This week my wife has been cleaning out our garage. Our garage is filled with many things that we have moved from two houses ago and kept just in case we might use items again later. Between those items and other accumulations with owning a house and having five children, our garage is full. I’m sure many families have similar garages, or basements, attics, sheds, or even rented storage spaces. Nonetheless, sorting through storage items can sometimes be painfully slow.
- It brings up memories.
- We don’t want to trash something that we might need later.
- We don’t want to give away something because it cost us something.
The process of grief is somewhat similar.
- We are flooded with memories that are deeply meaningful.
- We don’t want to rush through feelings because the relationships/losses matter.
- We don’t want to unleash our grief on others because of how we might be perceived.
- So, we stuff and save our grief and we struggle and wander through the stages without any destination in mind.
SHOCKED (denial) / SADNESS (depression) / RAGE (anger) / RELIEF (bargaining-acceptance) / RESTORATION (growth)
Previously I have shared a message about anger from “Se7en Deadly Sins.” There I defined anger as “an evaluative response expressed internally or externally at a perceived error or endangerment.” In that message I dealt with both positive and negative realities of anger, and how to resolve the sinful actions of anger. Not to self-promote, but if anger is an issue for you, I would encourage you to review that message and see how the Lord may use it for good and growth in your life.
Today’s message is about how anger arrives during a moment/season of grief.
It is important to remember that grief is not linear. Sometimes the cycle repeats itself between stages, or even recycles over and over. Every person and circumstance are different. It is piercingly personal and perpetual. In all, the process of grief is never truly finished.
The point of identifying stages of grief and our response is to better understand what is happening to us physically/emotionally/spiritually. Grief cannot be completed in a sermon or session, but the accumulation of this experiences and knowledge helps us to sort the puzzle pieces. When we begin understanding what is happening to us then we can begin to brace for the journey through what I’m calling “Good Grief,” that which draws us closer to God.
EXAMINE Psalm 43
Psalm 43 is overflow of 42. Psalm 42 addresses great sorrow, while Psalm 43 overflows into a sense of anger.
Our grieving anger helps us to grow if we invite inspection.
“Vindicate/Judge me, O God”
The psalm starts with pleading for God’s judgment. The perspective from the psalmist is that God should stop rejecting and correcting him but should turn judgment upon his enemy. In other words, he’s angry that his circumstances are not what they should be while others are benefiting. Have you ever felt that way?
- Have you ever doubted God knew what He was doing?
- Have you ever blamed God for not getting it right?
- Have you ever questioned and recommended/demanded God to act differently?
If you answer “Yes” to any of these questions, then you are in the company of the psalmist.
Many times, we are afraid to admit we are angry at God. The reason is because we shrink and shudder at the thought of God’s judgment. God’s wrath frightens us. Instinctively every human knows there is coming a moment when the eternal scales of right and wrong, truth and falsehood, justice and injustice will weigh our hearts. Our minds will be combed, our hearts will be probed, and our life will be examined at every level. The books will be opened, and the past will leap from the pages with deeds long forgotten. Every idle word, every careless thought, every secret lust, every camouflaged action will be seen for what it was and is. The fires of judgment will burn, and the wood, hay, and stubble will burn unquenchably, with only the gold of God’s grace refined by faith to sustain the fire.
It might be easier to suppress our struggles or keep silent in self-pity. However, the Psalms give us a voice when we’ve lost our own. What we can learn from the psalmists’ is to pray through our emotions, whether they be anger or any other emotion. Here’s just a small sampling:
- If we are anxious or overwhelmed, pray. (Psalm 46)
- If we feel inadequate or unworthy, pray. (Psalm 8)
- If we are afraid, pray. (Psalm 56:3)
- If we are frustrated, pray. (Psalm 37)
- If we are lonely, pray. (Psalm 23; 25:16)
- If we are depressed and brokenhearted, pray. (Psalm 31:9-10, 14-15; 34:18)
- If we are burdened, pray (Psalm 55:22)
- If we are hurt or in pain, pray. (Psalm 69:29)
- If we are empty, pray. (Psalm 77; 88; 102)
- If we have regret, are remorseful, and repentant, pray. (Psalm 51)
- If we have found freed and celebrate the faithfulness of God, pray. (Psalm 103)
- If we are angry, pray. (Psalm 4:4; 37:8)
In terms of our anger with God, the Psalmist says
Psalm 4:4 “Be angry and do not sin; ponder in your own hearts and on your beds, and be silent.”
Psalm 37:8 “Refrain from anger, and forsake wrath.”
- So, we can express our anger best by praying to God. When we vent to God invite inspection from the Holy Spirit, and we learn at least two characteristics about God.
Psalm 139:19-24 “Oh that you would slay the wicked, O God… I hate [your enemies] with complete hatred; I count them my enemies. Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting!”
1) God is patient. We can be thankful that we can share our grief and grievances with God, and He responds with mercy and grace.
Psalm 103:8 “The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.”
