The Gateway of the Aching Heart
Sermon On The Mount Series
(Matthew 5:4 NKJV) "Blessed are those who mourn, For they shall be comforted."
a blessing these words are to anyone who has known deep suffering and grief, where friends get fed up and wander off tired of your "negativity",
when all you have in life is a big lump of pain, and all you want from life
is a little comfort, a little kindness and one really faithful friend who
doesn't care how badly you feel, who will sit with you at your most despondent
and will truly listen and bring you that first shiny, precious glimmer of
hope. God is that friend, He is the voice that comes out of the whirlwind,
the Friend we discover in darkness.
What a blow these words are for the worldling engrossed in the pursuit of happiness. His days will be short and his comforts few and very costly. God's comfort comes to those who will let their hearts be torn by life, whose callouses are not so deep they cannot grieve. Pain hollows us out so God can fill us and mourning is a very important part of the spiritual process.
The flesh does not
want to mourn. Sad is bad, happy is good, lets have a party. This is the
response of the flesh to pain.
(Galatians 5:19,20,21 NKJV) "Now the works of the flesh are evident, which are: adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lewdness, idolatry, sorcery, hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions, heresies, envy, murders, drunkenness, revelries, and the like; of which I tell you beforehand, just as I also told you in time past, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God."
The flesh will commit crime rather than suffer pain. The flesh cannot truly mourn, at best it whinges ! I have put much thought recently into the problem of alcoholism and one common characteristic of many alcoholics seems to be a deep reluctance to face inner pain and to live with it until it is finished its work. The over-riding need is to anaesthetize the pain, to escape, to feel good at any cost. This unwillingness to mourn, to responsibly handle pain, can cost them their jobs, their families, their self respect and their lives.
I am afraid that
certain sections of the church also refuse to mourn responsibly, to wait
in silence for God their Savior. In certain places it can be seen as
a sin to be unhappy and an unreal optimism develops that is a strain for
most people to uphold. The sensitive souls soon leave and the church becomes
a habitation of the crass, the vulgar and the annoyingly chirpy. Such
people should remember that Jesus wept ! He was a man of sorrows acquainted
with grief. Jesus hurt. He hurt over an unbelieving Jerusalem, He hurt
over the terrible weight of Calvary, He hurt when His friends hurt.
There is a certain medieval over emphasis on the continually mourning Jesus that paints Him in very serious tones indeed. I believe that fundamentally He was a man of deep joy as God is fundamentally a God of joy, but that this joy is not some insensitive triumphalism, an unsanctified reworking of the power of positive thinking, no this joy is a feeling, loving, sensitive joy that is constant amidst the thousand griefs of life.
Mourning is more
than just feeling sad. Chemical disturbances in the body can make us feel
sad. A romantic movie can make us sad but that is hardly mourning. Mourning
involves a focus. You "mourn over" a lost loved one, a city,
or your sin for instance. Jesus had no sin yet He was a man of sorrows.
Mourning need not primarily be over sin at all, just over life. Jesus
mourned the way an intercessor mourns - from deep identification with
the plight of others or the plans of God.
Thus we can see that godly, life transforming mourning is a sorrow that comes as a response to God's will in a particular situation. For instance a "Christian" of my acquaintance was found to be committing a series of most foul sins. Sins that shocked both the Christian and non-Christian world. On going to jail he has been filled with sorrow - but it is entirely a sorrow for himself. Never a sorrow for those he has sinned against. I believe that sort of mourning is the mourning of a criminal not a Christian.
Christian mourning is grander than wallowing in self-pity, it is one of life's great emotions. Christian mourning is a deep felt sorrow that echos the sorrows in God's own heart. He weeps over people becoming entangled in sin and so should we, He weeps over the pain of this world - and so should we. I am sure God agonizes over all the lost who are not able to hear the good news proclaimed to them clearly so they can understand. And we should beg God for laborers to be sent out into His harvest. Mourning is a spiritual emotion that centers us on the great things of God and on His agenda for mankind. WE are told to give God no rest until He establishes Jerusalem as a praise in the whole earth, we are to mourn until God is glorified and His name hallowed. These are great themes.
When I see pornography I mourn because God is being defied so openly and people are being used so awfully. When I hear blasphemy I mourn because people are using God's precious name as their favorite swear word. If only they knew! When I see people being broken by unfair work practices I mourn for the way people are being exploited by their fellow man. I mourn over the way liars seem to prosper and the cynicism of press and politicians. Most of all I mourn whenever I hear atrocious lies being told about Jesus. That He was just a man, a mere first-century man, that He lusted, that He married Mary of Magdala, that He was wrong, that he did not rise from the dead. I mourn in anger at the lies people are hearing and believing. And this mourning means we are taking our place in Christ's body, suffering His wounds, being hurt with His hurts. But mourning is not an end in itself.
