Tag Archives: listening

Messy Worship

Years ago a grief counselor told me that until I expressed my anger towards God, I would not fully heal. I remember responding with horrified disagreement at such an irreverent idea. Getting angry before God was the worst scenario I could imagine. He was my Maker, Redeemer, and Sustainer. I existed for His glory, not He for my convenience. What right did I have to question God or to allow myself to even consider being upset with Him? How could venting my fickle emotions at Him possibly honor Him?

God doesn’t want our “sacrifices” of worship and service apart from true intimacy. What pleases Him most is whole-hearted, full-on relationship, even if it comes with complicated emotions and awkward altercations.

When I consider the way David related to God, though, I get a different picture of what kind of relationship God wants to have with us. My favorite psalms to pray used to be the ones in which David was worshipping God in the splendor of His holiness, overflowing with praise for His goodness, faithfulness, and mercy. But the many other psalms in which David questioned and complained and ranted at God unsettled me. I didn’t quite know what to do with them, so I chalked them up to David’s weak humanity and decided I would “do better” in my relationship with God. No matter how much I hurt or struggled in life, I was determined to keep praising God and to never besmear His holiness with my messy emotions. How self-righteous of me to think I could improve on the man after God’s own heart!

I said, “I will watch my ways and keep my tongue from sin … ” But when I was silent and still, not even saying anything good, my anguish increased. My heart grew hot within me, and as I meditated, the fire burned; then I spoke with my tongue: “Show me, O LORD, my life’s end and the number of my days; let me know how fleeting is my life. You have made my days a mere handbreadth; the span of my years is as nothing before you. … I was silent; I would not open my mouth, for you are the one who has done this. Remove your scourge from me; I am overcome by the blow of your hand. … Look away from me, that I may rejoice again before I depart and am no more.”
Psalm 39:1-5, 9-10, 13

David understood something about God that I didn’t. He had struggled through overwhelming trials and devastating disappointments, trying to remain polite and respectful towards God. But the silence was killing their relationship. As long as David kept his doubts and frustration pent up inside, they kept him from relating whole-heartedly with God. When he finally voiced his unspoken questions and disrespectful desires to God, he could be fully reconciled to the Lover of his soul.

I waited patiently for the LORD; he turned to me and heard my cry. He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; he set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand. He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God. …
Sacrifice and offering you did not desire, but my ears you have pierced; burnt offerings and sin offerings you did not require. Then I said, “Here I am …
Psalm 40:1-3, 6-7

The raw ranting and deep disillusionment of Psalm 39 is inevitably followed by the sweet resolution and deepened intimacy of Psalm 40. After reflecting on God’s gracious response to his desperate cry, David states what he discovered that God really wants from him: pierced ears. These were the symbol of a servant who had willingly given himself, heart and body, to his master and, in so doing, had entered into a permanent, familial relationship with him. God didn’t want David’s “sacrifices” of worship and of service apart from true intimacy. What pleased Him most was a whole-hearted, full-on relationship, even if it came with complicated emotions and awkward altercations.

Like David, I have come a long way, both in my experience of life and in my understanding of God. I have been broken beyond the point of what parroting simple truths could repair, and I have learned to honor God through a more mature, intimate relationship in which we both speak honestly and listen intently to each other. Of course He is still the high, exalted King and I am still a frail, faulty mortal. But this is the sort of intimacy of relationship that the triune God has initiated with His people: the nurturing Father with His adoring children, the compassionate Friend with His needy companions, the radiant Groom with His beloved bride.

When God is Silent

“I know God is there, but right now He feels so far away it is hard to believe He even cares. I try to pray to Him, but it doesn’t change anything. What happened to the God who is supposed to love me and hold my hand through the hard times? It’s hard enough dealing with everything else going wrong in my life right now, but the thing that hurts the most is that He won’t even show up to reassure me that He cares.” I listened to my friend’s gut-wrenching honesty about her struggles with God in the midst of her depression and I remembered times when I had felt the same way. Turning to the Psalms, I discovered that we were not the only ones.

How long, O LORD? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and every day have sorrow in my heart?
Psalm 13:1-2

Miserable. Alone. Disturbing thoughts. Despairing heart. Once upon a time, David had experienced the joy of hearing from God, of seeing His hand at work in his life in powerful ways. Once upon a time he had enjoyed the unchallenged certainty of God’s goodness and love. But all that was such a distant memory, it was hard now to believe it had ever really been true.

Now heaven seemed steely and prohibitive, heaven’s God silent and removed. David kept calling out to Him in distress, begging Him to hear and answer, but nothing happened. Nothing changed. The people around him who didn’t care about God or bother with conforming their lives to His standards seemed perfectly happy, while he was miserable and afflicted at every turn. It would have been easier if God had not raised his expectations with promises of the honor and security of a throne. It was difficult to reconcile those promises with the fact that, instead, he had been living for years as a hunted vagabond, hiding out in caves and having to drool on himself like a madman so his enemies wouldn’t kill him. Where was God now? How could he keep believing in His promises when everything around him seemed to prove them false?

Look on me and answer, O LORD my God. Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep in death.
Psalm 13:3

David was at the end of his emotional rope. His faith reserves were exhausted and he was on the verge of losing it. If God didn’t turn and respond to him in some way, he wouldn’t be able to keep going.

