Note: This is Post # 14 in the series titled “The Transformed Life” based on Romans 12. Please click here for previous posts: POST # 1, POST # 2, POST # 3, POST # 4, POST # 5, POST # 6, POST # 7, POST # 8, POST # 9, POST # 10, POST # 11, POST # 12, POST # 13.
As we continue in the series of the transformed life, this post deals with the second part of Romans 12:15, “mourn with those who mourn” or “weep with those who weep” as some other translations render it.
Few things bond us together in friendship like sorrow. Think about your past and in particular those moments when you experienced heights of joy and those moments when you walked through the deep valley of darkness. Now, think of the people who were with you during both those times. Which ones do you remember more? The ones when you were beside you when you were celebrating or the ones who were with you during those times of great agony? If you are like me, it’s most likely the second one. We tend to remember more those who were beside us during those dark valley experiences; those who were there with us when tears were our food day and night. The following story highlights this fact.
A lady in Charleston met the servant of a neighbor. “I’m sorry to hear of your Aunt Lucy’s death,” she said. “You must miss her greatly. You were such friends.” “Yes” said the servant, “I’m sorry she died. But we were not friends.” “Why,” said the lady, “I thought you were. I’ve seen you laughing and talking together lots of times.”
“Yes, that is so,” came the reply. “We’ve laughed together, and we’ve talked together, but we are just acquaintances. You see, we never shed tears together. Folks got to cry before they are friends.” [Taken with adaptation from Barclay, Romans, p. 168].
While that last statement may seem to be a bit extreme, the point is still a valid one. The bond of tears is a bond that brings people together in close friendship, and it is a tight bond to break!
Yet, the sad reality is that as fellow Christians even though we are called to be in fellowship with one another, i.e., to share our lives together which means to share our joys and sorrows together, we have failed in this area of sharing our sorrows. We rarely bond closer with others by sharing in the sorrows.
In fact, if we are honest with ourselves, there may have been times when we’ve been guilty of secretly gloating over the suffering of someone—especially if they have offended us in some manner. Sort of “he or she got what was coming” attitude. Do you know how God feels about such an attitude? Proverbs 17:5b gives the answer: “whoever gloats over disaster will not go unpunished.”
God calls us to participate in the sufferings of others. Just as we are called to rejoice with those who are rejoicing over God’s blessing in their lives (see previous post), we are equally called to weep with those who weep. Mourning or weeping means to feel the sorrow and pain what a fellow believer experiences as if it were our own. That’s what fellowship or sharing our lives with one another means. Loving our neighbors as ourselves involves sharing their joys and sorrow as if they were our own!
God is a God who weeps.
Just as God rejoices with those who rejoice, he also weeps with those who weep. In Isaiah 63:9, we read this, “In all their distress he too was distressed.” God was pained at the pains his people namely Israel were going through during that time. Jesus by weeping at the tomb of Lazarus [John 11:35] not only identified himself with the sorrow of Mary and Martha whom he loved very much but also over the grief that sin had brought into this world.
We are also told this about Jesus in Luke 19:41, “As he approached Jerusalem and saw the city, he wept over it.” He wept over the very city that would kill him shortly! This emotion of Jesus is very much in keeping with Ezekiel 18:32 “For I take no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Sovereign Lord. Repent and live!” God is one who even grieves over the death of his enemies—those who reject him and thus perish. In fact, it will not be totally wrong to say that our God is a weeping God—so contrary to the so-called gods of the world who know no sorrow!
Do you know how God views our tears? Psalm 56:8 gives us a clue: “Record my misery; list my tears on your scroll—are they not in your record?” The footnote has an alternate rendering for scroll, and it goes like this: put my tears in your wineskin. Wineskin refers to a container or bottle. A bottle was something that people in those days used only to put precious things. So, David says in essence that his tears were so precious to God that God would put it in a bottle. That’s how God views our tears!
