If our prayers were hooked up to a polygraph during certain seasons of our lives, we’d be revealed as liars.
We cannot rush through sorrow. Walking through pain and loss and grief is like walking through water—slow, hard, and exhausting. It takes time. And it takes a toll on us. We feel trapped in confusion, surrounded by chaos.
On Good Friday, Jesus cries out from the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Ps 22:1). When you hear those words, what do you think of?
In the most chaotic times of life, we maintain a white-knuckled grip on anything that remains predictable. It might be a close friendship or a gym routine. It might be something simple like how you fold and stack the towels.
Christianity is easily twisted into spiritualized etiquette. We learn how properly to eat at the Lord’s table. We learn how respectfully to address him. We learn how politely to carry on a conversation with him.
The little psychologist within us is often hard at work to pinpoint the origin of our life’s problems. During marital strife, we sift through everything from sexual proclivities to spending habits to discover the source of our discontent. When raising a rebellious child, we replay every episode in his upbringing to determine where things may have gone awry. We want to know when Pandora’s box was cracked open, introducing mayhem into our lives.
You’re listening to your all-time favorite song on the radio. Windows rolled down. Volume cranked up. The words fly from your lips. You can feel the music reverberating in your bones. As I wrote about in “Musical Time Machine,” it’s a song you attach to that person, to this place. It roots you in your own past. I don’t care who sings it, it is your song. Then, just when it’s about to hit your favorite part…
- a buzzing noise screeches from the speakers, followed by a robotic voice, declaring, “This is a public service announcement…”
- your phone rings and it’s a call you have to answer
- the highway dips into a canyon and you lose the radio signal
And the song is over. You feel cheated, ripped off. The best part of the song is left unsung.
I feel that way just about every Sunday during the Offertory (Psalm 51). For we sing,
Create in me a clean heart, O God, And renew a right spirit within me. Cast me not away from Thy presence, And take not Thy Holy Spirit from me. Restore unto me the joy of Thy salvation, And uphold me with Thy free spirit. Amen.
Then the organ music fades away. The voices become mute. And the offering trays are passed about. But me? I’m flabbergasted for the millionth time, for I want to sing on. So, in a voice only I and God can hear, I do. I sing on.
I sing these two lines:
Then will I teach transgressors Thy ways, And sinners shall be converted unto Thee.
They haven’t always been my favorite lines. But as often happens, the ugly and the beautiful things in life change our perspective. For when a man’s biography has parallels to the life of the songwriter, when his prayers for the restoration of salvation’s joy have been answered, and when the Holy Spirit has recreated and upheld him, he cannot be silent anymore. He must go on not only to sing the rest of the psalm, but to live it.
So I do. I teach my fellow transgressors the ways of the Lord, as well as the ways that lead away from the Lord. Even if that means delving into my own past, to reveal the depths to which a man can fall into the ways of the anti-Lord, I will do it. Why? That sinners might be converted unto Thee, that they might taste and see that the Lord is good, that they might discover that the Lord does indeed wash us thoroughly from our iniquity and cleanse us from our sin, for he purifies us with the hyssop dipped in the blood of Jesus Christ.
Therefore, though other voices may stop, though the music ends, even though I might even get a few dirty looks, I shall sing on.