BLESSED ARE THOSE WHO MOURN, FOR THEY WILL BE COMFORTED. (Matthew 5:4)
NEB : How blest are the sorrowful, they shall find consolation.
These words may sound strange in these days of effusive ‘happy – clappy’ Christianity. Mourning is even thought to be contrary to the command to ‘Rejoice always’ and the evidence of little faith. Christians today have little time and patience for this attitude. The church often reflects society’s philosophy – ‘Laugh and the world laughs with you weep and you weep alone.’
This verse reveals that God takes a very different view. He considers mourning a desirable condition for His people. Jesus informed the disciples of John the Baptist, and later ‘the Twelve’ before His crucifixion, that the age following His ascension to heaven till His return will be for all His followers, a time of mourning. He has sent us the Comforter, the Holy Spirit to strengthen us in this period when He, our Bridegroom, is away . We are to take heart in our troubles because 1. He has overcome and we are overcomers through Him; and 2. He will return to restore everything. So our rejoicing takes place in the midst of our mourning. We rejoice in Christ while mourning for the world in sin. The two activities are not mutually exclusive and it is essential for us, as individuals and as a Body, to find the proper balance, in order to avoid practising or preaching a frothy Christianity, that ultimately results in sorrow and disillusionment.
THE NATURE OF MOURNING
What mourning is not: It is not moaning or complaining about our problems or inadequacies. The word mourning brings to mind the deep pain and anguish of soul and spirit at the death of a loved one. It is the opposite of being emotionally detached from the pain around us. Medical staff caring for the terminally ill often feel the need to be clinically detached from the suffering around them in order to deliver care with efficiency. But we Christians are to have the attitude of God who, ‘…in all their [His people’s] afflictions, He was afflicted’ (Isaiah 63:9).
A mournful attitude results from a broken spirit, yielded to God. It is the opposite of having a hardened and calloused heart. God promises that when we turn to Him, He will take away our hearts of stone and give us hearts of flesh. When confronted with his sin David acknowledged that no earthly gift or sacrifice meant anything, rather ‘the sacrifices of God are a broken and contrite heart…’ (Psalm 51:17). Brokenness before God about sin draws us to the place where we encounter His comforting presence. Paul points out that there is a difference between ‘godly sorrow’ that leads to salvation and leaves no regret and ‘worldly sorrow’ that leads to death. (2 Corinthians 7:10). It involves a deep sensitivity of soul and spirit. When our hearts are so united with the Father Heart of God we begin to feel His pain and sorrow for the people around us:
1) “The Lord is close to the broken-hearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit” (Psalm 34:18).
2) When Israel suffered as a consequence of their sins, God was grieved for them.
One of David’s sons Absalom rebelled against him and tried to take his throne. In the battle that ensued David’s general Joab ignored his command to ‘be gentle with the young man Absalom for my sake’ and killed him. David could not rejoice at his victory. On hearing the news, he wept, ”O my son Absalom!… if only I had died instead of you.” (2 Samuel 18) This is how God grieves over every sinner who rejects His offer of salvation and goes to hell. How incongruent if we Christians are indifferent to our neighbours’ lost condition.
3. A mournful attitude does not lead us to despair but prompts us to act.
JESUS – THE MAN OF SORROWS
‘Surely He took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows…'(Isaiah 53:4)
In the gospels we find Jesus sharing in the sufferings of the people around Him.
1) His heart went out to the widow who had lost her only son before He raised him from the dead (Luke 7: 13-15). When He saw Mary weeping at her brother Lazarus’ grave, He was deeply moved in spirit and troubled, and wept (John 11: 33-35).
2) When the Pharisees became indignant that Jesus would heal on the Sabbath, we find Him Jesus being deeply distressed at their stubborn refusal to believe (Mark 3:5).
3) He grieved over the sin, unbelief and cruelty of Jerusalem to the prophets. He expressed His longing to gather them as a ‘hen gathers her chicks under her wings’ and it was with sorrow that He pointed out that her unwillingness would result in her desolation and judgement (Luke 13:34-35).
4) “When He saw the crowds, He had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd” (Matthew 9:36).
5) “In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to him who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverence” (Hebrews 5:7 ESV).
These verses show Jesus as being deeply sensitive to the sorrows of the people around Him and mourning about their spiritual and temporal problems.
THE ACT OF SPIRITUAL MOURNING
By mourning we imitate Christ. It is the result of self-denial. Under the Jewish law, the people had appointed times when they were to ‘deny themselves’, and mourn. So it is important that we understand more about this spiritual discipline.
What should we mourn about? ( From Sword of the Spirit by Colin Dye)
- We should mourn for our unwillingness to love our enemies, to give to everyone who asks, to turn the other cheek and so on. We should mourn for our lack of embarassment at collecting clothes, cars and electronic gadgets when we follow the one who told us to sell our possessions and give to the poor.
- We should mourn for God’s polluted planet, for human greed which destroys forests, poisons the atmosphere, sells weapons, fills rivers with pesticides and chokes people with exhaust fumes.
- We should mourn for human injustice: for debt and unfair trade practices, for homelessness and refugees, for the way we treat the unborn, prisoners, the mentally ill and the elderly.
- We should mourn about social unrest, social fragmentation and the love of materialism which is the root of all evil; for our neighbour’s apathy towards God and our apathy towards our neighbour’s eternal destiny.
How should we mourn?
1. Mourning ought to be ‘God-centred’ – prompted and directed by Him:
- We ought to ask the Holy Spirit to reveal to us our hardness, selfishness and lack of love, and everything that grieves His Spirit, and to lead us to the place of true contrition and sorrow for sin.
- We should pray that the Holy Spirit will enable us to bring our emotional responses in line with God’s own. We should not be flippant or light-hearted about something that grieves God. Our hearts need ‘to be broken by the things that break the heart of God’.
- We should pray that the Holy Spirit will work in our hearts His own love and compassion towards our neighbour.
2. Mourning results in practical action.
- Godly sorrow over sin leads to repentance, which means a change of heart and a determination to turn away from sin and obey God.
- If a fellow believer is caught in sin, concern for him will lead us to ‘restore him gently’ and to watch ourselves in order to avoid temptation (Galatians 6:1)
- Sorrow for the lost took Jesus to the cross. We must pray and ‘ask the Lord of the harvest to sent out workers into His harvest field’. We must also yield ourselves for service, and pray that God will remove every hesitation to witness to the unsaved about Jesus from our hearts.
- We will ‘mourn with those who mourn’ and carry each others burdens. When we see a brother in distress, we will not just offer words of ‘comfort’, but we will bear their burdens in our hearts, lift them up in prayer and also help them in any practical way possible and this way ‘fufil the law of Christ’ (Galatians 6:2).
- We will not hesitate to speak up against social evils and work to promote social justice.
- Mourning about personal sins as well as national sins has in the past prompted God’s people to humble themselves in fasting.