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The Seven Habits of Highly Effective Christians: Tenderness

Matthew 5:1, 2, 4

It happened in April of 1984.

It wasn’t a big thing really. It didn’t make the evening news. It had no earth-shaking implications. In fact, no one much noticed it. But I think God did…

Carl Coleman was driving to work when a woman motorist, passing too close, snagged his fender with hers. Both cars stopped. The young woman was distraught. Her car was brand new, just two days removed from the showroom. How was she ever going to face her husband? She began to weep with great convulsive sobs. Carl Coleman was sympathetic, but explained that they must note each other’s license numbers and registration papers and insurance agents. Through a flowing river of tears she reached into the glove compartment to retrieve the documents in an envelope. And on the first paper to tumble out, written in a heavy masculine scrawl, were these words: “In case of accident, remember, Honey, it’s you I love, not the car.”

Those tender words, written by a loving husband, brought strength and comfort to his sorrowing wife. And why did God notice? Because our tender and loving God wants us to live with that same tender love toward each other. That’s the message of the second Beatitude: “Blessed are those who mourn for they shall be comforted.” In other words, the most highly effective Christians in the world are those who make tender love and loving tenderness the daily habits of their human experience. They are the ones who live life the way God wants it to be lived.Now in order to unlock the truth of this Beatitude, we shall need to examine the three key words of the Beatitude. They are: Blessed, mourn, and comforted. Look at them with me, each in turn…

First, there is the word “Blessed.”

That is the word which occurs at the beginning of each one of the Beatitudes. It is the Greek word “makarios.” It is usually translated “blessed” or “happy.” That is an inadequate translation. “Makarios” is better translated “near to God and filled with His power and joy.” Therefore, in this second Beatitude, Jesus was actually saying: “Oh how near to the heart of God are those who mourn and from His tender love they draw an unconquerable strength.”

I have seen that truth played out in the lives of highly effective Christians so many times. Over and over again I have heard them say in times of great personal sorrow: “This is the worst thing that has ever happened to us. But we are going to make it because God is with us as never before.” I think the reason we find God so powerfully present in times of personal sorrow is because God is like a loving parent who wants to be especially close to His children when they are hurting. O, how close to the heart of God are those who are experiencing pain or trouble or sorrow in life!

It’s like the little girl whose best friend was killed in an automobile accident. The little girl was only six years old, but she knew that her friend’s mother was very sad. So she walked down the block to visit her. She was gone a long time. When she finally arrived home, late for dinner, her anxious parents met her at the door. “Where have you been?” asked her mother. The little girl answered: “I’m sorry I am late. I was with Susan’s mother.” The father glanced at his wife and then asked his daughter: “What did you say to her?” The little girl replied: “I didn’t say anything to her, I just crawled up in her lap and cried with her.”

Whatever your burden in life, Jesus Christ is sharing that burden with you. He understands. He weeps with you. He wants to touch you with His tender love. That’s what the cross is all about. Why do you think it is so prominently displayed in this church? Why do you think we glory in an instrument of death? It is because on that cross, God in Jesus Christ chose to immerse Himself in every tear ever shed and took within Himself all the hurt and sorrow and agony that has ever been. No part of our suffering is apart from Him. He knows it and He experiences it as we experience it. The pain we feel, Jesus feels as we feel it. The heartbreak we know, Jesus knows, as our hearts break. The loneliness that chokes and smothers us, chokes and smothers Jesus. Catch hold of this great truth: the heart of Jesus is so vast and so tender that He can encompass within His heart every agony that any human being has ever known.

So all I can say to the one who knows crippling infirmity is “Jesus.” All I can say to the one whose memories are too heavy to be borne is “Jesus.” All I can say to one whose back is against the wall and whose heart is breaking is “Jesus.” When remorse gets you down—”Jesus.” When the world goes mad around you—”Jesus.” When you face the surgeon’s knife—”Jesus.” When the shadow of death falls—”Jesus.” Jesus doesn’t sit back looking pretty no matter how ugly the world may be. No! The cross tells us that Jesus is involved in our suffering. The cross tells us that His tender, loving heart is beating right next to ours. We can feel it there, and when we feel it, then we know that He is close to us and we are close to Him

That’s the promise He delivered in the second Beatitude when He said: “O how near to the heart of God are those who mourn! O, how close to God are those who are hurting in life!” When we hurt, He draws especially close.

Now let’s look at the word “Mourn.”

Actually the word “mourn” means “to care deeply.” The opposite of mourn is to be untouched, unmoved, without feeling, without sensitivity, without tenderness. The word “mourn” is used in the Bible in three distinctly different ways—and I think that Jesus had all three ways in His mind when He delivered the second Beatitude.

