As a result of the pandemic, we have all had time to think more deeply and reflect on how we have lived, walked with God, served in our ministry, and held to our priorities and values. Yet, one of the most valuable experiences to grow out of the pandemic is the opportunity to make changes and reprioritize as we consider our next steps and begin the “new normal” of the days ahead. What are our life’s highest priorities, and how will they change in the future?
One of the priorities cherished by the Apostle Paul was evangelism—to participate, to pray, and to ask others to pray.
But I believe it is essential for us to consider the underlying motivation that fueled Paul’s passion for evangelism. The factors that moved the apostle may be used as a mirror to discern our level of passion and desire to share the gospel, especially during this challenging time of being separated from so many people we love and care about.
“I am telling the truth in Christ, I am not lying, my conscience testifies with me in the Holy Spirit, that I have great sorrow and unceasing grief in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were accursed, separated from Christ for the sake of my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh…” (Romans 9:1–3).
This great sorrow and unceasing grief are at the heart and core of the apostle’s motivation to faithfully share the gospel and endure the persecution, suffering, disappointment, and difficulties of doing so. He is ultimately motivated by grief.
We understand grief better today than ever before. Grief simply means mourning what is lost, and we are all grieving today, in one way or another. We are mourning the loss of “normal” life, opportunities to see family and friends, the loss of a job, or even more so, the loss of a loved one to the virus or some other reason.
The great writer and Christian thinker, C. S. Lewis, was married to Joy Davidman, a Jewish woman from New York City who passed away from cancer only four years into their marriage. Lewis wrote a lot about this experience, and one book, A Grief Observed, summarizes much of his feelings about grief, loss, and the heartache that comes from no longer being able to sit face to face with someone you love.
“God has not been trying an experiment on my faith or love in order to find out their quality. He knew it already. It was I who didn’t. In this trial He makes us occupy the dock, the witness box, and the bench all at once. He always knew that my temple was a house of cards. His only way of making me realize the fact was to knock it down.”
“I once read the sentence ‘I lay awake all night with a toothache, thinking about the toothache and about lying awake.’ That’s true to life. Part of every misery is, so to speak, the misery’s shadow or reflection: the fact that you don’t merely suffer but have to keep on thinking about the fact that you suffer. I not only live each endless day in grief, but live each day thinking about living each day in grief.”
And most poignantly,
“Her absence is like the sky, spread over everything.”
I think that this is what Paul was trying to help the Roman believers understand. He loved his Jewish people so much and was in a constant state of grief not because he was away from them but because he knew that his beloved Jewish people and family were separated from God and was grieving on their behalf. His sense of grief consumed him because of the separation his people experienced from God. In reality, it was a separation that was not understood, known, or accepted by the Jewish people.
The Apostle Paul’s grief led to his prayer in chapter 10:1 where he cried out,
“Brethren, my heart’s desire and my prayer to God for them is for their salvation.”
How about you and me? How intense is our burden?
We have the rare opportunity today to better understand grief and loss because of this tragic pandemic. There is now the possibility of leveraging those feelings of sadness and separation to pray more fervently for our friends and family—especially our Jewish friends—who are separated from God and might not even be aware of it. Because we are aware of it, we can grieve on their behalf.
Grief is a hard thing, as it requires us to feel with our hearts and carry the burden for something that will not have an immediate resolution, especially if we are speaking of the case of Jewish evangelism. Yet, feeling the hard edges of life is so important. If we allow grief to penetrate our hearts, perhaps we can better understand and join in the Messiah’s anguish over His people, as seen in Luke 19:41–42, when He weeps over Jerusalem and the troubles that would befall His Jewish people in the future. I believe the Apostle Paul joined in this grief. The Jewish people could not possibly understand the consequences of being separated from God for all eternity. (Acts 4:12) If we can allow this grief to touch our hearts, perhaps we can better understand these days—to motivate us to pray, to witness the hope we have through Yeshua the Messiah, and to appreciate the salvation and Savior we have, who bore all our griefs, burdens, and sin according to Isaiah 53:4:
“Surely our griefs He Himself bore, and our sorrows He carried; yet we ourselves esteemed Him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted” (Isaiah 53:4).
By His grace, the Messiah has ushered us into a glorious relationship with the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. This faith in Him causes us to grieve for others because we know what He has done for us.
Lewis added in A Grief Observed,
“You never know how much you really believe anything until its truth or falsehood becomes a matter of life and death to you. It is easy to say you believe a rope to be strong and sound as long as you are merely using it to cord a box. But suppose you had to hang by that rope over a precipice. Wouldn’t you then first discover how much you really trusted it?”
Sometimes we hang onto the thread of faith as we face disappointment and even disillusionment growing out of the hard experiences we face in this life. Yet, that thread does hold us because it is attached to the firm grip of our loving and all-powerful Savior. We will experience loss and grieve, yet we have also been given the gift of hope through the Messiah of Israel. We should try to prayerfully use our now more profound understanding of grief and loss to motivate us to pray and witness to those who might not even know what they are missing. But we do and, by His grace, should make intercession for those who do not, just as our Savior did for us.
 C S. Lewis, A Grief Observed (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 2001), 52.
 Ibid, 9–10.
 Ibid, 11.
 Ibid, 22–23.