Stop scrolling. Preachers, this one is for you: “…become like a man who does not hear and in whose mouth are no rebukes.” Just wait. Read Psalm 38.
Psalm 38:13-15, 21-22 (ESV)
13 But I am like a deaf man; I do not hear,
like a mute man who does not open his mouth.
14 I have become like a man who does not hear,
and in whose mouth are no rebukes.
15 But for you, O Lord, do I wait;
it is you, O Lord my God, who will answer.
21 Do not forsake me, O Lord!
O my God, be not far from me!
22 Make haste to help me,
O Lord, my salvation!
I get it. You hear all their anxiety: souls screeching their mockery, frustration, anger and grief. Many brides’ dream wedding days are becoming a nightmare. Elderly members long for your presence and comfort, but you are told you’d only bring them harm. Business owners are looking at uncertain supply lines and threats of diminishing returns. The market bounces like a lead balloon across the floor. Government is running scared, mostly of being blamed for doing too little. They aggressively dare to err by doing far too much. No reasonable precaution seems like precautions enough.
Your church board quietly wonders how they’ll pay you next month, if the directives come to cancel services at church. You worry about your family members living far away, well beyond your reach to comfort or help.
The people your Lord sent you to serve are being affected–and afflicted by it all. You’re supposed to help them. Yet your Lord also taught you to honor the governing authorities as His ministers, too. (Rom. 13:4) Medical facilities lock down. Schools shut down. Workers may not be able to work. Bills will come due. This is only the beginning, we’re told. More got sick today. More died today. Here are more restrictive measures. We’re all overtired, exhausted from hearing this ceaseless alarm blaring, but nobody–nobody!–can find the OFF switch anywhere!
Find yours, preacher. Find your OFF switch. Grow deaf to all that and be mute for a while. Stop scrolling. Cancel the noise. Say nothing.
You will feel your own worries welling up: “And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches.” (2 Cor. 11:28) Apostolic ministry can be stressful work. This is the job.
Am I doing enough? I should do much more. Have I canceled enough doing? Shouldn’t I cancel doing even more? Should I stay or should I go now? If I go there may be trouble, if I stay I’ll feel like rubble.
Quit listening. Quit talking. Shut up and think like a shut-in. They know how to handle this stuff better than you. Don’t feel bad, they’ve had more practice. Just do nothing for a hot minute here. Say nothing. Just Wait. Pray Psalm 38.
Wait more, quietly. Quietly, in silence, wait for Him…
Psalm 38 has wonderful stuff that I was too unsettled to read or believe early in my ministry. I once thought it was mean to read Psalms like this to people who are really sick, even terminally ill. It felt like throwing salt in their wounds, the kind of talk about all the things going wrong that just makes the pain worse.
But really, Psalm 38 is their kind of prayer. Not their only one, but one frequent enough and most often unspoken. Shut-in faith finds the resolve to be deaf to the bothersome blather. They know how to be mute from rebuke and just wait for the Lord. They’ve learned, “it is you, O Lord my God, who will answer.”
Sufferers need prayers like these. Denial is only comforting for a little while. Confession is good for the soul. Such prayers confess their pain is real, their frailty real, their groaning real, their guilt and regrets all too real. The shame they feel about their own bodies and its smells–yep, this is real. Suffering stinks. Their grief is real, for they’ve lost a lot of independence and mobility, much more than you’ve lost to CDC advisories. Their fears are real, because the illusion of being in control of all this died years ago. Their suffering, this affliction is real and not to be imagined or pretended away. It is meant to be confessed and prayed to God!
Sometimes the only thing to do with pain and weakness is feel it and tell the Lord that you do. That’s what affliction is for, to be experienced and actually felt. Prayer is for asking God’s help with it all, and waiting in faith for Him who takes His own sweet time answering prayer. Feel all the uncertainty and the pain of not doing enough or doing too much and run yourself clear out of words if you must, until finally you can be quiet, say nothing, and wait for your relief from the Lord.
Shut-ins know what they’re doing, here. They’re taking it to the Lord in prayer and then wait, because it’s all too much to bear! Call it what it is: suffering, your suffering, preacher. Today, God has given that to you. You are shut-in, and shut off.
Your God certainly possesses other gifts, really good ones yet to come, but none better for you right now than the one which causes you to feel just how truly united you’ve become by Baptism into His Son and the death He died for us all. “If we have been united with Him in a death liked His, we shall certainly be united with Him in a resurrection like his!” (Romans 6:5)
Preacher, you will live through this with Him. That’s your baptismal promise, too. There’s our relief, in Jesus and the life He lives to God. “So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.” (6:11) Maybe you don’t know how alive He is through all this just yet, but you’re about to find out. As you do, you’ll start to grasp how good it is to be alive yourself right now, in Him. “For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.” (Colossians 3:3)
We strive to “bear one another’s burdens” as best we can (Galatians 6:2) Yet we cannot carry this weight alone: all this suffering around us, all our people’s outrage, fears and needs. Not on our own, not for long. “Each will have to bear his own load.” (Galatians 6:5) Finally, we must throw all of it in prayer–along with our own helpless dead weight on Christ’s shoulders and let Him carry it to His Cross. Go to Dark Gethsemane, kneel Stricken, Smitten and Afflicted, “See him bear the awful load.”
“My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death.” (Matthew 26:38; Mark 14:34) Thus your Lord prays, feeling fully the burden of this ministry. Hear his command: “remain here and watch with me.”
Be deaf to the Law’s demand you do more or do less. Say nothing to others for a while longer. Just watch and wait here with Me.
“Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.”
Again, for the second time, [Jesus] went away and prayed, “My Father, if this cannot pass unless I drink it, your will be done.” (Matthew 26:41-42)
Preachers, your Lord gets this urge you have to do something different, something better, anything else. He himself prays for another good, more helpful option than this bloody sweating it all out in prayer. (Luke 22:44) Jesus also believes that sometimes, suffering it all in faith is precisely what we are given to do.
His suffering earns our salvation. Your own suffering in Christ helps you better understand what great pains your Lord willingly endured for you, and for all those now crying out “Let this bitter COVID cup pass from me!!!”
Our sick and shut-in members learn such faith in the Holy Spirit’s School of Experience. Only there do His words come to life; there they come alive for your life. These are lessons in prayer we can learn no other way than to stop scrolling, be silent, pray and wait: “Make haste to help me,
O Lord, my salvation!”—HURRY UP!
Do not forsake me, O Lord!
O my God, be not far from me!
“Make haste to help me,
O Lord, my salvation!”
MY salvation. Yours, Preacher.
You may now return to your vapid scrolling.