The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit;
a broken and contrite heart,
O God, you will not despise.
(Psalm 51:17 NIV)
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An unbroken person
cannot be trusted.
Henri Nouwen once said that “it is often difficult to believe that there is much to think, speak or write about other than brokenness”. The Bible teaches that all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). In other words, we are all born unbroken.
Yes, our DNA is infected with the sin of our forefather Adam. The word that best describes the condition of unbrokenness is pride. The word that best describes brokenness is humility.
Opportunities for brokenness often come in very small packages. They don’t have to be huge, tragic or devastating, though sometimes they are.
Recently I experienced a very frustrating situation in which I became irritable. I was unpleasant in my response to those involved. It was a small event in the larger scheme of things, but I realized that I had behaved in an unbroken way and needed to make it right with those involved in the situation. Tears stung my eyes. I was broken by the pain of my own unbrokenness.
Everyone is more or less unbroken. The Christian journey is one of God bringing us out of sinful, rule-based self-righteous, self-sufficient, prideful dependence upon our own strength, wisdom and knowledge into more and more brokenness, humility and dependence upon Him. These are God’s highest desires for all of His children. Biblically, tears are an essential expression of brokenness—God’s provision for cleansing us of our unbrokenness.
Tears—The Language of the Soul
"Thou feedest them with the bread of tears; and givest them tears to drink in great measure" (Psalm 80:5).
Ken Gire wrote in Windows of the Soul, “In each tear is distilled something of eternity, something of love and compassion and tenderness, all things that originate in heaven and come to earth as a sacrament to the soul, if only I am willing to take and to eat. The closest communion with God comes, I believe, through the sacrament of tears. Just as grapes are crushed to make wine and grain to make bread, so the elements of this sacrament come from the crushing experiences of life.
“So much is distilled in our tears, not the least of which is wisdom in living life. From my own tears I have learned that if you follow your tears, you will find your heart. If you find your heart, you will find what is dear to God, and if you find what is dear to God you will find the answer to how you should live your life.”
Grief is the one pain
that heals all others.
Grief is the most important
pain there is.
How People Grow
Henry Cloud and John Townsend
Many Hebrew words for grieving, weeping and lamentation actually mean “to distill”, which means to “separate and change from one substance to another”. This word beautifully describes God’s renewing work in the midst of our tears. In the life long metamorphosis of our souls, God is continually transforming us from the sin-marred image of Adam into the glorious image of Christ. The tears we pour out at the feet of Jesus, both joyful and sad, are the distillation of God’s eternal work in our lives.
Tears are the language of the soul. When they are turned toward God, they are never wasted nor shed in vain. Though often shunned by man they are treasured by God. Psalm 56:8 says that God keeps our tears in a bottle and writes each one in His book.
Tears—An Eternal Perspective
God considers our precious tears an offering. Exodus 22:29 urges that we not "delay to offer the first of [our] ripe fruits, and of [our] liquors . . . ".
The primary meaning of the Hebrew word for "liquors" is "tears". And we should not delay the offering of them! They are put into His bottle and are written in His book. I can almost see the fingers of God lovingly caressing each line in that weighty tome as He ponders our every offering and sacrifice of brokenness—love letters straight from our heart to His. Just let your heart ponder this for a moment. Our tears are treasures in heaven, for they represent our every moment of surrender to Him.
Tears: the best gift of God
to suffering Man.
John Keble (1792-1866)
“For Thou does not delight in sacrifice, otherwise I would give it; Thou art not pleased with burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; A broken and a contrite heart, O God, Thou wilt not despise”(Psalm 51:16-17).
The word “broken” used in Psalm 51:17 translates “crushed, broken in pieces, torn, and brought to birth!” The word “contrite” means “collapsed physically or mentally”. These two words describe a soul in devastated brokenness. From an eternal perspective, these are the sacrifices of God. This is not exactly something the fittest, the toughest and the slickest want to hear, but it truly is good news. Like freshly tilled soil, a broken and surrendered heart is the perfect environment for God to bring it to birth.
It is a narrow way that leads to life (Matthew 7:14). The word “narrow” means “to suffer tribulation” and “pressure”. Like a baby coming through the narrow way of the birth canal, the pressures of our sorrows are actually meant to bring our hearts to birth, to life, by the power of God’s grace.
Paul’s writings bring light to the phenomenon of a heart brought to birth. In Gal. 4, he wrote that he was “once again in labor that Christ might be formed” in us (v. 11). This word “labor” is from the root word meaning “to lament and mourn”. Jesus used the metaphor of laboring in childbirth to describe the weeping and lamentation His disciples would endure upon His death (John 16:20-21).
The seasons of crushing brokenness we all endure are like birth pangs. They bring our hearts to birth as we surrender to God in the midst of them. Great or small, our brokenness is the incubator of God’s overshadowing grace as He forms the tangible reality of the character of Christ within us. This is one of the most important and misunderstood spiritual dynamics in the Word of God.
The Book of Psalms is the holy of holies of the Bible. Much of it is an intimate glimpse into the journal of and memorial to the tearful prayers of the broken- hearted. It stands as a testimony to God’s love and faithfulness to those who cry out to Him for help.
We need never be ashamed
of our tears,
for they are rain upon
the blinding dust of earth,
overlying our hard hearts.
“Mine enemies reproach me all the day; and they that are mad against me are sworn against me. For I have eaten ashes like bread, and mingled my drink with weeping” (Psalm 102:8-9).
“Be gracious to me, O Lord, for I am pining away. Heal me, O Lord, for my bones are dismayed. And my soul is greatly dismayed; But Thou, O Lord— how long? Return, O Lord, rescue my soul; Save me because of Thy loving- kindness. For there is no mention of Thee in death; In Sheol who will give Thee thanks? I am weary with my sighing; Every night I make my bed swim, I dissolve my couch with my tears. My eye has wasted away with grief; It has become old because of all my adversaries. Depart from me all you who do iniquity, For the Lord has heard the voice of my weeping. The Lord has heard my supplication, The Lord receives my prayer. All my enemies shall be ashamed and greatly dismayed; They shall turn back, they shall suddenly be ashamed” (Psalm 6:2-10).
Psalm 84 is one of my favorite psalms. It is full of promise for the broken- hearted.
“Blessed—happy, fortunate [to be envied]—is the man whose strength is in You; in whose heart are the highways to Zion. Passing through the valley of weeping they make it a place of springs; the early rain also fills [the pools] with blessings. They go from strength to strength—increasing in victorious power; each of them appears before God in Zion” (Psalm 84:5-7 AMP).
The Preacher in Ecclesiastes also wrote about the importance and power of tears.
“It is better to go to a house of mourning than to go to a house of feasting [rejoicing], Because that is the end of every man, And the living take it to heart. Sorrow is better than laughter, For when a face is sad a heart may be happy. The mind of the wise is in the house of mourning, While the mind of fools is in the house of pleasure” (Ecclesiastes 7:2-4).
Henri Nouwen wrote in his marvelous book, The Return of the Prodigal Son, “There are so few mourners left in the world. But grief is the discipline of the heart that sees the sin of the world, and knows itself to be the sorrowful price of freedom without which love cannot bloom. I am beginning to see that much of praying is grieving”.
Hebrews 5:7-8 tell us that the days of His flesh (His life), Jesus offered his supplications and prayers to His Father with loud crying and tears.
I am beginning to see
that much of praying
Hannah poured out her soul to God in prayer over her barrenness. 1 Samuel 1:10 tells us she was in bitterness of soul, and prayed unto the Lord, and wept sore. In verse 15, she said, “ . . . I am a woman of a sorrowful spirit: I have drunk neither wine nor strong drink, but have poured out my soul before the Lord”. She later gave birth to Samuel, a great prophet, priest of God and answered prayer to a mother who poured out her tears before the Lord.
Charles Spurgeon preached that, "No prayer will ever prevail with God more surely than a liquid petition, which, being distilled from the heart, trickles from the eye, and waters the cheek. 'Jesus wept' to teach us how to baptize our prayers unto God in a wave of heart grief."
Bitterness and mourning are synonymous in many Hebrew words. Bitterness is an important reason to weep in prayer. The natural bitterness of pain and grief becomes the sin of bitterness when we do not mourn.
