A Time to Mourn and a Time to Dance
A Time to Mourn And a Time to Dance
Some of the greatest lessons I have ever learned have been learned at funerals and weddings. It is quite amazing how human characteristics surface on occasions like this. Was the Preacher thinking of these two experiences of life when he wrote, "There is ... a time to mourn, and a time to dance"? (Eccl. 3:1, 4). Who has not found time to weep and mourn? The Bible says, "Man is born to trouble, as the sparks fly upward" (Job 5:7; see also 14:1). And yet so often lesson after lesson is needed to make us realize that this world is a vale of tears. We look everywhere to avoid this or that trouble, but without success. Even for the Christian, sorrow and suffering are inescapable. Jesus said, "In the world you will have tribulation" (John 16:33). But the darkest side of the Canaan road is brighter than the light of a thousand worlds, for God has promised to turn our "mourning into dancing" (Ps. 30:11) and to fill our mouths "with laughter, and our tongue with singing" (Ps. 126:2). So Solomon was right when he wrote, "There is...a time to mourn, and a time to dance" (Eccl. 3:1, 4).
Even at first glance it is obvious that this couplet is closely related to the one we considered in our last study. "A time to weep, and a time to laugh" intimates the spontaneous manifestation of the feelings of the heart; "a time to mourn, and a time to dance" is the more formal expression of these same feelings, as performed at funerals, weddings, and similar occasions. The contrast between mourning and dancing is found in our Lord's allusion to the sulky children in the marketplace who would not join their companions in play. Addressing His listeners, the Lord Jesus said: "To what shall I liken this generation? It is like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling to their companions, and saying: 'We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we mourned to you, and you did not lament'" (Matt. 11:16-17). The Master's intention, as the context shows, was to strike at the lack of repentance on the part of the people, and therefore, the absence of the true joy which comes through the forgiveness of sin and the favor of God.
To understand the deeper implications of mourning and dancing we must start with:
The Spirit of Brokenness
One of the greatest needs of our day is for old-time conviction of sin; and one of the purposes for which the Holy Spirit was sent down from heaven on the day of Pentecost was to engender this conviction in the hearts of men and women. The Lord Jesus predicted this when He announced: "He will convict the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment: of sin, because they do not believe in Me; of righteousness, because I go to My Father and you see Me no more; of judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged" (John 16:8-11). Until men and women know the meaning of mourning they will never know the meaning of dancing, and such mourning comes about when the Holy Spirit convicts men and women of the consciousness of sin. "For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" (Rom. 3:23). Literally this means that all have consciously sinned. Job was conscious of his sin when he cried, "Behold, I am vile" (Job 40:4). Isaiah was conscious of his sin when he said, "Woe is me, for I am undone!" (Isa 6:5). Peter was conscious of his sin when he exclaimed, "Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord!" (Luke 5:8). Paul was conscious of his sin when he wrote, "O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me?" (Rom. 7:24).
Some time ago an assassination attempt was made on the life of Gerald Ford, then President of the United States of America. In reporting this event, an Associated Press release stated: "A psychiatric examination has been ordered for the woman who says she 'willfully and knowingly' attempted to kill President Ford. She said she was ready to answer for her act." The article went on to say that a U.S. District Judge had told her, "If you enter this plea of guilty, there is a possibility you can be sent to jail for life." Her reply was that she could see no "reasonable [and] honorable" way of avoiding it. "There comes a point," she declared, "when we each have to answer to ourselves, and it is with our own conscience that we must make peace."
"The woman's sanity was questioned because she admitted her guilt. Granted, a number of factors in her past behavior may have prompted the reaction to her confession. But the general implication was that her open acknowledgment of wrongdoing, rather than the customary denial, was what called for the mental tests" (De Haan 1976). Isn't it amazing how modern man with all his sophistication, dodges the issue of true conviction of sin. Just because this woman realized her sin and wished to confess it, she was told she needed a mental test!
Sigmund Freud, the Austrian scientist and psychologist, despite his anti-religious prejudices, once said, "Original sin is a fact, since psychoanalysis has revealed a whole world of rottenness and villainy which had not been hitherto suspected by psychologists, even though its presence was clearly enough attested by the New Testament."
But the Holy Spirit not only convicts of the consciousness of sin, but also of the culpability of sin. "For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" (Rom. 3:23). This means that the Spirit of God reveals to us the fact that we have failed to meet God's holy standards. Such a falling short of the mark brings us to a sense of guilt and culpability. Emil Brunner says, "The Christian conception of radical evil is this: it is radical sin. As a sinner, man is not confronted with an impersonal law of good, but with the will of the Creator" (1942, 142). In the ultimate sense, therefore, however much we may affect others in the process, we actually sin against God. David knew this when he confessed, "Against You, You only, have I sinned, and done this evil in Your sight" (James 1:15).
