Blessed in Mourning

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God has been doing some fabulous things in my church lately. His Spirit has moved strongly there in the past several weeks. About three weeks ago, I told my pastor I had officially moved out of my spiritual desert and into the rain forest of the Spirit. I had so much peace, so much life, so much joy! And then

Last week arrived. Suddenly I was fighting migraines nearly every day. I woke up every morning feeling exhausted, bored, and restless. Then the old thorn in my side got twisted around a few times. I tried to resist it, but my mind caved to the chaos. I began to lose hope that God would ever bring me into the vision He had for my life, and depression threatened to overwhelm me. By Sunday, I was an emotional wreck. I limped to the altar and sobbed my eyes out. I can’t remember the last time I felt so genuinely heartbroken.

In that service, God spoke to my heart and told me two things:

1. “The problem is, you don’t know how to walk in the rain forest. To stay in the rain forest–to move into your purpose–you must devote yourself to deeper prayer and study. I have been telling you this, but you haven’t done it. You’re stubborn.”

2. “What does my Word say? ‘Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted’ (Matthew 5:4). My daughter, I am right here.”

One of the most common arguments I’ve heard against the existence of God is the ongoing suffering of humanity. And the case has only been exacerbated by the teachings of many Christian ministers. The mindset has been that anytime something bad happens in the world, it’s evidence that God is angry about something. We haven’t done enough to outlaw abortion. We allowed homosexuals to get married. We elected a democrat to the White House. So the result is that God sends a massive tsunami/earthquake/tornado to wipe a few people off the map–like a petulant toddler who didn’t get juice in his sippy cup. And then we get angry at God for our suffering and wonder why He feels so far away.

But He isn’t far away. We just assume He is.

One of Jesus’ titles is The Great Physician. And there’s something I’ve noticed about people who work in health care: They are drawn to the sick and hurting. Doctors and nurses can put in 14 hours a day treating the ill, yet if they see someone collapse at the grocery store or on an airplane during their off time, they immediately rush over to help. “Let me through!” they say. “I’m a doctor! I know what to do!” And those of us who are standing around the victim will clear a space for the physician, because we welcome those who have the ability to heal.

Jesus is the same way. Notice, he didn’t spend much time in the gospels hanging out with the healthy and well-adjusted. Instead, he was out on the seashore or in the fields, preaching to the rabble and healing the sick, lame, blind and dead. Jesus is drawn to the hurting. When he senses a broken heart, he can’t stay away. He comes running with open arms.

The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit (Psalm 34:18).

In Luke 14, Jesus tells this interesting parable about a banquet. The host invited his respectable friends to come dine with him, but instead of receiving the invitation with joy, all the friends made excuses as to why they couldn’t come. According to Jewish prophecy, the purpose of the Messiah was to clarify the Mosaic law. This is what Jesus did. Except that the religious leaders were expecting a different sort of clarification. Since they had spent a lot of time and effort perfecting their adherence to the law, they thought the Messiah would give them a pat on the back. Instead, Jesus showed up and said, “It’s all about faith and love. And the greatest among you will first be a servant.” How joyous! How freeing! How incredibly disappointing for those holding out for a special seat at the table.

 “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick” (Matthew 9:12).

So when the respectable, whole and well-adjusted refused to come to the Master’s banquet, he turned to his servant and said, “Go out quickly into the streets and alleys of the town and bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame. Invite the Gentiles and Samaritans. Call the adulteress at the well and the crippled man at the pool. Get the woman with the issue of blood, the man with the withered hand, and the paraplegic on his mat. Go down to the graveyard and fetch the demon-possessed boy wandering the tombstones. Then bring them into my house to inherit my kingdom. The weeping may endure for a night, but joy will come in the morning.”

That’s who Jesus is. And the Son is a reflection of the Father.

The Bible says that when we mourn–when we feel most brokenhearted–that’s when we are blessed. Because that’s when Jesus is drawing near to comfort us. He promises that we’ll be comforted. And I don’t believe that means in some distant place and time called heaven. I believe that means right now, if we’ll just turn and recognize his presence.

“LORD, you said that once I decided to follow

you, you’d walk with me all the way.

But I have noticed that during the most

troublesome times in my life,

there is only one set of footprints.

I don’t understand why when

I needed you most you would leave me.”

The LORD replied:

“My son, my precious child,

I love you and I would never leave you.

During your times of trial and suffering,

when you see only one set of footprints,

it was then that I carried you.”

~ Footprints in the Sand

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7 responses to “Blessed in Mourning

  1. well said- we are so used to the desrt that we can hardly take walking in joy, we do slip back but every time it is easier to allow Him to bring us back into his Light, or to use toyr anaology, into the rainforest. It takes time to adjust, it takes time to learn how to conatain the glory and not let it slip through the cracks of our souls. nice thing is, the Lord knows us so well and is patient and knd through it all

  2. As the Western Church is experiencing a renewal, so is Judaism.
    We sometimes forget that Jesus is Jewish [on his Mother’s side] and the Judaic rabbinical tradition is often more insightful than our Christian Greek, and especially Latin/Western, theological traditions:

    “Nature is value-free. It can’t tell the role between the deserving the undeserving. God’s role is not to decide where the hurricane goes and how severe it is. God’s role is to motivate people to help neighbors and improve methods to predict hurricanes. God is found not in the problem, but in the resilience.” ~ Rabbi Harold Kushner, rabbi of the conservative Jewish tradition

