The Command to Weep

“Jesus wept,” two words that change everything (Jn 11:35). God hurts. God grieves. God weeps. Jesus is proof. When the Triune God meets pain he does the opposite of flee, he absorbs. He enters the fray. Paul urges followers of Christ to take the some posture. When we encounter those who weep we are commanded to weep (Rom 12:15). Weep is an imperative in this verse.

In striving to mimic the compassion of Christ we must grow comfortable walking the road of pain with others. We need to be students, ever developing a framework for engaging grief and honing tools to help our neighbors.

Dr. Alan Wolfert, founder of the Center for Loss, developed a model for grief engagement called “companioning.” The model is insightful and aligns well with the spirit of biblical compassion. Humility is the foundation of the eleven principles that guide the framework.

  1. Companioning is about being present to another person’s pain; it is not about taking away the pain.
  2. Companioning is about going to the wilderness of the soul with another human being; it is not about thinking you are responsible for finding the way out.
  3. Companioning is about honoring the spirit; it is not about focusing on the intellect.
  4. Companioning is about listening with the heart; it is not about analyzing with the head.
  5. Companioning is about bearing witness to the struggles of others; it is not about judging or directing these struggles.
  6. Companioning is about walking alongside;it is not about leading or being led.
  7. Companioning is about discovering the gifts of sacred silence; it is not about filling up every moment with words.
  8. Companioning is about being still; it is not about frantic movement forward.
  9. Companioning is about respecting disorder and confusion; it is not about imposing order and logic.
  10. Companioning is about learning from others; it is not about teaching them.
  11. Companioning is about compassionate curiosity; it is not about expertise.
Advertisements

Rhythm of Life: Orientation, Disorientation, Reorientation

I had a conversation with a good friend of mine today. We were discussing the value of transparency before God and neighbor. As we talked it was refreshing to speak openly about the rhythms and seasons of life in a fallen world. We got onto discussing Walter Brueggemann’s work on the Psalms and his paradigm for life’s rhythms. I have pulled together a helpful summary from a few different sources that capture Brueggeman’s thoughts on the matter. I have found this framework quite helpful and very true to life.

Brueggemann has developed a very intriguing way of categorizing the Psalms and bringing them into our own personal lives. In his book entitled Praying the Psalms he suggests that the psalms reflect two very basic movements in everyone’s life.

The first is the move into the “pit”. It happens when our world collapses around us and we feel that there is no way out of the deep hole into which we have sunk. The second is the move out of the pit into a welcome place. We suddenly understand what has happened and who has brought us up out of the pit.

Brueggemann further suggests that human beings regularly find themselves in one of three places:

  1. a place of orientation, in which everything makes sense in our lives;
  2. a place of disorientation, in which we feel we have sunk into the pit; and
  3. a place of new orientation, in which we realize that God has lifted us out of the pit and we are in a new place full of gratitude and awareness about our lives and our God.

Using these three “places,” Brueggemann suggests that life has a rhythm as we move from one place to the next. He believes that that psalms match those places and the surprisingly painful and joyful moves we make. In short, there are psalms of orientation, disorientation, and new orientation. Recognizing that different psalms match these three places in our lives can help us identify psalms that fit our personal lives.

Brueggemann helpfully categorizes the psalms around this larger scheme. By doing so he gives believers moving through the three-fold cycle a voice and framework for engaging God. The Psalms are a sufficient resource to enable robust faith in the face of any situation.

