“I’ll Still Choose to Worship You”

All right, all right–so this post is extremely long. However, I make it a point to write only what I myself would want to read. If someone else, on another blog, posted something of this length but made it clear that the writing would be detail-oriented and Christ-centered, I would read it. That doesn’t mean that you must read this post–it only means that I’m aware of what I’m doing and conscious that it may not be everyone’s cup of tea. I write for my readers–but then again, sometimes I write simply to thank the Lord. If He wills, I will try to discuss my blogging purpose–and perhaps the art of Christian writing in general from the viewpoint of the Ready Writer at some point in the near future. Meanwhile, enjoy!

At the time of this writing, it is nine thirty-six PM on Tuesday, the thirty-first of December, two-thousand thirteen.

When I said something about the date to Hannah and Naomi, I was met with incredulous laughter and endured five minutes of teasing about how Everyone-Else simply referred to New Year’s Eve. Everyone-Else, you know, is spoken of so frequently that I have begun to convince myself that he is a person, a proper noun at the very least, and deserves the honour of capitalization–particularly since I’m not always particularly adept at following the rules set forth by this nagging, mysterious, exacting Everyone-Else, Esq..

Yes, to you it is New Year’s Eve. To me, it is the thirty-first of December. Why the defiant lack of conventionality? Before I answer, allow me to say that I may come across in the next few paragraphs as a slight stick-in-the-mud, and all readers who enjoy making mud-pies had better vacate the premises or beware of the twig they may encounter in their imaginary gourmet concoctions. Or not. If said mud-pie makers understand that I am approaching life from my point of view, recounting my own personal experiences and not attacking them, their celebration methods, or this all-American tradition of ours, then perhaps I won’t be seen as such a stick-in-the-mud after all, but more like a little sapling planted in ground that just happens to be somewhat sodden from recent inclement weather.

Now, on to my explanation. I don’t classify this day as any different because, frankly, it simply isn’t that big a deal to me. I don’t make resolutions because I can’t possibly know God’s timetable, and how can I ever say what will happen tomorrow or the next day? “Therefore, take no thought for the morrow, for the morrow will take thought for itself.” Besides, what can I resolve to do? A healthier diet, a more rigourous exercise programme, a cleaner house, a determination to do more cumulative good deeds, a self-made promise to work with my guide-dog more attentively, a miniature vow to focus more and daydream about worship music less–these are all externals. If I think of my home as a place to share the Gospel, I will keep it clean without a resolution; if I allow the Holy Spirit to produce fruit in my life, kind words and deeds will be the natural result. First cleanse the inside of the cup or dish, and then the outside will be clean as well–not perfect, but cleaner, and both inside and outside will be more reflective of the glory of Christ. And so, I do not make resolutions for two-thousand fourteen. All right, all right–even I know that that kind of writing will drive all my readers to distraction. Hereafter, 2014. Moving on…

Whether I complete this post in thirty minutes or three hours, I plan to spend some time in worship, then go straight to bed–the midnight hour is for resting or for Jesus, but not for the staying up of it all. Several months ago, the Scriptures which state that our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit and that we are to be holy and live to honour the Lord even in our bodies were all impressed upon me with a profundity I could no longer ignore; consequently, I have been trying to eat more Biblically, as it were. It’s such a delight to me that I will probably pass on snack platters of sausage and cheese, opting instead for a delicious lunchtime bowl of lentils. I want to serve the Lord my God better and better in heart, mind, soul, and strength–to love Him with my “very”. (For more on loving the Lord “with all your very”, which is the way the original Hebrew reads, you may wish to peruse Lois Tverberg’s excellent book, WALKING IN THE DUST OF RABBI JESUS.) To serve Him as I long to do, I may pass on the football game that will accompany the snack platters and enjoy some time listening to the Keswick Praise worship team. This means that, if the Lord wills, I may be writing tomorrow–not about 2014, but about something random and unrelated, like gift of miraculous physical healing as compared with the Lords slow refining of our inward being, or the moment of worship I experienced on 2 December, or the absolute joy of resting in Jesus, or the various delights of Resurrection Day (never mind that it’s the wrong time of year entirely). All, of course, rather comically unrelated to the subject popularly at hand.

So, if I don’t make resolutions, don’t stay up until midnight, don’t eat New Year’s Day snacks, don’t watch televised games, don’t “ooh” and “ahh” over fireworks, and don’t even write the date conventionally, then what do I do? Will this day slip by me unnoticed? Does it mean nothing to me? No, dear reader–this day means so very much to me, just like every other day the Lord gives me to rejoice in Him. “This is the day that the Lord has made,” proclaims Psalm 118:24. “Let us rejoice and be glad in it.” Today, more than being the eve of a corporate holiday, is a day to celebrate, to thank the Lord, to love and serve and worship Him.

