Thinking about praise and worship music this morning.
In my personal experience and observation, more people seek God when they are hurting than when they are happy.
We should sing praise
and we should sing worship,
but we can’t forget lament.
It draws people to Christ.
Lament is not depressing, it reminds us we are not alone.
Sunday evening. Easter Sunday. I was sitting at the kitchen table, focused on my laptop. PinkGirl came over and turned my chair sideways so she could curl up on my lap and lay her head on my shoulder.
“Mom? How can I find joy in God?”
13 years old.
Immediately, I prayed.
“Lord, is this moment one of the reasons for everything that’s happened over the last year? Have you been preparing me for this question? Please help. Please speak through me.”
Me: “Well…for me…the way I find joy in God is to grow closer to Him. There are a few things you can do to grow closer to Him. You already know what’s first though, right?”
Me: “Yep. There’s lots of different ways to pray, but I think the way that brings me closest to God is practicing His presence. You remember what I told you about practicing the presence of God? How I first started doing it?”
Me: “I imagined Jesus physically with me everywhere I went – in the passenger seat of my van…”
PinkGirl: “oh yeah.”
Me: “Jesus is right here with us now.”
I pointed to the chair next to us.
“If you imagine Him sitting right here with us – not just sitting here, eavesdropping on our conversation, but actually participating in it, it changes everything. And sometimes not in a way you might expect. It won’t be all rainbows. You won’t be thanking Him and praising Him all the time. If you really do imagine Jesus with you wherever you go, you may find yourself crying and yelling at Him sometimes. Telling Him all the things you don’t think are fair, begging him to help you and heal you and protect you and getting frustrated or mad or even heartbroken when He doesn’t do what you want or expect or if He’s slower than you think He should be. But you have to be honest with God.”
PinkGirl: “He already knows anyway.”
Me: “Yeah, He does.”
We sat there for a while, talking about all the different ways to pray. We talked about honest, wide open prayer, without holding anything back. We talked about how authentic prayer helps us to grow closer to God and how growing closer to God helps us find joy in Him, no matter whether we’re happy or sad about what’s happening in our life. We talked about how happiness is temporal and based on our circumstances, but joy in God is eternal and based on who He is and our relationship with Jesus.
Me: “Prayer is when we tell God everything. But we also need to listen to Him. What’s the best way to hear from God?”
PinkGirl: “Be alone with Him?”
Me: “That’s one way. I call that abiding in Him. But that’s next. Something else comes first. The best way to hear God speak to us is to read His Word.”
PinkGirl: “I try, but I don’t understand a lot of it.”
Me: I get that. There’s a lot I don’t understand either. But here’s the thing. There’s a lot you do understand – way before you even get to the stuff you don’t understand. You understand what you learn in Bible [class], right?
Me: “So, see? You understand more than you think. Outside of Bible [class], what’s the last thing you read on your own?”
PinkGirl: “I don’t remember.”
Me: “You understand the scriptures in your devotion book, right?”
Me: “What was your last devotion about?”
PinkGirl: “I don’t remember.”
Me: “When do you do your devotion, in the morning or at bedtime?”
PinkGirl: “In the morning.”
Me: “After your devotion time is over, how often do you think about the scripture you read later in your day?”
Me: “Just reading the Bible isn’t enough. You won’t grow in your relationship with Christ if you don’t remember what you read. You have to engage in God’s Word. That takes effort. How can you remember the scripture from your morning devotion throughout your day ? And for days after that?”
We talked about how on our own, reading the Bible isn’t something we want to do all the time and that God knows that. We talked about forgetting to read the Bible or not making time for it. We talked about how we make time for the other things we love. We talked about the first and constant thing we should do: pray and ask God to give us a desire to read His Word. We talked about the fact that we can’t just “do better” on our own. We talked about asking God to give us – to bless us – with a hunger for His Word – with a hunger for Him. We talked about setting reminders on her iPod, bands on her wrist, special jewelry, even writing notes to herself on her hand.
Me: “After reading the Bible, another good way to hear from God is to abide in Him. You called it being alone with Him. When are you ever truly alone. Quiet and still?”
PinkGirl: “When I’m in my room.”
Me: “Sleeping doesn’t count.”
Me: “If you want to be closer to God, if you want to find joy in Him, you have to spend time with Him. Think of it this way. When you and PeterPanFan (her BFF) hang out together, you grow closer, don’t you think? You talk to each other, you have inside jokes, you start to think alike, finish each other’s sandwiches…even when you two are at your own houses, when you interact over the internet through text or instagram, you’re still spending time with each other even though you are miles apart. But if you were at your house and she was at her house and you weren’t interacting over the internet, you wouldn’t be able to hear her. What would happen to your friendship if you didn’t spend time together?”
