As a church, we just finished walking through a series called Breathing Room where we were encouraged to create space in our lives so that we would be better balanced people. Because, when there is a Lack of balance in life it often leads to a misordering of priorities… And our relationship with Christ is often the first one to be demoted.
I don’t know how you responded to each of those sermons, but on the week when we talked about creating space in our schedule, my blood pressure started to rise and my anxiety started going up thinking about all the things that needed to be done and the little amount of time I had to get them all done. As a grad student in seminary in Harrisburg, a staff person at our church, a father of a one year old, and a husband to bethany… life gets pretty busy. There’s always something that needs to be done. And so, naturally, I got a little stressed out hearing about it. I started clenching my teeth… pinching my skin a little bit… it was rough.
The reality is, there are certain words that impact us… some cause stress when we hear them. For everyone they’re a little different, but I came up with a list that might cause you stress: In high school and in college: try outs. game day. study. finals. research paper. party. At other times in life: budgets. evaluations. change his diaper. Taxes. Do you think we should… I don’t care, you decide. Time management. That is your responsibility… or worse… That was your responsibility.
Other words may cause us to feel a little bummed out. Slow internet. Traffic. For students: School is NOT canceled. For parents: School IS canceled. And depending on who your favorite team is… the word superbowl may bum you out. Words elicit memories… experiences… images of things from the past… maybe they’re our experiences, or someone elses experience that we know about.
Some words may cause our hearts to mourn… Divorce. Death. Downsizing. I just want to be friends. Cancer. . We regret to inform you…
a person who understood fear and mourning and anxiety was David. David was the King of Israel and he wrote many Psalms. And for him these words may have brought up stuff… Saul. Cave. Gath. Those words connect to an experience in his life that was particularly difficult.
Let’s take a step back and remember that David was a shepherd boy growing up, and then God said he was going to be the future king… and then he kept being a shepherd and living his life, ends up killing Goliath, even though he was the least likely candidate… He then finds himself in the house of the current king of Israel, Saul.
Under Saul, David was a great warrior, but almost a little too good… you know? You might remember the account when Israel came back from battle, and the women sang “Saul has killed his thousands, and David his tens of thousands. So Saul starts getting a little nervous that David is trying to overtake the throne, that the people like David a little better… and he’s afraid David will get the throne. So he does the only thing a person can do in that situation… tries to kill David. And so David… runs!
It’s bad. Being hunted. I’ve never been hunted myself, but I’ve woken up from dreams that I was being hunted in… and that was bad enough that if I have a choice about it, I won’t ever be hunted in real life.
But David’s being hunted, and he runs and gets a sword… turns out it’s Goliath’s sword… and he runs out of Israel into the city of Gath to hide. Turns out Gath is a Philistine city, which is where Goliath was from… so that was a little awkward… and so David walks in carrying the sword of Goliath hoping to seek refuge in Gath. It was his last chance at survival. There were no other options. You can already see the fear and anxiety he’s facing.
As soon as they see him, they recognize him and David can tell that they’re not thrilled that he’s there… so he does what anyone in that situation would do… so he starts drooling, clawing at the door, and acting like a madman. Then he escapes to a cave nearby. Alone. No one with him. Crying out to God. Wondering if there is any hope for him at all. Or is this it? Is it all over.
And here’s what David says to God in this cave he’s found himself in: Psalm 56. (NLT)
The first thing this Psalm points to is a tension that we all have to live with and each one of us knows is true: God may allow people who follow him to suffer. God is powerful enough to do anything, God brought our universe into existence from nothing… God raised jesus from the dead, but God does not always exert the fullness of his power in the caves of our lives. And we can’t fully understand why that is. We can think about it, hypothesize about it… libraries of books have been written on the subject. We don’t know.
but when we’re in a cave, whether we’re there because of something in our own lives or something in someone else’s life… God cares. God cares a lot.
What I love about the poetry we find in the Psalms is how it helps us understand ideas. The author could have simply said, “God cares” and he would have been right. And in places, that’s how the biblical authors communicate. 1 Peter 5:7 – “Cast your cares on him, and he will take care of you.” But the image of God keeping track of ALL of our sorrow? God collecting all of our tears in a bottle? The Lord records them all in his book. This tells us the truth about God’s compassion: When we’re in a tough spot, a cave of sorts in our own lives… God is right there by our side. Nothing on our hearts is so small that God doesn’t care about them.
Sometimes we might feel like our pain or our sorrow is insignificant. God doesn’t care that my friend didn’t call me. He’s got more important things to do. God doesn’t care that I didn’t get the promotion, there are people starving in the world.
but The tears in Psalm 56 aren’t just the literal tears people shed. They represent all kinds of negative personal thoughts and feelings that we might experience. I believe that stretches out to anywhere in our lives that we feel off. Like feeling like there’s no way out of a situation. Feeling like the marriage will never get any better. Worries about the future. Fear about our ability to provide for our families. Fear that our children will make mistakes that impact their whole lives. Fear that our parents don’t make the right decisions. Frustration about the way the political system or the justice system in our country. Disappointment in ourselves for rebelling from God in the corners of our heart. Sadness about the poverty seen across the world and even in our own back yards. Disappointment that a friendship didn’t last through a challenging season. Questioning decisions we made. Even when we hurt because of the hopelessness we see in the lives of people we love and people we don’t even know. Each one of those are caves of our lives.
