Songs for sighing

Church bulletin:

“Hail to the Lord’s Anointed” is a hymn based on Psalm 72. The fourth stanza reads as follows –

He comes with succor speedy, to those who suffer wrong; To help the poor and needy, and bid the weak be strong; To give them songs for sighing, their darkness turn to light; Whose souls, condemned and dying, were precious in His sight.  

We probably think of spiritual songs in terms of joyful expression. Make a joyful noise to the Lord says the psalmist. Enter into His gates with thanksgiving, and into His courts with praise is the exhortation of Psalm 100. Without question, singing is designed to convey the joy of knowing God. But joy is not the only emotion which can or should find its way into Christian song.

In this hymn, James Montgomery says that Christ gives to His church songs for sighing – songs concerned with suffering. Worship is to include within its scope all the seasons of life and the accompanying emotions we pass through. There are times when God’s providence bites, and bites hard. We feel rung out and at the end of ourselves. We see more darkness than light. When this is our experience, God is not interested in platitudes; He wants us to worship Him with honesty. He wants us to call upon Him from the deepest recesses of the heart. Worship is not about putting on a brave face, it is about exercising trust and finding hope when life is hard.

Frequently do we find words of anguish in the Psalms. Montgomery is correct – the Lord has given to us songs through which we might sigh in His presence. This reminds us at least on one level why we have the psalter in our Bibles. These poetic odes give context to our lives. They bring to light the suffering of God’s people and the rightness to include that suffering in our worship. Feelings of worry, fear, insecurity, frustration, longing, grief, disappointment, etc. are not feelings we should hide, but lay bare before Him in prayer and in song. Psychologists indicate that people in anxiety-proving situations may sigh in order to gain temporary relief from distress. As Christians, we not only sigh literally in the normal sense, but figuratively as we express ourselves to God. It is one means through which we roll our cares onto Him.

We should read through the psalms regularly and use them as a platform for our own personal expression when life is difficult. We should sing hymns corporately (including the psalms) that not only convey joyful sentiments, but also anguish. There is no virtue in being people of the stiff upper lip, there is no virtue in presenting the “happy clappy” persona, God bottles the tears of those who draw close to Him.

Psalm 38:9-10, Lord, all my desire is before You; and my sighing is not hidden from You. (10) My heart pants, my strength fails me; as for the light of my eyes, it also has gone from me.”

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