Out of the Depths: Surviving the Dungeon of the Soul

The lowest spot on earth is the Dead Sea.  Geologists tell us that it sinks a little lower every day.  Some estimates say it is sinking at a rate of thirteen inches per year. But in the ocean is a place even darker and deeper. No light has ever penetrated its darkness.  The deepest part of the ocean is called the Mariana Trench.  If you dropped Mt. Everest, the tallest mountain on the surface of the earth, into this part of the ocean, the top of Everest would be more than a mile below the surface.  The pressure at that depth is eight tons per square inch. That is like trying to hold sixteen thousand pounds with just two fingers, while an equivalent amount of weight is bearing down upon every square inch of your body.

Have you ever felt like you were living in the lowest spot on earth? Like the Dead Sea, you sink a little more every day.  Like being in the depths of the Marianna Trench, the pressures are almost more than you can bear. Is that what life is like for you? Do you find yourself so far down, that you feel like you have to reach up to touch bottom? If so, you can understand the feelings of David when he wrote these words.

Out of the depths I have cried to You, O Lord. Lord, hear my voice! Let Your ears be attentive to the voice of my supplications.  If You, O Lord should mark iniquities, O Lord who could stand? But there is forgiveness with You, that You may be feared.  Psalm 130:1-41    Out of the depths I have cried… Psalm 130:1

David Was In The Depths

Was it the depths of sin?  Was it the depths of despair? Was it the depths of danger? Was it the depths of poverty? Was it the depths of sorrow? The depths have been described as that point in your life where: “Earth is hollow,  heaven empty, the air heavy, every form a deformity, every sound a discord, the past a gloom the present a puzzle, the future a horror.” C. H. Spurgeon:  The Treasuries of David

The depths describes the very bottom of your circumstances, the very bottom of life.  It is as low as a person can go. That’s where David was. He was in the depths!

What Can You Do in the Depths?

You can cry. And most people do. The depths is the lowest of all places in life. But it is more than a place. It is an attitude—an outlook—one of the most intense hopelessness and despair.  It is the dungeon of the soul.  How does a person survive such a place, such a period, such a season of life?

Even strong men cry in the depths, for in the depths, a man realizes that he has come to the end of his own resources—that he has nowhere to turn. So in the depths you cry.  You weep secretly, sometimes silently, sometimes invisibly to those around you. David was in the depths, and there in the depths he cried.

To Whom Do You Cry in the Depths?

In the depths, that deep, dark, depressing dungeon of the soul, one can conclude that all is utterly hopeless. A person might decide that there is nowhere to turn, that there is no place to cry, that there is no ear that will hear. We can even decide that God’s shoulder is not available to cry on. But David said, Out of the depths I have cried to You, O Lord. Psalm 130:1

Not only so, but in the depths, a person might detest himself or herself, and so, feel that even God loathes them and their condition. But listen to what Paul said when he asked, “What shall separate us from the love of God?” 38 For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 8:38-39

The depths can’t separate us from our Lord’s love or His presence. David was in the depths.  And there he cried, but not just into his pillow. He cried to the Lord! C.H. Spurgeon said, “Prayer is never more real and acceptable than when it rises out of the worst places.  Deep places beget deep devotion.  Depths of earnestness are stirred by depths of tribulation.” 

It was out of the depths of slavery in Egypt that the children of Israel began to groan earnestly.  “They sighed by reason of their bondage, and they cried out..” Exodus 2:23b  But while their souls were chained in the dungeon of the depths, their prayers took flight. Their cry for help rose up to God, and God took action to initiate their deliverance!

Out of some pit of life, whether despair, or sin or sorrow—out of those depths, David cried to the Lord. Could it be that you are the person in the depths—that deep, dark, depressing, dungeon of the soul?  Are your eyes weak from sorrow?  Is your pillow wet with your tears?  Then turn those cries heavenward.  Your situation may be desperate, but God’s love, compassion and salvation reach even into the depths.  

How Does a Person Come to Be in the Depths?

When I find myself in the depths, I usually get there as a result of my own folly.  In my own personal experience, I have found that sin will take you to the depths! It will take you deeper in the depths  than you want to go. It will keep you longer in the depths  than you want to stay. The depths of sin will cost you more than you ever wanted to pay.

When I find myself in the depths, I am never there alone.  Satan is always there to assault me and to remind me of my faults and failures.  He is there heaping sorrow upon sorrow and discouraging me from calling on my God who is mighty to save. The same is true of all of God’s people. The enemy not only accuses us of being unworthy to call on God, He accuses God as either weak or unwilling to save us from our despair. He reads in our hearing the record of our sins. The devil keeps a detailed record of our sins against God so that he can accuse us, and dishearten us, and accuse us before God, pointing at our sin list with his crooked finger. The devil keeps a list. But listen to what David said about God.

David said, “If You, LORD, should mark iniquities,  O Lord, who could stand? But there is forgiveness with You,  That You may be feared.”

If God held a grudge—if my sins were kept in His heart all would be hopeless. Make no mistake, there is a record, but against that record stands the promise of full and free forgiveness. Peter preached, “Repent ye therefore and be converted that your sins may be blotted out.” And Paul wrote in Colossians 2:13-14 that he has “forgiven us all our transgressions, having canceled out the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us and which was hostile to us; and He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross.”

Yes—there is a record!  But there is also a Redeemer!! So, when in the depths, it is not necessary to plead your merit when pleading for God’s forgiveness.  You have no merit.  The ground on which to stand is the ground of God’s mercy and grace.  The ground on which to stand is the ground of the Cross! No dungeon is so dark or deep that the Savior can’t see and save!  David was in the depths.   He cried to the Lord—daring not to stand on his own character—but on the grace and mercy of the Lord.

When darkness seems to hide His face,
I rest on His unchanging grace.
In every high and stormy gale,
My anchor holds within the veil.

His oath, His covenant, His blood,
Support me in the whelming flood.
When all around my soul gives way,
He then is all my Hope and Stay.

On Christ the solid Rock I stand,
All other ground is sinking sand;
All other ground is sinking sand.

Where Does One Wait While in the Depths?

David waited in the depths.  Bombarded by his doubts—bludgeoned by his fears—there he cried out to God—hanging on precariously as he waited for God’s deliverance and hoped for God’s help. There in the depths, he cried for God’s mercy, while clinging to God’s word.

Sometimes, that is all that we have in the depths. We have just one precious promise, just one verse to cling to.  Tell me what else is there—when your money is gone—when your health is gone—when your wife has told you that tomorrow she’ll be gone—when your hope is gone—what is there to hold on to?  David held on to the promises of God!

I wait for the LORD, my soul waits,  and in his word I put my hope.  My soul waits for the Lord more than watchmen wait for the morning, more than watchmen wait for the morning. Psalm 130:5-6

Can Anything Good Come Out of the Depths?

Can any lesson be learned in the depths of distance from God, in the depths of disobedience, in the depths of discouragement? Remember Jonah. How deep did Jonah sink in the depths? Jonah described his circumstances as having sunk to the belly of Hell. He prayed, The waters closed in over me to take my life; the deep surrounded me; weeds were wrapped about my head at the roots of the mountains.nI went down to the land whose bars closed upon me forever; yet you brought up my life from the pit, O Lord my God.When my life was fainting away,  I remembered the Lord, and my prayer came to you, into your holy temple. JONAH 2:5-7

God delivered even Jonah from the depths. In the throes of the desperation that you now experience, you may be wondering if any good could come from it.  It seems right now that it will destroy you emotionally, physically, and spiritually. But in the depths, David learned to call on God. He was forced to look to God.  He was forced to pray. And he was forced to wait. Listen to his testimony:

O Israel, put your hope in the LORD, for with the LORD is unfailing love  and with Him is full redemption.  He Himself will redeem Israel from all their sins. 130:7-8

What David might never have known in life’s noon, he discovered in life’s midnight.  The depths is a place where a person can meet God!What secret is God teaching you as you travel through the tremendous soul-crushing pressures of the depths?  Do you feel as if you are living through the lowest spot of life? Like the dead sea, do you feel like you sink a little more every day? Like being in the depths Marianna Trench. do the pressures seem almost more than you can bear? Do you find yourself so far down, that you feel like you have to reach up to touch bottom? Then cry out to the Lord. He plumbs the depths and the darkness. Neither height nor depth can separate you from his love.  

