Saturday, June 28, 2008

Suffering and our Songs


We don't hear much talk about lamenting these days do we? Why would anyone lament? Shouldn't we be reading Your Best Life Now or Become a Better You or 7 Habits of Highly Effective People when life smacks us in the face? Hasn't the wisdom of the world and the wisdom of God been given so we can quickly read or listen to the how to's of our time and pull ourselves out of our proverbial pit?

I recently viewed a You Tube video of an interview of John Lennon after the breakup of the Beatles. The British interviewer was asking John to recount some defining moments that aided in the breakup of the group and John shared a story about a 1967 visit the band made to a lecture given by the famous Maharishi in Wales. Following the lecture, the group was informed that Brian Epstein, the band's manager, had died. John recounts, with come colorful language, the absurdity of the Maharishi's insistence that the band just move on saying, "O forget about happy." He says that they all went along with it, but moving on never allowed them to conquer the sense of futility they felt, or addressed the significance of losing a close friend, much less the significance of death itself. They just moved on. They just smiled. John Lennon, looking back some years later sees the balderdash that this advice was. He recognized the insufficiency of that type of outlook and the toll it took on the four friends' relationship.

Now, I am fairly certain that anyone who would read more than the header to this blog has probably never sat at the feet of a Hindu Brahmin or a Yogi, and probably doesn't want to! However, can't we all think of Christians who have a similar outlook on suffering, pain, and death. I have heard Christians speak as if the key to overcoming the pain and frustration of miserable circumstances is simply to sing along with the Monty Python song Always Look on the Bright Side of Life.

The problem is that this type of flimsy and un-biblical thinking catches up to you. Yes, Paul did say that he learned to be content in whatever circumstance he was in. Yes, we are called to a ministry that commends itself to others by the joyful way we undergo persecution, slander and various types of suffering. But this isn't the same as ignoring our circumstances. It isn't the same as the lesson the self help gurus sell: that we can just tweak a habit here, think positively there and voila, we will find ourselves in complete joy and happiness. After all, the contentment that St. Paul found in the midst of jail, beatings, shipwrecks, hunger, and cold didn't come from within. It came from God. It came from a strength outside of Paul, given to him by his maker and redeemer.

So, the question really is, how do we imitate a man like Paul? What did he do in the midst of suffering that strengthened him and was a conduit for the power of God to manifest itself on Paul's life?

One clue is found in Acts 16. Paul and Silas are seized, brought before the local magistrates, are stripped of their clothing and are publicly flogged. They then were then thrown in a Roman prison and were chained by the feet. Not knowing whether their death was imminent, not knowing if they had more beatings in store, not knowing what their future held, these men, suffering, beaten, and cold were found singing and praying.

They worshiped.

They did not run and hide from God. They did not sink into a self-loathing depression. They did not decide to wait till they got out of the situation to sing the glorious truths of the faith or to remind them of the sufficiency of God. They worshiped God by praying. They showed attitudes of complete dependence by casting their cares at the foot of the Lord who promises to hear and respond to His children.

Lament, in the bible, is not a word that means, "complaining." It is properly understood as the expression of fear, doubt, doubt, regret, mourning and sadness that is used to WORSHIP GOD. Take your sorrow, your pain, your heartache and brokenness and magnify God through these times. If we learn to worship in the midst of our trials, we will find that we can do all things through Christ, who gives us strength even to sing in the midst of life's prisons.

More on this subject later

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Can You Worship with your Pain?

Now there was a day when his [Job's] sons and daughters were eating and drinking wine in their oldest brother's house, and there came a messenger to Job and said, “The oxen were plowing and the donkeys feeding beside them, and the Sabeans fell upon them and took them and struck down the servants the edge of the sword, and I alone have escaped to tell you.” While he was yet speaking, there came another and said, “The fire of God fell from heaven and burned up the sheep and the servants and consumed them, and I alone have escaped to tell you.” While he was yet speaking, there came another and said, “The Chaldeans formed three groups and made a raid on the camels and took them and struck down the servants with the edge of the sword, and I alone have escaped to tell you.” While he was yet speaking, there came another and said, “Your sons and daughters were eating and drinking wine in their oldest brother's house, and behold, a great wind came across the wilderness and struck the four corners of the house, and it fell upon the young people, and they are dead, and I alone have escaped to tell you.”

Then Job arose and tore his robe and shaved his head and fell on the ground and worshiped. And he said, “Naked I came from my mother's womb, and naked shall I return. The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.”

In all this Job did not sin or charge God with wrong.

Job isn't made up. Job really did this.

After hearing that a combination of natural disasters, terrorism, and war took everything he had AND his progeny, he blessed God.


This isn't a flippant passage of scripture.

This isn't the the kind of thing you get in southern gospel songs.

This is real.

This is a level of devastation in a life to a greater degree than, likely, anyone I've ever heard of has experienced, ever -- much less in a period of 5 minutes.

What did he do? He worshiped.

What do I do?

What do you do?