Consumed in a Song

Standard

“Sing unto the Lord, all the earth; show forth from day to day His salvation.”  1 Chronicles 16:23

Singing.  That’s the word that You, Lord, layed on my heart today.  Why sing?  What’s so important about singing?  If singing wasn’t important, then why is the word “sing” used in 102 verses in Scripture?  As a matter of fact, the very first verse that uses the word sing is Exodus 15:1.  The Israelites had just been delivered out of 200 years of pain and slavery and miraculously crossed the Red Sea and watched God defeat Pharoah’s army before their very eyes.  “Then sang Moses and the children of Israel this song unto the Lord, and spoke saying, ‘I will sing unto the Lord, for He has triumphed gloriously: the horse and his rider has He thrown into the sea… ‘”  And I’m thinking that singing is not just a suggestion but that singing is a necessity in my spiritual walk with You, Lord.

Now, I can’t help but look back and find out if the Hebrew idea of singing was just like ours or if there might have been something else to it.  And I found some things that don’t suprise me one little bit.  The Hebrew word for sing is “shiyr.”  And in most instances it has to do with worship.  Sometimes, in Hebrew, you can look at the letters and the original pictograph formed by those letters in a word, and even that pictograph tells you something about the word.  Skip Moen shares that picture, “The pictograph tells us that the word is about deeds or work that consumes the person. In other words, singing “eats” you up. It takes away what you were feeling and moves you to another experience. It is the divine transporter. This is why the Hebrew world considers singing to be praying.”  Hmm.  Let me think about that.  Singing=praying.  I need to hold that thought.  But let’s keep going.

Why did I even begin on this search this morning?  Because I wanted to see when You, Lord, thought people should sing and why we should sing.  Because what about those times when I am so filled with pain that I don’t even have words?  How can I sing then?  But what if those are the times I need most to sing?  What if that is the time I need most to worship You with someone else who has the words that I can’t find?  What if that’s the time I most need to be reminded that You triumph gloriously and I need to confirm that with my own mouth, with my heart, and with my emotions?

The Siach Safre Kodesh which is “stories of wisdom, biographies of famous rabbis, and Torah discourses”  shared this thought, “There are three ways in which a man expresses deep sorrow: the man on the lowest level cries; the man on the second level is silent; the man on the highest level knows how to turn his sorrow into song.”  And Abraham Heschel, an American rabbi and leading Jewish theologian and philosopher of the 20th century, in Between God and Man believed “true prayer is a song.”  My question is, how many times have I thought of singing in terms of sorrow and pain?  But that seems to be where the Hebrew roots of singing came from.

And I’m thinking that makes sense.  Think of all the spirituals that arose out of slavery in America.  Was it their good circumstances that birthed those songs?  Or was it something deeper?  Were those songs a prayer, a cry out to God, that lifted one another up?

If I go back to 2 Chronicles 20 I find the true story of Jehoshaphat.  And the Moabites and Ammonites and others were raising up against Israel.  And all the people of Israel came before You and cried out to You.  And You told them to not be afraid because You were going to take care of it and they would triumph in You.  And before they received the outcome, before the victory, here’s what they did.  Jehoshaphat appointed singers to the Lord!  You know what their job was?  To praise the beauty of His holiness as they went out before the army.  And as they went they would continually say, “Praise the LORD; for His mercy endures for ever.”  And God used their singing.  It was beautiful worship.  In their lack of strength, in their pain and distress, they stopped thinking about all that.  They put their minds and hearts and worship in Him.  And this is what happened.  “And when they began to sing and to praise” the Lord set ambushments against their enemies.  Notice that.  It wasn’t after they sang and praised.  It was when they began.  Maybe singing in the midst of pain is a sign of faith and worship.