Jeremiah is often referred to as the weeping prophet. He wept in prayer over the sin and pain of God’s people.
“For the hurt of the daughter of my people am I hurt; I am black; astonishment hath taken hold on me. Is there no balm in Gilead; is there no physician there? why then is not the health of the daughter of my people recovered? Oh that my head were waters, and mine eyes a fountain of tears, that I might weep day and night for the slain of the daughter of my people!” (Jeremiah 8:21- 9:1).
Micah wept in prayer for God’s people. “Therefore I will wail and howl, I will go stripped and naked: I will make a wailing like the dragons, and mourning as the owls. For her wound is incurable; for it is come unto Judah; he is come unto the gate of my people, even to Jerusalem.” (Micah 1:8-9).
Oftentimes a poor
broken-hearted one bends his knee,
but can only utter his wailing
in the language of sighs and tears.
Oswald Chambers (1874-1917)
“Being in agony, Jesus prayed” to His Father in surrender to the cross in Gethsemane (Luke 22:44). Agonizing tears of surrender in prayer are powerful. So are agonizing tears of intercession for others. The mark of God is upon the forehead of those who sigh and cry in prayer.
“And the Lord said unto him, Go through the midst of the city, through the midst of Jerusalem, and set a mark upon the foreheads of the men that sigh and that cry for all the abominations that be done in the midst thereof” (Ezekiel 9:4).
It is written in the Psalms that tears are like seed and weeping is like the sowing of that seed in prayer.
“Those who sow in tears shall reap with joyful shouting. He who goes to and fro weeping, carrying his bag of seed, Shall indeed come again with a shout of joy, bringing his sheaves with him” (Psalm 126:5-6).
Sheaves are the answers to our prayers, the fruit of our labor in prayer. Rachel labored in prayer with lamentation and bitter weeping. God promised her that her labor would be rewarded.
“Thus saith the Lord; A voice was heard in Ramah, lamentation, and bitter weeping; Rahel weeping for her children refused to be comforted for her children, because they were not. Thus saith the Lord; Refrain thy voice from weeping, and thine eyes from tears: for thy work [labor] shall be rewarded, saith the Lord; and they shall come again from the land of the enemy. And there is hope in thine end, saith the Lord, that thy children shall come again to their own border.” (Jeremiah 31:15-17).
the falling of a tear.
Oswald Chambers wrote of tearful prayers in My Utmost for His Highest:
“Here is comfort for the distressed soul. ‘Thou puttest my tears into thy bottle,’ implies that they are caught as they flow . . . The suppliant, whose fears prevent his words, will be well understood by the Most High. He may only look up with misty eye; but ‘prayer is the falling of a tear’. He regards not high looks and lofty words; He cares not for the pomp and pageantry of kings; He listens not to the swell of martial music; He regards not the triumph and pride of man; but wherever there is a heart big with sorrow, or a lip quivering with agony, or a deep groan, or a penitential sigh, the heart of Jehovah is open; He marks it down in the registry of His memory; He puts our prayers, like rose leaves, between the pages of His book of remembrance, and when the volume is opened at last, there shall be a precious fragrance springing up therefrom.”
Tears of Repentance
If Satan could blind the eyes of God’s people to just one thing, of course it would be that intimate place of greater grace—the place of humility, repentance and sanctification (James 4:6-10). For the most part, the church today lives in the world of dry-eyed confession of sin, a mere decision of the will instead of the fruit and tender conviction birthed in godly sorrow.
The woman who broke the alabaster box and poured the ointment over Jesus’s head in Luke 7:37-50, gives us an excellent look at faith and repentance at work in the midst of weeping. The word “weeping” used in verse 38 means “sobbing and wailing aloud”.
God will never plant the seed of his life upon the soil of a hard, unbroken spirit. He will only plant that seed where
the conviction of His Spirit
has brought brokenness,
where the soil has been watered
with the tears of repentance
as well as the tears of joy.
Mark's account (Mark 14:3-9) describes the process of brokenness to be like "an alabaster box of ointment of spikenard very precious . . . and she brake the box, and poured it on his head” (Mark 14:3). There are some wonderful metaphors in Mark 14:3.
First, the breaking of the alabaster box was an outward symbol of the divine work God was about to do in her own heart. The box is a type of pure heart surrendering to God in brokenness. Thayer’s Greek lexicon says the ointment poured out was myrrh, which, in the Hebrew, also means mourning, bitterness and tears. Myrrh was commonly used when burying the dead. Myrrh was also used as a pain reliever.
Symbolically, mourning and myrrh represent dying to ourselves; and mourning and dying to ourselves are great pain relievers. Second, the word spikenard consists of two Greek words which mean spike and nard. The nard is the head or spike of a fragrant East Indian plant belonging to the valeriana family. This plant yields a juice of delicious odor.
Webster's says valeriana is an herb which has strong, powerful medicinal virtues which both cleanse and calm. This too is symbolic of the inner work God does in our hearts through our brokenness, which releases a sweet aroma to the Lord. And it both cleanses and calms.
Third, the word "spike" means "genuine, unadulterated”. To be genuine is to be true, authentic, real and without pretense. Something unadulterated is pure. There is nothing purer than the nakedness of a repentant heart. We are never more real than in these moments, and the more broken we become, the more authentic we are. Our conscious and unconscious pretensions and defenses melt away, and we greet the world “naked” and unashamed. No more in need of them, our cherished fig leaves lie forsaken and forgiven in the puddle of our prized and precious tears. We soar upon the healing wings of Christ’s resurrec- tion. More and more of who God created us to be emerges from the dust and ashes of repentance. This is what it means to be “real” and “genuine”.
The heart of the woman who broke the alabaster box was laid bear in the sacrifice of her broken heart and contrite spirit. She was not self-conscious or concerned about what others were thinking. Neither was Jesus. Without guile, she poured out her soul and her sins in repentance at His feet. Tears are the universal language of the planet.
And fourth, the word “spike” is from a root word meaning faith and truth. Obviously, mourning is a great act of faith and also a great truth, because Jesus’s final words to her were, “Your faith has saved [delivered, healed and made] you [whole]; go in peace” (Luke 7:50 NAS).
After she broke the alabaster box, “she stood at his feet behind him weeping [sobbing and wailing], and began to wash his feet with her tears” (Luke 7:38).
This woman’s tears washed the feet of Jesus, and so do ours. Jesus called this act of mourning and repentance not only an act of faith but a manifestation of great love (Luke 7:47).
“Wherefore I say unto thee, her sins, which are many, are forgiven; for she loved much: but to whom little is forgiven, the same loveth little.”
Gerald Sittser wrote in A Grace Disguised that “the choice to love requires the courage to grieve”. When we love, our hearts will be broken. If our hearts are not broken, we cannot love. Love for the Lord will bring brokenness, repent- ance and forgiveness of sin. In this process we are freed to love all the more, because we are freed from those things that hinder our loving.
If every call to Christ
and His righteousness
is a call to suffering,
the converse is equally true—
every call to suffering
is a call to Christ,
an invitation to come higher.
In Luke 7:39 (NAS) a Pharisee objected to the weeping, wailing, repentant woman—scorning both her and the Lord.
“Now when the Pharisee who had invited Him saw this, he said to himself, ‘If this man were a prophet He would know who and what sort of person this woman is who is touching Him, that she is a sinner.”
Exactly! She was a sinner in the throes of repentance at the feet of her Lord. The Pharisees would never be touched by her uncleanness, not in their hearts nor on their heads or feet! If they had only seen Who Christ was they would have recognized themselves as sinners and thrown themselves at His feet with loud crying and tears too! Unfortunately their own acts of repentance were not at all from a broken heart but were done only to be noticed by men. They were a vain show (Matthew 7:16-17).
The Brokenness of Repentance
Thomas Watson (1557-1592) wrote of repentance, “Faith lives in a broken heart. True faith is always in a heart bruised for sin. They, therefore, whose hearts were never touched for sin, have no faith. If a physician should tell us there was an herb that would help us against all infections, but it always grows in a watery place; if we should see an herb like it in colour, leaf, smell, blossom, but growing upon a rock, we should conclude that it was the wrong herb. So saving faith always grows in a heart humbled for sin, in a weeping eye and a tearful conscience.”
