Worship in the Dark
This morning for the exhortation I’d like to draw your attention to Psalm 88 and point out that it’s not like other psalms. Psalm 88 is a lament — it’s a prayer by a struggling believer who comes to God in raw honesty. Now, the Book of Psalms are full of laments, of course. There are several places where we read the psalmist crying in the day of trouble, but at least in those psalms there is at least one bright note — there’s usually a line or two where he remembers that the LORD is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love. But that doesn’t happen in Psalm 88.
Psalm 88 begins, in verse 1, “I cry out day and night before you;” then verse 3, “For my soul is full of troubles, and my life draws near to Sheol.” And rather than it trend upward, rather than it come to this point where he says, “But everything, really, is going to be okay,” the psalmist seems to spiral downward. Verse 6, “You have put me in the depths of the pit, in the regions dark and deep.” Verse 8, “I am shut in so that I cannot escape; my eye grows dim through sorrow.” And then there are several questions: “Are your wonders known in the darkness?” “Why do you cast my soul away?” “Why do you hide your face from me?”
And then the psalm ends in verse 18, “My companions have become darkness.”
This psalm is hard. It’s intense. And at the very end, where we’re conditioned, perhaps, to see the line about, “But, there is hope” . . . the psalmist instead says his friends are gone. He says that his friend, actually, is darkness. Darkness has become his companion. Then, the psalm is over.
This is where, as a reader, there’s a little awkward silence, and we have to wonder why in the world this psalm is in the Bible. Why did God let this one get through? Did it slip in or what? Why is this psalm of darkness, absent of hope, in the Bible?
I think it is because God wants us to know that sometimes we have to come to him in the dark.
Sometimes the weight of our trials are so severe that we feel as if we can’t keep our heads above the water. Our pain is so vicious, the malaise over our souls so thick, that we can’t imagine our situation ever changing. We can’t see healing. We can’t articulate hope. And when we try, it just hurts more. We’d rather not pray. We’d rather not open the eyes of our mind — not when it’s this dark. But Psalm 88 shows us how.
See, the most obvious point of this psalm, the one we can’t miss is, yes, the psalmist says his soul is full of troubles, yes, his life draws near to the grave, yes, it feels like God has isolated him in regions dark and deep, like he’s drowning, like he can’t escape, like his life is a horror, like he’s cast down, unheard, afflicted, shunned — yes to all of these. But the obvious point here is that he’s telling this all to God. From the pain, in the pain, through the pain, the psalmist is still looking to heaven, and faint as it may be, he is coming to God and saying, “This is where I’m at, God. This is how dark it feels.”
And he does this for us because sometimes this is how we must come to God.
See, so often, we’re tempted to feel that before we can come to God we have to have everything figured out. We can feel like before we pray we need our good face on. We view prayer, or opening the Word, or looking to God to be the thing that happens on the way out of our darkness, but Psalm 88 says, no, actually, it can happen on the way in. You can come to God in your darkness, and God will be with you in your darkness, because he’s not afraid of the dark.
So now, wherever we may be this morning, before we confess our sins individually, let me lead us corporately.
Our confession, Father, is how hard we often perceive you. We often feel like we need put on our best performance to win your attention because we view you as a foreign judge more than we do a gracious Father. For sure, Father, you are a judge — “a righteous judge who feels indignation everyday” as Psalm 7 tells us. But you are a Father to us. In Jesus you have adopted us. You have made us your own. And as Jesus said to us about you, “If we then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to our children, how much more will you, Father, give good things to those who ask you” (Matthew 7:11).
You are full of grace and mercy. You are abounding in steadfast love, and we remember now that you will walk with us in the darkness, no matter how dark it is. You will walk with us because you’ve already been there, in valley of the shadow of death, in the darkest of dark, and there, in the tomb of our Savior, you told him to rise. You made him alive. And so we are, and so will be. And because of that, we confess our sins to you now in silence.
Assurance of Pardon
Church, because Jesus Christ died in your place on the cross, taking the guilt of your sin and freeing you from the power of sin, and because he was raised victorious from the dead and now reigns, and because you have been united to him by faith, you have now confessed your sins, and
By the authority of Jesus Christ, and as a minister of his gospel, I therefore declare to you his entire forgiveness of all your sins, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Congregation:
Thanks be to God!