Our God is a caring God. Just as he rejoices when one sinner repents, he also weeps with his creation. He is not a distant God. Instead, he is a God who feels our pain! And since we are called to imitate this God [Eph 5:1] and are being transformed into becoming more like his Son, the Lord Jesus Christ [Rom 12:2; 2 Cor 3:18], weeping with those who weep must then become a part of our Christian life as well! And to do this well, I want to look at how we can apply this command from Romans 12:15b in our daily lives.
How to weep with those who weep.
Below are 10 things to consider—5 that fall in the category of What Not To Do and 5 that fall in the category of What To Do when weeping with those who are weep.
What Not To Do
1. Don’t tell them to just get over it. What I mean is this: We should not tell them to suck it up, be tough and move on. We should not tell them to stop crying all the time. Now at times, we do need to tell people to be strong. We do need to urge them to be more positive, lean more on God’s strength and in his promises. No doubt about it. But we must do such things after we have shed a tear or two with them.
We must not be insensitive with our words to those who are hurting. Proverbs 25:20 says, “Like one who takes away a garment on a cold day, or like vinegar poured on a wound, is one who sings songs to a heavy heart.” When someone is going through deep agony, we must be careful not to add to their wounds. That’s the point!
At times, it’s easy to get irritated with those who are suffering. And often that irritation comes through in words. Imagine how hard it becomes for the one who is suffering to have more hurt thrown on them. Remember Job’s friends? How much more pain they added through their words to one who was already in great pain?
2. Don’t promise full deliverance NOW. God will heal you fully. You will get a better job. You will get another baby. You will get a spouse. Don’t make promises which God himself has not given. Can God heal fully? Can God provide a better job? Can provide another baby? Can God provide a spouse? Absolutely Yes! But has God promised to do so in every situation? Absolutely Not! We are not omniscient. We cannot and dare not play God!
While it is a good motive to try and make the suffering person feel better, the means to accomplishing it matters as well. Violating Scripture and thereby make false promises is not the right means to be employed. In addition, if God does not bring that complete healing or that better job, then the one who is suffering will have to endure further disappointment. And that’s not helpful to the sufferer either!
Yes, there is full deliverance coming—but that is in the future when Christ sets up his kingdom. We can assure them of that promise. But until then, we have to help them embrace his will for their present life, even if that involves suffering. We can remind them of God’s presence even during that suffering and encourage them to keep looking to him.
3. Don’t play the comparison game. This is where we tend to point out to the sufferer about those who are suffering more in order to make them feel better. “You have pain in your ankle. I know someone who fractured their ankle.” Really? How does that make one feel? I should be happy that I didn’t break my ankle and not express my suffering?
A person’s suffering is not a small thing to them at that time. It’s better to say, “I am so sorry you are going through this suffering.”
4. Don’t play the judge. Once again, Job’s friends come to mind. Statements that imply, “You are suffering because of your sins” even if it may be true at times must not be stated as absolute truth. We must not play God. That’s pride.
Yes, at times, a word to examine their lives for sin may be appropriate. But even that should be done after we have truly mourned with them and have earned their trust. Proverbs 12:18 warns, “The words of the reckless pierce like swords, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.” Our words ought to bring healing, not pain!
5. Don’t play the avoidance game. Sometimes we just don’t know what to say to the person who is hurting. So, we avoid them altogether for fear of offending them. Or we just don’t like to be around suffering. It’s too depressing, and we don’t want to go through such feelings. Even when watching TV, if some sad news comes on, we tend to change the channel very quickly. We want to avoid issues concerning the suffering of others as much as possible because: (a) it affects our moods or (b) it may require us to do something which we are unwilling to do since it may take us out of our comfort zone [e.g., offer financial help, spend time with them or help them with certain tasks].
Like the Priest and the Levite in the parable of the Good Samaritan who walked on the other side when they saw the beaten man [Lk 10:31-32], we tend to do the same when we see suffering. We must stop doing it.
So, 5 things to consider not doing when seeking to obey God’s command to weep with those who weep: (1) Don’t tell them to just get over it (2) Don’t promise full deliverance NOW (3) Don’t play the comparison game. (4) Don’t play the judge (5) Don’t play the avoidance game.
In the next post, we will see What To Do when it comes to this command of weeping with those who are weeping.