There are three passages of scripture I call The Great Trilogy. These scrip- tures are my favorites in the epistles, perhaps in the entire Bible, because in them I discovered the truth of walking in grace and humility. Not that I am always successful, but these passages chart my course in my walk with God. Viewing them through the prism of brokenness and God’s gift of repentance gives a new lease on life.
The Puritans actually
called themselves repenters
rather than Christians.
The first of the three is 2 Corinthians 7:10. This single verse yields a storehouse of insight into the mystery of the process of repentance and transformation.
“For the sorrow that is according to the will of God produces a repentance without regret, leading to salvation [healing, wholeness and deliverance]
. . . ”.
Godly sorrow produces repentance! Repentence is not a decision but a fruit—
a result of godly sorrow. And this repentance leads to salvation, which is a big word pregnant with promise. It means healing, wholeness and deliverance.
So! Repentance is a miraculous and progressive transforming experience in the soul of man.
Repeating what I wrote earlier, “sorrow” as used in this verse means mourning and grief. This one verse is the pattern of repentance found throughout the entire Bible.
The second passage in the Great Trilogy is James 4:6-10. In these verses, James tells us precisely what humbling is. Humbling is mourning. Mourning is humbling. In almost every use of the word “humble” in the Bible it is used in the context of mourning and repentance. It is the condition of a heart in full surrender to the Lord, not just because sin is devastating our lives but becasue we don’t have any answers for or see any end to our pain. We only know we are suffering. The truth is we won’t ever find answers or see an end to our misery without the humility and brokenness of repentance.
Let’s follow this word “humble” through the next few verses.
“But He gives a greater grace. Therefore it says, ‘God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble” (James 4:6).
The important message in this verse is that God gives grace, even a greater measure of grace to the humble—to those who mourn.
“Submit therefore to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you” (James 4:7).
When we submit to God and resist the devil he will flee from us. Submission to God always precedes resisting the devil.
is making one’s life
an exercise of humility,
repentance and heavenly affection.
William Law (1686-1761)
In James 4:1-2, James was addressing double-minded believers who were warring among themselves over power, pleasure and riches. James 4:8-10 is a clarion call to them to repent of their sins. Here again we see the Biblical pattern for repentance.
“Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double minded” (v. 8).
“Be miserable and mourn and weep; let your laughter be turned into mourn- ing, and your joy to gloom” (v. 9).
“Humble yourselves in the presence of the Lord, and He will exalt you”
Verse nine is the pivotal verse in this passage. It is a verse many of us slide right on by, because it makes us uncomfortable—very uncomfortable. It is the one, however, we need the most, because it is the one most lacking in our lives today. Verse 9 clarifies verses 8 and 10. It tells us that God cleanses our hands and purifies our hearts in our brokenness—in misery, mourning and weeping (v. 8). And it tells us that brokenness is humbling ourselves before Him (v. 10).
The word “humble” means “to depress, or to press oneself down, to be humil- iated in one’s heart and to bring oneself low”. As we bow lower the Lord lifts us higher. As we decrease, He increases. All of this takes place in the midst of “being miserable, mourning and weeping”. This is the brokenness of repent- ance. Each time we humble ourselves in this way, God’s greater grace moves in our hearts to make us more whole—to heal, deliver and transform us more.
In Colossians 3:10 Paul expressed the same notion of humbling in different words. He wrote, “put on the new self who is being renewed to a true knowledge according to the image of God”. The words “to put on” mean “to sink into” in the Greek. In the same way, we put on the armor of God—by sinking into it. By going lower. It is again the same Greek word Jesus used in Luke 24:49 when he commanded His disciples to “stay in the city until you are endued with power from on high”. We are “endued” with power from on high by sinking into it. There is no mechanical way to do this. The Lord does it as we humbly bow low before Him. This occurs not in strength but in brokenness.
God’s life in us
expresses itself as God’s life,
not as human life
trying to be godly.
This is the very same message of Paul’s words in 2 Corinthians 12:9:
“And he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.’ Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then am I strong” (2 Corinthians 12:9 NAS).
Philippians 2:5-8 is the third passage of the trilogy.
“Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross”.
The mind of Christ is forsaking our personal image, agenda, pursuit of power and even our very lives—to be humbled—to become uncompromisingly com- mitted to dying to ourselves. We see this mind in a repentant David when he proclaimed that he would not make a sacrifice that cost him nothing (2 Samuel 24:24). We no longer sacrifice the flesh of bulls and goats. We now offer the living sacrifice of ourselves—our flesh—the primary roadblock to the eternal work of Christ in our lives (John 6:63).
When the means
they are deadly.
Repentance from Dead Works
“Therefore leaving the principles of the doctrine of Christ, let us go on unto perfection; not laying again the foundation of repentance from dead works, and of faith toward God” (Hebrews 6:1).
Indeed, the God-inspired writer of the Book of Hebrews qualified the first of the elementary principles of God to be repentance, not just from sin as we so often think of sin, but from dead works. These dead works spring up as conscious and unconsious acts of sin as well as those Holy Spirit-less things we are all prone to do to earn the approval of God and men. They are works Henry Blackaby would say were not initiated and empowered by God. They are rabbit trails that sidetrack us from the true works of God in and through us. As we become willing to be broken in repentance from our dead works, God will help us discern between living truths and lifeless religion—from His direction for us instead of our own.
We no longer sacrifice the flesh of bulls and goats. Under the New Covenant, we offer the living sacrifice of ourselves—our flesh— the primary roadblock to the eternal work of Christ in and through our lives.
"It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing . . . " (John 6:63 NAS).
In Diary of God, Ron Rose wrote that God always asks for whatever competes for our hearts to be laid on the altar as he seeks the best for our future, our growth and our relationship with Him. William Law wrote of the cross and dying to self over three centuries ago, “Receive every inward and outward trouble, every disappointment, pain, uneasiness, temptation, darkness and desolation, with both thy hands, as a true opportunity and blessed occasion of dying to self, and entering into a fuller fellowship with thy self-denying, suffering Savior”.
In Philippians 2:12-13, Paul tells us we die to self in the humility of brokenness as we take up our cross and follow Jesus. This is the mind of Christ. Let it also be in us.
“ . . . work out your own salvation with fear and trembling. For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure.”
“Working out our own salvation” seems inconsistent with “God at work to will and do according to His good pleasure”. At first glance these two statements actually seem to conflict with one another. In the light of brokenness there is no conflict at all.
We cannot cleanse our own hands
or purify our own hearts.
Neither can we work out
our own salvation!
The truth is we cannot do it. In the very blunt words of Charles Spurgeon, “To wash and dress a corpse is a far different thing from making it alive: man can do the one, God alone can do the other . . . If there be one stitch in the celestial garment of our righteousness which we are to insert ourselves, then we are lost; but this is our confidence, the Lord who began will perfect. He has done it all, must do it all, and will do it all. Our confidence must not be in what we have done, nor in what we have resolved to do, but entirely in what the Lord will do.”
Try as we may, we cannot cleanse our own hands or purify our own hearts (Jas. 4:8), neither can we work out our own salvation (Philippians 2:12) . . . So what does this passage mean then?
of Christian character
is not good doing,
In James 4:8-10, we learned that our hearts are cleansed, and our hands are purified by God through brokenness. The same is true with Philippians 2:12-13. We work out our salvation with fear and trembling—that is, in brokenness.
Our labor is to give up laboring in our own strength and come before God in fear and trembling. The words “fear” and “trembling” are found in numerous Hebrew and Greek words for mourning. They are words of weakness, meekness, mourning and brokenness. They are words found in the original biblical languages for childbirth. They are also often used in the scriptures themselves of those in the great tribulation of childbirth, a commonly used biblical metaphor for mourning. And they are words of reverence for God. All of these are congruent with the humbling experience of repentance. It is in this broken condition of heart that God’s grace works to will and do according to his good pleasure and purpose. Each time we sink in humility and brokenness, we are more renewed into the image of God.
