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Author:Rev. Jeremy Segstro
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Congregation:Cloverdale Canadian Reformed Church
 Surrey, BC
 cloverdalecanrc.org
 
Title:Learning to Lament 1: Keep Praying
Text:Psalms 77 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Unclassified
 
Added:2021-08-26
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Reading: Mark 4:35-41

Text: Psalm 77

 

LEARNING TO LAMENT: Keep Praying

  1. Pray about your Pain

  2. Pray about your Panic

  3. Pray about your Past

  4. Pray about His Power

 

  1. Psalm 29: 1-3

  2. Psalm 13:1-3

  3. Psalm 77:1-4

  4. Psalm 18:1-6

  5. Hymn 14: 1, 5, 9, 10

 

Words to Listen For: replacement, knees, 23:19, jot, bed

 

Questions For Understanding:

  1. What’s the pendulum swing and why is it an issue?

  2. What is the sentence we are studying throughout the next 4 sermons?

  3. What is the opposite of lament? (Hint: if lament heals, this destroys)

  4. What two things should we remember in times of difficulty?

  5. What are the two essential characteristics of God that we must never forget?

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Jeremy Segstro, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.


Beloved in Christ our Lord,

Have you ever heard this teaching:  It’s okay to be angry at God...it’s not a sin to rage against Him...because God is big enough to handle your anger.

Have you heard this before?  It’s an interesting teaching...but it has a fatal flaw in it - did you catch it?  Maybe something about it just sounded wrong to you, but you weren’t sure exactly what it was. So let me tell you.

 

While it is absolutely true that God is BIG ENOUGH to handle your anger, this doesn’t mean that the anger and the raging against Him isn’t a sin.  With this logic, no sin is really count as a sin, since God is bigger than anything.  There is nothing bigger, there is nothing greater, there is nothing more powerful than our God.  And yet...because of His justice, sin DOES affect Him.  Sin affects Him greatly.  It wounds Him.  It wounds Him, not because His pain threshold is so small, but because His love is so big.  Sin wounds God, not because He is delicate and weak, but because His justice is so strong.

And many of us, even if we didn’t know the problem with this thinking, knew that it was wrong.  And so, like all humans are want to do, many of us did what I call the “Pendulum swing.”  If THIS, OVER HERE is wrong, then clearly THIS, WAY OVER HERE, must be the right thing.

If it is sinful to angrily rage against God, then we should do the exact opposite.  Since God has given us everything good, since God is the overflowing fountain of all good, as we heard in our call to worship, then we should not and CAN NOT be sad before God, because that means that we don’t see or value His gifts.  If it is sinful to rage against God, then maybe it is sinful to have any anger at all.  Sinful to have any hurt.  The saying: Too Blessed to be Stressed comes to mind.  And this extreme isn’t right either.  Extremes are generally to be avoided.

And so what shall we say then?  If angrily raging against God is sinful, and pretending that everything is fine when it is not is sinful...how can we do this?

The answer, simply put, is lament.  Lament is this amazing gift that God has given to us.  In times of difficulty, in times of grief, begin to flip through the Bible.  Maybe start with the psalms.

It is all too easy for us to turn to amazingly comforting passages such as Romans 8 - there is no condemnation, no one can separate us from the love of God, or passages such as Revelation 21 - there will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain.

And these verses are there in the Bible for a good reason.  There are times, many many times, when these are exactly the verses you should turn to for comfort.  But there are other times when you need words and phrases that capture what you are feeling in your heart, not just what you wish you were feeling.

If you have lost a child or a parent

If you have been abandoned by your friends and family

If your good health has been taken away

The fact that “God has a plan” … as true as it is … is not what you need to hear.  You don’t need to hear that in heaven you won’t remember your pain.  You don’t need to hear that maybe God will bless you with a replacement child, as if that were even ever possible.  You don’t need to hear that your pain may help someone else.

When the pain is fresh and raw, you want permission to express it.  And this is what lament is: God’s permission for you to express your pain.

