We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies. Romans 8:22-23
One morning I spent time on my knees crying out to God. I was filled with sorrow and anguish. My soul ached within me and I was heartbroken. I don’t understand what you are doing, Lord. Should I be over this by now? Please tell me. Am I causing my own pain and distress? Is it me, Lord?
I anguished and I groaned in prayer.
I sometimes feel like the people in the bible who tore their robes and beat their chests. I anguish about my wretchedness, I anguish about the state of the church in this country, I anguish about my kids and the next generation, and I anguish over brothers and sisters in Christ who are thoroughly beaten down.
Why do I feel so utterly anguished about certain things? I ponder this question. I don’t know why. I can’t explain it. What society and the current thinking tells me is that there must be something wrong with me.
If I told people about my anguish they would probably look at me like I had three heads. They would probably be horrified and maybe call a priest for an exorcism.
God doesn’t want us to anguish does He?
With these questions came a crisis of faith. Not in the sense that I doubted God. I didn’t. I knew that God was who He said He was. I knew His promises were true and His Word was life and breath to me. No, my crisis wasn’t about God, it was about me.
It centered around these two questions: 1) Why do I experience such deep anguish? and 2) Is something wrong with me?
I haven’t really known what to do with my deep sorrow that I experience from time to time. In a society where pain of any kind is unacceptable, I feel weird and alone. It is more socially acceptable to avoid pain by any means possible than to walk through it.
Some common reactions to a person who experiences anguish might be
- trying to talk them out of it, “it’s not that bad”
- seeking to cheer them up, “come on, look at the bright side”
- telling them how they are being too negative
Some might start avoiding that person completely. Nobody likes a ‘Debby-downer’.
A few weeks ago I saw a friend of mine from college. We went out to dinner and she filled me in about her life in the last 10 years. It was fraught with trials, difficulty, conflict, and trauma. Having known her a long time, I also knew that she had a less than ideal childhood. She never had much of a support system, and I felt bad for having lost touch with her through the years.
After the evening was over, I went home and collapsed on the couch. I was exhausted, almost heavy. It was like she unloaded some of her burden onto me. And, I physically felt it. I felt a little heavier and she probably felt a little lighter.
As the next few days passed, I continued to think about our conversation. I thought about how she was in such a difficult and confusing time. I thought about her experiences that caused her to feel unworthy and unimportant. I thought about how she had been treated so unlovingly by those around her. I thought about the drama in her family that she faced on a regular basis. And, it filled me with sorrow.
At that moment, I realized how similar my friend and I were. We were both messy people who experienced anguish.
What do we do with messy people?
- What do we do with people who have serious baggage?
- How do we handle those who have had a hard life where things haven’t always worked out?
- What do we do with people who aren’t always happy and upbeat?
- What do we do with those who don’t have and may never have a strong family or support system?
- What do we do with people who frequently wrestle with God and experience uncertainty?
- What do we do with people who are in the storms of life?
When we aren’t avoiding them completely, we tend to say flippant things reflecting a spirit of ‘turn that frown upside down’. We suggest things like, the power of positive thinking. In other words . . . . Get over it!
We don’t want to hear the messy, sad stories. We don’t want to hear about complex problems that don’t have easy solutions.
We tend to embrace joy and reject sorrow. Therefore, we must ask ourselves, “Are we rejecting people, God’s beloved children, because they don’t always fall into the joy category?”
But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. Luke 10:33-34
Scripture says that the good Samaritan:
- took pity him
- went to him
- bandaged his wounds
- poured on him oil and wine
- took him to where he could get more help
This beaten, bloodied man would not necessarily have been pleasant, upbeat or positive. What if the good Samaritan had responded like this to the man on the road instead?
- You’re not really hurt
- Think positively
- Turn that frown upside down
- Shake it off
What if the good Samaritan would have said something cliché and walked away? Obviously, he wouldn’t be considered ‘the good Samaritan’, and the man on the road would never have gotten the help and attention that he needed.
