Suffering and worship. Not really seen a whole lot in the same sentence. After all, isn’t that what the Christian life is all about?
Matthew 22:37-40 is a popular passage. This is where Jesus sums up the “Law and the Prophets.” And here’s what he says: “’you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the great and foremost commandment. The second is like it, ‘you shall love you neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets.”
So ultimately, the Christian life is not about us being loved, but us being the lovers. It is a denial of ourselves in order to give the love we would have for ourselves to our neighbors.
So here’s where the suffering part comes in. To deny ourselves and give to others is a form of suffering. It is going without. Not seeking ways to get help, but seeking ways to help others. Or as Richard Nixon would say, not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country. Not how Christ can serve you, but how you can serve Christ. A denial of our desires in order to feed the desires of others in love. So this might require some inconvenience on our part. Sweet.
So when we love our neighbor, we are suffering for them, and ultimately for Christ. We are denying ourselves.
So then what do our lives look like when lived like this?
Jesus lays it out some more in Luke 9:22-23…
“The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed and be raised up on the third day….if anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow me.”
So there’s the denying thing again. Christ gives us a pattern here. Deny ourselves, take up our cross, and follow. This is a good thing. Here is our life of suffering, just a Christ did. The Son of Man must “suffer.” He must be rejected, killed and raised. And if we are to follow him, we are to deny ourselves, take up our cross daily, and follow him.
So this is interesting. The cross is about suffering. And so are our lives.
How does this show up in worship? Well I’m not really sure. When we mention the cross in worship songs, it is usually what the cross did for us. It brought us salvation. Which is very true, and should be celebrated. But Christ died ultimately for the glory of God, not for our glory. But through it we receive salvation, which also ultimately glorifies God. I just wonder if there could be a worship song written that focuses on suffering. I think maybe songs like “Blessed Be Your Name” and ”It Is Well” actually touch on it a little. I love those songs. But even in those, when it comes to the part about the cross, it is about what it did for us. It is the most powerful verse in the song. As it should be. I love that part, and I’m not trying to downplay that at all.
I think it would be cool to sing a song about suffering. About denying ourselves. About the cross of suffering, not just the cross of salvation. It would certainly be a challenge to write one. And it would certainly surprise me if it became the most popular worship song on the market.
This could pose some other questions as well. For example, if we are loving our neighbors, how might that look like in a church that doesn’t play our “style” or worship music? Just a thought there. Feel free to think about it for yourselves.
-thanks for reading