The Ministry of Tears
By the bottle-full or the bowl-full
Tears. Tears. Tears. Why so many tears? Why can’t everything be laughter and joy? Even when our own tears are not flowing, we know others whose cheeks are never dry. It is easy to explain a smile, but how do we explain a tear? I’ve heard a tear is made up of salt and lime and other component parts, but such an explanation falls short of expressing the emotion that actually produces the word. Tear (produced when crying) and tear (to pull apart) are spelled the same. There are tears of sorrow, tears of grief, tears of repentance, tears of embarrassment, tears of agony, tears of pain, tears of joy, and so on the list goes. Through the decades many songs have been written about the purpose of tears.
I remember as a child, often when I cried with self-pity or anger, my father would bring a bottle and, with a twinkle in his eye, tell me to cry the bottle full of tears. It was many years before I realized that the phrase, crying a bottle full of tears, actually came from the Psalms.
The Tears of David–A Bottle-Full
David’s tears flowed freely on numerous occasions. He was sorry for his transgressions against God’s law, and he repented with tears. Often he writes in the Psalms, I cried unto the Lord… He was an emotional man! On one occasion, he writes to the Lord: ‘Tell my wanderings; Put my TEARS into your bottle…’ (Psalm 56.8). He knew that God paid attention to every detail. Often it is the ministry of our tears to give an outward demonstration of our inner dependence upon God. Without Him, I am nothing.
The People’s Tears of Repentance–A Bowl-Full
A psalm of Asaph asks: O Lord God Almighty, how long will you be angry against the Prayers of your people? You have fed them with the bread of their tears. You have made them drink TEARS by the bowl-full (Psalm 80.4-5). God’s people had turned away from following after Him and ended up having to live without His provisions. Now aware of what had happened to them, they cried out to Him who is faithful to deliver! Often it is the ministry of tears to confirm our repentance and set us on the right road.
The Sowing of Tears. Reap Joy
Those who have experienced the Lord’s deliverance now pray for the restoration of others. The desire to see friends and loved ones come into the fullness of the Christian life brings forth tears. Those tears touch the very heart of God. ‘They that sow in TEARS shall reap in joy. He that goes forth weeping will return rejoicing bringing sheaves with him (Psalm 126.5-6). Are you praying with tears for those you want to experience salvation and a change of heart and life-style? Then this scripture is your promise for the ministry of those tears.
The Tears of Jeremiah–A Fountain of Tears
The prophet Jeremiah experienced intense grief over the sin of his people. He cried out, Oh that my head were a spring of water and my eyes a fountain of TEARS. I would weep day and night for the slain of my people (Jeremiah 9:I). You can almost see Jeremiah’s swollen eyes and tear-stained face. How many times have you cried for someone who was enslaved by sin and just couldn’t seem to get free?
The Sinner Woman’s Tears–Repentance and Love
The whole town knew that Jesus was at the Pharisee’s house. A woman, who was known as a sinner, came to see Him, and stood at His feet behind Him weeping, and began to wash His feet with tears… (Luke 7.37-38). Great was her love for Jesus. Jesus preached a sermon to the Pharisees which were angry that He allowed the woman to touch Him (7.39). Jesus said, Do you see this woman? I came into your house, you gain me no water for my feet; but she has washed my feet with TEARS, and wiped them with the hairs of her head. You gave me no kiss, but this woman since the time I came in has not ceased to kiss my feet You did not anoint my head with oil, but this woman has anointed my feet. Wherefore,, I say unto you , her sins, which are many, are forgiven; for she loved much…(Luke 7.-45-50). Jesus knows whether our tears are real or self-pity. He knows the condition of our heart. Tears of repentance wash away the bitterness, pain, and grief caused by a life o f sin and abuse and invite Jesus to come and fill the void.
The Tears of Paul–Tears of Humility
The Apostle Paul was not at all embarrassed about his tears. In fact, he makes a point of mentioning them. Sensing that he may be near execution and unable to make another missionary journey, Paul called the Ephesian Church Leaders to meet him in Miletus and admonished them to watch over the church. He reminded them, You know how I lived the whole time I was with you from the first day I came into the province of Asia. I served the Lord with great humility and with TEARS…(Acts 20.17-31).
To the Church at Corinth, Paul wrote: For I wrote to you out of great distress and anguish of heart and with many TEARS, not to grieve you but to let you know the depth of my love for you” (2 Corinthians 2:4).
The Tears of Timothy–Memories
Obviously Paul was quite moved by Timothy’s tears when he wrote to him: Recalling your tears, I long to see you so that I may be filled with joy (2 Timothy 1:4). We don’t really know whether these tears were simply tears shed when Paul and Timothy had to part ways, or just some experiences they had together in church services and other situations. These tears were important enough for Paul to mention them.
The Tears of Jesus
Jesus wept over Jerusalem because they didn’t ‘know the time of their visitation (Luke 19.41). He had come, but they hadn’t really seen Him for Who He was. The shortest verse in the Bible is John 11.35 – Jesus wept. Lazarus’ sisters, Mary and Martha, had called for Jesus to come, but when He arrived Lazarus had already been dead four days. Hebrew tradition had it that after three days the spirit left the body, so the situation seemed to be impossible. Nevertheless, the master spoke, and Lazarus came forth! I’ve often wondered if Jesus wept there because we are to weep with those who weep.
During the days of Jesus’ life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with loud cries and TEARS to the one who could save him from death and he was heard because of His reverent submission (Hebrews 5:7).
Warning–God is not Moved by All Tears
Said of Esau, but a warning to all those who sell their birthright: Afterward, as you know, when he wanted to inherit this blessing he was rejected. He could bring about no change of mind, though he sought the blessing with tears (Hebrews 12.17). For those who reject the Lord on earth, Jesus says, …and angels shall come forth and sever the wicked from among the righteous, and shall cast them into the furnace of fire.– there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth (Matthew 13:49-50). Those tears will be eternal fountains of gushing waters of despair and agony. Tears that come too late.
The Final Tears
Apparently in our eternal home, there will be need for the ministry of tears. It was prophesied by Isaiah: The Sovereign Lord will wipe away the tears from all faces; he will remove disgrace of his people from all the earth. The Lord has spoken! (Isaiah 25.8). And repeated in Revelation: For the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd; he will lead them to springs of living water. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes (Revelation 7.1 7).
There is quite a controversy going on in some circles as to whether tears will reach that eternal shore. It isn’t clear here whether the tears will be wiped away as we cross the Great Divide, or after we are there. What is clear is that God will wipe away ALL tears of those who reach their heavenly home for they will have served their purpose on earth.
(© C. Yvonne Karl, The Alabaster Box, Vol. 9, Number 10 (1994).
EPILOGUE (written in 1999)
About five years after this article was published, my husband of 31 years took his last breath and moved to his Father’s House. Two weeks before his death, our daughter came home with a beautiful, framed, 24×27 painting of Psalm 56:8b: Tell my wanderings: put my tears into Your bottle: are they not in Your book? A couple of days later, my sister drove up from WV to Michigan where we lived and brought me a small, delicate tear bottle she had purchased in Israel. God spoke to me through both gifts that He saw, understood and valued my tears. They were not shed in vain but in grief yet rejoicing.