Coming Back to the Heart of Worship

heart of worshipOne of my earliest memories is singing through the huge binders of worship songs that my mom (who was the keyboardist at the church where I grew up) owned. I would go in my room by myself, shut the door, and flip through the hundreds of pages, singing classic ’90s favorites: “There is None Like You”, “Lord I Lift Your Name on High”, “The Heart of Worship”, “I Could Sing of Your Love Forever” . . . the day I was baptized, one of the worship leaders commented on how I knew the lyrics to more of the songs we sang than anyone else at the church. He was probably right.

Somewhere, there is still a cassette tape of me singing worship songs when I was about four years old. I gave it to my mom, wanting her to give it to my pastor for “Pastor Appreciation Day”. She didn’t end up giving it to him, because it was “too cute” and she wanted to keep it. Every once in a long while, I dig up that cassette tape and listen to my tiny, high-pitched voice sing these praise songs.

When I was four, I didn’t think about the words I was singing. I don’t even remember being cognizant that I was singing these songs to God. But in a way, my childish worship was more honoring to God than the way I sing to Him now. How can that be? Then, I sang out of the pure happiness that music made me feel. I sang because I loved to sing. Now, my mind is clouded with pride and anxiety. I’m trying too hard to be real and vulnerable and sing the words with true desire in my heart, when God just wants me to find the happiness of song again. He wants me to tap back into that childish desire to hum and sing everywhere I go. My former habit of involuntarily humming music at the dinner table was more honoring than the duty-bound drudgery that singing with a congregation every Sunday has become.

To this day at worship gatherings, I’m known as a sort of worship music jukebox: “yeah–Lindsey can play anything!” come the cries of my friends, amazed that I often do not need chord sheets or lyrics for worship songs.

But even though I still remember lyrics and tunes, I’m losing something . . . I’m losing the memory of joy that made me look forward to every worship practice in my living room with my violin-transformed-guitar. I’m losing the desire to lose myself in song for hours and hours. Life and loss has caught up with me, telling me that there is no longer much of a reason to sing except as an expression of groaning desperation for God.

I started to write this blog post with a totally different direction in mind. I was going to talk about the song “Blessed Be Your Name”, particularly the words: “You give and take away, my heart will choose to say: blessed be Your Name”, and what that means and how that is possible.

But a small stirring in my heart caused me to remember a time when analyzing the words to worship songs and doubting everything I am singing and being plagued by pride and my own false images of God I’ve created over the years was not a struggle. That’s not to say I was a constantly happy child. Sometimes I think I must have been born with chronic anxiety. I had lots of silly and fun and wonderful moments as a kid, but I have always had an inexplicable underlying melancholy nature; aware of the immense evil and pain in the world. I don’t ever remember being completely carefree.

But when I sang–whether it was worship songs, Disney melodies, or tunes from Phantom of the Opera– I was free, happy and alive.

i could singI want to feel that way again. I want to sing just because I love the way singing makes me feel. Instead of singing at my circumstances, I want to sing irrespective of my circumstances. I want to be lost in the sense of feeling alive, of bubbling from the inside out with the joy of music.

The delighting in God’s creation of melody and lyric and harmony, is more pleasing to Him than the anxiety and self-absorption and attempts and failures at focusing on what we are singing about, that we all tend to bring to worship.

Matthew 21:16 says,

“Do you hear what these children are saying?” they asked him. “Yes,” replied Jesus, “have you never read, “‘From the lips of children and infants you, Lord, have called forth your praise’

Kids get it. They get it because they don’t care about “getting into it”. They sing truth without thinking about the consequences of that truth. They sing truth without being concerned about their authenticity, their pride, or their failures. They sing with eyes wide open, taking in the massive glory of God with their minuscule lens of life experience.

God help us all to become children again. Help us to come back to the heart of worship.

 

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Whose Line is it Anyway?

