|HOME - Tears: Gift of the Holy Spirit?|
|ARTICLE:||TEARS - Gift of the Holy Spirit?|
|OUTLINE:||PART I - Introduction|
|1. Why write about Tears?|
|2. Tears in general|
|PART II - The Spiritual Context of the Gift of Tears|
|3. The Holy Spirit's outpouring|
|4. Understanding the Riches|
|5. Tears outpoured|
|PART III - Tears in Scripture|
|6. Tears in the Life of Jesus and in the New Testament|
|7. Weeping in the Life of Jesus and in the New Testament|
|PART IV - Christian Understanding of the Gift of Tears|
|8. Christian Insights into the Gift|
|9. Five Areas of the Spirit's work closely related to Tears|
|PART V - A Final Note|
|PART I - Introduction|
|1. Why write about Tears?||(back to top)|
(a) Pastoral need
I write about tears because many Christian individuals find that their spiritual growth is accompanied by various sorts of weeping that they have not known before. Not only may they feel embarrassed, but guilty as well if their experience seems to differ from the Christians around them. Most have not heard of any Gift of Tears. This article explains the type of spirituality in which the gift most often comes and which alone makes sense of it. It guides the reader to a right assessment of it within the wider picture of the Spirit's gifts and their usage.
(b) Why 'Gift of the Spirit' Question Mark?
The title Tears - a Gift of the Spirit? has a question mark, because most experiences of tears have no direct relationship to the Holy Spirit. Sitting on a drawing pin or peeling an onion are obvious examples!
|2. Tears in General||(back to top)|
(a) What they are
Our eyes have their own windscreen-wash system which is always active. Our regular blinking distributes the liquid and keeps our eyes clean and moist. The liquid usually drains away. We call such liquid tears only when it overflows - either because our drainage channels are blocked and/or we are producing too much for them to cope with.
Laurence Olivier regretted that when on stage he was never able to produce tears when needed. (Obviously some adults find difficult what children find so easy!) Before we see in more detail what produces tears, let's look briefly at -
(b) Jesus' Tears
The shortest, and therefore famous, Bible-verse is Jesus wept (John 11:35, KJV). The word used (as we shall see later) is not one of wailing, crying or sobbing or even weeping, but simply of falling tears.
The context makes clear what caused Jesus' tears -
When Jesus saw her [Mary] weeping, and the Jews…also weeping, he was greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved. He said, "Where have you laid him?" They said to him, "Lord, come and see." Jesus began to weep. So the Jews said, "See how he loved him!"
Jesus' tears arose from deep emotion both at the death of his friend Lazarus, the grief, weeping and unbelief of those around, and perhaps also the strain of the situation which was likely to hasten his death.
(c) Their Causes
There are two main causes of increased tear-production: emotional and physical. Both are radically different chemically from our ordinary eye lubricant. They flush-out minerals and hormones related to stress and depression. Tears can plummet stress levels.
(d) Tears - the new Prozac!
Times are changing. Tears are increasingly recognized to be good for you. They provide release when you cannot put complex emotions into words, as Gywneth Paltrow found when accepting her Oscar! Crying helps us more quickly to restore our equilibrium after an upset.
In America tears are now regarded as the new Prozac! A recent book on them has taken the country by storm. The author claims that on average men are already crying once every three weeks - a statistic that I find quite astonishing.
|PART II - The Spiritual Context of the Gift of Tears|
|3. The Holy Spirit's Outpouring||(back to top)|
(a) All Christian streams - all nations
The main results of the world-wide Spirit-outpouring I would sum-up in the phrase -
'From Christian Fog to Christian Focus'
A personal experience of the Holy Spirit would be, and is, most likely to produce growth along some of the following lines -
(c) Outpouring - Fringe or Central ?
My list (above) shows how right the late Cardinal Suenens was in claiming that the Holy Spirit's work in this world-wide outpouring was certainly 'extreme', but it was 'extreme CENTRE !' What some initially feared as abnormal was, when viewed as a whole, found to be a work of God to restore his Church to normality!
God is a God of surprises! The churches were generally unprepared for it! Although there were leaders who were praying - Lord, renew your wonders as of a new Pentecost.
Every denomination had to come-to-terms with this new work of the Holy Spirit. There was a tendency for the new wine to burst the old wineskins, so local organisations inevitably sprang up to integrate the new life into old structures, to teach and to guide. In Britain, Michael Harper founded the Fountain Trust in 1964, and its magazine Renewal as an important tool for this.