Me: “How connected can you be to God if you don’t spend time alone with Him?“
Me: So. Prayer. Reading God’s Word and Abiding in Him. There’s something else you can do to find joy in God.”
PinkGirl: “Thanking Him?”
Me: “Actually there’s two kinds. Giving thanks for His blessings and praising Him for who He is. When you thank Him for blessings, you begin to recognize those blessings in your life more and more. And when you praise Him for who He is, no matter what your circumstances are, it helps you remember that God is sovereign and nothing happens to you that He doesn’t will or allow.”
We talked about disappointments, God’s providence and the peace that comes from trusting that all circumstances – which lead to both happiness and sadness – are God’s providence. We talked about tapestries. And praising Him, no matter what.
We talked about a lot of things. The things I’ve shared here are the things she gave me permission to share.
Afterwards, I realized.
Prayer. Reading God’s Word. Abiding in Him. Gratitude. P.R.A.G. The first four chapters of the book I was writing about how to experience a more intimate relationship with Christ. Seems so easy, just looking at them here. Not so easy. To do or to write about. If they were easy to do, every Christian would do them. If they were easy to write about…I haven’t been able to write for months. But in these precious moments with my daughter, I was able to articulate a summary in kid language.
He has been preparing me. Not only for that question at that moment.
God is Good. All the time.
The other day, someone asked me if my kids grew up “churched.”
The pause before my reply was noticeably long.
I was thinking.
What does that mean? I realize my personal background and filters contribute to my way of thinking, but no definition I could come up with made it seem like growing up “churched” would be a good thing. Merriam-Webster defines it as:
adjective: “affiliated with a church.”
Well. That’s vague.
The word has connotations. Through my personal filters, adding “ed” after the word church makes it reek of religious knowledge and practices, not relationship with Christ.
So, if growing up churched just means my kids grew up knowing the traditions of church – whatever church or religion that might be, then yes, they grew up churched. They know what a call to worship is, they can sing the doxology, they know what to do with an offering plate, they know the different ways to take communion and what an alter call is. They know what the Apostles’ creed is and they know the Lord’s prayer doesn’t end with the words “with liberty and justice for all.” They can follow the verse order of a hymn and even though they both have searchable Bible apps, they can find a scripture in a Bible with paper pages by it’s reference. In more contemporary churches, they know that a worship service usually begins with what we in our family affectionately term a “giddyup Jesus” song, and they know why this video is funny.
So, if all that means my kids grew up churched, then yes. My kids grew up “churched.”
Some might say, “Well, it’s better than nothing.”
Here’s the deal. If all that stuff is a precursor to a personal decision for Christ or an expression of a growing relationship with Him, then yes. It is better than nothing.
BUT, if all those things are part of their life instead of or apart from a growing relationship with Christ, I don’t necessarily think growing up churched is better.
It might actually be worse.
I’ve personally met so. many. people. who grew up going to church and as an adult, have not only abandoned church, but faith altogether.
A few months ago, I asked God to break my heart for what breaks His. (CLICK HERE to read that post – and if you ever think about praying that, brace yourself.)
One clear and constant answer has been the fact that so many people have turned away from faith in Christ without ever really knowing what it is.
Who He is.
Growing up churched has kept more than a few people from relationship with Christ because they think that all those things I mentioned about church is evidence of a relationship with Christ.
Not always true.
That’s what I was thinking during the extended silence that followed the “Did your kids grow up churched?” question.
But when I broke that silence, what did I say?
“uhhhhh. Well. We took them to church if that’s what you mean.”
I am so articulate sometimes.
The truth is that despite all their knowledge and understanding of religious practices, my kids never heard the gospel explained in kid language at the church we attended. Hell was too scary for kids and Jesus was a role model, not a Savior. Discussions about asking Jesus to come into your heart? The Holy Spirit as a helper after you ask Jesus to come into your heart? No. (By the grace of God and through an extended, painful revelation process, we now understand that we need to be part of a Christ-centered church.)
We went to church on Sunday mornings, did a few summers of VBS, went to some fall costume parties, some Christmas breakfasts with Santa and some Easter egg hunts. Sunday school was mostly Bible stories and crafts. VBS was a rotation of Bible stories, crafting sessions and outdoor games interspersed with music, snacks and cute videos with moral and ethical messages.
They learned that God loved them. They learned they should help people. They learned God wanted them to be “good” like Jesus. They learned that they should give joyfully.