I can’t help but think of Paul and Silas.  There they were sharing the Gospel and now their clothes are being torn off of them and they are being beaten and whipped.  And it wasn’t just a little.  Many stripes were laid on them and they were thrown in a nasty, smelly, dank prison and their feet fastened in stocks.  How is that for pain and sorrow and suffering and heartache?  But what did they do?  Did they remain bound by the pain and sorrow and suffering and heartache?  Or did they take that pain and sorrow and suffering and heartache and lift it to the Lord in song?  In the midst of the pain, while the wounds were raw, they prayed and sang praises unto God, unto You, Lord.  And what happened?  The prisoners heard.  And You acted just like with Jehoshaphat.  You sent a sudden earthquake and released them from their chains and were glorified before the prisoners and before the jailor.

What if I don’t sing?  Let that not even be a thought.  I must.  Because it’s not my song.  It’s Your song, Lord, and it’s the song You have placed in me and it must come forth.  As Psalm 40:3 says, You have put a new song in my mouth, even praise to You, my God: and as many hear they shall see and fear, and shall trust in You.  It matters if I sing to You and for You, or if I don’t.

There are times when all I can do is fall at Your feet without words because I hurt that much.  But You are bigger than the pain in me.  In every believer You have placed Your song and Your Holy Spirit will help me sing that song.  He will give me the words.  He will bring them back to mind.  And as I am faithful to sing what He gives me, I will experience the presence and filling of the Comfortor.  And when I can’t express it because the pain is so deep and the words won’t come and all I can do is cry or when even the tears won’t come, maybe then I need to run to others who have found the song and let that minister to me.  Maybe, as I listen to the words You gave them, I might just find myself being transported to You, and I might just find myself singing with them.  And maybe that won’t equal all the words I feel.   But walking in faith comes one step at a time, or, one song at a time.

I suppose I have to ask myself, does the pain hurt more than I miss that closeness with You?  I think we’ve all been there.  We’ve all experienced pain.  Some of us had to learn the value of singing in the Lord.  For some of us, singing just is part of who we are.  And some of us, well, we haven’t learned the value of singing yet.  But I want to learn to not wait for the good days to come.  I want to sing in expectation.  And I want to sing not because my circumstances are good but because I know the goodness of You, God, even in the midst of tragedy.  It’s not easy.  Walking in faith isn’t easy.  But it’s worth every hardship and every tragedy.  I want my focus to remain on You no matter what so I will be influenced by You and so that influence will make a difference in those around me.

Pain and loss hurt.  They hurt terribly.  And it’s a part of life that doesn’t necessarily go away.  I just have to learn how to fit it into Your picture, into Your plan.  And surrendering it to You doesn’t take the memory away, but it puts everything in perspective, and it brings healing.  Paul and Silas didn’t stop hurting when they sang.  But they rose above the pain in the midst of the pain.  They lifted themselves up to You and let You carry them in song.  I want to follow their example because there are things in this life I just can’t handle on my own.  I need You as much as they needed You.  And I don’t want to let pain defeat me, because I am more than a conqueror in You.

Skip Moen shared some more of prayer and song.  He said, “The reason prayer is transformed into song is because words fail me. My hurt runs too deep. My trauma is too strong. I can’t say what I can’t do, and what I can’t do is find a way out. So, I learn to sing praises to my King and my song “eats” up what would destroy or consume me and gives me peace…I know what it means to hurt right down to my soul.”  So, the question is, will I allow You to consume my pain?  Scripture says that You are a consuming fire.  Do You just consume sin?  Or do You consume anything that wants to keep me from You?  Lord, I want nothing more than to be consumed in and by You.

I suppose I always thought that was a reference to You burning things up, Lord.  But there is this other part of consuming that has to do with eating, with ingesting.  This word, “akal” is also used in Ezekiel 3:1 where You tell Ezekiel, “Son of man, eat what you find, eat this roll, and go speak unto the house of Israel.”  You didn’t say take a bite.  You said eat this whole scroll.  Taste if fully.  Then go do what it says.  But let’s keep going.  What did Ezekiel do?  “So I opened my mouth, and He fed me this scroll. He said to me, ‘Son of man, feed your stomach and fill your body with this scroll which I am giving you.’ Then I ate it, and it was sweet as honey in my mouth.”  Maybe that’s what happens when I choose to sing in the midst of pain and suffering.  Maybe singing isn’t a suggestion but an imperative.  Maybe I must sing.  Maybe I must sing, Lord, so that I can taste and experience Your sweetness in my mouth.  Maybe I must sing so that You can fill my stomach and my body with Your sweetness.

