How hard is it to be a part of congregational worship when you hurt? Stop and think about it. If you have not gone through deep pain as an adult believer, perhaps you have not experienced this. But, the truth is, when you really hurt, when the pain is real and sharp, it is hard, very hard, to join with the congregation.
Of course, part of this is a problem and even a sin on our part. When we hurt, we tend to want to hide. When we hurt, we want to go inward. Whether we think this way or not, we tend to soak in our misery, and we compound our sorrow with the loneliness that comes with grief.
But it would also be good for us to recognize, Christians, that we do not always make it easy for the hurting to join us in worship. We especially make it hard when we make our worship gatherings full of false cheerfulness. When people who hurt walk into a service full of vapid smiles, of vain sentimentality, of people declaring that every day with Jesus is truly better than the last, the hurting must wonder how they fit in. When we pretend that every Christian has great kids, happy homes, and blessed marriages, I wonder what those who are barely getting by in their sorrow feel?
Part of the problem is in modern music. We sing, and for the most part, we only sing songs of happiness. How often are our songs of worship aimed at helping us walk through the valley of the shadow of death?
Now, before you say to me that worship songs cannot focus on the valley of the shadow of death, remember this: the phrase, “the valley of the shadow of death,” comes from Psalm 23, an Old Testament worship song. So, obviously, there is room in worship for singing sorrow that looks forward to the dawning of hope.
Read the following Psalm, think about it as a worship song, and consider what it is saying.
1 How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever?
How long will you hide your face from me?
2 How long must I take counsel in my soul
and have sorrow in my heart all the day?
How long shall my enemy be exalted over me?
3 Consider and answer me, O Lord my God;
light up my eyes, lest I sleep the sleep of death,
4 lest my enemy say, “I have prevailed over him,”
lest my foes rejoice because I am shaken.
5 But I have trusted in your steadfast love;
my heart shall rejoice in your salvation.
6 I will sing to the Lord,
because he has dealt bountifully with me.
Hear the pain. “How long, O Lord?” The psalmist is hurting. He hurts at a level that makes him fear his own death. And he begs God to let him know how long it will feel like God is turned away from him, not hearing him, not answering him. The psalmist fears that God will let his enemies triumph, and it really, genuinely, honestly hurts.
But then the psalmist proclaims hope. He says, “I have trusted,” and he declares, “my heart shall rejoice.” The hurting psalmist has not experienced a change in circumstances. But, after asking God about his situational pain, something has helped him to remember the good news of God’s salvation. The psalmist is reminded that he has trusted in the Lord, and that he can trust in the Lord’s ultimate protection. So, at the end, he can sing. Now, I doubt that singing in verse 6 is overly peppy. It is not false and grinning vapidly. But it is the song of a person who, with tears in his eyes, says that he knows that his God will be faithful regardless of whether or not he feels that faithfulness right now.
Church, how desperately do we need songs like Psalm 13? How desperately do we need songs that admit our sorrow, our pain, our fear, and our desperation? How greatly do we need to sing our pain with the reminder of the gospel in order to lead us to the hopeful strength of trusting the Lord from the midst of the cloud of our sorrow?
Imagine how much better it would be for a hurting person to know that his or her church has realistically thought about pain like we see in Psalm 13? How great would it be to know that, though there will be celebration in worship services from those whose lives are flush, there will also be a place for those whose lives are thin.
Christians, let’s learn from the psalm a few things. Let’s learn not to hide pain. God knows about our hurting enough to put it into the Bible’s song book. Let’s also learn to let the gospel give us ultimate hope and trust in our pain, even if our hearts are breaking at present. And, let’s make sure that, when we are doing well, we rejoice, but we rejoice with the sort of kindness and understanding that had to be in place among a people who could sing songs of sorrow and hope as an act of worship to the Lord.