Why Isn't Life More Fair? - Psalm 73

A service plan focused on the question of why life isn't more fair and the truth that we should have the freedom to be honest with God about our struggles and disappointments. This is part of a series addressing life's toughest questions for Christians.

Worship Service

Theme of the Service

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It would be wise to review the fact that this service is the second in a series that deals with "Life's Toughest Questions". Last week the question was "What's the Point of Life?" Today the question is "Why Isn't Life More Fair?" It is important to see this service in the context of the entire series of services.

Candor, honesty and searching for help from God form the themes of this service. Many worshipers have come with bruises and disappointments and they should not have to hide their struggles when they come to church. There should be freedom here to hold to our faith in God and his promises, yet to admit that there are so many other questions in life that are not satisfactorily answered. Freedom to admit our struggles and to search together for strength from the Lord, and do so from the stance of faith, form the theme of this service.


WE GATHER TO MEET GOD

Prelude: "Psalm 46: God, Our Help and Constant Refuge", Burkhardt

The Call to Worship

Even in the storms of life,
God is our refuge and strength.
Even when contrary winds blow against us,
God is our rock and shelter.
Even when tears are with us day and night,
God holds us firmly.
In all the days and experiences of our lives,
We look to the Lord for our strength.

Anthem: "In God Is My Salvation", Pfohl

*God's Greeting, with congregational Amen!

*Song: "Psalm 46: God, Our Help and Constant Refuge" SNC183

The Children's Moment


WE ARE RENEWED IN GOD'S PARDON

The Call to Confession

Our Prayer of Confession - Psalm 51:1-12

The Assurance of God's Pardon - Psalm 32:5

Response of Gratitude: "Psalm 34: Taste and See" PH187, SNC255

The Offertory Prayer

Offertory: "Amazing Grace", Hobby [organ] or Albrecht [piano] or Dobrinski [handbells]


GOD SPEAKS FROM HIS WORD

Sermon: Why Isn't Life More Fair? (Part I)
(Life's Toughest Questions - #2)

A Reading of Psalm 73

The Prayer of Intercession

Song: "Amazing Grace - How Sweet the Sound" vv. 3,4: PsH462, RN189, SFL209; vv. 4,3: PH280, RL456, TH460, TWC502

Sermon: Why Isn't Life More Fair? (Part II)


WE AFFIRM OUR TRUST IN GOD

*Song: "How Firm a Foundation" PH361, PsH500, RL172, TH94, TWC612

A Reading of Romans 8:28-39

Anthem: "What Then", Ferguson
or: "Neither Death nor Life", Haugen

*Our Affirmation of Faith:

Pastor: But now, this is what the Lord says -
he who created you, O Jacob,
he who formed you, O Israel:

Fear not,
for I have redeemed you;
I have called you by name;
you are mine.
When you pass through the waters,
I will be with you;
And when you pass through the rivers,
they will not sweep over you.
When you walk through the fire,
you will not be burned;
The flames will not set you ablaze.

All: For I am the Lord, your God,
the Holy One of Israel,
your Savior.
(Isaiah 43:1-3)

*The Benediction

*Song of Faith: "A Mighty Fortress Is Our God" PH259/260, PsH469, RL179, TH92, TWC43

Postlude: "A Mighty Fortress Is Our God", Walcha

* you are invited to stand

Sermon Notes:

This sermon treats a delicate and painful subject and should be sensitive and pastoral. The preacher should be well aware of the high level of pain and disillusionment that some worshipers carry with them because of the setbacks and disappointments they have experienced. The message should make it clear that these hurts are taken seriously, that we have the right to be honest before God about them, and that there are no easy or quick-fix answers.

In this service the sermon is divided into two parts, with a prayer of intercession and a sung prayer between the two. Such a pattern will give worshipers a better opportunity to distinguish between the two intentions in this sermon. In the first part of the sermon we "own" the problem and the intensity of the struggle it precipitates. Then an interlude of calling on God in prayer and song can settle the heart and pave the way for the second part of the sermon. In the second part the message explains how to live out Asaph's desire in Psalm 73 v.28 to be "near to God".

I began the sermon with an explanation of what everybody readily knows - that there is often a large gap between theory and fact. We may have certain theories about the way things ought to be, but in actuality things are quite different. A list of quickly cited illustrations with which all can identify will make this plain. In doing so, we identify with the questions and struggles of Asaph in vv.2-14. (At this point in the sermon, I read those verses since the sermon had not been preceded with the Scripture reading.) In this Psalm Asaph illustrates the things he "understood" (v.17) - that life does not always seem fair, that this is a fallen world, that we may cry out to God, and that the wicked do finally receive their due.

In the second part of the sermon, I spelled out from the remainder of Scripture how we can draw near to God. Note v.28. I found there are four faith-responses that will aid:

  • Since Jesus Christ has died for us, God is FOR us and never AGAINST us. Romans 8:31-39.
  • We are called to bow submissively and humbly before God. Job 40:4,5 and Psalm 37:5-7.
  • We develop strength of heart ("steel" in our heart). Hebrews 12:2,3 and James 1:2.
  • We expect God to bring ultimate and eternal good. Psalm 73:17,24,25 and Romans 8:28.