But even more than this, the Holy Spirit convicts of the consequences of sin. "Some men's sins are clearly evident, preceding them to judgment, but those of some men follow later" (1 Tim. 5:24). Oh, the effects of our sins! Think of the spoiled characters, the seared consciences, and the social conflicts that follow upon a life of sinfulness. The Bible tells us that "the wages of sin is death" (Rom. 6:23), and again, "When desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, brings forth death" (Rom. 6:23).
Have we ever considered the death wounds that we can inflict upon the lives of men and women, not to mention our own? Think of those searching words of James, the brother of our Lord. "Where do wars and fights come from among you? Do they not come from your desires for pleasure that war in your members? You lust and do not have. You murder and covet and cannot obtain. You fight and war. Yet you do not have because you do not ask" (James 4:1-2). He is saying that the consequences of lust and sin are nothing less than war and death. Let us remember that there is more than one way of killing a person. There is, of course, physical death; but what shall we say of the death of honor, the death of reputation, the death of purity, the death of spiritual values?
It is because of these consequences of sin that James proceeds to call his readers to repentance and mourning. He writes: "Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Lament and mourn and weep! Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and He will lift you up" (James 4:8-10). Until we know how to mourn over the consciousness, culpability, and consequences of our sin we shall never know how to dance. Until we know how to humble ourselves under the mighty hand of God we shall never know what it is to be exalted in due season (1 Peter 5:6). There must be brokenness before there can be blessedness. The Psalmist reminds us, "The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit, a broken and a contrite heart—these, O God, You will not despise" (Ps. 51:17).
Such brokenness leads to:
The Spirit of Blessedness
The term "dancing" has no reference whatsoever to worldly amusements. The Scriptures restrict the concept of dancing to the exercise of religious worship (Ex. 15:20; 2 Sam. 6:14-16; Ps. 30:11-12). The word signifies "to leap for great joy," and indicates praise to God, accompanied by singing or music. In the Old Testament, dancing was associated with the crossing of the Red Sea, military victories, and religious festivals (Ex. 15:20; 1 Sam. 18:6; Judg. 21:19-21). In the New Testament, when the apostle Paul had to rebuke the Corinthian church for not defending his divine authority (2 Cor. 7:8-13), under attack by "an evil intruder," the leadership responded with "godly sorrow [that produced] repentance leading to salvation, not to be regretted" (2 Cor. 7:10). This made Paul happy. He writes: "Now I rejoice [dance in my heart!] ... that your sorrow [has] led to repentance" (2 Cor. 7:9).
Again and again we read of God giving repentance to those who turn from their wicked ways and trust in the Lord Jesus Christ. Peter could say after the day of Pentecost, "The God of our fathers raised up Jesus.... [and] has exalted [Him] to His right hand to be Prince and Savior, to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins" (Acts 5:30-31). He could also report how God had granted to the Gentiles "repentance to life" (Acts 11:18).
If we want to know the spirit of blessedness, we must ask God for true repentance. Only then will our mourning be turned into dancing. The reason why we don't know the joy of the Lord in our lives is that we are unwilling to pay the price of repentance. So often we relegate that term repentance to the unconverted. It's the world who needs to repent, we say. But repentance is a word that is also used for Christians. Read the messages of the risen Lord to the seven churches. To five out of the seven He employs the word "repent" or "repentance." "Judgment [must] begin at the house of God" (1 Pet. 4:17). Before there can be blessedness, there must be brokenness.
With the blessedness of divine repentance, there is also the blessedness of divine acceptance. In the 30th Psalm, David describes a mighty experience of deliverance from sin when he senses the favor of divine acceptance and concludes by saying, "You have turned for me my mourning into dancing; You have put off my sackcloth and clothed me with gladness, to the end that my glory may sing praise to You and not be silent. O Lord my God, I will give thanks to You forever" (Ps. 30:11-12).
The New Testament version of this is found in that immortal story of the restored prodigal son. Never did a young man mourn for his sins like that lad sitting in the pigsty of a far country! But having truly repented, he returned to his father and "when he was still a great way off, his father saw him and had compassion, and ran and fell on his neck and kissed him" (Luke 15:20). Was language ever more descriptive of divine acceptance? That boy received the kiss of forgiveness, the robe of respectability, the ring of affection, and the shoes of reinstatement. But that was not all. A feast was spread for the converted boy, and friends and neighbors were invited to eat and be merry. And we read that there was "music and dancing"! (Luke 15:25). When the father was asked by the elder brother to explain the reason for the music and dancing, he replied, "It was right that we should make merry and be glad, for your brother was dead and is alive again, and was lost and is found" (Luke 15:32).
