Singing of Sadness

Sermon by David Felker on Jul 14

Psalm 13

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Turn with me in your Bibles to Psalm 13. Psalm 13; the passage is on page 453 in the church Bible in front of you. We started a mini-series last Sunday night. We’re looking at different psalms in the first book of Psalms, and so Psalms 1 to 41. And so in the month of July, we’re looking at different psalms in the first book of Psalms and tonight we will be in Psalm 13, “Singing of Sadness.”

The call came at three-thirty on that Sunday afternoon. A bright sunny day. We had just sent a younger brother off to the plane to be with him for the summer. “Mr. Wolterstorff?” “Yes. Is this Eric’s father?” “Yes.” “Mr. Wolterstorff, I must give you some bad news.” “Yes?” “Eric has been climbing in the mountains and has just had an accident.” “Yes.” “Eric has had a serious accident.” “Yes.” “Mr. Wolterstorff, I must tell you, Eric is dead. Mr. Wolterstorff, are you there? You must come at once. Mr. Wolterstorff, Eric is dead.” For three seconds I felt the peace of resignation. Arms extended, limp son in hand, peacefully offering him to Someone - capital “S” Someone - Then the pain. Cold, burning pain.

That’s the beginning of the book, Lament for a Son, written by Nicholas Wolterstorff who was a former philosophy professor at Yale University. But he writes the book not as a scholar; he writes the book as a loving father. He writes the book for his twenty-five year old son who died mountain climbing in Austria. And he calls the book his lament - Lament for a Son. His expression of sadness, this prayer of mourning for his late son, Eric. And as you continue reading you can hear the sadness in this father’s words. He says, “There is a hole in the world now. In the place where Eric was, there is now just nothing. There is nobody who saw just what he saw, who knows what he knew, who remembers what he remembered, who loves what he loved. My son is gone. Only a hole remains.”

Now you may be thinking, “David that is an extreme example. Not all of us experience sadness in that kind of intensity or in that category of intensity.” And that may be true, but all of us do experience sadness in this broken world. That’s why C.S. Lewis said that “Sadness and suffering and ultimately death is the great equalizer.” It’s the great equalizer. In other words, we all come face to face with situations in this life, in this broken world, that call for lament. We all have stories. All of us have stories that are hovering just below the surface, that if other people knew, if other people really knew those stories, they’d stop. They would stop what they are doing and they would run and embrace us and cry with us. That’s why I love the Dietrich Bonhoeffer quote, “We must learn to regard people less in the light of what they do or omit to do and more in the light of what they suffer.”

This is part of the motivation for the missions report tonight. There’s a connection, you see, between missions and tears. You see, as you become more like Jesus, the Man of Sorrows, your eyes are opened. As you grow in grace, you become more like Jesus, the man acquainted with grief. As you see that the curse is found everywhere, in Japan, in Indonesia, in Peru, there’s unbelief, there is sadness, there is sorrow, there is sickness, there is disease and death and despair. Wolterstorff says later in his book that, “I shall now look at the world through tears. I shall now look at the world through tears and perhaps see things that dry-eyed I could not see.” I shall look at the world through tears.

We said last week that the Psalms function as a kind of school. The Psalms are a teacher for our affections, for the heart. Dan Allender and Tremper Longman in their book, The Cry of the Soul, say that the Psalms have a “soul exposing function.” A soul exposing function. In other words, the Psalms teach us how to process and how to then express and to sing and to pray the emotions of our soul. So they’re prayers and songs. And we said last week - that aren’t cheap. They’re not cheap but they are expensive. You are to leave a piece of your heart with God, in a sense. And so this evening we’re looking at Psalm 13, a psalm of David, “Singing of Sadness.” Let’s ask for His help before we jump in and read. Let’s pray together.

God of all grace, we pray that the words of my mouth and the meditations of all of our hearts, especially those meditations that are in essence, “How long?” I pray that the words of my mouth and the meditations of all of our hearts would be pleasing and acceptable to You, our strength and our redeemer. We pray this in Jesus’ name, amen.

Psalm 13. This is God’s Word:

“To the choirmaster. A psalm of David.

