Bring us back to You, God.
Turn the light of Your face upon us so that we will be rescued from this sea of darkness.
Take away from me the noise of your songs;
to the melody of your harps I will not listen.
But let justice roll down like waters,
and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.
To worship is “to attribute worth”. To worship is to honour.
Many of us have received birthday or Christmas gifts from people who sacrificed to give presents they really wanted themselves. I didn’t have the heart to tell my mom, after she worked a lot of overtime and sacrificed to buy a high school graduation gown for me, that I didn’t like the one she chose. She had never had such a luxury herself, and she wanted to give me something special, but it was her taste, not mine. It wasn’t until years later that I could admit to myself that the real pain of the event was that although she sacrificed and went to a lot of trouble to buy me a prom dress, it never occurred to her that my desires and tastes might be different than hers. She she was too busy working to actually sit down and listen to me. I realized I had some forgiving to do, and now I can bless my mom for doing her best for me.
I had a dream that a group of people who did church together in a building decided to put on a concert to the glory of God. Even though they were not trained singers they decided to learn Vivaldi’s Gloria. When the time came for the performance they crowded into the foyer (or narthex) of the church building and the pastor began to lead the orchestra and choir. We were all singing along when we realized the pipe organ in the sanctuary was not in time. The pastor opened the door and signaled to a man on the platform, who was conducting an empty room, except for the organist. The pastor showed the conductor what he thought the tempo should be by waving his baton, then shut the door.
Then a young woman got up to sing Domine Deus, “Lord God, King of Heaven, Father God omnipotent.” She sang from the heart and she sang beautifully, but the pastor/leader didn’t like her tempo either and stopped her and made her do it much more slowly. She looked bewildered, lost the flow of the song and kept running out of breath.
When the whole work was done the pastor opened the door and asked the conductor if he liked the performance, saying it had been for him. The conductor just looked sad. The pastor closed the door and everyone congratulated themselves on how hard they had worked and served refreshments.
To me the dream was about my own tendency to want to do something great for God -something requiring sacrifice and effort- without entering into the holy place (sanctuary) or paying attention to the conductor (Holy Spirit). It reminded me I had also done the equivalent of scraping and scrimping to buy an expensive prom dress without asking the wearer if that is what she wanted. In the dream it involved the effort of putting on a musical production without asking God (the Master Conductor) if that is what He wanted.
Music is important to me, obviously. The Lord speaks to me through music and I “anah” (respond) by singing back to Him. The problem is not about music styles or quality of performance. The problem is that when our efforts at praise and worship are based on what WE like, they are not responses to His voice. They are assumptions that He will like what we like -and that results in creating a god in our own image.
The greatest honour we can pay to our friends and family is to really listen to them, and act on the desires they express to us.
The greatest honour and worship we can offer to the Lover of our souls is to enter the sanctuary, the holy set-apart place in our hearts scripture talks about, and listen, really listen to the desires of His heart –then act on the things He has shared with us, like the need to seek justice and righteousness and goodness and love. That, I believe, is the essence of worship.
“If you love me, you will keep my commandments.
And I will ask the Father,
and he will give you another Helper,
to be with you forever,
even the Spirit of truth,
whom the world cannot receive,
because it neither sees him nor knows him.
You know him,
for he dwells with you and will be in you.
The day Grampa Thomson came for Sunday dinner was a day of joy for our little girl. He was a kindly usher at the church we attended and bragged that he was not as old as God, but he may have been as old as dirt -and everybody called him Grampa. He was still an engaging storyteller and always had time for young children. “Lally” sat beside him at the dinner table and helped him count his peas and told him where the chocolate milk was hidden in the fridge. She was thrilled when he asked if he could have a little bit to go with his apple pie and ran to get him some.
“Put it in the Smurf cup, Mommy!”
“Oh, yes, Mom! I love Smurf cups!” he laughed.