2) God will reprove. As we share our grief and grievances, we can trust God to reverse our grief and avenge injustice.
Psalm 37:13, 28 “the Lord laughs at the wicked, for he sees that his day is coming… For the Lord loves justice; he will not forsake his saints.”
Psalm 76:7 “But you are to be feared! Who can stand before you when once your anger is roused?”
You see, if we don’t let grief out in a healthy manner, then we will likely act it out in an unhealthy manner. Prayer enables us to process our circumstances and gain an eternal perspective. It’s why Jesus didn’t say “pulverize your enemies but pray for them.”
An example is reflected in Psalm 109
“May [my enemy’s] days be few… May his children be fatherless and his wife a widow! May his children wander about and beg, seeking food far from the ruins they inhabit! May the creditor seize all that he has; may strangers plunder the fruits of his toil! Let there be none to extend kindness to him, nor any to pity his fatherless children! May his posterity be cut off; may his name be blotted out in the second generation! May the iniquity of his fathers be remembered before the LORD, and let not the sin of his mother be blotted out! Let them be before the LORD continually, that he may cut off the memory of them from the earth!”
Can anyone relate?
Then, later in the Psalm he says, “But you, O God my Lord, deal on my behalf for your name’s sake; because your steadfast love is good, deliver me! For I am poor and needy; and my heart is stricken within me” (109:21-22). There the psalmist relies on the Lord’s rescue.
The same thing is happening in Psalm 43.
Our grieving anger helps us to grow if we request rescue.
“For you are the God in whom I take refuge; why have you rejected me? Why do I go about mourning because of the oppression of the enemy? Send out your light and your truth; let them lead me…” (43:2-3, ff)
The psalmist recognizes depression and grieving anger is a dangerous pit. His only refuge and rescue is God. God’s light and truth lead us out of the darkness. God’s word provides clarity to navigate our circumstances.
Many people today enjoy touring lighthouses. Archaeologists indicate lighthouses have existed for thousands of years (Egypt and Rome) as these structures helped nations to expand its reach. In America, maritime commerce became the lifeblood of the colonies. Lighthouses provided expanding ports to be safely navigated and ultimately an indispensable role in its economic success, leading to its independence from England.
The first lighthouse in America that we have evidence was the Boston Light in 1716. It was followed by nine other colonial lighthouses, ranging from Charleston, SC to Portsmouth, N.H. Lighthouses became so vital that on Aug 6, 1789 the first congress passed its first public works program, commonly known as the Lighthouse Act, which would transfer responsibility for building and managing lighthouse from the states to the federal government. Eventually, lighthouses lined the shores and became beacons of light for the East & West Coast, along with the Gulf Coast and the Great Lakes.
Likewise, as the psalmist was adrift in exile, God’s truth is a lighthouse to protect against dangers and point others in the right direction.
- Many times in our anger we discern our faith has not been in the Lord. If this is you today, what keeps you from trusting in Jesus? If you have been adrift and finding refuge in sources that suppress grief rather than shelter and save, then return to the Lord.
“Then I will go to the altar of God, to God my exceeding joy, and I will praise you with the lyre, O God, my God.”
The psalmist looks forward to the time when he can return to God’s temple and offer praise. His talent was music, so his praise was with an instrument.
- Going to the altar of God would include pilgrimage with others. We need others – whether informal like friends or formal helpers like pastors and counselors to help us travel the journey of grief. And while our faith community must be loving, they also must be truthful.
– Think of it this way: Boxers need a sparring partner who can reveal their weaknesses and blindspots. The sparring partner might hurt you, but they will ultimately help you to grow stronger in battles. “Faithful are the wounds of a friend…” We need to be open to being wounded from our friends because they’re speaking truth in love.
- What is your talent to praise the Lord?
Everyone has a group
Everyone has a gift or resource for using to display the Lord
Everyone can have gratitude or grumbling… your attitude is one thing you can control.
Spiritual growth happens when we begin to work out what God wants to work in.
“Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God.” (Ps 43:5; 42:5, 11)
This is the third repeat of a refrain from the psalmist. While the previous times may have been written/spoken with a sense of sadness and uncertainty, this last time seems more confident. The psalmist has stopped listening to voices of fear inside his head and started talking to himself. He’s preached the gospel to himself. He’s let the language of faith have precedence over fear.
Think about it: the most influential person in your life is you. You listen to you more than you listen to anyone else. The transition point in our grief and growth is when we begin to practice the truth that we hear preached from the Holy Spirit, and often preach to others. Have you ever noticed that we don’t take the advice that we give to others? Our doubts and fears get in the way, along with our sin. The aha moments and points of hope is when we are reminded there is One bigger than our burdens and more powerful than our problems.
- If you were giving yourself advice, what would you say? What would God say?
Take that next step… maybe it’s one, or maybe it’s a run to the altar. Jesus is waiting.
- Wrestling with God can be worship. God would rather have us fighting with Him than fleeing from Him.