Friday, October 10, 2014

The Place of Tears

Aside from motivation speakers (and the example of us pastors on social media), I wonder where we got the idea that our church leaders must only present a smiling face and an exaggerated optimism concerning the spiritual state of the congregation? It doesn’t seem to be from the Word.

There are times a leader must weep over the congregation.

“And when they had come to him, he said to them, ‘You yourselves know, from the first day that I set foot in Asia, how I was with you the whole time, serving the Lord with all humility and with tears and with trials which came upon me through the plots of the Jews; how I did not shrink from declaring to you anything that was profitable, and teaching you publicly and from house to house, solemnly testifying to both Jews and Greeks of repentance toward God and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ...therefore be on the alert, remembering that night and day for a period of three years I did not cease to admonish each one with tears’” (Acts 20:18-21,31).

“For out of much affliction and anguish of heart I wrote to you with many tears; not so that you would be made sorrowful, but that you might know the love which I have especially for you” (2 Corinthians 2:4).

“Apart from such external things, there is the daily pressure on me of concern for all the churches. Who is weak without my being weak? Who is led into sin without my intense concern? If I have to boast, I will boast of what pertains to my weakness” (2 Corinthians 11:28-30).

There are times a leader must weep over those who are attempting to mislead the congregation.

“For many walk, of whom I often told you, and now tell you even weeping, that they are enemies of the cross of Christ, whose end is destruction, whose god is their appetite, and whose glory is in their shame, who set their minds on earthly things” (Philippians 3:18,19).

There are times a leader must weep with those who are weeping.

“Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep (Romans 12:15). This is, in part, what it means “to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship” (12:1).

Speaking of worship, if the Psalms are in any way meant to be informative to our worship as the Spirit-filled people of God in Christ (and the Spirit did inspire them, after all), then our songs and prayers shouldn’t be all optimism and smiles, either. That same Spirit Whose fruit is “joy” (Galatians 5:22) prays from within us “with groanings too deep for words...according to the will of God” (Romans 8:26,27).

This is not an easy scriptural reality to embrace honestly. We can fake Spirit-gifted tears as much as we can counterfeit joy in a practiced smile and expertly-spun assessments of the spiritual maturity of the Church.

There are times a leader must weep over those who are lost.

“I am telling the truth in Christ, I am not lying, my conscience testifies with me in the Holy Spirit, that I have great sorrow and unceasing grief in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were accursed, separated from Christ for the sake of my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh...” (Romans 9:1-3).

“Rescue the perishing, care for the dying, snatch them in pity from sin and the grave; weep o’er the erring one, lift up the fallen, tell them of Jesus, the mighty to save...rescue the perishing, care for the dying, Jesus is merciful, Jesus will save...plead with them earnestly, plead with them gently” (Fanny Crosby, 1869).

In addition, in addressing sinfulness in the culture or in the congregation, it is easy in our own sinfulness to take on a tone of righteous indignation.

Consider the two witnesses of the Revelation: “And if anyone wants to harm them, fire flows out of their mouth and devours their enemies; so if anyone wants to harm them, he must be killed in this way. These have the power to shut up the sky, so that rain will not fall during the days of their prophesying; and they have power over the waters to turn them into blood, and to strike the earth with every plague, as often as they desire” (11:5,6).

That is impressive power and authority. Imagine the look on their face, the tone (and volume) of their speech, the words they use. Is there anger there? Righteous indignation?

If it were me “prophesying” to the beast and his worshipers with the powers of the two witnesses, I know how I’d look and sound. Threatening. Intimidating. Dark. Loud. Angry. But that’s not what we see in the description of the two witnesses.

“And I will grant authority to my two witnesses, and they will prophesy for twelve hundred and sixty days, clothed in sackcloth (Revelation 11:3).

They prophesy from a place of grief and mourning, even as they administer the curses and plagues of God. The fire comes through weeping, and even in the drought there is water – their tears.

Yes, one day there will be joyful singing over the pit as the smoke of Babylon’s eternal destruction rises (Revelation 19:1-5). However, that will be in the end, when “the marriage of the Lamb has come and His bride has made herself ready” with “the righteous acts of the saints” (19:6-8). The celebration over judgment comes after our work is done here. It’s not yet. We still have tears to shed over (and with) the wayward, the lost, the perishing, and the slaves of the devil.

I appreciate a smile, a laugh...I enjoy being around happy people. But I abhor artificiality as much as anyone (except, I suppose, the artificial). There are times to weep (Ecclesiastes 3:4). May God give us discernment, honesty, a willingness to vulnerability, and a unity in His Spirit that enables us to weep together as the Church when it is right to do so.

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