The end we aim at
is to know God and Jesus Christ whom He has sent. Our aim is to love our
God and love our neighbor. Our aim is to mourn, be comforted, then rise
up and act. When we mourn we put ourselves in a position where God can
show His answers. Look at Scripture, it is when people are in mourning
before God, when they are in straits and weeping before Him that God comes
and says "This is my answer, such and such will happen..." To
the mourning Hannah - Samuel was born, Daniel's contrite mourning over
Israel's sins brought an angel to meet Him sent from God, to the mourning
disciples came the resurrected Christ.
Mourning is like prayer and frequently our deepest prayers are these heart cries to God. It seems that as we mourn in Christ that God begins to act in power and our answer is on its way. "Shall be comforted...." is a promise, it will come to pass. Your godly mourning shall always be answered. It is not ineffective or unheard. Your heart cries will vibrate with the heart strings of the Almighty and He will act on your behalf. You will be comforted and when the comfort comes you will know God better, love Him more and move out to love the world with a more tender and grace-softened heart.
John Hyde was a missionary
in India, he earned the nickname "Praying Hyde" because of his
hours of unceasing cries to God for the lost and his deep mourning over
sin. But He did not just mourn - he evangelized. At a time when relatively
few were being won for God He cried out "give me souls or I die".
At first He claimed one soul a day from God and that year 400 were added
to the kingdom. The next year He felt able to ask for two souls a day
- and they came in. Eventually He was seeing four souls a day won for
God through his personal witness alone. He mourned, he was comforted (but
never complacent) and he went out and acted to fulfill the cry of his
heart - which was the cry of God's heart. This is the godly mourning that
brings revival and changes nations.
The baptism of the Spirit is a baptism of mourning for it places us into the body of Christ where we fill up His afflictions, bear His burdens in this world and suffer in His sufferings. We cannot be baptized in the Spirit and have unadulterated "happiness". At the very least we will mourn over the sin around us and in us. At the very least we will cry out for God's work to be more effective. We cannot be baptized with the baptism of Christ without taking on some of Gethsemane in our veins. Praying Hyde died relatively young, after only 20 years of ministry. His heart was shifted out of place in his body from his crying to God and he developed a brain tumor which took him to glory. He poured himself out unto death. He paid a high price - but look at all it purchased! Thousands of people won for God. Mourning can be costly, but it is beautiful and effective and will take you into the courts of the Lord.
Blessed Are Those Who Mourn...
For me "Blessed are those who mourn..." seemed an insane contradiction , a quite perplexing saying of Jesus that I had no wish to understand or implement. I had had enough of pain and the idea of possibly having to feel some more out of obedience to a bizarre commandment that reeked of monasticism and sackcloth repelled me. "Mourning was for the super-spiritual of which I am not one" was my ever so humble excuse. But I had completely misunderstood the word "blessed". Unfortunately translated "happy" in some versions "blessed" means not happiness but a state of divine favor where God causes things to go better for you than normally would be the case. When God blesses the farmer his barns overflow with wheat even though he planted little, when God curses the farmer -drought and blight and mildew descend and nothing remains though he was expecting a good harvest.
Mourning brings about blessing. Mourning brings about an amplification of our life's fortunes. Praying Hyde's harvest was an increase in the harvest of people and an enduring influence on many lives as a result of his testimony. Hannah's harvest was the great prophet Samuel who set the scene for Israel's history and culture. Daniel's harvest was the release of Israel from captivity. Jesus' harvest is the church. Christian mourning increases your "harvest" in life. Your mourning over sin will increase the release of God's holiness into your life that was blocked until you mourned. Your mourning over a lost world will release you and your church into evangelism.
Your mourning over the state of the nation will release you into social action, mercy ministries and prophecy. And as long as you mourn and weep before the Lord you will be blessed. Lose that and you will lose your heart vision and your blessing.
If I had understood that I would have picked up the sackcloth ages ago - and willingly. Like you I will do anything to increase God's blessing in my life. I want it and I want it now. If that involves some Christian mourning and if that is the path that I must take (and Jesus says it is) then I must take that path. Perhaps reluctantly at first but soon more willingly we will learn to mourn before our Lord. As we mourn we gain the sense that God is "doing something" inside us, and that He is doing it surprisingly quickly. We feel that we are being rearranged for the better, that we are lighter on the inside, purer, seeing things God's way a little bit more, cleansed. Mourning brings about healing as it adjusts our perspectives to those of the Lord. We know we are loved, we feel God's solid approval of us and we sense that he is very present to heal and to save. But can we become addicted to mourning and take things too far?