Some people are just luckier in this life than other people. Some are valued, talented, loved by many, lucky in love, supported and generally have many successes. And, there are some that aren’t or don’t. The majority of us live somewhere in between.
Who is willing to fight for my friend? Who is willing to get in the mess with her and share in her anguish? Who is willing to be burdened with a complicated situation when they don’t have to be?
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve in Zion—to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. Isaiah 61:1-3
Who will anguish for a tortured soul? Am I willing? Are you? Will we leave these messy people outside the gates while we are within?
So let’s go outside, where Jesus is, where the action is—not trying to be privileged insiders, but taking our share in the abuse of Jesus. This “insider world” is not our home. We have our eyes peeled for the City about to come. Let’s take our place outside with Jesus. Hebrews 13:13-15 (The Message)
I decided to do some research on anguish in the scriptures. I wanted to know who experienced anguish in the bible and what God had to say about it. As I did, I realized that those who have anguished are in good company.
My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, so far from my cries of anguish? My God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer, by night, but I find no rest. Psalm 22:1-2
My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart you, God, will not despise Psalm 51:10
So David and his men wept aloud until they had no strength left to weep. 1 Samuel 30:4
When I heard these things, I sat down and wept. For some days I mourned and fasted and prayed before the God of heaven. Nehemiah 1:4
He came to a lone broom bush and collapsed in its shade, wanting in the worst way to be done with it all—to just die: “Enough of this, God! Take my life—I’m ready to join my ancestors in the grave!” 1 Kings 19:4-5
So Hannah ate. Then she pulled herself together, slipped away quietly, and entered the sanctuary. . . . . . Crushed in soul, Hannah prayed to God and cried and cried—
inconsolably. 1 Samuel 1:9-11
I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. 3 For I could wish that I myself were cursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my people, those of my own race. Romans 9:2-3
Even Jesus anguished.
He withdrew about a stone’s throw beyond them, knelt down and prayed, 42 “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.” 43
An angel from heaven appeared to him and strengthened him. 44 And being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground. Luke 22:41-44
Then he (Jesus) said to them, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Matthew 26:38
Jesus wept. John 11:35
Could experiencing anguish be a part of becoming more like Christ?
I also found a blog post that stunned me called, A Call To Anguish by David Wilkerson. It was written by Natalie Nichols on the Shades of Grace Ministries website, http://www.shadesofgrace.org/2009/10/29/call-to-anguish/.
There, I found this 7 minute clip
This clip was based on a powerful sermon by an evangelist who passed away in 2011. He is the author of The Cross and the Switchblade. This clip moved me like nothing else has in a long time.
I have listened to this clip several times and I still weep. And I ask myself, why? Why does it move me so much? Then God speaks to my heart.
The picture of someone so anguished, and burdened for the heart of God that they walk in heaviness like David Wilkerson in this clip is so beautiful. Preachers that speak with such anguish and emotion don’t really exist anymore.
There is nothing as beautiful to me as someone like my friend in complete anguish because their heart is aligned with the heart of God. It is an awesome thing when a person is willing to suffer for their God.
I started to think that maybe being in anguish was not weird or wrong. Maybe I was being more obedient to God than if I didn’t anguish. Maybe anguish should be a part of the life of a disciple of Christ.
So, maybe . . . .
When we allow God to break our heart for what breaks His, we are the very picture of Christ
Let’s consider getting into the mess with people, because Christ did.
Below, I have written out this clip from David’s Wilkerson’s sermon. Please excuse the grammar as this was originally a sermon not a text.
“I look at the whole religious scene today and all I see are inventions and ministries of man and flesh. It’s mostly powerless. It has no impact on the world. And I see more of the world coming into the church and impacting the church rather than the church impacting the world.
