Even in the storms of life, we can see God’s power and have His peace. I am seeing that happen here — one of our new members, Chris S., who lost her teenage son tragically just a year ago, brought me to tears last week as I am seeing God whispering to her, bringing her songs in the night. And there are others of you too. How thankful I am to God for honoring us here with His presence.
This is one of my favorite photographs, of my dear daughter-in-law Julie with her arms around her daughter Jessa, watching a great storm brooding and building over the waters outside our cottage on Green Bay.
Summers are a special time of God speaking through His creation.From our cabin there’s a long sweet swim to a raft anchored a few football fields out. It belongs to the Reeves, dear generational friends who are like family. Their men do all the work of hauling it out and in each summer, of rescuing, repairing, and returning it to the depths when storms on Green Bay overpower it. Those four foot waves can break the heavy chain to the anchor as if it were a string, carry the six hundred pound raft to shore, and toss it up on the rocks as though it were a child’s inner tube. Sometimes we stand inside the safety of our cabins and watch, in awe of the storm, in awe of the power of God.
It’s work to keep a raft floating on this capricious bay of Lake Michigan, so I am thankful these men do. I’m also thankful that they hospitably urge us to swim to it whenever we like! Swimming in an open bay is a balm to my soul. Plunging into the water, the cares of life are washed away. I’m weightless and free as a fish, moving and gliding through an underwater world. Calmed by the silence and soothed by the caress of the water slipping over my skin, I’ve had some of my clearest thoughts during this swim and my best conversations with others. So it was this last Fourth of July weekend. My daughter Sally and I had been reading on the dock, the sun warming our shoulders, when she stood up, stretched, and asked, “Ready to swim to the raft?”
As we side-stroked our way through the flat-calm bay, she asked, “Mom, do you really think, as Ann Voskamp does, that all of life is grace?”
“What does she mean by that?”
“That everything, even the really hard things in life, is part of God’s grace.”
I swim, contemplating my response. Slowly I say, “Yes. I know it doesn’t feel like that when things are shaken. Yet looking back, I can see not only that He was with me through the worst things, but that He taught me what is eternal and what is not.”
Sally is silent. Her world has been shaken more than the worlds of most thirty-somethings. She plunges under the water and swims. When her blond head emerges, ten yards out, she flips on her back and floats, looking up at the billowing clouds in the deep blue sky. “I can accept that He was with me, and that He brings good out of sorrow …”
“I don’t know. Ann Voskamp says a good God plans everything. She quotes Amos: “Does disaster come upon a city unless the Lord has planned it?” (Amos 6:3)
We swim in silence. Hard thoughts. I am remembering a video we watched from Tim Keller’s The Reason for God on suffering. He talked about how a six-year-old may not understand a parent’s reasons for depriving him, and he may truly suffer. Then Keller asked the panel of six articulate people who were not Christians, “Is it possible we are all six-year-olds when it comes to understanding the ways of God?”
I say to my daughter, “Honey – I surely would never attempt to explain the holocaust or your own personal and terrible pain. But I know He is sovereign, and nothing slips through His fingers without Him willing it. I know it was God, and not Satan, that originated the conversation that would shake Job’s world. And at the end of the book of Job, God never gives Job a reason. He simply points to the seas, the stars, and the seasons as evidence that He knows what He is doing… And Job is silenced, broken, repentant. I think it really may be true that we are six-year-olds when it comes to fathoming God.”
She nods, though sorrow is in her eyes. I think of how she screamed when her dad was taking his last breaths, “Daddy – don’t leave me!” How she punched a hole in the wall when he did.
“I know He weeps with you, honey. When He shook Mary of Bethany’s world, even though He knew He was going to bring her brother back to life, He wept with her. He did have a purpose in allowing Lazarus death, but that didn’t mean He didn’t care about the sorrow it caused. Could Keller be right – that we are six-year-olds, at best? Think about how Sadie [her one-year-old] responds when you pull her away from something that could hurt her, like you did last night with the fire.”
