I have to admit that this is a topic that I still have a great deal to learn about – but I’m seeing more and more how vital it is to a healthy walk with Christ.
None of us want to experience sorrow. It’s painful, uncomfortable, disconcerting – all kinds of things that we construe as negative. But we need to understand that in God’s ecomony even those kinds of things can be and are redeemed for His good purposes. I’ve had my share of sorrows, both circumstancially and personally (because of sin issues). This last week I walked through one of those times where I was confronted with my own sinfulness in a particular area – and the Lord was gracious enough to lead me to what I feel is a place of true repentance – a place where real change begins to happen.
The primary text that I think fits this topic is found in 2 Corinthians chapter 7. In that passage Paul addresses a sorrow that the Corinthian believers experienced because of a stern letter (probably exhortive or confrontational) he had previously written to them. Though the circumstances in their situation no doubt differ from yours or mine, there’s a great deal of value in the principles Paul lays out for us…
8 Even if I caused you sorrow by my letter, I do not regret it. Though I did regret it—I see that my letter hurt you, but only for a little while— 9 yet now I am happy, not because you were made sorry, but because your sorrow led you to repentance. For you became sorrowful as God intended and so were not harmed in any way by us. 10 Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death. 11 See what this godly sorrow has produced in you: what earnestness, what eagerness to clear yourselves, what indignation, what alarm, what longing, what concern, what readiness to see justice done. At every point you have proved yourselves to be innocent in this matter. 12 So even though I wrote to you, it was not on account of the one who did the wrong or of the injured party, but rather that before God you could see for yourselves how devoted to us you are. 13 By all this we are encouraged.
Some of the valuable principles I see in this passage:
- Sorrow has the potential to lead to repentance – true repentance. I believe that we only change a sinful behavior in our lives when the full gravity of its effects weigh upon us. That’s what happened to me this past week. I saw the damaging, hurtful, terrible consequences of something I was in the habit of doing. Specifically I saw the damage it was having on people who I love, and it truly broke my heart. It filled me with sorrow. It caused something inside me to “click” into a mode of thinking and behavior that realized in totality what I had been doing, and raised up a fully orbed desire to change. Someone once told me that we can’t fully repent of something until we fully understand its consequences and impact on us and the world around us. I believe that – it’s what I think Paul means when he refers to it as “godly sorrow.”
- This kind of sorrow “leaves no regret” – it is a cleansing sort of thing. That’s where I’d say the value of a “good cry” comes in. When we’ve cried it all out in true sorrow and have fully repented – there’s a sense of peace and cleansing that follow. It’s a sensation and a calm “knowing” that we are forgiven and set on the right course that is powerful and life-changing.
- That has already lead us to the next step – the place of change. Look carefully at what Paul wrote. This kind of repentance leads us to a very concerted desire to make things right…. to change behaviors, to make restitution if needed, to heal the wounds we may have caused others. Something about the way it works out in our souls gives us not only the motivation to change (we’ve all had that at times and still failed in our efforts to change), but also the power to change. Here’s the mysterious part (to me). I don’t know exactly what it is that clicks inside us and causes the true change (besides the Spirit of God honoring our true repentance), but I’m glad it’s there. It’s really the only hope of change in many cases… I know it has to do with true humility, etc.
This place of sorrow, when we need to come to it, is a very powerful place, even though it’s something we try to avoid. My wife and I have been privileged to lead people in a kind of counseling that we’ve learned to call “prayer counseling” that has proven to be very instrumental in healing relationships and helping people change. A huge component of it is in seeing people come to this place of honest, nothing-held-back repentance about their own failings and sins. It brings a cleansing that lasts and a power to change that I’ve not seen provided anywhere else. And it’s all fueled by the work of the Spirit in uncovering things that went underground long ago. I praise Him for that kind of work. Another aspect of that type of approach is to move through the process of fully forgiving wrongs done to you – another difficult, but related issue. If you’d like to know more about the process we typically use – I’d be glad to interact on that…
So here’s what I’d encourage:
- Don’t avoid this kind of introspection or repentance. Let the Spirit of God lead you in it. It’s very difficult, and you may feel at times like the sorrow of it is more than you can bear. But God’s grace will see you through to a greater sense of freedom and resolve than you’ve previously experienced if you’ll trust Him to take you there.
- Don’t try to do this alone. Find someone who can help you be honest in the process. Our tendency is to down-play our sinfulness or failings instead of freely and fully admitting them. You need someone who is wise, objective, and willing to speak the truth about what you uncover, so that you can confess and deal with things as the really are – not as you’ve imagined them to be.
As always, thanks for reading, considering, and praying about what I post here… Your readership means a TON to me…