Saturday, June 13, 2009

The Usefulness of Sorrow!

Inconsolable Grief, by Ivan KramskoyImage via Wikipedia

Here is a sermon I preached a little over a year ago on the topic of sorrow. The follow up sermon "The Usefulness of Happiness" will be posted in the next day or two.

For many of those that follow the culture of happiness we struggle when it comes to sorrow. We fight against sorrow at all cost. Popular psychology has created a belief that sorrow is a disorder that must be treated, avoided, and changed. Don’t get me wrong God does not call us to be gloomy people always sad and depressed. But he does state in his word in the book of Ecclesiastes chapter 3, “There is an appointed time for everything. And there is a time for every event under heaven” and “A time to weep and a time to laugh; A time to mourn and a time to dance.” So If God declares that there is a time for sorrow then why is it that we have such a hard time with it? I believe that there are two answers to this question. First we have not learned the usefulness of sorrow. Second we have been conditioned to think that sorrow something to be avoided at all cost. You may be sitting there this evening thinking what a downer to talk about sorrow on a Sunday evening. Let me just say if you live long enough you will either learn the blessing that sorrow can bring, or you will be eaten up by it. You may be in the midst of sorrow this evening. Let me just say I believe that you can find hope in this message. Let’s pray.

2 Cor 7:5-16 (HCSB)
5 In fact, when we came into Macedonia, we had no rest. Instead, we were afflicted in every way: struggles on the outside, fears inside. 6 But God, who comforts the humble, comforted us by the coming of Titus, 7 and not only by his coming, but also by the comfort he received from you. He announced to us your deep longing, your sorrow, your zeal for me, so that I rejoiced even more. 8 For although I grieved you with my letter, I do not regret it—even though I did regret it since I saw that the letter grieved you, though only for a little while. 9 Now I am rejoicing, not because you were grieved, but because your grief led to repentance. For you were grieved as God willed, so that you didn’t experience any loss from us. 10 For godly grief produces a repentance not to be regretted and leading to salvation, but worldly grief produces death. 11 For consider how much diligence this very thing—this grieving as God wills—has produced in you: what a desire to clear yourselves, what indignation, what fear, what deep longing, what zeal, what justice! In every way you have commended yourselves to be pure in this matter. 12 So even though I wrote to you, it was not because of the one who did wrong, or because of the one who was wronged, but in order that your diligence for us might be made plain to you in the sight of God. 13 For this reason we have been comforted. In addition to our comfort, we were made to rejoice even more over the joy Titus had, because his spirit was refreshed by all of you. 14 For if I have made any boast to him about you, I have not been embarrassed; but as I have spoken everything to you in truth, so our boasting to Titus has also turned out to be the truth. 15 And his affection toward you is even greater as he remembers the obedience of all of you, and how you received him with fear and trembling. 16 I rejoice that I have complete confidence in you.

Sorrow: Mental suffering or pain caused by injury, loss, or despair.

The feeling starts out as a pang that radiates through your whole body. This is bad enough, but begins to settle in and creates pressure on your chest and stomach. It becomes hard to breath and you feel like you are trapped. A few minutes later you are overwhelmed with a feeling of sadness that cannot be weighed out in a single lifetime. This sadness swallows any energy and life in you. As it continues the days grow weary and you scarcely can get out of the chair when you sit or out of bed when you lay down. That is sorrow. Yet this sorrow can be in God’s hands a thing to celebrate.

When sorrow occurs we either attempt to escape it, cover it, or blame it. In a sense our worldly response to sorrow is quite natural. It is the same response that nearly every human being would have in a similar circumstance. . Let me just say that sorrow is a warning system that God has built in each one of us to alert us that something is not right in our world. Sometimes it is myself, sometimes it is others, and sometimes it is just the result of living in a fallen world. Regardless it warns us that something is not right.