Like the prelude of a symphony, mourning is the preparation of the heart for repentance. It is the humbling of oneself. And mourning, humbling, repentance, weakness, brokenness and dying to self are all part of one process of taking up our crosses and following the Lord in his death and resurrection. In the midst of it, God’s greater grace hovers over us like a mother hen hatching her chicks, and we are transformed. The death of sin is replaced with more death to self. The life of the flesh is replaced with more of the manifested life of the Lord Jesus.
Charles Spurgeon’s stirring words press our hearts and eyes onward and upward toward the cross. “Well may we court trial or even death itself if we shall thereby be aided to make glad Immanuel’s heart. O that our hearts were crushed to atoms if only by such bruising our sweet Lord Jesus could be glorified”.
is divinely wrought
and solemnly felt.
Charles H. Spurgeon
Radical? Well may we realize how modernism and post-modernism have eroded the personal faith and theology of so many when we read the heart- piercing words of John Bunyan written after being released from twelve years of prison in 1672. Quoting 2 Corinthians 1:9 where Paul wrote, “We had this sentence of death in ourselves, that we should not trust in ourselves, but in God that raiseth the dead,” Bunyan wrote. “By this scripture I was made to see that if ever I would suffer rightly, I must first pass a death sentence upon every thing that can be properly called a thing of this life, even to reckon myself, my wife, my children, my health, my enjoyment, and all, as dead to me, and myself dead to them. The second was to live upon God that is invisible.” John Bunyan understood the importance of God’s call to take up his own cross—His call to brokenness and suffender. He gave it not a second thought.
John Piper wrote in a sermon entitled To Live Upon God That Is Invisible— Suffering and Service in the Life of John Bunyan, “Bunyan discovered that, if we are to suffer rightly, we must die not only to sin, but to the innocent and precious things of this world, including family and freedom. We must ‘live upon God that is invisible’”
Brokenness is a lifetime of seminal moments with God as He brings our hearts to birth, ever forming more of His image and character in us. Choice and will power have little if anything to do with this process. Our only real choice is to recognize our inability to make eternal changes in ourselves and bow brokenly in complete surrender to the love and mercy of God.
Certainly the point begs to be made, and well it should, that obedience to God means overriding our own will to make godly choices. And making right decisions is essential to order and civility in a family, a culture and one’s life. Without the rule of law, death, destruction and chaos prevail. Life will not go well for us without obedience to God. But we must never confuse making right decisions with the wonder and mystery of God’s ways in brokenness, repent- ance and transformation. God desires raw obedience less than he does our surrender to His will for our lives.
This is pretty provocative stuff. The sacrifice of God is a crushed and broken heart. Misery, mourning and weeping are ways we humiliate our hearts in repentance. The power of Christ is perfected in our weakness and not our strength. With a message like this Paul would find many hearts closed to him today. God’s ways are not our ways.
Mourning, Humbling, Grace and Transformation
True repentance is a rending of the heart. It is the fruit of the brokenness of mourning, not mere regret for sin. “‘Yet even now,’ declares the Lord, ‘Return to Me with all your heart, and with fasting, weeping and mourning; And rend your heart and not your garments.’ Now return to the Lord your God, for He is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger, abounding in lovingkindness, and relenting of evil” (Joel 2:13).
Character in a saint
means the disposition
of Jesus Christ
Charles Spurgeon wrote that “Heart-rending is divinely wrought and solemnly felt. It is a secret grief which is personally experienced, not in mere form, but as a deep, soul moving work of the Holy Spirit upon the inmost heart of each believer. It is not a matter to be merely talked of and believed in, but keenly and sensitively felt in every living child of the living God. It is powerfully humiliating, and completely sin-purging; but then it is sweetly preparative for those gracious consolations which proud, unhumbled spirits are unable to receive; and it is distinctly discriminating, for it belongs to the elect of God, and to them alone.”
Misery, mourning and weeping loosen our grip on this world with all of its temptations and trials. Each time we let go, we die a little more to ourselves, and a little more of the reality of what is already ours—the eternal realm of rest and resurrection—becomes manifested in our hearts. There is nothing more comforting than melting into the arms of Jesus in tears of repentance.
is to make less
the depths of grief.
Tribulation Produces the Character of Christ
As sincere Christians, most of us are trying to be godly without understanding the ways of God in suffering. The character of Christ is worked out in us by God through the seasons of tribulation we encounter in life, not by any virtue, effort or good intentions of our own.
Romans 5:3 tells us that tribulation, or pressure and suffering, works patience in us. Patience in the Greek means the ability “to stay under” the pressure of suffering “with hope”.
Our natural tendency is to run from pain or drown in it, and there are many dangerous ways to do this. Drugs, alcohol, gambling and risk-taking are things that quickly come to mind. Illicit sexual dalliances fit in this category. Though they seem less malevolent, such things as work, television, shopping, food, talking on the phone and exercise, when taken to excess, are ways we run from our pain and miss the grace and mercy of God. Blaming others for our prob- lems is something most of us do. This too is a way of running from pain and missing God’s grace. The only way we can be patient and stop running is to be broken by the pressures of our trials before the Lord.
Paul goes on to say in Romans 5:4 that patience, the ability to remain under pressure with hope and faith, works character in us. This character is not the natural good character of man but the supernatural character of God, created by His power alone. He is also the source of our hope and faith.
Oswald Chambers wrote, “The expression of Christian character is not good doing, but God-likeness. If the Spirit of God has transformed you within, you will exhibit divine characteristics in your life, not good human characteristics. God’s life in us expresses itself as God’s life, not as human life trying to be godly. The secret of a Christian is that the supernatural is made natural in him by the grace of God, and the experience of this works out in the practical details of life, not in times of communion with God.”
It is one thing to feel holy and pious when we are alone with God in the prayer closet. It is, however, something at which believers are all too adept. Our real holiness and piety, however, are proven among our family, friends and com- munity. Character is refined and proven in the furnace of everyday living—in the day-to-day frustrations and struggles of life!
“When all kinds of trials and temptations crowd into your lives, my brothers, don’t resent them as intruders, but welcome them as friends! Realise that they come to test your faith and to produce in you the quality of endurance [the ability to stay in suffering with hope until God accomplishes His purposes]. But let the process go on until that endurance is fully developed, and you will find you have become men of mature character, men of integrity with no weak spots” (James 1:2-4 The Phillips Version).
It’s such a secret place,
the land of tears.
Antoine de Saint-Exupery
Tears of Loss
Gerald Sittser, associate professor of religion at Whitworth College in Spokane, Washington, lost three of the most important people in his life in a tragic automobile accident. On a dark, rural road in Idaho, he stood helplessly as his mother, his wife and four-year-old daughter died before the paramedics arrived. His three-year-old son was seriously injured. He was devastated and grieved. His heart was ripped to shreds over his dying loved ones and his three deeply traumatized surviving children at his side. Four years later Sittser wrote honestly and eloquently of his long, dark night of the soul. In his book, A Grace Disguised—How the Soul Grows Through Loss, he penned with insight only such a tragedy can bring, that catastrophic loss will “either transform or destroy us, but it will never leave us the same . . . Sorrow never entirely leaves the soul of those who have suffered severe loss. If anything it may keep going deeper. But this depth of sorrow is the sign of a healthy soul, not a sick soul. It does not have to be morbid and fatalistic. It is not something to escape but something to be embraced . . . Sorrow is noble and gracious. It enlarges the soul until the soul is capable of mourning and rejoicing simultaneously, of feeling the world’s pain and hoping for the world’s healing at the same time. However painful, sorrow is good for the soul.”
Nicholas Wolterstorff, a philosopher who teaches at Yale University, lost a son in a mountain-climbing accident. In his book, Lament for a Son, he tenderly wrote “In the valley of suffering, despair and bitterness are brewed. But there also character is made. The valley of suffering is the vale of soul-making”.
Few of us face the catastrophic losses that Gerald Sittser has endured. Though we fear them, losses come to all of us in one form and size or another. We will either be destroyed by them or we will be transformed by them. It depends upon whether we bow low in the valley of suffering and allow it to become the place of our soul-making.
