A Bowlful of Tears

By Mark D. Roberts

September 8, 2017

You have fed them with the bread of tears; you have made them drink tears by the bowlful.

Psalm 80:5


A person wiping tears from their eyes.Scripture regularly associates God with joy, exuberant joy. The Psalms call us to sing with joy to the Lord (for example, Ps. 67:4). The Apostle Paul urges us to “Rejoice in the Lord always.” And, just in case we missed it, he adds, “I will say it again: Rejoice!” (Phil. 4:4).

But joy is not the only emotion connected to our relationship with the living God. Sadness also shows up in Scripture. In Psalm 80:5, for example, the psalmist laments: “You have fed [your people] with the bread of tears; you have made them drink tears by the bowlful.”

Tears by the bowlful!? From God? Has God actually inflicted such sorrow upon his people?

Yes, he has. Psalm 80 bears witness to this, though we could add our own stories. And while we want to understand why God has done this, Psalm 80 complains of what God has done, begging for help, without providing any reason for the Lord’s unwelcome behavior. From elsewhere in Scripture, however, we know that God has brought upon his people the judgment that their rejection of him deserved. They are being disciplined for generations of rebellion against the Almighty.

Yet, we also know that in God our sorrow is not permanent. Yes, the Lord allows us to weep… for a season. But that is not the end of the story. As Psalm 126 celebrates: “Those who sow with tears will reap with songs of joy. Those who go out weeping, carrying seed to sow, will return with songs of joy, carrying sheaves with them” (126:5-6).

Through Jesus Christ, we have begun to experience the joy of this harvest, however incompletely (see, for example, 1 Pet. 1:3-9). Our sadness in this world increases our yearning for God, opening us to more of his grace. Even as we eat the bread of tears, we also eat the bread of new life, the body of our Lord. So we are sustained through times of sorrow by the hope of God’s future.


Have you ever felt as if God had given you a bowlful of tears to drink?

What happened in your relationship with God during this time?

How is it possible for both sorrow and joy to be essential aspects of the Christian life?


Gracious God, there are times, even now, when you give us tears by the bowlful. Yes, yes, there are many times of blessing and joy. But, sometimes, that for which we have earnestly prayed does not come to pass. People we love suffer and die. Homes are destroyed by flood or fire. Families splinter because of anger or unfaithfulness. Injustice stalks our cities, taking the lives of the innocent. Racial hatred lurks in our hearts and shapes our systems. We drink the tears that inevitably flow in a broken world such as ours.

In those times, we cry out with the Psalmist. We ask you to rescue us, heal us, and restore us. We recognize that you alone can save us from our sorrow. And so we pray: “Restore us, LORD God Almighty; make your face shine on us, that we may be saved” (Ps. 80:19). Amen.


Explore more at the Theology of Work Project online commentary: Turn Us Again!

Mark D. Roberts

Senior Strategist

Dr. Mark D. Roberts is a Senior Strategist for Fuller’s Max De Pree Center for Leadership, where he focuses on the spiritual development and thriving of leaders. He is the principal writer of the daily devotional, Life for Leaders,...

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