Call to Worship
The Lord works righteousness and justice for all who are oppressed. He made known his ways to Moses, his acts to the people of Israel. The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. He will not always chide, nor will he keep his anger forever. He does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us. As a father shows compassion to his children, so the Lord shows compassion to those who fear him. (Psalm 103:6-13)
O God, from ages past no ear has heard, and no eye has seen any God besides you, who works for those who wait for him. But we have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a filthy garment. We all fade like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away. Yet you, O Lord, are our Father; we are the clay, and you are the potter; we are the work of your hand. Do not be exceedingly angry, O Lord, and do not remember our sin forever. Restore us, we pray, through the grace of our Lord Jesus, in whom we place our hope and trust. Amen. (Based on Isaiah 64)
“But in those days, after that tribulation, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken. And then they will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory. And then he will send out the angels and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven. “From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts out its leaves, you know that summer is near. So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that he is near, at the very gates. Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away. (Mark 13:24-31)
On any given Sunday, we worship next to people who are struggling. They are going through the motions of the service, but inside they are confused or hurting or even angry with God. The music is upbeat. The message is well meant, but does not address the depth of loss they feel. The masses are happy, so it seems.
It is one thing to lament in the privacy of our own home or mind, but it takes a different kind of courage and faith to lament with and for another. Michael Card comments, “We’re afraid of other people’s pain. Like Job’s friends, we’re afraid when we don’t have answers. Job doesn’t get any answers for his sufferings, but he gets God.” To enter into someone’s suffering, and to lament with them, is to seek God with them.
Unfortunately, Card is right. We are uneasy with pain and sorrow. Eugene Peterson weighs in: “Why are so many Christians embarrassed by tears, uneasy in the presence of sorrow, unpracticed in the language of lament? It certainly is not a biblical heritage, for virtually all our ancestors in the faith were thoroughly ‘acquainted with grief.’ And our Savior was, as everyone knows, ‘a Man of Sorrow.’”
His answer: “For at least one reason why people are uncomfortable with tears and the sight of suffering is that it is a blasphemous assault on their precariously maintained American spirituality of the pursuit of happiness. It is a lot easier to keep the American faith if they don’t have to look into the face of suffering, if they don’t have to listen to our laments, if they don’t have to deal with our tears.”
In the same way that our failure to lament cuts us off from the heart of God, it also cuts us off from each other. If we are to love one another as Jesus commanded, we must learn to “weep with those who weep” (Romans 12:15).
Much of contemporary Christianity has sought to insulate itself from the real, broken world. If we’re not careful, we’ll lose touch with reality. King Solomon says it this way: “It is better to go to a house of mourning than to go to a house of feasting, for death is the destiny of every man; the living should take this to heart. Sorrow is better than laughter, because a sad face is good for the heart. The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning, but the heart of fools is in the house of pleasure” (Ecclesiastes 7:2-4).
Feasting and laughter and pleasure are not wrong, but trying to insulate your life with these things is not really life. It’s a bubble. You need to enter the pain of the world around you because the fall is your reality—”death is the destiny of every man.” Take this to heart and you will be wise. Pretend that Christianity is safety from sorrow and you will be a fool.
The way of Christian fellowship is empathy, which means we must not assume that everyone around us is fine. In our conversations, we must listen for complaints and cries and help them become laments. In our gathered worship, we must acknowledge the hurting and leave room for struggle and silence. In our counsel, we must pray with and over and for the hurting. This is essential to authentic Christian faith: Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ (Galatians 6:2).
1. Who is the Lord bringing to your mind today?
2. How can you move toward them with empathy?
As a deer pants for flowing streams, so pants my soul for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When shall I come and appear before God? My tears have been my food day and night, while they say to me all the day long, “Where is your God?” These things I remember, as I pour out my soul: how I would go with the throng and lead them in procession to the house of God with glad shouts and songs of praise, a multitude keeping festival. Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God. (Psalm 42:1-5)