Every year, this season brings a mixture of emotions. Joy and pain. Gratitude and loss. Anticipation and dread. Christmas is powerful like that.
But these conflicting emotions also provide an opportunity for the church to step in and obey Paul’s command in Romans 12:
Rejoice with those who rejoice; weep with those who weep (Rom. 12:15).
The second half of Romans 12 is exceedingly practical. You find statements in there about hospitality, love, perseverance, and then this—a command to rejoice, and a command to weep. There are a couple of things we should note about this simple, but powerful statement.
First of all, Romans 12 is set in the context of the church. So when we are told to rejoice and to weep, it’s not specifically about the circumstances in our own lives, but rather a reminder that we ought to be so closely aligned with our brothers and sisters in Christ that we are not only aware of, but we also deeply feel what is happening in their lives.
Secondly, this is a command. It is not a suggestion. This is a bit strange, because we think of things like rejoicing and weeping in the emotional realm, and they are. But when we think of these things exclusively as emotional, then we don’t see these actions as issues of obedience. We tend to view them, instead, as things that we do when we feel like doing them.
But if rejoicing and weeping are commands, then by the power of the Holy Spirit we can actually give ourselves to obeying them rather than just waiting for the feeling to hit us right. We are certainly living in a time when there is an occasion to weep with those who weep, so we would do well to consider how we might live out this communal command from Scripture.
It might be helpful to think about what stands in the way of obeying the command to weep with those who are weeping. Here are three such obstacles:
1. Our fear.
If we are going to weep with those who weep, it means we actually have to make the intentional effort to involve ourselves deeply with those who weep. That means hard conversations. It means being in and near the hospital. It means entertaining the pain that others are experiencing. And when we start to do that, we inevitably come up against the thought, This could happen to me.
This natural disaster. This persecution. This hatred. This cancer. This could happen to me. Many times we don’t emotionally involve ourselves with others because we are just too afraid of being confronted with the fragile nature of life.
2. Our busyness.
Practically speaking, weeping with those who weep takes time. A lot of time. Time spent in conversation, time spent in prayer, time spent delivering meals or gutting houses, or any number of things.
But we’ve got travel ball teams and season premiers of TV shows to watch. Who has time to invest in these kinds of relationships? If we want to weep with those who weep, then we will have to take a hard look at our schedules to see if there is any margin left for tears.
3. Our faithlessness.
Times like these—times of weeping—force us to ask ourselves the fundamental questions of life. It’s during times like these that we cannot afford any longer to be casually committed to our faith—we either believe God is good, or we don’t. We either believe that He is in control, or we don’t.
But as long as we aren’t too close to any situations like these, we can maintain the luxury of a sidelines faith that has never been forged or tested. The moment we start shedding tears with those in the middle of the storm, we will come to reckon with whether or not we actually believe what we claim to.
Weeping is an issue of obedience. And it we want to do it, then we will have to commit ourselves to doing so. As we step out on that emotional ledge, the one that requires us to confront our fear, our priorities, and our insecurity, the good news is that ledge is supported by the sure and certain love of God in Christ. And this love can actually flow through us as tears along with those who are already weeping.
Michael Kelley lives in Nashville, TN, with his wife, Jana, and three children: Joshua (10), Andi (7), and Christian (5). He serves as Director of Groups Ministry for Lifeway Christian Resources. As a communicator, Michael speaks across the country at churches, conferences, and retreats and is the author of Wednesdays Were Pretty Normal: A Boy, Cancer, and God; Transformational Discipleship; and Boring: Finding an Extraordinary God in an Ordinary Life. Find him on Twitter:@_MichaelKelley.