Wait for the Lord O My Soul (second posting)Posted: September 12, 2022
Starting in April, my wife and I took a three-month sabbatical from our ministry duties at the church we work for. (I spoke here to our church about the concept of sabbath and sabbatical just before we went.) Even though I had studied and learned the logical idea of sabbath, I feel like it was something in my head and maybe just a bit of my heart but certainly not yet in my body and my bones. It was so hard for me to stop! (The very word sabbath is derived from the Hebrew word for stopping.) As God was just beginning to form for himself a people-group unique in the world, Sabbath was given as a gift to this group of former slaves, whose very identity had been in their production value, the number of bricks they could bake on a daily basis. God says to them you have to stop! Stop and remember who you are. Stop and know you can trust in me. Stop and know that I am enough for you. All the festivals and feasts that defined the identity of the people were built on top of sabbath rhythms. Even the origin story of the cosmos had sabbath as its crowing moment and key literary organizing feature (the Bema and Bible Project podcasts have much more to say about this if you’re interested).
I realized that even though I had taken vacations before, it had been at least 25 years since I had let a Sunday or two roll by without being deeply involved in all the workings of the church. Even though I might leave town and worship with another congregation, I would set everything up for my local church, remaining intimately involved in everything going on while I was away. But taking three months away meant I had to let go. I set up a sermon series and preaching rotation for our time away and delegated various responsibilities and then I had to just step away. It was so good for me (and so good for the church). It was good for me to spend hours and hours in reading, prayer, meditation, listening to spiritual podcasts, taking long hikes in nature. And I also spent time recording music!
One of the books I read, This Beautiful Truth, has as its thesis that beauty and art and creativity is one of the answers to the question of theodicy. Like the mystics taught, God is so big, so vast, so endless that he can never be understood through purely rational and logical means. He has to be encountered in ways that go beyond–into areas of artistic expression and delight. (God’s own answer to Job is not to rationally explain but rather to point to aspects of his amazing creation.) When approached this way art can become an act of worship. As I meditated on this I realized I had become so hampered from releasing new music by perfectionism. This quote from the book rang true, and both inspired me and really hit me hard:
Every work of art reaches out across the centuries, and each is a vision that casts a flame into the darkness. The wonder is that one great light wakes another. The song of one wakens the story of another. The story she told became the poem he made that kindled the painting in yet another’s hands. Each is a work of obedience. No artist can cast their flame of vision without a twinge of fear that it will simply fade or even pass unseen. But each is also a work of generosity: precious, private worlds offered in a self-forgetfulness that pushes aside vanity, insecurity, and perfectionistic pride.Sarah Clarkson, This Beautiful Truth (p. 187)
I realized I had around 20 worship songs I had written over several years I hadn’t released because I wanted them to be so perfect, I wanted to get my amazing musician and singer friends to help me work on them and was always too busy to make it all happen. My own voice has limitations, especially as I age. My own recording abilities are not as good as other stuff out there. But my heart was not in the right place. Sabbatical reflection helped me to surrender and realize how I just want to be like a flower or a tree or a mountain that reflects the worship and God and witnesses to his amazing grace. Who cares if there are better or more professional ways to perform or release these songs. Who knows how God can use my “fishes and loaves” and do something better or bigger with them. So I decided to spend some of my sabbatical time recording the first batch of these songs–the ones that had been written during times of waiting or spiritual struggle, wrestling surrender to God’s plan and my own limitations. Many of these were written were written simply enough to be congregational songs, but also they were borne of journeys through darkness and coming through to the light of the other side.
The posture of waiting is the posture of worship. It is interested that the book of Acts starts that way–Jesus is talking about the kingdom of God and his followers want to know how it’s all going to unfold. Yet his answer? To WAIT. His Spirit is going to be the central character in the narrative to follow. Our job is just to wait and witness. We don’t have to have it all figured out, we don’t have to direct all the action. We can trust in his goodness and guidance and enjoy the ride. Yes we will need to speak up, to act in boldness and courage while participating in God’s mission in the world. But it all starts with our souls patiently waiting on him.
Out of the depths I cry to you, Lord;
Lord, hear my voice.
Let your ears be attentive
to my cry for mercy.
If you, Lord, kept a record of sins,
Lord, who could stand?
But with you there is forgiveness,
so that we can, with reverence, serve you.
I wait for the Lord, my whole being waits,
and in his word I put my hope.
I wait for the Lord
more than watchmen wait for the morning,
more than watchmen wait for the morning.
Israel, put your hope in the Lord,
for with the Lord is unfailing love
and with him is full redemption.
He himself will redeem IsraelPsalm 130
from all their sins.