That said, perhaps I can meld my philosophy with your conventions. What has the Lord done for, through, and in me over this past year? While the answer would fill volumes, perhaps some of it can be reproduced here:

* * *

January, 2013: Not much to report. The month of January was still characterized by a spiritual desert through which I had been traveling since 30 August. Solomon had it right when he wrote in Proverbs 18:14, “A man’s spirit sustains him in sickness, but a crushed spirit who can bear?” I had endured far greater physical turmoil by the world’s standards and had sailed through it on a sea of glorious peace, but January, 2013 was still seeing the fractured state of my heart, and I could scarcely eat a meal without falling to pieces.

Only one day even began to touch the pain. I had gone to see my hematologist for a routine exam, but she ordered a number of tests that were anything but routine. This in itself was unnerving, but then, several nurses all had trouble drawing the required labs and inserting an IV. I’m almost ashamed to admit it now, but I became hysterical–not so much from the pain as from a terror of what might happen next. If they couldn’t insert an IV, then they couldn’t run a CAT scan with contrast; if no CAT scan, then I might be treated for a condition from which I wasn’t suffering or sent home without being treated for a condition from which I might be suffering. And so, I panicked. No matter what I was told, I could not control the tears and screams that overtook me–and any sort of relaxant was out of the question, as relaxants had only ushered in even greater trauma in the past. Right in the middle of this crisis, a nurse approached me and said simply, “Sometimes, singing helps during times like this.” True–singing keeps the singer taking deep breaths. And then she continued, “What do you like to sing?” By this time, I was so terrified that I likely couldn’t have told you my name or here I was. I could have told you that I was a Christian, but I’m not sure I would have, for beneath all the anxiety lurked shame at not having been a calmer servant of God. Now what was I to do? To admit that I loved, cherished, clung to worship music–at a time like this!–I had already tarnished my witness for Christ to such an extent that I feared she might never listen to the Gospel again if I mentioned that I followed Him. I couldn’t be dishonest and deny my Lord, though, so I tried to throw her off-course. “I like all music by Don Moen and Bob Fitts,” I replied, thinking that she would have no inkling of those worship leaders and walk out of the room, dismayed at my preference for obscure music. Instead, she shocked me by drawing the other half of the Ichthys I had drawn in the sand, so to speak. “God will make a way…” she began tenderly. “God will make a way, / Where there seems to be no way. / He works in ways we cannot see– / He will make a way for me…” So, she knew all about Don Moen, who penned that worship anthem following the tragic death of his sister and niece.

So, yes, that was my January–one holy moment, much strife, but a gentle promise somewhere in my spirit that I would soon be free from the anguish that kept me in such misery.

* * *

February, 2013: Absolute glory! Peace! Joy! Surrender! It was on 17 February that the aforementioned gentle promise was fulfilled. By this time, I had almost given up waiting and hoping and praying, but thought I would dedicate one more weekend to seeking His face and His presence through fasting and prayer. By this time, everyone I knew was beseeching me to “just give anti-depressants a try”. The story is one for another post, but I kept resisting well-meaning pleas because I felt then, and feel now, that the Lord did not want me to take that course. So, fasting and prayer were my only remaining option.

Three days of supplication, one worship album, two chapters of a devotional book on rest, and I was soaring on wings like eagles. For the first time in many, many months, I was again able to read Revelation. The joy was so intense that it was almost like the day when, over a decade before, I had received the baptism of the Holy Spirit. Victory and triumph! In a matter of ten minutes on that seventeenth day of February, all that had been broken in my heart and life was completely restored. Meals I would not have been able to eat the week before were now delectable; worship music whose intricacy had physically hurt my ears was now so beautiful I could have spent all my days and nights in those green pastures.

And the freedom didn’t go away. It only got more and more beautiful. As days became weeks and weeks turned into months, I found that I could remember Scripture that had long been buried beneath sorrow. No longer did I mourn, no longer did I weep. Evenings were spent not in tears, but in learning how to worship again. A skeptical reader once saw this experience summarized and posted on another site and implied that she didn’t feel that this time of rest would last. In response to the question she posed in March–am I still in that place? Do I still rejoice in 17 February’s freedom? Oh, every hour… I could not now be writing unless I were still in that place of freedom, for I don’t write when I feel down-trodden. Writing is a gift I have been given solely to glorify God, and I fear I might misrepresent His Word if I write when I feel discouraged. So, commenter at my former writing community, yes, I am free–and I praise the Lord always for that freedom!

