join the song

It’s that time again – when what could very well feel like a “have to” turns into a most treasured “get to”.

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As I work on the Christmas Program for our church, I have the privilege of holding this story, these verses, these lyrics for a few months, of seeing our slide show images take shape on the computer screen, of lingering over fresh threads through a timeless, priceless story!

Our church family is a small but faithful body of believers who meet in whatever room the local Christian school can offer us.  There is no stage.  There are no lights.  But we are honored to present this story – His story! – in as grand a fashion as possible (… and yet sweet and simple too).  For He is worthy!!

More than once, I have needed to push back from the desk, overcome with utter gratitude for the GIFT of our Savior!  GOD’s eternal plan of redemption, His love story unfolding through the whole of Scripture.  It is deeply touching and powerful!

And this line in “It Came Upon a Midnight Clear” … it gets me every time: “when PEACE shall over all the earth, its ancient splendors fling, and all the world gives back the song which now the angels sing!”

Yes, LORD, may it be so!  The Father delights in our delight in the birth of His Son, His promise fulfilled!  May all the world join the song the angels sing!

. . .

But, an even deeper longing of the Father’s heart is that each heart will join a song the angels can’t sing!

“No one could learn the song, except those who had been redeemed from the earth.”  Revelation 14:3

Oh, that each heart would prepare room to receive the Savior, personally and individually!  That the receiving would be accompanied with such JOY that those hearts would burst into song, joining the rejoicing of all of heaven, but adding a theme only the redeemed ones truly know!

The angels watch in wonder and rejoice in a grand chorus of praise to GOD when each and every sinner repents and turns to JESUS for salvation!  But the angels will never fully know what it is like to be turned from darkness to light, from bondage, destruction and death to life everlasting, from despair to confident hope and joy!

Yes, we are invited to join the song of the redeemed!  To trust JESUS as our own personal Savior and raise our voices even louder than the angels – from a rescued heart that cannot be silent!

You love Him … you trust Him; and you rejoice with a glorious, inexpressible joy.”  I Peter 1:8

. . .

Sadly, there are times when we lose our song.  When we feel silenced.  We are journeying home to heaven, but in the not yet, in this sin-marred scene, battling our own sin-nature, the impact of it all can feel quite crushing.

Sorrow, loss, struggle, pain – it is all very real.  It seems to rob our joy and steal our song.

But GOD.

What amazingly precious words!  I believe it was no mistake that He brought these tender thoughts from George Matheson (the author of the hymn “O Love That Will Not Let Me Go”) across my path.  Could it be that instead of losing our song in times of sorrow and struggle, we are learning yet another new song?

“Certain songs can only be learned in the valley.  No music school can teach them, for no theory can cause them to be perfectly sung.  Their music is found in the heart.  They are songs remembered through personal experience, revealing their burdens through the shadows of the past, and soaring on the wings of yesterday.  In this verse, John tells us that even in Heaven there will be a song that will only be sung by those “who had been redeemed from the earth.”  It is undoubtedly a song of triumph – a hymn of victory to the Christ who set us free… In this life you are receiving a music lesson from your Father.  You are being trained to sing in a choir that you can’t see yet, and there will be parts in the chorus that only you can sing.  Your Father is training you for a part the angels cannot sing, and His conservatory is the school of sorrows.  In the darkest night He is composing your song.  In the valley He is tuning your voice.  In the storm clouds He is deepening your range.  In the rain showers He is sweetening your melody.  In the cold He is giving your notes expression.  And as you pass at times from hope to fear, He is perfecting the message of your lyrics.”

“Is the midnight closing ‘round you?

Are the shadows dark and long?

Ask Him to come close beside you,

And He’ll give you a new, sweet song.

He’ll give it and sing it with you;

And when weakness slows you down,

He’ll take up the broken cadence,

And blend it with His own.

And many a Heavenly singer

Among the sons of light,

Will say of His sweetest music,

“I learned it in the night.”

And many a lonely anthem,

That fills the Father’s home,

Sobbed out its first rehearsal

In the shade of a darkened room.”

– George Matheson* –

This isn’t the song the angels sing.  This isn’t even the song of the redeemed that the angels can’t sing.  This is a song that only we, uniquely and individually, can sing!

In the quiet moments of this season when nothing feels like a festive holiday, when the struggles and sorrows you have walked through, or are still walking through, engulf you like a flood, what new lyrics is He giving you in that tender place?  How is the Savior coming close in fresh new ways to do for you what you cannot possibly do for yourself?  What new part of His heart is touching your heart?

You may not feel the ability to squeak out a note.  But can you take courage?  Trust His process?  (Can I?! … speaking to my own heart!!!)  As Christy Nockels** would say, can you believe stronger than you can sing right now? That there is a song being formed on your lips.  That it is powerful.  That it is breathtakingly beautiful.  That you are being given something priceless – a song to offer to Him that no one else can sing?