We both smile, remembering Sadie’s familiar slow break-down pattern, especially if Sally has uttered a sharp, “No, Sadie!” We know a storm is on the horizon when Sadie’s bottom lip protrudes and trembles, for next her astonished blue eyes will fill with rain, and finally the tempest bursts, releasing heartbroken sobs, shaking her whole body. She really is suffering. In the midst of her pain, however, she is smarter than many of us, for her chubby arms lift to the very one who caused her pain, the one who is so eager to scoop her up and hold her close, who will sway and whisper, “Hush-a-bye my little one. Mommy loves you so.”
We reach the raft, climbing the ladder to lie in the sun, contemplating, as best as six-year-olds are able to do, the profundity of God.
1. I’d be thankful for your comments on the above discussion between Sally and me — what resonated, what was hard, what was not clear, or what was clear and helpful.
SONGS IN THE NIGHT
2. This is a phrase that occurs more than once in Scripture. Before you look it up, meditate on the phrase. What contrast do you see? What does it mean to you in a spiritual sense?
My absolute favorite commentary on the book of Job is Mike Mason’s The Gospel According to Job.
It’s one I’d recommend buying, reading, underlining, and giving away as a gift. Mason is the one who wrote “The Mystery of Marriage.” He’s a great talent. Read more about his books here: http://mikemasonbooks.com/nonfiction/
It is Elihu in the book of Job who first uses the term “Songs in the Night.” Though Elihu is one of Job’s “miserable comforters,” there are times when he is right on, when what he says is absolutely true, which makes him all the more perplexing. In commenting on Elihu’s bewildering complexity, Mason says that truly — that is like all of us. We can be full of wisdom and yet capable of the most foolish utterances. A great preacher can one Sunday go off on a tangent and his sermon turns to dust. A wonderful warm-hearted Christian can turn on someone, shocking him with uncharacteristic cruelty. And a miserable comforter can once in a blue moon have a word of comfort. Here Elihu evidences that despite all of his pontificating and finger-pointing, that he has been a man who has at times experienced the gentle Spirit of God, for he says, in Job 35:9-11
Because of the multitude of oppressions people cry out;
they call for help because of the arm of the mighty.
10But none says, ‘Where is God my Maker,
who gives songs in the night,
11who teaches us more than the beasts of the earth
and makes us wiser than the birds of the heavens?’
In the midst of dark nights of the soul, God gives songs. He lifts our troubled spirits and floods our hearts with praise. Last week so many of you shared wonderful ways, especially looking back, that you saw God with you in the midst of a storm. He prepared you for a death, sustained you in the midst of an illness, provided for you in the midst of financial devastation. Some of you also shared how the close of Job was ministering to you. But I want you to go further this week — for part of “the song in the night” can be seen in the above verse 11.
3. What can God do for us that He does not do for the beasts of the earth or the birds of the heavens?
4. I want you to think about a recent episode of suffering, even something from the last week or two, and then contemplate what God is teaching you from it. This is, in a sense, “a song in the night.” Let’s not waste our sorrows, even the little ones.
What is it?
Another one who used the term songs in the night was Asaph, the poet, the song-writer of the psalms. Meditate on Psalm 77:1-6. This is especially for those of you who have just joined us who are going through enormous suffering — you’ve lost a child, a spouse…you are so troubled that your soul often refuses, like Asaph says, to be comforted. Here he laments, but then, in the psalm, there is a turn — watch for it.
1 My voice rises to God, and I will cry aloud;
My voice rises to God, and He will hear me.
2 In the day of my trouble I sought the Lord;
In the night my hand was stretched out without weariness;
My soul refused to be comforted.
3 When I remember God, then I am disturbed;
When I sigh, then my spirit grows faint.
4 You have held my eyelids open;
I am so troubled that I cannot speak.
5 I have considered the days of old,
The years of long ago.
