Category Archives: Worship

after-storm-1359360-1280x960

God Moves In a Mysterious Way: A Hymn for the Depressed and Confused

I have probably never referenced a hymn more often on this blog, than this one. It is without a doubt my most loved hymn, and so I thought it deserved its own post. Here’s a brief article by Tim Challies about the author William Cowper, and you will find a link to a lengthier audio biography by John Piper here as well if you are interested.

Call it odd, but I love William Cowper as a brother, although he died centuries ago. I can’t wait to meet him in heaven and thank him for how his  hymns have impacted my life.

All I wanted to do here is go through the hymn line by line and share some thoughts to encourage people who are struggling to make sense of God’s plan for their lives. Perhaps tragedy has struck and you are left reeling, or maybe you struggle with depression and have no idea why it does not leave you. Or maybe you look around at this sin cursed earth and wonder how God’s hand is ruling over this at all. This is a song to sing from the pit, a song that moves us from doubt to faith. Maybe God would use it for you as He has so many times for me.

I waited patiently for the LORD;
He inclined to me and heard my cry.
He drew me up from the pit of destruction,
out of the miry bog,
and set my feet upon a rock,
making my steps secure.

He put a new song in my mouth,
a song of praise to our God.
Many will see and fear,
and put their trust in the LORD.
-Psalm 40:1-3

God moves in a mysterious way
His wonders to perform;
He plants His footsteps in the sea
And rides upon the storm.

Sometimes God moves in a way that we cannot understand, in a way that doesn’t seem to make any sense. But out there in the turbulent seas, where you are not able to go, but can only imagine their fury, God has planted His footsteps firmly in the midst of the waves. He is in full control. He rides upon the storm like One controlling its’ every move and direction; Because He does.

Deep in unfathomable mines
Of never failing skill
He treasures up His bright designs
And works His sovereign will.

We stand as frail humans, confined by time. We have no idea what is ahead for us, or for our loved ones. Although we make our plans and imagine our futures, all can change for better or worse in an instant can’t it?

There is a secret, hidden mine of God’s wisdom and knowledge that we cannot comprehend in this life. The Lord alone knows the beginning from the end. What I love in the above lines is the acknowledgement that God is working all things out with “never failing skill,” foresight, and power. He is stacking the events of history and of your life, one on top of another, and He is building for Himself and for us a perfect and “bright design,” even when we stand blind to it.

Ye fearful saints, fresh courage take;
The clouds ye so much dread
Are big with mercy and shall break
In blessings on your head.

Psalm 31:24 “Be strong, and let your heart take courage, all you who wait for the Lord!”

It is imperative to my faith, to hope in the Lord. We have eternal hope, hope of Heaven and being with the Lord, but we need hope in our circumstances too. It makes a difference during dark and oppressive trials to look for the light. This reminds us not to lose heart and believe that God has nothing good for us, even today. Anticipate that the God who loves you has blessings in store, even when life hurts, and let your eyes search for them. Sometimes your eyes grow weary of searching, but these lines remind us not to quit.

Psalm 27:13 is another verse I quote often: “I believe that I shall look upon the goodness of the LORD in the land of the living!”

God is good when life is bad. And He will, with certainty, break the skies with blessings on your head in time, even if that happens in dying. Christians who hope in God will never be put to shame (Psalm 25:3), God will see to that.

Judge not the Lord by feeble sense,
But trust Him for His grace;
Behind a frowning providence
He hides a smiling face.

If you have never been here, you might be some day, and if you are, you need a song like this to sing. When everything in your body, mind, and circumstances screams out at you that God is angry with you, punishing you, and that He has turned His face away from you, then you lose sight of Him. You think of God and you see a frown.

Psalm 88:6-7 says “You have put me in the depths of the pit, in the regions dark and deep. Your wrath lies heavy upon me, and you overwhelm me with all your waves.” Many believers have had times of feeling this way.

It is a horrible place to be friend. You need to sing this to yourself. Judge not the Lord by feeble sense, but trust Him for His grace;
Behind a frowning providence He hides a smiling face.

His purposes will ripen fast,
Unfolding every hour;
The bud may have a bitter taste,
But sweet will be the flower.

I’ve sung this in time’s past, and thought “not fast enough Lord,” but sang it anyway. There is great faith at work here. Life might taste awful now, but one day it’s going to blossom into something beautiful. There’s an eternal weight of glory being stored up in Heaven while I’m down here being weighed down by trials- and it is going to be far weightier in glory than this was in pain (2 Corinthians 4:17). You can’t even imagine the work God is accomplishing through your pain, in this life and the next. That beauty will supersede your grief in such a magnificent way, you can know that one day you’ll say: “It was worth it.”