Lord, no matter how deep the pain, give me a song.  And let me not hold that song in my heart.  Let me sing, even if the words squeak when they come out because I cry as I sing.  Let me sing, even if I fall to my knees and don’t know what to say.  Give me a song.  Even if it’s someone else’s song.  Just give me a song from You because You never stop singing.  Even the angels before Your throne continually sing praises to You.  Who am I to not sing?  Don’t let me lose that beautiful flavor of You.  And don’t let me neglect to share that beautiful flavor of You with those who would hear my singing.  Because maybe my song will give them words to sing, and lift them above their pain and sorrow.  Lord, just give the songs we need to sing.  And sing with us.  I can’t wait to see what You do.

Advertisements

Has It Jumped Out to You?

Standard

“And the hand of the Lord was with them:  and a great number believed, and turned unto the Lord.”  Acts 11:21

Some things just jump out at me sometimes.  Like the other day, when I was showing my son-in-law what a “bunnykins” cup was.  I turned the inside of the cup toward the skype camera to show him the picture I was thinking was inside on the bottom.  Only, when I saw what I was showing him on the computer screen, it wasn’t a picture.  It looked to me like a cockroach in the cup!  I tilted the cup more to see in the picture better, which wasn’t a good idea, because it dumped the “cockroach” on my lap!  I didn’t know whether it was alive or dead and I proceeded to do a frantic dance to get it off.  Oh, did I say, that as my daughter was handing the cup to me, she had said, “I don’t know why, but there’s an almond in the cup.”  Hmm.  I was talking to Stephen so I hadn’t heard that tidbit.  So, I wound up being comedic relief for my family.  My almond sprung legs and jumped on my lap (where yes, I had basically poured it).  Well, some things just jump out at you.

And I haven’t gotten far from yesterday’s reading, yet these words are jumping out.  “And a great number believed, and turned unto the Lord.”  Why didn’t Luke just stop at saying “and a great number believed”?  Do some believe but not turn to the Lord?  Do some believe but not make a real commitment into that belief?  And I wonder if part of that is because Luke was a Greek thinker like most of us.  See, Luke was a Hellenist.  He was a Jew that had been greatly influenced by Greek culture and Greek thought.  So maybe in some ways, he thought like most Greeks thought instead of thinking like most Jews thought.  So what a Jew who was focussing rightly would have understood, Luke had to express just a little differently.  And that difference helps me, because I’ve been raised in a culture that is closely related to Greek thinking too.  And I need to make sure that I’m understanding God’s idea behind the words He uses, and not just what I’ve come to think they mean.

Now, after Philip’s martyrdom, great persecution came upon the believers.  The Lord used this to disperse them to areas outside of Jerusalem.  So as the believers left Jerusalem, they filtered into the Roman cities and ministered to the Jews in the synagogues there.  These Jews had been brought up in the Greek culture, language, and with an understanding of Greek ideas and thinking.  This is God’s stepping stone to reaching non-Jewish cultures.  And understanding the culture and the language matters here.

I want to jump ahead to another verse that Peter shared earlier in Acts.   “Repent therefore and return, that your sins may be wiped away, in order that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord.”   Now, I’m going to look at some of these words.   Because it matters to what we are reading today.  A right understanding behind these words can bring us into a right relationship with You, Lord.  And a wrong understanding behind these words can leave us not understanding that relationship at all.

Is Peter just asking people to acknowledge Jesus as Christ?  Is that what believing (pisteuo) is?  Or do the words here mean something more, something deeper?  And is that what Luke is trying to express too?