When we moved to the living room to drink our tea (and chocolate milk) in more comfortable chairs, she didn’t run off with the other children, but sat on the floor by his feet playing with her doll, as she listened to every word he said. We hadn’t seen her quite so taken with another adult before. She was a child who made friends easily and there were other children amongst our guests that day, but she preferred Grampa Thomson’s attention.
We were laughing at one of our friend’s extremely large fish stories when I saw her get up quietly and go to her room. When she returned she brought Binky in her arms. Binky held the honour of being her most prized possession, and since Binky was so prized it was morphing into a worn tattered greying memory of the soft fuzzy blanket that once cocooned the wee baby I walked the floors with when they were both still new. Because she was now a big girl at three-years old (and because experience taught us that misplacing Binky meant a night of high anxiety for all concerned) she knew it needed to stay in her room.
She walked up to Grampa Thomson and plunked Binky on his lap.
“This is for you,” she said.
I felt embarrassed, but he acted as if the Queen of Sheba had just placed the wealth of Cush before him.
“I am honoured,” he said, taking the bedraggled (and somewhat smelly) cloth and draping it over his shoulders. She leaned against his knee and smiled adoringly at his face. After a while he lifted her up on his lap and offered to share a corner of Binky with her. She rubbed the dangling part of silky blanket binding against her cheek. Grampa Thomson assured us he was fine with her there. She fell asleep in his lap with her head on his chest as we talked. When it was time to go he wrapped her in the precious blanket and carried her to bed himself. He whispered a prayer and gently stroked her curls.
“You have a very precious gift from God in this little girl,” he said. We smiled proudly.
We waved to our guests as they departed into the ice fog and squeaky snow of a northern night and, when we had closed the door, asked each other what her unusual behaviour was all about.
The next Sunday we were in our usual seats, the kids with faces washed and socks matching (a major accomplishment in those days). They squirmed on and under the seats until they could be released for Sunday School. That’s when Grampa Thomson came down the aisle with an offering plate.
“Look, Mommy!” our little one said, “It’s God again!”
“That’s not God, honey,” I whispered.
“But teacher said this is God’s house, and look! There he is!” She stood on her chair and waved. Grampa Thomson waved back.
We had some explaining to do when we got home, about God not living in a building, but living in our hearts, and it turned into another Sunday afternoon discussion between adults on teaching theology to children. She misunderstood; Grampa Thomson was not God, but in truth the love of Jesus was in this dear man’s heart and the children knew it.
What made me tear up, when I thought about it later, was the response of a child who, although mistaken, believed God, in the form of a kind old man, had come to her house for dinner. She listened to him, talked to him, but more importantly gave him a gift of the most precious thing she owned, the blanket she depended on to relieve anxiety when the lights went out and she was alone in the dark.
It makes me wonder if I am willing to give Him a gift of the things that comfort me, as well.
She is a fine woman with children of her own now, and this trait of being willing to give God her heart and all of the things she values most is still part of who she is. She is a good mom and a lover of Jesus Christ, and I am still proud of her.
Yesterday her three-year old called me on Facetime. I showed him the new floor I was putting in the room where he slept last time he was here with his cousins. Then I told him his cousins were away on a trip because their Mommy’s Grandma died, but she was not related to him and she was very, very old. Tears welled up in his big brown eyes and his lip quivered.
“But I never got to meet her,” he said, his mouth pulling down at the corners, “So I never got to say goodbye.”
His tender heart made me cry too. I know he will be a fine man -probably long before he is grown up.
Obstacles are those frightful things you see when you take your eyes off the goal.
– Hannah More
Note to self: And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. (Hebrews 12:2,3)
Sometimes the Kingdom of God seems so near, and sometimes it seems so far.
In the past few weeks four people I have been praying for have died. Two died of cancer. Two died of depression. A fifth person, an elderly friend, died suddenly of a stroke this week as well.
