Monday, November 3, 2014
The Highest Form of Praise
The endocrinologist had given me the sad news earlier in the week as he read off a test results' declining numbers. It was just a matter of "when," not "if" the pregnancy terminated. Like most mothers-to-be, I prayed against the odds that this baby would live, prayed against hopelessness and barrenness until this morning when there was no more reason to pray.
What to do next was simple--it was Sunday. On Sunday, husband and I always worship at our local church. And so, we dressed and drove there in silence.
I can still visualize myself that day singing the hymns and praise choruses with my Christian family. It was almost an out of body experience where I could hear my voice singing the words, but I did not feel them in my heart.
A few tears slipped silently down my upturned face as husband held me intentionally close. No one knew, no one mourned but the two of us. In that moment, I could feel my stoic husband holding me up as if letting go might break us both. I remember consciously asking God to accept these songs of praise as a sacrifice for Him, one I offered in my brokenness even if I could not offer a heart of joy.
Last month, I relived this moment as I watched our church's music minister leading the congregation in worship even though his mother had died earlier that morning, the second parent he had lost in a month's time.
My eldest daughter later asked me, "Why didn't he just take off? Have someone else fill in for him?"
"What else would he do?" I replied. "She was already gone, so there's nothing he could really do that couldn't wait. Besides, when you're hurting, there's no place more comforting than worshiping God with your brothers and sisters who love you."
It sounds crazy--to give praise to God when we're hurting the most. And yet, that is where the most peace can be found.
2 Samuel gives one well-known example of this type of worship in Scripture.
The prophet Nathan told King David that his son conceived in sin with Bathsheba would die. David repented and mourned for six days, begging God to change His mind. In fact, he mourned so deeply that when the child died on the seventh day, Scripture says "the servants of David were afraid to tell him that the child was dead, for they said, 'Behold, while the child was still alive, we spoke to him and he did not listen to our voice. How then can we tell him that the child is dead, since he might do himself harm!'" (2 Sam. 12:18).
King David figured out that the whispers could only mean one thing, and upon learning the truth of his son's death, he "arose from the ground, washed, anointed himself, and changed his clothes; and he came into the house of the Lord and worshiped" (2 Sam. 12:20).
In Lynn Austin's newest historical fiction book entitled Keepers of the Covenant, she says, "We show our faith in God when we keep moving forward even when our prayers aren't being answered. It's the highest form of praise to keep believing that God is good even when it doesn't seem that way" (p. 35).
More than any book I've read over the past year, this text displays the need for hope in the midst of doubt and loss. Time and again, Austin demonstrates how we must choose to worship God, to have faith in God, even when we can't see the good in the horrific events that happen in our lives.
Keepers of the Covenant tracks the life of the prophet Ezra as he must lead the Jewish remnant living in Babylon back home to Jerusalem. Austin begins with King Xerxes' decree that all Jews be slaughtered and takes us through the fall-out of this battle on the 13th day of Adar, which the Jews celebrate as "Purim."
After the death of his own brother at the hands of the Gentiles, Ezra must choose to worship God or to allow the bitterness to mark his family and witness in the community. Ultimately, he must choose the path of forgiveness, to trust God in the midst of heartache.
Austin puts it best when she says, "If we deny God, our lives aren't worth living" (p. 467).
Nowhere is this more true than when we are suffering. It is then that we need faith more than ever before. I believe it is also then that our worship is the sweetest because it is not given out of our excess but in our lack.
It is in those lowest points when we realize we have absolutely nothing to offer God but our brokenness, our insufficiency, our need--these are the times we must choose to praise Him anyway...for He is worthy of our worship and praise.