Photo by Alice Alinari

Healing the Hole in Your Soul

25A woman who had had a hemorrhage for twelve years, 26and had endured much at the hands of many physicians, and had spent all that she had and was not helped at all, but rather had grown worse— 27after hearing about Jesus, she came up in the crowd behind Him and touched His cloak.28For she thought, “If I just touch His garments, I will get well.” Mark 5:25-28

Is there a hemorrhage in your life?

A hemorrhage is a loss of blood.  It can happen slowly over time and make one weak and sickly as it had this woman.  Or it can happen suddenly and massively as when a vessel ruptures, causing loss of life. If there is a hemorrhage in your body, you are in trouble physically. But it may be that there is another kind of hemorrhage in your life.

A rupture can take place in your marriage relationship, and you discover the love that was holding you together is oozing away. It might take place in your spiritual life.  Sin, deadly spiritual cancer that it is, eats its way into the fabric of your soul, until ounce by ounce, your spiritual vitality has slipped away.  That hemorrhage can take place in a relationship between you and another brother or sister in Christ, so that you can no longer stand to see them coming.  Once you were close. But now that relationship is so bitter, you sit on separate sides of the church and shop in separate stores.  Because of it, the joy of your salvation is ebbing away.

Is there a hemorrhage in your life? There was in the life of this woman.  And it had lasted twelve years. How many years has it been going on in your life? How many years has sin been sapping your vitality and draining you physically, spiritually and emotionally? How long?

In this dear woman’s life, it was chronic, but it was also cumulative.  Year by year, it grew worse and worse instead of better and better.  So it is with a hemorrhage of any kind.  You either cure it, or it kills you.  It’s just a matter of time. What sin is festering in your soul, that if you allow it to go on and claim your heart, it will claim your home and your health and your hope?  

Where Are You Looking For A Cure?

No one looks for a cure unless that person can acknowledge being sick.  This woman endured many things of many physicians. She did so because she was desperate. How desperate are you?

Let me give you a description of her plight in the words of the great preacher Dr. G. Campbell Morgan.  

“On account of the peculiar form of physical disease from which she was suffering, she was excommunicated from the temple, not allowed to mingle with the worshipers.  By that selfsame law she was divorced from her husband, not allowed to live with him. By that same law she was ostracized from society, and in appalling loneliness, she had lived for twelve years. Twelve years of a disease that weakened her day by day, until all her physical powers were feeble.  Twelve years shut out from the fellowship of the saints as they went up to the house of God.  Twelve years shut away from the comradeships of home and the fellowship of her husband.  Twelve years shut out from all the circle of her friends and acquaintances.  Twelve years of suffering and weakness.  Twelve years in which she had done all she knew for healing, and spent all that she had, and was nothing bettered, but grew worse.” (The Westminister Pulpit, volume 8, 239)

How have you been dealing with the hemorrhage in your life? Where have you turned for help?  Have you become so desperate that you spent all your energies, and all your ideas, and all your hope, leaving you more helpless and more hopeless than in the beginning?

Sometimes we become so exasperated with our situation that we decide not to fight it anymore?  We decide to give in to our sickness and let it have the best of us. We decide to give in to our sin and let it run whatever course it chooses to take in our lives.  We are spent and hopeless and have no where else to turn.

This woman had heard about Jesus. But she wasn’t there that day just to hear a story. She came seeking a Savior, a Helper, who had the power to deliver her from her circumstances. 

What Do You Believe About Jesus?

Can He deliver me? Can He deliver you? That is the question that needs an answer. If He can, then Christianity has relevance.  If He can’t, I am wasting my time writing, and you are wasting your time reading what I have written.

Mark tells us that after hearing about Jesus, this feeble, frail, fragile woman began to push her way through the crowd in order to make her way into Jesus’ presence. What was it that prompted her to make this journey? What clicked inside her mind and heart, making her sense that He was the One. Many of you have heard stories about Jesus, but it has never clicked inside you that Jesus is the One you need. He is the One who can heal that hemorrhage in your life.

I will never forget the testimony of one dear woman as she shared how that connection was made in her heart.  There was a hemorrhage in her marriage relationship.  The relationship itself was near death. They were newcomers to America. Yet,  every day she expected him to tell her he was divorcing her, abandoning her alone half-way around the world.  But one day, as she prayed, she caught a glimpse of the greatness of God.  Her spiritual understanding was opened, and she saw a God who was great enough to save her husband and save her marriage. In that brief moment, she reached out to God in faith, asking Him to do what she in all of her efforts and energies had not been able to do.   God work a mighty miracle in the life of that family. The husband was saved and so was the marriage!

Is something beginning to click inside of you?  When the connection was made in her heart, she pressed through the crowd and touched His cloak, for she thought, “If I just touch His garments I will get well.”

Have You Touched Him and Has He Touched You?

29Immediately the flow of her blood was dried up; and she felt in her body that she was healed of her affliction. 30Immediately Jesus, perceiving in Himself that the power proceeding from Him had gone forth, turned around in the crowd and said, “Who touched My garments?” 31And His disciples said to Him, “You see the crowd pressing in on You, and You say, ‘Who touched Me?’” 32And He looked around to see the woman who had done this. 33But the woman fearing and trembling, aware of what had happened to her, came and fell down before Him and told Him the whole truth. Mark 5:29-33

Do you know why she touched Him? She touched Him because she had a need. She touched Him because she believed He could meet that need. There were two blind men who asked Jesus to heal them. Do you know what He asked them before He touched them? He said, “Do you believe that I am able to do this?”  

You might answer “yes” without batting an eye. But that means nothing! Why? Because you are yet come to that conclusion in your heart. You are saying “yes” with your head only.  When Jesus asked these blind men if they believed that He was able, although they were blind, they had an internal vision of a God with whom noting was impossible. When they said, “Yes” then Jesus touched their eyes.

Do you believe that He is able to seal the hemorrhage that is sapping the life from your soul? I tell you that there were hundreds in that crowd that day who would have said ”Yes” with their heads. And all of them were touching Jesus too. But there was only one woman who was healed, and she was healed immediately.

Jesus said that it was because of her faith that she was healed. It was a faith that was expressed—not just by her head—but by her hands and her feet and her heart. When she reached out to touch just the hem of His garment, a connection was made that tapped the power source of heaven. There was such a surge of power that Jesus said, “Who touched My garments?”

Have you eyes been opened to Jesus as the ONE and ONLY ONE who can help you? He wants to be your Savior and your Deliverer. He wants you to be able to testify to  a time when you touched Him and He touched you?  

Something changed in that woman’s life that day. 29Immediately the flow of her blood was dried up; and she felt in her body that she was healed of her affliction. Twelve years of sickness came to an end in that moment.Twelve years of suffering came to an end in that instant.Twelve years of hopelessness vanished like a vapor.Twelve years of hurt and heartache was erased.

But something more significant than that happened in her life.

This Woman Experienced a Transformation in Her Relationship with God.

