barren1Christopher Ash discusses five important disciplines to deal with troubling times: lament, thank, rejoice, intercede and obey.

We had just driven home after a wonderfully happy Christmas Day with some of our family. (Our government allowed us to mix on that one day, but we had to drive home that evening ready for the next spell of tight COVID restrictions.) As I was sorting things out at home, tears welled up in my eyes. Why? After all, it had been a lovely day, full of family harmony and joy.

Well, to the naturally dark days (for us in the northern hemisphere) and gray, wet weather (of which we’ve had plenty) was added the sadnesses of COVID restrictions, the misery of social distancing, the disruption of church, and the uncertainties about when we could next see precious family or friends.

There is nothing particularly special about my sadness. But it prompted me to ponder what spiritual disciplines would be beneficial to me, and to others experiencing the darkness.

I hang them on five words.

1. Lament

Lament focuses on three truths: the character of God, the truth about myself, and the sadness that lies at the root of all our sorrows.

There is all the difference in the world between shedding tears and pouring out “tears to God” (Job 16:20). For when I weep in the presence of God, I do so before the face of infinite love, unerring wisdom, unchanging faithfulness, and unfailing kindness; before the Father who sent his Son to save me; before the Son who loved me and gave himself for me; in the power of the Spirit who pours love into my heart. Weeping can feel lonely; weeping to God never is.

When I weep in the presence of God, I do so before the face of infinite love, unerring wisdom, unchanging faithfulness, and unfailing kindness.

But biblical lament (for example, in the Psalms or the songs of Lamentations) also presses me to remember who I am as the mourner. By nature I am a rebel in a world under sin. And yet in Christ I am not merely fallen but justified—a sinner for whom there is no condemnation, a sinner whose sins are borne by the death of the Lord Jesus.

So why, in Christ, must I grieve? Perhaps Romans 8:17 puts it most crisply: “We suffer with Christ in order that we may also be glorified with him.” In this world, we expect to suffer. Whether in sickness, frustration, bereavement, and weakness, or—for so many—in persecution of one kind or another, suffering ought not to surprise us. But it is wonderful to remember that we do not suffer alone. Our sorrows bring us into fellowship with Christ.

2. Thank

Once when I was feeling quite low and rather full of self-pity, a friend wrote me a letter telling me how helpful he’d found the discipline of daily thanksgiving. Rather than rebuking my bad attitude, he listed some of blessings for which he gave thanks and implicitly commended the practice to me. I have never forgotten his kindness or his counsel.

Thanksgiving coexists in the life of faith with lament, as we so often see in the Psalms. It pervades the prayers of the apostle Paul. Not to give thanks is one of the foundational markers of idolatry in Romans 1:21. It seems clear from the Scriptures that thanksgiving is not a discipline simply for when I feel thankful, but a discipline for dark days as well.

For more, read here: Spiritual Disciplines for Dark Days

Reflections to Consider

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Audio & Video

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  • Transforming this World: The Hope of Glory by NT Wright +

    Wright confronts the perspective that this world doesn’t matter, and that we live only to be in heaven. He shows Read More
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  • The Stream, the Lake and the River: NT Wright +

      Acts 2.1-21; John 7.37-39; a sermon at the Eucharist on the Feast of Pentecost, 11 May 2008, by the Read More
  • Jesus in the Perfect Storm by NT Wright +

    Zechariah 9.9-17; Luke 19.28-48; A sermon for Palm Sunday, April 17, 2011, In the University Chapel of St Salvator, St Read More
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Hidden Blessings

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    William Wilberforce's relentless campaign eventually led the British Parliament to ban the slave trade, in 1807, and to pass a Read More
  • Making Beauty out of Ugly Things: Grace by U2 +

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  • The True Nature of Grace and Love: a movie review of the Soloist +

    The 2009 movie The Soloist is based on a book by the same name, written by Los Angeles Times columnist Read More
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