Encouragement From The Word

Groaning

Where I live, Wednesday morning was dreary.  The sky was dark, indicative of the thunderstorm that was rolling through.  Even in front of a window, I needed artificial light for the Zoom call I had with my spiritual director.

As we talked about finding the fingerprints of God in my unique life situation these days, the word “weird” came up…a lot.  There is no doubt that for all of us, these “unprecedented times” are weird; in some weeks, there are varying kinds of ‘weird’ by the day!

My spiritual director asked me about my response to the weirdness in terms of prayer.  I said that, along with my usual Benedictine prayer offices, there are a lot of brief, incomplete sentences being offered to God in prayer these days.

She asked if these brief, incomplete sentences could be termed ‘groans’. 

I nodded in agreement.

We both welled up a little, but in a good way.

This was a realization for me that even these brief utterances of prayer which, on some days, are all we can muster with the Lord, are important parts of our relationship with God.

If you have days where your prayers seem like little more than groans, don’t despair.  God is listening.

And be encouraged by the words of the apostle Paul:  “…the Holy Spirit helps us in our weakness. For example, we don’t know what God wants us to pray for. But the Holy Spirit prays for us with groanings that cannot be expressed in words” (Romans 8.26, NLT).

Post-Script:  After I wrote this, I read this in N.T. Wright’s little book, God and the Pandemic (Zondervan Reflective, 2020, p. 42):  “…when the world is going through great convulsions, the followers of Jesus are called to be people of prayer at the place where the world is in pain.  Paul [the apostle, in reference to the latter part of Romans 8] puts it like this, in a three-stage movement:  first, the groaning of the world; second, the groaning of the Church; third, the groaning of the Spirit – within the Church within the world.”

Groan on, church.  Groan on.

Biblical Messages

One Voice

In this video, we hear a message about the importance of setting aside selfishness in favour of serving others – something that will become very important as the church emerges from the pandemic, with many worshippers choosing to remain online and not gather in person, either because they are at a distance or because they don’t have experience as in-person worshippers in community. It’s based on Romans 15.1-13. The whole worship broadcast is available below, and just the message below that.

Encouragement From The Word

Remembering to lament

Perhaps, like me, you are finding the restrictions of the pandemic, at least here in Ontario, wearying.  Even with the promise that vaccines are rolling out, we get the sense that the process is slow.  Even with the entertainment we have received over the past days, weeks and months from our neighbours south of the border, there is a feeling that so much of life has become elegiac – lamentable, in a sense.

And we have a problem:  our culture has largely lost the ability to lament.

Most of the music we hear nowadays, at least popularly, is meant to be positive, even to hype us up.  But there are occasions when we need artistic expression of other emotions to help us induce the feelings that need to be manifested.

As I write this, I am listening to a piece of music that, for me, evokes lament – the Adagio for Strings, by Samuel Barber, arranged for organ.  Not exactly a top 40 hit. 

But I find listening to certain pieces of music will conjure the emotion that is pent up inside.

So do the Scriptures.

Not all Bible passages, in or out of context, are meant to be “keep your chin up” texts; in both the stories and the songs of the Bible, there are laments.  We find few, if any, of them paraphrased in the CCLI Top 150.

Of course, there is a whole book seemingly devoted to lament; we call it “Lamentations.”  But there are many other examples in Scripture.  Several of them are in the Psalms – and there are even different types of laments found there.

When we think of the Psalms, our minds likely move toward “The Lord is my Shepherd” (Psalm 23) or “I lift up my eyes to the hills” (Psalm 121), since these are words of comfort.  Yet the beloved Psalter contains numerous laments; feel free to look them up after you’re done reading this.

But for now, consider Psalm 38.  Read it over a few times, slowly, paying attention to your breathing as you do.  Perhaps the Lord will highlight a particular word or phrase, as he did for me.  Yours may be different from mine, as mine is different from another’s; God uses his Word to speak to our hearts and minister to us where we have need.

O Lord, don’t rebuke me in your anger
    or discipline me in your rage!
Your arrows have struck deep,
    and your blows are crushing me.
Because of your anger, my whole body is sick;
    my health is broken because of my sins.
My guilt overwhelms me—
    it is a burden too heavy to bear.
My wounds fester and stink
    because of my foolish sins.
I am bent over and racked with pain.
    All day long I walk around filled with grief.
A raging fever burns within me,
    and my health is broken.
I am exhausted and completely crushed.
    My groans come from an anguished heart.

You know what I long for, Lord;
    you hear my every sigh.
10 My heart beats wildly, my strength fails,
    and I am going blind.
11 My loved ones and friends stay away, fearing my disease.
    Even my own family stands at a distance.
12 Meanwhile, my enemies lay traps to kill me.
    Those who wish me harm make plans to ruin me.
    All day long they plan their treachery.

13 But I am deaf to all their threats.
    I am silent before them as one who cannot speak.
14 I choose to hear nothing,
    and I make no reply.
15 For I am waiting for you, O Lord.
    You must answer for me, O Lord my God.
16 I prayed, “Don’t let my enemies gloat over me
    or rejoice at my downfall.”

17 I am on the verge of collapse,
    facing constant pain.
18 But I confess my sins;
    I am deeply sorry for what I have done.
19 I have many aggressive enemies;
    they hate me without reason.
20 They repay me evil for good
    and oppose me for pursuing good.
21 Do not abandon me, O Lord.
    Do not stand at a distance, my God.
22 Come quickly to help me,
    O Lord my savior.  (NLT)

When David first wrote, or sang, this, he was acknowledging the pain in his heart.  You can do the same as you read it.  And as you acknowledge your pain, remember that the Lord is your Saviour; he will come to help you.  He came to help David, and he has come to help me.

Biblical Messages

Not Quite Libertarian

There has been no time such as this in our lifetime to share the relevance of Romans 13.1-7. In this service, we hear a message about what it means to submit to civil authorities, and how that relates to the uprising in the US last week and the current pandemic. You can watch the whole service below, or just the message below that. Apologies for some of the poor video; we had some technical issues this morning.