 Let me tell you why. Did you know that Jesus said a word to her that he never said to anyone else in all the stories of the New Testament? Never—not even to His mother or to His friends Mary and Martha.

Before I tell you that word, let me remind you of where and what this woman had been for twelve years. For twelve years, she had been abandoned by her society. She was an outcast from the community of faith. If she was married, the law would have demanded that she live apart from her husband for all of these twelve years. She was an orphan of hope and happiness. But in the instant that she touched Jesus, He looked down into her eyes, and this is the word that He spoke to her orphaned heart. HE called her “DAUGHTER.” He would use that title in reference to others. But it was never bestowed by Him on any woman but this one. When He called her daughter, she knew, not only that she was healed of her sickness, but also of her separation from God. She was accepted. She was adopted. She was His own!

That very thing can happen to you in your circumstances. If you reach out in faith to this same Jesus, you will find His power to be effective in your life. You will also find that it is both His passion and pleasure to make you His child. In an instant, you would no longer be an outcast. You would no longer be an orphan of hope and happiness. You would be adopted as His very own!

She thought, “If I just touch His garments, I will get well.” Mark 5:28 She did, and she was, and the same thing can happen to  you!

Photo by Nathan Dumlao

Where is Jesus in Our Grief?

Most of us have been pierced by one of the painful arrows of grief. Can you and I find Jesus in the face of our grief?

But Mary was standing outside the tomb weeping; and so, as she wept, she stooped and looked into the tomb; and she saw two angels in white sitting, one at the head and one at the feet, where the body of Jesus had been lying. And they said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” John 20:11-13

This is part of John’s account of how some of Jesus followers reacted to the empty tomb of Jesus. John chooses to tell the story from the perspective of Mary Magdalene.Mark also records Mary Magdalene’s visit to the tomb. Both Mark and Luke tell us that she had at one time been possessed of seven demons before she met Jesus. This trip to the tomb was very personal for her. Was she the sinful woman in Luke chapter seven of whom Jesus said, “She loves much because her sins which are many are all forgiven?” I think she was.

If so, her deliverance from demons and her wonderful experience of forgiveness resulted in a deep personal commitment to the Lord Jesus.  That is revealed at the cross, when she was one of the only disciples left with Mary. The rest ran away. Her presence at the tomb was prompted by her love for Jesus and the grief she experienced following His death. Her initial experience at the tomb was confusing. She ran to Peter saying, “They have taken away the Lord, out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.” John 20:2b  

Imagine the agony she endured watching Jesus die! Sudden, tragic death often leaves loved ones in some degree of shock. Overwhelmed by the events of recent days, as well as by her own emotions, Mary Magdalene made the pre-dawn trip to the tomb in the grip of grief. I want to examine her grief and relate it to the experience of grief that comes to us all. In a recent search for definitions of grief, I found the following explanations.

Grief is the normal and natural emotional reaction to loss or change of any kind. Grief is the conflicting feelings caused by the end of or change in a familiar pattern of behavior. It is defined as keen mental suffering or distress over affliction or loss. It is described as sharp sorrow or painful regret. I’m sure you understand. Most of us have been pierced by one of the painful arrows of grief. Grief comes as a result of losing someone you love. Sometimes we grieve the passage of a stage of our life—unrecoverable days that we wasted or lost. We can grieve a disability that comes into our lives or grieve over a great disappointment or personal loss. Grief comes in many ways.

My purpose will be to examine the grief of Mary. In the midst of her grief, Mary was looking for Jesus. Can you and I find Jesus in the face of our grief?

Mary Was Weeping at What She Knew to Be True.

At first, to Peter she said, they have taken away the Lord and we… Later she said to the angels, “They have taken away my Lord and I…” John 20:13b   This was deeply personal for Mary. She was grieving over the basic facts of what she knew to be true. This is the first way we approach grief. We deal with the heart-breaking facts. We face the hard and cold fact of death, of loss, of pain, of sorrow, of suffering that accompanies grief.

Mary Was Weeping on the Basis of Things She Assumed to Be True. 

I have heard many people state the truth of how they feel in the midst of their grief. Many of those feelings are based on assumptions made in the pain of the moment. From the personal perspective of sorrow, both the present and the future are clouded by the fog of grief.

“They have taken away my Lord.” Was that true? No, but in that moment, it appeared to be true to Mary, and it deepened the grief of the moment. Be careful about assumptions you make in the midst of your grief. Be careful about decisions you make while in the throes of grief. Be especially careful concerning conclusions you make about God in your sorrow. 

God often sends us comfort in the midst of our grief. Thankfully, most of us have friends or family or a minister who will help us walk through our personal sorrow. Have you ever noticed how hollow such comfort sounds when coming from someone not standing in your shoes? The words are often true and sincere. If you will notice, not even the testimony of angels countered the faulty assumptions Mary Magdalene made by Mary in her grief.

In Her Grief, She Failed to Recognize the Presence of Her Lord.

Have you found it to be true that it is hard to see the Lord through your tears? As we read the story, we raise all kinds of questions about why it was that she failed to recognize Jesus. But mainly, it was her grief and the resulting shock and despair that followed the recent loss of someone she loved. Those of you who have walked the road of grief know that this period of grief can last a long time.  There seems to be no sense of God’s presence. There seems to be no word from God. There is an overwhelming emptiness and sense of being abandoned, not only by the person you lost but also by God. Mary, for a brief moment, experienced a dark night of the soul when, although her Lord was there, she was not able to know it.

Jesus Was Present in the Midst of Her Grief.

But Mary was standing outside the tomb weeping; and so, as she wept, she stooped and looked into the tomb; and she saw two angels in white sitting, one at the head and one at the feet, where the body of Jesus had been lying. And they said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “Because they have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid Him.” When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, and did not know that it was Jesus.  Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking? ”Supposing Him to be the gardener, she said to Him, “Sir, if you have carried Him away, tell me where you have laid Him, and I will take Him away.” John 20:11-15

He was right there in the midst of her grief, even though she did not recognize His presence. Do you suppose that in spite of how you feel, that He might also be present in the midst of yours? In the loss of someone you love, you might have no sense of Him, but He is there!

Passing through some particularly difficult season of change, you might  have no sense of Him, but He is there! Maybe you lost your job or your sense of purpose, and you have no sense of Him, but He is there! Jesus is present in the midst of your grief.

Jesus Spoke to Her in the Midst of Her Grief.

Jesus said to her, “Mary!” John 20:16a   He called her name. He spoke to her. He asked her the same question asked by the angels. “Why are you weeping.” I wonder if He was helping her process her grief. Processing your grief doesn’t make it go away. But it causes you to grapple with what happened and what must happen next. Why was she weeping? Who was she seeking? She was weeping because she lost Jesus. But in her grief, Mary came there to look for Jesus. Yet, He was right in front of her and she failed to recognize His presence.

Is Jesus speaking to you in the midst of your grief, in the midst of your loss, in the midst of your change? Is He saying something to you that you need to hear! Yes, but to hear it you must recognize who He is.

His first question was, “Why are you weeping?” What is your loss? What is your disappointment? What is the sorrow that brings you to this point in your life. But His next question is key. “Whom are you seeking?” Who was Mary looking for? She came there looking for Jesus. Have you looked for Jesus in your grief, or have you looked for relief in other people or in other places? A person with grief over an illness might be seeking a physician, as did the woman with the issue of blood, until she sought Jesus. Who are you seeking?

A person who lost their sense of purpose might be seeking for something to fill that void? So Jesus asks you—Who or what are you seeking?  What did Jesus offer Mary? He offered her Himself. Is He speaking to you in the midst of your grief? Is He calling your name? Is He offering you the strength of His presence and the comfort of His love? Is He reminding you that you have not been abandoned by your Lord? He revealed Himself differently to various of His disciples after His resurrection. He will choose the time and place to make you aware of His Presence. 