It might be wise and helpful to conclude this sermon with some warm, personal and encouraging words of comfort directed to those who came with some especially high levels of pain and disappointment with God.

Music Notes:

Glossary of Hymnal Abbreviations:

PH The Presbyterian Hymnal (Presbyterian Church USA; Westminster/John Knox Press)
PsH The Psalter Hymnal (Christian Reformed Church; Faith Alive Christian Resources)
RL Rejoice in the Lord (Reformed Church in America; W.B. Eerdmans Publishing Company)
RN Renew! (Hope Publishing Company)
SFL Songs for LiFE (children's songbook; Faith Alive Christian Resources)
SNC Sing! A New Creation (Calvin Institute of Christian Worship, Christian Reformed Church, Reformed Church in America; Faith Alive Christian Resources)
TH Trinity Hymnal (Orthodox Presbyterian Church, Presbyterian Church in America; Great Commission Publications)
TWC The Worshiping Church (Hope Publishing Company)
WOV With One Voice (Augsburg Fortress)

Music Level Key: E = Easy, M = Medium, D = Difficult

  1. The prelude music for organ by Michael Burkhardt is titled "All My Hope on God Is Founded" (tuneMichael). It is published by Morningstar MSM-10-734 [2001] (E-M).
  1. The anthem men's choir is voiced TTBB and is published by Flammer C-5022 [1961] (E-M).
  1. If your congregation is not yet acquainted with the tune of the opening hymn, introduce them to this fine setting of Psalm 46 with the assistance of a soloist or chorus singing the initial stanza or stanzas.
  1. The offertory music on "Amazing Grace" can be found as follows:
    -Organ: "For All the Saints", Robert A. Hobby Augsburg ISBN 0-8006-7537-1 [2002] (E-M)
    -Bell Choir: "Amazing Grace", Cynthia Dobrinski Lake State Publications HB00067 [2000] (2-3 octaves, E)
    -Piano: "Timeless Hymns of Faith", Mark Albrecht Augsburg 11-10863 [1998] (E-M).


  2. A concertato on "How Firm a Foundation" by John Rutter published by Hinshaw HMC-667 [1983] provides alternative harmonizations for hymn stanzas.
  1. The SATB accompanied anthem "What Then" by John Ferguson is published by Kjos 8827 [1996] (M) and is composed in a classic anthem structure. "Neither Death nor Life" by Marty Haugen is published by GIA G-5650 [2001] (E-M) and is composed in a responsorial style. This anthem for SATB voices includes a refrain that can be reprinted for congregational use. Both of these anthems are based on Romans 8: 31-39.


  2. An alternative accompaniment for "A Mighty Fortress Is Our God" can be found in Dale Wood's "New Settings of Twenty Well-known Hymn Tunes" published by Augsburg 11-9292 [1968].


  3. The postlude can be found in H. Walcha's "Chorale Preludes Bk. 1" published by Peters 4850 [1954] (M).

Liturgy Notes:

1. Since this worship service deals with a sensitive and delicate struggle of many Christians, you may want to preface the call to worship with a few brief comments to that effect, identifying the theme, and indicating your fervent desire that this service will bring comfort and hope to those who are hurting.

2. The Prayer of Confession is from David's words in Psalm 51. Since the Spirit has given us David's penitential prayer, it is helpful for us to take it on our lips. We encourage the use of this prayer as a corporate or unison prayer, perhaps prefaced with a suggestion that each worshiper make these words their own.

3. This sermon is structured in two parts with an intercessory prayer and song between the two parts. (See the Sermon Notes)

4. We included the reading of Psalm 73 in its entirety after the first part of the sermon. It's more understandable after considering the theme for a while. You may want to use a modern or contemporary translation. During the first part of the sermon, I read a portion of the Psalm from the NIV, but at this point between the two halves of the sermon I read it from Psalms Now, or you may want to consider The Message.

5. In this service, the Prayer of Intercession is to be a specifically focused prayer on the needs of those who are carrying heavy loads, facing crises, struggling with doubts, and living with tests of their faith. The one who leads this prayer should be intimately aware of the lives of the members of the congregation and should feel free to be honest before God about the needs that exist, yet protecting the privacy of individuals as needed. A spirit of loving compassion ought to saturate the prayer.

6. In the two Scripture readings at the end of the service (Romans 8 and Isaiah 43) we encourage that the worshipers take these words on their lips as their expression of faith. This can be done in a variety of ways. Romans 8:28-39 can be read in unison by all, or it can be read responsively by leader and congregation, or it can be divided for multiple readers. The Isaiah 43:1-3 reading is structured in such a way that the Pastor reads the introductory statement, and the worshipers read the rest antiphonally (between two sides/halves of the congregation) with all concluding together.

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