I see the music taking over the house of God. I see entertainment taking over the house of God. Obsess with entertainment in God’s House, a hatred of correction and a hatred of reproof. Nobody wants to hear it anymore.
Whatever happened to anguish in the house of God? Whatever happened to anguish in the ministry? It’s a word you don’t hear in this pampered age. You don’t hear it. Anguish means extreme pain and distress; the emotions so stirred that it becomes painful. Acute deeply felt inner pain because of conditions about you, in you, or around you. Anguish. Deep pain. Deep sorrow. Agony of God’s heart.
We’ve held on to our religious rhetoric and our revival talk but we’ve become so passive. All true passion is born out of anguish. All true passion for Christ comes out of a baptism of anguish. You search the scripture and you’ll find that when God determined to recover a ruined situation He would share His own anguish, for what God saw happening to His church and to His people. And He would find a praying man and He would take that man and literally baptize him in anguish.
You find it in the book of Nehemiah. Jerusalem is in ruins. How is God going to deal with this? How is God going to restore the ruin? Folks, look at me . . . . Nehemiah was not a preacher, he was a career man. This was a praying man. God found a man who would not just have a flash of emotion, not just some great sudden burst of concern and then let it die. He said ”No. I broke down and I wept and I mourned and I fasted. Then I began to pray night and day.
Why didn’t these other men, why didn’t they have an answer? Why didn’t God use them in restoration? Why didn’t they have a word? Because there was no sign of anguish, no weeping, not a word of prayer! It’s all ruin!
Does it matter to you today? Does it matter to you at all that God’s spiritual Jerusalem, the church, is now married to the world? That there is such a coldness sweeping the land? Closer than that, does it matter about the Jerusalem that is in our own hearts? The sign of ruin that is slowly draining spiritual power and passion. Blind to lukewarmness, blind to the mixture that is creeping in.
That’s all the devil wants to do is get the fight out of you. And kill it. So you won’t labor in prayer anymore. You won’t weep before God anymore. You can sit and watch television and your family go to hell.
Let me ask you . . . . Is what I just said convicted you at all?
There’s a great difference between anguish and concern. Concern is something that begins to interest you, you take an interest in a project or a cause or a concern or a need. I want to tell you something I’ve learned over all my years, of 50 years of preaching. If it is not born of anguish, if it had not been born by the Holy Spirit, where what you saw and heard of the ruin that drove you to your knees, took you down into a baptism of anguish where you began to pray and seek God.
I know now . . . . . oh my God do I know it. Until I am in agony, until I have been anguished over it. And all our projects, all our ministries, everything we do . . . where are the Sunday school teachers that weep over kids they know are not hearing and going to hell?
You see, a true prayer life begins at the place of anguish. You see, if you set your heart to pray, God’s going to come and start sharing His heart with you. Your heart begins to cry out – oh God Your name is being blasphemed! Holy Spirit is being mocked! The enemy is out trying to destroy the testimony of the Lord’s Faithfulness. And something has to be done.
There is going to be no renewal, no revival, no awakening, until we are willing to let Him once again break us. Folks, it is getting late, and it’s getting serious. Please don’t tell me, don’t tell me you’re concerned . . . when you’re spending hours in front of internet or television. Come on.
Lord, there’s some need to get to this altar and confess ‘I am not what I was, I am not where I am suppose to be. God, I don’t have your heart or your burden. I’ve wanted it easy. I just wanted to be happy. But Lord, true joy comes, true joy comes out of anguish.
There is nothing of the flesh will give you joy. I don’t care how much money, I don’t care what kind of new house, there is absolutely nothing physical that can give you joy. It’s only what is accomplished by the Holy Spirit when you obey Him and take on His heart.
Build the walls around your family. Build the walls around your own heart. Make you strong and impregnable against the enemy. God that’s what we desire.”
A Call To Anguish clip by David Wilkerson, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lGMG_PVaJoI
A Call To Anguish, the complete sermon, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ayYizi9TZAQ