The Prophet’s Pain
I hurt with the hurt of my people. I mourn and am overcome with grief.
As the Lord revealed through Jeremiah the coming devastation of Judah, the prophet did not deliver bad news with clinical detachment. Rather, he identified with his people and their suffering. “Listen to the weeping of my people,” Jeremiah cried, “it can be heard all across the land” (8:19). Notice he said “my people,” not “the people” or, to the Lord, “your people.” Rather, the prophet identified himself with his fellow Jews, even though he prophesied against their wickedness. Thus, he confessed, “I hurt with the hurt of my people. I mourn and am overcome with grief” (8:21).
If we’re going to bring God’s Word to people, we need also to be with them in their struggles, even those that come from their sin. This does not mean that we join them in doing what is wrong, of course. But it does mean that we open our hearts to feel what they are feeling. We stand with them where they are, sharing in their pain, allowing it to touch us.
As I write this Reflection, my own heart is aching because of the suffering of dear friends at Irvine Presbyterian Church, where I served as pastor for sixteen years. Sean, a young man in the church family, died a few days ago because of complications from the flu. He was a vital, delightful person, full of life and faith. He will be deeply missed by many, most of all his parents and brothers. Because of the distance, I am unable to attend the service. But I know it will be ably led by one of the pastors of the Irvine church as well as some former staff who worked closely with Sean. These leaders will bring God’s Word and hope, no doubt about it. They will remind all of the good news of God’s love in Christ. But they will speak the truth out of sorrowing hearts. They will share in the pain of the church family as it hurts. Thus their words of faith will have authenticity and power.
It’s not just pastors and church leaders who need to hurt with the hurt of their people. Whether as parents with our children, supervisors with our employees, teachers with our students, or writers with our readers, we need to open our hearts to those we have been called to serve. Sometimes we will rejoice with those who rejoice. Sometimes, like Jeremiah, we will weep with those who weep.
QUESTIONS FOR REFLECTION: What helps you to have an open heart to others, especially those who are in pain? What is difficult about hurting with those who hurt?
PRAYER: O Lord, thanks for the example of Jeremiah, who reminds me to hurt with the hurt of my people. Help me, dear Lord, to have an open heart for those you have called me to serve. Preserve me from the temptation to exercise my head while protecting my heart from pain.
Thank you, dear Lord, for the fact that you did not save us from a distance. Rather, you entered our reality, our suffering, our sorrow. You were, indeed, a man of sorrows, acquainted with grief, our grief. How encouraging to know that you have felt our pain from the inside.
Help your church, dear Lord, to be a place where people truly weep with those who weep, even as they rejoice with those who rejoice. May we be, not just a hospital where people receive care, but also a family of shared suffering and joy . . . and everything else in between.
I pray in the name of Jesus, Amen.