And Psalm 56 tells us that God’s compassion reaches to every single tear our hearts shed. None of them are neglected, none of them forgotten, none of them hit the floor because they are “not that big of a deal.”
I suspect that many of us here today are sitting in a cave that no one else even knows about. We just carry along… sometimes because it’s too hard to talk about… sometimes because we’re afraid what someone else might say or because it feels “unimportant.” God collects the tears no one even knows we’re shedding. Even the ones we later wish we hadn’t shed. God cares too deeply about us to let sit alone in our pain. Whatever your tears are, take comfort in the knowledge of God’s compassion on you and his presence with you.
There’s more revealed here about God’s compassion, too. It doesn’t end with him sitting beside you collecting your tears and then calling it a day when you’re done. Psalm 56:8 (NLT). The word that we see translated as “bottle” can also be accurately translated as “wineskins.” That may not seem like a significant change, because they both hold liquid… But here’s the thing about wineskins… they were not just storage containers for wine, like a bottle. Wineskins held wine that were in the fermentation process. Wineskins held the juice that would later become the wine. It protects the wine from wild elements like yeast entering in and ruining it, and it allows the air built up in the process to escape from the top making sure the transformation could happen. Going into the wineskin, the wine was unfinished… it needed more time in an environment like a wineskin, to finish the process to become the product at the end that people desired. Good wine.
God does not only sit with us in our tears, God does something miraculous with them. He transforms them into something beautiful. Our tears don’t stay as tears. I think that’s what Paul meant when he says we can (Romans5:3-4 NIV) “glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. “. He wants us to recognize that the stuff in life that is undesirable is transformed by God for His glory.
I think we’d all agree that it’d be nice if the transformation of our tears always ended up the way we hoped it would, but as I’m sure you are mildly aware, that’s not the case. Sometimes God transforms our tears by changing our perspective. For example, in 9th grade I was in a long term relationship. And when Jill called it off, I was devastated! I was in love! Didn’t that month mean anything to her? … looking back, that was a really important moment in my life that I’m thankful for because very shortly after there was a window of time that opened that gave me an opportunity to meet a really pretty blonde girl who loved Jesus Christ more than I did.she inspired me in my faith and encouraged me in my life… She helped me follow Gods call, and when I asked her to marry me, she said yes. My tears were transformed through a change of perspective.
Sometimes God transforms our tears by lifting us out of our situation. Sometimes people are healed. Sometimes the surgery works. Sometimes we defy all odds and do something that people thought was impossible.
But every time, no matter what, God will transform our tears by giving us the strength we need to keep going. In Philippians 4, Paul tells the church to rejoice in the Lord always. And then he goes on to explain this… (Philippians 4:11-13 NIV) “I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength. (Philippians 4:11-13 NIV). Paul can rejoice all the time because Christ gives him the strength.
God’s love causes Him to be present with us in all of our tears, tracking each one of them with the utmost care, and transforming them into the strength we need to press on.
If God sees our tears and is moved to transform them… to alleviate our suffering by at the very least giving us the strength we need to keep going… how do we collect the tears of those in our lives who find themselves in a cave? Let’s be real here, if that’s what God does, and Jesus and the Father are one, and Christians are called to imitate Christ in everything we do, then that means we’ve got to collect the tears of people who are shedding them.
Here are three ways we can partner with God in collecting tears:
Communicating care – likely, we do care, but if we don’t communicate our care, the person in a cave isn’t encouraged. Whether it’s through visiting, praying, sending a card, or offering a listening ear… feeling cared for is essential. Because in the cave, we can feel totally alone and we may begin to wonder if anyone cares about what we’re going through. Does God care? When we communicate that we care, we are offering that person part of the strength they need to keep going.
Assisting in other areas of life – I’m not saying anything that is surprising to any of you, I’m sure, but when we’re in a cave… life can kind of seem overwhelming. When we are in a crisis, more time is required to deal with the crisis. Sometimes that extra time might be needed to solve the problem, other times the extra time may be needed to breathe. Sometimes, that extra time is needed to share with the person who communicated care to us by offering a listening ear. Because of this extra time, those regular tasks that need to be done can make it even more challenging to move on. Assisting in other areas of life may mean taking a meal to someone. It may mean inviting a person and their family to our house for dinner. It may mean offering to give them a night off from their children. It may mean shoveling their walks or taking down their Christmas lights. By doing this, we help them to create the breathing room they need to move on.
Eliminating the tears – There are times, not often, but occasionally, when we will know someone is going through something that we have the means to fix. Maybe this is through our connections, sometimes it is through a skill set or knowledge. A simple example is a friend who loses a job, and me being able to get them an interview because of a connection I have with someone who is hiring. Someone’s car breaks down, and I can fix it for them, at no cost. Eliminating the tears isn’t always an option, and to be honest, it’s not always the option that the person needs, but at times, it is exactly what is needed.
It is up to you to work out what this looks like in your life. It’s up to you to figure out Who you can come alongside of and offer support to. But my hope is that each one of us considers how to be part of God’s plan to give others the strength they need to get through a tough situation, and that when we’re in the cave, we recognize God’s presence and the strength he gives us to press on.