Be miserable and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned into mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves in the presence of the Lord, and he will exalt you. (James 4:9-10)
I am presently reading the history of Operation Mobilization, the ministry begun by George Verwer in 1958 while he attended Moody Bible Institute in Chicago. The faith, vision, passion, and evangelistic zeal of this man and others like Walter Borchard and Dale Rhodon who worked with him in the early days humbles me to the dust. I compare myself with them and I am found terribly lacking. The more we grow in grace then the more we begin to see victory over many of the sins of commission that plagued and enslaved us prior to our conversions. At the same time as we mature in Christ we become increasingly aware of our sins of omission, that we have not done the things we ought to have done. We are to love God with all our hearts. We are to love our neighbour as ourselves. We are to make disciples of all the nations. We are to lay up treasures for ourselves in heaven. We are to honour our fathers and our mothers. Oh, my sins of omission!
What are we to do with our regrets? James the apostle writes to shore up the previous revival culture which existed from the day of Pentecost to the time of his writing, some fifteen years later. He wants these Jewish believers to realize how far they have fallen. Likewise, James wants us to see that though we have a name that we are alive, we are dead (Rev. 3:1), that though we think we are rich, we actually are wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked (Rev. 3:17). Starting in verse seven of James 4 the apostle puts forth in quick succession ten aorist, imperative verbs ó submit therefore to God, resist the devil, draw near to God, cleanse your hands you sinners, purify your hearts you double minded, be miserable, mourn, and weep, let your laughter be turned into sorrow, and humble yourselves in the presence of the Lord. This verb construction cannot be replicated in English and is very emphatic. The closest I can come in explaining it is to say it is like a mother who sees her three year old child wander into a busy street and she cries out, 'Stop. Donít go any further. Come back to me right now!'
The moment we read these words commanding us to be miserable, to mourn, to weep, to turn our laughter into sorrow, to humble ourselves before God is when we realize how different Godís ways are from the worldís. The world says, 'Be happy. Donít think bad thoughts. Tell yourself that you are a good person. Donít talk about sin. It is too depressing.' But Jesus makes clear that happiness never comes directly, but indirectly. He says, 'Blessed (or happy) are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted' (Matt. 5:4). Joel says, 'Rend your hearts and not your garments' (Joel 2:13). To be miserable literally means to wretch oneís self, like an alcoholic who finally realizes that he and he alone is responsible for the heartache he has brought his loved ones, that he can no longer blame anyone else for his behaviour. This misery begins deep in the soul and begins to work its way to the surface of our lives. To mourn means to grieve over sin which eventually brings repentance. It is not merely feeling bad about getting caught. To weep over sin is a heartfelt, outward expression of sorrow due to the recognition of a great loss. We see this with Peter when he looks into the eyes of Jesus after denying him three times (Luke 22:60-62). Luke tells us that Peter wept bitterly. To turn laughter to sorrow and joy to gloom is like a gregarious father who has been neglecting his ten year old son due to his work schedule, who begins to notice rebellion and other ungodly attitudes in his son, who then realizes that his neglect is a major contributor. This is like David after Nathan says to him, 'Thou art the man!' and David repents with weeping, acknowledging that it is against God alone that he has sinned (Psa. 51:3). And to humble oneís self before God is to bow down low before him, confessing that he is God and we are not, that we have drifted from him, that we have rebelled against him.
As you look at your life, as you consider your sins of omission, do they make you miserable? Do you mourn and weep over them? Does your laughter turn to sorrow and your joy to gloom? What are your specific regrets? Take a moment and think back over your life. What are they? To be sure, if you are in Christ Jesus these sins are forgiven. You may still be living with the consequences of your forgiven sin. David lived with them the rest of his life. But still, what about those regrets? Is there anything you can do about them? Consider what Paul tells the Corinthians (2 Cor. 7:10). He wrote them a severe letter than brought upon them sorrow. He tells them that he is glad that it brought godly sorrow, that human sorrow eventually leads to death but godly sorrow leads to repentance without regret. Isnít that marvellous! Do you want to rid yourself of regrets, especially the failure to do what you should have done? The only way to have godly sorrow is to be miserable, to mourn, to weep, and to humble yourself before the Lord. Godly sorrow is exactly what James is after in this passage.
So, how practically do you remove your regrets? Ask the Holy Spirit to reveal to you your sins of omission, especially the depth and pervasive nature of them, the root of various idols that led to them. And then ask the Holy Spirit to give you the grace of misery, mourning, weeping, sorrow, gloom, and humility. This godly sorrow will lead you to repentance without regret.
One last thing ó how does God do it? As Jesus breathed his last on the cross he said, 'It is finished' (John 19:30). By this he was not referring to the mere misery he experienced while on earth. He was not exulting that his suffering was soon over, though clearly these things were true. He was referring to the fact that all the prophecies concerning his death were then accomplished. He was saying that the purpose of his coming, to die for our sins, was complete. He was saying that the wrath of God was removed from us in his propitiation (Rom. 3:25ff, 1 John 2:1-2; 4:10). He was saying that though we had been enemies of God we have been reconciled through Christís fleshly body in death, that we are now presented before him holy, blameless, and beyond reproach (Col. 1:15ff). And he is saying that though we were far off, held under the devilís sway, living without God and without hope in this world (Eph. 2:1-13) God has redeemed us (to buy back) by Christís blood (Eph. 1:7). As the high priest annually approached the mercy seat in the tabernacle where the two tablets of the Law were housed, where the Shekinah (Godís glorious presence) dwelt, he would sprinkle the blood of a bull on the mercy seat, symbolically removing the just wrath and condemnation of God for sin, pointing to the day when the Lord Jesus, that perfect, unblemished sacrifice would die once and for all for his people. Jesus exterminated our sins in his body on the cross.
Dear one, you continue to live with regret because you fail to mourn and grieve over your sin, because you fail to contemplate the horror and glory of the cross of Christ. Paul tells us that God works all things together for good to those who love God (Rom. 8:28). That includes your sin. There is no reason why you cannot live free from past regrets, but it comes only in Godís way ó be miserable, mourn, weep, turn your laughter to sorrow and your joy to gloom, humble yourself in the sight of God. And then look deeply at the work of Christ ó his propitiation, reconciliation, and redemption. Indeed, godly sorrow leads to repentance without regret, the only way to freedom of conscience.
Rev. Allen M Baker is Pastor of Christ Community Presbyterian Church in West Hartford, Connecticut.
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