I wrote my original article Tears - Gift of the Spirit for the magazine in 1980 after I had travelled for four years as the Fountain Trust's Associate Director.
|4. Understanding the Riches||(back to top)|
(c) "Renewal" ?
If the term 'Pentecostal' was not universally used because of an over-identification with the Pentecostalist churches, and 'charismatic' was not always used because of an over-identification with the Holy Spirit's 'gifts', it was the term 'Renewal' that seemed to be the most useful and the least misleading.
Many Christians were already familiar with the term in the New Testament. In Titus 3:4ff. we read:
But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Saviour appeared,
he saved us, not because of any works of righteousness that we had done,
but according to his mercy, through the water of rebirth and
renewal by the Holy Spirit.
This Spirit he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Saviour,
so that, having been justified by his grace,
we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.
Because of other 'renewals' in the churches, e.g. liturgical renewal, the term 'charismatic renewal' is sometimes used. It is a bit of a mouthful. One journalist thought that Michael Harper was a leader of 'cosmetic revival'!
In my four years' travelling as one of many leaders in this 'Renewal', (1977-1980) I inevitably had the honour of folk sharing their lives with me. I am not claiming that they were typical of all, but they certainly represented those who felt uncertain and were looking for guidance. Two things struck me most of all -
So, many of them were deeply troubled that they did not speak in tongues, and were astonished and immensely helped when I shared that of the Holy Spirit's gifts I had not, so far, received the gift of tongues.
I also shared that I had always stammered and that I could hardly speak my own surname for my first two decades. I quipped that I was still overwhelmingly grateful for the charism - given at Ordination - a genuine 'gift of tongue' that enabled me to speak English!
One of my spiritual mentors, a renowned Benedictine monk, had taught me that there were three rules for the Christian life:
One thing I did know, as St. Paul concluded in the passage I quoted at length earlier - the Spirit allots to each one individually just as the Spirit chooses.
|5. Tears outpoured||(back to top)|
(a) My own
I find it easy to share about my own gift of tears, because as I have stressed, such gifts are nothing whatever to be proud of. They are not signs of maturity, nor rewards for goodness. Having certain ones does not indicate any seniority, having other ones does not imply inferiority. It is the Spirit allots to each one individually just as the Spirit chooses.
When the first version of this article was published in Renewal in 1980 it broke new ground. The response was phenomenal, because up to that time the leaders in the renewal had said nothing about it, and there was no easily available teaching on it. I sought the advice of some of the more senior leaders about breaking the silence and they too felt that the time was right.
The following exchange was typical of my experience:
Me: '…perhaps you have the gift of tears.'
Enquirer: 'Gift of Tears!' I've never heard of such a thing. But if it exists, I've most certainly got it!'
|PART III - Tears in Scripture|
|6. Tears in the Life of Jesus and in the New Testament||(back to top)|
(a) In Jesus' background
Scripture gives us many examples of tears and weeping. There is not space to comment on any more than a few of the 200 instances. Suffice it to mention here just a few instances of it in the Scriptures that Jesus knew.
(b) In the Life of Jesus
In the New Testament while there are a number of references to weeping which must include tears, there are, in the life of Jesus only three references to tears as such.
The first is the noun tears that occurs twice, and the second the verb-version of the same word, which we might translate shed-tears.
(c) Tears in the N.T.
The other N.T. references simply to tears as such rather than weeping, include Paul's own descriptions to the Ephesian elders of "serving the Lord with all humility and with tears enduring the trials that came to me..." and "...that for three years I did not cease night or day to warn everyone with tears."
Paul reminded the Corinthians:
I wrote to you out of much distress and anguish of heart and with many tears, not to cause you pain, but to let you know the abundant love that I have for you.
Further references include II Timothy 1:4 - recalling your tears. This probably refers to the last time that Paul and Timothy parted, or, as some think, to the departure from Ephesus where there was much weeping. Acts.20:37. There is also a reference to Esau whom God would not free from his tears because he had no chance to repent. Hebrews 12:17.
The Book of Revelation twice proclaims the great promise God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.
|7. Weeping in the Life of Jesus and in the New Testament||(back to top)|
In addition to the times (above) when Jesus shed tears, there is in the N.T. one other reference to Jesus
weeping. Greek, like English has a range of words from shedding tears to crying (aloud), to making lament through
|PART IV - Christian Understanding of the Gift of Tears|
|8. Christian Insights into the Gift||(back to top)|
Tears feature throughout Christian history and in the West appear in the writings of St. Augustine, Julian of Norwich, St.
