Espíritu Santo, Amén.

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VanDuivendyk: Working with Instead of Against Grief

Gift_of_Grief_review_07242014Tim P. VanDuivendyk [1]. 2006. The Unwanted Gift of Grief:  A Ministry Approach.  New York:  Haworth Press Inc.

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

Do you give grieving people permission to grieve?  Or do you try to sweep grief under the rug?

In his book, The Unwanted Gift of Grief, chaplain Tim P. VanDuivendyk advises us to walk with people in their grief and help them complete the process of grief work (12).  He observes:

So many well-meaning friends and loved ones may try to cheer us up rather than just be with us in our sadness. Rather than help us grieve through and talk out our pain, they may attempt to talk us out of pain.  Rather than be sojourners with us in the wilderness, they may attempt to find us a shortcut…This book is not designed to take you out of your pain but to invite you into and through your pain to transformation and new life (3).

In this context, a sojourner is:  one who is willing to support, listen, and compassionately walk with another through their wilderness of grief (5).  VanDuivendyk further observes:

[This] wilderness is not just a physical place but also a spiritual and emotional place.  In the wilderness of grief we may not know which direction to take.  Feelings of fear may paralyze us.  We may not be able to see through the thick forest to tomorrow (9).

VanDuivendyk characterizes grief almost like a scab on a wound.  He writes:

Grief fills up the vacuum of empty space left by our deceased loved one until we can adjust to and accept the reality that the person is no longer with us (12).

Grief is a gift because it helps us transform towards differentiating ourselves from our loved one (16).  Because they have passed, we must learn to live in their absence (the process of differentiation).  A scab protects us while the skin underneath grows to close up the wound.

VanDuivendyk sees 3 passageways through grief, depending on whether we prefer thinking, feeling, or acting (24-26).  Think people follow a cognitive pathway; feel people track emotions but may not be able to reason through what is going on; act people stay busy doing tasks during grief. Each pathway offers strengths and weaknesses. An act person, for example, may develop into a workaholic in response to grief (29) while a think person may worry obsessively and a feel person may slip into depression (28-29). VanDuivendyk suggests that we should learn to employ and work with each approach as a way to balance out (27).

VanDuivendyk’s The Unwanted Gift of Grief is written in 17 chapters preceded by a forward, acknowledgments, and an introduction and followed by notes, suggested readings, and an index.  These chapters are:

  1. Grief as Gratitude, Grief as a Gift;
  2. Everyone Grieves Differently;
  3. Factors that affect the Wilderness of Grief;
  4. Unbelievable Darkness;
  5. Frustration and Anger Amid “Why?”
  6. Praying for a Miracle;
  7. Wrestling with Sadness and Depression;
  8. Healing: Experiencing the Light Again;
  9. And Yet…We Never Forget!
  10. Being a Sojourner;
  11. Sojourning with Those in Unbelievable Darkness;
  12. Sojourning with Those Frustrated and Angry Amid “Why?”
  13. Sojourning with Those Praying for a Miracle;
  14. Sojourning with Those Wrestling with Sadness and Depression;
  15. Sojourning with Those in Healing and Light;
  16. Marriage : Tough Enough without Grief;
  17. Ways of Making it Through the Wilderness of Grief (vii-ix).

Clearly, VanDuivendyk writes using a topical approach.

In my own work as a chaplain intern, I found that the majority of patients that I visited with suffered from grief at some level.  For some it was active and obvious; for others it was repressed and a source of physical complication.  Helping people become more aware of their grief was one of the ways to facilitate their journey with it.

More than anything, VanDuivendyk convinced me of the need to give people permission to grieve, particularly at funerals.  That one insight was worth the ticket of admission.  After all, ours is a religion that began in a graveyard, not a church. We grieve and can give permission to grieve because with the resurrection of Jesus Christ we know the graveyard is not the end of the story.  The end of the story is not sadness, but joy—in Christ.



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Long: Honoring God in Worship

Cover, Thomas Long. Honoring God in Worship
Art by Stephen W. Hiemstra

Long: Honoring God in Worship

Thomas Long. Beyond the Worship Wars:  Building Vital and Faithful Worship. Herndon:  Alban Institute.

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

Before I attended seminary, I spoke with a pastor who began quizzing me about a worship service that she was planning.  The question totally stumped me.  For me, worship was that mysterio

us experience on Sunday mornings that drew me closer to God (or not).  I had no idea what worship was or how to plan it.  As I studied worship in seminary, Thomas Long’s book, Beyond the Worship Wars, helped reduce the mystery in worship planning.

Long defines worship as: what happens when people become aware that they are in the presence of a living God (18).  But how does a faithful church actually bring people into awareness of God?  Long offers an interesting insight:

Even when Christian worship is at its best, it is much like that Mother’s Day breakfast.  It is always the work of amateurs, people who do this for love, kids in the kitchen overcooking the prayers, half-baking the sermons, and crashing and stumbling through the responses on the way to an act of adoration (vii).