The Father delights in your song!  From its sobbed first rehearsal to the full voice of confidence and praise.  He is taking you by the hand, and step by step is leading you to your place in His choir – one that no one else can fill.

The symphony of praise will not be complete without your part.  He will give you the notes, the words to tell your piece of His story, the heart and the courage… and the JOY of joining the song!

join the song

photo credit: @elizabethjanesnyder, Eagle River, Alaska

* Streams in the Desert, Zondervan 2016

** The Glorious in the Mundane Podcast #26, August 30, 2017

 

 

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dark valley or beautiful meadow?

With raw emotions brimming, I braved my usual pleasantries to “check out” with the office staff and made a bee-line for my car.   Barely closing the door and oblivious to any on-lookers in the parking lot, I let the tears flow freely.  There might have been sobs.  Somewhere in the midst of fears and frustrations that threatened to swallow me, I mouthed the words I couldn’t even speak in that moment: “yet will I trust Him.”

It was a meltdown that had been building for a while.  I could explain that my track record with the dentist has been dire.  In a sense, it was the “last straw” – in a seemingly endless string of 6-month check-ups, every one of them ending in the bad news that yet another procedure was required (insert big, unexpected bills and the agony of hours-long drilling and weeks of recovery).  I was so weary of it all and was tempted to boycott the dentist for the foreseeable future!

But this was more than just a rough visit to the dentist.  A few days later, at the end of an unusually packed day, we tidied up the kitchen and were about to head upstairs to find our pillows when I glanced at the calendar.  And realized that I had completely forgotten an orthodontist appointment for my son!  The sweet office assistant had even been faithful to call me the day before to remind me!  With a personal call – not one of those “reply Y or N” texts!  And I still missed it.  It never even entered my mind.

How did this happen??!?  This was so out of character for me.  Again, I fought raw emotions.  Again, I had to take a deep breath and find my footing.  Over something so simple and forgivable!  My brain scrambled to chastise and bolster me in one fell swoop, “get a grip, lady!”  My sweet husband simply held me, and tried his tender best to tell me, “Babe, I think you just need to go to bed!” (He was right … overtired and overwhelmed, the best choice is usually much needed sleep and better perspective in the morning!)

But to me it was another sign that all was not OK.  I was not OK.  These circumstances should not push me over the edge, but they did.  Even in the fresh morning light, I struggled to make sense of what, exactly, had left me in such a state.  From the breakfast table, I noticed an abandoned book sitting on the kitchen desk, quickly followed by the gnawing thought that I had committed to write a review for it.

“Grace in the Valley” by Heath Adamson.

There I sat, facing the fact that several weeks had passed since I finished reading the book and I still couldn’t bring myself to write about it… why was I resisting?

Because it hit too close to home.

There it is.  The hard truth.  I am in a valley.  It may not be the deepest, darkest valley I have ever walked through, but it is most definitely a valley.  It is shrouded in fog.  Many days feel heavy with difficulty.  Uncertainty.  Too many questions.  Honest longing to know GOD’s heart better, sense His direction with clearer vision.

But sometimes weeks go by and I find myself still in the same place.  It is hard to fight the fear that I will never find my way out.  That this is my new normal.

I was so excited to read this book, desperate for GRACE that redeems this dark valley.  The writer’s word pictures drew me in and I was sure I wouldn’t be able to put it down, that I would devour it in a single day.  But the raw cord it struck in me caused me to set it aside again and again.  I had to coax myself to turn another page and be willing to receive its message.

“Grace in the Valley” presents a fresh look at a beloved passage – Psalm 23.  Heath’s main premise is that, with careful reflection and a transformed heart, we can begin to realize that the dark valley and the blooming meadow are one and the same place!

What?!  There were times my own anguish wanted to raise its voice and speak directly to the author, “my dear man, have you been in a valley like this?  how could you possibly suggest that it is a blooming meadow?  that this is where the riches of grace, GOD’s grace are found?”

I’ve asked the LORD to soften my heart and work on those tender spots that respond so sensitively.  I repent of my angst and confess that absolutely, yes, this dear man must have walked through a valley just like mine, probably several of them, and probably darker than mine, to be able to speak of it with such confidence and clarity!

The LORD used “Grace in the Valley” to flip my script in three ways:

First, this place that feels dark and barren, desolate and unyielding, is actually ripe for discovery – of the heart of GOD, of deep truth and surprisingly abundant provision, of new growth!

Obscured by the fog, this is when we strain to really see!

When we’ve run out of our own ideas and resources, we reach for and experience what GOD is truly (and only!) capable of!

