Saturday, March 29, 2008

What causes you sorrow?

The prophet Jeremiah, was known as a weeper. Jeremiah was observant of the tangible consequences of spiritual rebellion against God. And he was privy to the judgment that God was going to execute. Knowing the present and future spiritual condition of his nation broke his heart.

Regarding the future judgment from God, Jeremiah asked “For who will have pity on you, O Jerusalem? Or who will bemoan you? Or who will turn aside to ask how you are doing?” (Jer. 15:5).

Jeremiah’s lamenting question had an answer. It would come 150 years later in a living, breathing man in a Persian palace named Nehemiah. He often wondered how things were going in Jerusalem and one day he discovered the truth and it broke his heart.

He wrote “And it came to pass, when I heard these words [of Jerusalem’s condition], I sat down and wept.” (Nehemiah 1:4).

Almost 500 years later, Jesus too, would weep over the condition of Jerusalem (Luke 19:41). Nehemiah’s primary concern was with the physical and social condition of Jerusalem. Jesus’ primary concern was over the spiritual condition of Jerusalem.

There’s a lot of weeping in the Bible. Hagar weeps when she knows her son Ishmael is going to die in the desert from dehydration. Joseph weeps many times during the reconciliation process with his brothers. Israel wept over the death of Moses (for 30 days). Naomi, Ruth and Orpah wept over their separation from each other. David wept over the death of his son Absalom. Peter wept over his denials of Jesus. The Ephesian elders weep over Paul’s departure. And who could miss the shortest verse in the Bible? It comes after the news of the death of Lazarus and says simply “Jesus wept” (John 11:35).

I think there’s too little weeping in Christ’s church.

Back to Nehemiah. Chip Ingram, in Holy Ambition, labels Nehemiah’s weeping as “a dislocated heart.” That’s a powerful phrase. Bible commentator Raymond Brown writes “Although [Nehemiah] had a highly responsible job, in a secure environment in a fine Persian city, noted for its opulence and prosperity, magnificent buildings and spacious gardens, he is not remotely preoccupied with himself.”

That’s the key isn’t it? Getting over ourselves. Considering the plight of someone else. Thinking of others more than we think about ourselves (Philippians 2:4).

The Puritan Matthew Henry suggests “The desolations and distresses of the church ought to be the matter of our grief, how much soever we live at ease.”

When you study grief, sorrow and weeping in the Bible you’ll find two significant things. One, people took time to grieve. There were moments, days, even a month of crying and grieving. We often are not in touch with our grief and even more rarely in touch with things that will cause us to grieve. We’ve turned to busyness, crowding our lives with movement, leisure and action and schedule nothing for reflection and consideration of what is happening to our neighbor across the street or our Christian brother across the world.

The second thing you’ll find in the Bible is that people did something with their grief. Sometimes it is simply offering a prayer to God. With Nehemiah, his grief got translated into an elaborate plan to rebuild Jerusalem. We aren’t simply to be sad, melancholy people. There is much that will cause grief to our hears and rightly so. But Christians must do more. We must cry out to God. We must develop plans to change situations.

In Act II of The Devil’s Disciple, playwright George Bernard Shaw writes profound words into the mouth of his character Rev. Anthony Anderson, who says: “The worst sin toward our fellow creatures is not to hate them, but to be indifferent to them: that’s the essence of inhumanity.”

Let’s put more of Jesus into our lives and into the world and weep more.

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