If you are old enough to remember the terror attacks of 9/11, you probably remember where you were when you heard or saw the news. It was a forever-life-altering moment like the assassination of JFK in November 1963. While the two events were dissimilar, they were attacks against democracy and our nation, and they caused us to realize that peace, safety, and security are not things we can take for granted.
Singing in a Strange Land
Going back a few years to 586 bc and on a much greater scale, the residents of Jerusalem suffered their own collective trauma with the siege and destruction of Jerusalem, the razing of the Temple, and capture and execution of Zedekiah’s sons. Their experience was immortalized by a line in a song: despite their defeat, they were compelled to sing a song of Zion.
“By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down, yea, we wept, when we remembered Zion. We hanged our harps upon the willows in the midst thereof. For there they that carried us away captive required of us a song; and they that wasted us required of us mirth, saying, Sing us one of the songs of Zion. How shall we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land?” (Psalm 137:1–4).We may feel at times like we are singing the Lord’s song in a strange land, even in times of great personal pain or trials, but if we remain faithful and sing through our pain, we will endure. Click To Tweet
Prior to their captivity, the Israelites must have been known for their worship. God was the recipient of glory and praise in those famous songs of Zion. Unbeknownst to the Babylonians, their intent to mock the Israelites may have had the opposite effect. By singing one of the songs of Zion despite their suffering and defeat, the Israelites simultaneously praised God through their pain and demonstrated their trust in the faithful love of God.
Our instinctual response to pain and suffering may not always be an attitude of praise.
[S]ometimes a song is just what we need.
It is clear the Israelites didn’t feel like praising God in their defeat. But sometimes a song is just what we need.
I don’t know where he came from or how he came to be on that particular street, on that particular day, unable or unwilling to be clothed and in his right mind. I will, however, long remember the desperate and wild-eyed tormented man I saw on the side of a road in Accra, Ghana.
I don’t remember him because of his unfortunate circumstance, or because of some incredible miracle that delivered him from madness or demons; I remember because moments after seeing him I heard the lyric of a song, “On the road marked with suffering.” As tears began to form in my eyes, the song continued to pour out praises to God in spite of the suffering. The bridge of the song, “You give and take away,” alludes to Job’s response of blessing the name of the Lord, even though he had just experienced great loss.
God’s Mercy and Grace amid Grief and Trauma
Matt Redman’s “Blessed Be Your Name” was popular for several years in the first decade of this century (or at least it was in my home church) and every time I heard it, I revisited that road in Accra indelibly marked by suffering—a suffering that included an unnamed and unknown man. And each time I was reminded of God’s mercy and grace in the midst of grief and trauma. I learned only recently that the song was written, at least in part, in response to the terror attacks of 9/11. Whether a person experiences a collective trauma or individual grief, it is a certainty that we will encounter trials in this life.
The music of corporate worship can be used to facilitate God’s love and compassion into the hearts and minds of hurting souls.
The music of corporate worship can be used to facilitate God’s love and compassion into the hearts and minds of hurting souls. It isn’t because of the way the notes are put together, or how “well put together” the folks may appear to be who are singing these notes. It’s because of the power of God that works through us. We may feel at times like we are singing the Lord’s song in a strange land, even in times of great personal pain or trials, but if we remain faithful and sing through our pain, we will endure.
The myriad unchurched people who walk unsuspecting into church during our times of corporate singing, possibly feeling God’s presence for the first time, may know nothing of how to bless the name of God in times of sorrow or pain. They may know nothing of the story of Job, and his famous responses of “though he slay me, yet will I trust in him” and “the Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord” (Job 13:15; 1:21). But when they hear the anointed singing, we expect their hearts to be drawn toward God, their emptiness filled with joy, their mourning turned to dancing.
But when they hear the anointed singing, we expect their hearts to be drawn toward God, their emptiness filled with joy, their mourning turned to dancing.
Everett Gossard | Book Editor | Division of Publications | UPCI
Resources and Links by Everett Gossard
Words Fitly Spoken – Beginnings are important. It has been said, “You never have a second chance to make a first impression.” Characters in the Bible are no different. When we first encounter a character in the Bible, many times we are introduced to them through their first words. And these words often tell us a great deal about the essence of that person. This book offers a deep dive into the world of ancient narrative as seen in the Book of Genesis.
So Great a Salvation digital curriculum – Because sin impairs every dimension of life, we must embrace the complete work of salvation Christ provides. This digital series by Everett Gossard leads groups and churches in a study of Jesus’ atoning work to redeem us.