In The Midst of Her Grief, Mary Was Afraid.

Why was she afraid? Maybe she was afraid of the same things you are. She was afraid of being hurt again. She didn’t want to lose Him again. Perhaps she was afraid of the future, or even afraid of the past, fearing that the demons who once tormented her might return. She was afraid to go on, and because of her grief her life was without purpose.

In the Midst of Her Grief, Mary Called Jesus Teacher.

She turned and said to Him in Hebrew, “Rabboni!” (which means, Teacher). Most of us, who have been so unfortunate as to experience grief, have learned something along the way. We learn things about ourselves. We also learn things about the Lord. Do you suppose there is something the Lord is trying to teach you in the midst of your circumstances?

Jesus Gave Her a New Sense of Mission as a Result of Her Grief.

Jesus said to her, “Stop clinging to Me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to My brethren and say to them, ‘I ascend to My Father and your Father, and My God and your God.’”  Mary Magdalene came, announcing to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord,” and that He had said these things to her. John 20:17-18

I am often amazed at the people who come through some tragic loss with a vision of something God wants them to do. How many times have you heard of a parent who lost a child to some rare illness, who out of that pain, becomes an advocate for other families in similar circumstances. How many cancer survivors have taken up the cause of making sure other cancer victims have adequate support? What about you? What grief changed your life? How did God use that moment to teach you and redirect you and re-purpose your life?

Some of you can identify with Mary. On the other hand, some of you are still looking for answers. You are still looking for Jesus in the midst of your grief. I pray that you will experience His presence in the midst of your grief. I pray that He will speak to you in the midst of your grief. I pray that He will be your teacher as you as you walk through the grief process. I also pray that out of the heartache of your grief, He will lead you to discover a new sense of mission and direction for your life.

Photo by Ksenia Makagonova

Songs in the Night

When you have your health and you have your wealth and you have your freedom and you have your hope—it is easy to sing. But should you find yourself in some dark night of the soul,  without a ray of hope—should you find yourself locked in some prison of despair—try then to voice a song. That is when it will take divine intervention to bring a song from your soul

“But none saith, Where is God my Maker, who giveth songs in the night?”—Job 35:10.

There is a night in every day. There are also nights in every life. The night to which I refer, is a period marked by grief or gloom, by questions or confusion, by discouragement or doubt. A night can last hours, or days, or months or years.

It can be a night of anxiety, or a night of alarm; a night of brokenness or, a night of bankruptcy; a night of confusion, or a night of calamity;  a night of depression, or a night of desperation; a night of emptiness, or a night of emergency; a night of frailty, or a night of failure; a night of guilt, or a night of gloom; a night of heartache, or a night of hopelessness; a night of illness, or a night of injustice; a night of being jobless, or a night in jail like Paul and Silas; a night of loss, or a night of loneliness; a night of misery, or a night of mockery; a night of need, or a night of news that crushes the soul! On and on we could go, describing those dark nights that engulf us—those nights that seem to never have a sunrise.

Job was in one of those nights. His night was made darker by friends and family who couldn’t understand his darkness. They came along and said, “If you would just look for God—if you would just ask God—God would give you answers.” One of them, Elihu, observed: “But none saith, Where is God my Maker, who giveth songs in the night?”—Job 35:10.

In his statement, Elihu was right, and he was wrong. He was wrong about Job. Job sought the Lord amidst the darkness of his circumstances. But God offered Job no answers. Elihu suggested that getting out of the darkness was as easy as breathing a prayer. “Just knock on God’s door, and He will answer.” But Job had knocked, and there was no answer.  Job had raised the question: “Where is God my Maker?”

Are you in one of those nights when God doesn’t answer? Are you in one of those seasons characterized by gloom rather than gladness, by fear rather than faith? Elihu was wrong! Answers are not always immediate, even when a man looks for God. But Elihu was right when he said, “God giveth songs in the night.”However, as of yet, Job had no song. Job wanted a song.  Job needed a song. Job was not guilty of failing to seek God. But God was yet to grant a song in his night of despair.

God promises to give a mantle of praise for the spirit of heaviness. But all Job had was heaviness and heartache.  All he had was weariness and woe! God’s songs come in His timing, but He does give songs in the night. He gives a song in the night of oppression and in the night of opposition; in the night of pain, and in the night of perplexity; in the night of questions, and in the night that quakes with dread;  in the night of regret and in a night of ruin. God does give songs in the night!

We see it in Scripture. Job’s life had no song. His life was all darkness. But God, in His timing, gave Job a song—and oh what a song Job sings from the pages of Scripture. Once God’s glory shined into the darkness of his circumstances, Job exclaimed:  “I know that You can do all things and that no purpose of  Yours can be thwarted!”Job 42:2 Job’s sure song rings through the ages into your darkness and mine.

Two servants of God sat in a Philippian jail. Beaten and in bondage, God gave Paul and Silas a song to sing in their midnight. God gave Joseph a song concerning the darkness of his dungeon and David a song about the dark cave of Adullam. He gave Miriam and Moses a song as they came out of the oppression of an Egyptian darkness. Can God give you a song in the darkness of your personal despair?

We also see it in experience. How many of you have been through a time of darkness when you thought God was a million miles away, only to break through that darkness and discover thatGod was nearer than you ever imagined? Your soul still sings of that dark night when glory finally dawned!

Anyone can sing in the day. Anyone can sing when their cup is full and when their life is full of blessing.  It is quite another thing in the night of suffering, or in the night of sorrow; in the night of trial, or in the night of terror; in the night of urgency, or in the night of uncertainty; in the night of weakness, or in the night of worry; in the night of violence, or in the night of villainy!

It is easy to sing when there is light to read the hymal, but in the darkness, the words must come from the heart—they must come from inspiration. There are nights in life so black that it seems that there is no song! When you have your health and you have your wealth and you have your freedom and you have your hope—it is easy to sing. But should you find yourself in some dark night of the soul,  without a ray of hope—should you find yourself locked in some prison of despair—try then to voice a song. That is when it will take divine intervention to bring a song from your soul. You may mouth the words in church, but your soul will not sing until God stirs and writes the words on your heart amidst the darkness.

Habakkuk’s song in darkness of his circumstances was: Though the fig tree should not blossom and there be no fruit on the vines, though the yield of the olive should fail and the fields produce no food, though the flock should be cut off from the fold and there be no cattle in the stalls, yet I will exult in the LORD, I will rejoice in the God of my salvation. Habakkuk  3:17-18

One night, a young woman tossed in her bed, deeply discouraged. Her church was  was planning a full day of activity. But she was  sickly, and wouldn’t be able to participate. That night she struggled. She struggled with questions about her own life. She struggled with doubt and discouragement. Out of that night of despair, God gave her a poem. She wrote it that very night, never intending for anyone else to read it. The year was 1834. But in the providence of God, Charlotte Elliot’s words were published in The Invalid’s Hymn Book in 1836.  That prayer, penned in brokenness from her sickbed, has been used to touch millions of lives. Here are a few of the words of her song. “Just as I am, without one plea, but that Thy blood was shed for me, and that Thou bids’t me come to Thee: O Lamb of God, I come!” That was her song in the night!

Is it dark in your heart? Are you discouraged? Do you have doubts? What could God do with your sorrow if you surrendered it to Him? What could God do with your brokenness if you allowed Him to place His hand on the keyboard of your life, creating beautiful harmony out of your brokenness?

