Reflections on Jeremiah 17:9, Matthew 5:4, James 4:9, and Matthew 6:16-18 —
We need each other — for reflection, sharpening, and balance. I have a friend who is the eternal optimist. He is never down on himself. He seldom worries about anything. I am the opposite. I often fret about my shortcomings. I am all-too-aware that my heart is naturally self-centered, fearful and and anxious. Full disclosure — sometimes the thoughts from my heart are downright evil. Sometimes I wish I were more like my optimistic friend. However, he has admitted that his end of the spectrum may not be ideal either.
Somewhere in the middle of our two mindsets lies a state of properly-balanced perspective.
I don’t think I’m entirely in the wrong for my bemoaning. I disdain all that goes on within my soul because I am certain it is not all good. Jeremiah the prophet goes as far to say that our hearts are “more deceitful than all else and desperately sick” (Jeremiah 17:9). That description of the human heart sticks with me wherever I go. It is one thing that my heart is sick (which I translate as ‘corrupt’, ‘twisted’, and ‘bent on selfish gain’). It is a worse thing that my heart is deceptive. It not only wants what is evil; it tries to hide its evil intent from me. I can’t trust my own motives. It is the evil within me that causes me to fret, or better, to mourn.
I hold that we could all use a little more mourning, and here’s why…
Consider the words of our Lord in what we call “the Sermon on the Mount” — the first of Jesus’ teachings to His followers. Among other things, He says, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shalll be comforted” (Matthew 5:4). So here, we see there is inherent value in mourning. It is something God looks for in His people. When we do it, He blesses us.
To mourn is to feel and express sorrow and grief over a loss. But what loss is He talking about, and why does God bless His people for grieving over it? The loss is the realization than in spite of all God has done for me, in spite of His love and patience with me, I am still stubbornly self-seeking. That disturbs me. And I think Jesus is saying we should be disturbed. We should hold within ourselves a disdain for selfish motives, and grieve that they are there, and be sorrowful when selfishness wins out.
James, the author of the New Testament letter, speaks on this topic of mourning. He gave advice to a young church that was suffering from contention and quarreling resulting from unbridled selfish ambition in the hearts of its members. James said, “be miserable and mourn and weep; let your laughter be turned to mourning and you joy to gloom” (James 4:9). Sounds pretty dreary, doesn’t it? But it is God’s Word spoken through James, so let’s not cast it aside. I don’t think he’s saying we need to beat ourselves up, carrying around a long and mopey disposition. There is a time for laughter, for light-heartedness and gaiety. God gave us wine for this very purpose. But laughter does nothing to address sin in our hearts — it may curb or soften the weight of our sin for awhile, but it is short-lived. Laughter can even become pretentious. We like looking happy on the outside. Too much reliance on laughter, and not enough grieving of sin, makes us ungrateful and self-sufficient.
Instead, I think it’s important to mourn the fact that our hearts are deceptive and sick, and to do so on a regular basis. Mourning is how we address our sinful condition before God. Moreover, according to Jesus, God blesses us with comfort when we mourn.
Just because we’re mourning internally doesn’t mean we have to have a long face and a sad disposition. We should mourn internally. It is entirely possible to engage in conversation, to reach out, hug, laugh, discuss, and enjoy other people — and to do so in a sincere way — while mourning on the inside. God’s comfort enables this. It’s kind of like the instruction Jesus gave about the proper attitude toward fasting in Matthew 6:16-18. There, He says something like – don’t have a gloomy face and don’t neglect your appearance so others see that you’re fasting…rather, shave and wash your face and let your fasting be done in secret, as unto the Lord…do that, and God will reward you. So you see, it is possible to be mourning on the inside while at the same time loving what you’re doing on the outside.
Therefore, I will always be a little disconcerted about my heart and its evil condition. It keeps me feeling needy. I walk around with a need for God’s comfort. He is an expert at comforting, so I’m content when I’m mourning.