Blind unbelief is sure to err
And scan His work in vain;
God is His own interpreter,
And He will make it plain.

These are some hard, but kind lines, and they have put me in my place at times. Some trials in this life seem worse than worthless don’t they? They don’t seem to accomplish anything at all other than heartache. Maybe you have gone through something that has made you feel robbed of a very good and pure thing. That’s hard. You say that there is no way God could ever use this for good, because it is bad, very bad.

It’s ok to acknowledge that some seasons and events in life are bad, and sometimes the trials we are in make absolutely no sense to us. We live in a fallen world, full of sins that hurt us, poverty, disease, and death, and God never told us that we had to call those things good. We weren’t meant to be fallen creatures in a fallen world, and the result can be depression and confusion- yes even for Christians. The pain we are going through isn’t good on its own. It wasn’t part of God’s original design, and only through Him can it be redeemed and turned it into something beautiful in time.

You can run freely to God when life hurts and your mind is troubled. He already knows.  This hymn helps me to remember that, and to remember that God is good; He is in control even when life makes no sense, and one day, whether in this life or the next, He is going to make His purposes plain to us. “Blind unbelief is sure to err and scan His work in vain; God is His own interpreter and He will make it plain.”

I’m glad the bible doesn’t shy away from these themes, and I’m glad old hymn writers didn’t either. We need more songs today that doubting and downcast Christians can sing. Here’s a version of God Moves In a Mysterious Way that I enjoy, and I hope this has been encouraging for someone.

rain-933490_1280

You Are Never Doing Nothing

If for some reason you are ever rendered incapable of doing much of anything, you will likely know the insecurity and restlessness that goes with it.

Insecure

Insecurity, because as people we have so much of our perceived worth wrapped up in what we do. Our capabilities, responsibilities, and hobbies are what make us who we are. When we are no longer able to take on those things, we are left with little left to talk about, and find it painfully difficult to relate with those who are busy doing things.

You have a sense that you are existing more than living, and that is an incredibly difficult feeling. I wrote last year of this experience:

And some had easy laughter
And a carefree kind of sway,
They flittered and they fluttered,
Humming through the day.

“What have I to offer?”
The bruised reed said
From the ground,
“The glory’s gone over my head
But I am sinking down.
Up above the light is shining,
Sweet perfume fills the air,
But down here is decaying,
And an awful load of care.”

There is a potentially crippling sense that because you are not accomplishing things you are not valuable, nor are you even interesting.

Restless

I say restless, because we are used to doing things and being busy, and when life becomes slow and monotonous, all the hours rolling into one, it is easy to be anxious. But a sadder thing happens when you are stuck in that place for a long period of time. You accept your current reality and even if you are able to hope for improvement, when that hope is a long way off (even weeks or months), it is a dreadful wait. You begin to look forward to nothing more than going to sleep at night, and perhaps, if things are particularly bad, even night does not bring relief. Continue reading

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

A Word on Worship Styles

Note: From the start I want to clarify that when I use the word “style” I am not referring to words, or lyrics. By the word “style” I mean varying instruments or sounds, as well as the posture or outward appearances of worshippers. Words, particularly words of truth that honor God, matter immensely, but that is a whole other topic.

Few topics can get Christians more heated up then worship styles. Some churches pride themselves most emphatically and almost solely on having “great worship.” If they visit a church that doesn’t use drums and the worshipers don’t raise hands, they might say something like “the sermon was great, but it’s too bad the worship is dead.” Or even “It’s really too bad the Spirit’s not there.” You might think I’m joking but sadly I’ve heard it with my own two ears.

On the other hand, organ only, hymn only, Psalter only (etc, etc) church goers can see concert clips of people jumping up and down, hand raising, clapping (etc,etc) and think there’s a lack of reverence and nothing happening other than an ecstatic, hyper-emotional, rock fest.

I guess the question we should all ask ourselves is this: Does God want us judging one another’s worship styles? Should we dissect the way, or style, in which another person offers praise and thanksgiving to God, specifically in song?