Perhaps you know the story of Horatio Spafford. He was a lawyer in Chicago during the time of the great Chicago fire. He was severely hurt financially by the fire as well as emotionally. Matters were made worse by an economic crisis that followed. Overwhelmed, and overworked, his physician advised the family to take a trip allowing them some time to recover from the trauma. They planned a trip to Europe. Just prior to time for the ship to leave, Spafford was forced to stay behind to tend to unexpected business. His family made the journey. He planned to follow. However, on the way to Europe, the ship on which his family sailed, capsized. He wasn’t sure what happened to his wife and four daughters until he received a telegram from his wife that began with these words: “Saved alone…” All four daughters perished at sea.

He arranged to board a ship to go and meet his wife. Near the scene of the tragedy, in the midst of his own heartache, Spafford penned these words: “When peace like a river attendeth my way; When sorrows like sea billows roll; Whatever my lot—Thou hast taught me to say, “It is well—It is well with my soul.”

God does give songs in the night! But until He does, you can’t pump it to make it sing. You can’t force something out of your darkness that isn’t there.! However, you can pray that God would plant a song in your heart. Only God gives a song in the night!

Why are you passing through a season of darkness and despair? I don’t know. You don’t know. But trust God to know! Trust God to have an answer. Trust God to come to you in your night of despondency. Do you remember the storm on the sea?  Jesus came, walking across the water in the dead of their night, and amidst the fury of the storm.  What time was it? It was in the fourth watch of the night. It was the deadest and darkest part of the night. As they struggled, they thought the Lord would never come. But come He did! Be assured, dear Christian, He will come to you in the stormy night of your circumstances. And when He comes, He will give you a song to sing from your darkness whose melody will touch the lives of countless more!

God does give songs in the night!

Photo by Victorien Ameline

Soul-Troubling Sorrow

I have a vivid memory of walking with the family into the cemetery. The tiny coffin that contained the body of the baby was cradled in the arms of that grandfather and carried to the graveside.

Following Christ does not insulate you from trouble. In fact, trouble comes to all believers. When troubles come, they vary in intensity. Trouble can impact us financially, it can impact us physically, and it can also impact us spiritually. Life brings seasons of soul-troubling sorrow. I have faced those seasons in my own life. I have a daughter who is a severe diabetic and wears an insulin pump twenty-four hours a day. I have another daughter who has epilepsy and suffers from dozens of seizures daily. On one hand, you might consider those their problems and not my own. However, if you are a parent, and your children have medical issues, you know the questions, the concerns, the helplessness, as well as the sense of hopelessness it brings. When I speak of soul-troubling sorrow, I speak from personal experience.

In one of my seasons of soul-troubling sorrow, my heart was touched by the story of a woman who lived in the days of the prophet Elisha. He was a man whose character separated him from the ordinary men of his day.  His life was marked by the miraculous. In the Old Testament, the presence of a prophet brought a person a special connection with God. Therefore, a person seeking God, or direction from God, would seek God’s prophet.

In the little town of Shunem, lived a precious couple who opened their home to Elisha. He passed their home often while on assignment for God. The woman of the house had a strong sense of spiritual discernment. Whenever Elisha passed that way, she always provided him a meal. She realized there was something special about Elisha. So, as an act of kindness, they added a little upper room to their house as a resting place for Elisha from his journeys. In that room, they placed a bed, a table, and a lampstand.  Whenever he came, the woman of the home prepared him food. By opening their home to Elisha, they opened their home to the blessing of God.

For her service to God through ministering to God’s prophet, she became a recipient of a very special promise from God.  2 Kings 4:11-17 tell us of that promise and its fulfillment.

 11One day he came there and turned in to the upper chamber and rested. 12Then he said to Gehazi his servant, “Call this Shunammite.” And when he had called her, she stood before him. 13He said to him, “Say now to her, ‘Behold, you have been careful for us with all this care; what can I do for you? Would you be spoken for to the king or to the captain of the army?’” And she answered, “I live among my own people.” 14So he said, “What then is to be done for her?” And Gehazi answered, “Truly she has no son and her husband is old.” 15He said, “Call her.” When he had called her, she stood in the doorway. 16Then he said, “At this season next year you will embrace a son.” And she said, “No, my lord, O man of God, do not lie to your maidservant.”  17The woman conceived and bore a son at that season the next year, as Elisha had said to her.  2 Kings 8:11-17 (NASB)

 God rewards faithfulness, and He rewarded this faithful woman with the blessing of a son.  Across the years, Elisha came to know and love this family, as well as the child God brought into their home.

As time passed, the child grew from a babe to a young boy.  Then came a tragic day when a season of soul-troubling sorrow came into the life of this mother.  In her response to that sorrow, I find some principles that help me grapple with seasons of soul-troubling sorrow in my own life.

18When the child was grown, the day came that he went out to his father to the reapers. 19He said to his father, “My head, my head.” And he said to his servant, “Carry him to his mother.” 20When he had taken him and brought him to his mother, he sat on her lap until noon, and then died.  2 Kings 4:18-20 (NASB)

In those three short verses, we learn of the sorrow that crushed the heart of this dear servant of God.  In those days, the only medicine a sick child often received was the love of a mother.  When a child is very sick, you can sometimes feel the fever rise as you hold it in your arms. I can imagine her feelings of helplessness as she rocked back and forth with this boy in her arms, sensing, as only mothers can do, that his life was about to slip away.

Down through the years, I watched godly men and women as they struggled through their own seasons of sorrow.  In that moment when circumstances are beyond your control, and when the solution is out of your reach, the character of a person’s faith is revealed.   Observe how this dear, broken-hearted mother grappled with her sorrow.

21She went up and laid him on the bed of the man of God, and shut the door behind him and went out.  2 Kings 4:21 (NASB)

What was it about the bed of Elisha that made this mother choose that spot rather than the bed of the child or that of her own?  It is likely that this woman spent many nights in her own bed, listening to Elisha, as he made his bedside an altar where he called on the Lord.  She claimed that bed in the prophet’s chamber as an altar of her own, and she laid the body of her son before the Lord. Thus we discover our first principle of dealing with soul-troubling sorrow:

Lay that trouble before the Lord.

 She laid her son on the bed of Elisha, and she shut the door behind her.  She was not closing her eyes to the trouble that invaded her life.  She was committing it to the care of the ONLY ONE she knew who could help in her hour of need.

This was the first thing she did.  Before she made steps to do anything else, or made requests of anyone else, she laid the body of her son on the bed of the prophet and shut the door. She laid her trouble before the Lord and committed her broken heart, as well as the body of her boy, into His care.

Unless you have faced the heart-throbbing crush of some tremendous crisis, you can’t fully enter into the next verses.  They reveal an urgency, concealed by a composure, designed to protect others in that home whose faith might not be as strong as her own.

22Then she called to her husband and said, “Please send me one of the servants and one of the donkeys, that I may run to the man of God and return.” 23He said, “Why will you go to him today? It is neither new moon nor sabbath.” And she said, “It will be well.”  2 Kings 4:22-23 (NASB)

She approached her husband and requested a servant and a donkey that would provide her the opportunity to run to the man of God and return. Apparently, she never shared with him that their son was dead.  And so, when he quizzed her about why she needed to go without the presence of some special occasion, she soothed his concern with “It will be well”.

Those words reflected a deep faith in her own heart, as well as a desire to protect the heart of her husband from the distress that raged within her.  It is from those words, that I draw a second principle on dealing with soul-troubling sorrow:  First, you lay it before the Lord. Second:

Wrap That Trouble in a Cocoon of Faith and Hide it from the World.

