But may all who seek you rejoice and be glad in you; may those who love your salvation say continually, “Great is the Lord!” -Psalm 40.16
During Lent this year, I sensed an inner urging to draw closer to God. While I prayed and read Scripture virtually every day, I have become less intimate with God over the past years.
So during Lent, I decided to listen to my old worship music.
Hold on… a little context. Throughout my entire Christian formation, worship was a constant and dominant aspect of my life. Early in my Christian formation, I was taught that worship was far more than singing songs to God. Rather, it was a deeply intimate interaction with a loving and mighty God.
I loved worship! I loved worshipping at church. I loved worshipping personally using CDs. I collected virtually every worship CD I could. I owned every single Hosanna! Music and Vineyard release. I bought a wide-range of CDs by Delirious, Chris Tomlin, Matt Redman, Tim Hughes, Lincoln Brewster, The Passion Band, Darrell Evans, and Kent Henry. By the time I was in the Vineyard, I attended worship conferences and participated in the congregation for a few live recording of worship albums.
I had tried futilely to learn guitar several times in my youth prior to becoming a Christian. As a young youth pastor, I remember asking God to let me easily learn the guitar so I could glorify him through worship and by leading others in worship. Coincidentally or miraculously, I quickly learned guitar soon after that prayer and vowed only to play guitar in worship to God.
When things went terribly wrong at the Vineyard where I was the Associate Pastor, I left professional ministry. The wounds were so painful that I could not listen to worship music without feeling betrayed and depressed. That dark season lasted several years, until this past Lent.
The urge for deeper intimacy with God carried with it a need to reconnect to intimate worship again. So I began listening to my worship CDs during my commutes to work and home. The first couple of days were emotionally difficult. But then something happened. The negative feelings evaporated and were replaced with a newfound intimacy. But the intimacy was much different from what I previously experienced in worship.
The familiar songs brought to mind memories of past worship experiences. I recalled moments during worship conferences when thousands of worshippers sang their hearts to God in deep unity. I recalled worship team practices at the Vineyard with my friends. I recalled times of worship in children’s ministry, youth group, and home group settings. I recalled shouting and singing at the top of my lungs. I recalled moments of holy silence as God’s presence filled the room. I recalled recording worship songs that I had written at my friend’s home. I recalled God’s intimate and healing presence in worship during the darkest days of my burnout in professional ministry. I recalled promises he whispered, sins he convicted, wounds he comforted, delusions he lifted, and resolve he strengthened during countless moments of worship.
The familiar songs and fond memories brought a different kind of intimacy with God. The songs had become stones that fashioned a memorial like the ones ancient Israelites would erect to remind them of important events with God. This “memorial” of worship songs compelled me to remember those intimate moments with God experienced alone and with others. By doing so, it renewed my thanksgiving for God’s faithfulness through the difficult years; for God’s beauty in the midst of ugliness caused by others and myself; for God’s majesty transcending and transforming my personal pain. In all of it God is AWESOME.
I’m so thankful that God has allowed me to experience the joy of worship again. And the fond memories accompanying this renewal are some of the dearest to me. Now that I’m part of a Christian tradition that doesn’t practice that particular style of worship, I am even more mindful of how special and precious those moments were and will carry them reverently the rest of my life.