“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted” (Matthew 5:4; all Scripture quotations are from the New American Standard Bible).
“Submit therefore to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Be miserable and mourn and weep; let your laughter be turned into mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves in the presence of the Lord, and He will exalt you” (James 4:7-10).
Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount challenges us to live in a way that contradicts the world’s mindset. He calls His disciples to live paradoxically. Popular culture tells us to seek comfort. Modern Christians follow this mindset, but Jesus calls us to mourn. Like the world, though, we avoid sorrow.
As we saw in previous posts in this series, there are several types of mourning. An obvious one is the grief we experience in response to a significant personal loss, especially when a loved one dies. We may try to bottle it up and pretend everything is well. People expect us to “snap out of it” after a few days and get back to normal life, but grief takes time. Our inner world is chaotic, but we pretend that all is well.
Another form of grief is sorrow when we see evil or suffering in the world. We may mourn the war in Ukraine or the suffering caused by natural disasters. Still, we are often inclined to forget about it. It is easier to pay attention to celebrities’ foibles and fashions than to the pain suffered by strangers in other countries.
Finally, perhaps the grief and mourning Jesus most directly thought of is the mourning and sorrow for our own sins. We may want to ignore the pokes and proddings of conscience. Much modern Christianity ignores biblical teaching about confession and repentance.
We can try to avoid mourning, but it will not work. Reality has a way of catching up to us and overthrowing our feelings and self-delusions. A genuine relationship with Jesus is not always about positive thinking and good feelings. There is a time to mourn and a time to dance (Ecclesiastes 3:4). Repentance is necessary for a holy life and a strong relationship with God. This will bring times of sorrow.
Instead of repenting when sin comes to our attention, many of us make excuses or try to reconstruct the Bible to suit our desires. Last month, many Americans celebrated “Pride Month,” which celebrates homosexuality and other lifestyles that are condemned by the Bible. Proverbs 16:18 tells us that “Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before stumbling.” Some Christians joined in, having reinterpreted Bible verses to suit their desires instead of accepting their plain meaning and historic church teaching. Unfortunately, we make that mistake with many sins. We prefer to justify our sins or make excuses for them. The response to any sin is confession and repentance, not self-justification or biblical reinterpretation.
James, the half-brother of Jesus, offers some guidance to move from sin to sorrow to joy. He begins by telling us to “Humble yourselves.” To begin the journey to repentance, we have to lay aside our pride. This applies to all sin, not only those that have adopted “pride” as a slogan. If we choose self-righteousness, we will continue to stumble and miss out on God’s perfect will for our lives.
James goes on: “Submit therefore to God.” Submission means we acknowledge that He is in charge and we accept His will, even when we do not understand it.
“Resist the devil.” Modern people choose not to believe in the devil. Many who call themselves Christians do not believe in him. However, Scripture tells us he is real. We should not ignore him. The devil is real. Sin is real. Evil is real. Believers in Jesus have authority over him in Jesus’ name, but we must resist him. We cannot be passive. He will not go away just because we pretend he is not around.
Resisting the devil and submitting to God go hand-in-hand. We cannot resist the devil or sin in our own strength. We must rely on God’s strength. We must submit to God, and then Satan will flee from us.
Cleanse your hands. Purify your hearts. Take a personal spiritual inventory. Spend time before God measuring your life against His Word and ask Him to cleanse and purify you. It might get uncomfortable. The Holy Spirit may point out attitudes and activities that lie at the root of your problems, which you think are harmless. Be prepared to meet your dark side.
God calls us to be single-minded and completely devoted to Him. There may be corners of your life that you have tried to hide from Him. He wants His best for you, but you may have to surrender some things to experience His blessing. However, when we give up those things that are holding us back, we find He has greater blessings available to us. We may begin by mourning our sins, grieving the sacrifices He calls us to make, and even wrestling with Him until it hurts (see Genesis 32:24-31). However, deliverance, spiritual maturity, and growth—comfort—await us when we yield to Him.
Mourning and weeping precede comfort and joy. Let us acknowledge our sins, confess them to God, and ask Him for the power to follow Him. Then, He will draw near to us, offer us His comfort, and empower us to speak words of comfort and faith into the lives of those around us.
Heavenly Father, we thank You for the gift of Your Son, Jesus Christ, who died so that we can live with You. Give us courage and strength to submit ourselves to You, confess our sins, repent, resist the evil within us and around us, and live so that we may glorify You and experience Your comfort, joy, and love. We pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.
How have you been comforted and healed by Jesus? How have you comforted others in His name, or how can you do so in the days ahead? Share your thoughts, experiences, or suggestions by clicking the “Leave a comment” link below.
Copyright © 2022 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.