Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. James 4:8-9
At the church where I serve as pastor, we emphasize joy a lot. We are not a church that stresses “morbid introspection.” We believe that spiritual growth happens when we focus on our Savior, and not our behavior. That being said, we do not believe in passivity. We believe that sanctification is a battle where we are called to know, think about, understand, and make an all-out war on our sin. As John Owen said, “Be killing sin or it will be killing you.” We believe that. And that’s why we believe that there is a place for mourning, weeping, and being “gloomy” over our sin.
James 4 can help us here. In this section of his letter, James is dealing with relational conflicts. I think the Greek word for that is “drama” (or, it should be!). Because we are all sinners who have relationships with other sinners, we inevitably experience drama and conflict (and it is often compounded by our trials and hardships). But when conflict ensues, we typically focus on our hurts and the wrongs done by others. We become selfish (see James 4:1-3). We easily see the sins of others but often are blind to our own. And that’s where a dead Puritan named Jeremiah Burroughs can help us out-
Many times in a family, when any affliction befalls them, Oh, what an amount of discontent is there between man and wife! If they are crossed in their possessions at land, or have bad news from across the seas, or if those whom they trusted are ruined and the like, or perhaps something in the family causes strife between man and wife, in reference to the children or servants, and there is nothing but quarrelling and discontent among them, now they are many times burdened with their own discontent; and perhaps will say one to another, It is very uncomfortable for us to live so discontented as we do. But have you ever tried this way, husband and wife? Have you ever got alone and said, ‘Come, Oh let us go and humble our souls before God together, let us go into our chamber and humble our souls before God for our sin, by which we have abused those mercies that God has taken away from us, and we have provoked God against us. Oh let us charge ourselves with our sin, and be humbled before the Lord together.’? Have you tried such a way as this? Oh you would find that the cloud would be taken away, and the sun would shine in upon you, and you would have a great deal more contentment than ever you had. (The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment, pp.48-49)
The next time you experience relational conflict (that gets compounded by trials and hardships) in your marriage, family, neighborhood, work, dare I say your church (!), then get alone with God and ask him to expose the sin in your heart that you brought to the table. Be wretched. Mourn. Weep for your sin. Let your joy be transformed to gloom. Let your laughter be turned to mourning. That means, don’t take your sin lightly. It is no laughing matter. Own up to your sin. Admit that you are sinner in desperate need of a grace that is ready and willing to help you (see James 4:6).
And then embrace the forgiveness that the Gospel provides. And then revel in the fact that Jesus was perfect for you. And then focus on your Savior and not your behavior. And then turn your mourning back into laughter and your gloom back into joy.