Does the word, humility, come to mind?

Beyond the Worship Wars is written in 10 chapters whose titles are instructive:

  1. Worship wars:  a report from the front lines.
  2. Why do people come to worship?  The presence of mystery,
  3. Why do people come to worship?  A sense of belonging.
  4. All the world’s a stage—and heaven too.
  5. O for a thousand tongues:  the challenge of music.
  6. Tents, temples, and tables:  the space of worship.
  7. Serving in this place:  neighborhoods and mission.
  8. Come to the joyful dance:  memory and celebration.
  9. In the spirit on the Lord’s Day:  Leadership.
  10. Epilog:  Can revitalized worship happen here?

These chapters are preceded by a preface and acknowledgments and followed by notes and a bibliography.

In surveying Long’s chapter titles, is anything in all of creation left out?  This is not an idle question, but more a theological one.  The apostle Paul writes:   And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons and daughters, the redemption of our bodies (Romans 8:23).  In writing about the cultural wars, new cultural realities lead Long (2) to observe that:  rare also is the congregation that has not felt some stress, some measure of conflict over all this ferment in worship [and in the world!]

Long (2-9) sees the conflict arising between two groups.  The first group seeks to recover the genuinely biblical worship of the ancient church as represented by interest in Bishop Hippolytus of the third century following Vatican II.  The second group focuses on seeker [1] worship symbolized by the praise music of the Willow Creek Community Church ( led by Bill Hybels.  While recognizing that the seeker worship is influenced more by our television culture than the Gospel story, Long sees wisdom in looking for a third-way that adopts the best of both worship styles (10-11).

How do we make room for God in worship, regardless of style?

Motivation clearly matters.  Long (26) sees us coming to worship for two fundamental reasons:  the hunger for communion with God [a sense of mystery] and the hunger for human community [a sense of belonging].  Theologians call the first need transcendence (God above us); they call the second immanence (God with us).  When we come to worship, the question of authenticity quickly arises because if our view of God is too transcendent, worship is dry and lifeless.  And if our view of God is too immanent, worship is too worldly.  Hence, true worship involves balancing this tension.

Long (107-110) ends with four insights:

  1. Pastoral leadership is the key to worship renewal.
  2. Whenever worship is renewed, some congregational conflict is inevitable.
  3. To change worship, significant lay involvement is necessary.
  4. Education and publicity help pave the way for worship renewal.

How do we make room for God in worship?  Long points out that the best worship is to some degree learned by heart (86).  This is because when worship is memorized, we are less distracted and more open to God’s presence.

Long’s Book, Beyond the Worship Wars, is a helpful book which I have given as a gift to friends.  Like many of the books published by the Alban Institute (, it is worth a look.


[1] A seeker is someone interested in (seeking) God , but not yet a believer.

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Card Explores Lament; Aids with Grief

Michael Card, A Sacred SorrowMichael Card.  2005.  A Sacred Sorrow: Reaching Out to God in the Lost Language of Lament.  [Also:  Experience Guide].  Colorado Springs:  NavPress.

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

Grief is a postmodern embarrassment.  American society has abandoned the idea of Sabbath rest; even the pre-eminent American holiday, Thanksgiving, is being pushed aside to make more room for holiday shopping.  As the pace of life keeps accelerating, the rhythm of life allows little room for honest reflection; honest emotions.  Grief often comes as a kind of alien invasion.

In this context, Christian musician, Michael Card, observed after 9/11—we, in the American church, had no songs to sing in response to the horrific attack (7).  Songs to sing?  When Jerusalem was burned to the ground by the Babylonians, the Prophet Jeremiah wrote the Book of Lamentation.  Lamentation is a song of grief.


In his book, A Sacred Sorrow, Card set out to rediscover the lost art of lamentation.  He studies lamentation in the OT and NT focusing on the characters of Job, David, Jeremiah, and Jesus.  A key verse in this study is found in Exodus 7:16 [Moses said to Pharaoh] The LORD, the God of the Hebrews, has sent me to say to you: Let my people go, so that they may worship me in the desert. The desert in this context is interpreted literally but also figuratively. It is often in the desert that we meet and learn to depend on God.

Biblical Walk

In this sense, grief is a walk in the desert that can lead us to God.  In our grief we almost invariable get angry at ourselves and at God.  Lament helps us turn from self-pity to access our anger and express our grief—the only healthy response to death.  Lashing out at God means we finally take him seriously.  In turn, God honors our anger.  Many of the Psalms are laments which explicitly model both the expression of rage and the subsequent turning to God.  Here lies the path of our salvation:

Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you. For I am the LORD your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior. I give Egypt as your ransom, Cush and Seba in exchange for you. Because you are precious in my eyes, and honored, and I love you, I give men in return for you, peoples in exchange for your life. Fear not, for I am with you (Isaiah 43:1-5 ESV).

