Eyes Cleansed By Tears See More Clearly
When you encounter hard and hurtful times in life, as inevitably you will; when your heart is breaking and your soul is aching; when you don’t know what to say, what to think, or what to do, I suggest remembering some words from an old Jewish prophet and some words from an old Jewish king.
The old Jewish prophet was Isaiah. These are his words: “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you. When you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned. The flames will not set you ablaze. For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your savior… Do not be afraid for I am with you.” The old Jewish king was David. These are his words: “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for Thou art with me.”
So in recent days, I have been pondering long and hard those words of an old Jewish prophet and those words of an old Jewish king. Out of that pondering, out of forty years experience in the ministry, and out of my own life’s journey in the faith, I have come to the conclusion that eyes which are cleansed by tears can see more clearly. Let me explain…
Eyes cleansed by tears can see more clearly our need for the Lord.
Until his death a few years ago, Herbert von Karajan was considered to be the greatest orchestral conductor of the modern era. I would not dispute that designation. I remember one snowy December night at the Symphony Hall in Berlin when Trisha and I had the privilege of seeing Herbert von Karajan conduct the Berlin Philharmonic in a stunningly beautiful Christmas concert. He was a master artist. And yet when I think of him now what I remember is a reply he gave to a reporter’s question at a news conference. The reporter asked, “What makes a really great conductor?” Von Karajan replied, “Greatness in anything must be preceded by suffering.”
It has been my observation that von Karajan was right. Those people who experience hardship, difficulty, and suffering in life usually have about them a special splendor which could not be theirs under any other circumstances. It is almost as if God says to these suffering ones, “I am going to make you great so that you will make the most of this burden.” But wait! Let me take a half step back and make something very clear. I am not for one moment suggesting that the suffering and the burdens of life which come upon us are given to us by God. No way. God gives only good gifts. The harshness and the hardship encountered are part of the fabric of sin and evil in the world. It is the fruit of human behavior, not the will of God. But what the Bible teaches us is that when such suffering or brokenness comes to us in life, God draws very close to us and endows us, if we will accept it, with a special grace for greatness in the midst of suffering.
Donald Leverett was one of the greatest Christian men I have ever known. He was a member of my first congregation, the First Presbyterian Church of Kilgore, Texas, and he exercised an enormous influence in my life. I remember one Sunday, very early in my ministry, when I chose to preach on the subject of suffering. The basic message of that sermon was “Keep a Stiff Upper Lip!” Afterwards, Donald Leverett, with all of the colossal love he had for me, said to me, “You haven’t lived long enough to have hurt deeply enough to have seen God clearly enough to be able to speak His words to those of us who hurt.” He was right. That was true then, but it is true no longer. I have lived long enough; I have hurt deeply enough; and I see God clearly enough to be able to say to you: when you hurt so bad that you don’t know what to do, it is alright to cry because when your eyes are cleaned by tears, you will see the Lord as you could never see Him otherwise.
In August of 1938, Tom Dorsey was scheduled to be the featured soloist in a St. Louis church. Because his wife, Nettie, was expecting the birth of their first child at any time, he worried about leaving her at home in Chicago. “Something was telling me to stay,” he would say later. But he decided to keep his commitment, and so he left for St. Louis. During his performance, a Western Union messenger arrived and handed Dorsey a telegram. He read the four heart-breaking words “Your wife just died.” He quickly returned home to Chicago only there to learn that, just before his wife died, she had given birth to their first-born son, but, double tragedy—later that night, the baby died also. Tom Dorsey said, “I buried Nettie and our son in the same casket, and then I fell apart. The combination of guilt and grief nearly destroyed me. For days, I closeted myself away. I felt that God had abandoned me. I didn’t want to serve God anymore. I didn’t want to write anymore Gospel songs. I could have laughed at the notion of God’s justice and mercy.” Then one day, tormented to tears by his pain not knowing what else to do, he sat down at his piano and his fingers began to wander over the keys, and something happened. Listen to his words: “Suddenly I felt as though I could reach out and touch God. I found myself playing a melody which I had never heard before and the words came rushing into my head. They seemed simply to fall into place.” He wrote the words down and some say it’s the greatest Gospel song of them all:
Precious Lord, take my hand.
Lead me on. Let me stand.
I am tired. I am weak. I am worn.
Through the storm, through the night, lead me on to the light.
Take my hand, precious Lord, lead me home.
