When All You Can do is Weep

When we feel powerless in the face of tragedy and wickedness, there is still one thing we can do.

“Go throughout the city of Jerusalem and put a mark on the foreheads of those who grieve and lament over all the detestable things that are done in it” (Ezekiel 9:4).

The fall of 2017 has been a cascade of catastrophe. Hurricanes have devastated significant areas of Texas, Florida, Puerto Rico, other Caribbean islands, and most recently, Mexico and the Gulf Coast of the US. An earthquake in Mexico City claimed 200+ lives. In Southeast Asia over 1,200 lost their lives and over 41 million people have been affected by monsoon rains that have brought flooding and landslides. Even more troubling than natural disasters are those tragedies that have resulted from human aggression. Terrorist attacks and random acts of violence continue, seeming to escalate in scale. For a list that will take your breath away, look at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_terrorist_incidents_in_2017 for a compilation of day-by-day attacks around the world. Then there was Las Vega massacre of October 1 when Stephen Paddock killed at least 58 people and wounded over 500 in the worst mass shooting in United States history.

Some would interpret all these events as signs of the End Times. While, indeed, Jesus could return at any moment, I see these as signs that our world needs Jesus’ followers to pray and serve as we never have before. God’s people have often been at the forefront in giving their time, money and caring compassion to help in times of crisis. That is good, and it must increase. It may be, however, that in certain circumstances, all we can do is weep, grieving over the heartache and suffering the world inflicts on humanity, crying out to God over the brokenness and profound alienation that wreak havoc on human hearts, minds and bodies.

I’m not one given to passivity or inactivity. I want to “fix” situations. My dad always, “Don’t create problems. Solve them.” There are many situations, however, where I don’t have the power, the authority, the resources, the intelligence, or the influence to do anything. And who can “fix” the human heart bent on evil? Who is able to see into the deeply, deeply troubled minds behind these random acts to bring healing and wholeness? We cannot create enough “security arrangements” to prevent all those who truly want to do harm from perpetrating their wicked schemes. What now?

The situation described in The Book of Ezekiel in the Old Testament shows the power of continuing to care in the face of a heartless, cruel, and often godless (or worshiping-the-wrong-gods) world. Around 597 B. C. the prophet Ezekiel was taken into exile in Babylon (over 900 miles from Jerusalem) at the time when God was finally bringing judgement against his idolatrous people. Their persistent disobedience and continual refusal to repent was resulting in the logical and natural consequences God had warned would come. What gives me hope as I read this passage, however, is that God would have mercy on those who continued to honor and love him and who continued to show compassion, yearning for repentance and new life for their loved ones, neighbors and friends. We read this in Ezekiel 91-4:

Then I heard [The LORD] call out in a loud voice, “Bring near those who are appointed to execute judgment on the city, each with a weapon in his hand.” And I saw six men coming from the direction of the upper gate, which faces north, each with a deadly weapon in his hand. With them was a man clothed in linen who had a writing kit at his side. They came in and stood beside the bronze altar. Now the glory of the God of Israel went up from above the cherubim, where it had been, and moved to the threshold of the temple. Then the Lord called to the man clothed in linen who had the writing kit at his side 4 and said to him, “Go throughout the city of Jerusalem and put a mark on the foreheads of those who grieve and lament over all the detestable things that are done in it.”  (NIV)

The man in linen was to mark those weep. What has always moved me most deeply about this passage is that the Lord notices our tears. There are many verses that have this same message.

“Record my misery; list my tears on your scroll; are they not in your record?” (Psalm 56:8 New International Version NIV). The King James Version says, “…put thou my tears into thy bottle: are they not in thy book?”

“For the Lamb which is in the midst of the throne shall feed them, and shall lead them unto living fountains of waters: and God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes” (Revelation 7:17 NIV).

“And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away” (Revelation 21:4 NIV).

In Ezekiel 9 we read that in the midst of judgment, the Lord instructed his executioners “…touch no one on whom is the mark” (Ezekiel 9:6). This echoes the Passover account in Exodus 12 when the Angel of Death passed over the homes of the Israelites who had offered the sacrifice of the lamb and put the blood on their door frames. In Ezekiel, God’s mercy extended to those who grieved over the godlessness, idolatry and disobedience of the people around them. Those who grieved did not retaliate in anger against those in sin. They brought their broken hearts to the Lord.

We cannot control the world that has rejected God and gone its own way. We cannot control other people who’ve done the same. We can, however, continue to keep our hearts soft.  Bob Pierce, founder of World Vision, said, “Let my heart be broken with the things that break the heart of God.” That is a powerful prayer. It may, as in Bob’s case, move us to action. At the very least, it moves us to bearing the burden of the Lord’s heart in our hearts in this fallen world.

