On the Side - March 2015
Prayer Turned Praise
I was taken aback this week, when, after I sent a message to a friend on the day she received a devastating cancer diagnosis, her husband responded to my email with, “His mercies are new every morning.”
In response to my note, I expected a “thanks for praying” or a “please continue to pray.” Perhaps the most unsurprising response would have been no response at all, as I knew this dear family must be reeling from the news. Certainly, my friends are coping with the sting of mortality, but in the midst of the inevitable “why” and “how can this be,” they are also reflecting on God’s faithfulness. Well, perhaps “reflecting” does not most accurately convey what was going on in their house this past week. Maybe “clinging” is the more appropriate verb here.
But, still, can this be so? Is this a normal response in such a circumstance?
Normal or not, Scripture reveals that a believer’s worship very often comes by way of lament. Such a reality is counterintuitive, but consider the words of one biblical writer:
. . .my soul is bereft of peace;
I have forgotten what happiness is;
so I say, “My endurance has perished;
so has my hope from the Lord.”
. . .But this I call to mind,
and therefore I have hope:
The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases;
his mercies never come to an end;
they are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness. (Lamentations 3:17-24 ESV)
To call to mind God’s faithfulness is to do so within the context of tragedy more often than we probably like. In the text above, the writer laments the enslavement of the fallen Israelites. Weary with affliction and desperate for peace, the writer mourns his circumstances for quite some time before he recalls his reason for hope. Finally, then, this remembrance turns his lament to praise.
The writer of Lamentations is not alone in his prayer-turned-praise. The Psalms are replete with such examples. Consider just one:
“Will the Lord spurn forever,
and never again be favorable?
Has his steadfast love forever ceased?
Has God forgotten to be gracious?
Has he in anger shut up his compassion?”
Then I said, “I will appeal to this,
to the years of the right hand of the Most High.”
I will remember your wonders of old.
I will ponder all your work,
and meditate on your mighty deeds.
Your way, O God, is holy.
What god is great like our God?
You are the God who works wonders;
you have made known your might among the peoples.
(Psalm 77: 7-14 ESV)
Certainly, we who are saved always rejoice that God is faithful, but it seems that it is when we are heartbroken that we most readily embrace such hope. As Tim Keller succinctly explains in a sermon on the Psalms, “Every prayer- prayed long enough- becomes praise.” To lament brokenness is to weep in worship to a God who cares enough to be broken for it, Himself. Paradoxically, then, when we are most heartbroken, we self-sufficient humans cry out to God and are made, necessarily, most hopeful. For this reason and likely many reasons that I cannot name in this short column, it seems that lament- dare I say suffering- is an essential aspect of life in relationship with Christ.
Quite frankly, pain is a path to worship that I try to avoid. Very often I am compelled to convey “hope” and even “joy” to the world. Certainly, the hope I carry within me is a gift afforded by my worldview- one not held by all of my neighbors, coworkers, and others with whom I am in regular contact. Hope is a gift to a broken world, yet it is equally true that lament is, as well. When we mourn human sin, suffering, and death, we simultaneously seek and worship that for which we are made. Don’t get me wrong: I do not welcome lament into my or anyone’s lives. I only contend that when suffering comes, it is good- it is even holy- to take the honest, necessary path to hope through lament.
To mourn sin and suffering, after all, is to walk the way of Jesus. There is no more appropriate time to do so than during this season of Lent as we consider Christ’s painful, laborious steps to the cross. “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death,” Matthew records Jesus as saying on the night he was betrayed (26:38 ESV). I tend to gloss over these words, having read them a thousand times. Maybe you do, too, but consider with me: the man was in pain. Jesus wanted to be free of the overwhelming sorrow and impending doom that burdened Him then. He wanted the cup to be taken from Him, and Jesus Christ, the Maker of all things, did not want to be alone.
But, Jesus would be alone. Matthew records this lament, as well, when, at the moment of the consequence of all sin and suffering, Jesus Christ was left alone on the cross:
“My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” (27:46 ESV)
Yet, even this cry- this prayer- history’s most excruciating lament- is turned to praise. Importantly, it is because of Christ’s cry that we praise, for God’s mercies are new every morning, and three mornings later, you recall, death lost its grip on Jesus. Consequently, sin, suffering, and death has lost its grip on us.
Now, indeed, our prayer is turned to praise. Sing with me this month- if you lament, if you praise- whatever your circumstances, for we walk the way of Jesus.
Great is Thy faithfulness, Great is Thy faithfulness-
Morning by morning new mercies I see;
All I have needed Thy hand hath provided-
Great is Thy faithfulness, Lord, unto me! (Thomas O. Chisholm)
Robin Kaufmann and her husband, Tim, live in Rochester, MN with their three children, Gabe, Ella, and Sophie.