WORSHIP 2021: PART 4 – BEING REAL WITH GOD
“HONEST TO GOD”
UNDERSTANDING THE HEART OF WORSHIP THROUGH PSALMS OF LAMENT
LAMENTING IS A VERY REAL PART OF OUR WORSHIP TO GOD
Worship of God is not about PART of the relationship that we have with our LORD (you know – the praise and the adoration “bit”), it’s about ALL of the relationship that we have with our LORD. We are His chosen people and we are His beloved children and we worship Him when we tell Him how happy we are, when we thank Him for what He has done, when we serve Him with all of our heart. But, we worship Him too when we cry out to Him about how miserable we are, when we tell Him that we can’t cope and don’t think we can go on, when we confess to Him that we feel as if we can’t serve any longer.
His message to us today is this: Be REAL with Him. Cry out to Him when your heart is broken. Be honest with Him about your fears and your hurts. This, He wants you to know, is part of your worship relationship with Him.
Have you ever been so overcome with anguish you not only feel overwhelmed with sorrow but also utterly, completely, soul-despairingly alone, as if no one on earth could possibly understand the depths of your pain? In times like these, it helps to remember God is there, and He’s ready to shoulder your burdens, suffering, and distress. Not only does God understand and see you in the centre of your pain, but He’s available for you, listening and ready as you cry out your heartache, anger, or sadness.
When it comes to worship, we are “cool”/ok with the idea of praising God in the midst of our many, many, troubles – and in recent months we have looked at Paul and Silas in prison in Philippi as our example of this. But how do we feel about worshipping God WITH pouring out all our troubles to Him? Crying and shouting and wailing? Can THIS too be worship??? The Psalms of Lament give us an insight into this question.
Lament is a major theme in the Bible and particularly in the book of Psalms. To lament is to express deep sorrow, grief, or regret. The psalms of lament are beautiful poems or hymns expressing human struggles. The psalms of lament comprise the largest category of psalms, making up about one third of the entire book of Psalms. These psalms are prayers that lay out a troubling situation to the Lord and make a request for His help.
The psalms of lament are poetic hymns meant to be sung to God. They deal with issues that were and still are central to the life of faith for individual believers and the whole community of faith. The lament psalms express intense emotions, real human struggles, and the anguish of heart experienced by the people of Israel as they lived out their faith individually and corporately.
The men and women of the Old Testament were as real as we are today. They danced and sang, rejoiced and laughed, argued and confessed, lamented and mourned. They expressed emotions to God in prayer just as we do today. When we encounter difficult struggles and need God’s rescue, salvation, and help, the psalms of lament are a good place to turn.
Like the whole book of Psalms, the psalms of lament follow a pattern that begins with suffering and ends with glory. Usually, these songs start on a negative, complaining note, but they end on a positive, faith-filled note. It is said that such Psalms give us a blueprint of our “lament relationship” with God – they begin with the PROBLEM, which is followed by the PETITION, and then completed with the PRAISE.
Let us take just one of these Psalms of Lament – Psalm 13 – to see that our worship relationship with God includes being real with Him as we come into His presence:
PSALM 13 – A PSALM OF LAMENT
1 How long, Lord? Will you forget me for ever?
How long will you hide your face from me?
2 How long must I wrestle with my thoughts
and day after day have sorrow in my heart?
How long will my enemy triumph over me?
3 Look on me and answer, Lord my God.
Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep in death,
4 and my enemy will say, ‘I have overcome him,’
and my foes will rejoice when I fall.
5 But I trust in your unfailing love;
my heart rejoices in your salvation.
6 I will sing the Lord’s praise,
for he has been good to me.
[Let’s get one challenge out of the way before we look any further at this Psalm of Lament helping us to understand the heart of our worship relationship with God. Isn’t this a prayer rather than worship? Well…yes, it IS a prayer. But it is accepted that this “prayer” – this Psalm – would have been sung – which isn’t the normal way in which we would expect a prayer to be made. And also, this question raises the further question, therefore, of whether prayers are a part of our worship relationship with God. And the answer must be “YES”. When we pray, we are entering into our relationship with God – and our relationship with God is called “worship”. So, from this time onwards, let us recognise that our prayers are a crucial part of our worship to the LORD. Let us now, then, get on with looking at what this Psalm teaches us.]
- VERSE 1 – PROBLEM– WHERE IS GOD IN MY TROUBLE?
This begins with the cry of desperation. You can really sense the pain in David’s heart – a feeling that God had forgotten him and had distanced Himself from him. How we can empathise with this when our life is tough:
- It feels as if our problems have been going on forever, that there is no “light at the end of the tunnel”, that this is a “terminal crisis”.
- We cry out that we have committed our lives to God and put our trust in Him, but that it seems that He has forgotten all about us. It feels that He doesn’t care. We hear stories of His help to others – wonderful answers to prayer and miracles – but it appears that He isn’t going to do anything for me, that He doesn’t even appear to be aware of me and what I am going through. Of course David had not been forgotten – but David feels confident enough to share this with God.
- God cannot and will not forget His children – Isaiah 49: 15 declares:
‘Can a mother forget the baby at her breast
and have no compassion on the child she has borne?
Though she may forget,
I will not forget you!
- And I cry out “How long?” What Christian has not felt this or thought this – many more times than once! Well, it is time to vocalise it – to bring this cry to God in my time of worship. Why doesn’t God act quickly? Why did it even come to this?