 I have learned this from some great saints of God who were passing through periods of intense sorrow.  I have seen them wrap their sorrow in a cocoon of faith, so that if you met them on the street or if you stood beside them as they faced their tragedy or their trouble, you would never know the pain in their heart.  They become to all around them what this woman was to her husband. The influence of her faith was a calming influence, even though a storm was raging in her heart. She said to her husband. Everything is all right.  It will be well.

I have a dear friend who is a pastor. On one occasion, a grandbaby died. The little couple was crushed, as were the grandparents. I watched my pastor friend preach the funeral of that little baby. He consoled his family and the community, even as his own heart was breaking. I have a vivid memory of walking with the family into the cemetery. The tiny coffin that contained the body of the baby was cradled in the arms of that grandfather and carried to the graveside. He also shared words of comfort for the rest of us that day. He was telling us that all would be well

As this dear mother spoke those words, it was as if she was reminding herself, as well as those around her, that in the midst of her sorrow and heartache, God was in complete control. She laid her trouble before the Lord and left it in His care.

24Then she saddled a donkey and said to her servant, “Drive and go forward; do not slow down the pace for me unless I tell you.” 25So she went and came to the man of God to Mount Carmel.  2 Kings 4:24-25 (NASB)

She left the presence of her husband, in whose presence she was been calm and collected, and entered the presence of the servant with an intensity that exemplified the urgency in her heart.  There was no time to waste!  Every ounce of energy must be given to get to the man of God!  When she found him, she would be in the presence of one who could represent her before the Lord.  In her moment of soul-troubling sorrow, she sought the Lord.

This leads me to the third principle of dealing with soul-troubling sorrow: First, lay that trouble before the Lord. Second, wrap it in a cocoon of faith and hide it from the world. Third:

 Seek God With Great Earnestness and Urgency.

 Her faith was reflected in the presence of men with a calm and collected confidence. But the faith of her feet was reflected by the great earnestness and urgency with which she sought the Lord.

 When the man of God saw her at a distance, he said to Gehazi his servant, “Behold, there is the Shunammite. 26“Please run now to meet her and say to her, ‘Is it well with you? Is it well with your husband? Is it well with the child?’” And she answered, “It is well.”  2 Kings 4:25b-26 (NASB)

 Once again, attempting to hold her composure against the great burden that weighed heavy on her heart, she approached the prophet.  She repeated the words she had spoken earlier to her husband. This was not a lie because she laid her trouble before the Lord. She placed her child on that bed that where Elisha had prayed and wept before the Lord.  Now, her own tears had been poured out upon that altar, and the love of that mother’s heart lay there in the keeping of the Lord. Her spirit was willing to keep all that grief contained within the cocoon of faith, but when she saw Elisha she could contain herself no longer, and she fell at his feet.

 27When she came to the man of God to the hill, she caught hold of his feet. And Gehazi came near to push her away; but the man of God said, “Let her alone, for her soul is troubled within her; and the LORD has hidden it from me and has not told me.” 28Then she said, “Did I ask for a son from my lord? Did I not say, ‘Do not deceive me’?”  2 Kings 4:27-28 (NASB)

 This leads us to our fourth principle for dealing with soul-troubling sorrow: First, lay that trouble before the Lord. Second, wrap that trouble in a cocoon of faith and hide it from the world. Third, seek the Lord with great earnestness and urgency. Fourth:

Cling in Faith to the Feet of your Savior.

 By coming to Elisha she was coming to God. By clinging to the feet of Elisha, she was throwing her arms around the feet of her Savior.  All her hopes were in God.  She knew that her only help was in God. She didn’t need to go all over town spreading her sorrow from place to place and person to person.   There was only One who could help.  There was only One who could bear the deep sorrow of her soul! By coming to Elisha, she was coming to gain the help of God!

Sensing what happened, Elisha dispatched Gehazai with his own staff in his hand.

29Then he said to Gehazi, “Gird up your loins and take my staff in your hand, and go your way; if you meet any man, do not salute him, and if anyone salutes you, do not answer him; and lay my staff on the lad’s face.” 30The mother of the lad said, “As the LORD lives and as you yourself live, I will not leave you.” And he arose and followed her.  2 Kings 4:29-30 (NASB)

 Gehazi is not who she came for! She didn’t want the help of Elisha’s servant.  She wanted Elisha!  This leads us to our fifth principle for dealing with soul-troubling sorrow:

 Settle for no Substitutes.

 In the Old Testament, you turned to God’s Servant the prophet to turn to God.  Gehazi was the servant of God’s servant.  He was not God’s representative.  The woman needed God, not a substitute! In sorrow, you need more than a minister. You need Christ Himself!  Lay your trouble before Him.  Wrap your trouble in a cocoon of faith and shield it from the world.  Seek the face of your Lord with great earnestness and urgency.  Cling in faith to the feet of the ONE who alone is a very present help in time of trouble.   Like Jacob of old, cling to Him, and don’t let Him go until you find the blessing you need.

 31Then Gehazi passed on before them and laid the staff on the lad’s face, but there was no sound or response. So he returned to meet him and told him, “The lad has not awakened.”  2 Kings 4:31 (NASB)

 Elisha sent Gehazi with his staff which was the symbol of his own authority.  Gehazi was going in the name of Elisha, but Gehazi’s  going produced no results.  This was not Gehazi’s assignment.  It belonged to Elisha.  Some assignments are yours alone.  You can’t be represented by another.  God has a mission for you.

32When Elisha came into the house, behold the lad was dead and laid on his bed. 33So he entered and shut the door behind them both and prayed to the LORD. 34And he went up and lay on the child, and put his mouth on his mouth and his eyes on his eyes and his hands on his hands, and he stretched himself on him; and the flesh of the child became warm. 35Then he returned and walked in the house once back and forth, and went up and stretched himself on him; and the lad sneezed seven times and the lad opened his eyes.  2 Kings 4:32-35 (NASB)

This was an assignment that couldn’t be completed by sending a representative.  Elisha had to go!  Elisha had to shut the door!  Elisha had to pray!  Elisha had to touch the dead boy’s body!  Elisha had to enter into the woman’s grief! And there beside that bed, where he often prayed for God to do the miraculous, Elisha asked God to do what only He could do!

The lad was dead! The little boy, who made that home all the more delightful to Elisha, was dead!  Could Elisha raise the dead?  No! But as he prayed, he tried every method that he knew.  Elisha’s efforts represent his own earnestness to help this boy by whatever method he could, even if it meant somehow imparting life to him from his own body. Elisha’s efforts and his patience point to the persistence of his own faith in seeking God to do what was beyond the reach of any man.

The story has a wonderfully happy ending.

36He called Gehazi and said, “Call this Shunammite.” So he called her. And when she came in to him, he said, “Take up your son.” 37Then she went in and fell at his feet and bowed herself to the ground, and she took up her son and went out.  2 Kings 4:36-37 (NASB)

Here is a woman who laid her trouble before the Lord, wrapped it in the cocoon of her faith, sought her Lord with great earnestness and urgency, who clung with faith to the feet of her Savior, neither seeking nor accepting any substitute.  She found her Lord to be able and faithful.  We learn from her one final principle of handling soul-troubling sorrow:

Regardless of the Outcome Find an Occasion For Worship.

Once again, she fell at Elisha’s feet. It was an expression of her deep gratitude to God for what He had done. All of life’s sorrows don’t have fairy tale endings. Our fortunes are not always restored. The sick are not always healed. Sorrow is not always turned to joy. But whatever the outcome, saints of God down through the ages have been able to find an occasion to honor and worship God in the midst of their deepest sorrow.

