Friday, 12 April. I attend a hymn-sing with little hope in my heart, entirely disillusioned with the vast majority of all churchgoing Christians who, until recently, have been wary of allowing me into their ranks. Never mind that this is an introverted city with little sense of community anywhere; I have begun to feel personally slighted. And so, each time some well-meaning friend or family member remarks that it will be “such a blessing!” to attend this hymn-sing, I find myself battling the inner response, “No, I don’t think it is.”
Then, suddenly, the hymn-sing is upon me. This year, it is held at an Assemblies of God church–which is unusual in and of itself–and so overflowing with joy that I suddenly know what the Azusa Street revivals must have been like. Sitting in a modest folding chair, my heart falls to its knees as voice intertwines with voice. Together we sing–first, “Take Your Burden to the Cross and Leave It There”, then “Some Through the Waters”.
By this time, I have lost all inclination or ability to sing and simply allow my whole being to fill with awe in His holy presence, adoration for this King I worship.
And then, the miracle.
I grew up in and out of various congregations, being the granddaughter of a Baptist minister who later left hat denomination and became ordained as a Methodist, who believes in the active working of the Holy Spirit and has associated with many Charismatic churches over his lifetime, and being the daughter of parents who have been tremendously blessed by both the Church of God and various Calvary Chapels. The bottom line: I worship with those who love Jesus. However, that background does not lend itself to familiarization with any particular denomination’s hymnal. On top of all that, my mother grew up singing so many hymns–and hearing so many more rendered by an incoherent choir–that she seldom taught them to my sister and I.
That said, I am entirely, holistically unprepared for “There Is Sunshine in My Soul”. I have never heard the hymn before and aching crevices of my heart that I have forgotten to fill for years respond to that glorious melody with a fervor that breaks down every defense I have ever harbored. For a long time, I listen to the congregation singing–singing to the Lord, singing at me as I worship in mute wonder, singing with all their hearts:
“There is music in my soul today,
A carol to my King,
And Jesus, listening, can hear
The songs I cannot sing.”
Yes, yes… the song I can by that time not have sung even had I heard the words from infancy. My heart soars on those words, rejoicing in every nuance and every note. I thought that “Some Through the Waters” had given me a brilliant idea of true revival, but here I am experiencing something even deeper. As the congregation continues to sing of “springtime in my soul”, the glory of the Lord Jesus so fills the entire church that, like those Azusa Street worshipers in 1906–or, perhaps more appropriately, like the priests ministering at Solomon’s temple–I want to rejoice in that Shekinah for hours or days, as long as the Holy Spirit continues giving us this wondrous gift. Everything that Tommy Tenney ever wrote in The God Chasers makes sense in that moment–the desire to dance for joy, yet to kneel in deepest reverence, culminating in waves of worship that cannot be explained, let alone penned.
I have no idea whether anyone else feels as I do at that moment. Do they, too, feel the need to cease their song and break into spontaneous prayer and praise–or is their joy so great that they feel that upholding the song is the only way to express it? Or is this just another hymn-sing for most of them, this gift being a healing in my own heart that isn’t necessarily meant for everyone to share? Does anyone–the song leader, the friend who has accompanied me here, or any of the congregation–know just how deeply the Lord is blessing me, them, us, His people?
That is the miracle, Part I. Part II emerges gradually. For years, I have believed that no worship music was so beautiful as that of voices in unison. Congregational or choral music, I felt, was one way of putting into practice Jesus’ exhortation that “where two or more are gathered together in My name, there am I in the midst of them”. Now, as I remain seated in that folding chair in order to keep my service dog under control, with all the congregation standing to sing, I hear how very true that is. Voices in harmony, voices flawed but so beautiful to the One Who created them, voices of men and women and innocent youngsters, sopranos and altos, tenors and the occasional base, instruments lending their own voices to this chorus of majesty, voices of soothing peace and cracked weariness, people hungry for more of the Bread of Life… And suddenly, I can see them all through His eyes again–no longer a nameless, faceless mass of “good churchgoers” who will not let me into their ranks, but each individual a person whom our Lord Jesus loves and whom, through His grace, I too can learn to love. This is the Body of Christ behaving as it should, the family of God loving the Lord and loving each other as I haven’t seen in a long, long time.
Later, much later, I unpack from my purse a small voice recorder and attach it to my computer, open Audacity, and proceed to turn the entire experience into an album for personal use. Yes, I record church services. But that’s our secret, my beloved reader–our joyful secret, which I’ll attempt to explain in a separate post. Suffice it to say for the present that the intricacies of congregational worship are too beautiful not to be preserved if such preservation is possible; that the recordings are generally of such poor quality as to appeal only to those who were actually at the event; and that they are for my use only. From Audacity to iTunes to my iPod… A miracle preserved, and a constant reminder of the sunshine that lingers constantly in my soul!
* * *
The above was something I really should have written about four months ago, as the events were taking place. What kept me? First, my sister’s diagnosis of multiple sclerosis–but that should never have put an end to my writing, and certainly not for so long. What? Is there “Sunshine in My soul” when I’m attending a hymn-sing, but only sorrow when I face trials? And yet, the Word proclaims, “In the multitude of my anxieties within me, Your comforts delight my soul”. And, too, “shall we accept good from the Lord and not difficulty”? Yes, I should have continued to write–about all the “flowers of grace [that] appear” even during hardships, and the glory that will linger in my soul as long as I am on this earth, the more radiant glory I will experience after that time… Yes, there was much to write about.
Why am I writing this now? Because, quite frankly, the Lord is giving me grace to do so. For weeks, I had been praying for the ability to put pen to paper again, but always felt lacking in some area–either in words to express His holiness, or in content, or in perceived audience. I have long been under the notion that writing that is not read by at least one other person is not worth producing. Not true! Writers: If no one sees what you write except our heavenly Father, it is more–so much more–than enough. Anyway, I had always felt lacking in these areas–as though I had been told to build a house (to write), but did not have any materials (words) or building site (readers) or floor plan (content).
And then, today, I assembled my two closest friends and asked them if we could pray together about this problem. Again, “where two or three are gathered together in My name”… As we prayed, I felt immediately at peace about my writing-less situation. This evening, I thought that perhaps I could simply sketch an outline of what has been taking place since 12 April. As I began, though, the Lord planted in me enough joy to reconstruct the day of “Sunshine in My Soul”, which I had resolved to write months ago but had never accomplished. If He wills and by His grace, I would love to continue from there. I have so many dates to enumerate–3 June and 7 June and 19 June, 1 and 2 July, 22 and 25 July, and mayhap 4 August–so many moments in which the Lord revealed His faithfulness and mercy. Lord, may I continue this project, only and always to glorify You and to pour out the fragrant oil from my alabaster box.