God has gifted us with faith and tears. His loving presence is with us to ease us through the black tunnels of despair. As we emerge from the darkness, we discover that God has enlarged our soul.
The edges of God
The depths of God
are joy and life.
Marjorie Hewitt Suchocki
Betrayal and loss could have blinded Joseph to his destiny and the destiny of Israel had he not been broken and transformed by them. His long, painful journey began when his jealous brothers plotted his murder. They were only dissuaded from their sentence of death by their brother Reuben’s ardent pleas. Instead of physical death Joseph descended the long narrow path of God’s high calling of death to self to live for God. He was taken to Egypt and sold as a slave to a man named Potiphar. Betrayal and loss revisited Joseph when Potiphar’s wife tried to seduce him into her bed. He honorably refused. Unaccustomed to being denied, she vindictively accused him of attempted rape. This led to his next appointment with destiny. Potiphar unjustly cast him into prison. It was there that Ps. 105:18 says “his soul entered into the iron,” a phrase that only minimally describes his agony and despair. He remained there until God opened the door.
God permitted every step of Joseph’s life. His brothers’ jealousy, his enslave- ment, Potiphar’s wrath and the prison of abandonment were all part of God’s divine preparation and plan for Joseph’s reign over Pharaoh’s kingdom. In Joseph’s own words to his brothers years later, “It was not you who sent me here, but God” (Genesis 45:5). Those twenty-plus years of loss and grief were Joseph’s valley of soul-making.
We are only given flashes of Joseph’s brokenness. As God draws back the curtain to allow us a few glances, we see him reuniting with his family in loud crying and tears.
“Then Joseph could not refrain himself before all them that stood by him; and he cried, Cause every man to go out from me. And there stood no man with him, while Joseph made himself known unto his brethren. And he wept aloud: and the Egyptians and the house of Pharaoh heard” (Genesis 45:1-2).
“And he fell upon his brother Benjamin's neck, and wept; and Benjamin wept upon his neck. Moreover he kissed all his brethren, and wept upon them: and after that his brethren talked with him” (Genesis 45:14-15).
“And Joseph prepared his chariot and went up to Goshen to meet his father Israel; as soon as he appeared before him, he fell on his neck and wept on his neck a long time” (Genesis 46:29).
A type of Christ in the Old Testament, Joseph was a man acquainted with sorrows and he became a man of great character because of them. He wept both tears of loss and tears of joy as he journeyed through the valley of sorrow and soul-making.
was written in tears
and to tears
it yields its treasures.
Reading, Weeping and Praying God’s Word
The Bible I have used for many years has been a source of light for me in some very dark places and times. God has spoken words of comfort through it when I desperately needed them. I have a relationship with my Bible that only minimally takes second place to my relationship with the Lord. And I actually spend more time with my Bible than I do any human being. Without it I would not have much of a relationship with the Lord or anyone else.
The pages of my Bible are not only stained with my tears but with the tears of others. In the late eighties, I spoke on the subject of brokenness to a women’s group. After praying, I sat down as the leader of the group stood to close the meeting. I don’t even remember what she said, but I do recall that she was weeping. When I returned to the podium to pick up my Bible, I was stunned to see the Phillips Version of scriptures I had carefully written in the margin of my New American Standard Bible nearly obliterated by her tears. They are verses I cite every time I teach on suffering or brokenness (James 1:2-4). And each time I do, I am touched by the teardrops she unintentionally left with me. They will always be precious to me.
The tears of John,
which were his liquid prayers,
were so far as he was concerned,
the sacred keys by which
the sealed book was opened.
Charles H. Spurgeon
So many times I have turned to the scriptures in tears for words of comfort and encouragement. The verses the Lord has given me are dated in the margins of my Bible. When friends call to encourage me with scriptures, I put their names and the date by the verses. Not only has my Bible become a love letter to me from the Lord; it has also become many love letters to me from precious friends and even a few strangers who, in times of trouble, have called and written me over the years. Some have gone on to be with the Lord, and their words of encouragement remain with me. My tearful prayers on behalf of all the generations of my family, even those yet to be born, are that my Bible will become a testi-mony of encouragement to them.
Many times the Lord has drawn me to His Word in tears and prayer over the sorrows of others. Friends. Family. Abused and starving children. Racism. The seemingly forsaken people of distant lands. The lost. Our nation. The news. Praying God’s Word in tears over people and difficult circumstances is a source of constant consolation to me.
The Lord breaks bread for those who are broken bread. John Bunyan was imprisoned for twelve years because he would not promise he would not preach the gospel. His imprisonment caused him great suffering, heightened in intensity because it also brought tremendous hardship to his already needy family. In the midst of great agony of soul, God revealed great treasures in the Word of God to him—treasures he would never have seen any other way. He wrote in Grace Abounding to Sinners, “I never had in all my life so great an inlet into the Word of God as now [in prison]. The Scriptures that I saw nothing in before are made in this place to shine upon me. Jesus Christ also was never more real and apparent than now. Here I have seen him and felt him indeed . . . I have seen [such things] here that I am persuaded I shall never while in this world be able to express . . . with one scripture after another [God] strength- ened me against all; insomuch that I have often said, were it lawful I could pray for greater trouble for the greater comfort’s sake”.
Charles Spurgeon wrote of John in Revelation 5:4, that “He wept much. The tears of John, which were his liquid prayers, were so far as he was concerned, the sacred keys by which the sealed book was opened”.
In searching the scriptures, the Lord has spoken to me through my tears about the circumstances of my life and the lives of others. More importantly, as He guides me and comforts and stills my heart about struggles and difficulties I face, He also profoundly unfolds His Word to reveal more of Himself, building a deeper trust into my life for Him as His Holy Spirit gives a greater under- standing of Truth. As Oswald Chambers has written so wisely, “The Bible was written in tears and to tears it yields its treasures”.
God’s Tears in Heaven
When most of us think of God, the last thing we consider is Him weeping in brokenness. This is because we hold an incomplete view of God and a distorted view of the ways of God in suffering. The Scriptures give us glimpses into the heavenlies. In a few of these brief peeks, we are allowed to see God experi- encing and expressing intense brokenness, sorrow and grief over those He loves.
"Therefore will I [the Lord] howl [make a boisterous wailing tone] for Moab, and I will cry out [shriek in anguish] for all Moab; mine heart shall mourn [roar] for the men of Kir-heres. O vine of Sibmah, I will weep [with over flowing tears] for thee with the weeping [tears] of Jazer: . . . Therefore Mine heart shall sound [rage, roar, mourn] for Moab like pipes, and mine heart shall sound [rage, roar, moan], like pipes for the men of Kir-heres . . . " (Jeremiah 48:3l, 32,36).
"Therefore I [the Lord] will bewail with the weeping of Jazer the vine of Sibmah: I will water thee with my tears, O Heshbon, and Elealeh: for the shouting for thy summer fruits and for thy harvest is fallen. And gladness is taken away, and joy out of the plentiful field; and in the vineyards there shall be no singing, neither shall there be shouting: the treaders shall tread out no wine in their presses; I have made their vintage shouting to cease. Wherefore my bowels shall sound like an harp for Moab, and mine inward parts for Kirharesh” (Isaiah 16:9-11).
"In all their afflictions [anguish, distress, sorrow, tribulation] he was afflicted
. . . " (Isaiah 63:9).
Scripture often reveals
a meek, lowly, broken God—
a man of sorrows
and acquainted with grief.
When we think of God, for some reason most of us picture a rather serious and stoic Sovereign seated upon a grand and imposing throne. Or we believe God to be One waiting to strike us with lightning over every jot and tittle. But Scripture often reveals a meek, lowly, broken God—a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief (Isaiah 53:3).
"How often did they provoke him in the wilderness, and grieve [pain] him in the desert! Yea, they turned back and tempted God, and limited [grieved, pained] the Holy One of Israel" (Psalm 78:40-41).
"And they that escape of you shall remember me [the Lord] among the nations whither they shall be carried captives, because I am broken [brokenhearted, crushed, hurt, broken up] with their whorish heart . . . " (Ezekile 6:9).