Let’s take this journey together and

LEARN(ING) TO LAMENT: This morning we will learn to Keep Praying

  1. Pray about your Pain

  2. Pray about your Panic

  3. Pray about your Past and finally, 

  4. Pray about His Power

 

Now before we get into Psalm 77, let me just say that I know that for some of you, this sermon series on lament may be an uphill battle.  Lament is tricky, lament is not often talked about, but when properly understood and properly used, lament is a bright shining treasure of God, sitting alongside repentance, faith, and grace.

And throughout this short series, we will be examining the various parts of a sentence on lament.  This sentence:

Keep Praying

    because

        God hears you

            and 

                He will act

                    for

                        Great is His Faithfulness

(x2)

Let’s begin with the first step of our lament phrase: Keep Praying.

All 150 psalms are filled with real and raw language.  Language that we, as Christians, would feel uncomfortable bringing to God, if they weren’t in His divinely inspired book as example prayers that we are meant to follow.

Because that is what the psalms are, aren’t they?  They are prayers.  Prayers of praise, prayers of wisdom, prayers of thanksgiving, and prayers of lament.  They are prayers put to music, but prayers nonetheless.  The psalms are the collection of the outpourings of the hearts of the psalmists.

Let’s get into this particular psalm of lament.

 

Psalm 77, as we read, is a psalm of Asaph, dedicated to the choirmaster.  But this is all we know about the psalm.  We do not know the particular circumstances in which it was written.  And in some ways that would be helpful for us to understand, but on the other hand, it helps us that this psalm is so general.  These unnamed personal troubles that Asaph is struggling with so deeply, allow us to find ourselves in them.

For many of us, Asaph’s words are our words.

We see Psalm 77 before us, and it flows like a river of sorrows across the page, one after the other, a river of tears.  And many of us have our own river.  But there is something beautiful about this.  There is something wonderful and hopeful, even at the beginning of this psalm.

Commentators will point to verse 11 as the turning point: I will remember the deeds of the Lord, I will ponder your work, What god is great like our God?

The pain has turned into praise.

But already in verse 1, already in verse 1, there is a hint of what is to come.  From the first words of this psalm, we already know the ending.  For, although we do not know the circumstances of the psalmist, we know the character of God.

I cry aloud to God

It cannot end badly when it begins with prayer (x2).

For this is the first step that we must take in all our troubles.  It is tempting to seek out a diversion, to do anything else so that we don’t think of our troubles, but this is not the way of God.

Drinking until you forget is not the way of God.

Distracting yourself with foolishness is not wise.

It is hard work to dive into your sorrow and your pain.  You want to do anything else.  You want to run away from it and pretend that everything is fine, pretending with your friends and family, and even pretending with your God.  But pretending can’t bring about peace.  Pretending can’t bring about healing.

Asaph knows this, and so he goes to the only one who can help.  He brings the battle to God and fights on his knees.

I cry aloud to God, aloud to God and He will hear me.

Even in the pain, there is faith.  This is an awe-inspiring faith.  The bravery that Asaph had to do the hard work, the fact that even as he doubts God’s love, he preaches to his own soul - even in all my doubts, I KNOW, deep down, that God is listening and He hears me.  Asaph doubts his doubts and trusts his God.

It takes faith to pray a lament.  A strong faith to cry out: GOD!  WHAT IS HAPPENING?  I KNOW YOU’RE NOT LIKE THIS!  MY EYES TELL ME ONE THING, BUT MY SOUL ANOTHER!  More on this later.

But it takes faith to pray a lament.  It is far easier to manifest unbelief and give God the silent treatment.  But silence is a soul-killer.  Giving in to despair and giving up on God.  That’s what I did at my lowest moment, over a decade ago.  I didn’t bring my pain to God, but instead I held it close to me, and it was like a coal in my hand.  Clutching it so tightly and refusing to let it go, hurting myself more and more in the process.  Letting my life catch on fire.  But not Asaph.

Asaph prays:

In the day of my trouble, I seek the Lord;

In the night my hand is stretched out without wearying;

My soul refuses to be comforted.

