Barry York

Songs in the Night

When Jesus entered the dark night of His soul on Calvary’s cross, He had these same songs on His heart. He quoted from the Psalms, expressing both His despair in the words, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Ps. 22:1), and His hope when He finally said, “Into your hand I commit my spirit” (Ps. 31:5). Friend, if your Lord needed these words at His blackest hour, so do you. When you do not know what to say or pray, when you have groaning too deep for words, when the darkness falls, then turn to the songs in the night the Lord Himself used, and that He still provides for you.

When believers enter “the dark night of the soul,” those times when God’s mysterious will, worked out through difficult providence, makes the Lord appear veiled and unapproachable, what should they do? As we look at Scripture, one conclusion is apparent. They should sing. For the biblical testimony is that God provides “songs in the night”—lyrics to bring to Him in times of great heart distress.

We would not, at first thought, naturally reason that a time of struggle, suffering, or pain is also a time for singing, especially when God seems absent and hidden. It can almost seem cruel to suggest that a hurting, disillusioned soul should sing. Crying, wondering, and groaning seem more fitting. But singing? Is not lifting our voice in song for happy times? Certainly, but singing is also for trying times. Indeed, perhaps especially so.
Christian songwriter Michael Card has noted that in the book of Psalms, sixty-five of the 150 songs found there, or more than 40 percent, contain lamentations. As His people live in this sin-cursed world, God knew that they would need help pouring out their souls to Him in distress. So, He provided them with songs to sing at those times—songs in the night.
Job’s younger friend Elihu testifies to this truth when he acknowledges that God “gives songs in the night” to those in distress (Job 35:10). Likewise, the psalmist, so troubled in soul that he says he moans when he remembers God, stirs himself with the words, “Let me remember my song in the night” (Ps. 77:3, 6). He then goes on to sing five agonizing lines of a song that, stated in questions, describe how spiritual midnight truly feels. “Will the Lord spurn forever, and never again be favorable? Has his steadfast love forever ceased? Are his promises at an end for all time? Has God forgotten to be gracious? Has he in anger shut up his compassion?” (vv. 7–9).
One such song in the night is Psalm 42.

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Praying in the Spirit

John Calvin called the Psalter “the anatomy of all parts of the soul.” Commenting on Calvin’s thoughts, Robert Godfrey said, “In other words, (what Calvin is saying is that) the Psalter shows how Christians are to offer praise and prayer to God amid all the various circumstances of life.” Calvin taught that every fear, every anxious thought, every yearning for the Christian can be a prompting toward obedience in prayer by using the psalms to help us to pray.

This afternoon I  returned from a wonderful weekend in Colorado. I can say with full conviction of heart, “The Lord was with us!” For I experienced God’s people praying in the Spirit.
Invited by Pastor Joseph Friedly of the Tri-Lakes Reformed Church, on Saturday I met with a half dozen men, along with their wives, who are considering pastoral ministry. Hearing their stories, desires, questions, and even anxieties, we spent an incredible time in fellowship, honest discussion, and prayer for several hours on Saturday evening.
Then on the Lord’s Day, in God’s providence I came having planned to preach on the role of the Spirit in the life of the church. In the morning service, I addressed Ezekiel 47 and the imagery of the river flowing from the temple, growing deeper and bringing life the further it spreads.  Then we looked at Ephesians 6:18 in the evening service and concentrated on the phrase “praying at all times in the Spirit.”
However, though I came to encourage this church in prayer, I found the night before and then that day that the Lord had arrived before me!
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Sing with Thankfulness!

Never tire of marveling over how the Lord elected you from all eternity to be His chosen one (Col. 3:12)! Recall continually the incredible holy love that He has for His people, and how He wants that exhibited in the church (Col. 2:12-14)! Marvel again and again over the peace He has brought to you in Christ –  He tells you “to be thankful” for it (Col. 3:15)! Go to worship to fulfill your duty “to teach and admonish” your brothers and sisters with Christ’s Word so they remember His salvation as well!

As believers, we should not only be seasonally thankful but ever thankful. We can demonstrate our thanks to the Lord by obeying His Word, offering prayers of gratitude, and expressing appreciation to one another. But another means we have is that we can sing our thanks. The Apostle Paul told the church at Colossae:
Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God. (Col. 3:16)
On a Saturday afternoon recently, I was invited by the director of the Pittsburgh Gospel Chorale, Dr. Herbert Jones, to be a special guest at their concert at a historic African-American Baptist church in the city. He actually asked me to take center stage in the middle of the concert. Now, I’ve tried to relate this to my children in such a way that is sounds like I was asked to sing. But they know better! Dr. Jones just actually asked me to give a greeting on behalf of Reformed Presbyterian Theologically Seminary.
This wonderful concert expressed joy and wonder for Christ’s salvation from beginning to end that was off the charts. While listening and watching, I was reminded of something my junior high school choir director would often tell us, “Don’t only sing with your voices. Sing with your faces.” That’s what this choir was doing.
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The Preacher as a Workman

Just as a craftsman continues to learn how to make a better product, so the preacher needs to keep growing in his abilities. He should discuss his preaching with mentors and friends. He should regularly read books on homiletics. He should not be ashamed to take a class, attend a seminar, or participate in the Simeon Trust to develop further in his abilities. As a homiletics professor, I regularly tell my students that I am still learning and that I am one of them, a laborer with fellow laborers.