How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? How long must I take counsel in my soul and have sorrow in my heart all the day? How long shall my enemy be exalted over me?

Consider and answer me, O Lord my God; light up my eyes, lest I sleep the sleep of death, lest my enemy say, ‘I have prevailed over him,’ lest my foes rejoice because I am shaken.

But I have trusted in your steadfast love; my heart shall rejoice in your salvation. I will sing to the Lord, because he has dealt bountifully with me.”

Amen. This is God’s Word.

Some of you have heard me say this. This past Thanksgiving Break, my family - my wife and I and our two children, who at the time were ages 4 and 2 - we drove in our minivan to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. It’s fifteen hours away. And did I mention we had our four year old and our two year old in the car? So fifteen hours there and fifteen hours back for a total of thirty hours in the minivan with a four year old and a two year old! And as I open Psalm 13, I’m tempted to call this “The Roadtrip Psalm!” This is the roadtrip psalm! Because you see, notice how it begins - “How long? How long?” And in a sense, it is the psalm that cries out, “Are we there yet?” This is the psalm that cries out, “Are we there yet?” How much longer will my sadness be here? When will my sadness end? When is this going to end? Are we there yet? And we all have our version of Psalm 13. 

There are three stanzas to this song. First, there’s sadness. There’s this cry of sadness in verses 1 and 2. Second, there is a plea, a petition to God in verses 3 and 4. And then verses 5 and 6, there’s declaration. This hope in God, trust in God, love of God. 

David’s Cry of Sadness

And so first, there’s sadness. This cry of sadness. We don’t know the specific context, we don’t know exactly what was happening in David’s life when he wrote Psalm 13, but four times in verses 1 and 2, in rapid fire succession, David is asking this question, “How long?” The depth of the emotion is seen in the repetition; this repetition of the expression, “How long?” It emphasizes the intensity; the intensity of David’s sadness. One commentator says, “There’s a stair stepping effect, there’s a stair stepping effect that builds intensity with each occurrence of this question, ‘How long? How long? How long? How long?’” David says - look at the text - David says in verse 1, “God, will you forget me forever?” And so David is feeling forgotten. 

Have you ever felt forgotten by God? David is feeling forgotten. He’s feeling that God must be busy. “God has a thousand things to do and so He has just forgotten me.” I want you to notice the more that this swirls around in David’s conscience - look at the next verse. David says, “Actually it seems that it’s more intentional than that. God hasn’t just forgotten me” - look back at the text - “David says, he cries, ‘How long will you hide your face from me?’” And I wish that we had time to draw out all of what that means, but David is feeling that God hasn’t just forgotten him, but that God has forsaken him. That God has abandoned him. That God has deserted him. That God has turned away from him. “You’re hiding from me, God. I can’t find you because you don’t want to be found.” And then by the end of verse 2, he feels not only forgotten, not only forsaken by God, but he says that his enemy is exalted over him. His enemy is exalted over him. And again, we don’t know the specific context. We don’t know if his enemy is someone that’s pursuing his life; we don’t know if this is disease or death or sin. We don’t know. But David, here, is in the deepest of pits. He’s not bottling it up. He’s letting it out. He’s taking this to God.

There are different types of psalms. So there are royal psalms - Psalm 2, Psalm 110. There are Torah psalms - Psalm 19, “The Law of the Lord is perfect,” Psalm 19; Psalm 119. There are wisdom psalms - so Psalm 1 that we looked at last week; Psalm 37. Those are wisdom psalms. But the most common type of psalm, over a third of the psalms, the most common type is a lament psalm. There are 150 psalms. The most common type, over a third of the psalms, is a lament. Psalm 13 is a lament. A lament psalm is grief and sadness expressed before God’s face. I love how Derek Kidner put this in his Psalms commentary. He said, “The very presence of lament in scripture is a witness to God’s understanding.” The presence of lament is a witness to God’s understanding. “He knows how we speak,” Kidner says. “He knows how we speak when we are desperate. He knows how we speak when we are desperate. And so a third of the psalms, Psalm 13 is a lament. He knows how we speak when we are desperate. “How long, O Lord?”

