Worship Responses to the Tsunami

A list of thoughts, suggestions and resources compiled in response to the tsunami tragedy of 2004--these are posted in the hope they will guide you in crafting some manner in which your group or congregation can appropriately respond to such events in worship.

Worship Responses to the Tsunami
Worship Suggestions

None of us can fully grasp the enormity of what has happened in Southeast Asia. The suffering of so many at the devastating force of the tsunami is unthinkable. Over 150,000 dead, and millions orphaned, injured, and having lost everything, is too painful to even get our mind around. As the days pass the scope of this tragedy sets into our hearts deeper and deeper.

All people are moved to call to "god" under these circumstances. Christians, especially, will want and need some manner in which to lay their concerns before God and call on him for help. We offer some of these thoughts and suggestions in the hope they will guide you in crafting some manner in which your group or congregation can appropriately respond in worship.

Dimensions of Suffering
As you lead others in expressing themselves in worship, be aware that suffering has many faces and we must be aware of and sensitive to its many dimensions.

Physical suffering – injuries, lack of clean water and food, disease and infection now threatens.

Relational suffering - families are destroyed, loved ones cannot find each other, children are orphaned.

Spiritual suffering - all people try to make sense of these events somehow in relation to who/what they perceive as god. In many hearts there is spiritual confusion and pain.

Servant suffering - relief workers have stepped into the midst of intense pain and need great support and encouragement.

Social suffering - the infrastructure of society sometimes causes suffering, and in Southeast Asia the infrastructure has itself become a victim.

Environmental suffering - the creation is ravaged, damaged, and needs to be rebuilt and restored.

Some Directed Thoughts
What do we say to each other (and to God) when such suffering occurs? The need of the human heart is to express itself in one way or another. But how? In what way? And what do or may we say?

1. We cry. From deep within us comes the cry and the groan that suffering wrings out of the human heart. It may take the form of tears, sobs, groans, prayers, or pleas. But in one form or another, the human heart wrenches before God. And God listens and hears. Read Job 3 and 6.

2. We are open and honest with God. This is no time to repress hard feelings, deep struggles and baffling mysteries. Sometimes the pain gets so severe we think we will explode. God can handle such deep emotions. Philip Yancey (in "Disappointment with God") says we may throw our grief at God; pain, anger, doubt, bitterness and disappointment. He can absorb it all. What he cannot handle is when we try to ignore him in our times of pain, or treat him as though he doesn't exist or doesn't care. Read Psalms 10, 13, and 88.

3. We are learning what kind of a world this is. This is a fallen world that is no longer in the state in which God originally created it. Evil has been unleashed in this world ever since the Fall into sin in Genesis 3. And so it's a world of war, bloodshed, disasters, and pain of all sorts. Read Genesis 3 again and think about its implications for us today.

4. We affirm the goodness of God. As He has revealed himself in his Word and in life, He is a Lord who is essentially good and holy. The fact that suffering exists in this world does not reflect negatively on the nature and essence of God. And the pain we observe today is not an indication that God has become a despot. He remains the faithful loving and good God who has revealed himself in his Word. Read Psalm 103.

5. We affirm that God is our Good Shepherd. As a divine being he is not distant and aloof from us as though he cannot be touched with our sufferings and needs. He is immanent and deeply concerned about our world and involved in our lives. We can trust him as a shepherd who compassionately cares for his sheep. Read Psalm 23 and 46 and Hebrews 4:14-16.

6. We bow before God. Because he is a holy and almighty sovereign, there is much about his ways that we are not able to understand. And so there are many times before the unexplainable events of life that we lovingly and trustingly bow before him and acknowledge that he is infinite while we are finite, he acts but we are not able to understand. Read Job 38-42 and Psalm 37.

7. We trust against the grain. That phrase comes from Lewis Smedes' precious little book, "How Can It Be All Right When Everything Is All Wrong?". Smedes says that the hardest kind of believing is that which occurs in the face of life's suffering and pain. There are so many reasons for NOT trusting God, yet we continue to do so, "against the grain". Smedes says that is the deepest kind of trust there is. Job professed that in Job 13:15.