    Four Walls Separating Us from the New Testament
    Four crises separate Western Christians on the one hand from the New Testament writers and Eastern Christians on the other. If we understand these crises and the effects they had, we can attempt to “roll them back” in our minds and understand the New Testament more clearly.
    The New Testament is in Greek, which has a large philosophical vocabulary that Latin lacks. Ecumenical councils used Greek as the working language; then they made an official translation into Latin for use in the West. Many of the most heated debates were about which Latin words best conveyed the meaning of the Greek resolution they had already agreed on. Because Greek philosophical concepts had to be translated into Latin legal concepts, theology in the West took on the character of codified law after the West lost Greek. To this day, Orthodox theologians reason like rabbis, while western theologians reason like lawyers.
    Pelagianism
    Augustine accused Pelagius of teaching salvation by works
    Western Christians are obsessed with not being saved by works
    Western Christians deemphasize ascetic disciplines and exercises
    Spirituality becomes a set of mental acts
    Salvation is rescue from hell, rather than transformation into glory
    Determinism enters some parts of western theology from Manichaeism through Augustine

    Scholasticism
    Theology moved from the monastery to the university
    Western theology is an intellectual discipline rather than a mystical pursuit
    Western theology is over-systematized
    Western Theology is systematized, based on a legal model rather than a philosophical model
    Western theologians debate like lawyers, not like rabbis
    Reformation
    Catholic reformers were excommunicated and formed Protestant churches
    Western churches become guarantors of theological schools of thought
    Western church membership is often contingent on fine points of doctrine
    Some western Christians believe that definite beliefs are incompatible with tolerance
    The atmosphere arose in which anyone could start a church
    The legal model for western theology intensifies despite the rediscovery of the East

    Enlightenment
    Philosophers founded empirical sciences
    Western theologians attempt to apply empiricism to theology
    Western theologians agonize over the existence of God
    Western theologians lose, deemphasize, neglect, marginalize, or explain away the supernatural
    Western theologians no longer have coherent answers for many practical religious questions
    Western churches outsource the treatment of religious problems to secular therapists

    East and West
    West
    Western Christians are obsessed with not being saved by works
    Western Christians deemphasize ascetic disciplines and exercises
    Spirituality becomes a set of mental acts
    Salvation is rescue from hell
    The emphasis is on the cross
    Determinism enters some parts of western Christian theology

    East
    Works express faith, faith gives birth to works
    Eastern Christians engage in fasting and other spiritual disciplines
    Spirituality involves both mind and body
    Salvation is transformation into glory
    The emphasis is on resurrection and transformation
    Determinism never entered Christian theology

    West
    Western theology is primarily an intellectual discipline by professors
    Western theology is over-systematized

    Western theology is based on a legal model
    Western theologians debate like lawyers

    East
    Eastern theology is primarily a mystical pursuit by monastics
    Eastern theology is not as strictly systematized; for example, the number of sacraments is not set and is not controversial
    Eastern theology is based on a philosophical model
    Eastern theologians debate like rabbis

    West
    Western churches became guarantors of theological schools of thought
    Western church membership is often contingent on fine points of doctrine
    Some western Christians believe that definite beliefs are incompatible with tolerance
    The atmosphere arose in which anyone could start a church

    East
    Eastern theology, while holding more strictly than western theology on basic dogmas, is tolerant of differences of opinions on finer points
    Eastern church membership is contingent on commitment and behavior
    Eastern Christians have no difficulty maintaining definite beliefs while remaining tolerant.
    There was nothing corresponding to the Protestant Reformation and there is no proliferation of sects within the mainstream

    West
    Western Christians see a dichotomy of spirit and matter
    Western theologians attempt to apply empiricism to theology
    Western theologians agonize over the existence of God
    Western theologians have lost, deemphasized, neglected, marginalized, or explained away the supernatural and miraculous
    Western theologians no longer have coherent answers for many practical religious questions (such as during bereavement)
    Western churches outsource the treatment of religious problems, such as bereavement, to secular therapists

    East
    Eastern Christians see a dichotomy of God and creation
    Eastern theologians are largely unaffected by modernism
    Eastern theologians do not agonize over the existence of God
    Eastern theologians systematize the transcendent, the miraculous, and the mystical into their theology, without a concept of ‘supernatural’
    Eastern theologians have coherent and helpful answers for most practical spiritual problems (such as during bereavement)
    Eastern clergy, monastics, and lay experts have resources for spiritual direction, moral direction, and Eastern clergy, monastics, and lay experts have resources for spiritual direction, moral direction, and bereavement counseling; thus they do not outsource religious problems to secular experts.

      • John Meyendorff, Alexander Schmemann and Georges Florovsky are my favorites.

        Florovsky’s book Bible, Church, Tradition: An Eastern Orthodox View Vol I is available online in pdf format:

        http://www.bulgarian-orthodox-church.org/rr/lode/florovsky1.pdf

        I am 70 years old and these theologians are from my generation. I am not familiar with the more contemporary generation, but you could probably get a catalogue from St. Vladimir’s with a current listing:

        St Vladimir’s Seminary Press and Bookstore
        575 Scarsdale Road
        Crestwood, NY 10707-1699
        United States
        1-800-204-2665; svspresssvots.edu

        New/Used: new books

        Web site: http://www.svspress.com

        Description: Founded in 1968, St Vladimir’s Seminary Press is the largest and most active publisher of Orthodox Christian books in the English language, with almost 300 titles in print. SVS Press has achieved a reputation for permitting a free expression of ideas within the breadth of the Orthodox faith, tradition, and history, while insisting on works of theological excellence.

        In addition to titles about theology, history, ecclesiology, ecumenism, hagiography, iconography, spirituality, scriptural studies, music, pastoral theology, Christian education, philosophy, biography, and Patristics, SVS Press produces children’s books, CDs, video and audio programs, and greeting cards. The publication and distribution of quality Orthodox Christian material, both on the scholarly and popular levels, is the primary mission of SVS Press.