There was nothing triumphant, glorious, or earth-shattering about it when Rick Warren returned to his office Saturday night. Three huge and bulging auxiliary tents and a swarm of traffic control officers had to be added to weekend services at the Saddleback Church in California but all that the overflow crowd saw, along with millions of other followers who have been silently watching from all around the world, was a fellow sufferer finally ready to forge on.
Rick Warren is one of the most acclaimed evangelists of our day. His guidebook, “A Purpose-Driven Life,” has sold many millions, this in dozens of languages, and he has counseled kings, presidents, and countless Christian believers the world over. So why did his Lord and Savior allow the unthinkable to occur? Five days after Easter, Warren’s son Matthew fell prey to suicide at age 27 and it is as though the world is now asking the famed Rick Warren “why?”
“For 27 years I prayed every day of my life for God to heal my son’s mental illness. It was the number one prayer of my life. It just didn’t make sense that this prayer wasn’t being answered,” the pastor said, especially after Rick and his wife Kay have given their every waking minute to glorifying their Jesus.
The Warrens' grieving – more like four months in life’s “wilderness” – has been gut-wrenching. “There were some parts of Scripture I was unable to read,” he admitted and there were others that touched him profoundly. From Isaiah, “When you go through deep waters, I will be with you. When you go through rivers of difficulty, you will not drown” and from the apostle Paul: “God is our merciful Father and the source of all comfort. He comforts us in our troubles so we can comfort others.”
To the non-believer it makes little sense that Warren would again take up the cross but to the believer it makes all the sense in the world. “I believe God wants to take your greatest loss and turn it into your greatest life message,” he said and acknowledging a great host of friends that have comforted his family in the past gruesome months, he declared, “I am in this family of spiritual redwoods – Satan picked the wrong team to pick on.”
During the often-emotional service, Warren will tackle mental illness in a head-on way. His long-term goal is to erase any stigma of mental illness from the church. “Your illness is not your identity, your chemistry is not your character. If any other organ of your body breaks down there's no stigma," said Warren. "But if your brain doesn't work, why are you ashamed of that?" We want families to know, ‘We are here for you, we are in this together. There is hope for the future. There is hope for today.’”
The pastor said that for the next six weeks he will preach a series entitled, “How To Get Through What You Are Going Through” and each week will be based on the six stages of grief: shock, sorrow, struggle, surrender, sanctification, and service. A much-larger platform – far more encompassing --will be based on the same six stages.
The whole idea is as old and as timeless as the Bible itself, Warren explaining that God is with His people in times of trouble and that God, indeed, will one day raise the dead. Heaven is still coming, he promised, quoting from Revelations, “Then God will wipe away every tear from their eyes and there will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things will pass away.”
Warren’s six messages on grief will be streamed free from the Saddleback Church website but attending this week’s services were Roma Downey and Mark Burnett who just produced the hit documentary, “The Bible,” lending to the Warrens’ belief God will use Matthew’s death for a purpose, for the good.
As Warren wrote in his book, “Trusting God completely means having faith He knows what is best for your life. You expect Him to keep His promises, help you with your problems, and do the impossible when necessary.”
Rick Warren has no doubt God knows what is best for his life. This weekend only confirmed it.