And yet, in church culture, often, emotion like sadness is suppressed or it’s hidden, it’s faked. It’s ashamed of or something to be gotten over. It is often the skeleton in the closet of faith. We are uncomfortable with sadness. We apologize for our tears in what can be this culture of positivity, which is really exhausting by the way. And at the same time, emotions are lionized. They’re often lionized and exalted in the larger culture as something to obey at all costs. Our feelings are what we should obey at all costs. But lament, lament like Psalm 13, reminds us of God’s understanding - that God knows, He knows our desperation. That God wants us to bring all of that to Him. One minister put it like this. “Laments, like Psalm 13 say, don’t enthrone your emotions, but don’t suppress your emotions. But your emotions” - I think this is helpful - he said, “Your emotions are the lights on the dashboard. They’re telling you something important. They are the cries of your heart, the language of the soul, and so sing your emotions. Don’t enthrone them, don’t suppress them, but sing them. Pray them to God, honestly from your heart. Pray them before the face of God.” 

Allender and Longman say it like this. They say, “Ignoring our emotions is turning our back on reality. Listening to our emotions, this ushers us into reality. And reality is where we meet God. However, we often turn a deaf ear through emotional denial or disengagement. We’re false to ourselves, forgetting” - and I think this is the line - “forgetting that change comes in honesty before God.” And so change is needed, but it comes when we’re honest before God. Change comes in honesty before God. And so the cry of lament at one level is this invitation, this invitation to honestly see and name the sadness. This is God’s invitation. This is God’s heart towards you. This is what the laments are about. This invitation. God is saying, “As a Father to a child, come. As a Father to a child, come to Me and bring every part of yourself. Even the desolate, most desperate places - come to Me.” 

And we all, again, have our version of Psalm 13. What is yours? What is yours tonight? What is your sadness? What is your lament? God is inviting you, tonight, to bring it to Him, to come to Him, to be honest with Him, to be honest with yourself about your desperation and to plead with Him to act on your behalf. This is David’s cry of sadness.

David’s Plea to God 

Look with me, second, in verses 3 and 4 at David’s plea, his petition. Notice, look at the text, he has three requests. He says, “I want you to consider me, I want you to answer me, and light up my eyes.” And then he has these three reasons why God should do that. First, he says, “I will die if you don’t.” Second, he says, “My enemies will win.” And then third, “My enemies will rejoice over me.” I love the simplicity of his prayer. Spurgeon said about this kind of prayer, “Short prayers are long enough.” And some of y’all think that the ministers in our church should hear that! Short prayers are long enough! But I want you to think about this, “Consider me. And so turn your face back to me. Remember me. Consider me.” And he says, “Answer me.” And so, “God, end this silence. Answer my questions.” And then he prays, “Light up my eyes,” which comes from Numbers 6 - “The Lord bless you, the Lord keep you, the Lord make His face to shine upon you.” And so, “Lord, restore back to me light and life and Your favor and Your joy.”

I want you to notice, though, the direction of this cry and this plea in verse 3. He says, “Consider and answer me, O Lord, my God.” I think this is a watershed moment for David. Notice he says, “O Lord, my God.” Don’t miss it. He’s praying - look at the text - he’s praying the personal name of God that God has revealed to His people. God has revealed Himself, He has revealed His character, He has revealed Himself as faithful. And so David is now saying, ‘You are that faithful God. Be who You promised to be. You’re the faithful One.” And so David is coming, he’s bringing his emotions honestly. He’s bringing his sadness honestly before the face of God. And then he’s praying, he’s saying, “Remember who You are, God. Remember who You are and act according to Your promises.” And so we’re being invited to bring our emotions to God, to remember who God is, and voice that and sing that and pray that back to God. That’s David’s plea. That’s his petition.

