The Savior and Sorrow
Excerpts from the writings and sermons of Evangelist Lester Roloff
A good many months ago, a beautiful young lady by the name of Linda Jackson died. She was the daughter of one of the deacons of our church. She had graduated with honors from high school and had on an engagement ring. We brought a message especially to the family and many requests came for a copy of the message. Therefore we decided we should share this message in written form with those who desire it. Lester Roloff (1966)
“Surely He hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows” (Isaiah 53:4).
Our sorrow is a universal experience.
Sorrow is a universal experience for the human race. Since sorrow and trouble is a universal experience, then there must be provided a universal remedy, and we must look to the Savior and to the Scriptures for this remedy.
“Yet man is born unto trouble, as the sparks fly upward” (Job 5:7). “Man that is born of a woman is of few days, and full of trouble” (Job 14:1).
Our God remains good and wise.
Trouble and sorrow need not come as an enemy, but as a friend. In the first message Jesus brought to His disciples in that great Sermon on the Mount, He said, “Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted” (Matthew 5:4), and “Blessed are ye that weep” (Luke 6:21). Isaiah saw Jesus as a “Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief” (Isaiah 53:3).
For the Christian, sorrow is Heaven’s lubrication system to help and not to hurt, to make better instead of bitter. Job said, “For God maketh my heart soft,” and “In all this Job sinned not, nor charged God foolishly.” All of our experiences of sorrow and trouble must be interpreted in the light of two great truths — God is too good to do wrong, and He is too wise to make a mistake.
Our faith will provide ample grace.
My ministry to the sorrowing began thirty-five years ago when my mother called me while I was a student in Baylor and asked me to come and preach the funeral for her namesake, little Sadie Mae Gale. She was our next door neighbor’s little daughter who was accidentally run over by her brother in a truck and killed. My first reaction and response was, “Momma, I cannot do it.” She insisted that I come and try. I stood there that day, a timid preacher boy, and saw my mother sit
by Mrs. Gable to comfort her. The Lord alone knew how much I needed His help as I literally broke apart on the inside. And yet at the close of the service, after sufficient grace was given, I can almost still hear Mrs. Gable say, “Oh, if I only had the faith of Lester.” And yet if she knew— how little faith I did have!
But little faith brings ample grace. From that day until this day, through experiences of burying my wife’s mother, my own mother and my own dad, I have found God’s grace altogether sufficient. I am able now “to comfort them which are in any trouble, by the comfort wherewith we ourselves are comforted of God” (II Corinthians 1:4).
Our Father never makes a mistake.
May I say that it is not the necessary trouble and sorrow that weigh so heavily, it’s the unnecessary trouble and sorrow. For instance, it’s the unnecessary and imaginary trouble and sorrow that do the most damage. David became weary and said in his heart, “I shall now perish one day by the hand of Saul” (I Samuel 27:1). And yet, the truth of the matter was that he died in a ripe old age, full of years and a completed ministry. Mary and Martha suffered some unnecessary sorrow (John 11). Bible faith will bring you always to the conclusion that our
Father never makes a mistake. Paul said to Timothy, “For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows” (I Timothy 6:10). These are unnecessary sorrows for the Christian, and yet so much of our time is consumed in fretting and worrying and anxiety concerning money matters and the trifles of this world.
“My Father’s way may twist and turn,
My heart may throb and ache,
But in my soul, I’m glad I know
He maketh no mistake.
“My cherished plans may go astray,
My hopes may fade away,
But still I’ll trust my Lord to lead
For He doth know the way.
“Though night be dark and it may seem
That day will never break,
I’ll pin my faith, my all in Him,
He maketh no mistake.
“There’s so much now I cannot see
My eyesight’s far too dim,
But come what may, I’ll simply trust
And leave it all to Him.
“For by and by, the mist will lift
And plain it all He’ll make,
Through all the way, though dark to me,
He made not one mistake.”
Our faith brings glory to God.
“And call upon Me in the day of trouble: I will deliver thee, and thou shalt glorify Me” (Psalm 50:15).
It’s not the trouble and sorrow that bring glory, it’s the faith that brings the Savior to the scene. It wasn’t the death of Lazarus that brought glory to God, it was the power of Christ and His Word in the cemetery at Bethany that raised him from the dead. There’s no glory for God in sickness and suffering and death apart from the grace to bear and to give victory and deliverance.