The first way the Bible uses “mourn” is to describe those who experience grief—those who care so deeply for someone that when they lose that someone to death they are plunged into sorrow. That is the most obvious and common usage. The second way the Bible uses “mourn” is to describe the experience of penitence, those who care so deeply about living for God that they are plunged into sorrow over their sins. All through the Scriptures, we see people falling down, tearing their clothing, and crying out to God in shame over their sins. Back in the old days, churches used to have what was called “The Mourner’s Bench.” To it would come those who were at the end of their rope. They had to have God. In shame, in sorrow, in mourning for their sins, they would come seeking God and His forgiveness. A third way the word “mourn” is used in the Bible is to describe those who care so deeply for the world that the conflicts and troubles and injustices of the world move them to deep sorrow. As someone once expressed it in prayer: “O God, forgive us for looking at the world with dry eyes.” Now when you wrap all of that up into the second Beatitude, it is clear that Jesus is calling us to be strong enough in life to be tender and to care deeply. Jesus is calling us to be both “steel and velvet.”

That is not my own phrase. On February 12, 1959, Carl Sandburg gave an address before Congress entitled “Abraham Lincoln: Man of Steel and Velvet.” Here is part of what Sandburg said:

Not often in the story of mankind does one arrive on the earth who is both steel and velvet, who is as hard as rock and soft as the drifting fog, who holds in his heart and mind the paradox of terrible storm and peace unspeakable.

While the war winds howled, he insisted that the Mississippi was one river meant to belong to one country; that railroad connections from coast to coast must be pushed through while war wavered and broke and came again; as generals failed and campaigns were lost, he held enough forces of the North together to raise new armies and supply them until new generals could be found. In the mixed shame and blame of the immense wrongs of two clashing civilizations, often with nothing to say, he said nothing.

During those days he would sleep not at all and, on occasion, he was seen to weep in a way that made weeping appropriate, decent, majestic.

But you know, as great a man as Lincoln was, there was another who even more perfectly exemplified what it means to be both steel and velvet, both tough and tender: Jesus Christ. A man of steel, Jesus tore into the corrupt religious leaders of His day, calling them vipers, hypocrites, and whitewashed tombs full of stinking bones. Like steel, He chased the money changers out of the Temple. Like steel, He confronted Peter with the reality of his sin. Yet it was the velvet in Him that led Him to weep over the death of His friend Lazarus; that moved Him to reach out to the children who clambered after Him; that gave Him tender compassion for the woman caught in adultery, that compelled Him just hours before the horrors of the cross, to kneel before His disciples and wash their feet.

Our lives, my beloved, must be marked both with Christ’s toughness and His tenderness, both His steel and His velvet. We must invite Him to put a reinforcing rod of steel into our backbones so that we can live with His strength. And we must allow Him to reupholster our hard surfaces and rough edges with velvet so that we can live out His tender love and compassion.

So the word “mourn” as Jesus used it, means “to care deeply.” Here in the second Beatitude, Jesus was saying: “O how close to the heart of God are those who care so deeply in life that sometimes it hurts…” When we live with the tough tenderness and the tender toughness of Jesus, we feel His pleasure.

Then there is the word “Comforted.”

It is instructive to remember that the word “comfort” is drawn from two Latin words: “cum” which means “with”, and “fortis” which means “strength.” Put them together and you have “with strength.” So the Beatitude carries with it this great promise: to those who experience pain and trouble in life, God will give great strength. Literally it reads like this: “Blessed are those who mourn for they shall be with strength.”

That’s true you know. Those who go through the valley of mourning and get to the other side do indeed emerge with a new strength—a new depth of character, a new understanding of life, a new ability to empathize with others, a new power to help others in time of trouble, a new sense of closeness to God. They are the most highly effective Christians I know.

Alexander Solzhenitzyn tells of a moment when, in a Soviet prison camp, he was ready to forsake his newly-found faith in Jesus Christ. He was working twelve hours a day at hard labor in some of the worst weather conditions in the world. He was on a starvation diet. He was regularly tortured. One afternoon, while shoveling sand, he simply stopped working. He did so even though he knew the guards would beat him severely, perhaps even to death, but he didn’t care. He felt he could not go on any longer. Then at that moment another prisoner, a fellow Christian, moved cautiously toward Solzhenitzyn. With his shovel, the man quickly drew a cross in the sand—and then just as quickly erased it with his foot. But in that brief moment, Solzhenitzyn felt all the hope and power of the Gospel come flooding back into his soul. It gave him strength and courage to endure the pains of that day and the hard years of imprisonment that were still ahead. Alexander Solzhenitzyn was saved that day by the sign of the cross. That quick reminder of God’s tender and unfailing love gave him the strength to hold on.

The poet put it like this:

When you come to the place where the shadows are,
And the light ahead is withdrawn
Put your hand in God’s hand and keep it there
Till He carries you over and on.
Hold on to God’s hand with all of your might,
And He will hold on to you
Trust Him strong with a child-like faith,
His grace will see you through.

And Jesus put it like this:

“Blessed are those who mourn for they shall be comforted.”
When He said that, He said it all…

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