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Devotional: Just Be Honest

Devotional: Just Be Honest

Editorial Team

Leading others in worship can be difficult when you’re wrestling with God. How could you possibly help others rejoice when sorrow grips your soul? In addition to your difficulties, you may feel guilty or dishonest for not being able to lead joyfully. It can seem like the only options are to force or forge some semblance of happiness, or avoid worship leading until your heart’s in a “better place.”

Scripture, however, does not require you to ignore your pain or pretend everything’s okay. Nor does it demand that you lead worship only from a place of positive emotions. You can faithfully lead others in worship from a place of sorrowful joy.

Joyful Sorrow

We tend to think of sorrow and joy as opposite emotions. So when we hear Scripture’s instructions to rejoice in suffering, we can assume that it’s at the exclusion of sadness. But the Bible does not put joy and sorrow at odds. While there are occasions in which each emotion may take center stage, they’re not supposed to repel each other. They can both be present at the same time.

The apostle Paul put this on display. At first glance, it may seem that he made little space for sorrow. He faced intense suffering with abundant rejoicing: “In all our affliction, I am overflowing with joy” (2 Corinthians 7:4). And this was not just his own demeanor. He regularly told believers to rejoice, regardless of their situation: “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18). It can seem that Paul’s expectation for Christians was to be, as one old hymn goes, “happy all the day.”

But a closer look shows that Paul did not simply navigate life with a sunny disposition. Rather, his faith and his leadership held room for both darkness and light, much like when the moon blocks the sun in a solar eclipse. When this happens, it’s as if night and day occur simultaneously. You can’t deny that the sun still shines, but you also can’t disregard the darkness. Similarly, Paul did not forget the hope of God’s promises, nor did he ignore the hardships of suffering. He recognized both at the same time.

You see examples of this in his letter to the Romans. Paul remembers the light as he says, “We rejoice in our sufferings” (Romans 5:3). He also grieves the darkness when he says that suffering makes us “groan inwardly” (8:23). Rejoicing and groaning do not contradict each other. They can coexist.

He goes on to speak of his “great sorrow and unceasing anguish” (9:2) as he considers his relatives who don’t know Jesus. Think about that. Paul, who encouraged others to rejoice always, also had unceasing anguish in his heart. Joy and sorrow were not alternating visitors to Paul’s life. They both took up permanent residence in his soul. Faith intermingles joy and sorrow.

Honest Worship

just-be-honestWe see the mingling of joy and sorrow all throughout Scripture, especially in the Psalms, the book that ought to play a foundational role in forming our songs and prayers (Colossians 3:16; Ephesians 5:19). While the Psalms include many choruses of praise and thanks, its largest category is songs of lament—accounting for over a third of the book. In other words, the Psalms are a compilation of sorrowful joy. It resounds with celebration and sadness, confidence and questions, gratitude and grief, trust and tragedy—all honoring the Lord in the gathering of God’s people. Scripture prescribes an expression of worship wide enough to include the depths of despair, the heights of happiness, and every hill and valley in between.

Paul affirms this corporate reality of sorrowful joy when he tells believers in Romans: “Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep” (Romans 12:15). The church is meant to be hospitable to both heartache and happiness. The body as a whole is to make space for joy and sorrow.

As a worship leader, you have the opportunity to cultivate a community that rejoices and weeps together. And it begins with your steps of faith to lead worship from a place of sorrowful joy.

So if you’re struggling, relinquish the guilt you carry for not feeling happier. It’s okay to hurt. Your heartache is not a sign of deficient faith. Nor does it negate your ability to lead. On the contrary, you’re in good company: you belong to a legacy of worship leaders who help others engage the Lord through honest worship. Every lament psalm was written by a struggling worship leader. And they composed their songs of sorrow not only for their own benefit, but also to shepherd God’s people. By sharing their own languishing, the lamenting psalmists allowed others to wrestle worshipfully with the Lord.

So make room in your own leadership for sorrowful joy. And create space in your setlists and prayers for songs of sorrow and prayers of pain.

Prayer and Discussion for your Team:

Read Psalm 13

Notice David’s sorrowful joy: he begins with honest questions as he talks about the sorrow in his heart. He moves on to desperate petitions, pleading with the Lord to help. And he fights for trust in the Lord, anticipating the day that he will move toward praise again.

How Long, O Lord?

To the choirmaster. A Psalm of David.

13 How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever?
    How long will you hide your face from me?
How long must I take counsel in my soul
    and have sorrow in my heart all the day?
How long shall my enemy be exalted over me?

Consider and answer me, O Lord my God;
    light up my eyes, lest I sleep the sleep of death,
lest my enemy say, “I have prevailed over him,”
    lest my foes rejoice because I am shaken.

But I have trusted in your steadfast love;
    my heart shall rejoice in your salvation.
I will sing to the Lord,
    because he has dealt bountifully with me.

Pray Psalm 13

Use David’s lament to frame a time of prayer, personally and together:

    • Lament personally. What are some areas in your life that are hard right now? What questions and petitions do you have for God? Spend time bringing your laments to the Lord.
    • Lament as a team. What are those on your team struggling with? Spend time sharing with each other and lamenting for one another
    • Lament for the church. What suffering is present in the congregation you serve? Spend time praying for the pain of God’s people.

Talk as a team what it would look like to lead worship from a place of sorrowful joy.

Discuss how you might make space in your worship for sorrowful joy this week or in the weeks to come.

This is an excerpt from Just Be Honest* by Clint Watkins published with permission by the author.

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Additional Reading Suggestions

52 Devotions from the Psalms  If Pat Boone

Our Devotional Podcast

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