praying our tears...


i listened to tim keller’s excellent sermon on “praying our tears” while i walked during rosie’s cross country practice. so good. in it he says that the psalms offer us the BEST idea of what to do with our feelings... religiousity tells us to stuff our feelings. modern culture tells us to dump them out and make them the basis of our every decision... psalms offers us a third alternative- to pray our tears. 

dr. keller’s texts come out of Psalms 39 and 126:

 Hear my prayer, O LORD, listen to my cry for help; be not deaf to my weeping. 

 For I dwell with you as an alien, a stranger, as all my fathers were.  

Look away from me, that I may rejoice again before I depart and am no more.  (Psalm 39:12-13)

 When the LORD brought back the captives to Zion, we were like men who dreamed.  

Our mouths were filled with laughter, our tongues with songs of joy.  

Then it was said among the nations, ‘The LORD has done great things for them.’  

The LORD has done great things for us, and we are filled with joy.  

Restore our fortunes, O LORD, like streams in the Negev.  

Those who sow in tears will reap with songs of joy.  

He who goes out weeping carrying seed to sow, 

will return with songs of joy carrying sheaves with him.  

(Psalm 126:1-6)

 if we are to honor God with our tears/suffering/grief, there are three things we can do: 

  1. expect tears
  1. invest tears 
  1. and pray our tears.


it’s a Christian myth to believe that God won’t bring bad times into our lives.  it is a Christian myth that i liked. however we live in a fallen world where things go wrong, but there are times when things go wrong and we’ve not done anything wrong ourselves.  there are times when becoming a believer may actually lead us to weep more. Ezekiel 11:19 states that God exchanges our hearts of stone for hearts of flesh. because of the gospel, we not only soften to the grief in our own lives, but also in the lives of others.  Christ, was called Man of sorrows, who was acquainted with grief Himself (Isaiah 53:3).  if we truly seek to be like Christ, then we truly seek to have times of sorrows...

if we don’t expect tears as Christians, we can expect to weep over two things: the thing that has caused us to weep and the weeping itself. i don’t want to weep over two things. i can barely handle weeping over one thing. so expect tears. and weep only over the thing that has caused me to weep. and know that it is my heart of flesh that is why i weep. it is a good thing to weep over things that God Himself wept over. weeping over my lack of linen closet? not a good thing.


while religiosity causes us to avoid our tears and the secular view forces us to dump them, the gospel teaches us to plant our tears.  the only way to return with songs of joy, as the psalmist poetically reminds us, is to go out weeping by carrying seed to sow (Psalm 126:5-6).  as we invest our money, it is best to invest with fruitfulness and growth as the goal, so we invest with purpose.  we don’t just sit on the money and we don’t dump it all in one place as soon as we get our hands on the funds. same with our tears. we invest them into something that we will not see soon. but something that we hope for in the future. not a baseless hope. but a hope based on every promise that Christ has made. He has promised to turn our mourning into dancing. 

there is a joy that only comes from a time of grieving, and we’ve come to realize that only in the gospel, our tears eventually give way to joy:

For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us and eternal glory that far outweighs them all. 

(2 Corinthians 4:17)

i heard something recently that has really encouraged me... there are some joys that are only seen after tears. those are the most joyful of all joys. i don’t know where i heard it, but it made my tears seem more like investments. into future joys. that wouldn’t have ever been possible unless there had first been tears sown. so i don’t cry... i invest my tears. i expect a great reward of joy.


bringing our tears before the Lord has a way of transforming both the tears and the weeper. we’re used to hearing the Psalms end in bursts of triumph, trust or peace, but in this Psalm 39 we see just the opposite.  these last two verses seem to end in complete theological incorrectness:

 Hear my prayer, O LORD, listen to my cry for help; be not deaf to my weeping.  

For I dwell with you as an alien, a stranger, as all my fathers were.  

Look away from me, that I may rejoice again before I depart and am no more.  (Psalm 39:12-13)

the psalmist BEGS God to look away from him. we have the assurance that even if we come to the point where we are BEGGING God to look away from us that God can’t/won’t do that. how do we know? because this is one thing Christ died for... He died and was forsaken by God in our place. God shouldn’t be able to look at us in our sin and filth. but He does and He can and He will because Christ took on that sin and God looked away from Him the way we deserve. and He will never take His eyes off of us. but how bold it is for the psalmist to pray this prayer. and why would it be in the Scriptures? 

dr. keller shared a quote that he had read by derek kidner about this psalm and its strange and depressing ending. the quote was so personally moving to dr. keller that he actually teared up while reading it...

“The very presence of such prayer in the scripture is a witness to His understanding; 

He knows how we speak when we are desperate.”  

God knows how a desperate parent speaks. He knows the love of a parent. He knows the depth of concern. God is saying: “it’s safe to come to Me…I’m a God of grace, I understand.” in our desperation we can beg Him to look away, to leave us alone... but because of Christ and His lavishing love, He won’t.

we realize that our God is a God of grace and He perfectly understands us; Christianity is the only religion that boasts that it’s God who actually came down to the world and became a man of sorrows. i need a God acquainted with grief and sorrow. and a God who defeated death and promises that He holds every tear that i shed. that He keeps them for me. He invests them into a joyful future. that i cannot see now.

keller mentions how we will never know how many people left the crucifixion scene and went home without their faith. their world shattered. their hopes dashed. how could anything good come out of this dark day? and yet, we know that the Ultimate Good came from that sorrow. that love mingled with death... and love won. it didn’t look like it in the middle of the story. but we know the ending. and God’s stories all end the same way. with Him winning. with rejoicing. with dancing. with a feast. i love that ending.

so finally we plant our tears in an assurance of His glory.  eugene petersen (you know that i love him from “the message”) wrote in a book about psalms that the last of the psalms (145-150) are ALL JOY. all HALLELUJAHS. no lamenting. all praise. peterson’s conclusion was that this reflected how life actually goes because 

“in the psalms, all true prayer pursued far enough will become praise.”  

we know the time it takes from grief to joy varies, but it does come eventually…in God’s time.  from darkness of the cross to His glorious resurrection took time. God’s time. sometimes we may fear that we may never stop weeping because of the depth of the pain we feel now, but in the end of His story, God restores all things and weeping is removed. and all prayers pursued far enough will become praise. i pursue through prayer until that Day...