Many of us respond more quickly with anger than with an anguished heart.

Or we fall into despair instead of turning to God in “desperate devotion.”

Or we want to take action against people in public instead of bringing our righteous indignation in humility before the Lord in prayer.

Sometimes all you can do is weep, letting your tears fall in prayer. Sometimes all you can do is weep—and that is doing something.

Strength Comes With The Doing

“Be wise at what is good…” Romans 16:19

God deepens our experience of faith through our action.

strength with doing_jason-briscoe-149781
Photo by Jason Briscoe from Unsplash.com

Many of us don’t try something because, at that time, we don’t feel strong enough, wise enough, talented enough, or just-about-anything enough. So we wait—and miss so many opportunities. Life opens up for us when we learn that strength doesn’t come before we begin a task. Strength actually comes with the doing of the task.

Think about exercise: It seems foolish to say it, but you cannot wait until you “get strong” to begin to exercise. Strength is the product of exercise. And it’s important to realize progress in physical exercise is not noticeable immediately. At first, we will feel tired. And then things will change. According to Kenneth H. Cooper, M.D., author of Aerobics, after about six weeks of consistent effort a series of changes happen “all at once” in the body.

In my book, SoulShaping: Taking Care of your Spiritual Life, I tell one of the most famous and amusing experiments demonstrating this. A researcher in exercise and human physiology set a weight on the floor, tied a rope to it, ran the rope over a pulley fastened to the edge of a table, then sat on the other side of the table and looped the rope over the middle finger of his right hand. Then, in time to a metronome, he began lifting the weight. The first time and for many weeks thereafter, the best he could do was 25 lifts before his finger became fatigued. To expand the experiment, he had a mechanic in the building lift the weight occasionally, in the same manner, and the mechanic always beat him. One day, about two months later, the researcher began his usual lifts, but found his finger wasn’t tired at 25. He kept going and ultimately reached 100. He suspected what had happened, and brought the experiment to a rather unorthodox conclusion. He invited the mechanic in again and made a small bet that he could best him. The mechanic accepted—and lost.

What the researcher suspected was the vascularization of his finger muscles–more blood vessels had opened up, creating new routes for delivering more oxygen. What was most interesting was that they apparently didn’t open up one at a time but a network at a time. Physiologists call this “the training effect.”

Athletes report similar “plateaus of progress,” improving not only day by day, but in quantum jumps. This vascularization is the most essential factor in building endurance. It reduces fatigue in the skeletal muscles, saturating the tissue with oxygen and carrying away more wastes. It is a vital factor in the health of the heart, the most important muscle of all.  More or larger blood vessels supplying the heart tissue with energy-producing oxygen considerably reduce the chances of any cardiac failure.  And even if a heart attack were to occur, the improved blood supply would help to keep the surrounding tissue healthy and improve chances for a speedy recovery.

Consider an analogy in the spiritual realm. Spiritual experience shows a similar correlation to physical conditioning.  After sustained discipline, our spiritual lives respond and deepen with increased vitality and sensitivity to God’s presence and direction. Likewise, when we step out in faith, only then do we experience the reality of faith. When we make a commitment to sacrificial giving or to serving or to regular discipleship—only then do our hopes turn into reality.

For “physical exercise has some value, but godliness is valuable in every way. It holds promise for the present life and for the life to come” (1 Timothy 4:8)

Here’s the principle: Strength comes with the doing. If no demand is made, no strength is supplied! Paul wrote,

“Do you not know that all the runners in a stadium compete, but only one receives the prize? So run to win. Each competitor must exercise self-control in everything. They do it to receive a perishable crown, but we an imperishable one. 26 So I do not run uncertainly or box like one who hits only air. Instead I subdue my body and make it my slave, so that after preaching to others I myself will not be disqualified” (1 Corinthians 9:24-27 New English Translation).

If you want to experience spiritual vitality, put yourself in a place where a demand is made upon you. Bring Jesus Christ into your conversation. Say yes to mentoring a child or young person who has just begun walking with Jesus. Reach out to a neighbor in need. Pray with a person for a problem they have.

When we step out in faith, our faith grows. When we step out, we will be amazed at our experience of God’s presence. It may not–in fact usually does not–come in a dramatic way. It may not happen all at once– remember the training effect. But there will be a sense of peace and confidence that you’ve done the right thing, and God is pleased.

Achieving strength and competence takes time. But that time brings a huge return on investment.

“Your obedience is known to all and thus I rejoice over you. But I want you to be wise in what is good and innocent in what is evil. The God of peace will quickly crush Satan under your feet. The grace of our Lord Jesus be with you” (Romans 16:19-20).