Past experience of God’s goodness is the life raft that carries us through the present experience of His silence.

But God had already responded to him. He had already met him in tangible ways. He had proven His great love in the past. Miraculous rescues. Intimate encounters. Beautiful prophecies. Worshipful moments. They had all been so real. Did they count for nothing now? David was faced with a difficult choice. Which experience of God would he believe: His former kindness or His current indifference?

But I trust in your unfailing love; my heart rejoices in your salvation. I will sing to the LORD, for he has been good to me.
Psalm 13:5-6

In an act of desperate faith, David clung to the reality of God’s unfailing love. His situation was still wretched, but he chose to let the past interpret the present. God’s love had never failed him then. He could only hope that it would not fail him now. His story wasn’t over yet. He would wait in hope to see how God would prove His love in the middle of this mess.

When life stinks and God is silent, we are faced with the same choice. Everything around us screams that God doesn’t care, drowning out that still, quiet testimony within our hearts that He does. We want to keep believing, but we need some sign of His love to offset the overwhelming evidence to the contrary. He doesn’t always give us that sign on demand, but He has given us ample proof of His love in the past. Past experience of God’s goodness is the life raft that carries us through the present experience of His silence.

Heard.

Shouting. Calling out. Trying to explain. Failing to be heard. There are times when I feel that I am living out one of those vivid nightmares in which I am trapped and calling out to friends and loved ones, but no one hears me. They are so close I can see their faces as they laugh and interact with each other, but nothing I do can get them to notice my desperate plight. Am I invisible to them? Don’t they hear my silent shouts for help? Despairing and worn out from the effort, I am tempted to withdraw into the background and resign myself to being helpless and alone in my misery.

As Jesus approached Jericho, a blind man was sitting by the roadside begging. When he heard the crowd going by, he asked what was happening. They told him, “Jesus of Nazareth is passing by.”
He called out, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”
Those who led the way rebuked him and told him to be quiet, but he shouted all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!”
Jesus stopped and ordered the man to be brought to him. When he came near, Jesus asked him, “What do you want me to do for you?”
“Lord, I want to see,” he replied.
Jesus said to him, “Receive your sight; your faith has healed you.” Immediately he received his sight and followed Jesus, praising God. When all the people saw it, they also praised God.
Luke 18:35-43

Bartimaeus didn’t quit shouting. Blind, helpless, without an advocate, he sat at the fringe of the crowd calling out. “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” Who would stop and notice his plight? Who would bring his needs to Jesus? But the people who could have walked with him to healing stopped only to obstruct his efforts. Rebuked. His complaining was disturbing their peace. Silenced. If he kept voicing his needs, they might have to be inconvenienced or get emotionally involved. Despite the callousness of their responses, Bartimaeus refused to quit crying out to Jesus. He clung to the belief that God cared, that His earthly representative would listen and respond. And He did.

You hear, O LORD, the desire of the afflicted; you encourage them, and you listen to their cry.
Psalm 10:17

Several of you have written me personally about your own experiences of being trapped and alone in the middle of hardship and grief. I have felt honored that you would entrust me with your stories, the deep, unspeakable sorrows that leave you wounded and vulnerable. I feel, though, that your voices need to be heard by more ears than just mine. What you are suffering is real. It needs to be shared with others who feel like they are alone in similar circumstances. It also needs to be heard by those who want to understand but struggle to. With your permission, I have compiled some of your quotes for all of us to hear.

All these years I’ve felt alone in my physical and emotional anguish. I felt judged for questioning the platitudes of Christianese.

You have given words to things I have been feeling for years. Perhaps these few sentences explain why I no longer feel connected to “the church”… It was not “acceptable” to have the negative feelings I felt and so I stopped sharing those feelings with people who should have loved me through. Love did not compel them to acknowledge or share my emotional realities. I want to feel connected, but don’t have any idea where to start so I just wait…

It is just hurtful when the legitimate heart ache I feel is brushed aside as though it is nothing.
 I guess I find myself withdrawing from people mostly because I have been getting lots of cliches, “God’s got a plan,” type thing. True, yes, He does. I find people minimize the entire situation… “It could be worse.” I don’t really feel like going to church anymore… Is church a place of worship–or performance?

… ‘hurt’ with me…to feel the depth of my pain and not dismiss it as if it doesn’t exist or to have had enough of me/it if I don’t bounce back in a time frame that seems ‘reasonable’… A heart that loves deeply hurts deeply. If we can’t ache and suffer honestly with the body then who can we do it with?

The people who have made me feel most cared for in times of difficulty have been the ones who are willing to really listen, to find out how my heart is, not just the facts of the situation. Really walking with someone through a trial takes time, but we are called to bear one another’s burdens, to lean in and hear them, not rush off to the next thing. I think the Holy Spirit will prompt us as to who needs our care and when, if we are sensitive to His leading.

I think this…we have to WANT to show love in this way…a way that is foreign and uncomfortable to some…

I love the LORD, for he heard my voice; he heard my cry for mercy.
Because he turned his ear to me, I will call on him as long as I live.
Psalm 116:1-2