Asaph is not satisfied with the poor comforts of those around him.  He is not looking for cliches.  He’s not satisfied with “it gets better.”  Because at this time, at this moment, it’s NOT getting better.  At this time, at this moment, his pain is all that he can see.  And he brings it before God.  But even this does not immediately help.

 

When I remember God, I moan; when I meditate, my spirit faints.

This is not what we would expect.  This is not what we would allow if we were God...and so it is so good that we’re not.

You see, grief is not any small thing.  Grief is not something that can be fixed simply.  And lament is not a simple answer.  Lament takes work, crying out to God when we would rather do anything else.  Lament takes time...God does not answer our prayers on our schedule.  He hears us immediately...He knows what we need even before we ask it...but He responds at exactly the right time.  And so when Asaph remembered God, he moaned.

He moaned because he knew that God was all-powerful and all-loving...and at the same time, He wasn’t helping.  He wasn’t helping, He wasn’t answering, and so Asaph’s pain turns into panic.  Our second point.

We see, when pain goes unanswered, our minds and our hearts can be so full, so torn in different directions, that we can resort to panic.  And this is what Asaph did.  This panic expressed itself, for Asaph, in questioning the character of God.

 

Asaph asks a series of 5 questions of panic

  1. Will the Lord spurn forever and never again be favorable?

  2. Has His steadfast love forever ceased?

  3. Are His promises at an end for all time?

  4. Has God forgotten to be gracious?

  5. Has He in anger shut up His compassion?

 

The answer to these questions is key to everything.  It is key to Asaph’s faith.  And it is key to our faith.  These are some of the most important questions for the Christian who is in pain.  For the Christian who is doubting.

 

And these are questions that sometimes run through our minds too.  These questions pop up, and we are ashamed.  And it is here where we must distinguish between what FEELS TRUE and what IS TRUE.

What feels true are the doubts.  What feels true in our problems and difficulties is an answer of “Yes” to any or all of these questions.

Will the Lord spurn forever and never again be favorable?

It feels as though the answer is yes.  You are in a tunnel, and due to your pain clouding your eyes, you cannot see the end.  “This tunnel must last for miles and miles...maybe it never ends.”

Has His steadfast love forever ceased?

It feels as though the answer is yes.  There is nothing worse than feeling as though God has stopped loving you.  God’s love is as fundamental to our lives as the air we breathe.  And if there is no air...if there is no divine love…

These are the things that FEEL true to us, and our soul sinks down to the depths.  There is no hope anymore.  It is all over.  What is going on around me, these storms that rage and clutch at my very soul...we begin to panic like Asaph did...like the disciples did in the boat.

Jesus, Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?

Do you not care that we are perishing God?  What are you doing in Heaven that is so important that you aren’t saving me right now?  This is the cry of a wounded soul.  The cry of a panicked man.  But what the disciples did not know for sure, Asaph did.

 

You see, the disciples did not know for a fact who Jesus was in Mark 4.  They were filled with great fear when Jesus calmed the storm.  They asked each other, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?”  But Asaph knows.  Asaph knows who God is, and that is why, even though his heart may think the answer to these questions is “yes” , his soul KNOWS that the answer must be “NO.”  This is what IS TRUE.  The abandonment may FEEL true, but the steadfast love IS TRUE.

 

Beloved, Asaph did not have all of Scripture in front of him as we do.  He didn’t know full full extend of the answer to these questions...the full force behind the NO!  that should arise from our soul as we preach to our heart.  But we do.

If you are the type of person to feel these feelings and doubt these doubts, make a note of the antidote.

 

Will the Lord spurn forever and never again be favorable?

    NO!  Instead, God promises: For the mountains may depart and the hills be removed, but my steadfast love shall not depart from you, and my covenant of peace shall not be removed,” says the Lord, who has compassion on you. (Is 54:10).

 

Has His steadfast love forever ceased?

NO!  Instead: The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; His  mercies never come to an end; (Lamentations 3:22)

 

Are His promises at an end for all time?