Let’s examine some examples worldly sorrow

Kosmos lupe (Worldly Sorrow)
Eat, Drink, Be marry for tomorrow we die (Escapism)
The first Example is the Worldly Sorrow of escapism.
Isaiah 22:12-13 (HCSB)
On that day the Lord God of Hosts called for weeping, for wailing, for shaven heads, and for the wearing of sackcloth. 13 But look: joy and gladness, butchering of cattle, slaughtering of sheep, eating of meat, and drinking of wine— “Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die!”

There is a strong tendency for us to believe that sorrow is a bad thing and is to be avoided at all costs. We would think someone who says to celebrate sorrow as being a bit off. We struggle to glance at, listen to, or embrace someone’s sorrow. We are so programmed to run away, that I bet that there are some of you squirming there in your seats that such a topic would be spoken of from the pulpit. It is this unwillingness to acknowledge sorrow that in my opinion leads so many to escapism. Escapism is merely a expression of worldly sorrow. It comes in many forms (as many as the human mind can dream up). Some of the more common examples are overeating, drinking, drugs, the party life, pornography, cutting on oneself, music, entertainment, sports, and the list goes on and on. Escapism is the denial of sorrow by pouring oneself into an activity that does not necessarily glorify God.
Build bigger barns (Holding on to things)
The second example is the worldly sorrow of holding on to things.
Luke 12:16-21 (HCSB)
16 Then He told them a parable: “A rich man’s land was very productive. 17 He thought to himself, ‘What should I do, since I don’t have anywhere to store my crops? 18 I will do this,’ he said. ‘I’ll tear down my barns and build bigger ones and store all my grain and my goods there. 19 Then I’ll say to myself, “You have many goods stored up for many years. Take it easy; eat, drink, and enjoy yourself.” ’

20 “But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life is demanded of you. And the things you have prepared—whose will they be?’

21 “That’s how it is with the one who stores up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God.”

This could easily be an example of escapism. This example is the desire to replace sorrow with the holding on to things. And once we have enough things then we will be … happy. Well what do I do when I have collected so many things that there is not room for it anymore? Well in this man’s case he built bigger barns. And unless we think that we are immune to such actions let me ask you a challenging question. Do any of you own or rent a storage shed that is used to store things that you have no idea if you will ever use again or have not used in several years. American’s buy into bigger is better. When we run out of room our thought is to be bigger. Well being bigger for the sake of being bigger does not glorify God, unless that we are building the kingdom. Building the kingdom is the only thing that has eternal significance. A life lived in the pursuit of things is a sorrowful life that leads to the death of the soul.

Can’t remember what he said, but he sure moved my heart. (Forgetfulness)
The Third example is the worldly sorrow of forgetfullness

I know that I have been guilty of this type of sorrow in the past and maybe you have been too. How many of you have listen to a powerful sermon and been pierced to the heart only to later in the day not even recall what the sermon was about? Let me see a show of hands. OK did you get that picture taken so we can show the pastor when he gets back. I'm Joking.
James 1:22-25 (HCSB)
22 But be doers of the word and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. 23 Because if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man looking at his own face in a mirror; 24 for he looks at himself, goes away, and right away forgets what kind of man he was. 25 But the one who looks intently into the perfect law of freedom and perseveres in it, and is not a forgetful hearer but a doer who acts—this person will be blessed in what he does.

How easy it is to forget our sorrow than it is to acknowledge it and then do something about it. We don’t like feeling bad, but if our only goal is to not feel bad then this sorrow of forgetfulness becomes a real possibility. We do not act but rather we forget the thing that made us sorrowful.

Don’t bring me down, just let me be (denial)
The Forth example is the worldly sorrow of denial

In our quest to reach people for Christ, we must caution ourselves to never compromise the gospel's standards in order to accommodate those people who are not interested in repentance. Billy Graham's sentiments on this concern are most appropriate: "We are dangerously near to saying to the prodigal son, 'It is not necessary to return to your father and home; we can make you comfortable in the pigpen.'"i
This type of worldly sorrow fits in with the notion that I am not as bad as the next guy. It also is the sentiment that if I am basically a good person and do not do any things that are too bad or too many bad things then God will accept me. God is love. The Christian is not immune to this type of sorrow either. It usually takes the form of, “Who are you to judge me…” This type of sorrow usually attacks the source. It denies the truth and there by denies the sorrow that the truth produces.

