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How Do You Recover From Disaster?

By Rick Warren -- In the past few weeks Southern California has witnessed the worst disaster in the history of our state. Wildfires have burned nearly 700,000 acres and destroyed close to 3,000 homes, and at least twenty people have died. The overall damage is estimated at more than $2 billion, but you could never put a price on the lives lost and the families left with nothing but the clothes on their backs.

No doubt it will take years for our community to recover. You may not be in the midst of a community crisis right now, but sooner or later in ministry, you're going to be called to minister in an area of unparalleled grief, and when that happens, here are five biblical principles you will want to teach those in your care.

First, teach them to release their grief.

Maybe they've lost a family member or a home or a business, or maybe they are witnesses to a tragedy of such magnitude, like 9-11, that they've wept while witnessing the losses of so many. People feel all sorts of emotions when they face crisis, such as fear, anger, worry, depression, resentment, helplessness, grief.

The most important thing to teach people when they are experiencing these emotions is that they must acknowledge them before God. It does no good to stuff emotions or deny they exist. God created us to feel emotions, and he doesn't expect us to act happy when were grieving.

Jesus said, Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. That means its okay to be honest about our grief. Pour out your hearts to God, for he is our refuge. God wants to comfort us in tragedy. He is close to the broken-hearted, and saves those who are crushed in spirit.

Second, teach them to receive help from others.

Its a huge mistake to isolate yourself when youre going through a crisis. We all need the support, encouragement and presence of other people, particularly in the aftermath of tragedy. The Bible tells us that when we carry one anothers burdens, we obey the Law of Christ. (Gal. 6:2)

Third, teach them that they can choose not to be bitter.

Some people live and die with bitter hearts but its a choice to live that way. In this one regard, we all have the power to decide how tragedy affects us. If we choose bitterness, then well only end up hurting ourselves and well also shut the door on our own happiness because we cant be happy and bitter at the same time.

As Ive watched television interviews related to the California wildfires, it's simple to see how people are responding in different ways to their losses. There are some fire victims who say, We lost it all, and were sad, but were still together as a family, and were going to pull ourselves together and rebuild.

Yet, others say, My life is over! I just dont see how I can go on from here; I dont think I can ever recover from this.

One of the things Ive learned through my three decades in ministry is that theres absolutely no correlation in life between your experiences and your happiness. None whatsoever! Ive seen people go through shocking experiences who are able to maintain a happy, positive attitude, simply because they choose to do so. You are as happy as you choose to be.

One skill that will help people make the choice to be happy is learning to focus on whats left not whats lost. In a crisis, God wants us to still be thankful for what we have. As I counsel people in crisis, I encourage them to make a list of all the good things in their lives. I find it is impossible to be grateful and depressed at the same time.

Fourth, teach them to see what in their lives is of real value.

A crisis helps us clarify our values by showing us what really matters and what really doesnt matter. Jesus said, Life is not measured by how much one owns ." Luke 12:15 (NCV)

What hes saying is this: Dont confuse your net worth with your self-worth. Dont confuse your possessions with your purpose in life. Dont confuse what youre living on with what youre living for. A mans life does not consist of what he possesses.

Kay and I live right next to the Cleveland National Forest. A few years ago when some wildfires were threatening our home, we decided to pack up a few things. We went through the house asking, What should we take with us?

When we got our van about one-third full, we agreed, Thats it thats all were taking. The rest is just stuff.

A tragedy teaches you that the greatest things in the world arent things; what matters are relationships. And honestly, as I looked around my home then, wondering if the fire would come over the last ridge to destroy it, I thought of the Apostle Paul, who said, All those things that I thought were valuable just arent." What matters most is the health and safety of your family.

Finally, teach them that this is the time to rely on Christ.

The Apostle Paul said, I have learned the secret of being happy at any time in everything that happens; I can do all things through Christ, because he gives me strength. Phil. 4:11,13 (NCV)

If you want to be happy no matter what happens, do the following:

Lean on Christ for stability - Such a person will not be overthrown by evil circumstances. Gods constant care of him will make a deep impression on all who see it. He does not fear bad news, nor live in dread of what may happen. For he is settled in his mind that God will take care of him. Ps. 112:6-7 (LB)

Listen to Christ for direction - I know what I am planning for you, says the Lord. I have good plans for you, not plans to hurt you. I will give you hope and a good future. Jer. 29:11 (NCV)

Look to Christ for salvation - God is our protection and our strength. He always helps in times of trouble. So we will not be afraid even if the earth shakes, or the mountains fall into the sea. Ps. 46:2 (NCV)

A crisis creates a moment in your life when you can shift your dependence to something that can never be taken from you. Through it, God can teach us that we may lose our homes, our careers, our marriages, or our health, but we will never, ever lose our relationship with God. He promised to never leave us or forsake us and thats an eternal security we can build our lives on.

We were really crushed and overwhelmed, and feared we would never live through it ... we saw how powerless we were to help ourselves; but that was good, for then we put everything into the hands of God, who alone could save us ... And he did help us and save us ... and we expect him to do it again and again (2 Cor 1:9-10 TLB).

Order your copy of The Purpose Driven Life at Shop CBN.

This article originally appeared in Rick Warren's Ministry ToolBox, a free, email newsletter available from Used by permission.

The Ministry ToolBox is for ANYONE serving Jesus Christ. For a free subscription, you can sign up at

Rick Warren is the founding pastor of Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, CA., a congregation that now averages 16,000 in attendance each weekend. Rick is also author of "The Purpose Driven Church," and founder of, a global Internet community for those in ministry. You may reprint this article in your publication with the following attribution: From Rick Warren's Ministry ToolBox, a free weekly e-newsletter for those in ministry,

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