Horatio Spafford was a successful lawyer in Chicago. His finances were devastated by the Chicago fire in 1871. A poor economy in 1873 made things even worse. After that, he and his family planned a trip to Europe. Business concerns kept him from making the trip with his family. He planned to join them later. However, the ship on which they travelled sank. He learned by telegram that four of his daughters died. On his way to meet his wife, the ship on which he sailed came near the spot where his daughters perished. He wrote the following words: When peace like a river attendeth my way; When sorrows like sea billows roll; Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say, “It is well, It is well with my soul.”

The words and actions of the Biblical character Job after he lost all he had, including his children, were these:

 Job got up and tore his robe and shaved his head. Then he fell to the ground in worship and said :  “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will depart.The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away; may the name of the LORD be praised.”  Job 1:20-21 (NASB)

Even in his sorrow, Job found an occasion for worship. Now, how should you handle the soul-troubling sorrow that has invaded your life? Lay your trouble before the Lord. Wrap that trouble in a cocoon of faith and hide it from the world. Seek God with great earnestness and urgency. Cling in faith to the feet of your Savior. Accept no substitutes. Finally, regardless of the outcome, find an occasion for worship. May the God who proved Himself to this dear woman also prove Himself to you!

Photo by Samuel Martins

Facing Sorrow With Faith

Face the future, trusting that God, who foreknew your sorrow, walks with you in your sorrow, and has a plan to sanctify this this painful season of your life.

Sorrow is a fact of life. It comes uninvited and sometimes, unexpected. When it comes, it leaves life in pieces. If you are walking in the midst of sorrow, or in its aftermath, you understand what I mean. There are times when the sorrow we face is a loss so great, so completely overwhelming, it seems like a bad dream. Ultimately, reality sets in, leaving us broken.

With two brief verses, we are told of such a heart crushing moment in the life of the Old Testament character, Abraham. Now Sarah lived one hundred and twenty-seven years; these were the years of the life of Sarah. Sarah died in Kiriath-arba (that is, Hebron) in the land of Canaan; and Abraham went in to mourn for Sarah and to weep for her. Genesis 23:1-2

The only time the Bible mentions Abraham weeping was when he wept over the loss of his dear wife Sara. Where I live, the lines are longer at the funeral home when a young wife loses her husband or a young man his wife.  But the grief is deeper and the loss is greater for that aged couple who spent their lives together, raised their children together, buried their parents together, each having invested a lifetime of hopes and dreams in the life of the other.  Then, all at once, life falls to pieces when the one who shared their deepest joys and sorrows closes his or her eyes in death.

The Bible says in Roman’s 8:28 that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God and are called according to His purpose.  But what could possibly sanctify sorrow?

The sorrow in your life today. may be very different from that which entered the life of Abraham.  It may be from a fractured marriage, or from some disappointment that invaded your life and rocked your world.  How can your sorrow and my sorrow be so sanctified, that God might use it to impact eternity and advance His Kingdom? Abraham’s sorrow was sanctified sorrow. It was sanctified by the way he faced it. It was also sanctified by the One who shared it with him and carried it for him.

When sorrow invades our lives, life seems to come to a stand-still. But life can’t stop. It goes on. The Bible tells how Abraham went through the process of acquiring a burial site for his wife Sarah. He did just what you and I have to do when we face sorrow. We have to face reality. In the depths of his sorrow, Abraham got up and took one step forward, and it was a step of faith. That one step may be the only step you are able to make but make it in faith! Do the one thing that must be done, depending on God to give you the strength to do it. Face the future, trusting that God, who foreknew your sorrow, walks with you in your sorrow, and has a plan to sanctify this this painful season of your life.

David, the great king of Israel, faced an incredible sorrow in his own life. He had a little child who lay dying. David did what any parent would do. He prayed! He grieved over this illness in the life of his child! He fasted! He refused to eat! He lay all night on the ground praying that the child would live! David lived like that for seven days. When the child died, his servants were afraid to tell him. His grief was so great over the child’s illness, they were afraid that when he learned of the child’s death, he would take his own life. As they were coming with the news, he perceived the child was dead. Do you know what he did in the midst of his grief? He got up off the ground. He bathed. He changed his clothes. He anointed himself with oil. He went to the house of the Lord, and he worshipped! The servants couldn’t understand the change in David. They asked him why he was acting so different now that the child was dead. This is what he said. “While the child was still alive, I fasted and wept; for I said, ‘Who knows, the Lord may be gracious to me, that the child may live.’ But now he has died; why should I fast? Can I bring him back again? I will go to him, but he will not return to me.”2 Samuel 12:22-23

 In his grief, David found a way to express his faith in God and in the life to come. Just like Abraham, he got up from the ashes of his grief and turned his face and his faith toward God. That is sanctified sorrow!

When we recognize we don’t walk alone in our sorrow, when we step forward by one step of faith to face the future, that sorrow becomes a sanctified sorrow. Sanctified sorrow is a sorrow God can use to touch the lives of others.

In 2013, Rick Warren, the author of The Purpose Driven Life, faced the suicide of his son. As he stood in the midst of his sorrow, a skeptical public waited to see if he would fall apart and his faith would fail. But like Abraham and David, Rick Warren was able to take a step forward and express his faith to a watching world, even in the midst of his sorrow.

Rick Burgess, (of Rick and Bubba radio show) did the same thing when his two-year old son drowned. God enabled him to speak at his son’s funeral and express his family’s faith, even in the midst of their incredible sorrow.  Steven Curtis Chapman, Christian Musician, did the same thing when his own son accidentally backed over and killed their five-year old daughter in the driveway of their home.

Out of those seasons of incredible sorrow, God gave them the incredible strength to express their faith, as an unbelieving world watched and listened. Your audience may not be as large, and the immediate impact may not seem as great, but there will be those who watch your life to see how you face the sorrow that God allowed into your life. Their lives will be impacted by it. God will use your sanctified sorrow in such a way that it has a ripple effect from here to eternity.

Sanctified sorrow is sorrow surrendered to God.It is committing yourself to God amidst unbearable heartache and trusting Him to help you go on.

Dr. Donald Grey Barnhouse once related the story of a young woman whose husband had been killed on the battlefield. When the telegram came, she was at home with her parents. She read it, and without explaining what she read, she said to her Mother, “I am going up to my room. Please don’t disturb me.” Her mother, realizing the news, sent for the father at work and told him to come home. He went upstairs intending to comfort his daughter. He opened the door quietly. As he looked inside, he found her kneeling by her bedside. The telegram was spread open on the bed before her. She was praying, “Oh my Heavenly Father, oh my Heavenly Father.” Without a word, he went back down the stairs and said to his wife, “She is in better hands than mine.”

That is how a person of faith responds in the hour of grief. When we commit our deepest hurts to our Heavenly Father, trusting them to His care, our sorrow is sanctified.

Are you dealing with some deep brokenness in your life? Someone is waiting to see how you respond to that sorrow. The way you handle it is going to impact the lives of many people. In your hurt, others can be hurt, if you handle it the wrong way.  But if you surrender your sorrow into the hands of God, He can take it, sanctify it, and use it to touch the lives of people from here to eternity.

I, too, have faced sorrow. There were moments when the heartache seemed inconsolable. However, God was always one step ahead of me. He had a plan that would sanctify my sorrow, teaching me incredible truths about his love and mercy. It is my prayer that God would guide you through your season of sorrow, to the place of His presence, where He will wipe every tear from your eyes.

You keep track of all my sorrows. You have collected all my tears in your bottle. You have recorded each one in your book. Psalm 56:8 NLT

Photo by Andrea Bertozzini

The Prayer of the Sorrow Maker

Words out of the mouth of a mother shape a child or break a child. She can build self-esteem in the heart of her children, or she can rip it to shreds. Words can build. Words can destroy.

