Suffering & Worship
By Ileia Hook
Many of us have been through what Pastor Jim Laffoon refers to as "The Dark Night of the Soul." Not to be confused with the sixteenth century poem by Saint John of the Cross (though they overlap in the end goals: oneness with God), these are moments where, like Job, it seems as though the things you treasure most are stripped away. The nights where, like David, it appears as though there is no reprieve from the bloodthirsty enemy on your trail. Or perhaps the days where, like Paul, it feels as though you are held prisoner behind the bars of injustice.
The dark night of the soul.
As a worshipper, have you ever been there? Have you ever found yourself asking why? Why me? Why now? James says this about suffering, "Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing" (James 1: 2-4). Amidst suffering, maybe we should learn to ask ourselves a different question like, “Why not me?” or perhaps, “What are You doing in me?” After all, The Vinedresser has a way of pruning fruitful branches as they cling to The Vine, so that they would bear more fruit (John 15: 1-3).
These seasons of our lives, though painful, cause deep reflection and spiritual desperation. They often propel us into the illustrious waters of God's grace — a grace so renowned that songs are sung and books are written merely to give imaginative glimpses of what is intended to be experientially irrefutable. And these experiences should cause us to tap into the richness of God's character, challenging us to sing and write of such truths with equal depth and grandeur.
Without these moments intended to mold us with purpose, we face the danger of becoming shallow worship leaders. Shallow worship leaders either rely on killer vocals, top-rate bands, and perhaps ostentatious light shows, or believe that the ability to produce this in a worship setting is the zenith of glorifying God. Although the aforementioned things may make worship more "enjoyable" for us (as if that's even the point of worship), we need worshippers today who rely instead on the very presence of the Living God.
A worshipper's heart is not only cultivated by opportunities to lay in green pastures or walk beside the still waters in our journey with Christ (Psalm 23:2). Our heart is also cultivated as we forge through the valleys of the shadow of death — where we know, with personal conviction, the power of God's rod and His staff as they comfort us en route to maturity in Him (Psalm 23:4). While hardship may produce suffering, suffering — if you let it — produces undiminished wholeness in Christ. In the lifeline of grace given to us to persevere through the persecution, we find cisterns of deep worship to God being dug in the souls of men.
In some ways, hardship produces sincere worshippers with grateful hearts for, if anything, the miracle work of deliverance that has taken place in one's own life through such hardship. Job, after facing unimaginable loss, pain, and ridicule, finds himself humbled and awestruck before the God of all creation. David — flaws, fears, and all — is marked as a man after God's own heart. Paul was freed from his prison cell in a moment of deep, passionate worship that moved the hand of God at the darkest point of night, liberating those around him and leading all who were bound into the freedom of God's redemption.
Our worship should honor God, embrace His Spirit, and lift high the name of Jesus, pointing to the cross where He was bent and broken for us. And knowing that He was broken for us, it is our honor to be broken for Him, even while we lead His people worshipfully to the throne of grace.
Some believe that suffering is just for the sinner, but God can undoubtedly make beauty from the ashes of the believer too. Whether from the mountain top or the valley, we joyfully bring our worship to God for who He is and rejoice in the hope that, though we are being buried with Christ, with Christ we will also rise. Come what may, all glory be to God!