What if… (Worry)
The fifth example is the worldly sorrow of worry.

Sorrow is a place where sadness and anxiety meet. They are good friends and dwell in the soul of those that have worldly sorrow. This sorrow of worry is best described in Matthew 13

“V3 Consider the sower who went out to sow…v7 Others fell among thorns, and the thorns came up and choked them… V23 Now the one sown among the thorns—this is one who hears the word, but the worries of this age and the seduction of wealth choke the word, and it becomes unfruitful”

Notice that the sorrow of collecting more things is right there along side the sorrow of worry. Worldly sorrow of worry leads to a choked out life that becomes unfruitful. This person hears the word of God and grows up in it, but because of the worries of the world God’s word does not produce the fruit of a Christian life. In its extreme form this worry becomes paranoia. The person begins to look for danger in everyday life. Their conception of God becomes one that see Him as just waiting to zap them for something wrong. In some cases it leads to a very legalistic life where the true motivation for obeying God’s word it to avoid punishment.

Our final example is the worldly sorrow of melancholy

It is this sorrow that we usually think about when we hear the word sorrow.
If there be a hell upon earth it is to be found in a melancholy man's heart.
Robert Burton (1577–1640)
I will not go to the verses, but will just point out two people from the Bible that were affected by the sorrow of melancholy. The first murder was committed when a Cain suffering from worldly melancholy refused to repent even when God was gracious enough to point out that repentance was needed. He continued his melancholy life and killed his brother. He ended up being a curse to himself and to the human race. The other person would be King Saul. He started out good enough, but overcome by melancholy he was led and led the people of Israel in to all sorts of evils. He even attempted to kill his son’s best friend; David had even ministered to he during his many bouts of worldly sorrow. King Saul eventually committed suicide on the battlefield rather than to face the agony of defeat. “Melancholy and sadness are the start of doubt … doubt is the beginning of despair; despair is the cruel beginning of the differing degrees of wickedness.” This includes death through suicide and murder.

Let me just summarize the forms of worldly sorrow. We have the Sorrow of escapism, the sorrow of holding onto things, the sorrow of forgetfulness, the sorrow of denial, the sorrow of worry, and the sorrow of melancholy. And now that I have made you feel sufficiently low let me build you back up. Before I do though I want to talk to you about celebrating sorrow.

Paul says in 2 Cor 7:6-9 (HCSB) 6 But God, who comforts the humble, comforted us by the coming of Titus, 7 and not only by his coming, but also by the comfort he received from you. He announced to us your deep longing, your sorrow, your zeal for me, so that I rejoiced even more. 8 For although I grieved you with my letter, I do not regret it—even though I did regret it since I saw that the letter grieved you, though only for a little while. 9 Now I am rejoicing, not because you were grieved, but. For you were grieved as God willed, so that you didn’t experience any loss from us.

Let’s face it sorrow is not any fun. It is not something that we seek out. Oh God make me sorrowful, I really miss that feeling. “For although I grieved you with my letter, I do not regret it” Those are hard words. We are often in the business of making sure that people do not feel badly. We want people to come to God because they feel good about it. I know that those who have been in church their whole lives that came to God in a positive way growing up in a Christian home. They felt good about it. Repentance was simply continuing down the path toward God that their parents had already started them on. However, I cannot think of a single person that has come to Christ that does not pass through a valley of sorrow on the road of repentance. Sorrow is not something to be avoided. It is to be embraced and rejoiced. Why? “For the sorrow according to the will of God produces a repentance without regret, leading to salvation!” Let’s now examine Godly sorrow.

