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The Greatest Songs, We Write from Brokenness

It Is WellWhen Paul and Silas were beaten and jailed for the crime of healing a young girl and freeing her from slavery in Philippi, the Bible says “at midnight, Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them.” (Acts 16:25 NKJV)

When (the future) King David had lost his family, his wife, his mentor (Samuel), his home in the palace with King Saul, and his best friend (Jonathan), he hid in a cave, scratched out a meager life alone for a while, and wrote the 142nd psalm, “I cry out to the Lord with my voice; with my voice to the Lord I make my supplication.” (Psalm 142:1 NKJV)

When Jonah was trapped in the belly of the great fish for three days and nights, having exhausted his effort to run from God’s presence, he wrote a song, “I cried out to the Lord because of my affliction, and He answered me.” (Jonah 2:2 NKJV)

Horatio Spafford lost his son to scarlet fever, his livelihood in the great Chicago fire, and all four of his daughters in the sinking of the SS Ville du Havre. His wife, who survived the sinking telegrammed him the simple message, “Saved alone…” While Spafford crossed the Atlantic himself to meet up with his grieving wife, he wrote, “When peace like a river, attendeth my way, When sorrows like sea billows roll; Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to know, It is well, it is well, with my soul.”

The greatest songs history has ever seen have been written from the depths of loss and pain. From the depths, the valleys, the darkest moments in life and history, God’s people have found comfort enough in God’s character to cry out to Him. It reminds me of the title of a message I once heard Kenneth Bobo preach – From Sighing to Singing.

There is a modern movement within evangelical Christianity toward a gospel of prosperity in which our comfort, “blessing,” and happiness replaces every other objective God might have for His children. It is offensive. It is dangerous. It is not the gospel but rather a cheap counterfeit. And it devalues every song ever written from the heart of one clinging to the eternal, unchanging character of God in the most desperate moments of life.

Our witness to the glory and saving power of God comes not from our comfort, our success, or our ignorant bliss surrounded by a world of suffering. Our witness comes from our living in and often swallowed up by suffering ourselves. This is the way of Jesus, Himself, who was willing to suffer with us, for us, and as us on the cross. And from that cross, Jesus cried out Himself, “It is finished!” Or more literally, “Paid in full!”

Let’s Fight FOR Worship!

Old PewsEverybody worships. Not everyone believes in God, or in gods, or in the God of the Bible, but everyone worships. Everybody ascribes worth to something, which is one of the basic definitions of worship.

My favorite book about worship, outside the Bible, is Warren Wiersbe’s Real Worship: Playground, Battleground, or Holy Ground?. Wiersbe offers this concise definition of worship…

Worship is the believer’s response of all that they are—mind, emotions, will, and body—to what God is and says and does. This response has its mystical side in subjective experience and its practical side in objective obedience to God’s revealed will. Worship is a loving response that’s balanced by the fear of the Lord, and it is a deepening response as the believer comes to know God better.

As my favorite Worship Pastor on the planet likes to say, “worship is both revelation and response.” It’s tuning in to listen to a holy God, and it’s responding to what I hear and see. Genuine worship results in a net increase in my personal awe of God and ultimately changes my life in a way that is contagious. It makes me craveable, as Artie Davis might say.

Jesus once had an argument with a woman about worship. It’s recorded in the Gospel of John, chapter four, but the short version is that when Jesus got personal with her, she brought up an argument about the “right way” to worship as a diversion. Funny how the subject of worship often becomes the source of conflict when we’re trying to avoid the real issues of the heart. This woman’s understanding of worship was pretty normal.

  • Worship is confined to a time a place (hence, a “worship service”).
  • Worship is defined by our rituals and traditions.
  • Worship is the sum total of the goodness I offer up to God.
  • Worship is about receiving or “getting a lot out of” an experience.

Jesus challenged all of her assumptions – not with answers rooted in Jewish tradition, but answers rooted in the eternal fellowship He had enjoyed thus far with the Father. Out of that experience, Jesus revealed a different and better way to approach the subject of worship.

  • Worship should be an everywhere, all-the-time activity.
  • Worship happens in truth (the “real” world), but also in spirit (the “unseen” world).
  • Worship is the response of sinful creatures to a holy God.
  • Worship is about giving or offering up, which is far more blessed than receiving anyway.

When we fight about worship, we’re usually fighting like the woman in the argument. We’re fighting about when, where, and how. We’re arguing about externals, traditions, and preferences. When we fight for worship, we’re fighting with the heart of Jesus, who sought to establish a connection between broken humanity and a healing Creator.

John Piper is credited with saying that “missions exists because worship doesn’t.” Right now, on planet earth, there are literally billions of people who are worshipping the creature more than the Creator (see Romans 1). They don’t know the One who showed up at the well that day, and we who do know Him are responsible. The woman at the well that day, out of the overflow of her worshipful spirit, brought an entire town to meet Jesus. Once she “got it,” she fought for worship. I want to fight for it too. He’s worth it.