* * *

March, April, and May, 2013: Have you ever experienced church? Not, “Have you ever attended church?” Most of my readers would answer the latter question with a resounding yes, and would likely find my inquiry somewhat silly besides. No, that’s not what I mean. I want to know whether you have ever been completely disillusioned with most of the churches in your area, attended a church function under the guidance of a spiritual mentor, and found yourself so blessed that you could scarcely contain your joy. I want to know whether that church you so reluctantly attended introduced you to a piece of worship–music, prayer, something in a sermon, a new way of taking Communion–that you held in your heart for days and weeks to come. I have. The event was a hymn-sing, the church was affiliated with the Assemblies of God, and the piece of worship was “Sunshine in My Soul”.

Those months were times of learning. During them, the Holy Spirit taught me to trust Him again, to rely on Him completely regardless of circumstance, and to devote my life to serving Him. You see, six-month valleys can take a toll on how we serve the Lord, despite our best efforts and intentions. I had to relearn to read Scripture and internalize it, to listen for His voice and obey His guidance, to enjoy worship music album by album rather than five minutes at a time… I had to learn that, when the Lord promised to heal a minor medical difficulty that Naomi was experiencing, He would do what He said He would. Naomi, by the way, was fine.

However, I also had to learn that God is God, all-powerful and all-knowing, on 15 April–the day on which Hannah was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. I didn’t understand. Hadn’t all trials somehow been eliminated? (I don’t know how I justified that doctrine from Scripture, where it clearly states that the Lord will be with us THROUGH and IN the fire and flood, but you must understand that I was still learning how to stand in my newly-acquired freedom.) At that time, I experienced much anger and denial and almost shut down completely. All I had to hold on to, spiritually, were a promise from Psalm 126 and the hymn that kept floating through my mind. Psalm 126 was most comforting: “He who goes forth weeping … will come again rejoicing.” It was a direct promise from our loving Lord that He would piece even this back together if I would trust Him, and that Hannah’s diagnosis would not somehow plunge me back into the valley whence I had been delivered two months earlier. The hymn was more perplexing. There I would be, putting away groceries and listening as Hannah recounted new and scary symptoms she was experiencing on this MS journey, fretting about what this could possibly mean for her–for all of us!–when, quite unbidden, lyrics would fill my heart and unconsciously pour out of me in song: “There is music in my soul today, / A carol to my King, / And Jesus, listening, can hear / The songs I cannot sing… / Oh, there’s … blessed sunshine … in my soul!” I couldn’t figure it out. Even as I was humming or singing those words, there seemed to be nothing of the sort anywhere near me–only clouds and rain–and yet, here I was, being compelled to sing about gladness and glory! The Lord used that hymn in those days to show me that, while my flesh might be wracked with pain at this new medical crisis in our lives, my spirit could still rejoice, could still love the Savior, could still celebrate His grace and rest on His Word. Or, as Psalm 30 describes it, “Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes in the morning.”

Then, too, there was the period of recovery. When Jedediah proposed a picnic lunch in a scenic park, I found it in my weary heart to take along worship music. As Hannah and I listened to Grace Community Church’s rendering of “Beautiful Redeemer”, we discussed her MS, and it really didn’t seem so bad. Or take the time Naomi and I found that we weren’t really talking or listening as well as we could. It was a long, hard road, but on 26 May, we reaffirmed our deep friendship in the Lord–so profound that it bordered on a covenant. Perhaps it would have taken less time had I accepted Hannah’s diagnosis more readily, but who am I to begin making those sorts of comparisons?

* * *

June, 2013: It was all about learning to trust God in the smallest of details. Long had I desired something that, in the scope of eternity, is really very insignificant–but, how I wanted that little proverbial knickknack! On 19 June, it was given to me, not so that I could rejoice in a simple situation resolving itself but so I could trust even more deeply in the One Who knows the number of hairs on my head.

