I often go to the Scriptures in the hope to receive encouragement and comfort; as I think we should. And, so often I find the exact encouragement and comfort that I’m looking for in verses like Psalm 3:3-4.
“But you, O Lord, are a shield about me, my glory, and the lifter of my head. I cried aloud to the Lord, and he answered me from his holy hill. Selah” (Psalm 3:3–4, ESV)
But, there are other times that the Bible will just rub me the wrong way. Sometimes God speaks through His word in order to put me in my place. This very thing He does through James in James 4:8-10.
“Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.” (James 4:8–10, ESV)
No human being, in their right mind, is going to initially appreciate the command to “be wretched and mourn and weep” and certainly not after being called a “sinner” and “double minded.” This goes so viciously against the grain of our culture and thinking that we’re destined to have a violent knee-jerk reaction to these words if we’re truly dealing with them. But, what is God actually saying; what is He really trying to do?
Even in the above, uplifting verse, from Psalm 3 we can clearly see a plan that God has to “lift our head.” James is attacking us at the very center of our desire to lift our own head. Think about it, this is the very drive of our culture. Everyone needs to be seeking that which fulfills their own happiness; seeking to lift themselves up. The problem; there is a biblical principle that I think will resonate with us all; when we’re trying to lift ourselves, it removes God from His position of passion over us, to be the “lifter of [our] head.”
James’ direction for us to “let [our] laughter be turned to mourning” also will cause us trouble, as it should. Biblically, we were not created to mourn, we were created to worship. So why would we mourn? Should joy, peace and happiness not be a noble pursuit of life? It’s true that “God so loves the world” and that grief and mourning are not a product of love. It must be that God has a plan for our mourning. But what is His plan?
First, anything that we use to try and find joy and uplifting outside of God himself, including trying to find joy in ourselves, is a waste of time and energy and will be reduced to mourning. God is going to make sure to teach us that seeking joy from anything other than Him is, at its root, idolatry. That’s the whole “double-minded” comment.
Secondly, God is doing everything He can, including allowing difficulties and trials to come, to prove to us that He alone can bring the joy and fulfillment in this life we so desperately seek. Though none of us have any desire to seek mourning, God turns this grief into a tool He can use to get our attention back on Him; the One who can lift us up. This may seem crazy but God will allow mourning to come to us to serve His purpose and for our greater good. Notice this example from the Old Testament:
“And the Lord will scatter you among the peoples, and you will be left few in number among the nations where the Lord will drive you. And there you will serve gods of wood and stone, the work of human hands, that neither see, nor hear, nor eat, nor smell. But from there you will seek the Lord your God and you will find him, if you search after him with all your heart and with all your soul.” (Deuteronomy 4:27–29, ESV)
I’m sure you noticed in the above passage that the Lord “scattered” His people. If you’re wondering, “Why in the world would He do that,” hopefully you noticed that His reasons were that they might seek the Lord and find Him.
So, what’s so great about mourning? Well, nothing in and of itself, unless, God will use it to bring me to the place where He can lift me up! If you’re mourning today, look to God and know you’re an inch away from His uplift which brings inexpressible joy!