Most people gravitate instinctively toward the sound of laughter, but it takes a hero of faith to be stirred to action by the sobs of the sorrowing. The godly person knows what it means to be filled with joy—the joy of the Lord. But at the same time, the true child of God ought to feel a sense of mourning for those who do not know the Savior. We who are believers must not allow ourselves to be too comfortable in a world where people reassure one another that they do not need Christ, nor should they believe in him.
The Apostle Paul, who seemed to thrive in adversity, told of his own sorrow in this regard. Introducing himself and his doctrine to the church at Rome, that intrepid evangelist bared his soul when he wrote, …I have great heaviness and continual sorrow in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were accursed from Christ for my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh, who are Israelites” (Romans 9:2-4a). Paul’s anguish over Jewish unbelief was so deep and painful that he could wish himself separated from Christ if that could change things. His great sorrow and heaviness of heart came from the knowledge that his Jewish brothers and sisters were headed for a Christless eternity.
Unlike the early believers, too many of us in this generation are distracted, shallow people who have few tears for anything except our own personal tragedies. The fact that we do not sorrow is a tragedy in itself, for sorrow is a dredge to the bottom of the soul. Sorrow deepens the channel of one’s personhood, that God’s grace might flow more deeply into it. Sorrow is the plow that rips the topsoil, that God’s seed might be planted and watered by his own tears.
Sorrow for the lost is essential to us as believers, that we might be complete people. Just as a tree needs deep roots to grow tall, the soul needs the depth of sorrow, that the tree of joy might blossom and grow tall. We tend to shun sorrow and often seek to comfort ourselves and one another with “eat, drink and be merry.…” Yet Yeshua said, “Blessed are they that mourn; for they shall be comforted” (Matthew 5:4). The right kind of sorrow—godly sorrow—is not to be avoided. It moves us to pray and to act, and it brings us the consolation of God’s embrace.
One of the saddest things for a mission leader like myself to see is a lack of awareness, a dulling of the spiritual sensitivities, among Christians. Perhaps I am out of step, but day by day I wonder if some of us are cultivating the wrong kind of cheer.
Our generation seems incapable of either laughing from sheer joy or weeping out of deep compassion. Our laughter usually involves amusement at a joke we have heard or derision concerning someone’s folly. The spontaneous chuckle of joy seems to have gone the same way that uninhibited tears for the plight of another have gone. Because we are unwilling to allow ourselves to feel profound concern, we are unable to feel the profound joy of fulfillment. Some of us live such crowded lives that there is no place for godly concern or sorrow.
Some confuse a carefree life with careless conduct. People want good things and good experiences, but they don’t seem to realize that acquiring them calls for some sustained attention on their part.
Too many of us are unaware or want to be free of the obligations that accompany our having the things we want. For example, every year at Easter season millions of baby chicks and bunnies are bought and given to children as soft, fluffy playthings. While those babes of other species provide momentary pleasure for the human tykes who receive them, they are usually sentenced to death by torture because their recipients are not old enough to be sensitive to the pain of animals or to care for them properly. For an all-too-brief season of enjoyment on the part of the children who receive them as gifts, the young of these species live and die, not because their carcasses were useful as food, but because they were sacrificed for the momentary delight of those who didn’t really care. Very few children, and some adults, simply do not know how to care for things or relationships that come into their lives. Care involves caring.
God taught Jonah a lesson about caring. As Jonah sat outside the city of Nineveh in the heat of the day, God caused a vine to grow tall and give him shade. Then he made the vine wither and die. When Jonah complained in sorrowful tones, the Lord chided him that he was only sorrowful because he had lost the benefit of the vine. How much more did Nineveh mean to the Lord than the vine had meant to Jonah?
Like Jonah, we too mourn for the loss of what is useful to us. Jonah did not mourn for the wickedness of Nineveh. He had contempt for that Assyrian capital and did not even want to follow God’s direct leading to preach repentance and salvation to its inhabitants. For all Jonah’s concern, the entire city could go to hell before they would hear about God’s salvation from him. We today are not much different. We mourn easily for the loss of our personal comfort, but how often do we mourn for a dying world? Jesus wept over Jerusalem. It was not weakness that made him weep. It was strength. He had the courage to allow himself to feel pain. Real men have real feelings. Real men do weep!
If you want to be a person who has this godly strength to be concerned, the way is simple. Such caring takes the heart of a servant. The good servant cares to please the one he or she serves. The good servant becomes attuned and sensitive to that person. The good servant cares for the welfare of that person. The good servant tries to sense what is unspoken. The very posture, the breathing, the tone of voice of the one to be served, are all indicators of what is wanted or needed. When we make Jesus our Lord, he commands us to serve others, to become servants to our fellow believers and to unbelievers—to anyone and everyone—for his sake.
When Yeshua becomes Lord of our lives, we are to consider ourselves servants to all he would have us serve. We may no longer seek our own pleasure or serve ourselves. What we want, what we seek, is no longer most important. We are not to seek for ourselves, but we are to be about our Heavenly Father’s business. We are not to seek the easy way, but the path whereby we can best serve others to the glory of God. As far as our wants are concerned, we are to seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness and all those things (best for our welfare) will be added to us.
On the other hand, if we spend our efforts seeking our own good, what need is there for God to provide what we think we can grasp for ourselves? Of course God provides everything, whether or not we recognize his provision. Can we not trust God to do better for us than we do for ourselves?
It is natural, normal and ordinary for us to want to be served rather than to put ourselves in a position of servitude to others. Yet if the Incarnation teaches us anything, it demonstrates that God himself came to serve humanity. Jesus washed the feet of those who were most certainly lesser persons; yet we avoid that same kind of service which is so humbling by raising questions about the worthiness of those we should serve. We should not try to discern the worthiness of the person whose feet need our attention. Instead, we should ascertain the worthiness of the Lord who commands us to wash those dirty feet. We have the example of Yeshua. He, the Creator and Master of the whole universe, who had the sublime and surpassing right to be served by all creation, stooped to become a servant.
One of the joys of my ministry has been that I have been privileged to meet many of the well-known Christians who are counted as leading servants of God. I have sat and eaten with them, and sometimes have studied with them, and I have been amazed to note that they were the first to pick up the teapot to give everyone at the table a refill or quickly to hand me their own umbrellas while they went bareheaded in the rain.
That one quality which the greatest Christians I have known seem to share is an attitude of willingness to wait on others and to do the humbling tasks that could easily be delegated.
In order to be concerned for people and to truly care for them, we must begin by becoming servants. Yeshua commanded his disciples to love one another. He said, “By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another” (John 13:35). Love is costly. It means caring for others at least as much as we care for ourselves. In Yeshua’s case, it meant caring more for others than he cared for himself. We cannot truly love, God’s way, without making ourselves vulnerable to pain and sorrow. Yet by doing that, we will fulfill the divine command, so that one day we shall hear from the lips of our Savior those words that will usher us into eternal joy: “Well done, thou good and faithful servant.” And those we have loved and labored and prayed into receiving God’s kingdom by our sorrowful caring will be there too!