Category Archives: lament

Praying from the shadows

How long, o Lord, how long?

I stand here in the shadows, looking at the light of your power and might in creation; your boundless inventiveness and artistry; your generous provision for the physical needs of all that you have made and the sheer mind-blowing scale of your works. I consider the great dance of the planets in their galaxies, and am crushed by a sense of insignificance and transience. You, my God, are beyond telling great, and your works praise your name.

I stand here, in the shadows, looking at the light of your salvation in the lives of millions around the world today. I see hope restored, purpose bestowed, forgiveness received, and the beauty of Christ shining in faces of so many races, tribes and tongues. Your power to save is marvellous in my eyes, and I join with all the redeemed in worshipping you.

I sit here, in the dark shadows, considering all the ways that I fall short of perfection in Christ, the good things I have not done, and the wrong things I have said or thought or done. I take hold of the forgiveness freely offered in Christ, that blessed washing away of stain and blemish, so that even as you forget my wrongdoings, I also may not be haunted and burdened by my past. I throw myself on your mercy, and for the sake of Christ, you declare me blameless.

I sit here, in the dark shadows, looking at answers to my prayers in the lives of others, and thanking you for them. Your hand is mighty to work all things together for the good of those who love you and who trust in you. It is a mystery and a comfort, this praying, this beseeching for and sharing of all things with you, our maker and Father.

I lie here, in the cold, dark shadows, wondering if I will ever feel the warmth of the sun and see the light upon myself again. I see it on others, and know that they feel the warmth, strong and healing, life-giving and sustaining, but I do not.

You know all things Lord, you know what it is that comes between me and your light, like a moon eclipsing the sun and causing darkness to fall upon all under its shadow! You know and see the things that blot out the warmth and while I know your power and your love are undiminished, yet I cannot seem to receive their benediction.

You are almighty, all-knowing, eternally good and loving to your children. I believe this, and believing it must somehow make sense of my darkness.

You promised never to leave me alone – therefore you are with me here and now, in spite of the deadness at heart which cripples me.

You promise to hear and answer my prayers – therefore you know what I am asking and what troubles me, and are chosing to answer in ways which I cannot see or understand. I must believe that you are planning blessing for me or other people through this, and that is why I must remain in the dark.

O Lord, give your word power to comfort me in the darkness, that I may have courage to remain.

Let me see that your strength is made perfect in my weakness, that you are a real refuge and fortress to your children when they are weary and sad.

Let my words come to you from the shadows, Lord, and be swift to answer me!

……………………………………………………………………………………………….

 

The Spirit of the sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to preach good news to the poor.

He has sent me to bind up the broken-hearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn and provide for those who grieve in Zion – to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of gladness in stead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. 

They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the Lord for the display of his splendour.

(Isaiah 61.1-3)

Amen, Lord let it be..

 

Will you sit with me?

O God, listen to my cry! Hear my prayer! From the ends of the earth, I cry to you for help when my heart is overwhelmed.

Lead me to the towering rock of safety, for you are my safe refuge, a fortress where my enemies cannot reach me.

Let me live forever in your sanctuary, safe beneath the shelter of your wings!

(Psalm 60, 1-4)

Oh, why give light to those in misery, and life to those who are bitter? They long for death, and it won’t come. They search for death more eagerly than for hidden treasure. They’re filled with joy when they finally die, and rejoice when they find the grave. Why is life given to those with no future, those God has surrounded with difficulties? I cannot eat for sighing; my groans pour out like water. What I always feared has happened to me. What I dreaded has come true. I have no peace, no quietness. I have no rest; only trouble comes.

(Job 3.20-26)

People don’t like to hear the truth sometimes…they find it upsets their own faith when fellow believers struggle and suffer for no reason. When depression or deep sadness come to faithful Christians and they walk in the dark, they may well find themselves reluctant to share what they are feeling, afraid of unsettling others and aware that no one can actually help them…

It is so much easier to be around those who are finding life positive, seeing much to be thankful for, obviously overcoming and triumphing by God’s help over the various trials they experience. Who wants to sit, like Job’s comforters(before they spoke a word!), in the dirt, in silence, weeping with him and pouring out an agony of lament? That takes courage, humility, deep love, and a deeper faith.

But is it more glorifying to God for me to pretend that all is well, when the reality is a bleak, numb hopelessness? If God is God, good and loving, holy and faithful, with our best interests at heart and a great master plan for glorifying his son in which we play a part, then my experience of darkness is not enough to undermine his power. Does the reality of my – or anyone else’s – struggle need to be hidden in order to protect his reputation?

As ever, the bible shows us the right response in the darkness. To tell it out. Tell it loud and clear. Tell it to the one who above all is concerned for my heart, who more than anyone else can understand and feel for my pain. Lament; weep and cry; leave no detail unexplored and lay the entire ugly, messy, appalling burden in the lap of God the Almighty, who although beyond our meagre understanding, is never far from us but close and tender-hearted toward us.

