Perhaps one of the most ignored disciplines or practices in the church today is the lament. Our music, at least popular Christian music, tends to focus on the celebratory, joyous, positive-thinking themes. While certainly there should be worship music that does so, to ignore the reality of hardship and struggle in the lives of Christians leaves some to view Christianity, as it is often presented today as little more than positive thinking, pop-psychological mantras of "speaking goodness" into being.
Mark Vroegop has written an excellent article titled "The Danger of Neglecting Lament in the Local Church" on the Crossway blog here. In this article (and his book Dark Clouds, Deep Mercy as well) Vroegop lays out the very real need for lamentation among the people of God.
As we live through the age of the COVID-19 pandemic, many are making statements regarding their circumstances and unfortunately, seem to be missing some very real truths along the journey.
Human nature leads us to lamenting in days like this. Sadly, the lamentations that many share about the circumstances of "stay-at-home" orders and pseudo-quarantines in no way compare to the lamenting God leads his children toward for the sake of righteousness.
Christians are not to allow our circumstances to define our faith. Certainly our circumstances can impact our daily lives, challenge us, and create great difficulties, but they cannot define us. Christians too may call out to God during difficulty, seeking answers, help, and hope. This would be a lament that eventually edifies.
Apart from those in the medical field, ones serving on the front-lines of the pandemic, and those who have had loved ones die due to the coronavirus, most people are simply sitting at home hoping for "normal" to return. It is certainly human to desire to be able to do what one wants when one wants. These freedoms have provided us opportunities to live as we choose our entire lives (at least in the USA.)
Lamenting What We Have Lost
We lament because we are saddened. Based on what many social media posts are stating, we primarily lament over lost opportunities to celebrate special days, eat at favorite places, and be entertained as we choose, as well as others.
It is certainly sad that high school and college graduations have been canceled.
It is sad that athletic competitions are not happening.
It is sad that restaurants are not open for dine-in.
It is sad that churches are holding online services only.
These and many other realities are truly sad.
What I have discovered in my own heart has been the creeping feeling of boredom. I have heard others declare "We're so bored!" when asked how they are managing. Some are struggling to ensure their children are constantly busy and doing things.
We (and I mean "we" including "me," not "we" meaning just "all you other people") are a people who idolize entertainment and activity. If busyness were a spiritual gift, we would excel in honoring God through our workaholism.
I suggest we go to his Word for some perspective. Some solace.
Removing Idols So We May Rest
Perhaps God has removed our idols for a season and is moving us to live out the words of psalmist "Be still and know that I am God." (Psalm 46:10)
I am convinced that elevating our boredom may be indicative of idolatry in our hearts.
Sermons and devotionals in the thousands have been shared declaring the need for believers in Christ to love him well by resting in him. We are commanded to find our sabbath in Christ. He modeled the solitary moments of prayer and devotion throughout his life.
Maybe introverts are better wired for this, but I doubt it.
Introvert or extrovert, we all tend to drift toward the idols of our hearts. Therefore, in this season of very real danger, of very real change, of very real challenge...we need to truly lament.
Lamenting and Worshipping Well
The circumstances we face are difficult, but not unique.
Regarding church attendance and public worship gatherings, many brothers and sisters have historically struggled and served faithfully in nations and under regimes where meeting together as local churches was difficult, to say the least. Many have and do meet in secret. Many are unable to be part of a "mega-church" by law and thus, some of the greatest church planting movements are taking place in the areas of the world where house-churches are the only options and once there is a group of larger than twenty, a new church must be planted.
To be clear, the easy evangelicalism we have experienced in our nation for decades is not the norm. It is the exception. Most Christians throughout history would "amen" that loudly.
There are stories of those who survived and suffered under pandemic circumstances throughout history. These pandemic stories had been mostly forgotten except for those who study history. More stories are being shared regarding the challenges the world (and church) faced in the early 1900s during the Spanish flu pandemic. We are reading more accounts of those who survived and witnessed plagues of old. These stories are not encouraging, but revealing.
To be clear - we are facing great challenges, but this is nothing new and not unique to us.
Our difficulties, by and large, are not difficult (notwithstanding those infected and the aforementioned front-line community servants.)
For Christians, our faith is being tested.
Our faith is always being tested.
As the church responds and as pastors, seek to minister well, we must be careful not to be, or seem to be, primarily concerned with our loss of regularly-scheduled church services, our loss of financial support, or worse - as little more than whiny vocalizers of political echo-chamber gripes that is so prevalent in our culture.
While some believers are moving quickly to enact the very best food distribution and face mask sewing groups in the community (which are good,) or seeking to organize students or adults in the church to be "on mission" thus, creating busy work disguised as mission work (don't get me wrong, mission and relief work is vital,) we must not miss what it appears God is doing.
What God Is Doing
I have heard many seek to proclaim unequivocally what they know God is saying and doing.
I'm not attempting that. Yet, as as pastor who is praying and seeking God's lead through these days, I do believe he desires that I, and perhaps others, pause. Stop. Rest. Sabbath in him.
I do know he is drawing me closer to him.
I believe he is pointing me back to the teachings of Christ in Matthew 6 regarding anxiety and worry.
But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. “Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.
Matthew 6:33-34 (ESV)
Lament we should, but not for the loss of our comforts, but for the realities of life.
Lament removes motivational self-aware, self-centered, New Age-infused mindset statements that have permeated all venues in our society and allows us "to be real and to trust." (Vroegop)
If we avoid the reality of hardships in life, we rob believers of the biblical value and strength offered through a season of lamentation.
God has slowed us. He has shifted our well-made plans for ministry and church-life. Every church's cool "2020 Vision" theme for the year has been forgotten. He is causing us to reconsider things long avoided, if not forgotten.
As we lament these circumstances, we are drawn to God for strength, for direction, for hope.
Stop and Start
So, stop searching for the "end times prophecies" declaring this as irrefutable proof of Christ's imminent return. Rather, repent that you forgot that the end times began in 33 AD and we continue to await his promised return, without the need for modern-day prophetic prognosticators. Seriously, if we need sensationalized films and online gurus giving us prophecy snippets in order to live like we are in the last days, we may have more spiritual sickness within us than we knew.
Stop parking yourself in the recliner in front of your favorite 24-hour news channel that does more to promote panic, worry, anxiety, and anger through entertainment disguised as news and loud-talkers promoted as experts than is helpful.
Stop being drawn into social media posts and comment threads that denigrate your neighbors and others under the guise of "community watchdog."
Stop complaining there is nothing to watch on television after you just binged another season of something on Prime or Netflix.
Stop complaining about having to be home with your spouse and children. Recognize that these days together may be a gift you are ignoring. And, if there are major issues within the relationships, pray for insight and seek help (even online through Zoom call counseling.) However, if abuse is happening in the home, pandemic or not, find a way out of that house.
Start lamenting in honest prayer to God, trusting his heart.
"God, where are you?" is an honest prayer. Ask him. Recognize that he has not abandoned his children. He is where is eternally has been.
Start reading the Word daily. Contemplate the truths revealed.
Repent as God's Spirit leads.
Trust him today...and for the days to come.
The God who was Lord over your days of leisure is Lord of your moments of lament.
And don't worry about tomorrow.
“Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble. Matthew 6:34 (ESV)