Dorsey was convinced that both the words and the melody came to him as a direct gift from God. He said, “I learned that when we are in our deepest grief, when we feel farthest from God, this is when God is closest and when we are most open to His restoring power.”
It’s like what that old Jewish prophet said, “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you. When you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned.” It’s like what I say, “Eyes cleansed by tears can see more clearly our need for the Lord.”
And eyes cleansed by tears can see more clearly our need for each other.
Should you ever visit the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial in Jerusalem, you will be stunned into silence by the graphic displays of human suffering on an almost incomprehensible scale. You will wonder what it was that gave the countless thousands of men, women, and children the indestructible spirit to cling to life even though their emaciated bodies could do nothing more than stare. What enabled them to hold on? The answer is delivered repeatedly. It was their fundamental belief in God. But there is something else at Yad Vashem I don’t want you to miss. In front of the memorial is a long plaza formed by two lines of trees. Those trees were planted in honor and in memory of the Christians who gave of themselves to help the Jewish victims of the holocaust. At the base of each tree is a plaque, and on the plaque is the name of a Christian whose heart was so broken by the suffering of Jewish brothers and sisters that he or she then risked even life itself to help them. You see, when the hurts and the hardships of life reduce us to tears, then we can see just how badly we need one another.
Do you remember what the old Jewish king said, “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death . . .?” Focus on that please—“though” and “through”—differ by only one small letter—the letter “r.” In the American Sign Language, the letter “r” is made by crossing the middle finger over the index finger, but the “crossed fingers” have a history as a sign language that far predates American Sign Language. Today we sometimes put our hands behind our backs and cross our fingers as a way of saying, “I mean the opposite of what I just said.” We may even cross our fingers because we hope it will bring us good luck. However, do you know that it was Christians who first invented the “crossed fingers?” It had nothing to do with luck but everything to do with love for God and love for each other. You see, in the first century of the Church when Christianity was illegal and Christians were being persecuted and killed, believers found a way to communicate their faith and their support for each other in a subtle form by simply crossing their fingers. The crossed fingers were a mute symbol for the cross of Jesus Christ, and it was the code sign by which Christians held fast to each other. So “though” and “through” differ by just one letter—the letter “r.” And the sign for the letter “r” is crossed fingers. Though we, as Christians, have to walk the valley of the shadow, we get through that valley by holding on to Christ and by helping each other.
Diane Komp in her book entitled, A Window to Heaven: When Children See Life in Death, tells of a woman named Ann, her husband and their two children. Ann and her husband were typical “baby boomers.” Well-off financially, they had little time for church and not much more time for each other. Their romance faded but neither wanted to give up their lifestyle. They did adore their two children. T.J., the younger son, seemed to be the favorite of his mother. Even though the children were never sent to Sunday school nor was God ever mentioned in the home, one day, out of the blue, T. J. said, “Mom, I love you more than anything in the world except God.” Ann was surprised that T. J. would speak of God, but she just laughed off the comment. Two days later, T. J. was crossing a frozen, snow-covered creek and fell through the ice resulting in his death. Ann remembers saying, “I hate You, God.” But even then she felt herself held by loving arms, and then she remembered the Christmas gift T. J. had bought her earlier that week. He wanted her to open it, but she made him put it under the tree to wait until Christmas Day. Now she hurried to the tree, picked up the present, opened it, and inside found a beautiful necklace with a cross. She burst into tears, and later on she said that that cross helped her to reach out to others rather than becoming lost in her own anger and grief. A transformation took place in the lives of both Ann and her husband. They gave themselves to Jesus Christ, and then, in turn, they gave themselves to bringing healing to other parents. Today this couple has reached out to help some two hundred families who have lost children in accidents. They call their effort T. J. Ministries—not only after their son, T. J., but to emphasize how they have been able to reach out in love to others “through Jesus—T. J.”
Though we walk the valley of the shadow, we get through that valley by holding on to Christ and holding on to each other. That’s what I mean when I say, “Eyes cleansed by tears can see more clearly our need for each other.”
When you encounter hard and hurtful times in your life; when your heart is breaking and your soul is aching; when you don’t know what to say or think or do, then remember the words I shared with you today. Remember the words of an old Jewish prophet, “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you. When you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned . . . Do not be afraid for I am with you.” And remember the words from an old Jewish king, “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for Thou art with me.” And remember the words from my own heart, “Eyes which are cleansed by tears can see more clearly.”
Soli Deo Gloria
To God Alone be the Glory