"How shall I give thee up, Ephraim? How shall I deliver thee, Israel? How shall I make thee as Admah? How shall I set thee as Zeboiim? Mine heart is turned [overturned] within me; my repentings [sighing, pities, consolations] are kindled together" (Hosea 11:8).
Love is reason enough for tears, and God is consummate love. He is the Head and we are His body. We are one with Him, and He is One with us. He feels the sting of our every wound and weeps with us through every pang of our hearts.
Jesus’s Tears on Earth
Jesus, God incarnate, WAS the man of sorrows. Isaiah 53:3, “He was despised and forsaken of men, a man of sorrows [pain], and acquainted with grief . . . ”.
Hebrews 5:7-8, “In the days of His flesh, [Jesus] offered by both prayers and supplications with loud crying and tears to the One able to save Him from death, and He was heard because of His piety. Although He was a Son, He learned obedience from the things which He suffered.”
God is a suffering sovereign
who feels the sorrow of the world.
Hebrews 2:18, “For in that He Himself has suffered, being tempted [tested], He is able to aid those who are tempted [tested].”
Luke 22:44, “And being in agony He was praying very fervently; and His sweat became like drops of blood, falling down upon the ground.”
Mark 14:33, “And He took with Him Peter and James and John, and began to be very distressed and troubled. And He said to them, ‘My soul is deeply grieved to the point of death; remain here and keep watch.”
God could not exempt Himself from suffering and tears. To do so would mean denying Who He Is. One cannot truly love without vulnerability—the willing- ness to be wounded and broken by love. It was the extraordinary attribute of vulnerability that led Him to sacrifice himself upon a cruel and wonderful cross for the sins of those who do not love Him. Vulnerability and brokenness are high and holy virtues to be hungrily cultivated by those who are called by His wonderful name. The unsearchable riches of Christ are their matchless reward.
Tears of Worship
The word for grace in the Hebrew means to bend or stoop down, to conde- scend, to bow low in kindness to an inferior. It also means to lament. This Hebrew word describes the incredible humility of the Almighty God. In His grace and Father’s heart He bows low in kindness to us His inferiors, to weep with us when we weep and to rejoice with us when we rejoice. Charles Spurgeon wrote that “this is God's making Himself little which is the cause of our being made great. We are so little, that if God should manifest His greatness without condescension, we should be trampled under His feet; but God, who must stoop to view the skies, and bow to see what angels do, turns His eye yet lower, and looks to the lowly and contrite, and makes them great.”
To exempt Himself
God would have to deny
Who He Is.
“Who is like unto the Lord our God, who dwelleth on high, Who humbleth himself to behold the things that are in heaven, and in the earth! He raises up the poor out of the dust, and lifteth the needy out of the dung-hill; That he may set him with princes, even with the princes of the people” (Psalm 113:5-8).
As God “makes Himself little”, we can only prostrate ourselves before Him in brokenness, acknowledging our smallness in His holy presence.
The word worship in the Hebrew also means to “depress”, to “prostrate oneself”, “to bow down”. It is very similar to the word “humble”and the word “grace”. We saw it in the mourning of repentance (James 4:6-10). We saw it in the putting on of the new man and the putting off of the old man. (Colossians 3:9-10). We see it in the bowing low of God in His grace toward us. We see it in God humbling Himself (Psalm 113:5-8). And now we see it in the word “wor- ship”. If we are to be made like Him, we must humble ourselves. To be like Him is to “be” humble—to be broken.
We simply cannot get away from the act of bowing low before the Lord. It is the place of God’s grace, power and authority. When we brokenly draw near to our Beloved, we enter within the veil to deservedly bathe His feet with our tears of worship, reverence and love.
Part or all of my prayer and praise times are spent in worship and tears of love, peace, joy and gratitude for the Lord’s beauty and faithfulness. It is a rare time in church when tears do not spill down my cheeks in love and gratefulness as I unite my heart and voice with my brothers and sisters in worship to the Lord. In our deepest pain and greatest brokenness, the Lord is mercifully present as we humble ourselves before Him. The woman who washed the feet of Jesus with wailing, sobbing and tears certainly taught us that a heart turned toward God in brokenness prevails over great sorrow. When we bow low before the Lord, we find ourselves lost in the wonder of Him as we enter into a time of deep worship, communion and consolation. Peace and joy overtake our grief.
is His making Himself little
which is the cause
of our being made great.
Mourning to Joy
“There is a time to weep and a time to laugh; A time to mourn and a time to dance [rejoice].”
So writes the Preacher in Ecclesiastes 3:4. All the seasons of our spiritual lives are important to our growth and maturity. After reading all this information about brokenness and mourning, I may sound like a gloomy person. My friends will testify that I am a joyful, hopeful, enthusiastic, positive, productive woman. God’s Word promises that joy always follows mourning. He has proven this truth to me over and over again. So much so that I am able to rejoice even through my tears of pain and grief. I allow myself to mourn when the chill of sorrow seeps into the crevices of my heart. I am confident in the truth that the heights of joy are not far behind the depths of grief. I am equally confident that unmourned pain is the thief of peace and joy.
" . . . weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning" (Psalm 30:5).
“Thou hast turned for me my mourning into dancing: thou hast put off my sackcloth, and girded me with gladness; To the end that my glory may sing praise to thee, and not be silent. O Lord my God, I will give thanks unto thee for ever” (Psalm 30:11-12).
“Those who sow in tears shall reap with joyful shouting. He who goes to and fro weeping, carrying his bag of seed, Shall indeed come again with a shout of joy, bringing his sheaves with him” (Psalm 126:5-6).
“Then shall the virgin rejoice in the dance, both young men and old together: for I will turn their mourning into joy, and will comfort them, and make them rejoice from their sorrow. And I will satiate the soul of the priests with fatness, and my people shall be satisfied with my goodness, saith the Lord” (Jeremiah 31:13-14).
is the willingness
to help each other
in making our brokenness
into the gateway to joy.
“To appoint unto them that mourn in Zion, to give unto them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness; that they might be called trees of righteousness, the planting of the LORD, that he might be glorified” (Isaiah 61:3).
"A woman when she is in travail hath sorrow, because her hour is come: but as soon as she is delivered of the child, she remembereth no more the anguish, for joy that a man is born into the world" (John 16:21).
Proverbs 17:22 says that a merry heart is good medicine. There is also scientific data that laughter is healing. I’m grateful that laughter also fills my life. We don’t have to choose between the two. It isn’t either/or. It is both. The difference is that godly sorrow produces repentance. Laughter does not. It is repentance that enables us to experience healthy joy and laughter. I believe that’s why James wrote, “Let your laughter be turned to sorrow,” and Ecclesiastes says, “sorrow is better than laughter”.
No More Tears
Jesus said in John 16:33 that we would have tribulation as long as we live in this world. He also said we would overcome the world.
When my husband died March 30, 1987, Rev. E. V. Hill, called with words of comfort and encouragement. After expressing his sorrow over Clint’s death and joy over his home-going, in his own inimitable fashion he said, “A-n-n-e. A-n-n-e, the Bible says we’re going to suffer. We didn’t suffer before we got here, Anne, and we aren’t going to suffer when we leave, so we gotta get it in while we’re here.”
The Word of God tells us there will be a time when there will be no more tears. But that time is not here on earth.
“He will swallow up death in victory; and the Lord God will wipe away tears from off all faces; and the rebuke of his people shall he take away from off all the earth: for the Lord hath spoken it” (Isaiah 25:8).
“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” (Revelation 21:4).
Thou hast stricken them,
but they have not grieved;
thou hast consumed them,
but they have refused
to receive correction:
they have made their faces
harder than a rock;
they have refused to return.
Alert! Alert! A Solemn Word of Warning
It is a serious thing to resist God in His efforts to bring brokenness in our lives. God spoke grave words through Jeremiah to an unbroken Israel. They are well worth pondering.
“O Lord, are not thine eyes upon the truth? thou hast stricken them, but they have not grieved; thou hast consumed them, but they have refused to receive correction: they have made their faces harder than a rock; they have refused to return [repent] . . . Wherefore a lion out of the forest shall slay them, and a wolf of the evenings shall spoil them, a leopard shall watch over their cities: every one that goeth out thence shall be torn in pieces: because their transgressions are many, and their backslidings are increased” (Jeremiah 5:3-6).
