A Lament for the Weary

My wife and I have had the joy of attending a national conference on Biblical counseling, put on by CCEF, for the past couple years, and this year’s conference in Frisco, Texas was our favorite so far. One of the biggest highlights for me at each conference has been the time we spend singing in worship, and this year was no exception.

I learned a new hymn there, which ministered deeply to my soul. The hymn is a lament song, written by Anne Steele in the mid-1700’s, as a hauntingly beautiful expression of her deep trust in God in the midst of weariness and doubt and struggle. I love how she addresses God as the “dear refuge” of her weary soul. In my own weariness and pain, this honest lament points my longing soul to the ever-open mercy seat of God as my sure and constant hope. Here are the first and the fourth stanzas:

Dear refuge of my weary soul,
On Thee, when sorrows rise
On Thee, when waves of trouble roll,
My fainting hope relies
To Thee I tell each rising grief,
For Thou alone canst heal
Thy Word can bring a sweet relief,
For every pain I feel

Thy mercy seat is open still,
Here let my soul retreat
With humble hope attend Thy will,
And wait beneath Thy feet,
Thy mercy seat is open still,
Here let my soul retreat
With humble hope attend Thy will,
And wait beneath Thy feet

You can listen to the hymn here, or read more about the writer, Anne Steele, from the musicians who are attempting to bring it back into circulation, Indelible Grace.

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Comfort is Contagious

In 2 Corinthians 1:7, Paul connects hope with suffering: “Our hope for you is unshaken, for we know that as you share in our sufferings, you will also share in our comfort.” Because Paul believes that God comforts us not only for our own well-being but also so that we can pass that comfort on to others (2 Cor 1:4), then he does not fall apart when those he loves experience suffering. Instead, he rejoices in hope, knowing–from his own experience–that God’s comfort will come to his brothers and sisters in Christ who are suffering. And in fact, Paul knows that there is a depth of comfort that only comes to those who are suffering.

Those who are comfortable need no comfort. Thus to some extent, when we avoid suffering at all cost, we miss out on experiencing a particular depth of comfort that only comes to those who suffer. I don’t believe this means we are to seek out suffering in a reckless manner. But I do believe that the reality of God’s presence and comfort means that we can obey Him in faith, even in areas that will likely lead to some degree of suffering. We can obey, knowing that in our suffering we will surely experience the mercy and comfort of Christ, and through His comfort we will be enabled to offer greater comfort to others.

I’m not much of a poet, but I was reflecting on this passage at a recent time of solitude, and God brought the title of this post to mind and then prompted me to make this attempt at expressing what I’m learning:

When suffering comes my way, God’s comfort will surely abound;

Thus suffering can be a gift, for in it true comfort is found.

When mere comfortableness is my goal, God’s comfort will not astound;

But when God’s comfort meets my suffering, then that comfort is spread around.

So God, in my suffering,

        let Your comfort to me

                 spread contagiously

                           so that others may see        

                                    Your all-sufficiency.

Strength for today–Hope for tomorrow

I love the hymn Great Is Thy Faithfulness (by Thomas Chisholm). This weekend I was at two different gatherings of ministries who were celebrating major milestones and we sang this hymn at both events. Even though it is an old and familiar hymn, as I sang it again tears came unbidden to my eyes. God used one line in particular to minister deeply to my heart in that moment, primarily because of how that line connects with my own story, but also because it connected with the stories of the ministries we were celebrating.

This great hymn praises God for His faithfulness, while expounding many of the ways we as His people experience that faithfulness. In the third stanza, the fruit of God’s faithfulness that grabbed my heart was the line “Strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow.” Strength is not something I must muster up or produce, but it comes because God is indeed faithful. And hope is not merely an elusive emotion that comes and goes with the circumstances–it is a solid and constant reality because God’s faithfulness is solid and constant.

Life with a child with developmental disabilities quickly drains today’s strength and clouds tomorrow’s hope. And the more todays and tomorrows that come and go with seemingly little change can make it very hard to recover strength for yet another day, or to keep hope alive for yet another tomorrow. Add to that the ongoing battle with the sin of my heart, and strength and hope threaten to disappear altogether.

It’s one thing to sing that line in the hymn when you are feeling strong and when hope abounds–then you sing with great enthusiasm. It’s quite another thing to sing that line when your strength is failing and your hope is fading–then you sing with a deep gratitude borne out of desperation because you know that apart from the faithfulness of God, you will not be able to keep going.

And yet, God is truly faithful! In Him there IS strength for yet another day, and there IS hope that all these todays are not the end. Therefore I can sing (and so can you):

“Great is Thy faithfulness!” “Great is Thy faithfulness!”
  Morning by morning new mercies I see;
All I have needed Thy hand hath provided—
    “Great is Thy faithfulness,” Lord, unto me!”

What’s out there? vs. What’s in me?

Should I sing in the choir?

Should I help at the food bank?

Should I teach Sunday school?

Should I join the planning committee for the men’s retreat?

Should I apply for the mission team heading to Thailand?

Amidst long lists of important opportunities to serve, how am I to figure out the unique role God has for me in the Body?

The way we tend to answer that question is by first asking “What’s out there?” In other words, what’s on the list of Opportunities to Serve? In that case it is often the biggest event or the most persistent recruiter or the most urgent need that captures our attention and moves us to sign up.

Certainly there is value in responding to a call to serve or in attempting to fill a need, even if that opportunity to serve is not our lifelong passion. In Nehemiah’s day, when God’s people were rebuilding the wall of Jerusalem, someone had to repair the Dung Gate, and most likely the district ruler named Malchijah who did the job would not have listed that as his favorite thing to do (Nehemiah 3:14). In our day, any parent could tell you that there is a never-ending list of mostly mundane tasks that go into caring for a child. Those things are of immense importance, yet few moms would consider diaper-changing as her primary role in the Body!

I believe there is another way to find our unique contribution to the family of God. Rather than first checking to see “What’s out there?” we need to be asking “What’s in me?” How has God shaped me–in my spiritual gifts, natural abilities, experience and passion–to carry out a unique and needed role in the Body of Christ?

It’s possible that nothing on the list of service opportunities fits the unique combination of heart and skills and experience that God has given me. But that doesn’t mean I’m off the hook and don’t have to serve. Nor does it require that I sigh and select something from the list just so I can say I’m serving. Instead, what that means is that I need to find out what makes me come alive…and then go and do it, even if it’s not on the list.

Each Christian has been given by God a unique ministry that is needed for the proper functioning of the Body. What could the Church become–and accomplish–if every person were carrying out the role that God designed us for?! So if a volunteer is needed to change diapers in the nursery, do it with all your heart. But don’t stop there. Keep asking yourself “What has God given uniquely to me for the building up of His Church?” And then figure out a way to go and do it!