Celtic Spiritual Poetry (22)
Grant me tears, O Lord, to blot out my sins; may I not cease from them, O God, until I have been purified...
When I contemplate my sins, grant me tears always, for great are the claims of tears on cheeks…
Grant me contrition of heart so that I may not be in disgrace; O Lord, protect me and grant me tears.
- Anonymous, Old Irish, 9th century
O LORD God of hosts,
How long will You be angry
Against the prayer of Your people?
You have fed them with the bread of tears,
And given them tears to drink in great measure.
You have made us a strife to our neighbors,
And our enemies laugh among themselves.
Restore us, O God of hosts;
Cause Your face to shine,
And we shall be saved!
- Psalm 80.4-7
Being happy in church is the in thing these days. From childhood, we’re taught that the Christian life is a happy life, and we should always want to be happy: “If you’re happy and you know it, clap your hands.” “Happy am I, Jesus loves me…” “…and now I’m so happy all the day.” And so forth.
So we grow up as believers insisting that faith should make us happy. Church should make us happy. And especially, worship should make us happy. Nobody wants a woeful worship. Let our music be upbeat, our singing robust, and our preaching lively and seasoned with laughs. And let us go away from worship feeling good about ourselves, good about our preacher, and good about our church. Happy church members. Yeah!
We assume that the Christian life must be a happy life. Let us be done with the dour, finished with the fretful, and spared the sorrowing for sin. That’s so negative! Anyone suggesting that our Christian lives should be anything other than continuously cheery either needs counseling or should be shunted off to a monastery.
I remember a vignette from Mad Magazine, when I was a kid, which featured Robin Hood calling the roll of his “merry men”, only to come, quite unexpectedly, to Grumpy, the dwarf from Snow White. Whereupon Robin booted the usurper out of the ranks, insisting, “No grumpies in my merry men!”
This is the way in many churches today: if you’re happy and you know it, clap your hands. And come back next week for more of the same.
But we should ask ourselves, in our mad spiritual pursuit of happiness, whether we are truly serving and walking with the Man of Sorrows, or worshiping the false deity of undisturbed comfort and wellbeing?
As our anonymous poet – echoing the psalmist – understood, sorrowing is an important human affection, especially when it is justified. And sorrow and tears are justified whenever we contemplate the persistence and ugliness of our sins, how we continue to seek our way and to press for our agenda and hold out for our wants and desires. How we insist that God make us happybecause that’s what being a Christian is all about.
The psalmist believed that God’s reviving grace was nearly at hand, since the people of Israel had been brought to tears for their sins. Our anonymous poet likewise seemed to know that reviving grace follows contrition, often marked by the presence of tears. We seem content not to be revived, but merely happy.
Have we forgotten that Jesus was the Man of Sorrows, who wept tears for the lost people of God? Who wept over the hardness of men’s hearts at the tomb of Lazarus? Who wept and sweat tears of blood as He submitted to the will of His Father? Do we think we have no need for tears in the Church today? Have we moved so far past striving against sin, that we do not need to weep and lament before God at the way we play at prayer and Bible study, flout His Law, prefer our way of doing church to His, neglect our calling to make disciples, set aside the plain teaching of Scripture to accommodate the latest in moral trends, and in a variety of other ways seek that our will, not His, might be done?
We have no tears of repentance today because we’re too busy chasing the idol of happiness and good feelings. But if we would look honestly at the sins that linger in our hearts, we would cry out to God for tears of repentance and cries for revival.
If God does not feed us on tears, drown us in tears, bury us in tears of repentance, we’ll never get beyond where we are today. We must seek Him for such tears every day. And where we are today – look around, people – isn’t all that great, appearances to the contrary notwithstanding. We’re happy but feckless. We need revival if we’re ever to be truly fruitful for Christ and His Kingdom. And revival only comes with tears.
We need tears, friends, tears. When the tears of repentance begin to fall from our eyes, the Spirit of revival will stir, and assert Himself with new power. And, in the midst of those tears, as revival begins in our souls and churches, we will know the joy of the Lord.
Questions for Reflection
1. What’s the difference between happiness and joy? Why are tears frequently the doorway to joy?
2. Why should we expect seasons of sorrow and weeping to be part of our walk with and work for the Lord?
Psalm 80.4-7 (St. Theodulph: All Glory, Laud, and Honor)
How long will You ignore all Your people’s fervent prayer?
Shall bitter tears fall ever? O Lord, renew Your care!
Our neighbors mock and scorn us, they laugh at out distress;
Renew, O Lord, and turn us, look down on us and bless!
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All psalms for singing from The Ailbe Psalter. Except as indicated, Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Davies, p. 261