Orientation


  • Creation – in which we consider the world and our place in it
  • Torah – in which we consider the importance of God’s revealed will
  • Wisdom – in which we consider the importance of living well
  • Narrative – in which we consider our past and its influence on our present
  • Psalms of Trust – in which we express our trust in God’s care and goodness

Disorientation


  • Lament – in which we/I express anger, frustration, confusion about the experience of God’s absence (both communal and individual laments)
  • Penitential – in which we/I express regret and sorrow over wrongs we have done (both communal and individual penitential psalms)

Reorientation


  • Thanksgiving – in which we thank God for what God has done for us/me (both communal and individual thanksgiving psalms)
  • Hymns of Praise – in which we praise God for who God is
  • Zion Psalms – in which we praise God for our home
  • Royal Psalms – in which we consider the role of political leadership
  • Covenant Renewal – in which we renew our relationship with God

If you are interested in his full discussion of this topic you can read it here: Psalms and the Life of Faith. If you skip right to page 6 you will see these three categories. Feel free to comment, I would love to dialogue with you about this paradigm.

Unseen Footprints

For the singer of Psalm 77, comfort is a stranger. His is a season of sorrow and spiritual fatigue. I value the authenticity of this Psalm. I also appreciate the key elements that make up  the movement of the Psalm. The singer moves from cries to questions to remembrance. This is a movement we can learn from.

Cries


“I cry aloud to God, aloud to God, and he will hear me. 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. When I remember God, I moan; when I meditate, my spirit faints. You hold my eyelids open; I am so troubled that I cannot speak” (1-4).

A hoarse voice, weary arms, bloodshot eyes, and a tired soul…this is what godliness looks like in this text. This man is pursuing God and even his own pain will not stop him. Charles Spurgeon captures the faith underneath the cry to God.

“Asaph did not run to man but to the Lord, and to him he went, not with studied, stately, stilted words, but with a cry, the natural, unaffected, unfeigned expression of pain. He used his voice also, for though vocal utterance is not necessary to the life of prayer, it often seems forced upon us by the energy of our desires. Sometimes the soul feels compelled to use the voice, for thus it finds a freer vent for its agony. It is a comfort to hear the alarm bell ringing when the house is invaded by thieves.”

Note also the Psalmist’s transparency as he describes his feelings about God. The thought of God causes pain to well up within him. All consideration of God evokes moaning and fainting. This is a hard place, but a very real place. There are seasons where God and distress are uncomfortably intertwined. I resonate with Spurgeon’s comment on this dynamic.

“He who is the wellspring of delight to faith becomes an object of dread to the psalmist’s distracted heart. Alas, my God, the writer of this exposition well knows what thy servant Asaph meant, for his soul is familiar with the way of grief. Deep glens and lonely caves of soul depressions, my spirit knows full well your awful glooms!”

Questions


“Will the Lord spurn forever, and never again be favorable? Has his steadfast love forever ceased? Are his promises at an end for all time? Has God forgotten to be gracious? Has he in anger shut up his compassion?” (7-9).

Cries give way to questions. The character of these inquiries speaks to the depth of the covenant relationship that exists between God and the Psalmist. The Singer knows that he can engage God with honesty and that his God welcomes hard questions. His questions are all focused on the faithfulness of God. He wants to know if God has forgotten himself and his promises. Has God lost track of his own character? Have his promises slipped his mind? The Psalmist is wondering…

Remembrance


“Then I said, ‘I will appeal to this, to the years of the right hand of the Most High.’ I will remember the deeds of the LORD; yes, I will remember your wonders of old. I will ponder all your work, and meditate on your mighty deeds” (11-12)…Your way was through the sea, your path through the great waters; yet your footprints were unseen” (19).

Everything changes when the Psalmist quiets his voice, lowers his hands, and focuses his memory. This text turns on remembrance. With remembrance comes hope. The Psalmist is clearly recalling the Red Sea deliverance that followed the mass exodus from Egypt. He remembers how the Egyptians had the Israelites backed up against the wall…hedged in at the Red Sea with no visible sign of escape. He brings to mind the parting of the waters and the pathway through a hopeless situation. Note his insightful statement, “your footprints were unseen.”

