The Scriptures put life in real terms. The Psalmist despairs, Jesus despairs, and there is a whole book titled Lamentations. So when God has so much to say about grief, sorrow, and sadness, we should be able to look to God’s word to answer the question: What does God want me to do in my grief?
Preach Your Grief to the Lord.. (Psalm 88:1-18)
The main point I want to make about Psalm 88 is that there is a Psalm 88. It really doesn’t need a lot of explanation. It is just raw, desperate grieving (vs 18). And that is amazing, because the same book of the Bible that has Psalm 23 has Psalm 88. In other words, it’s okay to not be happy all the time. In fact, it is Christ-like! Jesus grieved with the disciples. Jesus grieved in the Garden. He wept at Lazarus’ tomb. There is nothing wrong with sadness. And, as this is in the Bible from God to us, he expects us to have bits of despairing in our lives.
But there is a godly way to grieve and an ungodly way to grieve.
Not At The Bar
Notice he’s not going to a bar to drown his sorrows, to the river to fish them away, or to a job to work them away. He bears his soul to the Lord. God put Psalm 88 in His Word so that His people would channel their grief to Him. God expects to hear from you about your pain, so tell it to the Lord.
Why Don’t We?
Maybe we do not grieve like Psalm 88 because we think that unhappy feelings are wrong to have. “Godly people are happy!” So we tell ourselves to “Just put on a happy face.” We’re ashamed to grieve. It’s the same reason that we rarely hear someone say something in prayer groups like: “I need someone to pray for me because I can’t control my gossiping, lying, and foul mouth.” We are ashamed for people to see us weak, so we pretend our sadness never exists and just avoid it.
But what does the old hymn tell us to do
Are you weary, are you heavy hearted? Tell it to Jesus, tell it to Jesus. Are you grieving over joys departed? Do you fear the gathering clouds of sorrow? Tell it to Jesus, tell it to Jesus. Are you anxious for what shall be tomorrow? Tell it to Jesus alone. Tell it to Jesus.
We need a little more Psalm 88 in our lives. Bear your grief honestly and openly to the Lord.
Preach God’s Love to Yourself. (Psalm 89)
Look at the pattern of this psalm:
You have faithful love forever. (1-2) Faithful love.
And you said you’d make a covenant with your people (3-4).
Everybody, all creation knows your faithfulness (5-18).
And you said you’d make a covenant (35) by your holiness (19-37).
Now, do you see what’s happened…(38-51)? The people of your promise, are being destroyed…have you have renounced your covenant (39)? The psalm, then, ends with the appeal “If you’re faithful, do something!”
Have you ever felt this way before? “I’m just sitting out here trying to do your will and all this crazy stuff started happening to me. I’m upset, frustrated, confused, and angry.” I want you to know that that is totally normal. There is nothing wrong with you. This is your psalm, but you’ve got to learn to do the whole psalm.
Notice the three things about Preaching God’s love in Psalm 89.
- The psalmist still expects God to show his love.
This is a desperation psalm, but it’s a desperation that has faith in the character of God (46-50). Notice that he’s still praying. God never said we wouldn’t go through the valley of the shadow and the psalmist never questions that it was God who did all this to his people (not the devil, not demons, not pagans (38-45, “You…You…You). He just promised he’d provide a rod and a staff, the power of his presence, while we are there. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were not excited to get marched to the furnace. My guess is that they thought the day before, “Why would God allow this to happen?” I’m sure they were worried when their guards passed out and died from the heat on their way to shoving them in the fire. They may have shed a few sad tears. But what calmed them through it all and what brought them through the fire was their confidence, even through sorrow, of the faithful love of God.
- The psalmist ends in praise to God (52).
After all that, he asks, “May the Lord be praised forever.” Have you ever had an argument with your spouse over the phone. “You’re wrong. No you’re wrong…Well, you’re crazy. We’ll deal with this when I get home. OK, I love you, goodbye!” Now, wait a minute, y’all just reamed each other. “I love you” doesn’t make any sense. What’s going on there? The spouses have a habit of acknowledging that there’s something here that supercedes their momentary anger. The frustration they feel in the moment occurs in the much bigger context of their love for each other.
Verse 52 is not an arbitrary, final verse. It shares language with verse 1. All this frustration is real, but the psalmist knows the context of his pain is the certainty of God’s love. That’s why he can praise him.
The reason we can see clouds is because there’s a sun behind them. You wouldn’t see clouds without the sun and moon shining behind them. The reason you can know the clouds of grief will last just for a season is because the sun-shining God stands behind them.
- The Psalms end in Adoration of God.
The Book of the Psalms are edited into 5 books. Psalm 88-89 ends the 3rd book. And the third anticipates the 5th. The editor of the psalms knows something at Psalms 88-89 that you don’t, unless you get to Psalm 150. This is just the middle of the story.
Have you ever been really into a movie or book and had to stop in the middle? It doesn’t give the full story. Snow White would be depressing… she’s dead in a house in the woods with 7 bachelor dwarves. Narnia, the Lion is dead. With every story you’ve got to go on if you want to know how it all works out. Well, your grief is only the middle of the story. You can stay there and waller or you can live like you know the ending. Psalm 88-89 ends in grief in book 3, but the rest of the story ends in praise, glory, and beauty in book 5. Our griefs are turned to glory.
In the same way, God puts us into grief for his purposes. I don’t have God’s 20/20 vision. I don’t know what your life in this age will look like. But I do know that if God is willing to send Noah through a flood to inherit a promise of a new world, Israel through the wilderness to inherit the promise of a new land, and Jesus through a crucifixion to a promise of a crown, he may very well send you through a temporary darkness to receive the promise of “joy unspeakable and full of glory.”
It is okay to grieve. God expects it, so give it to Him. But believers do not grieve like there is no sun. It may take time to go away, but the light and heat of God’s love will always scatter the clouds of our darkest times. You just hold on and keep going, and remember that it was by persistence that the snail made it to the Ark. The same persistence that drew Jesus even to the cross of pain, for on the other side was a crown of glory.
Dr. Ben Stubblefield is the Pastor of of FBC Jackson in Jackson, AL, and graduate of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and Auburn University.