Tears are not a blessing unless they become telescopes through which we see the Savior.
“Cast thy burden upon the Lord, and He shall sustain thee: He shall never suffer the righteous to be moved” (Psalm 55:22).
A radio friend of ours, Mrs. Irene Howard, of Oklahoma, a wonderfully sweet Christian, has been through many dangers, toils, and snares and has encouraged my heart by saying, “As soon as I have strength to shoulder my pack, I’ll march again. Fiery trials make golden Christians.” And again she said, “When He can see His face in me, He will turn off the fire.”
“Things just don’t happen to children of God,
They are part of a wonderful plan,
The troubles, reverses, the sorrow, the rod,
Are strokes of the great Sculptor’s hand.
“When some dread accident strikes you a blow
And you worry and fret and demand,
Why try so hard the mystery to know,
It’s not just an accident — “it’s planned.
“Have you been dropped from a place of power?
Do you wonder and reprimand?
Don’t rebel, look to Him in that hour — This
didn’t just happen — it’s planned.
“Do you wonder why God through affliction should call?
And why you must suffer and moan?
No man should be moved by affliction says Paul.
Don’t question — He planned it just so.
“Things just don’t happen to children of God,
The blueprint was made by His hand,
He designed all details to conform to His Son,
So all things that happen are planned.
“No matter what happens to those called His own,
Events that are awful or grand,
Every trial of your life He sends from His throne,
Things just don’t happen — they are planned.”
There is a sorrow that has no healing.
Your only sorrow that has no healing is the sorrow that takes us away from the Savior. “But when the young man heard that saying, he went away sorrowful: for he had great possessions” (Matthew 19:22). “And when he heard this, he was very sorrowful: for he was very rich. And when Jesus saw that he was very sorrowful, he said, How hardly shall they that have riches enter into the kingdom of God” (Luke 18: 23-24)!
Our God is developing us for the journey ahead.
Tears and testings and trials have been a part of my hey-days and high-days with God. A little over twenty-three years ago, we came to Corpus Christi after a wonderful three years in Houston, Texas, and became the pastor of the Park Avenue Baptist Church. Great waves of blessing and refreshing came upon the church.
Then on October 24, 1944, the building that we had just refinished, with new carpet and a new organ, burned to the ground. That night, with the smell of charred wood and burned papers, we sat in the open for a service with the challenge to the people, “We’ll build again!” Little did I know that night of the sorrow and the heartache and the tears that would come because the fire was God’s order to move. With much bitter opposition and misunderstanding, we purchased the beautiful site on Furman Avenue. The name of the church was changed to Second Baptist, and we saw thirty-three hundred people walk the isle and eleven hundred of them walked through the baptismal waters.
Brother Carl V. Watkins, our associate for many years, visited me the other day and said, “I shall never forget the power that God gave that old church. Why, when we’d knock on a door, the people would be ready immediately to pray and ask Jesus to save them.” He said, “The power of God was upon the church.” But if she had never suffered, she probably would never have saved.
The artist painted an impressive picture of a boat loaded with cattle crossing a turbulent river. The lightning was flashing, the thunder rolling, and the waves were dashing against the boat. Awful fright was stamped on the faces of the cattle, but underneath were the words, “Just changing pastures.”
Sorrow so many times has become Heaven’s mechanic in the garage of life to tune the motor for the journey ahead. I believe the wise man was right when he said, in Ecclesiastes 7:3, “Sorrow is better than laughter,” though it may come as an unwelcome friend.
After climbing to the top of the totem pole of denominational recognition and enjoying the acclaim and the acceptance of the brethren in my denomination, one morning I woke up in the depths of despair after having been kicked off of the 50,000 watt station by my brethren. I fell on my face on the floor and cried, “Lord, this is the end of the road,” to which He said, “It’s only the bend in the road — there’s a lot more road.”
And after four years on the saw-dust trail with the Gospel tent, then back to Corpus Christi to begin the Alameda Church, I found myself outside the gate and a lifetime of preacher friends had vanished overnight. But I also found that I Corinthians 10:13 was still in force and that the will of God does not lead beyond the comforting presence of Romans 8:28.
“There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it” (I Corinthians 10:13).
“And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28).