I have seen miraculous healing with my own eyes – things I never thought I would see in my lifetime. I have seen people I know walk out of hospitals after receiving a diagnosis of “hopeless.” I have seen babies diagnosed in the womb with “anomalies incompatible with life” alive and well, smiling in their mothers’ arms and someone who once had stage four treatment-resistant cancer pronounced cancer-free.
Then there are weeks like this when it appears the enemy has not been defeated. Three of these people who died left young children behind. The fourth left a family of older children who still need a mother’s advice. As the child of a motherless child, and as a sensitive kid who grew up carrying grief for a grandmother she never knew, I know that kind of pain, the pain that goes on and on even to successive generations. I used to sing the spiritual, “Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child” as if it came out of my own sorrow.
Two of these young women died of cancer. I hate cancer and I join with the millions seeking a cure. I HATE cancer.
Two of these people died of depression. Those numbers are consistent with my experience of people who die young. Some die from cancer or rare illness, some from accidents, but a shocking number have obituaries that say, “died suddenly.” Can we get past the stigma and admit that depression is as hellish as cancer or heart disease or injury caused by drunk driver? Can we admit that depression victims often fight and suffer for months or years too? Can we admit that far too many people die from it?
I’ve had very painful illnesses in my life. I stopped counting how many kidney stones (closing in on top spot on the pain scale) I birthed when the number passed 25 many years ago -and there have been other unpleasant afflictions that seemed hopeless at the time too, but nothing that was so relentlessly painful that I wanted to die just to escape the agony -except for depression. I understand why asking for help can be so difficult. Suicide is sometimes a form of self-administered euthanasia (although some victims kill themselves because they have been deceived by the demonic lie that their families will be better off without them). Don’t get me wrong. I believe with every fiber of my being that taking your own life is not God’s plan, removes permanently any option for recovery, and inflicts inordinate pain on loved ones, but I do understand why people do it.
When I told friends I was having tests done because doctors suspected cancer they gushed sympathy and gathered around to pray. When I was young and told people (very few) that I was seriously depressed they said, “Oh, dear, you mustn’t feel that way,” “Keep it to yourself. Don’t bring everybody down,” “You need to work on that attitude,” or “Don’t worry, I won’t tell anyone.” I learned early on that I was on my own with this shameful illness.
I have no problem with using both medical treatments and prayer. I deeply admire those in whom God has placed the ability and desire to learn how the body works, and to pursue methods of restoring health. I have an equal admiration for those who realize God, who made our bodies, is behind every healing, “explained” or not, and who pursue Him for more than we understand. It’s time we pursued more in the area of healing mental illness.
My “suspicious growth” was benign, thank God. After years of medication and hospitalizations (for which I am grateful because although it never healed me, medical treatment kept me alive) God healed me of depression. I thank Him from the bottom of my heart. I am so utterly grateful!! Freedom from mental illness is something I will never take for granted. I HATE depression. I really, really HATE it. I can’t bear to see gentle folk in its grip.
On days like this when other people die of diseases I escaped I hate those diseases even more. On days like this I want to ask why me and not them — but why is seldom a useful question. What and how are the start of better questions.
We say all sorts of things to comfort ourselves in times like this, but deep down a sense of outrage wells up. I don’t care how old you are. (I attended the funeral of the friend in her 80’s this week as well and saw the grief in family who still appreciated her attention.) Death is wrong, fundamentally wrong! Wrong! Wrong! Wrong!
Death is never dignified. We are created for relationship, not to be cut off from those we love. We are created to be eternal beings in love and in connection with our Creator. The agony of grief is another proof to me that there must be more than this.
The thief has come to steal, kill, and destroy. Jesus came that we might have life -abundant life, and that we might live in love and fellowship with God and with others. On days like this I can choose to pull the blanket of despair over myself and learn to lower my expectations or I can cry out to Jesus Christ , the Lover of my soul. How long, oh Lord, how long?
I choose Jesus Christ.
Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.