Then, too, that month was filled with small symbols–an allegory about Naomi’s life in the Lord, a crocheted headband whose every stitch bespoke sentimentality, a bag for anointing oil that Seamstress had so kindly sewn and sent with encouragement and Agape…

* * *

July, 2013: For the first time in many months, I resolved to trust the Lord Jesus with everything I had, everything I feared, every unknown entity in my life–to include the health of loved-ones. Then it was that I was able to listen to songs about heaven again, to read Ezekiel, to pray without ceasing as in days of old. Then it was that the Lord sent us help in the form of Holy-Hands, a precious sister in Christ who, despite her own family’s illnesses and other trials, remains so steadfast that it warms your heart just to be with her for ten minutes. But Holy-Hands did not linger for ten minutes only–she stayed for a week. It was one of the most refreshing times I had experienced in years–fellowship, singing unto the Lord, reading Scriptures together, discussing the Holy Spirit… Everyone needs such a visit at least once. It was a turning-point, for I had prayed for some sort of help, someone to come and help us make sense of Hannah’s MS and other difficulties in our lives–and Holy-Hands announced her visit a mere three days later. Ever since that day, I have known, have understood and internalized, the Lord’s awesome power and His great care for each of us.

All that glory and joy culminated on 22 July and 25 July. Prior to those days, I had longed for a chance to be somewhere else–anywhere else. I was not satisfied with the city in which I lived–too few churches that really preached the Gospel–and I wanted to live in a more friendly town. I remember begging the Lord to let us move several times, pleading with Him that I just wanted a chance to start over and build community… But it was in late July that the Lord convicted me to stop asking for the chance to start over–that I could be a shining light right where He had planted me, and that I must learn to see those around me through His eyes before traipsing off to do “mission work” somewhere else. That realization came with such a magnificent knowledge of His manifest presence that there were no words to sing, to speak, to pray–no thoughts save of His greatness. Hallelujah!

* * *

August, 2013: The moments were scattered, but they were blessed. First, there was the internship I took at a local center for people with various disabilities. The center was not an ideal place to work for any length of time–staff concerns, not consumer conflicts–so the days when the Lord broke some of those barriers were absolutely wonderful. First, there was the young man who came for career counseling. While we were talking, I prayed for him, and the Lord convicted me to tell this man that I had prayed. The man’s response was emphatic–he, too, loved the Lord with all his heart. Actually, he expressed it more articulately, but confidentiality does not allow me to use his actual words. Then, there was the day when the Lord used my guide-dog, Natasha. A young girl asked, with apparent difficulty, to be allowed to pet her. I have a very, very short list of people who may pet my dog because to do so is invasive of personal space and property. But the Lord told me that this as important, so I readily said yes. Come to find out that this girl had communication difficulties, seldom ever spoke to people, and used to be afraid of dogs–that this one interaction was like a miracle breakthrough. Fellow Christians, keep this in mind before saying no to something the Lord may want you to do!

There’s more to August–something about an out-of-state journey to see family, about an early morning in a hotel room, about worship music and angels… But that account is so precious, at least to me, that it must be saved for another post.

* * *

September, 2013: “Arise, My Soul, Arise”. Another magnificent hymn-sing, this one even more Spirit-led than the one in April had been. Two long, weary weeks of feeling separated from God because of all the busyness that was threatening to consume my life. One wonder-filled night, complete with Communion. One simple message–I may, I must, rest in the Lord–even if the world is imposing other priorities. Never again should I allow anything else to usurp my time in His Word or my knowledge of His love. Although the same ill-arranged priorities have been extended to me since that timeframe, I have never again allowed my heart to forget the verse that is indelibly etched there: “Come unto Me, all you who labor and are heavy-laden, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28). Now I know, with absolute clarity, that I don’t resemble Martha the hustling servant in Luke X, but Mary of Bethany, who sat at Jesus’ feet to hear Him. That’s all right. Not everyone needs to be in a leadership position to love God and serve Him and His people.

* * *

October, 2013: First, Naomi and I betook ourselves to a Christian conference center, there to participate in a self-directed retreat. Oh, how we both needed it! Naomi was blessed by seeing so many others who loved and served God–a rarity in our community–and I could not get enough of the project we began there. If you have never read, preferably aloud, all the words of Jesus in a single sitting, you must try it. I can’t explain it fully, but it provides an entirely different perspective on His life, ministry, and great and glorious gift to mankind.

