Friday September 17, 2021 Worship as pastoral care
Habakkuk 3: 17 – 19
Though the fig tree does not blossom, and no fruit is on the vines; though the produce of the olive fails and the fields yield no food; though the flock is cut off from the fold and there is no herd in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord; I will exult in the God of my salvation. God, the Lord, is my strength; he makes my feet like the feet of a deer, and makes me tread upon the heights.
Habakkuk lived in an agricultural society in an age when the harvest was a matter of life and death. Harvest festivals weren’t just nice traditional affairs where one sung favourite hymns and had lovely feelings of nostalgia, but a matter of deep concern. If the harvest failed, the people would starve. Given that brutal fact, today’s passage is audacious – no matter what calamity might befall the people the prophet would still praise God. It reminds me of the rabbis in Auschwitz who put God on trial and found Him guilty for not intervening to help His chosen people. After the trial concluded the rabbis lit a candle and said their evening prayers. Despite the utter calamity of the Shoah, still they prayed.
There is a tendency for some people to stay away from church when life is hard. It’s natural, we can’t face people with their chatter and concern. When things are hard we are tempted to retreat into our shells, lick our wounds and hope for better days. Yet the witness of Scripture is that, even in our deepest despair, to offer praise is good for us. As we praise we lift ourselves out of our own despair (even for a few moments) and gain a different perspective.
I have no idea if Habakkuk was ever tested by crops failing and famine ensuing. I have no idea what happened to the faith of those rabbis in Auschwitz. I do know that, in my darkest moments, worship has made a difference – even going somewhere where I can be anonymous. The need to worship, to gain a different perspective, to unite myself with the Lord and His people in worship does me good. It’s a form of pastoral care and often one we forget.
Lord Jesus, even in the wilderness you praised the Lord, even in Gethsemane you sung Psalms. even on the Cross you managed to pray and give comfort to others. Help us, when we are low, despondent or in despair, to praise – even when we don’t feel like it. Help our praise to change our feelings. Let Your perspective change our view. Amen.
The Rev’d Andy Braunston works with four churches in and around Glasgow.