Kristen Gilles is a worship leader and deacon at Louisville’s multi-campus Sojourn Community Church. Her new album, Parker’s Mercy Brigade is a story of faith, lament, comfort, healing and worship following the stillbirth of her son. She and her husband, Bobby live in with their children in New Albany, Indiana.
My dear friend, when grief presses you to the dust, worship there! . . . Remember the exhortation of the Psalmist David, “Pour out your heart before Him; God is a refuge for us” (Ps. 62:8). When you are bowed down beneath a heavy burden of sorrow, worship and adore God there. In full surrender to His divine will, say with Job, “Though He slay me, yet will I trust Him” (Job 13:15). This kind of worship subdues the will, arouses the affections, stirs the whole mind, and presents you to God in solemn consecration. This worship sweetens sorrow and takes away its sting. — Charles Spurgeon, Beside Still Waters
When I first read these words I imagined myself pressed to the ground, mouth full of dust, crippled under the weight of an immovably heavy burden of sorrow. My sorrow was the unexpected death of my infant son, Parker, who was stillborn after living 42 weeks in my womb. Then I imagined myself mustering praises to God from this posture in my current assignment of suffering. I saw myself with my face smashed against the dirt, struggling between breaths as I pursed my lips in praise, declaring the goodness and faithfulness of the Lord who had been our Refuge all of our days.
Why Must We Worship in Suffering?
I give You thanks, O Lord, with all my heart; I will sing Your praises before the gods. I bow before Your holy Temple as I worship. I praise Your name for Your unfailing love and faithfulness; for Your promises are backed by all the honor of Your name [You have exalted above all things Your Name and Your Word]. As soon as I pray, You answer me; You encourage me by giving me strength. Psalm 138:1-3
Worshiping our Maker from the dust of suffering is not easy, but it’s the right thing to do. Our sufferings are great, but our Father’s worth is far greater. His flawless character, His marvelous acts of power and His perfectly proven promises are always worthy of our worship. The Sovereign Lord proved Himself faithful and true long before He allowed any suffering in our lives. We behold this glorious wonder in Jesus Christ who was sent, who came, who lived, who died, who rose again for our salvation, just as God promised!
God has been the shield, strength, healing, help, and exceedingly great reward of His people throughout the ages, just as He promised. Our Father has demonstrated thoroughly in all of history that He is who He says He is and He does what He says He will do.
At all times, we should praise God for what He has promised because His promises are backed by all the honor of His name. We can trust His promises, praise Him for them and be comforted and preserved by them in our suffering. We can count on them being fulfilled—not because we claim them or never doubt them, but because He made them.
Worship from the dust of suffering is the right response because God’s character isn’t compromised or altered, and His promises aren’t negated, when He allows His children to suffer. He remains faithful and full of unfailing love. He remains Sovereign and Good. For the Word of the Lord holds true and we can trust everything He does (Psalm 33:4). The Lord always keeps His promises; He is gracious in all He does (Psalm 145:13).
How Can We Possibly Worship in Suffering?
We may believe that God is always worthy of our worship, but still struggle to praise Him when grief presses us to the ground. We may think that worship in suffering means belittling or denying our pain. But that couldn’t be farther from the truth or what God expects.
When we are suffering and afraid, we can put our trust in the Lord and praise Him for what He’s promised, just like King David did when seized by his Philistine enemies. As he demonstrates in Psalm 56:1, sometimes our suffering song sounds like a cry for help—an acknowledgment that our suffering is too great for us to bear and we need God’s mercy to save us: “O God, have mercy on me, for people are hounding me. My foes attack me all day long.”
Sometimes our worship from the dust sounds like David’s confident resolve in verses 3-4:
“When I am afraid, I will put my trust in You. I praise God for what He has promised. I trust in God, so why should I be afraid?” Other times we worship as we weep and rest in the reality of verse 8: “You [God] keep track of all my sorrows. You have collected all my tears in Your bottle. You have recorded each one in Your book.”
We can worship the Lord in Spirit and Truth, with tears or confident resolve, without diminishing our pain because Jesus, the Man of Sorrows suffered in our place and bore all of our sorrows and pain in his own body when he was crushed for our sins. Jesus is also our faithful High Priest who always intercedes in perfect worship of the Father before His throne on our behalf.
Jesus perfectly praised the Lord in our place as He bore our pain and our suffering. He didn’t deny the pain he endured or the trustworthiness and praiseworthiness of His Father. He taught us that our Father hears our cries and does not ignore or belittle our suffering. He exhorts us to praise God from the dust for all that He’s promised, done and will do. And he did this perfectly in our place so that now, he remains available to help us declare what is true about him at all times, even as we lie face down in the dust, crushed by a heavy burden of sorrow.