But my kids first learned about having a relationship with Christ from my husband and I. Because we knew that our faith couldn’t be theirs by force or wishes, we prayed that the Holy Spirit would draw them to Christ, and we told them about Jesus. Through our lives – our words and our actions – they saw what faith in Christ really is – a relationship. They knew Jesus loved them – no matter what – just like we loved them. We prayed with them, we did family devotions together, we were authentic with them about the lessons God was teaching us, we listened to their problems, their fears and their joys and we continuously helped them to view and navigate all three through faith in God.
By the grace of God, they both accepted Christ at a very early age. By the grace of God and equipped by the Holy Spirit, we did our best to disciple them as they grew in their faith.
We enrolled them in Christian school because we wanted them to learn as much about the Bible as they did about math, science, history, spelling and English. When they moved onto middle school and began building on that Bible knowledge and learning theology, we actively engaged them in discussions that helped them figure out and ground themselves in their own beliefs, some of those beliefs different from what were being taught at school. As my son has grown older and graduated from high school, he’s come to some beliefs that differ from his mom and/or dad. (No surprise, mom and dad don’t always agree either.)
Regardless of the tangential beliefs we each have, we share faith in Jesus Christ as our Savior and Lord. All four of us depend on the Holy Spirit to equip us for the life we live, striving to follow the Father’s will.
My husband and I are confident that each of our children have their own faith in and relationship with Christ. We pray for those relationships regularly.
But “Did your kids grow up churched?” is a yes or no question. There wasn’t time to think through all that, much less say it.
Hence the blog post.
I thought I could logically justify my faith in God.
You’ll find some Christians who’ll tell you they can do it.
When someone told me my faith was illogical, irrational and unreasonable, I bristled. Or should I say, my ego bristled? I challenged them to prove it.
They couldn’t. (Their emotionally charged reasoning was circular and redundant and they completely ignored me when I poked questions into the holes in their arguments.)
But in the aftermath of those discussions, I discovered I couldn’t disprove it either.
Science and logic have limits. There are some things that can’t be understood or explained (and a definition isn’t an explanation).
Like what causes gravity.
Like human consciousness.
Like quantum entanglement (what Einstein called “spooky action at a distance”).
Doesn’t mean they don’t exist. Just means we don’t understand why. Or how.
Somewhere along the way, I forgot that God cannot be completely understood. I forgot that a God I can understand is a God I create. Confine. Any God I can completely understand is limited by time and space and the extent to which I can understand.
Any God who is limited by my understanding is not transcendent.
I was reminded – the hard way – that I don’t want a God I can understand.
It was a season of extreme paradox in my life.
My faith had never been stronger and I had never been more aware of my weakness apart from Christ.
My faith had never been stronger and I had never been more intimately and desperately dependent on the Holy Spirit.
I prayed daily for wisdom and discernment and empathy and compassion. I prayed daily for Him to continuously make me aware of opportunities to be the hands and feet and voice and ears of Christ. Watching and listening for the promptings of the Holy Spirit had never been more in the forefront of my awareness. I prayed not only for the Holy Spirit to prompt me when to speak and act, but when to be silent and still.
I prayed for Him to equip me in what I honestly knew to be beyond my capabilities.
The person who told me my faith was illogical, irrational and unreasonable asked me a simple question:
If God is sovereign, why pray?
You’d think I would have considered that question before, me being all spiritually “mature” and everything.
Turns out, I had never really thunk it through. I had dismissed it, thoughtlessly citing Biblical platitudes like “I pray because Jesus prayed.” and “I pray because the Bible tells us to pray.”
When I finally looked at the question straight on, my entire relationship with God came to a screeching halt.
I couldn’t pray.
I wanted to turn back the clock. To unthink what I was thinking. I wanted the faith of a child.
I wanted stronger faith.
Suddenly and overwhelmingly, I identified with Philip Yancey when he wrote:
“I envy, truly I envy, those people who pray in simple faith without fretting about how prayer works and how God governs this planet. For some reason I cannot avoid pondering these imponderables.”
What was so different about this question this time? It came at a critical juncture in my life. After arguing with God for months, I had finally taken the terrifying step of obedience by sharing something I believe God was revealing to me. Something I tried to ignore. Something I didn’t want to see: That I was part of a church which marginalized grace, Jesus, the Holy Spirit, prayer and relationship with Christ. That we forgot 1 Corinthians 2:2-5 and were ignoring Matthew 28:19.
I was genuinely repentant and prayed desperately for God to bring revival. Heartbroken, I asked for people to pray with me. I was blindsided by how angry people were, how fast and how much they misunderstood what I said and how vehemently they rejected not only what I was saying, but me.