I don’t think so. Here’s why: Continue reading

flower

O Love That Will Not Let Me Go: A Hymn For The Weary and Discouraged

One of the reasons I love this hymn, written in 1882 by George Matthison, is for its rich poetic content. If you like, here is the story surrounding the hymn. The lyrics deserve to be read slowly, and you will find Chris Rice’s version of the song below.

“O Love that wilt not let me go,
I rest my weary soul in thee;
I give thee back the life I owe,
That in thine ocean depths its flow
May richer, fuller be.

O light that followest all my way,
I yield my flickering torch to thee;
My heart restores its borrowed ray,
That in thy sunshine’s blaze its day
May brighter, fairer be.

O Joy that seekest me through pain,
I cannot close my heart to thee;
I trace the rainbow through the rain,
And feel the promise is not vain,
That morn shall tearless be.

O Cross that liftest up my head,
I dare not ask to fly from thee;
I lay in dust life’s glory dead,
And from the ground there blossoms red
Life that shall endless be.”

A verse that comes to my mind is Psalm 119:25 “My soul clings to the dust; give me life according to your word.” The composer is a weary soul, a flickering torch, in pain, in rain, laying down in the dust, feeling as though this life’s glory is dead. But he knows what he needs. And he knows that what he needs will not be found within himself. He knows there is another source. Continue reading

light

Before the Throne of God Above: A Hymn For the Sin-Grieved Soul

Sometimes Christians lose sight of the gospel. I’ve been there. You give yourself over to ruthless self examination and slip into works righteousness thinking that loses sight of hope. You’ve seen that your heart is fickle. One second you worship God and the next you curse men who are made in God’s image (James 3:9). You read Proverbs about fools, and nagging wives, those who are quick to anger, stinginess, pride, and laziness, and you see more of yourself painted than you would like to see. Perhaps you read Matthew 5 and 6 and you’re struck by your own harsh words, love of money, lustful thoughts, or nagging anxieties.

If you lose sight of the cross, then you lose sight of God’s love for you. You think only of His holiness and wrath and start believing He does not want to hear from you. Do you need to grovel? Do you need to be punished? Do you need to just “get right” before you can approach God again? How can He be appeased?

Examining yourself, sorrow over sin, focus on holiness, and a desire to change are all very good things. But to think about these things without remembrance of the gospel, God’s power and promises towards you, your thoughts will not only become burdensome, they will become faithless. The soul in that place, dear friends, whether saved or not, is in desperate need of the gospel of grace. Continue reading

death

Abide With Me: A Hymn For the Dying

When I search my mind for a favorite hymn “Abide With Me” rises quickly to the surface. CyberHymnal.org gives us this information about the circumstances surrounding the writing of this hymn by Henry Lyte in 1847:

Lyte was inspired to write this hymn as he was dying of tuberculosis; he finished it the Sunday he gave his farewell sermon in the parish he served so many years. The next day, he left for Italy to regain his health. He didn’t make it though—he died in Nice, France, three weeks after writing these words. Here is an excerpt from his farewell sermon:

“O brethren, I stand here among you today, as alive from the dead, if I may hope to impress it upon you, and induce you to prepare for that solemn hour which must come to all, by a timely acquaintance with the death of Christ.”

I know of no greater hymn which so honestly puts into words the experience and struggle of those dying under the curse of disease, a thing I have not experienced but have seen. The lyrics in full may be read here, and below is my favorite rendition of this song. Please take time to listen and to read the words.

You might wonder why I would love this hymn so much, when its’ topic is dying. But it is not just about dying- it is about dying in and dying for the Lord. “If we live, we live for the Lord, and if we die, we die for the Lord; therefore whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s (Romans 14:8).”

Jesus can “deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery (Hebrews 2:15).” He did this “by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This He set aside, nailing it to the cross (Colossians 2:14).” “The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law (1Corinthians 15:56);” He has removed that bitter sting and broke that power which stood against us, condemning us, and He gives and will give us victory over these things. The bible testifies that a day will come when death will be destroyed, and resurrection life will be ours. For the Christian, death needs not be a topic of dread, but of anticipation.

Yet for all the good death will bring to us, anyone who has witnessed death knows- it is usually not as glorious as Hollywood makes it out to be. Disease has no pity; It has no respect for human dignity. It is a cruel tormentor, ugly and stealing from its victims, wasting them, and crippling with pain. Not always, but surely this is often the case. It is not so much the death, but the dying that can surely cast a Christian low, even in agony. Continue reading

sing

Just As I Am: Singing to God

It would be hard for me to fully express the role that worship songs- especially hymns, have had in my life. God used the lyrics to “Amazing Grace” to reach me when I was a teenager, finally and reluctantly confessing I was a sinner on my bed at night. Words I never knew existed in my memory bank came rushing back to me from childhood and all at once the word “wretch” struck my heart with tremendous force. I was a wretch, it was true. But the song said God had an interest in saving wretches like me. I didn’t know how yet, or why He could save a wretch like me, but I’m grateful He shone a light in my heart and kept on drawing me.

