The last few months, I’ve been struggling in a dark season that has stripped away my joy. I feel as if I’ve been wandering in the wilderness. Change lurks on the horizon. Many of my friends are getting married and moving away. Death and suffering are wielding their blades on those around me. The world looks dismal, and my own sin nature is raising its ugly head.
After listening to me share where I’m at, a friend asked, “Have you been singing? Find a way to put singing into your day—see if that helps.”
To be honest, when she said that, I felt like the Israelites who asked, “How can we sing the songs of Zion when our nation has been captured?” (Ps. 137:3–4). How can I praise God when I feel like He has abandoned me? How can I praise the One who seems to take away everyone I love? Where is the place of joy when I feel condemned to a life of perpetual loneliness?
Choosing to Sing in the Pain
That’s when I found solidarity in the Psalms. The authors of the Psalms were not happy, go-lucky people with no problems. Rather, they wrote out of a heart of deep suffering and anguish. But despite their pain, a thread of hope runs throughout the book, a “no matter what happens, I will still hold fast to God” kind of hope. I can hear wrestling in their words:
Oh, fear the LORD, you his saints, for those who fear him have no lack! . . . The LORD is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit (34:9, 18).
Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever (73:25–26).
The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want. . . . Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me (23:1, 4).
When I read these words, this is what I take away: “Fear the Lord. You will have no lack, but you may have a broken heart. God is your strength and fulfillment, but your body and emotions may give out on you. This is what is true—the Lord is my shepherd—but walking through the valley may also be real.”
In the midst of deep pain, the psalmists wrote songs to God. It’s not wrong to mourn, but we need to remember to sing, because God is always good—even when our hearts don't feel it.
Our Singing Savior
Have you ever thought of Jesus singing? Matthew 26:30 tells us that after the Last Supper, Jesus’ final Passover celebration on this earth, He and His disciples sang a hymn together. It’s overwhelming to think that the last thing Jesus did before heading to the garden of Gethsemane, where He would be arrested and abandoned by His friends, was to sing a song of praise to God.
Not only that, but the very hope of the gospel is rooted in Jesus’ decision to praise. His prayer in the garden reflects a heart that is aware of His coming suffering. He prayed, with sweat drops like blood, “Not my will, but yours be done.” Why did He walk boldly into such darkness and pain? “For the joy that was set before him [he] endured the cross, despising the shame” (Heb. 12:2). He knew there was immense joy ahead––the salvation of believers and His glory. With eternal perspective, Jesus sang with His disciples . . . and He sang on the cross:
And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, . . . “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matt. 27:46).
He is quoting Psalm 22, part of the songbook Israel used in worship. Although Jesus didn’t belt out a tune while He suffered (the very nature of crucifixion made it nearly impossible to breathe, let alone sing), He meditated on a song of praise that pointed to that exact moment—His suffering as the Redeemer.
Psalm 22 reads in part:
My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning? O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer, and by night, but I find no rest. . . . I will tell of your name to my brothers; in the midst of the congregation I will praise you: You who fear the LORD, praise him! . . . The afflicted shall eat and be satisfied . . . All the ends of the earth shall remember and turn to the LORD . . . they shall come and proclaim his righteousness to a people yet unborn, that he has done it (vv. 1–2, 22–23, 26–27, 31).
Even while Christ suffered, these words ran through His mind—not despair or complaining or doubting, but praise. That makes me want to drop to my knees and repent of my ingratitude . . . and then worship!
In the dark season I’m walking through, my first instinct is rarely (if ever) to sing. But I’m counseling my heart to consider this: Christ sang as He faced the physical agony of crucifixion, emotional agony of betrayal, and spiritual agony of God’s wrath.
If He could praise His Father under such circumstances, while dying to redeem me from my sin, by His grace I can look to the joy ahead and choose to sing when everything seems dark and hopeless.
The Blessings of Choosing to Sing
With Jesus going before me, I’m challenging myself to sing into the darkness. I can sing “Come Thou fount of every blessing, tune my heart to sing Thy praise” through tears and “Be Thou my vision, O Lord of my heart” in absolute desperation. Those songs have become so familiar that at times I forget the hymn writers suffered, too. The truth of their songs are made for hard days, not just perfect Sundays. Their words can counsel our hearts in the midst of darkness.
So often I stand in church, forcing myself to sing words that my mind and heart struggle to agree with. But hearing my Christian brothers and sisters singing encourages me. They believe the words. They all know the truth, even though the darkness is making it hard for me to see it. Whether they know it or not, they are holding fast on my behalf. They teach and admonish me in their praise to God (Col. 3:16). And I'm sure that my singing does the same for them.
Will you join me in choosing to sing where the Lord has us? Sing while doing household work or in the car. Sing in church. Keep singing the truth—and maybe our hearts will catch up and choose to praise God.
I will bless the LORD at all times; his praise shall continually be in my mouth. My soul makes its boast in the LORD; let the humble hear and be glad. Oh, magnify the LORD with me, and let us exalt his name together! (Ps. 34:1–3).