What is the impact or your influence? Have you been a help or a hindrance, a blessing or a burden, a bringer of joy or a bringer of sorrow into the lives of others.

We find a man in the Bible who, for no fault of his own, was known by all who knew him as the sorrow maker. That was the label he carried all his life. That was his reputation in his family and among his friends. In fact, that was all his mother ever called him—a little sorrow maker.

Perhaps she said it lovingly, or perhaps there were other occasions when she said it in one of those hurtful tones only a mother can use in her anger. She called him Sorrow Maker.

Words out of the mouth of a mother shape a child or break a child. She can build self-esteem in the heart of her children, or she can rip it to shreds. Words can build. Words can destroy. Whatever this mother meant when she poured out her frustration on this little boy and named him Sorrow Maker, it followed him through the rest of his life. It shaped his self-esteem, and a day came when it even shaped his conversation with God.

Sorrow Maker would have been his English name. His name in his native tongue was Jabez.

Jabez was more honorable than his brothers, and his mother named him Jabez saying, “Because I bore him with pain.” Now Jabez called on the God of Israel, saying, “Oh that You would bless me indeed and enlarge my border, and that Your hand might be with me, and that You would keep me from harm that it may not pain me!” And God granted him what he requested. (I Chronicles 4:9-10 NASB)

She bore him with pain. His birth caused her grief, and she would never allow him to forget it. Sorrow Maker. That’s what the whole family called him—affectionately or not—in anger or not—it became the way he viewed himself for the rest of his life.

I remember my mom and dad would arguing when I was growing up. Somehow, I felt it was always my fault. I don’t know how I drew that conclusion, but I did.

It’s easy for a child to feel the burden of problems in the home. Little heart’s assume blame for the parent’s problems, the financial difficulties, as well as the friction in the parental relationship.

Children feel that keenly. So here was Jabez—little Sorrow Maker. Whatever he saw in the life of his family—whatever difficulty they endured during his early years—he may have sensed he was the one who had caused it all.

He was the Sorrow Maker.

If you have been the victim of verbal abuse, you know the devastating impact in can have on your personality. Those words are repeated over and over in your mind, even as you come to adulthood. The devil can take those words and project them as God’s own words about you when you fall or when you fail. Remember that name your mom or dad called you in anger? When it happened, you heard it as if they were saying, “That is what you are, and that is how I feel about you.” Now, you still hear that voice in your head and in your heart, because that is the way you feel about yourself.

We don’t know the specific circumstances in the life of Jabez. The only insight we have into his home life is this name his mother called him. But a closer look at his brothers suggests brokenness in their own lives. The little we know about them simply says that Jabez—the sorrow maker—was more honorable than his brothers.

The difficulties these children endured growing up sent them in different directions. Jabez grew up to turn to God. His brothers turned elsewhere. I believe it is against such a background that Jabez pours his heart out to God. Jabez—
the sorrow maker—wanted something better for his life and family.

Can God redeem the life and circumstances of a sorrow maker? Maybe that is not your name, but maybe it is true about you. Maybe things you said or did brought sorrow into the life of your family. Maybe you broke someone’s heart.

Will God hear the prayer of a sorrow maker? Will God help a person who has lived a hurtful life? Is it possible for God to love a sorrow maker? If it is possible for
a sorrow maker to pray, it is possible for God to hear and answer.

We assume Jabez’ self-esteem was damaged by this name his mother had given him. By calling out to God, he is praying he will not live up to this reputation that had followed him all the days of his life.

As he prayed, he sought the blessings chosen for him by God. Literally the verse reads, “that blessing, you would bless me.” In other words, “in the process of blessing others Lord, please include me. As you go on Your way to work good in the lives of others, please work good in my life.”

His problems from the past moved him to prayer. Hardship humbled his heart, bowed his head, and bent his knees before the Lord. While his brothers looked elsewhere for hope and help, Jabez, the sorrow maker, looked to God.

Where are you looking for help in your problems as sorrow reigns supreme in your life?

The Devil is the real Sorrow Maker. He sows the seeds of sorrow into marriage relationships. He sows the seeds of sorrow into the hearts and lives of children— because that is what he wants them to know—sorrow and calamity. The Devil is the real Sorrow Maker. But the Lord Jesus is the Sorrow Breaker, and He can break the cycle of sorrow in your home and in your life.

Jabez, the sorrow maker, simply sought the blessing of God—the Sorrow
Breaker. He wanted the touch of God upon his life. “Oh, that THOU would’st bless me indeed!” He was content to allow God to choose the blessings He sent. He trusted God’s wisdom, and he trusted God’s heart.

All of us have been sorrow makers to the heart of God through our sin and disobedience. As a result, we also brought sorrow to the hearts and lives of others. Maybe you’ve been a sorrow maker in your own home. Now, you can to ask God to reverse that. Ask Him to help you live a life pleasing to God. Ask God to open doors of opportunity where you might be an agent of blessing in the lives of those to whom you have brought sorrow. You should also consider asking God to help you forgive those who brought sorrow to you.

Jabez was not a sorrow maker. The family sorrow had been shifted upon him. It was a burden of responsibility he need never have carried. But still, Jabez,
the sorrow maker, asked God to make him a sorrow breaker in the life of his own family. What would that look like in your life?

Jabez asked for God’s hand to be upon his life. In so doing, he is asking for the presence of God, the blessing of God, the power of God, and the guidance of God to rest upon His life.

After graduating from college, I began to seek God’s guidance about attending seminary. I reluctantly prayed “God, if you want me to go to seminary, have someone I respect greatly come and lay his hand on me and tell me I should
go.” One night as I sat with my family at a restaurant, my Jr. High football coach, Robert Pepper, came and stood behind me. He laid his hand on my shoulder and simply said, “Isn’t it about time you went to seminary?” I know that was from the Lord. His hand was the Lord’s hand on my life.

God’s hand of affirmation gives you comfort. It gives you courage. It gives you direction. The sorrow maker needed the hand of the Sorrow Breaker to give direction to his life.

Isn’t that what you need? You need the hand of the Sorrow Breaker to wipe away the pain of the past, the tears of today, and give you hope for the future. Lord, bless me according to Your desire. Open doors of opportunity for me to live apart from the sorrow that has shaped my life. Place Your hand upon me. Lead me, and guide me!

There are two ways to read the last part of verse 10. In the NASB Jabez prays that he will not know the pain of the past. “That it may not pain me.” But in the HCSB it reads, “That I may not cause pain.”

The sorrow maker no longer wanted pain in his life. He was ready for the painful days to be past. But neither did to be a source of pain in the lives of others. He asked for deliverance. And who did He ask? The sorrow maker turned to the Sorrow Breaker. And what happened? God granted him what he requested. God answered His prayer!

Is there hurt in your life? Have you been the source of hurt in the life of someone else? Who can fix the pain of the sorrow maker? Only the Sorrow Breaker. He understands our sorrow. In fact, he carried it. Consider the description of the Sorrow Breaker from the New Living Translation of Isaiah 53:3-6

He was despised and rejected—a man of sorrows, acquainted with deepest grief. We turned our backs on him and looked the other way. He was despised, and we did not care. Yet it was our weaknesses he carried; it was our sorrows that weighed him down. And we thought his troubles were a punishment from God, a punishment

for his own sins! But he was pierced for our rebellion, crushed for our sins. He was beaten so we could be whole. He was whipped so we could be healed. All of us, like sheep, have strayed away. We have left God’s paths to follow our own. Yet the Lord laid on him the sins of us all. Isaiah 53:3-6 NLT

Would you, the sorrow maker, consider allowing the Lord Jesus to be your Sorrow Breaker?

Photo by LoboStudio Hamburg