I got to fill in for one of our Sunday School teachers yesterday morning, and took the opportunity to look at one of the most challenging Psalms – 88. In the English and original Hebrew, the last word of the song is “darkness.” The only positives in the Psalm is the sons’ (of Korah) opening address to “the God of my salvation” and meditation on the perfections of God in 88:10-12 (“wonders,” “lovingkindness,” “faithfulness,” and “righteousness”). Everything else is dark in the Psalm. We spoke about the place of lament and emotional discipleship in the life of the congregation, since the song is titled “for the choir director.” This is in stark contrast to contemporary Christian worship, which is a pep rally, and the suffering of the saints with depression, which is too often alone. The Spirit’s work through the teaching ministry of worship (“be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs,” Ephesians 5:18,19) is neglected, since these days challenging emotions are not dealt with in the context of corporate discipleship as they would be in a Psalm-based liturgy. Psalm 88 (and similar Psalms), voiced by the congregation as a whole, would teach us a Spirit-inspired way of walking through depression and darkness. This seems like a valuable thing to do. As I pointed out to the Sunday School class, however, we have some Christian cultural expectations to overcome to utilize this Spirit-empowered scriptural tool. I can imagine our worship leader taking us through a Psalm like 88 and the uncomfortable reaction of the congregation. Some would have their brows furrowed as they struggled through the dark lyric, and others would joke their way out of the experience. The worship leader might be quickly questioned for putting such a “downer” of a song in the line-up.
We need this. I know not just from my place as overseer of the souls of the congregation (I know where many places of darkness are), but from my own experience with difficult days and weeks. Corporate lament and emotional discipleship would be an ultimate blessing to the people.
With this fresh on my mind this Monday morning (woke up at 5 a.m. worrying over a few specific souls), I read the apostle Paul’s letter to the Philippians.
“And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (4:7).
Ah, I’m jealous for this. I want this for dozens that I’m thinking of this very moment as I write this. How, Lord, can I help my fellow brothers and sisters find this? They have the peace with God that comes through being justified by faith in Christ (Romans 5:1). But this peace in Philippians 4:7 is a guarding peace promised to believers as we sometimes walk a very dark path. How, Lord? Then I saw the word, “and” (yes, it’s in the Greek, too). This precious promise is announced in connection with something that comes before it. Commands.
“Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice! Let your gentle spirit be known to all men. The Lord is near. Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:4-7, the bold marks the specific imperative verbs).
The God-Who-is-present (“The Lord is near.”) works through...
- ...our rejoicing in the Son (Who is called “the Lord” in 1:2; 2:11,19; 3:8,20; 4:23). Which means we are looking to Jesus regularly as He is on abundant display in the Scripture, and rejoicing in what we see.
- ...our cultivated reputation as gentle (1 Timothy 3:3; Titus 3:2; James 3:17). “To all men.” Challenging. It’s hard for some to let themselves be seen by others when they’re in the midst of the darkness.
- ...our refusal to anxiousness (Jesus issues similar commands in Matthew 6:25-34//Luke 12:22-26; Matthew 10:16-20//Luke 12:11,12; Luke 10:38-42). Interestingly, the apostle Paul describes anxiousness in a positive way in Philippians 2:20. Apparently, worrying over the spiritual welfare of other believers is acceptable!
- ...our thankful petitions to the Father (“God” is so identified in 1:2; 2:11; 4:20).
The Guardian of souls promises to work a protecting peace over those who pursue these disciplines (remember, they are commands, not suggestions). I’m not saying any of these things are easy to accomplish – especially for someone in a Psalm 88 kind of darkness. But it’s there.
The Spirit has shown me two weapons in two days to help others fight the darkness (Psalm 88 and Philippians 4:4-7). Pray with me, beloved, that He will wield them powerfully through the congregation and through this wholly inadequate overseer.
|Psalm 88:9-17 in the ARP Psalter|