Don’t Avoid All Sadness
“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted” (Matt. 5:4). We don’t tend to like to be sad. We hate bad news. We work to avoid problems. We apologize when we cry in public. Being depressed scares us. In our avoidance of sadness, we often numb ourselves to death with endless social media fluff and vacuous Netflix entertainment. Perhaps what we’re running from is not just sadness; perhaps we’re running from ourselves. Perhaps we’re running from what we would be forced to acknowledge if we took the time to stop, look, and listen. Running from your true self is never a good life plan. But that is what the powerful media platforms allow and perhaps even encourage us to do. They spirit us away from the pain of honest life consideration and humble introspection. Perhaps our media busyness is yet another distraction that stands in the way of blessing, the kind of blessing that comes only when we stop, consider, reflect, and mourn.
When is the last time you mourned? I don’t mean mourning that your team lost or that your steak wasn’t that great. I’m not talking about being sad that you children aren’t quick to obey or that your marriage hasn’t lived up to your dreams. I don’t mean the type of mourning that happens when the house deal falls through, the investment tanks, or your job ends. I think we all do a lot of mourning, but it tends to be little-kingdom mourning. What is little-kingdom mourning? Remember Jesus’s words about mourning from his Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5:4). These are followed by Christ’s instruction on how we should pray: “Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” (Matt. 6:10). Jesus instructs us to pray in willing submission to a kingdom that is vastly greater than our little kingdoms of one.
The kingdom of self is concerned about our wants, our needs, and our feelings. Its primary focus is our comfort, pleasure, and satisfaction. It is consumed by our dreams for our lives, that is, the things that we think would be easy and enjoyable. There is nothing wrong with wanting a good marriage or obedient children. There would be something wrong with you if you didn’t want these things. But it’s wrong and spiritually dangerous to have your heart controlled by the desire for these things in a way that causes you to be perennially discontent. Here’s the point. What you regularly and deeply mourn will always reveal the true values of your heart. What causes the most sadness will expose whatever kingdom has captured the allegiance of your heart. Mourning is a window into what we truly worship: the Creator or the created thing.
So I need to rephrase my previous question. It’s not enough to ask when you last mourned. I need to ask, “What was it that you mourned the last time you mourned?” If Jesus is saying that mourning is a pathway to blessing, then it is vital to clarify what kind of mourning he’s talking about. He is not talking about situationaldisappointment mourning, where I am sad because something in a situation, location, or relationship didn’t go as I hoped. This is the kind of mourning most of us are familiar with. We get upset when we don’t get what we want. I call it little-kingdom mourning because it is all about human plans, purposes, and glory. This kind of mourning isn’t a pathway to blessing. True happiness, blessing, and joy are never found when you make yourself the center of things. Putting your wants, needs, and feelings in the center is, in a fallen world, always a recipe for disappointment and discontent.
Mourning is a window into what we truly worship: the Creator or the created thing.
When Jesus says that mourners are blessed, he is talking about a kind of mourning that has God’s purpose and glory in view. Romans 3:23 tells us the kind of mourning that Jesus is talking about: “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” The admission of sin is at the heart of this kind of mourning. But there is more. I mourn because my sin is against God. It is a rebellion against his glory. It replaces his glory with my glory as the motivation for my living. Sin is a sad and shocking rejection of my identity as a creature of God as well as the purpose for my existence. I was designed to live in such a way that every thought, desire, choice, word, and action would be done with God’s glory in view. It is devastatingly sad when any human being fails to live in this way. This failure not only denigrates the throne of God, but it leaves creation horribly damaged and causes untold human suffering. Sin is the saddest, most horrible thing that has ever happened. The cross tells us this. What could be more horrible than something that would necessitate the crucifixion of the Son of God?
Because of the hardness and blindness of the human heart, if you mourn your sin, if you see it as the saddest thing in your life, then you know that you have been visited by God’s grace. But it is also true that only when you mourn your sin will you then seek and celebrate God’s grace. The depth of your appreciation and gratitude for God’s grace will be determined by the depth and consistency of your sadness over your sin. It really is true that whenever we minimize the horror of sin, we devalue the glory of God’s amazing grace in Christ Jesus.
So we gather again and again not just to be encouraged but also to be confronted. We gather to be given eyes to see the shocking selfglory, darkness, deceitfulness, rebelliousness, and destructiveness of sin and to remember that sin still lives inside of us. We gather to remember that our only hope in the face of this evil is the powerful and ever-present grace of Jesus. It is when we acknowledge our sin that we experience the deepest and fullest of comforts. Yes, we gather again and again because we can never let ourselves forget that the greatest, most comforting oasis for a sinner’s heart is the forgiving and transforming grace of Jesus.
This article is adapted from Sunday Matters: 52 Devotionals to Prepare Your Heart for Church by Paul David Tripp.
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