From Suffering to Praise, Together

On Sunday at church I bumped into a friend on my way to grab a coffee and asked, “How are you?!” “I’m fine,” she replied, although I noticed her teary eyes. Then she gave—”Actually no, I’m not good,” and the tears came. I was honored by her honesty, but it stabbed at my heart during the service—how many others are here today just pretending to be ok?

Does anyone know your deepest pain today? Have you told anyone of the ways you are suffering, struggling with sin, discouraged, or apathetic? I would imagine that the answer for many is no. When it comes to pain, our impulse is to pray and suffer in isolation, only revealing our deepest wounds and hopes in the quiet of prayer. We pray for our desires, but it feels too vulnerable to invite anyone else into the longings of our heart.

But the logic of the church opposes this individualism—the church by nature is communal, an interconnected family to which we belong and are known. As believers, we can’t afford to suffer in isolation because the way Christ is most clearly manifested to us today is in His Body—the Church. As members of God’s body, we need to cast off this individualism and reclaim the beauty and power of being known in our church.

Psalm 22 offers a template for crying out to God in the context of community, situating ourselves in the story of God’s faithfulness in the past, and testifying to the congregation when God answers our prayers. As we practice this discipline, we are formed into the people of God—people who participate in the story of God’s salvation and faithfulness today.

Remembering who God is. Psalm 22 presents a suffering Psalmist, feeling abandoned and alone, but fixing his eyes on God’s holiness—His character—and remembering God’s faithfulness to his forefathers. 

My god my god why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me from the words of my groaning? Oh my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer, and by night, but I find no rest. Yet you are holy, enthroned on the praises of Israel. In you our fathers trusted and you delivered them. To you they cried and were rescued; in you they trusted and were not put to shame (1-5).

As in many of the psalms, we see the invitation to cry out to God with honesty, but as we do so to cling to God’s character and the ways that God has demonstrated His faithfulness to His people before. Though the psalmist feels forsaken and like the Lord will never answer him, he leans upon what He knows God has done before. Each instance of God’s provision that came before this moment has collected in his imagination, testifying to a God who has always been faithful. This is why God sits enthroned on Israel’s praises; as God proves his steadfast, holy, and good character again and again in the lives of His people, we do what we were made to do—glorify Him, enshrouding Him in our right worship. When we find ourselves suffering, we must turn to the story of God’s people before us, but we must also turn to God’s people around us.

Praising God in the congregation.

I will tell of your name to my brothers; in the midst of the congregation I will praise you; you who fear the Lord praise him! All you offspring of Jacob, glorify him and stand in awe of him, all you offspring of Israel (22-23).

The Psalmist understands the communal nature and responsibility of his current suffering—that when God proves himself faithful, he will testify to God’s work, glorifying Him and participating in the story of God’s people from the beginning. But if we never share our suffering with the congregation, we probably won’t tell them when God answers our prayer. Rejoicing in the Lord’s provision is a community activity in the Psalms, and our participation is not only for our own benefit, but for the benefit of the entire community.

God doesn’t only answer prayers for us—He answers them for our friend, for the woman sitting next to me at church, for the weary moms and disillusioned dads. God answers our prayer for our own good but also for His glory, He wants us to tell of His power and mercy and faithfulness again and again. This is why the Psalmist says, From you comes my praise in the great congregation...The afflicted shall eat and be satisfied; those who seek him shall praise the Lord (26). When we share our suffering and God’s provision with the Body, we nourish the afflicted who are crying out, and give hope for those who are seeking Him. God uses our suffering and His faithfulness as an encouragement to others, so when we isolate ourselves in a church, we withhold the power of God in our lives from those around us who need it most.

A beautiful inheritance. Posterity (future generations) shall serve him. It shall be told of the Lord to the coming generation; they shall come and proclaim his righteousness to a people yet unborn, that he has done it (30-31). 

Though a community is blessed when members share their burdens and testify to God’s faithfulness, this practice forms us as spiritual people. As we learn to live in community and again and again see that God is who He says He is, God shapes us into His people—people who are known, who ask for prayer and pray fervently, who remember what God has done, and glorify Him always. In community, we become what Israel was to us—the people who followed God in their context and whose stories we turn to for a reminder of who God is.

As we are formed into people who trust in the Lord in community, we pass on the most valuable gift of our own spiritual formation; we testify both in our words and deeds to the coming generation of who this God is. We become people who proclaim his righteousness to those not yet born. So while we will tell the incredible stories of God’s works to the next generation, the inheritance we bestow on our children and their children is a legacy of seeking God, participating in the body of Christ, and glorifying God in all circumstances. A people formed by these movements will shape the generation following them, creating a beautiful inheritance. 

On the cross, Jesus prayed the opening verses of this psalm. He prayed alone, as one left to die in His suffering. He prayed remembering the Father’s perfect faithfulness to His people. On the cross, Jesus cried out, envisioning the future of God’s people, and died alone so that we might participate in His resurrected Body as people who are certain of His faithfulness and equipped to endure suffering together.

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