WANDERING HEART: Worship in the Valley

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(originally delivered at the Grace Fellowship Worship School/10000 Father Worship School, led by Aaron Keyes)

When I think back on some of the corporate worship songs that have had the greatest, and longest lasting impact on my life a few titles come immediately to mind:  “BLESSED BE YOUR NAME”, “YOU NEVER LET GO”, both by Matt Redman, and “YOUR LOVE NEVER FAILS” by Chris McClarney – all 3 songs lean hard on God’s sovereign, strong hand during times of great trouble.  In fact Sovereign Grace Music recorded an entire c.d. of songs that drink from this well entitled COME WEARY SAINTS, and it is spiritual refreshment of the deepest order.

Be honest: where do we turn when trouble comes?  How do we respond to hardship?  Are you the sort of worshiper who is convinced that God is able to work in your circumstances, and that He cares enough about you to bother?  The Biblical balance of Sovereignty and Goodness arms us to be the sort of worship leader who can continue to lead through times of pain and hardship, in spite of – and in the face of – troubling circumstances.

Sadly, we often don’t find comfort in the Sovereignty of God because we forget about His goodness: we just aren’t very good at balance. If we’re “experts” on “Sovereignty” (I’ve fallen into the trap myself), we try so hard to make sense of God that we practically put Him in a box, loving our idea of God instead of the active Spirit of the Living God. In spite of this error, it would still do many of us good to grow in our conviction that the God who loves us is really really big, active, and in control.

In America especially, but nearly everywhere, we are radically convinced of our own sovereignty. Freedom and free-will are at the very heart of our identity. Independence is the dream, and “I did it my Way” our mantra. Where does “Thy will be done” leave room for us to obsess about our own will?

Just look at Romans 8:28;  “For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.

I don’t care how you spin predestination, and foreknowledge – either way, look at the clear chain in this passage: God knows you before you know you, God has destiny for You before you even ‘are’, God calls, He makes you “just” in His son, and He perfects you in the end.  He’s there from beginning to the end – actively, and essentially entwined in every step.  Grace is huge, and our part in the play is a minor one, in comparison to the Author’s.

Forget Calvinism and Arminianism, and psuedo-intellectual debates about Predestination verses Free-Will, and just let Scripture blow your predictable, safe view of God wide-open.  When Job experienced Satan’s destructive power, he stated “The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away”, and almost immediately afterward the author added “In all this Job did not sin or charge God with wrong.”  Isaiah 45:7 says “I form light and create darkness, I make comfort and create calamity, I am the Lord who does these things.”  Or Lamentations 3:38, which literally reads, “Is it not from the mouth of the Most High that good and evil come?”  Those verses don’t easily fit our picture of God, but there is great mystery in God, and there is great comfort to be found in verses like these: since God is ultimately sovereign over all, then even the devil – as Martin Luther used to say – is “God’s devil” – which means that there is no meaningless or purposeless evil, for God has allowed it, and will use it for the good of His children.  He’s got veto power.  If He allowed it, there’s a purpose behind it, no matter how hard it may be for us to wrap our minds/hearts around.

And, often, God does not choose to answer our questions here and now.  Again, looking at Job: after losing it all, God’s response to Job’s heartfelt questioning was simply, “Who are YOU?” – not rudely, but in the sense that He didn’t bother answering questions, because behind the questions was a person, and God let Job have a big revelation of God, and the presence of God, instead of answers.  And more often than not, that is what we really need:  we don’t need philosophical answers – we need His presence, and  a little perspective.

Which brings us to the other truth again: God is not only sovereign – He is also good.  We must know this with our head, yes, but more than that – we need to feel it in our bones.  We need to bury ourselves in His Word, and bathe our hearts in the many verses on His goodness, and love for us – we need the truth of His goodness to transform us. If we do not have more than just head-knowledge about God, when troubled times come – and they will – our hearts will doubt either His sovereignty, or His goodness.

I won’t lie: I am teaching on this because I have needed constant reminders of it myself.  Just read a couple of my wife’s blogs about SALTINES and EMERGENCY ROOMS, and you’ll get the picture.  A similar series of events hit this time last year, and I didn’t respond so well, but now I am hopeful – I have faith in the midst of these trials.  I will not let these steal my joy.

Here’s what I’ve committed to do:

  • I will build my faith by reading some simple Apologetics, and reminding myself regularly of the Gospel. I can’t lead other effectively if I don’t believe it myself unflinchingly, and am not growing in my faith.
  • I will take time regularly to refocus and put things in perspective, give thanks for the little things, and remind myself both of what I deserve and what God has given me by grace. A few months back, while crouching near the ground, a number of tiny ants caught my eye. Moving my face closer still, straining to see clearly, I noted that they zipped this way and that, looking as though the fate of the universe were in their hands. From what I could see, they accomplished nothing of note, but they were ridiculously busy-bodied. I heard God says, “Slow down. You’re just a human. Relax.
  • Sometimes I just need to step back and note the goodness of God in others’ lives. I live too close to me – constantly in my skin – so I have no objectivity when looking at my own life, especially when things are rough. However, the Bible often refers to God as “the God of Jacob”,  “the God of David”,  “the God of Abraham” – each time the weight of each of those individual’s lives weighs in on our image of God.  Often it’s helpful to look at someone around you who’s life is clearly being touched by God, and lean on that for hope. Sometime we’re just too close to ourselves to see well, so I may need to take a look around to see God’s hand.
  • Authenticity! I need to be authentic, and if you can’t do that in your daily circle, find someone you can be honest with outside of that circle.  Our emotions exist for a purpose, but they shouldn’t be allowed to “lead the train” – they serve  us, and are merely one part of who we are.  One way we keep our hearts in check is to process with others.
  • Though it sounds Sunday school, and trite, it is absolutely essential: daily quiet time – just you and God, in His Word, in prayer – talking and listening.  As simple as it sounds, this has done WORLDS for my wife and I in helping us to lean daily on God and not just freak out in the midst of stressful circumstances.

When teaching this for the first time, I had been dealing with lost jobs, severely ill children, and expensive auto repairs.  I could have focused on those circumstances, and lost hope, or I could lean on a God who is both in-control, and very good, Who promises to have my best interests at heart, and I can not only find hope there, but even worship, and even lead others to worship, from the depths of that place.

If you find yourself in that place right now, here’s a song I wrote during my dark-time last year that God used to begin to change my heart:

Wandering Heart by Saint Lewis



is the Associate Director of Worship & Media at St. Simons Community Church, where he mentors, oversees and helps lead Family and Student worship environments. He is also the content curator and editor here at The Worship Community and at HighestPraise.com.

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