“I know that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves men will arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after them. Therefore be on the alert, remembering that night and day for a period of three years I did not cease to admonish each one with tears. (Acts 20:28-31)”
Paul was clearly warning the elders at Ephesus that men bent on their own fame and agenda would come swooping in as soon as he left town to draw them away from the simplicity of the gospel. Paul broke down the gospel into two very simple principles a few verses earlier: “repentance toward God and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ”. Nothing more. Nothing less. This is a freedom bigger than many of us are prepared for. It’s so big, in fact, that in the flesh, it’s very easy to drift away from it. Enter, wolves.
Many had already picked up pieces of the gospel and tried to co-opt it for their agenda, taking grace alone and adding to it works. Some said that to follow Christ one would have to first become a Jew via rites and rituals including circumcision. This would have drawn them closer to men, not God (you’ve got to be one of us before you can be one of His). Paul outright condemns this practice and explains in later letters that it’s grace and grace alone via repentance and faith. Repentance turns us away from sin and faith knits us in to God.
Previously, we took a look at how the comparison game clutters the field of our minds with shame, doubt, and fear. Shame, doubt, and fear only take hold when we fall into the familiar rut of man centric thinking (woe is me, look what’s happened to me, why me?) rather than God-centric thinking. Through our troubles, God’s primary purpose and outcome for us is that we would know Him better. (See Eph. 1-16-19) Wallowing in shame, doubt, or fear can quickly become an obstacle to the main thing: knowing God and being fully satisfied in Him.
Roll your eyes and say “whatever that means”, please. But, I struggle with this, myself. In fact, I’m rolling in the deep of it right now.
When things don’t turn out the way we planned or those around us seem to have it all going for them there’s either a gap between expectation and reality or hope and reality. Either way, it’s an unpleasant gap that seeks to wedge itself between us and our Creator. I submit that the best bridge over this gap isn’t jumping into the canyon of anxiety or shame or doubt, but to span the canyon through proper mourning.
What’s So Proper About That?
Huh? “Proper” mourning? Does that mean, putting on your best “Downton Abbey” accent and weeping to your Puppah? Perhaps. But, as we look at some of the greatest mourners in history we find they didn’t ignore the gap or chide themselves “real Christians don’t fall all to pieces over small stuff.” We’re not called to fall to pieces over small stuff. But loss without mourning is self defense. Self defense is self deception. Job lost everything and his friends said nothing more to him for three days than harmonizing with his sobs. Jesus sweat blood in the garden. And, Nehemiah tore his clothes, wept, fasted, and prayed. All of them started with a proper attitude of mourning by simply calling out the gap for what it was.
“When I heard these words, I sat down and wept and mourned for days; and I was fasting and praying before the God of heaven. (Nehemiah 1:4)”
Mourning helps us to know God because it first acknowledges His sovereignty and second, empties our inbox of the demon of minimizing. Granted, these giants of the faith were mourning pretty massive gaps. But, saying “it’s really not a big deal” is tossing dirt in your inbox. Can you imagine? I’ve had a lot of different things in my inbox (even right now), but dirt? I can’t even think of a reason to put dirt there. And, that’s exactly what minimizing the gap does. We weren’t meant to hang on to ungrieved loss, un-mourned gaps between hope and reality or expectation and reality. It’s totally out of place and eventually spills out of our inbox, contaminating our workspace and the floor where we step.
Emptying Your Inbox
I’m big on clearing out clutter. I work on it regularly and even teach it. But, because this is the kind of clutter I can’t see, it takes a little more intentionality than “control, alt, delete”. Sometimes, I have to pull over (even literally) and admit that my disappointment is even worth the time with all I have going on. But, I know while a spoon full of dirt won’t upset my whole inbox, I’m a fool to let pounds and pounds of dirt accumulate for very long.
Proper mourning begins with proper attitude like Jesus, Nehemiah, Job, even David had – calling the loss by name without minimizing, denying, blaming, or excusing it. From there, processing it is like a really important phone call with God.
It can go like this: repeat after me – “God, it’s me [again]. I’m a little [anxious/ashamed/fearful/disappoointed] about x. This isn’t how I planned it. This isn’t what I wanted. Show me more of who You are in the midst of disappointment. Turn my disappointment with this moment into an appointment with You. I’m listening.” And, then, seriously listen. You’ll never catch a revelation on the run. Nehemiah had a lot to mourn about – so he fasted, wailed, and communed with God for days. Your situation may be much less consequential and thus warrant far fewer tears and skipped meals. But, it’s no less personal [pause…] nor valid.
It’s your inbox. Let’s clean out the clutter, shall we?in Christ,