The Streams Which Form My River of Tears


“Thou dost give them to drink of the river of Thy delights” (Psalm 36:8).

My friend told me she had read something I’d written and wept.  I asked what had prompted that. She replied, “It was just the Lord. They were good tears.”

That’s all she said.

I know the feeling.

Any tears I shed come in one of three situations.  I’m traveling down the highway talking to the Lord or going over a sermon and become so carried away with the joy of the Lord that the tears flow.

I’m on my knees with my face buried in a couch cushion, sometimes saying nothing, and I tear up.

Or, I’m at this laptop tapping out insights from God’s word and His promises and am overwhelmed by His goodness. (Such as at this moment.)

Men always want their wives to say why they’re crying. I quit that long ago when my wife Margaret had no answer. “I just am. I’m a woman and sometimes we cry.”  Basically, that was no answer, but it was all I was going to get.

Being a man, I want to know why I cry.

And I think I know.

My tears are made up of several components in the same way that the great Mississippi River which flows unendingly down that massive channel about 3 blocks below where I lived for 26 years is formed from various waters. The Father of All Rivers, aka the Big Muddy, receives input from the Allegheny and the Ohio, the Susquehanna and the Missouri, from streams and creeks and runoffs from fields far and near, an area stretching from western New York to eastern Montana. An incredible basin.

It’s not all just from one source.

Why are my tears flowing?  Well, they are….

1) Tears of gratitude. He has been generous.

I think of how He has taken this farm boy and redeemed me, the family He has given me and the ministry stretching over a half-century–that I am now in my 80s and still going strong, that my family loves me and they enrich my life every day–and I am overcome with His goodness.

Thank you, Lord. How great Thou art.

2) Tears of relief that God has been merciful.

As David said (with good reason, actually), “He has not dealt with us according to our sin, nor rewarded us according to our iniquity” (Psalm 103:10).  I know that relief too. Thank you, Lord, for your incredible mercy.  If I got what I deserved, I would be in hell today.

I’m so grateful for the cross where Jesus dealt with my sins and the charges against me were nailed (Colossians 2:14).

3) Tears of joy. He is good, He is near, and His presence is awe-inspiring.

When I read of the lady anointing Him with her tears and the costly perfume, I envy her (John 12).  Who among us does not know the joy that such a Savior is ours, that He is here in this place, and we are His and His alone.   I cannot read that story without remembering something my dad once said: “Son, did it ever occur to you that when Jesus was hanging on the cross, that fragrance was still all over Him?” Until that moment, I had never thought of it.

I want my worship to be a sweet fragrance that honors Him, too.

4) Tears of regret.  I am such a loser, a failure, an embarrassment to the Kingdom.

Why did I do that thing? Why did I cave in to that temptation? Why did I fail that one?  Why wasn’t I stronger? Why did I quit that good thing I was doing?

As a young preacher, when people opposed me or chose not to like me, I found that puzzling. Surely, if they knew what a great guy I am, they would change.  Now, toward the sunset of a long life of hills and valleys, the wonder of wonders is that everyone does not treat me with disdain.

Were it not for the assurance that “if we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive our sins and cleanse us of all our iniquities” (I John 1:9), I would be hopelessly lost in my sin and stuck in a misery of unbearable proportions.

As a young minister, I said to a wonderful senior saint, “You are the greatest Christian I know.” She said, “Oh honey, if you only knew.”  It took a few years, but eventually, I learned. I know now what she meant. We are all sinners, and if saved at all, it’s by His grace.  None of this is about our goodness. It’s all about Him.

5) Tears of hope.  He is my all, my portion, my today and my tomorrow.

“Lord, to whom (else) shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.” This question and statement of faith from Simon Peter means a great deal to me. (John 6:68)  We do not follow Jesus, believe in Him, or serve Him because it’s easy and convenient. We do it because He is the only way, our only hope.  “Neither is there salvation in any other” (Acts 4:12).  We have been “born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead” (I Peter 1:3).

I do love that testimony of David that carries a world of meaning in just a few words: I waited patiently for the Lord, and He inclined to me and heard my cry; He brought me up out of the pit of destruction, out of the miry clay, and He set my feet upon a rock making my footsteps firm; And He put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to our God; Many will see and hear and will trust in the Lord” (Psa. 40:1-3).

6) Tears of concern. So many friends and loved ones need Him in their lives.

I love them so much and want them to know Him.  But their hearts seem hard, their minds closed, their eyes blind.  So, I pray.

7) Tears of fear. What if none of this is true and we are deluding ourselves, and I am of all men most miserable?

This morning, lying in bed and thinking about these matters, it occurred to me that if I knew I would never again see my wonderful parents, my grief would be unbearable, my pain inconsolable.

It helps to know that the New Testament deals with just this issue, this dread that none of this may be true, this need we have to know and know that we know. Consider, for instance…

–In John 11, when the Lord said to Mary and Martha, “I am the resurrection and the life; He that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live; and whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die,” He did not stop there but asked her the question of the ages: “Do you believe this?”  (Thank you, Lord, for recognizing how big a deal this is and how hard we find it to grasp. We’re trying.)

–As He revealed His promises of a future in the Father’s House, Jesus said, “If it were not so, I would have told you” (John 14:2).  That’s what a person of integrity does, makes no false promises.

–Paul emphasizes how pivotal the resurrection of Jesus is and lists a number of results of the loss of this critical factor. At the end, he says, “If we have hoped in Christ in this life only, we are of all men most to be pitied” (I Corinthians 15:19).

So, let’s not have any of this foolishness that the destination does not matter, only the journey.  The destination is everything!

“Thanks be to God who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ!” (I Corinthians 15:57)

My tears are a blend of faith and regret, of relief and rejoicing, of concern and hope. As my friend said, “They are good tears.”

No wonder the Psalmist said, “Lord, put Thy my tears in Thy bottle.”  Keep them somewhere precious to Thee.