Moon in the pines at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

God expects us to mourn

What have you lost recently? A job? An opportunity? A friend? Everyone loses. Loss is just part of life, and learning how to deal with loss is part of growing up.

For the first time since 1965, Wichita State University made it to the NCAA Final Four Championship. I’m not a sports fan (at all) but I am a Shocker. I bought a t-shirt, and I even watched the game. And while it was a great game (so proud of the Shockers for hanging in there), it didn’t turn out the way I hoped. They lost, yes. But they gained something else in return. And I think that it works the same way in most situations. Once we realize that we have lost something or once we accept that we have lost something, we can be open to accepting what we’ll receive in return.

Moon in the pines at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Moon in the pines at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Today’s verse is Matthew 5:4.

God blesses those who mourn,
for they will be comforted.

I’m still reading the Beatitudes from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount this week, studying the things that God says matters. Most of the Beatitudes state pretty ironic things. Like yesterday: You’re happy when you realize you need help.

So what about today? You’re happy when you’re sad? For real? Is that what it actually means?

This is the same verse in the Amplified Version:

Blessed and enviably happy [with a happiness produced by the experience of God’s favor and especially conditioned by the revelation of His matchless grace] are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted!

Let’s begin at the beginning here. What exactly does it mean to mourn? According to Dictionary.com, it means “to feel or express sorrow or grief.” I always thought mourning was something usually relegated to funerals, honestly, but with that vague of a definition, mourning can be expressing sadness about anything.

So when’s the last time you mourned? I know a lot of WSU fans who mourned last Saturday when those last 30 seconds of the game ticked by and Louisville kept scoring despite the Shockers’ valiant efforts. I know a lot of people who mourn significant losses and a lot of people who mourn insignificant losses. I know a lot of mournful people. If we think about it, we all do. So if this verse were true, wouldn’t that mean that all those mournful people would be happy?

Here’s something I’ve learned about mourning: If you desire sadness, you’ll never accept comfort.

Isn’t it true that there are some people who refuse to be comforted no matter what you say? They just want to make a big deal out of everything so they can get the attention? And that’s usually what happens. When they go on and on about how difficult their life is or how bad they have it, the compassionate, considerate people around them go out of their way to comfort them. That’s the way it’s supposed to be. But if that person is only seeking the attention, they’ll never be truly comforted, and that sadness will never change them.

As a result, I’ve kind of cut mourning out of my life. I don’t do it. At least, I haven’t done it because somehow I started to see it as a waste of time and energy. I don’t like attention. I don’t like causing disturbances or rocking the boat. So making a big deal out of feeling sad about anything is out of the question.

But the Bible doesn’t say not to mourn. This verse says you’ll be happy if you do. God expects us to mourn. Why? Well, that depends on your definition of happy. Here the happiness Jesus is talking about comes from experiencing God’s favor, conditioned by understanding His grace.

Whoa. Let’s go over that for a second.

When you are mourning a loss–and I’m talking about a significant loss, not a basketball game–when you’re truly feeling hollow and empty inside, when the grief is just too much for you to bear, when you couldn’t care less about how people react to your grief, that is real mourning. That is the true expression of sadness, and that isn’t wrong. On the contrary, Scripture says over and over again that mourning is a natural thing. There’s a time for it. We need to allow the energy for it, because there are so many significant things to mourn over.

But as a Christ follower, we need to have a different perspective on mourning and grief and sadness. Loss doesn’t mean the same thing to us. Death doesn’t mean the same thing to us as it does to people who don’t follow Christ. When we experience loss, it’s a terrible thing, but while it’s okay to mourn that loss, we need to remember that this life isn’t all there is. That sense of mourning is temporary–or at least it should be, because whatever we “lose” on in this life will be returned to us in eternity much better than it ever was here.

Even when we’re mourning, we can still experience God’s favor. Even when we’re overwhelmed with grief, we can still grasp the concept that God is pleased with us. Why? Because as Christ followers, we need to understand that God isn’t punishing us. Yes, it’s a good idea always to check your heart to make sure there’s no sin there. But if your heart is pure before God, He’s not punishing you. He’s just doing the best He can with a world that we broke, and sometimes bad things happen to good people. And sometimes the trouble that comes our way is a sign that God is pleased with us–why else would our enemy take a sledgehammer to us?