I love comedy. Comedy transforms the ordinary, the absurd, and sometimes even the tragedies of life, into a pleasantly uncontrollable physiological response: laughter. In the TV game show Whose Line is it Anyway?, a few comedians are thrown into various pretend scenarios and games and are asked to improvise. The end result is hit or miss, but when they play off a scenario well, hysterical laughter ensues.

Sometime between the ages of 8 and 12, I wanted to be a comedian. I had always been good at making my family and friends laugh. My best friend and I even had a game we would play, aptly titled: Make Somebody Laugh. We would take turns doing various ridiculous things. The goal was to make the other person laugh ten times (the person would use their fingers to keep track of how many times they laughed). I was always eager to be the comedian, so when I was in the audience, I would often force some laughs so it would be back to my turn in the spotlight.

I was so excited about making people laugh that at eleven or twelve I pushed past my shyness to join an acting class. The first class included an improv game called FREEZE! in which two actors would start a scene. At any time, someone from the audience can shout “Freeze!” and enter the scene. Heart beating rapidly, I watched in exhilaration as the actors started their scene. It was now or never–I had to enter the scene. I knew exactly what to do.

“Freeze!” I said, a little timidly. I tapped one of the actors on the shoulder, they moved out of the way, and I resumed their position, which was in the middle of wrestling a chair. “Crikey! She’s a big one!” I morphed into my best Steve Irwin impression, pretending the chair was a crocodile. A chorus of laughter met my ears, and I felt a thrill of satisfaction, a bolstering of my self-worth. My “co-star” said something to me that moved the scene in a different direction than I was expecting, and my train of thought derailed.

I had thought that once I had jumped in, the rest of the scene would come naturally to me. Instead, I felt an inevitable sinking feeling in my gut as the initial laughter died down and I scrambled for a response. The remaining thirty seconds of the scene was agonizing. I wanted to crawl in a hole and die. Who am I kidding? I’m not funny. I’m shy. I’m scared. I don’t know what I’m doing! A mingled feeling of relief and embarrassment stirred when someone put me out of my misery and shouted, “freeze!” That was my first and last appearance at that class.

Sometimes life is a lot like an improv sketch.

Just like my first attempt at improv comedy, I jumped into my journey of self-discovery (approaching the year mark now) scared as hell but excited to forge my own path through a confusing scene. I knew the first couple lines to say. I even correctly predicted some of the dialogues and maneuvered my way around them with little difficulty. Like a good comedian, I delivered some one-liners that floored my audience. I’ve taken control of some of the twists and turns and used them as well as I can to my advantage.

But now, the thrill and the laughter has died down. I find myself thinking: Who am I kidding? I’m not equipped for this. I don’t know what I’m doing! And like a painfully awkward improv comedy sketch, I do not know what to say or do next.

I wait for someone to yell “freeze!” and take my place in this scene that I’ve messed up with my determination to force God’s will to align with my own. He isn’t budging on His part. And so far, neither have I. But I’m wearing down. Sometimes I’m worn down by bitterness, anger and grief. At other times, I’m worn down by faith . . . by faith in God’s goodness. It is a faith like Abraham’s, that makes no sense:

Against all hope, Abraham in hope believed and so became the father of many nations, just as it had been said to him, ‘So shall your offspring be.'(Romans 4:18)

Immediately when I feel a hint of that kind of faith, I recoil. Am I being duped? Am I succumbing to some kind of manipulative plan of God’s to draw me to Himself through suffering? Am I losing the wrestling match?  

The Spirit of the sovereign God lives in us (Christ-followers) to transform us into becoming more like Jesus for our good and for His glory. We are also told that we have the free will to reject the Holy Spirit’s leading. Even so, does it not seem at times as if we are pawns in this game of life? Sometimes I ask myself what is speaking to me, keeping me here weighted at the crossroads: my conscience, my shame, or my God? I find it so hard to resist Him . . .