I cried desperately for patience and wisdom and grace to have no root of bitterness or desire to fight back, and I’ve seen nothing since then but wave after wave of God’s goodness and grace and provisions, opening one door right after another. A home for delinquent boys, a home for alcoholics and narcotic addicts, and a home for convicts, plus fifty radio stations daily to trumpet the truth. And instead of thirty minutes on the fifty thousand watt stations, we have forty-five minutes a day and enough invitations to preach every day for years and never catch up.
I feel like shouting with Paul when he said, “O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments, and His ways past finding out! For who hath known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been His counselor? Or who hath first given to Him, and it shall be recompensed unto him again? For of Him, and through Him, and to Him, are all things: to Whom be glory forever. Amen” (Romans 11:33-36).
And as I face my fifty-third birthday I can say,
“I know as my life grows older,
And mine eyes have clearer sight
That under each rank wrong somewhere
There lies the root of right,
That each sorrow has its purpose
By the sorrowing oft’ unguessed.
But as sure as the sun brings morning,
Whatever is is best.
“I know that each sinful action
As sure as the night brings shade
Is somewhere sometime punished
Though the hour be long delayed.
I know the soul is aided
Sometimes by the heart’s unrest
And to grow means often to suffer,
But whatever is is best.
“I know there are no errors
In the great eternal plan
And all things work together
For the final good of man.
And I know when my soul speeds onward
In its grand eternal quest,
I shall say as I look back earthward,
Whatever is is best.”
And I’m confident that we’ll never rest all of our hope on the permanent pillars of God’s eternal truth until the temporary pilings have been swept away!
“Until I learned to trust,
I did not learn to pray.
And I did not learn to fully trust
‘Till sorrow came my way.
“Until I felt my weakness
His strength I never knew,
Or dreamed till I was stricken
That He would see me through.
“Who deepest drink of sorrow
Drink deepest, too, of grace.
He sends the storm so He Himself
Can be our hiding place.
“His heart that seeks our highest good
Knows well when things annoy.
We would not long for heaven
If earth held only joy.”
And the thing so amazing to me is that I’ve not always been a good patient while the Great Physician pruned and repaired. I’ve asked many unnecessary “whys” but found later that…
“It is not mine to question the judgments of the Lord,
It is but mine to follow the leadings of His Work;
But if to go or stay, or whether here or there,
I’ll be, with my Savior, content everywhere!”
Our hard times can teach us.
My disobedience has always brought heartaches and disappointment and unhappiness and yes, even the chastening hand of God.
The little boy saw the sheep with his leg in splints and said to the shepherd, “Sir, what happened?” To which the shepherd said, “I broke his leg.” The little boy was so surprised and said, “But you really didn’t?” “Yes,” he said, “I did.” When the little boy said, “Why did you do that?” the shepherd said, “That sheep has been very disobedient and a troublemaker and would not listen to the shepherd’s voice and I broke his leg and let him go without food for two days because he tried to bite me. But now you notice that he licks my hand and when the leg heals, he’ll be one of the best sheep I have.” Even so, sometimes it may be necessary for the Great Shepherd to break a leg to make us learn that it is better to obey than it is to sacrifice. Hard times don’t break us, they make us, if our relationship is right and our fellowship is sweet.
Our sorrow can eventually produce joy.
Look at some of the experiences of the Bible. “And Jabez was more honorable than his brethren” and his mother called his name Jabez, saying, Because I bare him with sorrow. And Jabez called on the God of Israel, saying, ‘O that thou wouldest bless me indeed, and enlarge my coast, and that thine hand might be with me, and that thou wouldest keep me from evil, that it may not grieve me!’ And God granted him that which he requested” (I Chronicles 4:9-10).
And just look at the sorrow and the fasting of Mordecai and Esther and the nation of the Jews and yet their sorrow was turned to joy. Walk with Brother and Mrs. Job away from the ten graves and start up toward the old homestead without the smile of one child left, and listen to Job as he raises his voice and sings, “Blessed be the Name of the Lord” (Job 1:21). Then the Lord turned the captivity of Job when he prayed for his friends and gave him twice as much as he had before.
Sorrow does not take away, but adds to the Christian’s joy. Look at Jephthah, the son of a harlot, who was kicked out because he had a bad name and yet see them as they call for him and he leads the nation to victory. Look at Jeremiah, the weeping prophet, and see what a permanent blessing he was in the writing of the Book. And then you may visit Joel, Joseph, John, James, Joshua, and Jacob.