Kata theos lupe (Godly Sorrow)
1.Weeping and mourning in the evening, but joy comes in the morning (Wrestling)
Psalms 30:5 (HCSB)
Weeping may spend the night, but there is joy in the morning.

Psalms 126:5-6 (HCSB)
5 Those who sow in tears will reap with shouts of joy. 6 Though one goes along weeping, carrying the bag of seed, he will surely come back with shouts of joy, carrying his sheaves.

Do you ever feel like your sorrows have come to spend the night with you? Has sorrow taken up residence in your heart and life. Weeping has come to stay this evening. We know that he is not a very pleasant guest, but we welcome him just the same. Here is the hope when we endure this Godly sorrow of wrestling blessing comes in the morning. There is a new day dawning for you. AMEN

The reason a call this the Godly sorrow of wrestling is because it reminds me of Jacob wrestling with that Angel of the Lord through the night. I believe that the Godly sorrow of wrestling is the spiritual answer to the worldly sorrow of escapism. Think about it what happens at night if you are feeling down. Do you go out and party, or do you stay home and pour out your heart to God. Recall that Jacob was filled with fear and sorrow that his brother may seek to kill him the next morning. Usually Jacob would attempt to figure a cleaver way to get himself out of trouble. This time would be different. He did have a plan, but this night he would turn to God. God sent the Angel of the Lord and Jacob wrestled with Him through the night. As morning was breaking Jacob refused to let go of the Angel of the Lord until He had bless him. The Angel of the Lord gave Jacob the name Israel, blessed him and touched his hip putting it out of joint. This sorrow of wrestling is a challenge to all of us. When we look at our circumstances and believe that all hope is lost or the task at hand is too difficult what do we do? Do you turn tail and run. Do you figure some cleaver way out? Or do we do as Jacob did and turn to God and wrestle with Him until He gives us the answer that we so desperately need. Are you wrestling with Him now? DON’T GIVE UP weeping may be here this evening, you may be suffering through this seemingly endless spiritual darkness, but if you turn to God your spiritual morning will soon dawn and what a glorious day that will be. Praise God.

2.Sell all you have, give to the poor and follow me (Following)
Recall the Rich man who came to Jesus with the conviction that something was missing in his life. Jesus pointed the man to the moral teachings and the man indicated that he still did not have a fulfilled life. He had sorrow in his heart that things were not as they should be. The next part should pierce us to the heart if we should ever consider the sorrow of holding on to things, because Jesus says in Matt 19:21 (HCSB) “If you want to be perfect (or complete), go, sell your belongings and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow Me.”

The reality is the Christian walk is filled with things that we need to give up if we are to follow Jesus. Worldly Sorrow gets hung up on the giving up stuff. That is the worldly sorrow of holding on to things. However Godly sorrow moves through this to the double blessing of giving or ministering and a closer walk with God. There is a saying that says “He is no fool who gives up what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.” This man responded with the worldly sorrow of holding on to things. How will you respond when God through His Holy Spirit shows you things that you need to give up? I hope that you follow through to the place of following Him. This is a greater blessing than anything this world can offer. AMEN

3.Be not a hearer only, but an effectual doer (Obeying)
You might say that does not make since there is sorrow obeying. No it is the sorrow that leads to obeying. Let’s turn back to
James 1:21-25 (HCSB) “Therefore, ridding yourselves of all moral filth and evil excess, humbly receive the implanted word, which is able to save you. 22 But be doers of the word and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. 23 Because if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man looking at his own face in a mirror; 24 for he looks at himself, goes away, and right away forgets what kind of man he was. 25 But the one who looks intently into the perfect law of freedom and perseveres in it, and is not a forgetful hearer but a doer who acts—this person will be blessed in what he does. “
Let me just hit a few key points as I do not want to preach another sermon, but I do see in these verses what Godly sorrow is to produce. First is the putting off of things ungodly. There must be a repentance of those things that grieve God. Second we must become an effective doer, which means obedience to God’s Law of freedom. We have great liberty in Christ, but we enslave ourselves again when we are not obedient to what God has revealed to us. So the next time you hear a convicting sermon, write down what it is that God wants you to do and do it. That is the Godly sorrow that leads to obedience.

