Trusting God’s Plan

[To go along with the theme of the sermon, the special music for this service was “Blessings” by Laura Story]

We pray for blessings, we pray for peace
Comfort for family, protection while we sleep
We pray for healing, for prosperity
We pray for Your mighty hand to ease our suffering
And all the while, You hear each spoken need
Yet love us way too much to give us lesser things

‘Cause what if your blessings come through rain drops
What if Your healing comes through tears
What if a thousand sleepless nights are what it takes to know You’re near
What if trials of this life are Your mercies in disguise

We pray for wisdom, Your voice to hear
We cry in anger when we cannot feel You near
We doubt your goodness, we doubt your love
As if every promise from Your word is not enough
And all the while, You hear each desperate plea
And long that we’d have faith to believe

‘Cause what if your blessings come through rain drops
What if Your healing comes through tears
What if a thousand sleepless nights are what it takes to know You’re near
What if trials of this life are Your mercies in disguise

When friends betray us
When darkness seems to win
We know that pain reminds this heart
That this is not,
This is not our home
It’s not our home

‘Cause what if your blessings come through rain drops
What if Your healing comes through tears
What if a thousand sleepless nights are what it takes to know You’re near

What if my greatest disappointments or the aching of this life
Is the revealing of a greater thirst this world can’t satisfy
What if trials of this life
The rain, the storms, the hardest nights
Are your mercies in disguise

Scriptures: Romans 8:18-32; Isaiah 45:9-13

We have the second week of our sermon series today, “How to see God when the world is just … wrong.” It is rooted – despite the fact that we didn’t have one read today – in the psalms of lament, as a vehicle for working our way through these times of trial and stress and pain, so that we can begin to look for and see God even in those times of trial, stress, and pain.

The song that Janell sang for us this morning, “Blessings,” is one of a set of what I would call modern psalms of lament. They are modern psalms of lament because in many ways they follow the structure of the psalm of lament. They describe the pain that is there, recognizing its reality, its veracity, and the appropriateness of responding to it. They look to or mention how God has worked. And then in the end they give praise to God and place their trust in Him.

In the first part of the psalms of lament, the psalmist feels his pain, and lets God know it. The Jews had a practice of revealing their emotions – even the men. In grief, they would tear clothes, wail, and weep. They would have forty days of mourning after a death.

It wasn’t that they were done grieving then; but for forty days, they wore the black of mourning, would be supported by the community as food was brought, and others came and cried with them. When repenting of their own sins (or sometimes the nation’s) they would wear sackcloth, rub ashes in their hair, and cry aloud their sorrow and anguish and grief.

I know the topic for today is listed as Trusting God’s Plan, and the Scriptures are appropriate to it. We will touch that today. The passage in Romans speaks of suffering that occurs, and the plan that God has for us. But as I meditated and prayed over the sermon this week, and the song we are using, I was struck again and again by the first phrase of the chorus: “What if your blessings come through raindrops, what if your healing comes through tears?”

Tears. Crying. It isn’t something we in America do well, for the most part. Most of us have been taught from a young age to be tough, don’t cry, put on a happy face. When as a child we hurt ourselves, how often did people come and say “don’t cry, honey. It will be all right,” or “C’mon and cheer up – big boys don’t cry.” That may be, but it isn’t all right now. You hurt. They are trying to be comforting, trying to cheer you up, but at some level the message is “Crying is bad. Letting yourself feel pain is bad.”

Weeping isn’t bad. Tears aren’t bad. The ancient Israelites knew something important that we have forgotten. We can relearn this through the Psalms. Crying has a purpose. How many of you have seen the movie Inside Out? I recommend it to you. It’s a nice little movie. It’s about a girl and about her emotional centers, the things that control her – anger, joy, etc. – and their development.

One of her emotional centers is sadness. For most of the movie, the others are paranoid about letting sadness touch anything, because once she touches one of these memories, it’s permanently changed. At the risk of giving away a spoiler, it’s really about those things inside her as this girl grows up to her teenage years, coming to understand that sadness has a part, grief has a part to play, in our lives and our health, that grief can actually make things better.

Weeping has positive value, if you let yourself truly weep, and cry it out. The tears carry away stress toxins, release tension in the sobs, and pent-up emotions in the cries. It can be cathartic. There is lots more to it, and there are resources that are out there. There is a great article on crying called “Crying: An Essential Gateway to Emotional Healing” on wisdompills.com, and another one called “Is crying good for you? It depends” in Psychology Today.

I am not going to spend my sermon talking about how to cry, though, tempting as that may be. Rather, I want to relate it to both how it strengthens us, and how it strengthens our faith so that we can trust in God’s plan. We all know God has a plan for each of us – at least we know in our heads.

If God is good, and God is all-powerful, then even the bad things that happen in our lives, not simply the consequences of our sin (and sometimes even then), have a purpose. In a recent episode of the radio show “Running to Win,” I heard Dr. Erwin Lutzer say something like this (and I’m paraphrasing from memory, so forgive me for not being exact): “God is all-knowing, and all-powerful, and sovereign. He knew that His plan would bring about wars, pain, the Holocaust, and many terrible things. And yet in the end, we will see that it works to the good of His glory.”

That is a concept that is very difficult to wrap our minds around. It is a hard thing to hear. Harder still to hold on to when in the middle of those terrible times. And yet, the psalmists did just that. In the middle of wars, exile, persecutions, lost children, sickness, and death, they held on to the understanding of God’s purposes being higher than theirs, and God’s lovingkindness (called chesed in Hebrew) being an assurance of God’s plan bringing about their eventual salvation and/or redemption.

