by Nicholas Zork
Many of you may already receive the email updates of various Best Practices newsletters put out by the North American Division. Here is their roundup:
The Best Practices family of email newsletters are produced by NAD Ministerial of the Seventh-day Adventist Church. Look for Best Practices for Ministerial Directors on the first week of the month, Best Practices for Adventist Ministry on the second and fourth weeks of the month, Best Practices for Evangelism on the third week of the month, and Best Practices for Adventist Worship on the fifth week of the month. Go to www.nadministerial.org for more information.
Recently, Best Practices for Adventist Worship ran a series by Pastor Nicholas Zork with some new and interesting questions to ask about worship. AT has obtained permission to reprint them here. This is the third and finaly article.
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Psalms of Lament and Worship in a Stormy World
Save me, O God,
for the waters have come up to my neck.
I sink in the miry depths, where there is no foothold.
I have come into the deep waters;
the floods engulf me.
I am worn out calling for help;
my throat is parched.
My eyes fail,
looking for my God.
(Psalm 69:1-3 NIV)
There are many things we might learn from Scripture's most significant liturgical resource — the Book of Psalms. Over the past two weeks, I have grown to more fully appreciate one particular characteristic of biblical Psalms: the honesty with which these worship songs connect hope with present circumstances. It is difficult for me to read the opening lines of Psalm 69 without thinking of my neighbors in New York City, many of whom are just beginning a long and difficult recovery from Sandy's devastating winds and waters. The metaphorical language of Psalm 69 rings true in a way that resonates with the experience of literal "deep waters" in recent days. David's visceral lament — with descriptions of a parched throat, failing eyes, and real threats to his life — reveals a man in genuine need of rescue. And the rescue he seeks is not a disembodied experience of spiritual salvation but a rescue of spirit, mind, and body alike. Toward the end of this Psalm, David is able to resound a note of genuine hope because of his faith in a God who is not distant from our struggles but truly "hears the needy." (Psalm 69:33)
Compare Psalm 69 to the words of a popular contemporary worship song — one which I admit I have often appreciated:
When the oceans rise and thunders roar
I will soar with You above the storm
Father You are king over the flood
I will be still and know You are God
What might these words mean to someone in the midst of an actual destructive storm and flood? Do we really serve a God who soars "above the storm," surveying our situation from afar? And is our hope really that we might join this God in a of place stillness above life's pain and suffering? How can this song give voice to the cries of those whose prayers for deliverance were not answered? Unlike Psalm 69, this song's stormy metaphors have a hopeful gloss that keeps them from resonating with the current situation.
Lament is the most common form in the Psalms, but laments like David's are almost completely absent from contemporary Christian worship. And without such language of discontent, without our protest to present circumstances, we risk inadvertently implying that God is distant, other-worldly, and unconcerned with our real struggles. Without honest lament about our spiritual and physical challenges, our songs of deliverance begin to suggest a longing for escape from a world God has abandoned rather than renewal of the world God loves.
I do not pretend to know all that God was doing as Sandy took the homes and lives of many on the East Coast. But I do know that God was not soaring "above the storm," assessing damage from a celestial VIP lounge. "The LORD hears the needy" because God is present with them in the midst and aftermath of storms; and we are called to join God there as well. So when we gather to sing, may we like David have the faith to honestly protest and lament circumstances we cannot accept — circumstances God does not accept. And may we experience the full measure of God's true deliverance: not merely spiritual peace that leads to stillness but a holy discontent that leads to action — the action of joining God in the Kingdom work of renewing this beautiful and broken world.