Francis and others. But it is from the Christians of the East that the richest experience and teaching comes.
In my own case, and in the experience of many others, the gift is rarely linked to any emotional change, the tears just come - with no feeling of weeping or crying. The occasions of their coming are specially the times when God is particularly present by his Spirit. They come in times both of receiving and giving ministry; in times of prayer; in times of worship.
I recall being prayed over by leaders of the renewal movement on the stage of a packed Central Hall Westminster, when they commissioned me for work with the Fountain Trust. The tears just flowed! They had done so also two years earlier in the same place (at the 1975 Westminster Conference) when I experienced the pain of some 2,000 Christians together, united in the Spirit, but unable (because of denominational disciplines) all to communicate together. It was a warm summer, and I was in short-sleeves. It was noted at the time that my shirt was actually drenched with tears. I was certainly not the only one. Later I read this and quoted it because it made sense of my experience -
The gift of tears... is associated not with human passions, but with the experience of God. Even their physiological aspect manifests this fact. They flow without strain or effort, without violent sobbing or the contortions of the face muscles.
In her widely-read book Poustinia Hueck Doherty makes the same point and says that when the Holy Spirit opens to you the panorama of the world and its pain, it will be tears rather than tongues that will be given.
In The Orthodox Way (a fine introductory book), Bishop Kallistos Ware writes -
|When it is genuinely spiritual, "speaking with tongues" seems to represent an act of "letting go" - the crucial moment in the breaking down of our self-trust, and its willingness to allow God to act within us. In the Orthodox tradition this act of "letting-go" more often takes the form of the gift of tears.|
The Eastern Christians have many names to describe and relate to this gift -
- the way of tears
- the prayer of tears
- the gift of tears
- holy sadness
- tears which illuminate
- weeping without ceasing, etc.
So central to the spiritual life do they regard the gift that it is frequently called 'the second baptism'. Fr. Maloney SJ, in Inward Stillness, records the teaching that this term is used because the waters of baptism only dealt with past sin, while the waters of our tears often relate to God's washing away of our present sin.
Symeon, the New Theologian, (a.d. 949-1022) whose writings have spoken so clearly to those touched by the Holy Spirit's out-pouring of this century shared the belief of his contemporaries about the gift of tears marking this 'second baptism.'
|9. Five Areas of the Spirit's work closely related to Tears||(back to top)|
The actual 'gift of tears' is received mostly within the context of the Holy Spirit's renewing movement (that I have
detailed above). There are five facets of the renewal in which weeping and the 'Gift of Tears' may be appropriate.
Do not expect there to be a very clear demarcation line between human weeping and the Spirit's gift of tears. Charisms
are gifts given to us as individuals, and it is through our own individuality that they operate. So whatever happens is
inevitably a mix of the human and the divine. Discerning the divine inspiration for tears is hardly necessary. Unlike,
say, the Gift of Prophecy, we are not claiming any authority because of our tears, nor is the Church guided by them or us
because of them.
The Holy Spirit's work in many of us is to move our beliefs about God into a heart-experience of him, and to enable us to respond more totally. Emotion (not emotionalism) is finding its rightful place as a part of our total loving response to God's love for us in Christ. In this setting, tears may be experienced, whether of penitence, thanksgiving or adoration.
As the Holy Spirit drove Jesus after his baptism out into the wilderness, so usually, it is so with us. (See my article WILDERNESS - the Christian Experience.) In this place of preparation for ministry, we experience the removal or the destruction of our idols, and the things on which we wrongly depend; we may experience temptation; we may undergo the changing of our priorities. 'Break me, melt me, mould me, fill me', is an authentic prayer to the Spirit, and when that prayer begins to be answered, then weeping and tears may not be far away.
Some conditions, spiritual, or mental, actually make it impossible for a person to weep. In that case new tears speak not of breakdown and bondage, but of a healing, release and liberation. One good reason to be more familiar with tears is so that our ability not to be upset by them will move forward the healing of others (and, of course, ourselves).
Some of us have mental hurts and wounds buried below the surface like splinters. For our healing they must come out. The warmth of the Spirit sometimes brings ugly facts of our past life to the surface, to heal us by a sort of surgery. Then there may be real pain and considerable hurt that have to be endured before we can be free.
In many of our Christian traditions we have inherited the purely human requirement to radiate victory and joy and assurance. They should indeed radiate from us, but when they do not, some Christians are forced to wear a false smile in order to be loved and accepted by our brothers and sisters in Christ. The Holy Spirit leads us into all truth. Sadly Christians may pretend most when together and least when away from one another! Sooner or later, the Holy Spirit will face us with ourselves as we really are. God can only meet us where we are, and it is often a long and painful journey, and the way may well be the way of tears.