Has dancing started in our hearts? If not, it is because we have never known the experience of mourning for our sins. But when there is true Holy Spirit-brokenness, there will always be true Holy Spirit-blessedness.
How true, then, are the words, "There is ... a time to mourn, and a time to dance" (Eccl. 3:1, 4). There is a time for funerals and there is a time for weddings. The greatest funeral any one of us can attend is the funeral of death to self and sin in order that we might live unto God. This is a costly business, and it involves genuine mourning; but when the funeral is over, a wedding immediately follows! We are "married to another" (Rom. 7:4), to Jesus Christ our Lord, and then the dancing begins and never ends.
So we close as we started: "There is ... a time to mourn, and a time to dance" (Eccl. 3:1, 4). Jesus said, "Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted" (Matt. 5:4). This comfort is the blessedness of the Father's pardon. Paul speaks of "the Father of mercies and God of all comfort" (2 Cor. 1:3). The Father's comfort is based upon His pardoning mercies. Mercy is divine love in action, extended to the undeserving. Oh, the comfort, of knowing that God, in mercy, has extended His pardon to such miserable sinners as you and me! God always takes cognizance of those who mourn and weep on account of their sins and has promised the comfort of His mercy and forgiveness.
This comfort is the blessedness of the Savior's peace. Right through the Messianic prophecies Jesus is spoken of as the comfort of His people: "'Comfort, yes, comfort My people!' says your God" (Isa 40:1). In Luke 2:25 we are told that the just and devout Simeon waited for "the Consolation Israel." Nor was he disappointed, for the day came when it was revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he should not see death until he had seen the Lord's Christ. "So he came by the Spirit into the temple. And when the parents brought in the Child Jesus, ... he took Him up in his arms and blessed God and said: 'Lord, now You are letting Your servant depart in peace, according to Your word; for my eyes have seen Your salvation'" (Luke 2:27-30). Ever since then, men, women, boys and girls, all over the world have embraced the same Jesus and found the comfort of His peace, "which surpasses all understanding" (Phil. 4:7). Do you know anything of that comfort in your life? It comes only to those who mourn. This comfort is the blessedness of the Spirit's power. Before the Lord Jesus left for heaven, He gathered His disciples around Him and said, "I will pray the Father, and He will give you another Helper [Comforter], that He may abide with you forever" (John 14:16). What could have been more empowering to the disciples than these words? Later, speaking of the same Spirit, the Master declared, "You shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you" (Acts 1:8). This comforting power was the secret of their courage in times of opposition, and confidence in times of tribulation. The same Comforter is with us today, but His power to fill, strengthen, and empower God's people is dependent upon the spirit of brokenness and yieldedness in our lives. Indeed, the blessedness of the comfort of pardon, peace, and power from God the Father, God the Son, and God the Spirit is only for those who mourn. Have you paid the price of true repentance in your life? Have you ever knelt and said, "Lord Jesus, I want you to break this stubborn will of mine. I want to bring my entire life under submission to your Lordship, so that the Holy Spirit may fill me with the Father's pardon, the Savior's peace, and the Spirit's power"? Only when this happens will we "dance" in our hearts. Only the Holy Spirit can give us a light in our eyes, a lilt in our voice, and a spring in our step. People will see us walking across the stage of life as those who are "dancing" in the most sanctified sense of that term, alive to God and aware of the world in which we have to live and serve.
So we have seen that the spirit of brokenness is the pathway to spiritual blessedness. Only as we mourn will we dance. Daniel Iverson (1963) knew this principle when he wrote:
Spirit of the living God, fall fresh on me.
Spirit of the living God, fall fresh on me.
Melt me, mold me, fill me, use me.
Spirit of the living God, fall fresh on me.
Think on These Things (Phil. 4:8)
The East African revival is generally acknowledged as one of the longest and most remarkable of any spiritual awakening on that continent, or anywhere else in the world. One of the best-known leaders in that spiritual movement was Bishop Festo Kivengere. I once asked him to give me the secret of the longevity and vitality of the revival. His reply was simple, yet powerful. He said, "Two characteristics of the revival were brokenness and walking in the light." Brokenness is willingness to mourn over our sins and seek cleansing and restoration. Walking in the light is restored fellowship with God and fellow believers—issuing in joy and dancing! Daily obedience to these two Biblical principles determines personal revival and pervasive revival.
— Time for Truth, A