I had argued with God, finally doing what I believed He was prompting me to do and I was faced with closed hearts, closed minds and slammed doors.
So I did what anyone “mature” in their faith would do. I ran into a cave and hid.
A dark cave.
“But he himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness, and came and sat down under a solitary broom tree. He asked that he might die: “It is enough; now, O Lord, take away my life, for I am no better than my ancestors.” Then he lay down under the broom tree and fell asleep. Suddenly an angel touched him and said to him, “Get up and eat.” He looked, and there at his head was a cake baked on hot stones, and a jar of water. He ate and drank, and lay down again. The angel of the Lord came a second time, touched him, and said, “Get up and eat, otherwise the journey will be too much for you.” He got up, and ate and drank; then he went in the strength of that food forty days and forty nights to Horeb the mount of God. At that place he came to a cave, and spent the night there.
Then the word of the Lord came to him, saying, “What are you doing here, Elijah?”
1 Kings 19:4-9
Go ahead, sing-song it with me.
“Julie and Elijah, sitting under a tree, w. h. i. n. ing.”
and then I couldn’t.
Because God is sovereign and God’s gonna do what God’s gonna do.
And then I prayed because I couldn’t help it.
Because a life void of intimacy with Christ and utter dependance on the Holy Spirit was vastly empty. and hopelessly dark.
I prayed because I couldn’t help it while at the same time believing that praying to a sovereign God who’s working a plan and doesn’t need my help was…pointless.
Not logical. Not pragmatic.
And that’s where faith is required.
And where doubt came in.
I never doubted the existence of God. I never doubted Christ or the Cross or the redeeming power of His blood. I never doubted my salvation.
I doubted the point of me.
If God is sovereign, why pray?
If God doesn’t need me, why would He even bother with me? Why did He even bother with me?
And that’s why I say I can’t logically justify my faith.
In my darkest night, when God was completely silent, when the logical, rational and reasonable foundation for my faith was beyond my sight,
I still had faith.
I still have faith.
“…what I testify to is the power of visual art, and especially music…They have the potential to awaken the mind and heart to aspects of God’s glory that were not perceived before. Paintings or photographs of mountains and streams can call forth a sense of wonder and peace. If we are willing to “look along” (not just “at”) these pictures, as Lewis taught us, our eyes will run up the beams to the Original Glory, and the wonder and peace will rest finally in the wonderful and peaceful mountains and streams of God’s power and mercy.
…We must make it our aim that the joy awakened by music be joy in God…Then the effort to delight in God through music will involve a prior shaping of the mind by the Word…Then the effort to delight in God through music will also involve a thoughtful testing after the music has already awakened joy. Is this joy…stirring my desires to know Christ better and love him more and show him to others at the cost of my own comfort? So before and after music has its immediate effect, we pursue the goal that music make us more glad in the glory of God.”
When I Don’t Desire God: How to Fight for Joy
by John Piper
Lord, thank you for using praise music and my worship through that music to awaken my mind and heart to aspects of Your Glory I had never perceived before. Thank You for the joy it brought and the delight I found in You because of WHO YOU ARE. Thank You for the overwhelming and undeniable awareness of Your presence in those moments. Thank You for helping me to completely forget myself and for moving me into deeper praise, no longer centered in gratitude for Your temporal blessings, but grounded and focused on eternal things: Your Sovereignty, Your Holiness, Your stubborn love for me and my desperate and relentless need for You.
Even though the lesson was one of the hardest I’ve ever faced, thank you for teaching me that finding worship through music wasn’t enough, that it only took me part way. It limited true praise to those brief moments. Thank you for showing me that my dependance on music was quenching Your Spirit. It prevented me from finding joy and delight in WHO YOU ARE in the ordinary, everyday moments of my life. Thank You for the understanding that I can’t find that joy and delight on my own, through my own striving, depending on anything in this world to facilitate it.
Holy Spirit, please bless me with joy and delight, so I won’t be tempted to settle for less by depending on anything or anybody but Christ.
“The trumpeters and musicians joined in unison to give praise and thanks to the Lord. Accompanied by trumpets, cymbals and other instruments, the singers raised their voices in praise to the Lord and sang:
“He is good; his love endures forever.”
Then the temple of the Lord was filled with the cloud, and the priests could not perform their service because of the cloud, for the glory of the Lord filled the temple of God”
2 Chronicles 5:13-14 (NIV)
“Come thou fount of every blessing, tune my heart to sing Thy grace
Streams of mercy never ceasing, call for songs of loudest praise
Teach me some melodious sonnet. Sung by flaming tongues above.