As the Holy Spirit renews our minds and makes us more aware of reality, so bad things, as well as good, will touch us more deeply. If we grow in our recognition of God and his work, our increased vision will mean that we will see the devil and all his works as well. Human sin in general, as well as our own, will be more real, and spiritually, we will at times join our Lord in weeping over the Jerusalems of today as we learn of them through the media or feel the burden and sorrow of the joyless society around us.
It is in this context of the renewal, and in particular of weeping in worship and in the wilderness-experience, weeping in our healing, in our growth and in our pain that the Holy Spirit's gift of tears can begin to be understood.
When the Psalmist sings -
May those who sow in tears
reap with shouts of joy
It may be valid to read it not merely that God replaces joy by tears,
but that tears may well be, for some, a path to joy.
|PART V - A Final Note||(back to top)|
...or rather, Letter.
What follows is an excerpt from a letter I once wrote to a person who asked me about the Gift of Tears. It expressed what remains to be said, so I have simply quoted it just as written.
...Thank God for it [your gift of tears], but realize that such a gift is unlikely to be a permanent adornment. As you grow, you change, your situation changes and what God is calling you to be and calling you to do is likely to change also.
Watch out for new gifts as the Spirit deems necessary and don't cling to old ones like sports trophies!
The outworking of your gift will not be identical to anyone else, for God has made you unique and treats you accordingly. Don't feel guilty by comparing what God is doing with you with what he is doing to someone else. That's hardly relevant!
Don't focus on the gift. Watch out that you do not indulge in it. Never boast about it, but promptly witness to it if the Spirit leads you to do so, for your sharing is likely to bring great reassurance to others and will free them from false guilt that the expectations of other Christians may have forced upon them.
It is likely that life will have for you deeper pain, not less, as you see and feel things increasingly more from God's view. That is a special calling, and is, I think, linked to our sharing in some way the sufferings of Our Lord.
Very often, in situations where God is felt to be present, the tears will have no emotional upheaval behind them, nor will they be accompanied by sobbing. The gift of tears is not the gift of sobbing one's heart out!
Spiritual sensitivity is two-sided. Sin, your own and others' will pain you more; beauty and goodness will move you more. Both the wonder and goodness of God, and the horror and enormity of evil, will perhaps seem too big for you to cope with.
In practical terms you may have to take steps (unnecessary to many other Christians) to reduce the seeing the deluge of evil that comes into your life via newspapers and T.V.
If you have the Gift of Tears, as I think you may, do not feel that every tearful overflow is spiritual! Don't encourage tears. Beware of getting over-tired. If you are ministering in public you may have actually to move your thoughts deliberately away from God(!) in order to cope better. (Rare advice from a Christian minister!!) Don't feel guilty about this. If you have a job to do - do it, the best you can. If tears get in the way, take practical steps to keep them in check. (If I am giving a talk, I have to go through it aloud half a dozen times or more to get the tears out of me first, if I'm to have any chance of getting through it smoothly in public!) I'm reminded of Joseph in Gen.43:30 [Joseph hurried out, because he was overcome with affection for his brother, and he was about to weep. So he went into his private room and wept there. Then he washed his face and came out; and controlling himself said...] Not quite the same thing as the Gift of Tears, but a good example nevertheless!
If, in spite of all you do, you experience tears in public ministry, don't let it bother you. Just let them fall and keep going. I can assure you it will not distress people. They will move people, and when that happens it may be a means by which they can respond more wholly - not just their minds - to God's ministry to them.
Tears is, I think, a very 'spiritual' gift, and so it is important (as with all spiritual things) not to let the devil divert you into being over-spiritual! The over-spiritual are a pain to God and man! Keep the balance of your life right. Keep the secular going strongly and move as the light of Jesus within it. Keep your spiritual life 'earthed' - and a sense of humour is near-essential.
Whatever gift(s) you have, never rest on past abilities, expect to grow, and earnestly desire day by day any new good thing that the Lord has for you.
|(back to top)|
The articles most closely related to this one are:
WILDERNESS - THE CHRISTIAN EXPERIENCE
GROWING DAILY IN THE HOLY SPIRIT
BLESSINGS - HELPING TO RETAIN THEM
|Copyright John Richards 2001, but waived for users of www.helpforchristians.co.uk|