David’s Declaration of Hope

Then look in verses 5 and 6. Third and last and brief - David’s hope; his declaration. The most important word in this psalm, the most important word in almost any lament, is the word in verse 5 - the word, “but.” And so David, he said, “How long, O Lord? How long, O Lord? How long, O Lord? How long, O Lord?” And then verse 5, “But I have trusted in Your steadfast love.” Your steadfast love. That’s - you probably guessed it - that’s the Hebrew word, hesed. Your unfailing love. The love of the God of the covenant that, when He sets His love on you, He will never stop loving you. As the Jesus Storybook Bible describes it, “The never stopping, never giving up, unbreaking, always and forever love.” I want you to notice that as far as we know, David is still in the pit. As far as we know, David still has more questions than he does answers. But here, David is able to say, “There is a mess of stuff that I don’t know; there is a mess of stuff that I don’t know. I’m going to go back to what I know.” And so David mentions these two promises of God. He points to God’s steadfast love - and then look in the text - God’s salvation. That’s what he’s clinging to. That “There is a God who knows everything about me. There’s a God who knows everything about me and yet He is still with me. He is committed to me. He’s not leaving me.”

Isn’t this what a child wants in a moment of fear in the dark at night? Do they just want the light on? Do they just want all the answers? A child is okay if Mommy or Daddy are with them. You don’t have to turn the light on. You don’t have to give them all the answers. They want to know that Mommy and Daddy are with them. And so David is calling to mind God’s promises. Those things never change - God’s steadfast love and His salvation.

I grew up in a home that read The Chronicles of Narnia. This was the bedtime routine in our home for many years. I loved the stories, but not like my mom. My mom loved these stories. And her favorite part was in The Silver Chair. And in 2013 when my mom was diagnosed with cancer, she talked about this scene, her favorite scene from The Silver Chair in one of her first CaringBridge posts. And it’s a scene where Aslan, the Christ figure, he charges this young girl named Jill to remember. He charges her to remember the crucial signs that will guide her when she is no longer on the mountain with him, when she is on this seemingly impossible request, on this journey, that she needs to remember the signs. And he says that if she will cling to the signs that he gives her, she will most certainly find her way. And Aslan puts it like this. He says:

“Stand still. Remember, remember, remember the signs. Say them to yourself when you wake in the morning and when you lie down at night and when you wake in the middle of the night. And whatever strange thing may happen to you, let nothing turn your mind from following the signs. And secondly, I give you a warning. Here on the mountain I have spoken to you clearly. I will not often do so in Narnia. Here on the mountain the air is clear and your mind is clear. As you drop down into Narnia, the air will thicken. Take great care that it does not confuse your mind. And the signs which you have heard here will not look at all as you expect them to look when you meet them there. That is why it is important to know them by heart and pay no attention to appearances.”

I think about that quote a lot. “Remember, remember, remember the signs.” I think about that a lot because for you and for me, sadness may tarry. And we said this, this morning - that you may be in a dark and a long night and no one knows how long the night will be. But morning is going to come, and with it, rejoicing. But until then, the promises of God - or as Aslan calls them, the signs - they never change. And so as you leave the mountain, whatever strange thing happens to you, as the air thickens, remember the promises of God. Remember that you are the apple of His eye. Remember that He rejoices over you with singing. Remember that you are unsnatchable from His hand. Remember that you have the ear of Abba Father. Remember that you have the prayers of Jesus Christ, your Advocate. Remember that you have the Holy Spirit in your weakness. Remember that you have the great cloud of witnesses cheering you on. Remember that you have the hope of glory, that sin cannot defeat you, Satan cannot destroy you, death has been defeated for you. Remember that you will see God. You will see God and He will deliver your feet from stumbling. And this is the last one - remember that He will deliver your eyes from tears. He will deliver your eyes from tears. 

For David, these promises of God are his fixed points. They never change. The steadfast love of the Lord and His salvation. They never change. And that invades into the darkness of David’s sadness, so much so that he can end this song with these words - he is able to sing to the Lord, “You have dealt bountifully with me.” He can sing that. “You have dealt bountifully with me,” with tears. 

Amen, let me pray for us. Let’s pray.

God of all grace, we are grateful that You have given us words when we don’t have the words. That You give us permission to grieve, to be sad; this invitation to lament. We pray tonight that You would help us to remember to remember that You have dealt bountifully with us; that we are preciously loved by You. And we pray this in Jesus’ name, amen.

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