Mourning Can Seem Extreme
The way I have been reared is in the way of moderation in all things and extremes in nothing. Yet as I read the biographies of great men and women of God one is forced to conclude that they were seldom moderate suburban folk. They were frequently extreme. They did and felt and saw bizarre things. Yet they knew God so very intimately. Ezekiel would most certainly be locked away today in an asylum. Jesus was so immoderate that many said He was possessed by the Devil. And John the Baptist, that great mourner for Israel clothed in camel's hair and eating locusts and wild honey is so bizarre that he is a Sunday School joke even today. Cardinal Newman came to the conclusion that "Truth often lies at the extremes" and I am inclined to agree with him.
Mourning can seem extreme and the mourning of the great intercessors and prophets can seem not just extreme but downright dangerous. Both Moses and Jesus went for forty days and forty nights without food or water in the presence of God. This would kill most people. Only the sustaining power of God kept them alive. Praying Hyde hardly slept but prayed all night. Rees Howell the great intercessor of the Welsh revival frequently shocked people with his deep, profound and often extreme acts of mourning and fasting for others. To read the life of John Bunyan or many of the great Puritan thinkers and you are struck by the depth of their mourning over sin and the years of despondency some suffered before breaking through to the comfort of God. But they were ALL marvelously comforted. Here I think lies the balance point - if you are mourning because God has placed a great burden on your heart and you are taking it to Him then nothing is too extreme - except sin.
When we mourn before God for a specific reason and seek His comfort then we are on the right track and will not go astray. It needs to be a mourning "in Christ's name" for Christ's cause. However if we mourn merely as an introspective spiritual exercise with no particular point or focus we can become mislead by our own feelings and wander into accusation and despair. I think this is what happened in certain sections of the Catholic Church in the Middle Ages. Mourning was a fashionable spiritual exercise and became a perfect way for the Devil to accuse people of their sin and enhance their terrible sense of guilt. I am struck by how hard it seemed even for the great saints to believe that all their sins were forgiven on the cross and God just loved them as they are.
Why Mourn? And How...
So what is to be
the basis of our mourning? If you are not yet a Christian mourn over your
distance from God and ask Him to bring you close to Himself. He will quickly
answer. If you are a Christian, you are forgiven, their is still need
to mourn over your sin but not over your guilt. That has been dealt with.
You can already take comfort from the cross. No-one can condemn you at
all. Your guilt and shame are finished with. You can mourn over your inability
to fully master sin, your lack of death to self. Cry out to God that He
may help you master sin. Cry out to Him that you may learn to die daily
like a germ of wheat in the ground. Pray that your stubborn will may be
fully crucified and that Christ may rule within you. Cry "Lord Jesus
Christ, who is alive in me, be released into my life in holiness, power
and love right now." Cry it over and over again.
After we have died to self a little we can cry for the baptism of the Spirit, for effectiveness in service, for souls for God, or for whatever else the Lord lays on your heart in His good time and mercy. The basis for our mourning should not be comparison with others - that we are not as strong or clever or wealthy or even as spiritual as they are. That is the Devil's talk. We are unique and lovely. We cannot be all good things rolled into one. We have each our own beauty and we are to share that with the world in the power of God. Try and mourn selectively. Spiritual confusion is the inevitable result of trying to mourn over all things simultaneously. Take one thing at a time. One special burden and work it through until you are consoled. At most say two or three.
Mourning is a very
focused sort of thing. You cannot handle too many issues. Your whole being
becomes involved and 'shuts down" other things to focus on the process
of mourning. It is very deep and powerful. This "shutting down"
can result in people not feeling the need for food or sleep - though taking
some is strongly advised. It is good to have friends who can force us
to take care of ourselves when we become so preoccupied. Many a saint
has been saved from self-destruction by friends who have ordered him or
her to eat and be strengthened. I am in no immediate danger of that (Mc
Donald's is just around the corner!) and neither I suspect are you. -
but do take care.
My last little caution is not to strive for unrealistic perfection or total sinlessness here and now (though it should be an ultimate goal), sometimes we can mourn for the unachievable and become thoroughly despondent because the consolation will never come. be realistic in what you mourn for. It is realistic to mourn that your family will be saved. That is possible. To mourn that they will all be perfect is to invite awful disappointment. We can mourn that more would hear the gospel and be saved but to be in the throes of agony that not all are saved is to ask of God something He has not promised in His Word. There will always be a Judas, an unbeliever, a worlding. Lets hope the ratio drops - having only one in twelve unsaved would be most wonderful indeed! With those basics and the guidance of his Word God should be able to lead you in mourning constructively before Him.