Isaiah wrote equally sobering words about Israel when they continued in their revelry after God called them to repentance.
“And in that day did the Lord God of hosts call to weeping, and to mourning, and to baldness, and to girding with sackcloth: And behold joy and gladness, slaying oxen, and killing sheep, eating flesh, and drinking wine: let us eat and drink; for tomorrow we shall die. And it was revealed in mine ears by the Lord of hosts, Surely this iniquity shall not be purged from you till ye die, saith the Lord God of hosts” (Isaiah 22:12-14).
St. Augustine said, “Thou hast commanded, and so it is, that every inordinate affection should be its own punishment.” We will reap what we sow until we are broken in repentance (Galatians 6:7-8). What we dish out in attitude and deed comes back to us everywhere we turn.
It is a spiritual law. The sins we willingly indulge will become our destruction. When we play with fire, we will be burned. Sin will seriously impact what makes our world go around—our relationship with God and those we love. Even to the end of our lives if we fail to repent.
Colossians 3:25 tells us, “For he who does wrong will receive the conse- quences of the wrong which he has done, and that without partiality.”
In the Old Testament, it says, “ . . . your sin will find you out” (Numbers 32:23). Isaiah wrote that our sins “testify against us” (Isaiah 59:21).
Many Christians live with chronic anger, resentment and unforgiveness. Like a good parent, God will most assuredly allow us to suffer the consequences of our sins. It is only when we are broken in repentance over them that God changes our hearts and the reaping begins to reverse itself. From there the possibilities for restoration are boundless.
Surely this iniquity shall not be purged from you till ye die. God’s view of brokenness and tears is not on the radar screen for most of us. It is, however, a fearful thing to harden our hearts against them. Few of us realize we are doing so. Though we are no less loved by God, if we are not becoming broken before Him, we either 1) don’t want to give up the sin we are indulging or
2) equally as dangerous, are trusting in our own moral and ethical character, strength and good works for godliness instead of truly trusting in Jesus. Jesus said the flesh is of no eternal benefit to us (John 6:63). Paul, once a Pharisee of Pharisees—religiously the finest of the finest—put no confidence in his own flesh or righteousness (Philippians 3:3-6). We can behave in a godly manner, which we should, but this is not the same as godliness.
The word “flesh” used in these verses means “outward and seeming as con- trasted with the inward and real”. In other words, if our outward appearance is not a reflection of the inward and real but merely our own efforts at image management, this is flesh and this is death—the death of sin.
Another word for flesh is “self”. To consider morality and immorality the crux of sin is to miss the greater truth. It is our claim to our right to our “selves”, our flesh, that is the great issue between us and God. The core of sin is making ourselves the center of life rather than allowing God that place. All sin is the fruit of this root. This is why we must die to our flesh—to ourselves.
Scientific Evidence of the Value of Tears
A scientific study done in 1992, by Dr. Wm. H. Frey II, Ph.D., at the Dry Eye and Tear Research Center at St. Paul-Ramsey Medical Center in St. Paul, Minnesota, validates some of what the Bible has been telling us for thousands of years. It revealed evidence that weeping is good for us. In fact it actually relieves stress, possibly making us less susceptible to illness.
Scripture also teaches that God comforts us in our mourning. It seems likely that science has uncovered another one of the mysteries of God.
The grief of great loss
does not disappear.
Instead it becomes integrated
into one’s life as a painful part
of a healthy whole.
“Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted” (Matthew 5:4).
Mourning is a paradox. It is painful. At the same time, it is comforting, trans- forming and healing. In the long run it is much more painful and destructive not to mourn. It is far wiser to consider brokenness an ally than a foe. Many seasons of mourning have taught me that God indeed does comfort me and strengthen my faith in the midst of great disappointment and sorrow.
It took a long time for me to get a grasp on the truths written here. You may already understand them. Too many Christians do not. Since you are reading this, you now at least have insight.
The light began to dawn for me in the midst of ten very dark years of trial. My mother died. My son was diagnosed with an incurable neuro-biological disorder. My husband was diagnosed with a neurological disorder that took his life after six very difficult years of illness. He was forced to take bankruptcy before he died, and we lost everything we had. My father died. My then eight-year-old granddaughter was nearly killed by two dogs. I could no longer walk in my own strength and charm successfully. In fact charm flew out the window. I walked in utter failure. My legalistic expectations of God and my lack of understanding of brokenness caused me to be angry with Him and drove me to try to flee from Him. I found myself wondering where I could go to get away from God. I never found such a place. I had made my bed in hell and He was there. In His mercy and grace, God led me to the Jabbok, which means “emptying”. Like willful Jacob (Genesis 32:24-32), He lovingly wrestled me down and emp-tied me of much of myself. I have gratefully walked with a spiritual limp ever since. I may not fully comprehend the mysterious ways of God in grace, but I recognize His grace. I live and rest imperfectly in the rarefied air of it. This truly is His grace.
The old Puritans used to pray
for "the gift of tears".
God’s love accomplished what my legalism never could. It brought me to a place of brokenness and peace. It was, as Sheldon van Aucken wrote in his book of the same title, a severe mercy. For the trials and for His mercy I am forever grateful. It is God’s kindness that brought me to repentance. My misguided legalism and fear of His wrath only angered me and drove me away from Him. He has used everything for my good and for the good of those I love. He may even use it for your good.
For many this message will be freeing. For others it will be confirming. For some reading this it may be confusing or overwhelming. I’d like to encourage you to turn your concerns to the Lord. He graciously receives all we have to give, and he knows exactly how much that is. For some a bucketful from a deep well is not near enough. The widow’s mite was the last drop from a dry well. Though her offering was scorned by men, it was far more pleasing to God than a bucketful offered out of plenty.
Truth is always the standard, but in his grace and mercy God knows where each of us is. We are not stamped from a mold. Nor does he force us into one. He works with us as unique individuals. Only He knows how much we have to offer him now and where we are ready for Him to take us next in our journey.
Oswald Chambers wrote, “The foundation of Christianity is repentance. Strictly speaking, a person cannot repent when he chooses—repentance is a gift of God. The old Puritans used to pray for ‘the gift of tears.’” A sincere prayer for the gift of tears and brokenness may be all you have to offer. God will receive it with love, mercy and grace. It is a beginning. He will continue to take you each step of the way with great love and care. We cannot possibly comprehend all that we need to repent of, because we can never know every- thing going on in our deceitful hearts. In fact, it is impossible for us to even faintly grasp the disparity between God and ourselves.
What soap is for the body,
tears are for the soul.
A Jewish Proverb
No words are recorded of the woman who washed the feet of Jesus with her tears. All she had to offer Him was an extravagant outpouring of wordless weeping and repentance, which is recounted and uniquely memorialized by the Lord. This is mostly all we have to bring Him in repentance in the light of Who He Is and who we are.
Humility is, however, honesty with God. Many things we do know about ourselves. When we have sorrow, grief, anger, rage, tension, anxiety, lust, fear, bitterness, unforgiveness, jealousy, resentment, disappointment, hate or any other sinful thought, deed or emotion simmering in our hearts, we need to make time to pour it out to the Lord in brokenness. God isn’t offended even when we shout our pain out to Him.
So why do we think we need to spruce ourselves up before we repent? We need to drop our fig leaves. Who are we kidding anyway? Do we at some level foolishly think He doesn’t know exactly who we are and what is in our hearts? The only place to deal with conscious sin is in His lap. And just why do we consider repentance punishment anyway? Brennan Manning says that repentance is not what we do to earn forgiveness. It is what we do because we are forgiven. Repentance is an expression of gratitude and sorrow for sin. We find comfort there. So we have nothing to fear when we come to God in brokenness and repentance.
As we integrate these times of brokenness into our lives, the Lord is faithful and just to forgive and cleanse the iniquities from our hearts. Once He does, we will know without a doubt that we are different. I don’t mean the difference between lost and saved. I mean the difference between struggling to obey God and freedom from the power of sin—freedom from the chronic, nagging, unre- solved inner pain that drives us to sin. I still have a long way to go, but O how far He has brought me! Sometimes I pinch myself to make sure I’m not dreaming. Can this once tormented woman really be me?
