I returned yesterday from a three day retreat with the other interns in the Peak District. I could write about the beautiful countryside and setting for the retreat, but unfortunately the fog was so deep for our time there, that mostly we just saw white. During the course of the trip we spent some time reflecting on the course of our lives so far, and the path that had brought us to this point. I find this kind of reflection quite emotional, as the road hasn’t been an easy one.
I’ve been thinking a lot recently about the role that worship has played in my life, through the good times and the bad. I’ve recently taken over leading the worship team at my little church in Bradford, which will surprise some of you (the girl who plays neither the guitar or the keyboard is leading worship- who’d have thought it?!). If I’m honest it’s not something I ever thought I would have the chance to do. It is an amazing privledge to lead people in worship. Ultimately the purpose of a worship team is to point people to God, it should never be about the people at the front. And whilst some skill and thought has to be involved, the most important thing is that your heart is in the right place, coming before God with humility and faith.
Worship is our chance to offer praise and glory to God, as the Lord over all creation. To acknowledge that He is good, faithful and almighty, regardless of the circumstances we find ourselves in. Sometimes we do this together as church families in sung worship, sometimes we worship God on our own in the quiet and stillness. I don’t believe worship is about pretending life is wonderful, but choosing to believe that God is greater than all our struggles and problems. Therefore, worship is for every season in our life. Sometimes our worship will be that song of joy we sing as we rejoice for all that He is doing in our lives. Sometimes it will be the words we whisper through the tears, as we find ourselves alone in the night.
Worship has not always been easy for me. When life has been difficult, there have times when I have looked around the church, seeing other worshippers, and felt alienated, with the tears threatening to fall. Times when I have wondered whether worshipping through the pain of life, is simply too hard to do. But over the years I have come to appreciate that sometimes ‘My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart’ (Psalm 51:17) and that God will not turn me away, no matter how hard it is to sing the words, or how feeble my offering appears to me. I know that it is the times when worship is the most difficult and costly, that I need to do it the most.
Over the years I have found the songs that I can still sing, no matter how difficult life seems. The soundtrack of my late teenage years was ‘Praise you in this storm’ (Casting Crowns):
“And I’ll praise You in this storm
And I will lift my hands
For You are who You are
No matter where I am
And every tear I’ve cried
You hold in Your hand
You never left my side
And though my heart is torn
I will praise You in this storm”
I found refuge in the honesty of the lyrics, the reality that life can be tough, but God is still Lord over all. They were my anthem as the storm raged around me, as I struggled to hear God’s whisper above the noise of the battle. I held on to the truth that God’s goodness and character does not change with my circumstances. That He is the same yesterday, today and forever.
As I navigated my way through university life God spoke to me through the song ‘By your side‘ (Tenth Avenue North):
“Cause I’ll be by your side wherever you fall
In the dead of night whenever you call
And please don’t fight these hands that are holding you
My hands are holding you”
I knew that no matter how much of a struggle life could be, no matter how bleak the future looked or how rough the road ahead, I was not alone. He was singing this song over me and all those lost and hurting around me. At the same time, I was moved by the album ‘Beauty will Rise’ by Steven Curtis Chapman, written after his young daughter died in a tragic accident. On the days where I’d lost hope, feeling tired and alone, I would listen to ‘I will trust you’. Making that decision that ‘Even when I don’t understand, even then I will say again You are my God , and I will trust you.’
Then after loosing James in Norway last summer, I found myself again having to choose to worship God, even when His choices didn’t make sense to me. As a group we kept worshipping through the tears, to trust in Him and His goodness, despite confusion and anger that He had taken James away from us. As I returned to England, still attempting to make sense of all that has happened I clung to the lyrics of JJ Heller’s song ‘Who you are‘: ‘Some times I don’t know, I don’t know what you’re doing, but I know who you are.’ I had to remind myself that I did know who God was and that those truths hadn’t changed. Maybe we will never understand why the accident happened, but we can rest secure in the knowledge of who God is and how He loves us.
I think maybe what I’m trying to say, is that whilst worship is for God’s glory, the act of worship changes us. That the decision to acknowledge God as bigger than the circumstances we face, no matter how painful, changes our perspective. That whilst it does not take the hurt and pain away, it gives God the chance to show us He is still there. It is in those times of pain and heart ache that worship costs us the most, and can be the hardest to do. But it is in those times when we desperately need to worship. It is that decision to continue to trust God and praise Him, in the storms of life, that will decide if our faith grows or falls by the wayside. No matter how hard it is to believe at the time, God is no less good when we face sickness or say goodbye to a friend, then He is when life is as we would like it to be. God does not change with our circumstances. Worship reminds us of that important truth.
I don’t know where you are as you read this. Maybe this is a time where life is going your way and the sun is shining, where worship comes naturally. Or maybe you do find yourself in the storms of life right now, maybe you cannot see the road ahead or how God can fit into this picture. As hard as it may be, you need to keep praising Him in the storm, to acknowledge He is bigger than your problems. It’s at our darkest times, when we find ourselves at rock bottom, that we really must look up. Know that your worship is valuable to Him, because He knows how much it costs you.