19 One of you will say to me: “Then why does God still blame us? For who is able to resist his will?” 20 But who are you, a human being, to talk back to God? “Shall what is formed say to the one who formed it, ‘Why did you make me like this?’”21 Does not the potter have the right to make out of the same lump of clay some pottery for special purposes and some for common use? (Romans 9:19-21)

In Whose Line is It Anyway? former host Drew Carey played a vital role. He introduced scenarios, stopped scenes in their tracks, and sometimes joined in the improv sketches himself. In a way, so it is with God. I’ve resisted Him as Lord of the game show, as Lord of my life. Like the time when I was derailed by how my fellow improv actor responded to my initial Steve Irwin impression, I am thrown off by a God who prefers to use the unexpected (and often the most painful) paths in life to bring about His good and loving purposes.

Heroes and Martyrs

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How many times have I told Him?

How many times have I told God that I do not want to be a martyr?

There are some Christians out there who say, without a doubt (I’ve never understood this), that they would take a bullet before denying Jesus. They would lay down anything, sacrifice whatever they most held dear, to avoid denying that precious relationship. Growing up saturated in a Christian home, a Christ-centered church, with Christ-honoring relationships all around me and involved in all sorts of ministries for Jesus . . . you would think I would be one of those Christians.

But I have never pretended that I could be a martyr.

On the contrary, I have begged God not to ask me to be a martyr.

When I was fifteen, I bought a book from our local “Bible book store” called I Would Die for You, about a boy who felt like he was called to be a martyr for Jesus. He ended up dying from a sickness he contracted on a mission trip when he was fifteen. For some reason, it sounded to me like an inspiring book at the time. When I finished reading it, I was terrified. I kept on seeing “signs” that I too was going to be a martyr. I remember a song playing on shuffle on my I-pod immediately after finishing the book, and it was all about dying for Christ. I recall seeing the number 41 shining through the blinds in my room and being suddenly convinced that was the year I was going to die (this is what anxiety does to you, folks). I laugh about all this now, but then, I could not have been more scared.

Today, I am not scared of losing my literal life for the sake of following Jesus, because there is no imminent, known threat.

However, today, and every day for ten months and counting, I am scared of losing something very important to me. No…I am scared of purposely leaving behind something very important to me. I am scared to perform my own execution, in effect. How…can…I…do…that?

How many times have I demanded that He give me the answer to my most pressing question in this journey? It is a question that, if answered, could at least anesthetize me before surgery. Why must He allow suffering to go unexplained, in any instance?

You know that verse in James that says perseverance must finish its work, so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything? Do you know what I’m discovering the end of perseverance is? Sacrifice. Martyrdom. The laying of Isaac on the altar. The loss upon loss upon loss in Job’s life. The agonizing weight of the destructive thoughts and actions of every single person in the lifespan of humanity nailed to Jesus nailed to the cross.

You must die to live. You must sacrifice. You must trust though it seems like foolishness. You must be born again. That’s the Christian story.

It is a story reflective of all those good, sacrificial, heroic stories we all know and love.

But when it comes down to it, being a hero is a calling I am not sure I can live. That is why I could not write anything about those epic questions I asked in a failed blog post attempt. I was going to write all about how we are all the heroes of our own story, so we need to stay in our stories and keep fighting because it will be worth it in the end. But I found myself endlessly frustrated, tormented by my doubts.

I am still doubting. But the thing about doubt is that it always contains at least one crumb of belief.

So here is the space for my crumb of belief to speak:

It was the joy set before Him that convinced Jesus that dying a miserable death was worth it.

For the love of all that is good and true and hopeful and lovely and pure and beautiful, help us all to see the joy set before us as we endure our personal battles, as we persevere in a progressive world (both within and outside of Christianity) that shows us alternative scripts that seem to offer so much more joy, so many more answers, and so much more peace than the lives we are living. Help us to rest at the various crossroads in our lives for as long as it takes to become the heroes we were born to be.