It is the “unseen” activity of God in a hopeless situation that brings the Psalmist hope.  God’s indiscernible “footprints”…this causes his heart to take courage. His situation feels dire, dark, and without hope. But he recognizes that God excels at showing up in these scenarios. He has done it again and again throughout salvation history. He strolls through a mass of water and welcomes his people to walk in his invisible footsteps. The Psalmist is confident that God has not ceased to lead this way even though he is unaware of it…this brings him great encouragement and will do the same for us.

Investigating the Down Cast Soul

Ecclesiastes 3:1-11 teaches that life is filled with a variety of seasons. These seasons are not chosen by man. They are ordered by God. These seasons are marked by gain and loss, pain and joy, good and evil. We do not control when these experiences come our way or how long they last. Every season comes from the hand of God and he determines its timetable.

When God orders a season, he provides all that is necessary to navigate it. The Psalms are one such provision. The Psalms gives us wisdom, insight, and voice in every season we encounter. A few years back,  I did a project on one particular psalm that equips believers in times of loss and pain. I recently pulled up this project and did some editing on it. Here it is for your encouragement: Psalm 42: Investigating the Down Cast Soul.

Comfort in Strange Places

I have been working on a number of projects over the last few years. Recently, I have been editing and formatting a few of them. The one I am posting today comes from November-September of last year. This last year proved to be one of the more challenging that I have faced in my young life.

During that time I gained a lot of strength and help from certain Biblical books. This meditation in particular is focused on the book of Job. I have come to dearly love and appreciate this book. These thoughts come out of thinking and wrestling with my own life and the text of Job. My desire is that it would be of help to you. Here is the link to the document: Comfort in Strange Places: Musings on the Book of Job. Your feedback is much appreciated. Thanks.

Lament Dramatized

Claus Westermann called the book of Job a “dramatized lament.” In the psalms we only hear the voice of the lamenter and rarely do we know his situation. In Job we see everything. We see the circumstances in detail. We know the lamenter. We watch his lament develop and unravel. We watch the movement to solution. On one level Job is a lament psalm extended and detailed. It fleshes out the journey of the lament. It is a tortuous but necessary voyage. It’s a road that must be walked if we would ever come to a place of reorientation.

When you read the psalms sometimes it appears like a quick road from lament to praise. At times it looks like the shift occurs in a moment. Job shows us otherwise. The road can be long and grueling. The process is not easy, simple, or quick. At times the darkness will not relent, the questions go unanswered, the confusion prevails, and hope remains in exile. The resolution comes at a tremendous emotional price. There is nothing comfortable about this road.

The resolution is hard won, mainly because it is a gift unattached to our effort. We must journey but ultimately this path is about receiving. Just as God orchestrates the calamity so he must work the restoration. The way of the lament is a path that strips us bare that we may be clothed. Lament earns a man nothing. God owes him nothing when he has voiced his complaint. The answer, though rooted in covenant, is ultimately grounded in grace. God brings solution if, when and how he deems best.

Job and Us

Job did not share our perspective of his experience. He never knew the events of chapters 1-2—ever. The reality behind the events of his suffering were hidden to him. The reader sees what he never knew. His buddies did not know either—which is obvious because of their poor counsel. The book of Job is a brilliant example of human attempts to assign meaning or to explain events that occur in our lives. We assume that we can discern why something is happening or why something is not happening. The story of Job shows us that this is both foolish and impossible. We are creatures that must depend on the ultimate interpreter. God alone knows the meaning behind every event—and he has not chosen to disclose the why behind his every providential action. As creatures we must accept our limits and not grasp for omniscience. We do not know and therefore should rest in the freedom that comes from not attempting to know all things. Instead of attempting to understand the mysteries of his providential arrangements in our lives we should anchor our souls in the place where he has clearly spoken and communicated his heart toward us. It is in the gospel that we see his unshifting posture toward us. In the cross we see God’s unchanging opinion of us. In the good news of Jesus we see God’s final and definitive word over us. The cross is where God speaks his heart to us—we are not left to discern his voice in mysterious providential activities.