It’s been a heavy week.
And not just because my toddler ended up with 5 stitches (although that did happen).
Last Thursday, a childhood friend of mine evacuated her home in with her husband and toddler, narrowly escaping the fury of flames that tore through Northern California in the Camp Fire, now considered the most destructive and deadliest wildfire in CA state history. Their home, along with 90% of the town, Paradise, has been destroyed.
Come, Lord Jesus, come soon, I whispered through tears Friday morning when I woke up to read the scope of the devastation
Sunday, as I gathered with my church family for corporate worship, heart heavy with grief for my friends and their community, more tears fell as I sang…
“And all who hurt with nothing left
Will know that You are holy” (All the Poor and Powerless, All Sons & Daughters)
“I am sure of this
That I will see Your goodness in the land of the living” (Psalm 27, Greg Lafollette)
“Come, Thou Fount of every blessing
Tune my heart to sing Thy grace
Streams of mercy, never ceasing
Call for songs of loudest praise” (Come Thou Fount)
“Spirit lead me where my trust is without borders
Let me walk upon the waters
Wherever You would call me
Take me deeper than my feet could ever wander” (Oceans, Hillsong)
I don’t know how much more situationally pointed those truths can get. Talk about a Spirit-led set list.
Worshiping in Brokenness
How could I sing praise to God with my church family, knowing what my friends are going through? How can my friends gather for worship services and point to reminders of God’s goodness in a time of such hardship?
They are questions worth asking, because, if you haven’t noticed, these things are happening around us all the time. Wildfires. Shootings. Injustice. Racism. Domestic violence. Sickness. Death. Sexual abuse. Natural disasters. Need I go on?
The question isn’t if they’ll happen. They will happen. To us, or to someone close to us.
We can’t offer pat, cliché answers. We can’t try to explain it away. We can’t minimize the pain of those who are suffering. We can’t put on a happy face and sweep our pain aside.
No, the real question we must ask is where do we turn when they do happen?
The answer is simple, but far from easy: we turn to worship.
We turn to worship for one simple reason:
Because He is still good.
We turn in worship to the goodness of the Living God. We cling to the hope of knowing that “we will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of living.” We rejoice because we know this is not all there is, and the heartache and devastation of this life will come to an end.
What else is there to cling to?
I wrote a blog post back in February about the statement that stuck out in my devotional, “And if not, He is still good.” I had no idea when I penned that post how much that simple statement would shape my perspective as I processed through some tough things from 2017. Nor did I have any idea how it would prepare my heart to deal with some of the heartbreak happening in the lives of those around me in 2018 – such as this. In fact, I had literally just shared that quote and how it has impacted me with the very friend who lost her home. To which she replied,
The older I get the more I realize that life is full of hardship and grief. Suffering is a part of our calling, I think.
This exchange was less than one month ago.
The Tango of Worship and Lament
Worship and lament are not mutually exclusive. Despite what our happy-go-lucky American Christian culture has taught us, worship and lament do not only exist apart from each other.
In fact, I’ve heard it said that lament is the highest form of worship.
Look at the Psalms. Nearly half of them are considered laments, yet the Psalmist nearly always ends in worship – acknowledging and affirming the goodness of God and his unmitigated hope in God despite the circumstances.
Why? How can it be that lament is the highest form of worship?
A couple years ago, my husband and I got to hear the amazing story of a missionary named Gary who lost his wife on the mission field in the Middle East. You can read his whole story in his book – there are powerful lessons to be learned about forgiveness – but here’s the part I first heard that profoundly impacted me.
His wife was murdered, shot in the head three times, by an Al-Qaeda terrorist. With her blood splattered all over the floor and the walls of the medical clinic where she worked, Gary did the unthinkable. He got down on the floor and lay his face in her blood where he proceeded to sing the hymn, “I Surrender All.”
As he later told John, his friend who we heard speak a couple years ago,
“I knew if I didn’t worship right then and there, I would never worship again.”
(Watch this video starting at minute 22 to hear John tell this story and talk about worship in grief).
Three weeks ago, my husband met Gary and heard more of his story. Gary said we Westerners get worship all wrong. We think worship only happens when we’re happy. We look at worship as the mountaintops, the spiritual highs, the outflow of the joy that’s already within us.
But what if the truth is that worship produces joy? That worship in the valleys is the very thing that brings us to the mountaintop?
What if Gary is right, that if we don’t put our faces in the blood of our loss and declare, in the middle of total heartache, utter devastation, complete loss, “Even still, You are good,” we’ll miss the deepest worship we could ever express?
Proclaiming He is Good in All Things
We don’t have to lay aside our grief to worship. We don’t have to pretend everything is fine in order to proclaim the goodness of God. We don’t have to set aside real life to come to church for some superficial experience singing songs of praise to God while our hearts scream inwardly in lament.
Instead, we can worship in our grief.
Such as my friends, who lost their 3-year-old child after she battled one unexpected health issue after another, yet still proclaimed through deep grief, He is faithful.
Such as a woman from Bible study, who lost her husband with two small children to care for at home, yet who responded to the gentle urging of the Spirit one afternoon…”Sing my praise.”
Such as a friend, who recounts how she held her premature baby in her arms for a mere few hours before releasing her to the arms of Jesus, yet who through her tears whispers in all sincerity, “He’s been so good to us.”
Such as pastor friends, who fight through unexplained nerve pain and loss of use of the husband’s arms as they minister in a culture hostile to Christianity, yet who declare the sufficiency of God in all things on a global platform.
Such as my best girl friend, who goes to work every weekend to care for little ones born far too early with insurmountable health problems, who walks newborn babies to the morgue with bereaved parents wailing behind her, yet whose own faith in the love and mercy of God remains unshaken week after week.
This, friends, this is worship.
When natural disasters take lives and destroy towns, He is still good.
When toddlers slice their fingers on cans and need stitches, He is still good.
When you face the uncertainty of a pregnancy complication, He is still good.
When the chronic pain continues with no relief, He is still good.
When loved ones turn their backs on Jesus, He is still good.
When spouses are murdered by terrorists or die slowly of cancer, He is still good.
When marriages are everything they shouldn’t be and nothing they should be, He is still good.
When little ones die before they have a chance to live, He is still good.
Friends, we live in a broken world. Let’s not pretend we don’t. Let’s not push one another to false “I’m fines” and plastered churchy smiles and shallow Christianese platitudes.
Let’s push each other to weep. To dig deep into grief. To take our questions and doubts to God, crying out as the Psalmist did time and time again. To deal genuinely with the pain and suffering of this broken world. Let’s push each other to stick our faces in the blood of the very thing we’ve lost, all the while proclaiming, “It’s not ok. This is not ok. But He is still good, and one day He will make it ok again. Because of that, I can worship.”
For more on the topic of suffering, listen to this amazing sermon my husband preached on October 28.
If you would like to help my friends as they seek to rebuild their lives so that they can continue their ministry to their community, please consider purchasing something from their Amazon wish list. Thank you.
If you would like to help others affected by Camp Fire, many of whom my friends know, considering joining this Facebook group and adopting a family.