Card cites this passage from Isaiah and makes the important point that God promises to be with us. He does not promise to give us a care-free life or life without pain—grief exposes the carefree life promised by the postmodern lifestyle as a lie.  When we pray, it is accordingly important to ask for and treasure God’s presence. God’s gifts follow his presence.


A Sacred Sorrow by Michael Card deepened my conscious relationship with God.  In addition to A Sacred Sorrow, Card also has an A Sacred Sorrow: Experience Guide which is usefully studied in addition to this book. Between the two, the experience guide is more accessible.  Both are worth reading and studying either alone or with a small group.

Card Explores Lament; Aids with Grief

Also see:

Books, Films, and Ministry

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JOHN 14: Jesus’ Farewell Consolation

Dead_flowers_102302013By Stephen W. Hiemstra

It is the LORD who goes before you. He will be with you; he will not leave you or forsake you. Do not fear or be dismayed (Deuteronomy 31:8 ESV).

One of the simplest and most profound lessons that I learned in seminary was called a ministry of presence. It is a humble, silent ministry:  be there.

When my sister, Diane, passed away, I traveled to Philadelphia to attend the funeral at her home church.  Other than family, I knew almost no one. Yet, I remember the comfort of being with a crowd of some 350 perfect strangers. Their gift to me was a ministry of presence.  Words still cannot express my appreciation.

Jesus promises to never leave us orphans (v 18).  In this context, an orphan is a disciple whose teacher has died[1]. Jesus’ comment–But the Helper, the Holy Spirit (paraclete), whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you (v 26)—speaks directly to his presence with us.  Paraclete actually means:  one who appears in another’s behalf, mediator, intercessor, helper (BDAG 5591).

When Jesus appears to the disciples on the Road to Emmaus, he is actually modeling the role assumed by the Holy Spirit (Luke 24:14-35).  The paraclete is a powerful helper (v 27) who teaches us (v 26) and who grants us effective prayer (v 13) and peace (v 27)1. Other than Job 16:2, John is the only biblical author who speaks of the Holy Spirit using this word.

So Jesus says that we will not be alone, but he also says that our ultimate home is in heaven (vv 2-3).  The word, house, has several nuances.  It can mean a physical dwelling, a temple, a family, or a dynasty.  In 2 Samuel 7:7-16, a play on the word, house, is used by the Prophet Nathan to describe God’s covenant with King David.  When the Apostle Paul says that our—citizenship is in heaven—he is building on this same idea (Philippians 3:20).  Ours is a heavenly house, a heavenly family, and a heavenly destination.

Jesus [also] said to him, I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me (v 6).  This statement reminds us of Deuteronomy 31:8 where God’s Shekinah cloud is pictured going before us. The word, truth, used here is interesting.  Both Jesus and the Holy Spirit (v 17) are described with this same word.  In Hebrew, the word truth (אֱמֶת) is spelled with three letters (alef, mem, tav)—the first, middle, and last letters of the Hebrew alphabet1.

What greater comfort could we have than to know that our savior is divine, is the alpha and the omega (all truth), and has final authority over life and death?


[1]Gary M. Burge. 2000.  The NIV Application Commentary:  John.  Grand Rapids:  Zondervan, pages 390-413.


  1. When Jesus speaks—do not let your hearts be troubled—who is he speaking to? (v 1). What is his advice?
  2. What house is Jesus referring to? (vv 2-3)
  3. Why is Jesus returning a second time? (v 3)
  4. Where is Jesus going? (vv 4-11)
  5. What does it mean to be going to the father? (vv 6-11)
  6. What three things is Jesus? (v 6)  How do they relate to the father?
  7. What greater works does Jesus refer to in verse 12?
  8. What does it mean to ask in Jesus’ name? (vv 13-14)
  9. How do we show love to Jesus? (vv 15, 21)What is wrapped between these two statements as a promise?
  10. Who is the helper? (v 16)
  11. What does it mean to be an orphan? (v 18)
  12. In particular, what is the promise in verse 21?
  13. In case you missed in verses 15-21, what is reiterated in verses 22-26? Who asks the question? What do we know about him?  (Mark 6:3; Matthew 13:55)
  14. What do you make of verse 27 which, in part, repeats verse 1?
  15. Why has Jesus said these things? Why will he stop talking? (vv 28-31)


JOHN 14: Jesus’ Farewell Consolation

Also see:

JOHN 15: The Vine and the Branches 

Vanhoozer: How Do We Understand the Bible? Part 1 

Roadmap of Simple Faith

Bothersome Gaps: Life in Tension

Christian Spirituality 

Looking Back 

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