[PART 3 OF 3]
When the shrapnel of a broken world knocks the wind out of us, and we feel like we can barely breathe—let alone pray—how do we keep praying? When life transitions to a minor key, we take a note from the Psalms once again. We need to pray the blues. And there is one lament that spans two psalms—Psalm 42 and 43—that is just the one to help us figure it out.
The psalmist walked us through the drought. He dove deep into the depths. But now, suddenly, as he comes to a close in his prayer, He looks forward to a time where he will once again know the dwelling of God.
In ancient Israel, place—the land—was everything. The temple in Jerusalem, the holy hill of Zion, was a patch where heaven overlapped with earth—God’s dwelling place with man. This was the psalmist’s home, and being far from the temple meant less of God’s felt presence.
So where is the psalmist anyway? In 42:6, he remembers God from the mountain range of Hermon in Jordan, not Israel. From Mount Mizar, which means “little hill,” because every hill other than the one on which God resides feels insignificant. In 42:4, he’s consumed with the thoughts of when he had felt God’s presence in the temple with God’s people singing His praises.
But then there’s a turn. Still, far from the temple, in 43:3, he begins to imagine the day coming where God will indeed send out His light to guide his steps back to the dwelling. Up to the altar, where God, his very joy, resides!
What happened? How’d he go from a disheartening longing for the past to a hopeful longing for the future? In lament, there’s one moment in this prayer that covers Psalms 42 and 43—said three times (42:5, 42:11, and 43:8)—where the psalmist tells his depressed and anxious soul: Be quiet and listen. A moment where all the worried thoughts yelling “where are you?!” and frantic feelings screaming “how could you?” step away from the mic. And the psalmist steps up to sing a better word to himself.
Why are you downcast? What’s really messing with my heart here? As we’ve said time and again, what’s at the center here for the psalmist, and really at the center of every one of our laments, is feeling like God is far from us. And maybe most hurtful of all, that God is unconcerned for us.
Then, he sits his own soul down and says – that’s enough. God hasn’t forgotten. God is trustworthy. Hope in God; for I shall again praise Him, my salvation and my God.
He’s not home. He longs for home because God is there in a way He isn’t anywhere else, and yet he cheers on his own soul to hope in God’s promise anchored in his steadfast love to bring him home someday.
This isn’t our home, which is why we pray the blues. And I would go so far as to say that we should feel some discontent—a dissatisfaction with this world—on a daily basis. If you’ve never had an occasion to sing the blues, you have really low standards. You can’t honestly be satisfied with this. We live in a world of racism, poverty, sin, injustice, and disease, and the best of efforts haven’t made all that much progress. But more than anything, we live in a broken and fallen world where I call out to God and at times He feels unbearably absent. That’s not the way it’s supposed to be, and so we pray the blues.
But at this point in history, we remember and so sing to ourselves, not about a temple in Jerusalem, but when—as the Gospel-writer John says in John 1—God took on flesh and literally “tabernacled among us”! The most holy hill is where the Son of God, Jesus Christ, climbed the mount of crucifixion. No longer do we look to an altar. As the author of Hebrews waxes so eloquently, in Jesus’ single sacrifice on the cross, all sin has been paid for once and for all. The curtain separating God and man in the temple has been torn in two.
And while in a broken world and on a rugged cross, Jesus cried out the lament, “my God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” The very words of the psalms. He became rejected that we might be accepted. He left His home in heaven that He might make a way for us, defeating every bit of sin and shame and brokenness that will keep me from coming home. And three days later, He rose again, and 40 days later ascended to go and prepare a place for His people.
A place that was revealed to John in the book of Revelation. Listen as he recounts the vision of our new and eternal home:
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” (Revelation 21:1-4 ESV)
Don’t you long for this? Doesn’t this make you pray the blues as you wait?
One of my favorite stories of B.B. King is of a concert in 2008. B.B. King was 82 at the time. The place was packed, and finally as the concert came to an end around 2am, after the crowds had cleared and only about 30 or so folks who wanted autographs remained, King looked around at his band and with a nod broke into When the Saints Go Marching In, vamping on the tune for some 20 minutes.
This I think is the true conclusion of praying the blues, a longing for what is to come. My favorite part in that song is when we sing:
Some say this world of trouble
Is the only one we need
But I’m waiting for that morning
When the new world is revealed
The Christian life is a long longing in the same direction, and so when we lament, we pour out our souls to our God because we aren’t home yet. But someday we will be. And until that day, we pray the blues to God and say to ourselves:
Why are you cast down, O my soul,
and why are you in turmoil within me?
Hope in God; for I shall again praise him,
my salvation and my God. (Psalm 43:5 ESV)
Come, Lord Jesus…