There are some psalms that mention God’s plan or His knowledge. Psalm 139:16, Psalm 119:105, Psalm 37:23, and Psalm 32:8 all point to God’s plan and God’s foreknowledge and who we are and what is going to happen. And there are many other Old Testament references for the same thing, besides the Isaiah passage that we read today. They know that God’s plan will bring about their eventual salvation and/or redemption. But in the meantime, they are free to cry out to God.

Washington Irving said, “There is a sacredness in tears. They are not a mark of weakness, but of power. They speak more eloquently than ten thousand tongues. They are the messengers of overwhelming grief, of deep contrition, and of unspeakable love.”

As the song “Blessings” says, we pray for good things. For peace, for comfort, for healing, for security. Nobody in their right mind asks for suffering, asks for pain, or asks for sickness. This is OK. God tells us to ask Him for our needs, to ask Him for His blessing, and to pray for safety, well-being, and healing for ourselves and each other.

We should cherish those moments when good things come, being content in the moment. Get in touch with the joy of those times, to remember when things change. And things will change. As paradoxical as it sounds, change is the one real constant in this life (besides God).

I have said before in other sermons that growth is almost always painful. From the time we are born, through childhood, teenage years (oh, the teenage years!), through being adults, and perhaps married, and/or a parent, we learn as we suffer dissonance and pain, and cope and work through it. It is the “silver lining,” if you will, to pain.

But there is something more we need to understand as we face darkness and it seems to be winning. There is more. As Laura Story puts it, “This is not our home.” And it is true. We are sojourners in this world, resident aliens whose citizenry is in heaven. There is light on the other side of that darkness, and God has a plan.

We help ourselves to see this, and to cope, as we are willing to cry. Physically, and emotionally to God. We are strengthened in the end, having cleared out some of that pain and tension. And just as an aside, this crying is actually said to be better in the presence of somebody else.

We don’t need to go hide in our closet to cry. Jesus never said that. He said to hide in the closet to pray, maybe, to have those personal times of devotion where you open yourself completely and are vulnerable. We cry with others, because we are meant to be relational beings.

We can then do as the psalmists do, having been strengthened, remembering what God has done for us already. In particular, we can remind ourselves of the times when things have worked out for the good in an unexpected way. And I’m sure that every one of you has had those times in your life.

Sometimes, this can take a long time to see. I share this story often as part of my “How did you get here?” narrative, but I want to share it now as well. I had a very short-term pastorate in Illinois. It was truly a “bad fit.” It happened right at a time in my life when I was recovering from major surgery, and my Dad died suddenly in a car accident.

The pain of this time and the rejection there took years to heal. One of the upshots of it was we moved to Muscatine. Pauline had a job there, and we needed a place to live that was close. We bought the house that we have been living in for 12 years now, finding it in less than two months – we kind of hurried through it.

Going through those years (particularly the first 4), I told myself that we were there because of a promise I had made to my boys – not to move them when they were in high school, which Zach was entering. (I went to three different high schools, having moved as part of the Air Force life.) But God placed us there. He didn’t do it for me, by the way. He did it for Al.

This school system has one of the best programs in four states that I have seen, and Al has been helped to grow from someone whose special needs were thought to get him possibly institutionalized to the fine young man who you know now – able to achieve in school, practice wonderful musicianship, and working on an Eagle project in Boy Scouts.

He has learned to interact and socialize, and it seems like everywhere we go in Muscatine, everybody knows Al. People we don’t know call him by name. That just happened last week when we went to the Y, and there was some guy who said, “Hey, Al” and Al said, “Hey,” and he told us we should be so proud of Al. As we walked out the door, we asked, “Where did you meet him?” Al said, “Right here at the Y.” It’s amazing.

My pain, hard as it was to go through, was incidental. God’s plan was to put us there for Al, and I am very thankful today that we are there, despite what put us there. Of course, if that pain hadn’t happened, we wouldn’t have been there, and Al wouldn’t be where he is today.

Do you see? A thousand sleepless nights, the song speaks of, and then to look back on them and see how God was near, leading us all along. It has happened in my life, and I am certain it has happened in each one of yours. And it is all promised by God. He has plans for us, and His thoughts are not our thoughts. His thoughts are higher than our thoughts, and His “good” may be still yet to come. Certainly the best “good” is still yet to come.

But He has proven the seriousness of His love for us, and the ultimate fulfillment of His promises, in the death and resurrection of the Son, Jesus Christ. As the Scripture says, if God is for us, will He not follow through? (“Who can be against us?”) Just a few verses past the passage read today is the famous section about how nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. Nothing. No matter how we feel, how we struggle. God. is. there. And He has a plan to prosper us. We just need to hold on to our faith, and trust in Him.

When we are going through those tough times. When the world is just… wrong, we need to remember what the song today so plaintively and beautifully said. Sometimes it takes pain for growth. Sometimes it takes tears for healing that which is inside us and keeps us from God. Sometimes, it takes trials to humble us and show us God’s mercies. Sometimes, it just takes time.

This might not make it any easier to go through those times, but it certainly can make it better, if we can remember what the psalmists did, and what the Israelites did and do, what even some modern psalmists today remind us to do – cry.

Cry hard, cry fully, and then… look up, and see God, with you and for you, and always, always working for your good. Once you see that, you can commit to the final phase of all psalms of lament, and give Him praise and thanksgiving. To God be the glory for the great things He has done. Amen.

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