Praise the Mount I’m fixed upon it, mount of Thy redeeming love
Here I raise my Ebenezer. Hither by Thy help I come.
Oh, and I hope by Thy good pleasure, safely to arrive at home”
sung by Kings Kaleidoscope
[CLICK HERE to see a listing of all the blog posts in this series "the search for Joy."]
“…how did the early Christians pray for joy? First, we may assume that they prayed the prayers of the only Bible that they had, namely, the Old Testament. Thus they would have prayed:
“Satisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love, that we may rejoice and be glad all our days” (Ps. 90:14).
“Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones that you have broken rejoice” (Ps. 51:8).
“Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and uphold me with a willing spirit” (Ps. 51:12).
“Make us glad for as many days as you have afflicted us” (Ps. 90:15).
“Will you not revive us again, that your people may rejoice in you?” (Ps. 85:6).
Don’t miss how radical these prayers are. They assume that we are unable to make ourselves satisfied in God. And they assume that God has the right to do it, is able to do it, and does it in answer to prayer.”
When I Don’t Desire God: How to Fight for Joy
by John Piper
For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need
Hebrews 4:15-16 (NIV)
“Breathe in me Your life. ‘Til Your love overtakes me
Open up my eyes. Let me see You more clearly
Falling on my knees, ’til I love like You love
Like You love me”
[CLICK HERE to see a listing of all the blog posts in this series "the search for Joy."]
“God can do anything.”
Luke 1:37 (NIV)
Lord, I pray for revival, filled with doubt that You will stir it. Not because You can’t, but because You won’t. I believe You can do anything. But I also know You don’t force yourself on anyone. And the people I’m praying for are very comfortable right where they are. They see no need to change. They see nothing wrong except for this Jesus Freak who’s rocking the boat.
So I ask you Lord, not for anything specific, because I have no flippin idea what to ask for. You know. You know exactly what is needed and exactly when. Your plan is perfect. Your timing is perfect. I know You don’t need me, but pray that You can and will use me. I’m asking You – I’m begging You – to move. Move in the hearts and minds of individuals. I pray that they will be DISsatisfied with an assumption of Christ. I pray that they will, from their soul, cry out for Jesus. I pray they won’t be able to stomach any substitute.
Almighty God, I’m begging you for a miracle, no matter what it looks like. No matter how much it hurts. Because You are my comfort, my peace, my strength and my hope. I trust You, even when I don’t understand what You are doing.
“He [God] specializes in solutions that have no explanation other than Him.
Don’t get discouraged by the long, unyielding situations in your life. God has solutions for them. He may not have revealed those solutions yet – He let many people in Scripture endure long periods that required faith and patience – but He is never late with His answers. Wait, believe and hope. Nothing is impossible with Him.”
The One Year Experiencing God’s Presence Devotional: 365 Daily Encounters to Bring You Closer to Him
by Chris Tiegreen
“And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself…When he was at the table with them, he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them. Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him, and he disappeared from their sight. They asked each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?””
Luke 24:27, 30-32 (NIV)
Lord, please open my eyes. Please open the Scriptures to me. Please teach me how to encounter Christ in every corner of the Bible. I can’t do it on my own. I desperately need your Holy Spirit to help me decipher what I read, but I also need teachers and books and other resources to point me to Christ in every measure of your Word. PLEASE Lord, don’t ever let me passively use or numbly accept others use of Your Word only as supporting material for moral living or motivation for charitable service – without an unmistakable declaration that apart from Jesus Christ, moral living and charitable service are empty, temporal pursuits. Please Lord, never let me settle for an assumption of Jesus. My desperate prayer is that I would never forget that JESUS is the single common thread that runs through every book of the Bible. Lord, never let me forget that without JESUS, the Bible is just a historical document. I want to see Jesus in Scripture where I’ve never recognized Him before. Jesus, please show me YOU. Please help me point others to You.
“ABOVE ALL, PREACH CHRIST…I got lost in the details of the text and didn’t have time for the most important part. In the mail came a letter from this lady saying, ‘I could have heard that message in a mosque.’ Ouch. Sometimes the best input doesn’t come in the easiest packages, but she was right. Nobody needs preaching that gives the testimony of God but doesn’t scope down to the Son of God and the gospel. That’s gotta be in our messages somewhere every week, that God loves fallen people, that they can be saved from their sins and find the hope of eternal life through faith in Jesus’ death and resurrection. If I never get tired of preaching it, God’s people will not wear of rejoicing in it.”
Vertical Church: What Every Heart Longs for. What Every Church Can Be.
by James MacDonald
“Chains be broken. Lives be healed. Eyes be opened. Christ is revealed.”
You’ll Come by Hillsong United