I just finished reading Lamentations. It contains one of my favorite passages in the Scriptures: “Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.” (3:22-23) Practically every morning, I recite these words in praise and thanks to the Lord.
However, like so many of us, I am not really drawn to the rest of the book. It lives up to its name; it is full of lament, and westerners generally are not ones to lament for anything. Complain, yes, lament, not so much. In the biblical sense, lamenting is pouring our grief out before the Lord. Usually, when we think of grief, we think of mourning the death of someone close to us, but Jeremiah was not mourning a death, but rather the disobedience of the Israelites and its consequences (i.e., exile to Babylon and the destruction of Jerusalem).
Unlike other times I have read Lamentations, this time it resonated with me and convicted me. I am often critical of the local church for what I see as failing its mission to make disciples, but it occurred to me that I have never really lamented about it, been so grieved that I cry out to the Lord. There is a huge difference. One is focused on gathering evidence and using it to argue that changes are in order. It can be very passionate. The other is full of compassion and longing for change. It is quite like the plea of Jesus on the Cross: “Forgive them Father for they do not know what they are doing.” (Luke 23:34)
Although it is the Christmas season and, of all years, we are looking to be cheered up, I think it may be more appropriate to lament. Jesus came to this world to establish the Kingdom of God. He set out its qualities in what we know as the Beatitudes:
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
“Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
“Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
“Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.
“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
“Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
“Blessed are you when people insult you,persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me.
“Rejoice and be glad,because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you. (Matthew 5:3-12)
The Church is to be full of people whose lives reflect these attributes, and, thus, each of us who claim to be a follower of Jesus. During this pandemic season, I have reflected on my own life and have realized how far short I come in resembling the person about whom Jesus says will be blessed. That has been a blessing in and of itself because acknowledging this fact does not mean I am condemned. It merely means I am seeing my life as God sees it, rather than pretending otherwise. He is full of mercy, as Jeremiah acknowledges, but he wants us to acknowledge the truth about ourselves. And the truth is that we all fall short, so we should never become full of ourselves. Humility, I believe, is the first step to becoming the people Jesus said would be blessed. And because we have these Kingdom attributes, we will be able to stand up, and even rejoice, when we are persecuted, whether by individuals or by the government.
Sadly, however, during the past year I have not seen much humility from many believers across this nation. Granted, I don’t know everyone and I am sure there are those who have humbled themselves before the Lord in confession and repentance. However, just reading and observing over the months of this pandemic, I don’t sense a national movement toward humility before the Lord. It is for this I lament. If there ever was a time for humble reflection before the Lord, this year has been it. Yet, many of us, have been content with, as the Brits would say, muddling through, hoping it will all be over soon.
I lament because the Lord has given us a wonderful opportunity to recalibrate our lives and our churches to be more in line with the ways of the Kingdom, and I am afraid we are ignoring it.
I lament because of what we have made church—spectating and singing rather than worshiping.
I lament how we have exchanged worship for entertainment.
I lament how we have made politics a test of fellowship.
I lament how we have focused on our rights as opposed to the needs of others.
I lament that we often make God into what we want him to be rather than allowing him to transform us into the people he created us to be.
I lament how the witness of the Church has repelled so many rather than drawing people to the Lord.
And I lament for how I have often fallen into some of these attitudes during my life as a believer.
Yes, this is the holiday season and we want to enjoy ourselves as much as possible given how dreadful the year has been, but perhaps the Lord would be more pleased if we humble ourselves and lament for our own shortcomings and for those of our churches. That just might be the best Christmas gift to him in 2020, and pave the way for a revival in our hearts and minds in 2021.
© Jim Musser 2020. All Scripture references are from the New International Version, 2011.