Who of us does not know the haunting gap of grief that lies between what is and what might-have-been — the pain of something inestimably precious becoming irretrievably lost? In his brief beautiful piece on The Deep Sighs of Jesus, my friend, Seth Barnes, describes this gap well. 
. . . when reality smacks up against our hopes. We sigh. We exhale a burst of air that may come from our lungs, but also comes from some angst-filled place in our heart. The deeper the sigh, the greater the disconnect between the world we hope for, and the one we live in.
Jesus seemed to live in this gap a lot. You hear it in his testy responses. . . . He calls Pharisees “hypocrites” to their faces when they ask him about traditions. (Mk 7:5-8) He calls his disciples “dull” when they fail to understand his explanation. (Mk 7:18) Before healing a deaf mute, he looks up to heaven and sighs deeply. (Mark 7:34)
After he feeds 4000, the Pharisees ask for a sign. He responds with a deep sigh. In his debrief of what just happened, his disciples misunderstand his metaphor. You can hear the exasperation in his voice. “Do you still not understand? Are your hearts hardened? Do you have eyes but fail to see, and ears but fail to hear?” (Mk 8:12-18)
When Peter rebukes him, Jesus snaps back and calls Peter “Satan.” (Mark 8:33)
Living in the gap between spiritual and physical reality can be a frustrating experience. Who of us hasn’t struggled with trying to live a life of faith in a world that is . . . disbelieving?
In each of these examples, Jesus was grieved by the gap between what was taking place and the inestimable superiority of what could-have-been. Because he lived in the light of what was possible, these shortfalls filled him with consternation. His sighs tell us how hard it is for him to see magnificent possibilities right on the cusp of being realized melt away into oblivion — never to become.
The religiously astute sealed their hearts against the truth, preferring tradition, or they would-have-seen the light. For lack of suppleness, his disciples’ disoriented hearts caused them to fall short, time and time again, of the potential to see and understand what he was saying. Jesus’ sighs reveal his frustration — because another, better outcome was totally possible — well within range. He ached that what was taking place was not what could-have-been.
The deep sighs of Jesus reveal the heart of God each time the potential of something inestimably precious becomes irretrievably lost.
The irretrievable loss of what might-have-been
“For millions of Christians God is no more real than he is to the non-Christian.”
This is not what is meant-to-be. But in the disorientation of our hearts, how many times have we blamed God for not making Himself more real to us?
When I’m struggling in a hard situation, feeling my powerlessness, I’m quick to ask God why He isn’t helping, but slow to suspect that His ready power is not flowing because of something missing in me.
We are more prone to shrug our shoulders, dismissing a heartbreaking outcome by thinking, “God must not have meant-it-to-be,” rather than asking Him to show us how we fell short of what He wanted-to-be.
The deep sighs of Jesus confirm that there are things he has wanted-to-be, that could-have-been, should-have-been, might-have-been . . . BUT DID NOT come-to-be. Until we see this, we will not understand the abortive threat of sin, by which it destroys what God has wanted-to-be.
Jerusalem, Jerusalem, who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, the way a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were unwilling.
Matt 23:37-38, NASU
In the illustration above, the sun-like symbol represents The Reality of everything God is . . . The Reality of everything God wants to do and be for us. A barrier divides our experience of Reality. On the left side, Reality is not real to me. On the right side, Reality has been realized in me. I know Him by personal experience.
Scripture used the Greek word hamartano for “sin.” Hamartano is an archery term meaning “to miss the mark.” Sin causes us to miss the mark, to fall short of the breakthrough that would take us into all that God wants to do and be for us.
The first time I saw this “barrier,” I was pounding on heaven’s door, asking God to show me how a stumbling immature believer has any advantage over “good” men doing “great” things, who don’t believe. His answer came in a series of pictures unfolding like a movie, filling me with wonder.
I saw a green line approaching the barrier, experiencing greater and greater resistance the closer it got, then relenting and turning away. And then I saw the same thing again; but this time Israel was the green line approaching the border of The Promised Land, feeling greater and greater resistance to go in, then turning back into the wilderness — and the scripture came to me, “they could not enter in because of unbelief.” (Hebrews 3:19)
Then He showed me The Veil that hung in The Temple separating The Holy Place (on the left) from The Holy of Holies (on the right), where the Shekinah glory dwelt.
I began to understand that this “barrier” was an illustration of spiritual laws, pictured in Scripture.
And then I saw a soft gold line move toward the barrier. The moment it broke through, a rush of bright exhilaration exploded in me.
Across the top of this picture, He wrote “BELIEF.”
That was almost 30 years ago. Ever since, when I read Scripture, these images play across the page, explaining the spiritual dynamics taking place.
On the right side of this barrier, we experience the presence of The Living God. In that bright realm waits The Promised Land — the fulfillment of every God-given promise. It is the place where everything God has ever said comes true. It is the inheritance that lies on the other side of our redemption, where we walk as a new man, incomprehensibly alive to God.
