By Whitney Hopler, Crosswalk.com
How can you help the people you know who are grieving the death of a loved one? It can be challenging to know how to pray, and what to say, for people in mourning. Grief can cause intense pain, and you don’t want to add to grieving people’s pain by mistakenly saying something awkward or inappropriate. These prayers and condolences can help you reach out with love and wisdom to people who are grieving.
What Does the Bible Say about Prayers and Condolences?
The Bible includes many verses you can use in prayers and condolences to help grieving people you know. Here are some key verses:
“There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens: a time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to uproot, a time to kill and a time to heal, a time to tear down and a time to build, a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance…” - Ecclesiastes 3:1-4
This verse acknowledges that death is a part of life. But it also highlights the fact that circumstances change. You can reassure mourning people that it’s natural and fine to express their grief when they’re in that season. Be willing to listen to them without feeling any pressure to say anything other than that you’re there for them.
“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” - Matthew 5:4
God promises that everyone who is mourning the death of someone will be comforted, and because of that, grieving people are actually blessed, even in their pain. Going through the pain of grief is an opportunity to discover more about God’s love. God longs to comfort people in pain. Mourning people can rely on comfort from God as long as they’re willing to accept it. God often works through people to bring comfort. You can help pass along God’s comfort to grieving people in all sorts of caring ways – from sending cards to showing up to visit with them.
“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” - John 3:16
Only God knows for certain which souls have placed their trust in Jesus, so don’t speculate on whether or not someone who has passed away is saved. However, you can still point to this promise as encouragement for people who are grieving. You can assure them that heaven is indeed real, because of God’s great love.
“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God. For just as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, so also our comfort abounds through Christ. If we are distressed, it is for your comfort and salvation; if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which produces in you patient endurance of the same sufferings we suffer.” - 2 Corinthians 1:3-6
This verse highlights that God is the ultimate source of compassion, and when grieving people turn to God for comfort, they will experience compassion in the midst of their suffering. Then, those who are grieving can pass that blessing along to others by comforting people they know who are dealing with any kind of trouble. The compassion God gives is so powerful that it doesn’t just stay with one person. It moves along to others as grieving people are transformed by it, learning to endure suffering with hope and sharing compassion with others in need. When you comfort someone who is grieving, you become a part of God’s work transforming people’s lives for the better.
“God is our refuge and strength, always ready to help in times of trouble.” - Psalm 46:1
This is a reminder that our powerful God stands ready to help with any situation – even the deepest grief. You can pray for grieving people you know to experience God’s strength in the midst of their suffering.
As important as it is to follow the wisdom in these Bible verses, it’s also important to know what not to do. Refrain from consoling grieving people in ways that seem comforting, but are actually unbiblical. Don’t say that God must have needed their late loved ones in heaven. That can cause grieving people to get angry at God, and the Bible doesn’t say that God allows people to die because He needs them for something in heaven. Don’t tell grieving people that those who have passed away are now angels in heaven, since human souls don’t become angels. Humans and angels are completely different creations. Also, don’t say that people in mourning will get over their grief quickly. Grieving people may interpret that statement as pressure to feel better when in fact God is working with their sorrow to heal them when the time is right. Grief doesn’t happen on a particular timetable.
Prayers and Condolences for Those Grieving
Simply being there for grieving people is a powerful way of consoling them. You don’t need to say a lot; what’s most important is simply listening to them express their thoughts and feelings. Brief condolences like these can work well: “I’m so sorry for your loss”, “You’re in my prayers as you grieve”, and “I’ll also miss [deceased person’s name].”
You can also pray for them anytime on your own. Here’s a prayer you can pray for someone who’s grieving: “God, please help [person’s name] while [he or she] is grieving for [deceased person’s name]. Let [person’s name] feel your peace and love in tangible ways. Help [person’s name] adjust to life without [deceased person’s name]. If [his or her] soul is with you, give [person’s name] hope that [he or she] will see [deceased person’s name] in heaven one day. If you will, please even send a heavenly sign to comfort and encourage [person’s name] that [deceased person’s name] is well. God, have mercy on [person’s name] as [he or she] struggles with the pain of grief. Please let [him or her] sense your presence. May [person’s name] emerge from this difficult journey with a stronger faith.”
Or you can pray with them if they would like that. Take cues from the people you’re praying with as you pray together. Don’t use a set prayer in that situation, since listening rather than talking is most important. Ask each grieving person you pray with to start the prayer, and simply respond to whatever he or she says with your own compassionate prayers.
If mourning people say they’d like to talk, you can share positive memories of their late loved ones and express appreciation for their legacies. Share stories and celebrate the lives of those who have passed away. Be willing to cry together, too. You can also ask grieving people for specific ways they could use your practical help, such as with meals, errands, cleaning their home, or yard work.
What Is the Impact of Prayers and Condolences on Others?
Prayers and condolences can help people find hope even while they’re grieving. Reaching out with your prayers and comforting words can inspire people to seek God in their grief – and when they do, they’ll experience the wonder of God’s presence with them. Psalm 34:18 proclaims that, “The Lord is close to the brokenhearted; he rescues those whose spirits are crushed.” In my book Wake Up to Wonder, I tell the story of a miraculous sign God sent me after my beloved Grandma Lena passed away. That awe-inspiring experience, which happened after prayer, made me aware of how powerfully God was present with me in the midst of grief. It also directed my thoughts to heaven and gave me the fresh dose of hope I needed while mourning.
When we help grieving people focus on God in the midst of their pain (which prayers and condolences help them do), they can experience the wonder of God’s presence with them. Then they can see that grief won’t have the last word in their lives; hope will! Revelation 21:4 assures us that eventually, God will eliminate death and grief altogether: “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; grief, crying, and pain will be no more, because the previous things have passed away.”
As you try to help grieving people, they will still deal with pain. However, God will use that pain to accomplish good purposes in their lives. As Romans 8:28 says, “We know that all things work together for the good of those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.” You have the opportunity to become part of God’s good work in grieving people’s lives. Through your prayers and condolences, mourning people can discover more about God’s love and experience that love in deeper ways.
Photo Credit: ©iStock/Getty Images Plus/fizkes
Whitney Hopler is author of the Wake Up to Wonder book and the Wake Up to Wonder blog, which help people thrive through experiencing awe. She leads the communications work at George Mason University’s Center for the Advancement of Well-Being. Whitney has served as a writer, editor, and website developer for leading media organizations, including Crosswalk.com, The Salvation Army USA’s national publications, and Dotdash.com (where she produced a popular channel on angels and miracles). Connect with Whitney on Twitter and Facebook.