We will complete our series Biblical Solutions to Pandemic Problems with this last sermon on Overcoming Sadness.
Sadness comes when we lose or about to lose someone or something. It could be because of rejection, goodbyes, sickness, death, loss of job, an opportunity or even a game. It is a common emotion but not necessarily a bad one. When we deal with our sadness, it helps us overcome our pain and loss. Though on the inside someone can be dealing with sadness, but on the surface sadness can express itself as anger, fear, anxiety, guilt, withdrawing from people, low self esteem and even habits and addictions.
Today we will specifically deal with sadness due to disappointments in life. Disappointments can be because of crushed childhood dreams, career setbacks, relational problems, unmet expectations, unfulfilled hopes and dreams. We all wish we had a different story or outcome or life. In the passage from Luke 1, we see a couple Zechariah and Elizabeth who face intense sadness from a disappointments in life.
Luke 1:5 In the days of Herod, king of Judea, there was a priest named Zechariah, of the division of Abijah. And he had a wife from the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth. 6 And they were both righteous before God, walking blamelessly in all the commandments and statutes of the Lord. 7 But they had no child, because Elizabeth was barren, and both were advanced in years.
Both Zechariah and Elizabeth are from pious origins, from a family of priests. They are righteous and blameless before God and people. They worship and serve God, obey the law and are generous. From a religious paradigm, their life should be a blessed one, successful, happy, without any pain, suffering or setbacks.
But Luke mentions that they had no children because Elizabeth was barren. This breaks all religious paradigms. Barrenness is not just about infertility during that time but is associated with shame, reproach and disgrace. When someone has a religious paradigm, we wonder what is the point of following God if he cannot answer our prayers? Shouldn’t God make me happy? What is the purpose of worshiping and serving God if he cannot bless us and give us what we desire? Following Jesus does not exempt us from sadness and disappointments.
This couple had disappointments in their personal and public life. In their personal life, they would have had to deal with years of gossip, slander, insensitivity, suspicion and blame because of their barrenness. In their public life, Zechariah was a priest but seems like a failure in his public life.
8 Now while he was serving as priest before God when his division was on duty, 9 according to the custom of the priesthood, he was chosen by lot to enter the temple of the Lord and burn incense.
Imagine Zechariah is 70 years old at this point. During those days priests had other work during the year as farmers or carpenters. They are called twice a year to serve in the temple. During that time, a lot is cast to choose one person who can enter the holy place to offer incense for the whole nation. This is a once in a life time opportunity. Zechariah has been in the priestly service for 50 years roughly and has never been selected to enter the holy place.
Can you imagine a failure like that? He has been overlooked all this life. I am sure he felt like a failure. It seems like God is silent in their life. I am sure they wondered, why is God not answering our prayers? Why is God not doing anything? What is wrong with us?
Barrenness does not mean God is absent or silent but present and working all the time.
In v.9, Zechariah has been chosen by lot to enter the holy place. This is not some luck or chance but the work of a sovereign and provident God.
10 And the whole multitude of the people were praying outside at the hour of incense. 11 And there appeared to him an angel of the Lord standing on the right side of the altar of incense. 12 And Zechariah was troubled when he saw him, and fear fell upon him 13 But the angel said to him, “Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard, and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall call his name John.
At 70 years of age when both Zechariah and Elizabeth have advanced the child bearing age significantly, when there is no hope, God shows up. He tells them that their prayer has been heard and their cries answered. You will bear a son.
God is always working behind the scenes. He is the one who allowed Elizabeth to be barren, allowed Zechariah to be chosen by lot, sent an angel with a message in the holy place, shut his mouth as sign, opened Elizabeth’s womb, opened Zechariah’s mouth and keeps his promise. God is working behind the scenes to turn our barrenness to blessedness. He is not absent or silent. He is present, working for you, in you and through you.
24 After these days his wife Elizabeth conceived, and for five months she kept herself hidden, saying, 25 “Thus the Lord has done for me in the days when he looked on me, to take away my reproach among people.”
The baby changes everything. The brith of the baby turned their reproach, shame and sadness into joy.
What about you? Do you wish you had a better story in life? Take heart, there is another baby born who will remove reproach, sin, sadness and shame of this whole world. He will complete all our stories. In Christ your story will end with the resurrection, eternal life, infinite glory, with no more sadness, pain or sorrow. This is because of what Jesus has done on the cross for you.
How did he do it? Look at his life. He was a man of sadness, a man of sorrow. He faced disappointments in life. He experienced trauma as baby when he was smuggled as a child into Egypt and grew as a refugee in fear of death, he lost his father when he was young, his own family thought he was crazy, he was falsely accused by the religious leaders, he faced injustice in the hands of Pilot, he experienced torture and physical pain, he was betrayed by his disciples and died a shameful death on the cross. More than all this, he faced the greatest silence on cross when he cried Abba Father and had no response from heaven. Why? Why did he who had no sin became sin for you and me? Why was his perfect story ruined and scared? It is so that your story does not end in disappointment, sadness and shame.
The Bible says in 1 Corinthians 2:9 no eye has seen, no ear has heard and no human mind has conceived the things God has prepared for those who love him
Are you feeling the weight of sadness? Is your heart heavy with disappointments, fear, anxiety and frustrations? Do you feel like God is distant? No he is not. The Bible says in Psalm 34:18 The LORD is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.
Knowing that God is with you in your sadness and that he has not abandoned you and that he has a glorious eternity planned for you, he invites us to deal with our sadness and disappointment. We do this through lament.
1. Lament is prayer of sadness and pain
Lament is not just crying or venting or grieving but more than that. It is talking to God about our sadness, pouring your heart, your fears and frustrations before God. The world will cry by themselves but Christians are called to lament and cry before God. Why? Because we have a loving Father whose heart breaks for us.
Lament is form of groaning and it is biblical. It recognises the brokenness, sin and evil in this world and grieves about its results. God gives us permission to lament. One-third of the Psalms are lament psalms. They give language for our lament. Lament is an invitation to process our pain before our loving Father.
Religion will say, dont be sad, be happy, claim promises, don’t complain before God. The problem is we will complain anyway. When we suppress our sadness, we grow in resentment and anger, we tend to move away from God and people and end up blaming others.
But what about when Paul says rejoice always. Yes! But how do you move from sadness to joy? It is through lament, not by suppressing your sadness.
If you don’t lament, you are giving God the silent treatment and it turns your heart cold.
2. Lament moves us from complaint to trust.
When we lay our mess before God, bring our emotions, struggles, unbelief, doubts, fears before God, we move toward God inspite of that. And as we pour our heart before God, we dont stay sad and filled with self pity, but we gaze into his love, his goodness, the cross and what Christ has done. This moves us to trust God. This is what we see in the Psalms.
So lament is a biblical pathway to praise and worship. It is a pathway surrender and heal. It leads you to hope and trust.
We have to learn to lament. Some of you need to lament about your childhood, or about a loss of a loved one, or growing up unloved or not cared for or for disappointments and unmet expectations. We don’t lament alone. This is why God has given us a loving community who share our burdens and sadness. When one person grieves, we grieve together. Would you take time to lament? Use the Psalms as a language for lament. Write down your lament or complaint before God in a journal. God invites us to heal from our sadness by drawing near to him.