But God’s Word offers a different perspective. What follows are a few of the faith heroes whose tears made rivulets down their cheeks. As you peruse these profiles, look for why they cried.
1. Inconsolable. The prophet Isaiah couldn’t stomach God’s forecast of judgment for His wayward people: “I will weep bitterly, do not try to comfort me concerning the destruction of the daughter of my people” (Isa. 22:4).
2. Weeping Prophet. When he conveyed God’s warning of dire consequences for Judah’s rebellion, Jeremiah admitted, “If you will not listen to it, my soul will sob in secret for such pride; and my eyes will bitterly weep and flow down with tears, because the flock of the Lord has been taken captive” (Jer. 13:17).
3. Responsive To Revelation. When a priest read aloud to King Josiah a long-lost copy of the Law, the stark contrast between God’s expectations and the nation’s moral climate broke the king’s heart. The result was a spate of top-down policies for spiritual reform.
A prophetess divulged God’s opinion of Josiah’s initial response to the Law: “Because your heart was tender and you humbled yourself before God when you heard His words against this place and against its inhabitants, and because you humbled yourself before Me, tore your clothes and wept before Me, I truly have heard you” (2 Chron. 34:27).
4. Prostrated Priest. Ezra couldn’t tolerate blatant sin among God’s people, such as marrying foreigners. “I tore my garment…I pulled some of the hair from my head and my beard, and sat down appalled” (Ezra 9:3). According to Ezra 10:1, he was “praying and making confession, weeping and prostrating himself before the house of God.”
5. Newsworthy Intercession. Nehemiah, the cupbearer to the Babylonian king, received negative news from the remnant who had returned to Jerusalem after seventy years of captivity. The city wall was rubble, the residents vulnerable to attack and the object of derision from foes.
Nehemiah felt burdened for their safety, plus he was distraught because God’s glory was entwined with the fate of His chosen people. Here’s how Nehemiah responded to the report: “I sat down and wept and mourned for days; and I was fasting and praying before the God of heaven” (Neh. 1:4).
6. Brash, then Broken. Brazen, impulsive, but die-hard in his allegiance, Peter boasted that he would stay loyal to Jesus (Mark 14:29). Yet that same evening, to save his own skin, three times he denied knowing the Lord. When he remembered Jesus’ prediction of the triad of disavowal, Peter “wept bitterly” over his failure (Matt. 26:75).
7. Apostolic Anguish. Referring to his prior ministry in Ephesus, Paul told the church elders, “Night and day for a period of three years I did not cease to admonish each one of you with tears” (Acts 20:31). Citing a moral failure in the church at Corinth that he addressed in a previous letter, Paul said, “Out of much affliction and anguish of heart I wrote to you with many tears” (2 Cor. 2:4).
8. A Savior’s Sobs. When He observed the crying and grief of Lazarus’ sister (John 11:35-36), Jesus wept in front of onlookers. Our Savior also wept as He approached Jerusalem, brokenhearted over future judgment that would ravish the city (Luke 19:41-44).
Here’s one surefire conclusion from this survey of tenderhearted leaders: the crying of servants in Scripture wasn’t restricted to emotionally fragile persons with a melancholy temperament.
Nehemiah and Paul were tough-as-nails, in-your-face leaders who demonstrated choleric traits. It’s a gross misconception to view weeping as the proclivity of a temperament that’s in need of repair.
What do the reasons for their tears say to us in the twenty-first century?
Could our lack of tears as leaders indicate a weakness, rather than a strength?
This post is adapted from a chapter in Terry’s book, Serve Strong: Biblical Encouragement To Sustain God’s Servants. The chapter, “The Tracks of Your Tears,” also gives anecdotes of faith heroes from church history.