What was meant when Peter talked about our “sins being wiped away”?  The Greek word is “exaleipho” meaning to smear something off.  It makes me think of the verses in Scripture that talk about being blotted out, whether our sins are blotted out or our name is blotted from the Lamb’s Book of Life.  So let me look at the Greek idea, or modern idea of blotting.  I looked up how an ink blotter works.  It’s this absorbant paper.  As you write with your ink pen, sometimes too much ink comes out so it won’t dry quickly.  So you take this blotting paper and set one side down next to the area to be blotted.  Then you gently lay the rest of the paper down from left to right.  The paper soaks up the excess.  When you pick up the paper there are no smears and you can close your book without any problem of smearing.  But the ink isn’t obliterated.  Just the excesss is taken up.  Is that what blotting meant to the Hebrew thinker?

The Hebrew word and idea for blot is actually to wipe out, obliterate.  So for God to wipe something out, to blot it out, actually carries the picture of complete obliteration.  If You, Lord, were to blot something out, like that ink, then there would be no ink left.  It would be as though there had never been ink on the paper.  This is where the Hebrew idea of atonement comes from.  Sin, the thing that defiles and keeps us from relationship with God, is totally wiped away and removed.  That’s the only way we can have fellowship with You, Lord, again.

Well, what about repenting and returning?  In Greek thought repenting is about changing your mind.  It’s the Greek word “metanoeo.”  “Metanoeo” is all about your thinking, about adjusting and altering it, about a change in mind.  The Hebrew word “shuv” means to turn back or “about face.”  It affects the whole person, not just their thinking.  And what are we turning back to?

Repent and be converted.  Repent and return.  This being converted (a Greek idea) or return is “epistrepho” in Greek.  It means “to twist, to bend, to change.”  But in Hebrew it’s represented by the same verb as repent- “shuv.”  It’s a warning to turn back to God.  Isn’t that what repenting is?   Isn’t it turning back to You, God?  Isn’t it all about restoring our fellowship with You that we lost because of sin?  And were there Jews and Greeks when fellowship was first broken?  No, in the garden there were no Jews or Greeks.  And we were all created for fellowship in and with You.  You are calling us back to that fellowship.  I return to You, Lord, so that my sins can be obliterated in You.  I return to You, so that I can walk in Your presence again. 

One of my favorite verses comes to mind here.  God is speaking through Joel.  “And I will restore to you the years that the locust has eaten, the cankerworm, and the caterpillar, and the palmerworm, my great army which I sent among you.  And you shall eat in plenty, and be satisfied, and praise the name of the LORD your God, that has dealt wondrously with you:  and my people shall never be ashamed.”  This is such powerful, WONDERFUL truth!  Do I believe in every promise that You have made, Lord, to live as though I trust You no matter what?  Will I believe and demonstrate the depth of my belief by absolutely turning back to You no matter what?  Your promise to me is that if I believe and turn back to You with all I am and all I have, You will restore that which was destroyed by sin.  And this is like a Job restoration.  When I have learned to be dependent on You again, when You become my everything, then You can remove those things You needed to place in my life to draw me back to You.  But what seemed to be lost, well, when You restore, the Hebrew idea isn’t just that You restore plenty.  It’s that You restore plenty more than the plenty You give back!  In Hebrew You restore “akal” “akal”.  You restore in excess and then in excess again.

So, the question is, will I believe and turn to You?  Will I be willing to receive the locusts, and cankerworms, the caterpillars, and palmerworms that You send into my life and realize that every tough thing is there to draw me closer to You?  Will I understand how wonderfully You are dealing with me and reaching out to me?  Will I be able to see the depth of Your love for me through the price that Jesus paid on the cross for me?  What shame He accepted on my behalf!  Yet, there is absolutely nothing to be ashamed of in Christ.  He is glory upon glory.  So, have I believed and turned unto You?  Come hell, or high water, or whatever tragedy, am I so turned to You that there is no turning back for me because nothing else is as attractive as You?