The barrier is where Jacob becomes Israel. It is where we put off the old man and put on the new. It is where the essential me – whom Jesus came to find and die for – is brought to life; and that aspect of me which is condemned, is put to death.
The barrier symbolizes the crucifixion, the tearing of his flesh, which Jesus endured for the sake of the reward awaiting him on the other side. The barrier defines the difference between what I am now – unable to break through – and what I am meant-to-be – capable of breakthrough.
It symbolizes death, on the other side of which heaven waits. It is the infinite plane of The Truth thrust before us, each point of our passage being called “obedience.” We experience The Reality of Salvation (the bright right side of the barrier) as we obey the truth.
When sin exerts its truth-resistant energy in us, it makes it impossible for us to break through. . . and the potential of something inestimably precious becomes irretrievably lost.
The deep sighs of Jesus were wrung from him — because living in the light, he knew what was possible, and saw the tragedy of our loss taking place.
We lose the superiority of what might-have-been,
because we choose something vastly inferior,
wanting it more.
Studies reveal that American Christians demonstrate the same rate of failure as the unredeemed culture around us: in our marriages, in our ability to raise healthy successful children, in addictions, in pornography, in sound financial practice. Where is the power of God that should be setting us apart?
When I fall short of the target, it’s not just my own loss of what might-have-been . . . Far more significant is the loss of bright witness — testifying to His redemption and reality — meant-to-be given to an unredeemed world . . . but wasn’t.
* * *
If you latch on to one truth today, please let it be this — there is only one way to turn this around — and it is not by anything we do.
Everything God wants to do and be through you,
— and His success in getting you through that barrier —
depends not on what you do,
but on what you are.
Only the new man can get through that barrier.
Jesus answered him, I assure you, most solemnly I tell you, that unless a person is born again (anew, from above), he cannot ever see (know, be acquainted with, and experience) the kingdom of God.
John 3:3, AMP
The New Man
Breakthrough has to do with being. The new man possesses God-given–being, which the best of natural men cannot simulate. We are born with one kind of being, that is vulnerable and corrupted (like a computer with a virus). But the new man’s being is sinless and resistant to sin. (The gold line in my illustrations represents this being.) When we move in this new being: we don’t have to struggle to do the right thing . . . we don’t have to work hard to forgive . . . we don’t fight raging doubt to believe. Doing right, forgiving and believing are inherently natural to us.
We hear from every side what we are meant-to-be, and we’ve been trying so hard. But God hasn’t been telling us what to do — instead, He’s been calling us to a new order of being. We need to put off the old man and put on the new. It is like switching faucets, determining to turn off one and turn on the other. We can’t turn green lines gold; we can’t make “wrong being” “right being.” But that is exactly what we’ve been working so hard to do. . . while everything we’re meant-to-be already awaits us in the new heart and new mind of the new man.
For the new man, there is no barrier. He automatically lives and moves and has his being in God . . . experiencing union with God.
Is this possible for us now?
Yes, and no.
Yes. We do know moments, short periods of time when we actually walk in this being, as a new man, born again. . . experiencing union with God, ringing with His life, seeing miracles, receiving His power into our lives — FOR REAL!
BUT No. We are not fully there yet, not while we are in these bodies. Paul describes the anguish of living in the painful gap between walking in the spirit and the all too familiar working of SIN in his flesh.
. . . I am of flesh, sold into bondage to sin. For what I am doing, I do not understand; for I am not practicing what I would like to do, but I am doing the very thing I hate . . . So now, no longer am I the one doing it, but sin which dwells in me. For I know that nothing good dwells . . . in my flesh; for the willing is present in me, but the doing of the good is not . . . O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?
Paul knew the most exquisite moments of incandescence, when God’s power moved powerfully in and through him. But as he wrote the above, he was agonized by the haunting gap that lies between what is and what is meant-to-be.
BUT PAUL’S GOAL WAS NEVER TO WORK HARDER NEXT TIME.
Paul understood that the power that would carry him through would not come from what he did, but what he was — a new man in Christ possessing an entirely different being. He didn’t mourn what was lost, but focused on his POTENTIAL breakthrough into all that was set before him.
I’m not saying that I have this all together, that I have it made. But I am well on my way, reaching out for Christ, who has so wondrously reached out for me. Friends, don’t get me wrong: By no means do I count myself an expert in all of this, but I’ve got my eye on the goal, where God is beckoning us onward — to Jesus. I’m off and running, and I’m not turning back.
So let’s keep focused on that goal, those of us who want everything God has for us . . . you’ll see it yet! Now that we’re on the right track, let’s stay on it.
Phil 3:12-16, THE MESSAGE 
It’s time for our breakthrough.
No more sighs wrenched by grief over what we’ve lost. Now is the time for unspeakable joy, as we determine to walk in that being, THE POTENTIAL of which cost Him everything to give us . . . to carry us through.
 Tozer, A.W. 1969. Gems from Tozer. Edited by Send the Light Trust. (Christian Publications: Camp Hill, Pennsylvania),8.
 The Bible in Contemporary Language © 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson. All rights reserved.)