So what have you lost today? Or this week? Or this year? Whatever or whoever you lost, you’ll get something in return, the least of which is comfort from God, knowing that He loves you and that He believes in you and that He’s got it under control. Don’t be afraid to mourn, as long as you’re willing to accept His comfort.

Kite over Jamaica Beach - Galveston, TX

Why are you discouraged?

Last week was one of those weeks that makes you want to crawl into a corner and cry your eyes out. Have you ever had a week like that? Where just about everything goes wrong? And even in the moments where things go right, you’re afraid to trust it because you’re just waiting for the bottom to drop out from under you? Yeah. It was that kind of week. And, honestly, this week isn’t shaping up to be much better. I hope it is, but I’m not expecting much improvement.

So what do you do when you’re already discouraged and you’re trapped in disheartening circumstances? What do you do when none of it seems to make sense and every time you try to fix your life, you just seem to make it worse? What do you do?

Stop and praise God for it. 

Kite over Jamaica Beach - Galveston, TX

Kite over Jamaica Beach – Galveston, TX

Psalm 42 

As the deer longs for streams of water,
    so I long for you, O God.
I thirst for God, the living God.
    When can I go and stand before him?
Day and night I have only tears for food,
    while my enemies continually taunt me, saying,
    “Where is this God of yours?”

My heart is breaking
    as I remember how it used to be:
I walked among the crowds of worshipers,
    leading a great procession to the house of God,
singing for joy and giving thanks
    amid the sound of a great celebration!

Why am I discouraged?
    Why is my heart so sad?
I will put my hope in God!
    I will praise him again—
    my Savior and my God!

Now I am deeply discouraged,
    but I will remember you—
even from distant Mount Hermon, the source of the Jordan,
    from the land of Mount Mizar.
I hear the tumult of the raging seas
    as your waves and surging tides sweep over me.
But each day the Lord pours his unfailing love upon me,
    and through each night I sing his songs,
    praying to God who gives me life.

“O God my rock,” I cry,
    “Why have you forgotten me?
Why must I wander around in grief,
    oppressed by my enemies?”
Their taunts break my bones.
    They scoff, “Where is this God of yours?”

Why am I discouraged?
    Why is my heart so sad?
I will put my hope in God!
    I will praise him again—
    my Savior and my God!

Perspective is one of the most important parts of living a Christian life. If you don’t keep a true perspective of who God is and who you are and what your purpose is, it’s easy to get discouraged. It’s easy to get tripped up. And once you start tripping, it’s not too long before you take a tumble. But even if you have the right perspective, you can still end up in a place where all you can see is darkness. But even then, if you can keep your perspective and recognize it for what it is, you’ll still have joy, even if you aren’t necessarily happy about it.

Verses 5 and 11 out of Psalm 42 say the same thing:

Why am I discouraged?
    Why is my heart so sad?
I will put my hope in God!
    I will praise him again—
    my Savior and my God!

It’s also repeated in Psalm 43:5. The Bible doesn’t just repeat things for lyrical value. Yes, the Psalms are songs, and this makes a wonderful little tune (remember the song “Why So Downcast, O My Soul”? Guess where that came from). But practically speaking, whenever you see something repeated in Scripture, you need to pay attention.

So when you start trying to get your perspective right, the first thing you need to do is ask yourself why you’re discouraged. Try to identify what it is that’s got you down. And then, once you’ve figured out, put your hope in God to straighten it out. Do what you can and let it go.

I love how the Message says this:

Why are you down in the dumps, dear soul?
    Why are you crying the blues?
Fix my eyes on God—
    soon I’ll be praising again.
He puts a smile on my face.
    He’s my God.

It’s okay to be discouraged. It’s okay to feel down. But it’s not okay to let your perspective slip.

When everything is going wrong, that’s the time to praise louder than before. When it feels like your world is falling apart, that’s the time to put your whole focus on God and what He is doing and what He can do and what He has done. When you’re so discouraged that you can barely function, that’s the moment to thank God for everything He has done for you. And if you can do all that, you’ll find something amazing happens.

Even though your circumstances haven’t necessarily changed, even though you still have all the same problems as before, you’ll be smiling about it. Not because you’re in denial and not because you’re childishly ignoring the facts, but because your heart will remember who God is and that no circumstance is bigger than He is.