These verses from Psalm 119 came to mind this morning: "It is good for me that I was afflicted, that I might learn your statutes...Those who fear you shall see me and rejoice, because I have hoped in your word. I know, O Lord, that your rules are righteous, and that in faithfulness you have afflicted me. Let your steadfast love comfort me according to your promise to your servant" (verses 71, 74-76).
Maybe like me, you have cried out with Job - "Though he slay me, I will hope in him!" - not because you had great faith in the midst of your suffering, but because your faith was shaken and all you could do was speak defiantly against the doubts and fears that shadowed the goodness and faithfulness of God.
There are false prophets today who would tell you that faith in Jesus is a free pass to escape suffering, hardship, depression, pain. They are liars. Pain and suffering are realities for every single human living in this fallen, sinful world. The question for us is not if we will suffer, but how. And, will we honor and praise our good and sovereign God in the midst of suffering?
Which brings to mind a post from a couple of years ago, about praying in the dark valleys:
-originally posted April 14, 2010
A friend asked me once if there was any point in continuing piano lessons for her daughter if the child showed no potential of being a stellar pianist nor any desire to "do something" with her piano playing. Would her daughter derive any lasting benefit from piano lessons? My answer: Absolutely!
I, too, am a mediocre pianist - I play just well enough to be dangerous, not well enough for my "talent" to be any real blessing to others. In fact, I strongly dislike playing when others are listening. But the lessons my Mom drug me to week after week when I was a child have paid enormous dividends.
I explained to my friend, "There have been times in my life when I was so discouraged or so broken that I simply did not have the strength or the heart to pray. But playing the piano (even badly!) has pulled me through hopelessly dark seasons."
When I cannot even begin to pray, I play the piano. I play hymns. I read the words, which become silent prayers squeezed from the depths of a weary, broken heart. The words of these hymns remind me of the truths of Scripture - that God loves me, that He is sovereign over everything in my life, that even difficult places are ordained for my good and His glory. Consider these excerpts from a few of my favorite hymns:
Come, my soul, thy suit prepare: Jesus loves to answer prayer; he himself has bid thee pray, therefore will not say thee nay....Lord, I come to thee for rest, take possession of my breast; there thy blood-bought right maintain, and without a rival reign....Show me what I have to do, ev'ry hour my strength renew: let me live a life of faith... - Come, My Soul, Thy Suit Prepare (John Newton)
Whate'er my God ordains is right: his holy will abideth; I will be still whate'er he doth, and follow where he guideth. He is my God; though dark my road, he holds me that I shall not fall: wherefore to him I leave it all....Whate'er my God ordains is right: though now this cup, in drinking, may bitter seem to my faint heart, I take it, all unshrinking....Whate'er my God ordains is right: here shall my stand be taken; though sorrow, need, or death be mine, yet am I not forsaken. My Father's care is round me there; he holds me that I shall not fall: and so to him I leave it all. - Whate'er My God Ordains Is Right (Samuel Rodigast)
Ye fearful saints, fresh courage take; the clouds ye so much dread are big with mercy, and shall break in blessings on your head. Judge not the Lord by feeble sense, but trust him for his grace; behind a frowning providence he hides a smiling face. His purposes will ripen fast, unfolding ev'ry hour; the bud may have a bitter taste, but sweet will be the flow'r. - God Moves in a Mysterious Way (William Cowper)
My oldest son explained to me recently the music "philosophy" of the campus ministry he attends. They do not sing contemporary praise songs or repetitive worship choruses. As Reuben put it, "A person who is truly struggling or even mildly depressed couldn't sing those songs. They are so clap-happy that you really have to be in a party mood to participate in singing them." Instead, this ministry has taken the rich, old hymns and set them to more contemporary music. This provides for a greater breadth of expression and emotion - everything from exuberant praise to gut-wrenching grief to crippling guilt. What this ministry may not realize is that by singing the old hymns (in a new way!), they are giving these college students a resource they will draw on their entire lives.
Steve has commented before that he can tell when I'm feeling especially discouraged or depressed....he finds me often at the piano. It's the place I pray when praying is impossible. Where I can wordlessly praise my Savior as an act of defiance against an enemy who presses me to denounce the beauty and sufficiency of Christ. Where the old hymnwriters, seasoned in this journey, walk with me through shadowed valleys and back to the light of the cross.
Behold the throne of grace! The promise draws me near: there Jesus shows a smiling face, and waits to answer prayer.
- John Newton