But Isaiah brings us to the final answer when he said, “When thou passest through the waters, I will be with thee; and through the rivers, they shall not overflow thee: when thou walkest through the fire, thou shalt not be burned; neither shall the flame kindle upon thee” (Isaiah 43:2). And he saw Jesus as a Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief and he also saw Him as the One who bore our sorrows (Isaiah 53:3-4).
After four hundred years of grievous bondage, God looked with compassion upon the children of Israel and said to Moses, “I have surely seen the affliction of my people which are in Egypt, and have heard their cry by reason of their taskmasters; for I know their sorrows; And I am come down to deliver them out of the hand of the Egyptians, and to bring them up out of that land unto a good land and a large, unto the land flowing with milk and honey” (Exodus 3:7-8). Thank God, He’s still able to see our affliction, to hear our cry. He knows, and He cares.
TRUSTING OUR SAVIOR
“Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:16).
Let us visit the Man of sorrows and the One that was personally acquainted with grief, tempted in all points like as we are, yet without sin. Jesus knew every kind of sorrow that you and I will ever face. He knew family sorrow and misunderstanding. Jesus said, “Let the dead bury their dead: but go thou and preach the kingdom of God” (Luke 9:60). There came a time when He had to get a divorce from His family and said, “For whosoever shall do the will of God, the same is my brother, and my sister, and mother” (Mark 3:35).
Times of sorrow reveal our priorities.
I believe there is a lot of heathenism that has crept into the funeral time in the overspending for caskets and flowers and even the time spent and wrong attitudes toward the dead. After I landed in Indianapolis the telephone call came that my earthly father had gone to be with the Lord on Saturday and the funeral was to be Monday afternoon at 2 o’clock. I had a preaching engagement in Crawfordsville, Indiana, and four speaking engagements on Sunday and without any difficulty, I made the decision that I should stay and preach those five times and then go home Monday morning for the funeral. And yet a decision like that is made in the face of misunderstanding. But why? My dad no longer needed me, and I believe he would have had me to stay and preach to the living because souls were saved in the services.
You know, you’re misunderstood more for doing right than you are for doing wrong because the world understands wrong better than it does right. Brother Hyles and I were talking on the phone, and he gave me a Scripture in the Book of Ezekiel, chapter 24, verse 18, that sure vindicated our actions. “So I spake unto the people in the morning: and at even my wife died; and I did in the morning as I was commanded.” That verse tells me that he preached in the morning, he took his place on the wall and spoke again because he did what the Lord commanded.” That verse tells me that he preached in the morning, and in the evening his wife died. The next morning he took his place on the wall and spoke again because he did what the Lord commanded.
I believe the funeral time ought to be a time of strengthening for Christians and an invitation to the lost to be saved. And if I could have my requests carried out, if I were to come to physical death, I would want the cheapest casket that could be bought and preferably just a homemade box and be dressed in one of my old suits, no flowers, and my casket be buried if possible in the piney woods of Culloden, or in the valley at the Boys’ Home. I would want a good warm, evangelistic sermon preached and an invitation given for lost people to be saved. And it would be my desire that half of whatever insurance we might have go immediately to the work and the other half for Mrs. Roloff, and my definite will be expressed that our children and grandchildren and sons-in-law live for Jesus and be soul winners.
There are too little provisions made for the cause of Christ when Christians come to die. Just like the rich man died and Jesus said, “Then whose shall those things be?” (Luke 12:20). I believe we ought to make sure that our goods that we leave will be left in the hands of the work of the Lord or in Christian hands that will properly administer them.
Why would any Christian die without making provisions to leave a final testimony in the form of a gift to the cause of Christ? I’m not talking about to some rich denomination or heavily endowed enterprise.
When Jesus died, He reminded us that He was leaving us His place, His joy, His power, and sending that other Comforter to make real His presence and His Word. There ought to be more than sentiment at the services of the saved.
Jesus truly is our example of a faith that never falters.
Jesus was acquainted with social sorrow. He was called the son of Beelzebub, and I’m sure the illegitimate child of a fallen woman, because He was virgin born.
And some of the keenest sorrow that Jesus ever experienced was religious sorrow because He suffered without the gate and was nailed to the cross with hammers of religion.
He suffered race sorrow because He came unto His own and His own received Him not.