That was 7 October-9 October. On the night of 15 October, the Lord Jesus called me back to a life of holiness. He called me in a dream whose details I don’t feel equipped to describe. The message was something akin to the fact that I had been healed emotionally and set free, but that I was now to use the freedom God had given me not just to absorb and to know His joy, but to serve Him and others better. More Bible study, less moaning about insignificant problems, more worship, less idling while waiting for a free three hours, more faith, less fear. For three days, I refused to surrender–and, trust me, this was the sort of call that required a response. I was afraid to repent and tell the Lord that I would return to holy living in Him, though, because I was afraid He might ask me to do something for which I didn’t have the strength. But–oh! the peace that surrounded me when I did surrender. No to say that the rest of that month was easy–it wasn’t. In fact, it was so chockablock with emotional and medical stumbling blocks that I was tempted to give up in despair. Only the grace of God, and His command to live more fully for Him, kept me clinging as tightly as I did to His love and mercy. I didn’t know what direction my little prayer of trust would lead, but then came…

* * *

November, 2013: The changes were small, but I cherished every one. A little extra time to worship here, a decision to honour God in day-to-day life there… For the first time in months, I was able to worship the Lord in both prayer and fasting–not out of desperation, as in February, but out of simple adoration. No, this is not intended as a catalogue of days on which I determined that fasting would glorify God–the way I read the Scriptures, such discussions of fasting are expressly forbidden. I mention it only because that discipline had been missing from my life and the Lord restored it. I had refrained–refused, really–because returning to mundane life following an extensive time of fasting and prayer could be difficult. What a ridiculous reason to refuse the presence of God! And so, the privilege of sacrificing for the kingdom of God is now firmly in place again–and how glad I am to have it there!

It was on 9 November that I decided that even physical things such as what I ate and how I lived my leisure moments should be consecrated to the Lord. Does penne alfredo honour the Lord? If I plan to supplement it with a hearty serving of cheesecake, probably not. If I haven’t eaten all day and that penne alfredo happens to be adorned with broccoli, then it would be acceptable for this temple of the Holy Spirit. Not a maniacal count of calories or measure of micronutrients, since those calculations were never discussed in Scripture–just living life, living it for Him. It has been a pure delight–not bondage, but another way to proclaim God’s praise–with every bite at every meal, my heart can say, “Holy is the Lord!” A decision that posed many ramifications, since there are now things I don’t eat at all such as hydrogenated oils, but such a blessing.

* * *

December, 2013: If I were to classify months by characteristic rather than by Latin name, December would have been “Faith Month” from the second day. First came the tests–all minor, but all designed to teach a lesson. Right up until Christmas Eve, I had to trust that the Lord would provide another minor desire of my heart that, though small in the scope of eternity, seemed great in the scope of the next few months. More seriously, I underwent a medical procedure that had historically been very upsetting, but it turned out beautifully this time. Naomi wasn’t always in the best of health, and her migraines were cause for deep unrest in my heart, for, even though I knew she was going to be all right, her illness several years ago had led to someone criticizing my spiritual life and I was afraid it might happen again. Not a light matter, but certainly cause for my faith to be stretched, shaped, formed, molded, and refined.

And rewarded! You see, besides being “Faith Month”, December was also “Joy Month” and “Promise Month”. Aside from decorating the Christmas Tree–indeed, the whole house!–my family and I did things together that we had not done in years. At the same time, my times of worship and of reading Acts were producing real, tangible, flourishing fruit–not fully ripe yet, but certainly present. One day, I plastered a page of God’s promises on the wall in the corridor just above the thermostat and Naomi, who has not read Braille in many years, found it so important that she spent several moments trying to decipher my complex Braille shorthand. I saw progress on every side, fruit in the lives of every one of the people for whom I daily prayed. Christmas was a joy, and its Christ-centered, peace-filled aftermath lingers to this very hour.

* * *

What is my point in all of this? Thanksgiving, my beloved reader–pure thanksgiving. While I can’t make great, lofty, sweeping resolutions for 2014, I can look back over this past year, behold what the Lord has brought me through, and thank Him for the victory He has wrought in my life and in the lives of those around me. Then, I can trust that His care will be the same in the coming year as it has been through these twelve beautiful months with Him directing my steps. “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever”.

Many of my readers will be familiar with the fact that I title most of my posts after worship songs. “I Still Choose to Worship You” is a unique, beautiful Algerian worship anthem of about six minutes. It is available on the album “You Are the Only One”, which is currently awaiting your purchase from the iTunes Store. The song employs vivid descriptions of worship being poured out like fragrant oil from an alabaster box–calling to mind one of my favorite accounts in all of Scripture–and emphasises the need to worship Him, even when our circumstances seem bleak. “Shall we accept good from the Lord, and not [difficulty]?” (See Job 1-3). The song has elements of both joy and testing and has shaped my spiritual life this year ever since I discovered it on 26 February. I encourage you to buy it in the belief that it will prove as much a blessing to you as it has been to me–and, oh yes, in a campaign to bring more global worship music to the United States.

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