He is the Alpha and Omega,
the author and finisher
of our faith.
I am only beginning to realize that as much as God has done, is doing and will do in us, our understanding of His love, desire and purposes for us can only be compared to something infinitely less than a microcosm in His vast, finite, ever-expanding universe. Even it cannot contain Him. He is infinite. Our capacity to grasp the things of God and to take them in is, like the universe, always expanding yet also pitifully finite. The good news is that He is the Alpha and Omega, the author and finisher of our faith. Everything begins and ends with Him. We can trust Him to initiate and accomplish His desires and purposes in our hearts and lives. Our part is simply to respond with surrender to His gentle nudgings, for most assuredly, without Him we can do nothing of eternal worth (John 15:5). When we recognize and embrace our powerlessness in brokenness at His feet and pour out our souls before Him, He will raise us up and continually expand our capacity for our greatest need—more of Him. As He does and as we do, let us cry out to Him to “be able to take in with all Christians the extravagant dimensions of Christ’s love. [Let us ask Him to help us] reach out and experience the breadth! Test its length! Plumb the depths! Rise to the heights! Live full lives, full in the fullness of God” (Ephesians 3:18-19 The Message]. And let us pass His life and His love on to others.
One of the best ways
to demonstrate God’s love
is to listen to people.
Tears of Loss, Repentance and Prayer are the Intrinsic Condition of Heart in which God Continues:
1. to deliver me from self, sin and the law (Romans 7:5-6);
2. to heal me from the pain of traumatic abuse and fifty years of rage about it; 3. to manifest more of His character in me;
4. to manifest more of the unique person He created me to be;
5. to enable me to bear all trials that come my way with grace and faith; and
6. to weep with me as I weep.
Many believers do not realize that we have biblical freedom and even admonition, to pour out our souls before God in deep and sorrowful tears of brokenness. It is not just an option. It is essential. I pray God will again give us seeing eyes and hearing ears about this vital subject in the scriptures.
The mystery and truth of brokenness and tears is an integral part of biblical truth. I read many places in scripture that God sheds passionate tears. Jesus shed many tears. Brokenness and tears are the tender conditions of the heart are essential to the development of our maturity, integrity and well being. They are holy, epiphanic moments. They enable us to embrace our personal cross and crises with hope and faith. And they are the womb of repentance. Unfor- tunately, repentance has been reduced to a cut and dried decision of the will, when actually it is a fruit, a result of a very tearful godly sorrow. We have seen that this pattern of repentance can be found throughout the Word of God.
We have also learned that there are at least five scriptural reasons to mourn and weep with loud crying and tears before the Lord. In addition to 1) repent- ance, there is also 2) loss of any kind or size, 3) prayer, 4) the Word of God and 5) worship and adoration of the Lord. All of these are potential holy moments of healing tears.
There are today, however, both spoken and unspoken messages in the world as well as the church, that grief is not a good thing—at least grief that lasts more than a moment or two, a day or two. Even worse, in some quarters the condemning message conveyed is that grief is unbelief and therefore not of God. Our post-modern world is very uncomfortable with the smallest display of grief from those who are hurting. To be the fittest, the toughest, the slickest is the byword of our time. After all, a runny nose, bloodshot eyes and tear- stained cheeks do not fit the image of success in today’s world.
are a poor replacement
Henri Nouwen wrote of spending time with the brokenhearted, “Compassion is hard because it requires the inner disposition to go with others to the place where they are weak, vulnerable, lonely and broken. But this is not our spontaneous response to suffering. What we desire most is to do away with suffering by fleeing from it or finding a quick cure for it.”
When the sea anemone senses the slightest threat, it draws its fragile tentacles in to shield itself against danger. In the same way, the mere flicker of a look of disapproval shuts down a shattered soul. Sadly, the crust thickens around an already breaking heart. Hope for understanding seeps deeper into a pit of isolation and despair. One wonders who cares enough to listen. Those desper- ately needing comfort and understanding assume the blame, silently asking themselves, “What is wrong with me?” Many grow cold and angry and seek ways to escape their pain.
Unfortunately, too many of us in the evangelical church of this century have been subtly or not so subtly seduced to shut down our own pain and grief. Image, fear of being rejected or judged, negative messages or reasons buried deep inside us block our free expression of grief. Understandably then when we spend time with someone who is suffering, the sleeping dog inside most of us does not know whether to growl or whimper, and we often crush the tender- est moments of those most vulnerable. Allowing our own pain to become visible to ourselves, much less others, breaks all of our unspoken codes. Consequent- ly, we insensitively interrupt the holy moments and healing tears of others with helpful suggestions—some trite and some sincere, but mostly inappropriate for the moment. We quote scriptures instead of following the scripture which admonishes us to weep with those who weep. In the process we further wound those yearning for someone to simply care.
Allowing our own pain
to become visible to ourselves,
much less others,
breaks all of our unspoken codes.
Being There for One Another
1 Corinthians 12:26 says when one member of the body of Christ suffers we all suffer. Folks going through tough times often need Jesus with skin on to be there for them. Listening is one of the ways we do this. This is one of the rarest, most valuable, powerful, healing gifts we can give to one another. I have listened to the anguish of many people over the years, people who were angry, terrified and even suicidal. I never cease to be amazed that after a time of even tormented weeping, much to my relief, the peace and comfort of the Lord always settles in their hearts and they are changed by His grace.
A Good Listener:
1. listens with with spiritual ears open, hearing and understanding the
spirit beneath the words;
2. listens with the heart and mind still and the mouth shut;
3. listens with no personal agenda;
4. listens with compassionate spiritual eyes, maintaining involved eye
5. listens with a compassionate heart;
6. listens with a committed heart;
7. listens with attentiveness;
8. listens without judgment;
9. listens without fear;
10. listens with faith, knowing that the Spirit of God is at work to will and
do according to His good purpose;
11. waits patiently, quietly and prayerfully through times of silence, making
room for the unfolding of things previously too deep and too painful to
even know or express;
12. counts it a privilege to witness a soul in the process of transformation,
even when it doesn’t look like it;
13. offers to pray when the time of tears and sharing ends;
14. consoles with words of confidence in the faithfulness of God, which is
usually all anyone needs to hear;
15. waits to give advice until asked;
16. offers a hug;
17. recognizes that these are holy moments of eternal consequence;
18. keeps all holy moments completely confidential.
a level of caring
The Value of Listening
Too many people underestimate the value and power of listening. Listening to me builds trust. Please listen—and pray.
When I ask you to listen to me and you start giving advice, you have not done what is most needed and most helpful. Please listen—and pray.
When I ask you to listen to me and you begin to tell me why I shouldn’t feel the way I feel, you have trespassed holy ground. You have not walked in my shoes. Please listen— and pray.
When I ask you to listen to me and you feel you have to do something to solve my problems, you have interfered in a holy process, strange as that may seem.
Please listen—and pray. All I ask is that you listen. Not talk or do— just listen. When you do something for me that God and I need to do, you contribute to my fear and feelings of inadequacy. Please listen—and pray.
When you accept as a simple fact that I do feel what I feel, no matter how irrational, then I can quit trying to convince you and begin to be healed by the Spirit of God. Please listen—and pray.
Remember, these are holy, epiphanic moments of the soul. So please listen and just hear me. If you want to talk, wait a minute for your turn—and I’ll listen to you.—Anonymous
Lord, thank you for the trials that bring me to brokenness and press me in to You. Please give me eyes to see, ears to hear and a heart to understand your ways that I might turn and be healed. Unless you do, I cannot repent in brokenness. Thank you for the gift of holy moments and healing tears that brings me to your feet in brokenness—that makes room for your grace to forgive, comfort, heal, deliver and transform me—that makes room for more of you in my life. Continue to pour out your Holy Spirit upon me that I might be free to worship and serve you in greater purity of spirit and truth. In your Name, Jesus. Amen. It is often difficult to believe that there is much to think, speak or write about other than brokenness. Henri Houwen
To learn more about brokenness and unbrokenness, click here.