Can we extend this same grace to one another? Are you willing to hear a fellow believer share their experience of apparent defeat without jumping in to tell them what they should be doing about it? Will you sit and weep a while; listen to the truth of their darkness as it speaks without demanding that they focus on the light which will surely shine at some point? Will you comfort – that is to gently reassure someone that they are heard, loved, and never alone? All without judging or assuming that you have all the answers?

The time may come when you can give words of direction or even exhortation; but as a soul who knows very well how it feels to be in this darkness, may I encourage you to restrain your kind enthusiasm, and just let me know that you are with me. You may not know how I feel, but you can allow me the opportunity to feel and express it, without trying to shape my thoughts into forms which suit you.

When I am in the darkness, when I am unable to rejoice in God’s gifts and when hope is utterly gone, the best help you can give me is to pray for me; sit with me; and if you want to speak, then help me to bring everything to God. While he is my focus for lamentation, I am safe and you will have done all you can.

 

 

An open hand..

Job stood up and tore his robe in grief. Then he shaved his head and fell to the ground to worship. He said

I came naked from my mother’s womb, and I will be naked when I leave. The Lord gave me what I had, and the Lord has taken it away. Praise the name of the Lord!

In all of this, Job did not sin by blaming God.

(Job 1.20-22)

Grief, and worship.. How often do we actually manage to put these two together in our own experience? Perhaps if our idea of worship involves singing songs that make us happy, then we can’t begin to combine them. But this is not what Job was doing, and it helps me to see past the current fashion for worship leaders, bands, fancy lighting, and music-induced emotion. In Job’s actions here, his response to a devastating loss of life, I see true worship – which is to give God his rightful place, to acknowledge his power, majesty, mystery, and to put myself in the right place before him – flat on the ground.

How hard we find it to get rid of the persistent notion that we are entitled to anything in this world! Our culture continually encourages us to acquire, to aspire, to achieve, and even to demand – because we are ‘worth it’. We are exhorted to stand up for our rights – even when that means trampling the rights of others. And what does the bible say about this? That we came with nothing; that every day we live, every breath we take, is the free and undeserved gift of God! We can expect nothing as of right; not health, wealth, freedom from oppression, family life, or fulfilling work…Nothing.

And yet we have so much! Perhaps it is the very bounty of God, the mercies we have enjoyed daily since birth, which makes it so easy for us to take it for granted, take it all as our right. Job knew better, and when he lost everything dearest to him, he continued to give God the right to be God, to be good and just and holy, and altogether greater than Job could comprehend. He didn’t pretend that he was happy about the loss of his children, and subsequently his health. He lamented, and poured out his grief in some of the most powerful language recorded in the bible. But he always addressed himself to God, as God, never questioning that this was the right and proper thing to do.

 I am thankful not to be facing such appalling loss, but the forthcoming change in our family circumstances does mean that I will be giving up some very precious – to me – activities and things.

For ten years, I have sung as an amateur singer with a Symphony Chorus, performing alongside a professional orchestra, world-class soloists and conductors, and making music at the highest level. It is very hard for me to express how much pleasure and satisfaction I have been given through this gift, but I know that as I face leaving the city, and the chorus, I will lose one of the most fulfilling experiences of my life. Does God know, does he care? Of course he does! It was his gift of music in me which I celebrated in joining the choir in the first place. And every concert has been a time of rejoicing in what music is, one of the greatest gifts mankind has been given.

So as I close the music, say farewell to my fellow singers for the last time, and as the echoes of the final bars of sound die away, I will grieve, bitterly. And that will be fitting, because I have been deeply blessed, and and profoundly thankful for all I have been able to do and experience.

And my Father will see the tears, the pain, and in his tenderness will come closer than ever to hold and reassure me. He gave, and he is taking away. Blessed be his holy name.

I must and will trust him for these losses, for the wounds caused by parting. His love for me, and my dependence on his grace is what will keep the wounds clean and wholesome, will make the scars themselves a thing of beauty. I will – with his help – rejoice for what has been, give thanks whenever I remember, and turn any pang of regret into prayer for greater trust, so that I might say , with Paul that I have learned to be content, whatever the circumstances, and that through Christ who gives me strength.

Mourning..at Christmas?

Even in laughter the heart may ache, and joy may end in grief.

(Proverbs 14.13)

So last week our church family held its annual ‘Carols by Candlelight’ event, our building transformed by candle – and fairy – light into a glowing haven on a dark, damp night. Music from the choir, the praise band and the gathered folk themselves, interspersed with readings and video clips to challenge us to look beyond the familiar trappings of the story.