He was outside the political gate and was called no friend to Caesar. His own friends went back and walked with Him no more, and He said to a little handful of those that remained, “Will ye also go away?”
But His sorrow blazed to a climax when He was crowded off of earth and refused in Heaven with a crown of thorns and hands nailed to the cross: And to the tune of jeers and mocking, He looked toward Heaven and found no Father and cried, “My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken Me” (Mark 15:34)?
And so, denied, rejected, and betrayed on earth and rejected in Heaven, Jesus surely was the Man of Sorrows and acquainted with grief. But His faith never faltered as He made two great statements, “It is finished,” and “Father, into Thy hands I commend my spirit.” And there’s no better place to commit and to commend your life and all of your hope than to our Heavenly Father Who watches over us.
Our faith will sustain us in sorrow.
When sorrow comes, let me suggest that you read the Bible and pray and then sing and praise and stay around God’s people. My memory goes back to a mother who was excellent in comforting others in time of sorrow, and yet, she was acquainted with grief in that her only two daughters had gone to be with the Lord.
I used to wonder when I was a boy leaving for school on a cold Monday morning, how my mother could manicure her fingernails at the old-fashioned rub board at the west porch with the fire burning around the old wash pot and the weather so cold that sometimes the clothes would freeze on the line. And yet, she was singing, “Sweet hour of prayer that calls me from a world of care,” and “What a Friend we have in Jesus, all our sins and griefs to bear, what a privilege to carry everything to God in prayer.” But during these last thirty-five years, I’ve found out what she was singing about.
Not till my dying day will I forget the visit of a young man to my study a few years ago as he poured out his troubles and sorrows. He had an invalid mother that he cared for and would go home noons and prepare her meals and then rush back to his job to make a living. His brother was on the seventh floor of Memorial Hospital, and he was given orders by the doctors to drive him to San Antonio to the home for the insane. He had to break the news to his brother and make that lonely trip with him. And then, the young lady that he was going with and that he loved had a mother and daddy who did not want this young man to go with their daughter. They became very bitter and ugly, and he felt it best to give her up. He gave this word before we prayed and he left:
“I walked a mile with pleasure,
She chattered all the way;
But none was I the wiser
For all she had to say.
“I walked a mile with sorrow;
Not a word said she;
But, oh, the lessons she taught me
As sorrow walked with me.”
But, oh, my beloved brethren, I would not have you to be ignorant “concerning them which are asleep that ye sorrow not even as others which have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with Him. For this we say unto you by the Word of the Lord, that we which are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord shall not prevent them which are asleep. For the Lord Himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel and with the trump of God” and the dead in Christ shall rise first: Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air” and so shall we ever be with the Lord. Wherefore comfort one another with these words.” (I Thessalonians 4:13-18)
Oh, it’s such a joy to remind you that as saints of God, we are journeying toward a sorrowless city and a sorrowless future.
“And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away.” And it will be worth it all when we see Jesus” (Revelation 21:4).
Years ago, tears flowed down my cheeks as I heard the words of a homeless man singing,
“The sands have been washed in the footprints
Of the Stranger on Galilee’s shore —
And the voice that subdued the rough billows
Will be heard in Judea no more.
But the path of that lone Galilean
With joy I will follow today;
And the toils of the road will seem nothing,
When I get to the end of the way.
“There are so many hills to climb upward,
I often am longing for rest;
But He who appoints me my pathway,
Knows just what is needful and best.
I know in His Word He hath promised
That my strength ‘it shall be as my day’;
And the toils of the road will seem nothing,
When I get to the end of the way;
And the toils of the road will seem nothing,
When I get to the end of the way.”
“My life is but a weaving between my Lord and me,
I cannot choose the colors — He worketh steadily,
Sometimes He weaveth sorrow and I in foolish pride
Forget He sees the upper and I the under side.”
“Not till the loom is silent and the shuttles cease to fly
Shall God unroll the canvas and explain the reason why
The dark threads are as needful in the weaver’s skillful hand
As the threads of gold and silver in the pattern He has planned.”
(excerpts from the booklet, The Savior & Sorrow by Lester Roloff)
Roloff Evangelistic Enterprises
P.O. Box 100
Fort Thomas, AZ 85536
“God is too good to do wrong, and He is too wise to make a mistake.” Lester Roloff