I suggest the following prayer to start with "Lord God I accept Your mourning into my heart and life, I accept the burdens that the Lord Jesus Christ within me may place on my heart and conscience, I accept the promptings and groanings of Your Holy Spirit as He prays through me. Lord I accept my role as a mourner, teach me how to pray this way, for my soul, for Your world, and for Christ's Kingdom. Amen." Repeat it slowly a number of times in a gentle rhythm until it sinks within you and you feel it working away in your spirit. God may cause you to praise him and thank Him, or to break down in tears. Each of you will respond differently but open yourself up to being a mourner for God. The following brief meditation may help:
"In the name
of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit we come to you to
learn how to mourn rightly O God. We know we have been selfish and not
considered the plight of others, we have avoided feeling the way You feel
O God, we have wanted to be happy at all costs and have only made ourselves
hard of heart. We repent of this O God and ask Your forgiveness. We ask
you to make us tender-hearted like the Lord Jesus Christ who wept over
Jerusalem. Teach us to weep O God. Lord Jesus teach us not to cling to
happiness when it is not right to do so. Prepare our hearts to feel sad
over sin and pain and grief. Release us from our bondage to our feelings.
Release us from our inordinate love of the comforts of this world. Release
from our need to feel a certain way all the time. Release us O God from
the emotional expectations of our culture and our families. Release us
from even our theological misunderstandings over how we should feel at
certain times and places. Lift up our hearts O God. Lift them up to Your
throne Lord Jesus. Lift them up out of self-centeredness and into Your
presence. Let our hearts see the world in Your light O God. Show us what
is true. Show us how this world really is."
"Show us what sin and pain and suffering are like to you. Show us how our neighbor is to you. Show us ourselves O God. In this light O God, in the light of Truth lay Your burden upon us. Do not crush us O God but give to each of us the burden we can carry for You. Teach us to mourn for that one particular thing. We reach out now and take it from You. O Lord it seems so heavy. Surely I cannot carry this! Thank You Lord , Christ within me can. Thank you for Your comfort Lord. Thank You for the love of God poured out. Thank you that this cross will lead to a resurrection. Thank you that this mourning will lead to blessing. O Lord open our hearts to You that we may feel with You. Open our hearts Lord that we may mourn with You. Take away our hearts of stone and grant us much grace to sense Your presence and to know Your burdens for this world. Make us Your friends O God and may we sit and mourn with You. Amen"
It is a deep, beautiful
and wonderful thing that you are asking when you ask that you may sit
with God and mourn with God a little. Christ's body suffers. It suffers
from martyrdom, from sin, from divisions - what people could divide over
doctrine if they had beforehand felt the sufferings of God! They could
not and would not! True christian mourners are meek and not contentious.
As we suffer as part of Christ's body, baptized into His death and His sufferings, His aches for this world, His longings for the redemption of all things. As we are baptized into this we are baptized into mourning. As we are baptized into mourning we become tender and considerate of God's feelings.
A church that has learned the heart of God cannot divide, a Christian who has learned to mourn will flee from sin, a musician or worship leader will not exalt themselves if they have felt the touch of God's burden and seek His glory. The great longing of the angels and the prophets was that God would be conspicuously glorified. They mourned over a world that would not recognize its Owner. They cry out "Let the Lord Jesus be exalted above all!".
Let us mourn when our church ignores God in all but name. Let us mourn when Christ is not conspicuously glorified among those who should know better. Let us mourn when the church becomes less than it should be in any way and lets seek to restore it gently. Bring your fellowship to God with a broken heart and love it in His presence. Pray and fast for it. Do not open your mouth against it. Seek its welfare with heart-felt cries. And you will be comforted. God will hear your prayers and His blessing will be released upon you.
O Lord of the wounded side and pierced heart,
You poured out Your heart and life for me.
Teach my selfish stubborn heart to break a little, bear some load
To wear some grief in serving Thee.
Stop me in my selfish games, amuse me not with idle things
Grant my heart to mourn with Thee and give my prayers some angel's wings.
Trivial has been my walk so far,
I've played a game and been afraid
Of taking on the load You bore,
I tremble at the thought of grief.
Yet blessing lies the other side - assure my cowardly heart of this,
That You will walk with me and give me strength,
That I will not be disgraced or fail, and tell me Lord repeatedly
That Your blessing, comfort, love will be
Waiting surely after this - my Calvary.
This article may be freely reproduced for non-profit ministry purposes but may not be sold in any way. For permission to use articles in your ministry, e-mail the editor, John Edmiston at firstname.lastname@example.org.