- VERSE 2 – PROBLEM – MY LIFE IS FALLING APART
Surely God knows my anguish? Oh! On the outside I look just fine to others – most of them (if not all of them) don’t even know what is going on because:
- My pain is in my mind. I can’t sleep. I don’t know what to do. I replay what has happened over-and-over-and-over again. It (whatever “it” is) blows out of all proportion. My thoughts torment me, accuse me and condemn me. I am anxious. I am in a state of panic and confusion. I don’t know what to do.
- My soul (more accurate than “heart”) is the seat of my thoughts and my emotions – and I have no joy. I have sorrow. I have hurt. I have fear. I’m wrestling with my own thoughts because I can’t hear you – and so I’m relying on my own thoughts.Lord! Don’t you care!
- I am a child of God. You are Almighty, All-seeing and All-present. Yet, it seems that those who are against me are able to attack me in every way – mentally, verbally and physically – with impunity! What is going on? Where are you LORD?!
- VERSE 3-4 – PETITION – SO I CRY OUT TO GOD FOR HELP
The “petition” part of this Psalm of Lament is Good News! It should serve as a lesson to us.
The spiritually immature one will cry out with the problem…and will then give up, walk away from God, go back into the “world” or look for solutions in themselves (look at what Abraham did when God seemed to be taking too long in giving him a son?). David did not do this. His worship relationship with God was such that he felt confident in crying out his problem to Him and then petitioning Him to sort things out. His problems drove him to his knees – let this be so for us. This is faith.
- In any relationship we rightly expect the other party to see us – so I cry out “look on me”. See the pain I am in.
- “Answer” – I know that God has the power to do all things. Knowing what I am going through I just want Him to answer – even if it is not the answer that I am looking for. I just don’t want to feel any more that He is not even listening. I submit to His perfect will for my life – for He knows the plans He has for me – I just want to have that answer now.
- “light to my eyes” is getting that answer, seeing what God’s view is, knowing what His will is to be. I can’t go on much longer – I will die – emotionally, spiritually, maybe even physically. Wow! This is a really bold challenge to God! This is not threatening God – this is the honesty of desperation.
- There’s even a bit of “bribery and corruption” thrown in here for good measure – are you really OK, LORD, with my enemies having the victory over me and gloating? This will make you look really weak! It is right for us to be concerned at how “enemies” of God view Him. I want them to see the mighty, loving God. Moses in the desert likewise challenged God on this one – when God said He was going to destroy unfaithful Israel – and Moses said that the enemies would then mock God. Can I REALLY talk to God like this??? Well…yes!
- VERSE 5 – PRAISE – I WILL TRUST IN GOD
Ah! NOW we get down to what looks more like our idea of worship…but, in fact it is just a different aspect of our worship. Without what has gone before, the cries and the pleas, it would ring a little hollow.
- Because of my belief in God and my faith is His promises, I am secure in the knowledge that His love is unfailing. God IS love and always DOES love. And when I know that I am loved then I know that God has only the best in mind for me. Therefore, I declare that I trust Him. He will do what is right. He will do what is best.
- And whatever happens I know that I am saved and will be saved. All will be right in the end. And it is the end that counts.
- VERSE 6 – PRAISE – AND HE DESERVES ALL MY PRAISE
You see, everything that I have already said is my worship to Him – it has all come out of my relationship with Him. But now I am going to praise Him as part of my worship.
- And I am going to do this very publicly – I’m going to SING His praise, or SHOUT His praise, or DANCE in praise, or WRITE down praise for Him, or simply TELL others of my praise for Him.
- I’m going to declare how GOOD He is, how LOVING He is, all the great things He has DONE. The word “good” speaks of “bountiful”, “generous”, “faithful”. Throughout my life He has been faithful, generous and given me so much – more than I realise and definitely more than I deserve. I can never say He has not been generous to me – for out of His Grace I have been given what I do not deserve.
- I am not going to rejoice in my circumstances – they go up and down, are good and bad – I am going to rejoice in His salvation. This must distinguish me from those in the world who do not know God.
- And despite all my moans and cries and complaints at the beginning of this time of worship, I know how GOOD He has always been to me. He has loved me and cared for me, and been always with me, and stood by me, and forgiven my sins and my unfaithfulness, and has adopted me into His family and has promised me eternal life with Him in Heaven.
This Lament is my worship to You. This Lament is me being real with the God with whom I am in a worship relationship with.
THE CHALLENGE: IS LAMENT A PART OF YOUR WORSHIP?
Jo Saxton raised these challenges as she spoke very briefly on Psalm 13 at this year’s online Spring Harvest event:
- What role does Lament play in your worship?
- Are you confident now that Lament is an acceptable part of your worship?
- Surely God wants you to be honest and to grieve when times are tough?
Lament is raising a “sob” before God, a cry, a wail, – over that diagnosis, that divorce, that dismissal, that disaster, that debt.
Lament is crying out, with total honesty and openness, “How long, LORD?”
Why not take some time now, and make some space in your very busy lives, to bring before God your lament – quietly if you are with others, or with loud cries if you are on your own.
FOR FURTHER THOUGHT AND DISCUSSION
- What did you take away from this session?
- How comfortable are you in worshipping God in Lament?
- Have a look at a very different form of Psalm of Lament – most are “individual laments” but Psalm 137 is a “corporate lament”. Read it and think about it. In what ways can “corporate lament” be useful and powerful? Apply it to Coronavirus, to injustice, to persecution.
- Why not carry on your own personal study of the different ways we can “Praise” Him.