We begin to realize that our perception of ourselves or our circumstances can be vastly different from GOD’s view and purposes.  “There are conversations going on in heaven that we are unaware of.” (p 42)

When we are desperate, we cry out, arms and eyes open to receive.  “Open your mouth wide and I will fill it with good things” (Psalm 81:10) – with powerful testimony of the myriad ways He meets us in times of need.

Through the struggles, He strengthens our faith and grows our spiritual muscles!  He puts those hard lessons to work in new, surprising ways!  Sometimes He completely recreates us, sharpening, emerging or redefining our identity.

Second, this place where I feel abandoned, vulnerable, and terribly lonely, is actually where I will recognize and treasure His Presence… that never leaves me.

To whom else can we turn?  When we have no one else, no where else to turn, we cry out to the only One who will always hear, always answer, the One who has no limitations in His ability to meet our every need.  When we cry out, we discover that He is there.  He has always been right there with us!

“GOD is fully aware of everything and more interested in you than you can fathom.” (p68) ~ “GOD never leaves us, and He finishes what He starts, but He also goes before us (Deuteronomy 31:8).  It is GOD who goes before and cultivates every single spiritual valley and creates a place just for you.  The green pasture and the valley of the shadow of death are the same place.  To feast in the green pasture is also to feast in the valley.”  (p76)

His Presence is what leads us to rest.  Rest speaks more of our confidence in GOD, and our security in His embrace, than looked-for reassurance from more favorable circumstances.  “Rest is not a byproduct of your season changing.  Rest is not given in exchange for a different life.  Rest is a place you come to in GOD.”  (p85)

Finally, this place where I can’t get comfortable, that stretches me in painful ways, that strains my eyes and reconstructs my heart, where I want to push against what feels like shackles and plead for rescue, may actually be a place I don’t want to be in a hurry to leave.

Among other poignant Biblical, personal and historical accounts, Heath tells the story of a father’s tireless efforts, against all logical hope, to find and rescue his young son from the rubble of an earthquake.  When the two are reunited at last, the young boy declares, “I told the other kids not to worry.  I told them if you were alive, you’d save us.  Because you promised, “No matter what, I’ll always be there for you.” … He knew his dad was searching for him.  He was not afraid his father would forget him.  We too can wait, knowing… the Father will not stop until He brings [us] out.” (p 50-51)

We can trust that our Father will go to any length to rescue us, to breathe new life into us.  Unlike an earthly father, our Savior sees and knows all things.  He knows the exact and eternally significant purposes He is orchestrating through our circumstances.  We can wait for His timing, knowing He will never forget us, that He will work tirelessly to meet us right where we are, and bring us to a safe and spacious place.

We will rightly rejoice in His hand reaching to bring us out of a given season of difficulty.  But we will never want to leave the treasures we discovered in that place – the closeness to Him, the sharpened vision and perspective, the awareness of His endless storehouse of protection, provision and blessing!

. . .

The valleys we walk through may never, initially, seem like places of rich and gracious favor of GOD.  My personal season of uncertainty may stretch further than I think possible… and ask more of me than I feel capable of enduring.

I may live the rest of my days with a painful and wearisome track record at the dentist!  But for the moment, the Father gave me a truly gracious, sweet spot in my dental story.  He provided unexpected financial support and led me to a new dental office, where a talented and gentle soul tenderly and skillfully attended to my needs.  In the middle of that procedure, still tense from years of agony under the drill, I sensed the LORD whisper to my heart, “Ask Me to help you.”  At that very moment, I felt a calm wash over my whole body and I was able to relax for the first time in decades – just letting Him walk me through it.

May I learn to trust the Father.

May I allow Him to strain my eyes and reconstruct my heart, calling fresh areas into bloom.

May He help me see the beauty of this valley, where all else dims and fails … where I reach for Him and find He is always with me, and where I discover His rich and truly gracious treasures that have been here all along! 

dark valley bloom

The LORD is my Shepherd, I have everything I need.

He lets me rest in green meadows.

He leads me beside peaceful streams.

He renews my strength.

He guides me along right paths, bringing honor to His Name.

Even when I walk through the darkest valley,

I will not be afraid, for You are close beside me.

Your rod and Your staff protect and comfort me.

You prepare a feast for me in the presence of my enemies.

You welcome me as a guest, anointing my head with oil.

My cup overflows with blessings.

Surely Your goodness and unfailing love

will pursue me all the days of my life,

and I will live in the house of the LORD forever.

Psalm 23 (NLT)

If you find yourself in a valley, you may find a welcomed, fresh perspective about the ways the LORD longs to reveal Himself to you in that place from “Grace in the Valley” by Heath Adamson, published by Baker Books.