I had started attending church around that time, and having not grown up in one, witnessing people worship was fascinating to me. It just seemed amazing that people could really sing to God, and the looks on their faces were like they actually knew Him. I still have a poem I wrote as a teenager reflecting on what I experienced during this time they called “worship”:

I stand, swaying just enough
To blend in with the world
As they are wrapped up in their ecstasy.
Shouts of joy bounce off the walls
And I try to reach out;
To catch it without making a statement
Of my obvious attempts.

There are those who wear their love so
Glorious across their faces,
And I would expect them to be proud
Yet they are the meekest.

Often I hear words of great inspiration,
And the thirst deep inside of me pleads
To be filled.

(I smirk every so often, so that the
Stranger next to me won’t know the ways
Of which I have been intrigued)

I walked to the back of the room
Into a corner where no one would see,
And tried to speak a word to God
(To the air?)
My heart raced…
“It’s because you fear God!”
Or is it only for the people who have glanced back?

It’s kind of funny to have this poem as a little reminder of the foreignness and intrigue a “worship service” held for me then. I remember having a sense of the seriousness of singing songs to God. One Sunday morning I was singing a song, something about giving Jesus all of my life. But it wasn’t true. He didn’t have my life, and I knew it full well. I also knew the guy leading worship- a highschool friend, and that Jesus didn’t have his life either. I just remember shutting my mouth mid-song. How could I sing to God words that weren’t true? Words that I didn’t mean? The weight of it felt heavy enough to crush me so I fled, but on the way I asked the worship leader’s mom to send him outside when the singing was over. Continue reading

rose

“A Meaningful Life”

There is an innate desire in human beings for our lives to be meaningful, a God given desire that has all too often gone astray from Him.

One of my best memories from childhood is laying on the grass in our backyard and staring at a baseball. I would hold it above my face, rolling it in my fingertips, and feeling the stitches. Baseball was to me a marvelous sport, one that I loved everything about. I loved the dust that would fly and hover in the air when I slid to home base, I loved the crack of the bat followed by instantaneous sprinting, I loved the comfort and smell of my well broken-in Wilson leather glove, and the ball rolling off my fingertips and striking people out. I just loved it.
And I loved to be good at it. I loved for my talent to be recognized and to be “the” pitcher and feel as if winning a tournament was an honor to be solely bestowed on my shoulders.

The child like delight of playing faded over the years and in grade 11 I found myself on a rep team that had already primed the “it” pitcher. It wasn’t me. I didn’t look forward to the game anymore; I was stuck in the outfield. That was my last year of baseball, one in which I felt unrecognized, unappreciated, and unimportant. My team won tournaments, and had success, but I couldn’t enjoy it. I skipped the end of the year celebration, because well- it wasn’t about me. When it was all said and done my coach phoned and asked why I hadn’t been there. I can’t remember what I said, but I’m sure I had a lame excuse. He told me that the girls had voted for the Most Valuable Player on the team, and they had chosen me. I wasn’t there to accept that award. I was shocked that they had chosen me, proud, but also ashamed. Ashamed because I’d been too proud to imagine I had any value unless I was the star pitcher. I’d let a good year pass by miserably and I had missed the celebration.

As a kid you do the things you do because you love to do it. When you grow up, reality strikes and in a big way life becomes about making money. It’s a natural progression I suppose. In Christian communities, for women, it’s not so much about the money, but about the home making and children raising. Whatever you find yourself doing you wonder, is it enough? Enough for me? Enough for God? Enough in the eyes of others? Important enough? Impressive enough? Worthy? Valuable? Memorable? Continue reading

Praise that Kills the Gospel

I’ve noticed a trend in some of today’s popular Christian music that disturbs me. There’s a song that’s been playing on our local “praise” station, where the artist sings his prayer to God: “Yeah, I want to believe, Jesus help me believe, that I am someone worth dying for.” In the end the artist turns to the listener and exhorts them “You gotta believe, ya you gotta believe, that you are someone worth dying for.” Continue reading