Worship in the Midst of Suffering
January 4, 2018 | by: Stephen Sprague | 0 Comments
Posted in: Pastoral Encouragement
What does it look like to worship God in the midst of suffering or grieving? That’s a hard question to wrestle with and it’s one I’ve found particularly perplexing over the last month. Especially in the first few days after Eden’s death I found myself angry at God or mistrusting of him. It was hard not to be. I’d ask myself, “Why did this happen? Christians all over the US and in many cities around the world were praying for us, why?!” In the hospital before Eden was born I found myself praying constantly for God to stop Madison’s laboring and spare Eden’s life. But after Eden was born, and died, I couldn’t bring myself to pray anything short of a meager, “Lord, help us.”
In the days and weeks to follow I found myself thinking a lot of King David in the Old Testament and how he responded to the loss of his first son with Bathsheba. While his son was alive he prayed and fasted and slept on the hard floor but after his son was born he immediately got up, washed himself and put on clothes, and then went into the house of the Lord to worship. When his servants questioned him for fasting and weeping before his son died and then worshiping afterwards, he responded “While the child was still alive, I fasted and wept, for I said, ‘Who knows whether the LORD will be gracious to me, that the child may live?’ But now he is dead. Why should I fast? Can I bring him back again? I shall go to him, but he will not return to me” (2 Samuel 12:22). David’s response provided me with hope that I too would see Eden again. But it also perplexed and convicted me. It seemed like an unobtainable goal to end mourning and simply worship God.
David isn’t the only person in scripture that suffered greatly and responded in his affliction by worshiping God. Job is another fascinating example. After hearing the news that all his livelihood had been taken, his servants slaughtered, and his children crushed to death in a collapsed building – Job 1:20 reads “Then Job arose and tore his robe and shaved his head and fell on the ground and worshiped.” What could prompt David and Job to respond by worshiping in the midst of such pain and heartache? I’d like to suggest a few things:
First – worship in the midst of suffering happens when we are able to turn our focus off ourselves and instead look to Christ. It’s worshiping, not just when we “feel” like worshiping him, but also when we feel far from him. By worshiping him in the midst of our suffering we force ourselves to, for a time, stop looking at ourselves and fix our eyes on the one who is faithful and steadfast – never changing in his love for us. This worship is not confined to Sunday mornings per se, although Sunday morning worship is important, but it is also lived out in how we move forward, how we face each day, how we interact with those around us, how we disciple our children in the midst of our pain, etc. Despite our pain and suffering, God is still good and he has still conquered the pains of sin and death once and for all. He has given us hope in our suffering and by turning our eyes toward him in worship instead of focusing on ourselves, such a hope moves to the forefront of our eyes.
Second – worship in the midst of suffering is easier when we are already in the habit of worshiping God. In the first few days after we left the hospital, one of the most helpful (and difficult) things we did was to continue our habit of praying the Lord’s prayer every night with our kids. I remember the first night how Madison and I could hardly speak the lines “your will be done” and “deliver us from evil”. We started praying together as we always did but when we started to say those words our voices cracked. We found ourselves thinking thoughts like – “Did we really want God’s will to be done if it meant our daughter was dead?” and “Could he really protect us from evil?” It was incredibly difficult but so helpful. It forced us to move forward and to continue to trust in the LORD, even when emotionally we didn’t “feel” like we could. And, with every time we prayed the Lord’s prayer, the words began to ring more true with our hearts. We found ourselves once again believing in the steadfast love of God and turning our eyes from our own pain to look to him for hope and comfort. We found ourselves once again truly comforted by the steadfast love of God.
Lastly – worship in the midst of suffering helps us to better understand our need for God. It is one thing to worship God in the midst of seasons of blessing, but to worship him when we are at our lowest is to worship him in the midst of recognizing our own frailty and weakness. Job is a great example of this. In Job 1:21, Job cried out as he fell to his knees to worship God in the midst of his affliction – “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 his pain he realized that everything he had was a gift from God, that he had been blessed with them for a time but now they were gone. And so he turned his eyes upward to the great gift giver and sustainer of life and worshiped him. Not only does such worship help us to better understand our frailty but it also helps us to feel nearer to God despite our frailty. Our worship reminds us that “The LORD is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit. May are the afflictions of the righteous but the LORD delivers him out of them all” (Psa. 34:18-19).
So how can we worship God in the midst of our suffering? I suggest that if you are wrestling with this question that you turn to scripture. As I mentioned earlier, we have found a great help in praying the Lord’s prayer regularly. We have also started incorporating Psalm 23 into our nightly prayers. Praying scripture is a great way to reorient your heart and mind towards worshiping God when you don’t feel like it, and it can even help you to express your feelings to God when you find yourself lacking adequate words. At the end of the day, it may never be easy initially to worship God during times of heartache, but as we give ourselves over to worship in the midst of our suffering, we are often able to better find comfort and to trust in the promises of the Lord in ways we never could have imagined previously.