    NO!  Instead: God is not man, that He should lie, or a son of man, that He should change his mind.  Has He said, and will He not do it?  Or has He spoken, and will He not fulfill it? (Numbers 23:19)

 

Has God forgotten to be gracious?

NO!  Instead He declares Himself to be: The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin (Exodus 34:6-7)

 

Has He in anger shut up His compassion?

    NO!  But instead: As a father shows compassion to his children, so the Lord shows compassion to those who fear him...the steadfast love of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting on those who fear him (Psalm 103: 13 and 17)

 

But if you remember nothing else, remember this: 

What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?  Who shall bring any charge against God's elect? It is God who justifies.  Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword?  As it is written, “For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.” No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.  For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.        -Romans 8

The answer to these questions is Jesus Christ, as displayed here.  Earlier I said that Romans 8 isn’t the first step in our pain.  But it certainly is the second step.  When we express our pain to God and we begin to panic, PREACH to your own soul using God’s own words.  Preach to your own soul the gospel of Jesus Christ.

For He takes your pain seriously.  He takes your trouble and your panic and all the unrest within your heart...He sees it, and He has felt it too.  But our comfort in Christ does not only extend this far - that He sympathizes with our pain.  But He does far more than that.  Instead, He took all of our sin upon Himself.

He is the surety, the promise, the pledge, that there is an end to our suffering, because the one who revels in our misery, the one who works to bring it into our lives...he has been defeated through the cross.  The cross brings back the hope of the love of God, powerfully at work in our lives.  He loves you...THIS MUCH (stretch your hands out as though you were on the cross).  He did not go through all this pain, all this suffering just to make you go through it too.  He did not save you only to lose you again.

He stretched out His arms on the cross, and at the same time, in the same instant, He wraps His arms around you, never to let you go.

It is at the times of our greatest doubts, our greatest forgetfulness, that we must work even harder to remember.  Remembering what God has done in the past.  Our third point.

Asaph cried until he had no more tears left in him.

Asaph cried out until he had no more words left in him.

And still his heart was restless.

He was exhausted, but could not sleep.  We read in verse 4 that it was as though God Himself was keeping Asaph’s eyelids open.  He wanted sleep, but sleep would not come.

And so what did Asaph do?

As one minister so cleverly put it, Asaph did not count sheep, but instead, He turned to the Good Shepherd.

 

Fear and panic take over when we do not remember.  Fear and panic come and begin to reign over our hearts when we forget that we are not the first ones to ever feel this way.  When we forget that this is not even the first time that WE have felt this way.  And so, the solution is to remember.  To anchor our soul to the truth of who God is, shown through what He has done.  And this anchor is made strong when we remember in two ways:

1) We must remember personal stories of our individual salvation

When there is a prayer answered, a burden lifted, or a blessing given, write it down.  Write it down on a piece of paper and put it in a jar.  If you are healed from an illness, write it down.  If you have an amazing God-moment where everything lines up or there are a series of coincidences that you can’t explain, jot a note.  We must remember personal stories of our individual salvation.

This way, when you feel as though the dark tunnel stretches infinitely behind you and before you, you can remember that this is only your FELT truth rather than the REAL truth.

 

2) We must remember the Biblical story of our corporate salvation

    Put the story of Jesus in the boat to memory.  Put Romans chapter 8 to memory.  Spend time in the gospels, looking at Jesus’ life - how Jesus forgave the woman caught in adultery and realize that you are that woman. Look at Jesus giving the gift of repentance to Zacchaeus - you are that man -  and went after the lost sheep - you are that sheep.  Spend time in the gospels and look at Jesus’ death - picture the marks in His hands and His feet.  Behold the man upon the cross, hear His cries, and never forget.

But I know you will forget.  You will forget because you are sinful.  You will forget because you are like me.

 

You’ll forget, but then, by the grace of God, the memories will come flooding back.  You will look at the scraps of paper in the jar, you will remember the love of Jesus’ life, and the even greater love of His death, and you will lift up your voice in adoration of His power.  Our final point.

