Where are the Tears?

I heard the question 30 years ago.

To say I cannot forget it is the classic understatement.  To this day the question and the remarks that preceded it roil around in my mind, goading me, instilling discomfort.

David Mains was speaking at a Bible conference on the topic, “Enduring Characteristics of Revival.”  He had heard pundits who claimed that the church in America, at that time, was on the cusp of revival.  A few leaders were citing growing churches, conversions of persons with national name recognition, and a stirring of God’s Spirit across denominational lines as evidence. Was a contemporary version of the Great Awakening on the horizon?

Not according to Mains.  “I don’t believe we’re anywhere near revival,” he intoned.  “Where are the tears?”

Then David gave story after story from the history of revival movements—in the U.S. and abroad—to show that genuine revival is always accompanied by weeping and brokenness over sin.  Not just among those coming to Christ, but among God’s people who had been too flippant about His holiness, and their own.  He also cited Bible texts that call for deep anguish and tears over spiritual complacency.

The tears he cited weren’t those prompted by painful personal consequences of sin. Such weeping can be sentimental and self-centered.  No, he referred to tears spawned by gut-ripping anguish, by inner pain owing to the grief we have caused God and others.

Many years ago, Joe Bayly wrote a captivating magazine column titled, “Why Don’t Sinners Cry Anymore?”  In it, he recalled a conversation with British Bible teacher Martyn Lloyd-Jones.  Lloyd -Jones lamented the lack of tears at revival meetings where he spoke, which often ended with altar calls for getting right with God.  “They laugh, they come happily to the front, but they don’t mourn over their sins.”

Godly sorrow for sin that leads to repentance is almost totally lacking from our preaching…and our lives.

Now when I recall Mains’ message, and his penetrating question, I pray, “Lord, break my heart over my sin. “  Revival starts in me before it can possibly spread to a church or to a nation.

(For a more thorough treatment of weeping in the Bible, see the chapter titled “The Tracks of Your Tears,” in  my book Serve Strong:  Biblical Encouragement To Sustain God’s Servants.)