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Praising God Through The Pain: How To Worship When You Don’t Feel Like It

O Lord, God of my salvation; I cry out day and night before you. Let my prayer come before you; incline your ear to my cry! For my soul is full of troubles, and my life draws near to Sheol. – Psalm 88:1-3

Dietrich Bonhoeffer called the Psalms, “The Prayer Book of the Bible.” He said their purpose is to guide the church in worship, as well as instruct the individual Christian in prayer and meditation. With that in mind, when we come across a psalm like Psalm 88, we ask ourselves, how did this one get included in the Bible? Why is it even in here? Darkness and despair are not scarce topics in the Psalms, or even in the Bible as whole. However, most of the other psalms end in a hopeful note, or at least note of surrender or self realization. Psalm 88 ends with the ominous line, “My companions have become darkness.”

How can we learn and view this as worship? How can we worship in the dark?

Leading by example

Just as Nehemiah “sat down and wept and mourned for days (Nehemiah 1:4),” the Psalmist here is lamenting his woes. He cannot bring himself to look up and see the light at the end of the tunnel, for his anguish is too heavy a burden to comprehend. The words of this psalm are a brave and bold battle cry. “Your wrath lies heavy upon me, and you overwhelm me with all your waves (vs. 7),” “I am shut in so that I cannot escape; my eye grows dim through sorrow (vs. 9),” “Are your wonders known in the darkness, or your righteousness in the land of forgetfulness? (vs. 12).” This is a man in pain. More importantly, this is a man talking to God in and through his pain.

I think too often we are afraid of what God thinks of us. We fool ourselves into thinking he doesn't already know the thoughts and feelings we experience, and so we put on a mask. We are afraid that maybe if God sees the “real” us, he'll recoil, and take back his grace. Or maybe we are not ready to face the darkness in our own hearts, so we turn on the TV, buy another car, join another cause, anything to distract us from the reality of our own situation. The first step is to acknowledge, “This is where I'm at. This is how dark it feels.” And God knows. And he loves you for it.

The truth

The truth I so desperately want to communicate to you today, dear Christian, is that God is not afraid of the dark. Jesus spent time in the darkest place of all after dying the cruelest death and having the stone rolled over his tomb. He endured this darkness so that even when we feel abandoned and overwhelmed, spending every last ounce of strength just to keep our heads above water – we are never alone. He is there with us. Psalm 139 tells us that God “hems” us in, going before and behind us, and that such knowledge is too wonderful for us. We are surrounded, even in the darkness, by the only one who has overcome the grave. Let him lead you to worship.

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