Over the past several months, whether at work, church, a friend’s house, or home, I have witnessed a number of finished projects. Wooden oak floors being restored to their original warm luster. An aged, beat-up stairwell with slippery steps patched, painted, and safe once again with new non-slip treads. Stained glass windows that once adorned a church installed into the RPTS library. A gorgeous, handcrafted circulation desk for the library installed near those windows. Café-style tables with thick walnut tops delivered for students to study and visit over. Double-hung, insulated windows replacing broken, single pane ones. New carpet with soft padding underneath laid down to create a warm den.
In each of these situations, I did not witness much – if any – of the work being done. I just saw the final product. But each time, one thing was clear. The project testified to the hard work and knowledgeable craftsmanship of the laborer. The work done left you with the confidence that if you were to see another project done by these individuals, you would find the same level of competence.
Such should be the case with each sermon the preacher brings to the people of God. The people listening should have confidence that the minister has worked hard to bring them a well-constructed message. For as Paul told Timothy as he labored at the church in Ephesus, “Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth” (2 Tim. 2:15). This admonition suggests at least five ways preachers can improve their craft.
Remember you are to be a laborer. The word for workman (ἐργάτης) that Paul uses is a word for a common field laborer. They were men who knew how to work with their hands and get a job done. These are the type of workers that Jesus told us to pray for in Matthew 9:36-38, where the Lord uses the image of laborers going out into the fields and harvesting the grain as a reminder in part of what a pastor should be.
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Our Weekly Wedding Rehearsal

As the next Lord’s Day approaches, get yourself ready. Through faith, eagerly accept the invitation to the wedding feast of the Lamb. Attend gratefully the rehearsal for it as your church worships. Clothe yourself in the holiness that your Bridegroom has provided. For He is coming for us, and it will not be long!

Have you ever thought of how every Lord’s Day is like a wedding rehearsal?
For the church knows where our faith as the bride of Christ is leading us. We are headed toward the great wedding feast of the Lamb (Rev. 19:9). As such, we are to “make ourselves ready” (Rev. 19:7) and be “prepared as a bride adorned for her husband” (Rev. 21:2).  As we worship as His bride on the Lord’s Day, we should view this as readying ourselves for the wondrous wedding that will take place on that glorious day.
As we come to worship our God, the Spirit of God is using the means of grace to prepare us for that experience. Thus, an actual duty of the pastor is to get his people heaven-ready to spend eternity with the Triune God. In the words of the church father Gregory of Nazianzus, the minister of the gospel is to “to provide the soul with wings” to fly in a sense toward heaven. He said that the pastor should seek to “bestow heavenly bliss upon the one who belongs to the heavenly host.” Each Lord’s Day is preparation for the coming Day of the Lord, the consummation of our relationship with Him.
I attended two weddings this past summer. One was the marriage of my son, Spencer, and the other wedding was that of a good friend and RPTS student, Martin.
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When Gossip is Not

As cultivating interpersonal relationships, dealing with sin and conflict, raising children, avoiding folly, shepherding God’s people, discerning false teaching, etc., are all vital parts of life in the church, Christians must talk with and about others. 

In recent months, I have had several people speak with me about situations going on around them. Each of these parties were godly Christians seeking counsel about difficult matters involving others. Each time, they would pause and say something like “I don’t mean to gossip” or “I hope this isn’t gossip.” Clearly, they were struggling with matters of conscience regarding whether speaking of others constituted gossip.
As cultivating interpersonal relationships, dealing with sin and conflict, raising children, avoiding folly, shepherding God’s people, discerning false teaching, etc., are all vital parts of life in the church, Christians must talk with and about others. I find many sensitive believers struggle to open up because they wrongly believe to do so would be to gossip. Sadly then, the above needs are not met properly.
So when is gossip not? I studied over the answer to question 144 in the Westminster Larger Catechism (WLC) : “What are the duties required in the ninth commandment?” regarding not bearing false witness. Here are five guidelines distilled from that meditative exercise.
It is not gossip when…
The matter is public record.
I have seen people hesitate to convey information that is recorded in civil or ecclesiastical documents as a matter of public information. Here I speak of such matters as public news items in the local paper, a published article available in print or on the internet, divorce records in a civil court, or public disciplinary sanctions taken by the church. I know of situations where someone has been accused of not following the principles of Matthew 18 in speaking to a person privately when the issue at hand is already known over social media or in print. This situation is not gossip.
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