Cultivating A Heart of Worship During Trying Times
I recently came out of a rather long and arduous season of physical pain, in which I had no real assurance of when God would heal and remove me from this desert space. Going to church wasn’t really an option in this season; some days it was painful just to move, much less contemplate going to church and standing and singing. I’m already an introvert, and in this season of such pain, it was too much to imagine gathering with others on Sunday.
This was especially painful because worship has always been something so important to me — it’s the primary way I connect with God. It’s an experience for me, where I hear God’s voice (and frequently hear His words for others) and encounter Him powerfully — sometimes it’s in tears, sometimes in physical ways (my hands will get hot, and that’s when I know I have to pray for someone), but it’s always a visceral experience. As a result, it was hard to experience so many Sundays alone, quiet, without being able to experience God’s Presence together with His people, and get swept up in the abandon of His Spirit.
As I endured my ongoing physical issues, I found myself getting increasingly frantic as I searched for answers that wouldn’t come. I veered from one potential solution to another, without success, and only found myself getting more frustrated and driven by fear in the process. My thoughts went to dark places, and I despaired of ever finding an answer.
I finally realized that missing worship for several months was taking a toll on me spiritually, emotionally, and perhaps even physically. As a result, I finally decided that when I got up in the morning, I would listen to worship music through Pandora. I thought, if I can’t get to church and experience Him there, I’ll at least be able to listen, if not engage.
However, when I put on the station (Bethel Music, in case any of you want to check it out) and allowed myself to be vulnerable (which is very easy to do in my pajamas while making breakfast in the kitchen)… something interesting would start to happen. Slowly, a hand would raise and lyrics would pour out of my mouth. My body would start to move to the instruments and something would overcome me. No longer was my physical pain the focus of my attention but now my Spirit was connecting to the Heavenly Realms and I was able to voice my praise, and become re-assured in Who God actually was, and Who He would be for me. I may not have been experiencing healing, but I was at least experiencing hope again.
There is a story in the Scriptures that my pastor was recently preaching through, and it spoke to me. 2 Chronicles 20:4-22 tells the story of Jehoshaphat, an Israelite king and a descendant of David, who had been warned that an army was coming against him — an army too great for them to overcome. He gathered his tribe at the temple to seek help. He called out to God and He answered, commanding them to prepare for battle but that assuring them that He would fight their battle for them. The Scripture continues:
Early in the morning they left for the Desert of Tekoa. As they set out, Jehoshaphat stood and said, “Listen to me, Judah and people of Jerusalem! Have faith in the Lord your God and you will be upheld; have faith in his prophets and you will be successful.” After consulting the people, Jehoshaphat appointed men to sing to the Lord and to praise him for the splendor of his holiness as they went out at the head of the army, saying:
“Give thanks to the Lord,
for his love endures forever.”
As they began to sing and praise, the Lord set ambushes against the men of Ammon and Moab and Mount Seir who were invading Judah, and they were defeated.
While reading this story, I was struck by its power. The Israelites were facing a battle that they had no hope of winning, and in their desperation they turned to God. He commanded them to go, but told them they would not have to fight. Jehoshaphat commanded his men to go to battle, led not by warriors, but by worshipers, and as a result they won this battle, not with swords and shields, but with hearts of worship and praise.
For the longest time, I had this Old Testament view of God in regards to singing praises during hard times. I thought He just wanted it because He was God, that no matter the circumstance God should be praised. While that is still true, it has nothing to do with Him needing to be praised and everything to do with us. We need to praise, we need to sing, we need to worship, not just because it makes our God happy but also because it aligns our Spirit with His and in that process speaks truth over who God really is rather than the lies we can face in the midst of struggle. Worshipping is a form of warfare.
Yet too often, when faced with difficulty, worship is the last thing we engage in. We feel disconnected, ignored, or exhausted when trials and tribulations come against us. Having to sing and worship a God who feels so far away and cold proves to be a straining act. But here’s the thing, WE don’t have to do it. We have the Spirit that resides inside us. Romans 8:26 states,
“In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans.”
I wonder if the Spirit not just helps us when we don’t know how to pray, but also when we don’t know how to worship. The Bible says that “The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit” (Romans 8:16), so when we don’t know how to worship, if we are willing to allow the Spirit to, He will help us worship in such a way that our spirit is lifted and encouraged and ministered to.
Furthermore John Eldredge states in “Walking With God”, “We cannot base our convictions on whether or not we are feeling or experiencing the truth of what God says. It is an arrogant posture, to let our immediate state of being be the judge of whether Scripture is true for us. I know I have to start with the truth, embrace it, stake my all on it, and then later – sometimes right away, sometimes down the road – I will experience its truthfulness.”
I recently read an article by a rabbi here in Los Angeles that brought insight to why I was feeling a certain way after I would put worship music on. Rabbi Wolpe says of the Psalms in his recent article, “The Psalmist is reminding us that some problems are not answered, but dissolved or transcended. When we feel sad or puzzled or hurt, the harp may be the answer.
Music has the power to move beyond words. It offers us access to a realm that can be felt better than it can be understood. I could describe a song to you all day long, but a moment’s listening will tell you far more than any description. King David played a harp (or its ancient equivalent, the lyre) and found in its notes the answers to some of the urgent questions of his life. Sometimes when the music begins, our questioning grows quiet and the air swells with a meaning far beyond words.” (You can read more here: http://www.thejewishweek.com/editorial-opinion/musings/music-hath-charms)
As the Israelites show us, maybe the act of worship isn’t just for when we feel good or when we want to. Worship is for the difficult moments too. Worshipping can help us overcome the dark season we find ourselves in. King David was clearly well aware of what worshipping could do to the posture of one’s heart — I believe it can make a difference for us too.
I’m grateful that my physical issues have finally been resolved, and that I am finally on the other end of that struggle. But I know that more will come — and that I am not alone in the struggles that I faced. So many of us suffer silently, whether it’s physically, emotionally, or spiritually — and I believe that God can and wants to meet us in those moments and surround us with His grace. I put together the following list of worship songs that helped me get through my season, and perhaps they might bless you too, and help you align your Spirit with His.
~ Playlist ~
“I’m A Lover of Your Presence” – Kim Walker-Smith
“Waiting Here For You” – Martin Smith
“Forever Reign” – Hillsong
“Healer” – Kari Jobe
“Oceans” – Hillsong
“In Over My Head” – Jenn Johnson
“I Surrender” – Hillsong
“For The Cross” – Brian and Jenn Johnson
“The One That Really Matters” – Michael W. Smith and Kari Jobe