6 I will remember my song in the night;
I will meditate with my heart And my spirit ponders…
5. Meditate on the above.
A. Describe the emotions in the above lament from Asaph.
B. What phrase shows he has insomnia? Whom does he hold accountable?
C. Where do you see a turn in this lament?
D. What does this teach you about the value of the lament?
6. Music hath charms to soothe the savage breast. The third chapter in The God of All Comfort is one of my favorites, for God came to me in so many ways when I was writing it. If you have the book, share a few things God taught me about psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs. If you do not have the book, read this past post, about my conversion from a hymn snob:
I WAS A HYMN SNOB – click here to read the post if you haven’t before: Link
A. What did you learn about psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs?
B. How did God convict me (Dee) and convert me from being a hymn snob?
C. How does this speak to you?
7. I would love to have each of you find one psalm, hymn, or spiritual song that truly is a “song in the night” to you, that quiets your fretful soul with the truth. List it here — give a link to where we can hear it if possible, or write the lyrics that are particularly meaningful to you. If you are stuck in one genre (just hymns or just spiritual songs) see if you can spread your wings and find something in the other genre — or a great psalm song!
8. Listen to Program 3 on Midday Connection and share what you learned here. David will give you a direct link after the program, but for now, you can hear it Monday noon central time if you go to this: Link
What stood out to you?
9. If you have the resources, listen to Keller’s first sermon on Job from his series, Job: A Path Through Suffering. Here is the link. What did you learn? Click Here The first is “Questions on suffering.”
If you don’t have the money, Elizabeth has a link to great free sermons from Keller on suffering — so listen to one of those and tell us what you learned. Here it is: Link
Three times in the book of Job God comes to Job and gives him “a song in the night.” We’ll be looking at these later, or you may hear about them in one of the above messages. I was familiar with two of them — but the third one astonished me and gave me such comfort. (This is simply to whet your appetite and keep you with us!)
I must tell you I keep thinking about how I am not just like a six-year-old when it comes to suffering, but I am more like my four one-year-old grand-daughters. (Did you know God gave us four songs in the night last summer when all of my daughters and my daughter-in-law had daughters?) Here they are, right after the last one, Julie’s had been born.
So often, like these precious babies, I just can’t comprehend why God does some of the things he does. One of the things we tried to do unsuccessfully with Mia and Sadie just this month (the now one-year-old daughters of my daughters Anne and Sally) was take them through the park in a burley. (A little trailer like the one at the left hooked to a bike.)
We got off to a rocky start because neither of the babies were crazy about the helmets we put on them. Annie gave this caption to her daughter Mia: “Mom — do I really have to wear this?” In the same way, we wonder often why God restricts us.
Then we exacerbated the experience by putting them together, for they were stealing one another’s pacifiers.
We biked through the woods for a half hour, solid crying — then gave up and turned around for another half hour of crying. Sally kept singing but the babies would not be calmed. I could not help but think of Asaph, who would not be comforted.
Here is a picture of Mia in the helmet, and Sadie looking on in distress.
Two days later, after Anne and Mia had gone back to Nebraska, Sally wanted to try again with Sadie alone.
Another solid hour of crying. What we finally figured out (maybe!) is that Sadie thought Sally was riding away from her and it made her anxious and despondent. Sally was singing the whole time, trying to calm Sadie with “Silent Night,” “Angels Watching over Me,” but Sadie howled until we finally stopped, I held Sadie, and Sally rode the bike without her baby, retrieved the car, and came back for the two of us.
I keep picturing this baby, her sadness, her complete misunderstanding of what was going on, and of how her mother tried to give her a song in the night, but she could not hear it, she could not be comforted.
May we open our hearts and our souls to The God of All Comfort, who longs to comfort us in our distress, if only we will let Him.
He is saying to you: “Hush-a-bye my little one. Your Father loves you.”
10. What is your take-a-way this week?
UPDATE: Here is the link to the “God of All Comfort, Part 3” on Moody Radio: Link