8. We expect God to do good. When we feel the pain of others so severely, we aim to reach out to them and help. Nations from around the world have opened their hearts and hands generously to help the suffering in Southeast Asia. In doing so we are expressing the heart of God who aims to do good in the context of suffering. Read Romans 8:28 and believe it "against the grain". Much of that good we can only begin to imagine at this point.

9. We come together. Today it doesn’t matter what color a person is, or what culture they are from, or what religion they are, or whether they have been our "friends" or "enemies". They are fellow human beings who are in critical need and that's all we need to know to reach out to them. And so in a beautiful expression of the unity of humanity we pray for people we don't know, and cry to God for people we've only seen on a TV screen, and we give generously to help folks we'll never meet. When the world is so concerned about terrorism, perhaps this is God's way of drawing us together.


Scripture Passages to Prop our Faith
The Word of God has power in the Holy Spirit to give expression to our pleas and also to prop and nourish our faith. The passages you may find are numerous. We give you a sampling here to stimulate your search for others as well.

Job 6 and 9
Job 38-42
Psalm 2
Psalm 10
Psalm 13
Psalm 23
Psalm 34
Psalm 46
Psalm 37
Psalm 73
Psalm 88
Psalm 103
Psalm 121
Matthew 9:35-38
Matthew 25:31-46
Romans 8:28-39
2 Corinthians 1:3-7
2 Corinthians 12:1-10
Hebrews 4:14-16
Revelation 21, 22


Songs for a Suffering World
The nature of the human heart is to search for words to express thoughts and feelings. And when those thoughts and feelings have extra intensity to them, our hearts reach for songs to raise.

Sometimes in our songs we are singing our prayers and pleas for help. Other times we are expressing our pain and crying out. Still other times we are professing our faith and giving testimony to what we believe is true even in the face of pain. And we must not forget that a very precious manner of singing is to do so vicariously, that is, we sing the pain and the cries of others because they are not able to do so themselves. So we sing FOR them, becoming their voices.

Here are some possible songs that are fitting for a time as this. Surely you will think of many others as well.

"Lead Me, Guide Me" (PsH 544)
"O Lord, My God, Most Earnestly" (PsH 63)
"Those Who Wait Upon the Lord" (SFL 215)
"There Is a Balm in Gilead" (PsH 494)
"I Want Jesus to Walk With Me" (SFL 214)
"If You But Trust in God to Guide You" (PsH 446)
"The Lord, My Shepherd, Rules My Life" (PsH 23)
"My Shepherd Will Supply My Need" (PsH 550)
"How Long Will You Forget Me, Lord" (PsH 13)
"Protect Me, God: I Trust in You" (PsH 16)
"Immortal, Invisible, God Only Wise" (PsH 460)
"God Is Our Refuge and Strength" (PsH 46)
"Precious Lord, Take My Hand" (PsH 493)

PsH, Psalter Hymnal (CRC Publications, 1987)
SFL, Songs for LiFE (CRC Publications, 1994)

Note: British Methodist pastor and hymn wrier Andrew Pratt has penned two new hymns following the December 26, 2004 earthquake and tsunami that has now reportedly killed more than 150,000 people in 11 countries in southern and southeast Asia. These new hymns bring profound questions for deep consideration, and move us to consider all those who suffer in tragedy and loss.


Affirmations of Faith
Christians do not hesitate to make strong and deep affirmations of faith, even in the face of intense suffering and great mystery. They make such affirmations to honor God, to encourage others, and also to give expression to the longings of their hearts that always reach to God and his comfort even when suffering. Many of the passages of Scripture cited above will serve as affirmations of faith. In addition, note the following list:

Heidelberg Catechism, Lord's Day 1, Q/A 1
Heidelberg Catechism, Lord's Day 9, Q/A 26
Heidelberg Catechism, Lord's Day 10, Q/A 27,28
(Available at The Christian Classics Ethereal Library)

"Our World Belongs to God," art. 1-6
"Our World Belongs to God," art. 56-58
(Available at the website of the Christian Reformed Church)

The Belgic Confession, art. 1
The Belgic Confession, art. 13
(Available at the website of the Center for Reformed Theology and Apologetics)

Prayers
You will certainly want to carefully express the needs of others before God in prayer. See the prayerprovided by Rev. Scott Hoezee.

This material has been provided by Howard Vanderwell, Resource Development Specialist for the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship at Calvin College.

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