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A God who changes mourning into joy

Posted Dec 3, 2017

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Daily Scripture

Psalm 30:1-5, 11-12

1 I exalt you, Lord, because you pulled me up;
    you didn’t let my enemies celebrate over me.
2 Lord, my God, I cried out to you for help,
    and you healed me.
3 Lord, you brought me up from the grave,
    brought me back to life from among those going down to the pit.
4 You who are faithful to the Lord,
    sing praises to him;
    give thanks to his holy name!
5 His anger lasts for only a second,
    but his favor lasts a lifetime.
   Weeping may stay all night,
      but by morning, joy! 

...

11 You changed my mourning into dancing.
    You took off my funeral clothes
        and dressed me up in joy
12    so that my whole being
    might sing praises to you and never stop.
    Lord, my God, I will give thanks to you forever.

Reflection Questions

Psalm 30 reflected a time of severe trouble, one that threatened life itself (verse 3). “The psalmist may have been healed from a life-threatening illness, but the language could be metaphorical.”* Whatever the specific circumstances, the psalmist’s focus was on how God had driven away the threat and restored joy to life. Most individuals, as well as Israel as a nation, could remember times when mourning had turned to joy.

  • Scholar Donald Williams wrote, "In [the psalmist’s] illness there has been weeping, the sense of God's absence, and mourning. Now…the healing of God has turned sorrow into joy."** Is it possible for difficult times to make God feel absent even for people of faith? (Don’t forget Jesus quoting Psalm 22:1 on the cross.) We sometimes use the phrase “God showed up” to describe times of recovery and restoration. Whether we mean that literally or metaphorically, how does that contribute to joy at those times?
  • This psalm fits into larger contexts as well. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said in a sermon titled “A Knock at Midnight,” “I read these words: ‘The United States Supreme Court today unanimously ruled bus segregation unconstitutional in Montgomery, Alabama’…. ‘The dawn will come…. Weeping may endure for a night,’ says the Psalmist, ‘but joy cometh in the morning.’ This faith adjourns the assemblies of hopelessness and brings new light into the dark chambers of pessimism.”*** Can you think of times when “dawn” has come in the world’s history? What are one or two areas of life in which you look forward to God bringing a joyous morning to our world in the future?

Prayer

Lord, when I face hard times where "weeping may stay all night," I thank you that the worst thing is never the last thing, that in the end you always have and always will turn sorrow into joy. Amen.

 

* J. Clinton McCann, study note on Psalm 30:2 in The CEB Study Bible. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2013, p. 870 OT.

** Donald Williams, The Preacher’s Commentary Series, Volume 13: Psalms 1–72. Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1986, p. 239.

*** A Testament of Hope: The Essential Writings and Speeches of Martin Luther King, Jr., edited by James M. Washington. San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1986, p. 504.

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Chris Abel

Chris Abel

Chris Abel is the Young Adults Pastor at Resurrection, and he describes himself as a "Pastor/Creative-type/Adventurer." A former atheist turned passionate follower of Christ, he completed his seminary education in Washington, DC. Before coming to Resurrection, Chris was a campus pastor near St. Louis, MO.

You changed my mourning into dancing.
You took off my funeral clothes
and dressed me up in joy
so that my whole being
might sing praises to you and never stop.
Lord, my God, I will give thanks to you forever.
Psalm 30:11-12

I flew to Chicago recently with a friend who was being checked into a rehabilitation center. I met the family early in the morning at the Kansas City airport and watched the parents cry as they gave their grown child a hug goodbye. There was a lot of pain there—but only because there was a lot of love there, too. 

On the plane, my friend and I talked about mental health—about the way our brains sometimes work against us. We talked about fear and defense mechanisms. And as we reached 10,000 feet, they turned to me and said, “my biggest problem is isolation.” 

Curious, I asked them to explain. 

“It’s a defense mechanism. When you open yourself up to people, you can be hurt. So when my brain pulls me into a shell and away from people, it’s a ‘flight or fight’ thing. And I’m fleeing.” They continued, “If I don’t get close to people, they can’t hurt me.” We talked on and off for the net hour, but this stayed with me. See, we all have logic like this: 

  • If you don’t have a life goal, you can’t fail at it.
  • If you don’t even try that healthy habit, you can’t fall out of it.
  • If you don’t try learning new things, you can’t feel dumb when you’re not initially good at it. 
  • If you don’t talk to that family member, then you don’t have to fight with them. 

And one more:

If you don’t let yourself feel joy, you won’t have to feel pain, either.  

Pain is almost always a response to something good. If you love someone and they hurt you, it’s more painful than if you never loved. If you fail at a dream you’ve been pursuing, it stings far greater than if you never attempted it. If you’ve been hurt by someone, it’s easer to cut them out than deal with the messiness of grace. 

We isolate to protect ourselves from pain. And all it costs is our joy. 

This is the most daring thing about today’s psalm. The poet dares to feel joy:

In the face of enemies.
In the face of sickness. 
In the face of death.
In the face of sin. 

Joy. 

Joy is so hard because there is always something that can hurt us. There is always something that could dampen that feeling. But thousands of years before “coping mechanism” was ever a phrase, wise men and women taught about joy in the face of pain and loss. 

Why?

Because there is always pain. You simply cannot avoid it. Wisdom is not avoiding pain… but finding joy in the midst of it. Poet Jack Gilbert puts it this way:

“We must risk delight. We can do without pleasure,
but not delight. Not enjoyment. We must have
the stubbornness to accept our gladness in the ruthless
furnace of this world. 
To make injustice the only
measure of our attention is to praise the Devil.”

(The rest of the poem is jarringly beautiful. Read it here.)

When we give up joy, the pain wins. When we give up joy, we prove that loss is more powerful than love. When we give up joy, we forfeit the still-beautiful things shining from the shadows of life. 

Your pain isn’t the whole story. And it’s not all-consuming. 

It may sting, (or take your breath away it hurts so badly) but you are alive and God is still shining His face on you. 

We must risk delight. It might be easier to choose the numbness, but you were made to feel it all—joy, pain, love, loss. It’s all part of the beauty of life. 

You could choose to avoid it all. 

But don’t. You’ll thank yourself later. 

(And read that poem). 

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