Godly sorrow

Psalm 119:136 “My eyes shed streams of tears, because people do not keep your law.”

Some emotions we would rather avoid, and one of them is sorrow.  No one likes to feel sad.  Sadness is usually associated with loss; perhaps loss of health, or property, or life.  There are various degrees of sadness, ranging from “feeling the blues” perhaps over something that you just can’t put your finger on, to grief over the loss of a friend or family member, to chronic depression brought on by a wide range of emotional stressors.  

But have you ever felt significant sadness over sin in peoples’ lives, either your own sin, sin in the life of someone you care about, or sin as a general observation in the society in which you live?  We can be quick to become angry over wrongs done to us or to others, but how often do we feel real sorrow.  King David’s grief was profound over his sin with Bathsheba.  He talks about the loss of the joy of his salvation as the ugliness of his sin weighed heavily on him. He knew that he had grieved God, and because he loved God, he was truly sorrowful over how his actions had affected his relationship with his Savior.  Lot, while he lived in Sodom, was “greatly distressed by the sensual conduct of the wicked (2 Peter 2:7).”  Jeremiah, the weeping prophet, wept continually over the sin of Israel and the coming judgment the nation faced. Likewise, Jesus wept over the city of Jerusalem as he mourned the fact that they had rejected him, their only hope of salvation, and because of this they were headed for great judgment (Luke 19:41-44). 

Jesus taught us that godly sorrow that leads to repentance is a good thing, and a prerequisite to forgiveness and the blessedness of those who mourn (Matthew 5:4).  Sin grieves the heart of God. Likewise, it should grieve the hearts of those who love him – either sin in their own lives, or sin in the lives of others.  Sin robs people of joy and reaps pain, and the ultimate result for the unbeliever is hell.  If we know and believe this, any sin in someone’s life should fill or heart with sorrow, and that sorrow should affect our prayers. It will also affect our attitude towards the people around us, leading us toward compassion and love, rather than anger and judgmental self-righteousness. 

Like the tax collector in Luke 18, our prayers should look more like “Lord, be merciful to me, a sinner” and “Lord be merciful to other people I know who have sin in their lives and lead them to repentance and the blessing that is sure to come as a result.”    Compare that to the prayer of the self-righteous Pharisee of Luke 18: “God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector.  I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.”  In this account, Jesus reminds us “I tell you, this man (i.e., the tax collector) went down to his house justified, rather than the other.”

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