There is a point that I make with all the catechism students, multiple times a year.  This is a point made by the Heidelberg Catechism, and demonstrated throughout Scripture.  And now, you get to hear it too.

In reflecting on the character of God the Father, the catechism says the following: He is ABLE to do so as Almighty God, and WILLING also as a Faithful Father.

If our God was all-powerful, but not all-loving, we would be lost.  He could use His power for evil.  He could use His power against us.  He could uncreate us with a snap of His fingers...and without love, He might just do that.

But the other side of this is also true.  If God was all-loving, but not all-powerful, we would be lost.  All that He could do would be to love us in heaven from afar.  He would love us helplessly, weeping over sin, not able to stop it.

And this is the reflection of the psalmist here.  Through his series of questions about God’s love and care, he preached to his own soul, that even though the felt truth makes him hopeless, the true truth gives him hope and new life.  God’s love is certain in the mind of the psalmist.

And so now, he reflects on God’s power.  As Asaph lays in bed, stories of God’s power run through his mind.  The story of God’s mighty act of redemption, taking His people through the Red Sea - When the waters saw you, O God, when the waters saw you, they were afraid; indeed, the deep trembled.  When God commanded, the waters of the Red Sea split in two.  The power of the waters, the oceans, the seas...all throughout history they have terrified humanity.  The water is untamable, with monstrous waves, powerful winds, and the deep, hiding enormous sea creatures.  The people of Israel were terrified - chariots and horses, spears and swords on one side, and the mighty sea on the other.  But God commanded, and the sea split in two for His people to walk through.  God had the power to turn a threat into salvation.

And we saw this in our reading as well.  The disciples were terrified - the wind and the waves came up.  But God commanded, and the waters were stilled.  God had the power to turn a threat into salvation.

On the concept of water, Asaph then describes a thunderstorm, much like we sang at the beginning of the service in Psalm 29.  God has the power, not only to calm a storm, but to cause a storm.

God’s voice, flames from heaven flashing, with the roar of thunder crashing

Thunders roar and lightnings glare; God’s voice strips the forest bare

It is important for us to recognize who our God is.  There are times when His power is employed in destruction, and other times when it is employed in restoration - but it is always in the service of salvation.  Sometimes destruction, sometimes restoration, but always SALVATION.

The same Red Sea that saved the Israelites, killed the Egyptians.

The same cross that saved us, broke the power of sin and Satan.

 

This is what we have to remember - remember God’s love, absolutely.  In your troubles, your trials, your pain and your panic, God loves you.  But do not stop there.  Do not have an incomplete picture of your God.  God is a God of love, but also a God of power.  If we do not know the power of God, if we do not understand it, we will doubt.  We will question, we will wonder: what’s the point in praying?  What is the point in lifting up my voice to God if nothing will happen anyways?

But when we see His love and His power as the essential characteristics of our God...when we remember that our God is almighty, beyond the greatest being we can imagine, able to create with a word, able to calm with a word...but that He is also loving and approachable?

Then we need not doubt if we can offer our lament before Him.   We need not doubt that He cares for us, and that He deeply desires to heal us from our pain and our struggle.  If our God keeps a record of our tossings our wanderings, our difficulties, if our God keeps our tears in His bottle...then He also wants to hear them from our lips.

Congregation, lament is a difficult thing for us.  We tend to err on one side or the other, either sinfully raging against God, or putting on a false front of happiness.  But God wants ALL of us.  If we truly know Him, if we truly trust Him, we can be real with Him.  And when we do...when we do this, our God is not stingy with His grace, measuring His salvation out like a miser.  But rather, His love is freely given.  His power is dispensed generously.  He loves for you to ask for help...because it means that His own body is being healed.  When we call out to the Lord, He will answer us every time.  It may not be as outwardly dramatic as parting the Red Sea, or calming the storm, but the almighty power of our God is behind every answer, big or small.

So lament before your God, not aimlessly or angrily, but focused on who your God is, working for the shift from lament to praise.     AMEN.




* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Jeremy Segstro, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright, Rev. Jeremy Segstro

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