Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Sorrows Borne, not Banished

Surely he has borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows (Isaiah 53:4 ESV)

There’s a reality-style game show on TV these days, very similar to a much older show called “Name that Tune.” The modern day spin on that older classic allows contestants to hear several bars of a song, and then they have to sing the missing lyrics after a certain point in the song.

So let’s play. “What a friend we have in Jesus, ________________________.”

Some of you may not have a clue. Plenty of you don’t even have to think about it.

The next line: “All our sins and griefs to bear.”

That says something significant about friendship. Of course we cannot do for others what Jesus did for us. Jesus took our sins, our failures, our brokenness upon himself. What’s more, he did it once and for all. It doesn’t have to be done again. Good thing!

But if Jesus our friend bears our sorrows, what does that mean for those who follow him? If Jesus defines friendship, in what sense do we bear another’s sorrows? This isn’t theological speculation. Many of you may have a friend who lives every day under the smothering weight of sorrow. You do what you can to express your concern and let them know you care. And you never feel it’s enough.

We might do well to remember that there is a difference between sorrows borne and sorrows banished. What you’d probably like to do is take away their sorrow. That’s the kind of truly meaningful help most of us want to give. We’d like to know what to do or what to say that will banish the sorrow. But that’s beyond both our capacity as a friend and the calling of friendship itself. To bear someone’s sorrow does not mean you banish it.

Not even Jesus does that. Jesus has removed the penalty of our sin but not the struggles of everyday life. Jesus does not spare us from heartache. In fact, those who trust Jesus still know all kinds of grief, the shame of bad choices, the hurt of lost hopes and dashed expectations. All of that is familiar territory to those claim friendship with Jesus. Jesus our friend bears our sorrows, but he will not always take them away. He stands with us.

But his standing with us is no passive presence. Jesus stands ready to hear us. That’s the part of the old hymn that gets sung over and over again. “Take it to the Lord in prayer.” Jesus hears us when we pray. And then, as the hymn affirms, he shields us in his arms. Shields are not necessary when skies are clear and breezes fair. Shields are for those under attack. Again, our sorrows are borne, not banished.

One very simple way to bear another’s sorrows is to do exactly what the hymn says. Take it to the Lord in prayer. You may have a friend whose sorrow is so deep they can’t manage to pray for themselves; deep sorrow has a way of choking prayer. But a friend is someone who comes alongside and bears the sorrow, not by trying to take it away, but by offering it up to the one who can.

Surely, O God, you have borne our sorrows. Teach us to do the same for those close to us. Today we lift our prayers for all who live in the shadows of sorrow. By the help of your Spirit, let us bear their sorrow through our faithful prayers. Shield them with your grace we pray, in Jesus’ name. Amen.

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