How long Lord?

6th August 2020

How long Lord?

Well, here we are Victorians. Isolation number 2 that we thought we were handling well and now find ourselves with another 6 weeks with even further restrictions.

During the first isolation I wrote about the three week mark and the importance of recognising the emotional impact as we experience challenging and traumatic situations.

Over the last week or so I have been reflecting on the latest challenge with the increased restrictions, the fear about the economic impact, hearing stories of people being made redundant, people becoming sick and the significant grief for families who have lost loved ones to COVID-19. How do we respond when things seem to be turning bad?

I have been considering two things as I travel through this uncertain time: maintaining a soft heart before God and the importance of lament.

Hebrews chapter 3 has been a helpful reminder to maintain a soft heart before God.

Do not harden your hearts”

The word “harden” in this context literally means dried out, inflexible, obstinately stubborn, resisting what God says is right. The writer of Hebrews reminds us how the Israelites hardened their hearts as they wandered in the desert and implores us not to do the same. It can be hard not to dig in, put up barriers and just wait this out when life becomes tough. The danger in digging in, is to make sure we don’t check out from relationship with God. Perseverance is important but not in our own strength. So, this speaks to me about checking my emotional health and making sure I am maintaining a soft heart, an open heart to God.

In checking my emotional health, I have rediscovered the role of lament. Do you know that over a third of the Psalms are Psalms of lament? (I’m sure you did!) “How long Lord?” Psalm 13:1 cries out.

Lament gives voice to the deep cries of our heart. It gives a framework to put words around our despair, frustration, hurt and grief that is sitting in our souls. It places us within the kingdom of God as we bring our cries to Him. Jesus brought a lament as He was on the cross “My God, my God why do you forsake me?”

What would it look like for us to engage with lament in this season?

Recently I was with a small group of pastors and the observation was made that we are in danger of engaging in false positivity during this season. There is pressure to ignore the pain by bringing positive messages of hope all the time. I recently read about toxic positivity – the culture of portraying ourselves as happy or always encouraging people to see the bright side of life and not open up to anything bad. We recognised that encouragement is important and we are all bearers of good news but scriptures suggests it is important to recognise when we are in challenges and bring our cry to God.

So as a group, we engaged in the spiritual discipline of lament. We wrote our own psalms, prayers and petitions to God. It did not take long – I gave them ten minutes – but we all remarked on the power of writing our own heart cries and hearing each other’s laments. It gave voice to our hearts while recognising God in our midst.

We recognised that, as leaders, we often are holding other people’s emotions and feel like we need to have things together ourselves. There is power in giving voice to our lament as we anchor ourselves in God. As one pastor said “As a leader we are often there holding other people’s stuff. That is hard work. We need to ground ourselves in the perspective of eternity.”

We share the laments we wrote as examples of what they can look like. Take some time to write your own lament and connect with another leader to share and pray with each other.

It is so important in these times that we maintain a soft heart before God and we find the opportunities to connect our soul cries with the heart of God. Psalm 13 starts with the cry “How long, Lord?” but ends with the proclamation “But I trust in your unfailing love; my heart rejoices in your salvation. I will sing the Lord’s praise, for he has been good to me.” As we connect with God and release our heart cries, we find our perspective shifts as God reminds us of His presence with us each day.

A psalm of recognition.

You are bigger than me.
So you see a lot more. You understand.
I want to hear your words, but things which don’t stretch me bring me comfort right now.
You probably need to change that in me. I probably need your help in making that happen.

I am tasked with leading others during dark times. I wonder how Moses coped?
Ok, you have given me promises that you will help, support and walk with me.
Let me see how you are doing that in a clear light.
Then give me the strength to help others see the same in their life.
Wisdom and discernment are needed, along with a tender and light touch.
Lord bless me with this.

I have many hats to wear and many roles to fill, but my first in recognising that I am yours.
I am your child, your son, I am your treasured possession.
May the enemy know that I believe this to be true.
In this may he run from your Spirit which is found within me.

Lift my Spirits now. Give me hope that all is in your care.
Lift my energy that I can do the tasks before me
May my actions bring your name honour

Amen.

Psalm for COVID

Hear my cry Lord,
Listen to my prayer

From one end of this world to the other
People are suffering, their bodies burdened, their minds tormented
There is death and disease, and loss of income. 

We are feeling caged, shut off from our families and friends
Unable to enjoy the life we treasure.

Your church is under threat, 
Apathy, distraction, weariness and persecution
continue even behind closed doors.
Faith seeds planted are being threatened,
Our work feels like it’s being choked.

Yet you are there, above all and in the midst.
You have always been faithful and your word is true.

Eternal God, you were there before the beginning
you will be there long after the end.
Help me to press into your strength when I am weak,
Help me to press into your endless joy. 

Psalm for an Enclosed time

See me, God, hear me 
I am hidden, I am muffled 
I’m enclosed, trapped and surrounded 
I am limited, my arm has no reach 
From under a doona 
Behind the door 
Screened by a laptop 
Muted by a mask. 
See me, God, hear me 
For I cannot reach, stretch, explore 
Your world, your people, your adventure. 

God, you reach, then. 
You reach, from East to West 
From region to Metro 
From the world to Victoria 
God, reach in and out, and down and up 
Incarnate yourself
Through the mask, 
In the laptop, 
Behind the door, 
Even under the doona
For your steadfast love is great 
And your faithfulness reaches to the skies –
Reach in and down, too.

A Psalm for today

The walls are closing in day after day.
The hour outside seems too short.
Things are getting worse not better.
Sickness seems to be the closest enemy despite our best efforts, it is moving closer each day.
When we look to you God your voice seems absent, silence, no healing or saving from this war.
Our hands are tied close to our home.
Our options are limited.
Where O God is your abundance, your generosity, your unending grace as the grey continues?

Your breath fills my lungs as you cause my heart to beat. My life has closed in but it still continues.
Your kingdom is unending and your glory still fills the earth. You place the stars in the sky and know the hairs on my head.
Your love moves across the internet, connecting me to thousands with your hand on my heart reminding me this season will pass.
Your Spirit is close to me, within me settling my despair.
Although your hope still feels out of reach, your presence fills my soul.
That is enough, for today.

Christine Wanstall
BUV, Church Health Consultant