And I stood at the back, weeping inconsolably, bewildered by the force of my grieving, and ashamed to bring it into such a lovely space.

Why, why should I feel wounded and heart-broken as I hear these wonderful words again, words which have marked every Christmas of my life, the story of my Saviour’s birth?

One may be sad at any time of year, and perhaps especially at Christmas when remembering loved ones who have died; realising that life is not working out as you had hoped and that expectations are not going to be realised; recognising that life may be going to get harder, that there are trials and sore tests on the horizon. But it was none of these which I found in my heart last Sunday evening.

I felt myself drowned in the grief of God for a world of human beings whom he loves with a passion which we cannot imagine; and who have consistently refused to recognise his love, rejecting his mercy and scorning his tenderness.

Look around at society today.. chasing material wealth, health and long-life; grasping eagerly at every excuse for a party, a reason to “be cheerful”, trying to live up to the myth of the perfect Christmas and the ideal family. People know that there is more to life than they have already, that is what drives them. But they will not see that in Christ, God has given us what we really need, and that without him, nothing else can satisfy them.

Folk crowd along to carol services, they sing the old familiar songs and watch the old films again; they eat the same foods and play the old games; all reaching vainly after something meaningful and nourishing for their hearts.

But they can’t or won’t see past the glitter, the tinsel, the food and the gifts. The story is there because it has always been there, but they cannot see past the nativity play costumes to the glory enclosed in human flesh; to the priceless gift that Mary held in her arms for the shepherds to adore. Our God, with us, in our mess and desperation; our self-deception and fatal self-sufficiency; our willed blindness to all that might do us good.

Our God, with us, to give us the new hearts that we need to live well, to live forever with him in wholeness and joy.

Is it not enough to make us weep? That we who have been given this gift – through no merit of our own, but entirely by God’s grace and goodness – should be unable to open the eyes of our neighbours, colleagues, family and friends to what we have.

I know it is wrong to despair, but I think it is good to realise a little of how our utterly good God must grieve over this world in its stubborn refusal to hear him. I think that there is a place for mourning at Christmas, for calling out to God by his Holy Spirit to open blind eyes, and breathe life into dead bones. The hymn ‘It came upon the midnight clear’ expresses this so tenderly:

But with the woes of sin and strife the world has suffered long;

Beneath the angel strain have rolled two thousand years of wrong;

And man at war with man, hears not the love song which they bring;

O hush the noise, ye men of strife, and hear the angels sing.

And ye, beneath life’s crushing load whose forms are bending low,

who toil along the climbing way with painful steps and slow,

Look now! for glad and golden hours come swiftly on the wing;

O rest beside the weary road, and hear the angels sing.

(E H Sears, 1810-1876)

The truth is here for all to see… Oh Lord, have mercy upon the closed mind and the proud heart, remove the veil and let people see you in all your beauty.

How long, O Lord?

Not again, please, not again Lord:

Sudden death and destruction coming on ordinary people:

Hate erupting into horror, devotion to a cause driving men to desperate extremes and deliberate evil.

How can we bear it..

How can You bear it?

When You created us in Your image, it was not for this:

When You breathed life into us, made us spiritual beings, it was not for this:

O God, holy and pure, filled with light as we are filled with darkness, have mercy upon us.

We are pulling down catastrophe upon our race;  through hatred, greed, laziness and neglect we dishonour Your image within us, and wreak havoc upon one another and the world You created for us to cherish and enjoy.

O God, mighty and good, utterly just as we are utterly corrupt, have mercy upon us.

We are fully deserving of judgement, there is no goodness in us, except where pale reflections of Your image within us remain, and by their light serve to show how dark are our deeds and thoughts.

O God, faithful and true, steadfastly loving as we are fickle and unreliable as the wind, have mercy upon us.

Although the truth about You has been revealed through creation, and all may know that there is a God in heaven, we have chosen to worship instead the things of this world, becoming enslaved by our own desires and fears; have mercy upon us.

Today we kneel before You, in silence, acknowledging our part in the woes of the world, our own weakness and waywardness, and sharing the grief and pain of those who suffer. Today we cry out for mercy upon those who are in desperate need of comfort – for the body and the spirit. Today we cry out for justice to be seen and done for those who have been desperately wronged. Today we confess that we have sinned and fallen short of the glory which is Your perfect way, and we deserve condemnation just as much as the terrorist, the murderer, the oppressor and abuser.

Only in Christ, only through the sacrifice of the perfect one, do we have hope, and a promise for redemption. So in Him we trust, and out of our desperation we cry to You for this world to know and trust in Him also, that we might see peace, healing and fulness of life as all nations find their true fulfilment in following and worshipping Jesus.

Christ, have mercy;

Lord, have mercy;

For in You alone, our hope rests.