4.Confess your sin and He is able to forgive and cleanse you from all unrighteousness (Confessing)
I remember that scene from the passion of Christ were Peter who has just denied Jesus three times and received the piercing yet compassionate look from Jesus. He was broken, grieved, and wept bitterly. I believe that the Godly sorrow of confession overcomes the worldly sorrow of denial. Fast forward to when Christ appears by the lake and Peter and the disciples have returned to fishing. When they realize that it is Jesus Peter cannot wait for the boat to come to shore, but jumps in the water and swims to his Savior. They have dinner together and Jesus gives Peter a chance to confess his love for Him three times. So when we are tempted to deny our sin or deny Christ we must remember, “If we confess our sins Jesus is faithful and just to forgive our sins.” And “If we confess Jesus before men then He will confess us before the God the father in heaven.”

5.Seek first the kingdom of God and these will be added to you. (Turning to God)
The worldly sorrow of anxiety has an easy cure. Melancholy is melted away in one simple move. The cure is your move to passionately seek after God’s Kingdom. You recall “seek first the kingdom of God and these things will be added unto you.” Seeking the Kingdom of God is not without its moments of sorrow. There are times when you feel defeated and beaten down. There are times that you are attacked for the faith. There are times when people reject the good that you do. What is the answer? Seek First. Sorrow should turn your heart back to God every time. When you feel it in your soul you ought to examine your life and repent of selfishness, self-centeredness and seek after God. Even when you do that soul searching and find nothing wrong, that feeling of sorrow ought to push you to the arms of God, even when you are faultless in the situation; this next story illustrates how seeking after God is the answer.

Father's Day was an enjoyable day for the Simonton family in 1990. The day that followed was not. Lee Simonton left for work with his new Father's Day wing-tip shoes and a promise to be home for lunch. At 10:40 a.m. his promise to return was broken. An irate customer stormed into the Jacksonville, Florida, General Motors Acceptance Corporation office where Lee worked and opened fire with a semi-automatic rifle and a handgun. He shot two customers and twelve employees before turning the gun on himself. Lee became a fatality, because he shielded a female co-worker from the gunfire. His tragic death brought unbearable pain to his wife and two children. The loss of both love and security were terribly frightening for them. They were hurt, scared, and angry over the lot they had received. Yet, from the pages of God's Word they found divine peace and hope. Psalm 37 gave Debra the strength to forgive the man who took her husband and replaced her bitterness with peace. Six-year-old Melissa took comfort in verse 25 of her mother's Psalm: "I have never seen the righteous forsaken or their children begging bread." In Exodus 22:22-24 the little man of the house, eight-year-old Josh, claimed the promise of God to defend widows and orphans. Together they bravely walked the pathway of sorrow and along their journey they found "the peace which passes all understanding." It is only God who can provide such peace in the midst of painful sorrow.

Let me just ask you where are you tonight with regard to sorrow. Have you been stuck in the dying of worldly sorrow? Has worldly sorrow choked out the life in you? Or maybe you have just recently felt the pangs of sorrow and are wondering, “What should I do?” “Why is this happening to me?” “I hate feeling this way.” Maybe you’re here tonight and you do not know Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior. Let me ask what each of are going to do? Will you turn to God and Wrestle with him so that he can bring an eventual end to this night of sorrow that you feel? Will you give all that you have and follow Him? Is it time for you to get serious about remembering and being obedient to the things that he had shown you? Are you ready to make a break with sin by confessing it? Are you prepared for the awesome task of confessing your love for Jesus? Are you seeking God’s kingdom in all that you do? Are you ready to throw yourself upon the Grace of God? If you do then I will rejoice, not because I made you feel sorry, but that your sorrow did not suffer loss and led you to repentance and salvation. Let’s pray!