I’m sure that godly sorrow doesn’t feel very practical. If godly sorrow is grieving over another’s sin and desiring his repentance, how do we apply it? Actually, it is a very grace-filled response.
For instance, you’re giving some instruction to someone and without you knowing why, they seem irritated. Even though you need to give them this instruction, they may take it as a message that they are stupid or they “hear” a tone from the past when they were belittled. Their reaction has nothing to do with you; actually, it’s their own issue of possibly not wanting to appear stupid or ignorant.
You can’t really know the “why” of their irritation but this is where godly sorrow comes in. Instead of becoming irritated yourself because now they seem to be communicating something negative back about you, you can grieve that they are not believing the truth about themselves. If they are “in Christ,” they are not stupid–they have the “mind of Christ.” You can be gracious and kind because they are for this instant, believing Satan’s lies about themselves. They are not walking in the truth. It is their own struggle and says little about you.
Making such a wise conclusion and choice in that instant isn’t easy. We can react in an ungodly way all too quickly. But as we have a transformed heart, over time, we can cast off taking it personally and see this person as beloved of God and currently struggling. Godly sorrow can fill our hearts.
As that godly sorrow fills our hearts and we don’t need to defend or protect our value, God may invite us to reach out in some way toward them. Maybe we could say something like, “You seem a little irritated. May I ask why?” Or “Is this frustrating for you? What’s going on inside of you right now?”
Evidently, the Apostle Paul reached out through some letter (maybe First Corinthians?) because he talks about the reaction of the Corinthians to his former letter. I wonder if Paul first had godly sorrow that the Corinthians weren’t walking in purity with the Lord, and in love he wrote to them. They were being tempted by certain false teachers in their midst. They were straying from Paul’s teachings of truth. He writes:
“For though I caused you sorrow by my letter, I do not regret it; though I did regret it—for I see that that letter caused you sorrow, though only for a while—I now rejoice, not that you were made sorrowful, but that you were made sorrowful to the point of repentance; for you were made sorrowful according to the will of God, so that you might not suffer loss in anything through us. For the sorrow that is according to the will of God produces a repentance without regret, leading to salvation, but the sorrow of the world produces death” (2 Cor. 7:8-10, NASB).
Paul’s godly sorrow created godly sorrow in his friends. And godly sorrow brings a person to the point of repentance–of recognizing their sin and being restored to God. It brings salvation and life. But the sorrow of the world produces death.
Could the “sorrow of the world” refer to over-reacting? Being offended? Protecting ourselves with anger? Blaming? Certainly those things bring a kind of death to the relationship–if only temporarily. We feel separated from them. But godly sorrow that they are believing lies and we succumbed also, brings repentance and salvation–restoration of the relationship.
Godly sorrow is indeed very practical. It can strengthen us to walk in our friend’s shoes and wonder what is going on in them. With our focus on their pain, we can be selfless and loving. We can forget about ourselves and respond as Jesus would.