Tag Archives: Worship

Singing dangerous prayers against the darkness

God’s taken me and my church on an amazing worship journey these past few weeks. We’ve been studying the first letter of John, and singing all the dangerous prayers. It’s all felt extremely timely.

I’ve found it very difficult to write recently; the political situation we’re in is unlike anything I’ve seen before and evolving rapidly. I wonder what I can say into the face of it that won’t be an irrelevance a week later, or what I have to add to the clamour of voices already speaking loudly, especially when I don’t think any of us have navigated anything like this before and none of us entirely know the way. If I’m honest, I’m fumbling along in the dark trying to find what love looks like just as much as anyone else!

 

But then, into our chaos, God speaks.

 

The teaching in church over the last few weeks has looked at 1 John, which was written to a church suffering from the effects of false claims, which were causing division in the church. Truth itself was under attack, and the Christian community was finding itself fractured. So John writes to assure the church that there is a real truth we can be sure of, in Jesus, and then sets out how we can know it better.

If we want to know where to walk, we need light to be able to see the path. Walking in the light as he calls it is not about whether or not we are ‘saved’, but about how well we know God. We must press into God to see clearly. Honesty and accountability are the path to better relationships with one another and with God, and when we are able to live in total honest openness like this, the truth can be seen and known and division healed. Before we leapt to making judgements of others, we must look honestly at ourselves and see the roots of the same problems in us. And all can be forgiven!

Jesus is our standard against which we must measure truth and love. The more we know Him, the more we can discern these things. And His love, real love, is a love that sacrifices itself, its own interests, and its very life for others and for the benefit of the wider community.

We live in dark times, as truth is under attack and we are being divided against one another. But we can face down and overcome the darkness by striving for closeness with God, personal purity coupled with a transparency and humility that keeps us on the right track and helps build connection with others, and sacrificial love.

 

And then the worship! I don’t know how intentional this has been (I like to think it has been), but most of the songs we have been singing these past few weeks have been the surrender songs*. Big, dangerous prayers, reminding us that we follow a God who became a perfect example of surrendered sacrifice and who is worth everything, and committing ourselves to laying down our lives for God’s work in the world. I say dangerous, because if we really take what we sing seriously and are prepared to let God take us up on our words, we could find ourselves called into painfully sacrificial love for the benefit of God’s people and plans. Laying down our lives is going to hurt! But here we are singing these words, over and over, and I believe truly desiring God’s will be done in and through us, whatever the cost.

And it’s not just been music; on one week we looked back at the bold prayers we’d been encouraged to pray a few months earlier, and to be encouraged by the answers we’d seen to keep up the bold prayers. One week as part of our worship we spent a while praying over our involvement in the world and in politics, that we as a church can bring light into the world.

And a holy silence has descended between these powerful songs as we have sensed the presence of the Holy Spirit working in us. We can be a very reserved church at times, but it’s seemed the Spirit has been at work, breaking down our reservedness, and I’ve never heard this congregation sing so passionately or keep such profound silences.

 

It’s made me wonder about the implications for me personally; here I am, laying aside my claims to a career (which still eludes me) and an easy, comfortable life, and pledging myself to Christ in the battle for truth and love…. I just don’t know how my life and the world situations I find myself in will pan out. I’m aware it could get very difficult and unpleasant, but also that God is worth it all; though I wonder, am I brave enough, should it come to real sacrifice..?

But bigger than my own life, it has felt as if we are being commissioned as a community to face up to the darkness we face in this troubled world, and lay ourselves down in God’s service to work to bring light, and love, and truth, and restoration. Will we take up the call?

 

At the end of one of our worship sessions, an image came to me as we sang; I saw the church standing together, facing a great crowd of terrible dark monsters, but singing out against the darkness these songs of surrender. And the darkness cowered in fear as we sang!

 

* I mean, just look at these songs and lyrics! –
Jesus, be the centre (be my hope, be my song, be my path, be my guide, be the reason that I live…)
Jesus, all for Jesus (all I am and have and ever hope to be, all of my amvitions, hopes and plans, I surrender these into Your hands, for it’s only in Your will that I am free…)
Receive our adoration (we choose to leave it all behind and turn our eyes towards the prize, the upward call of God in Christ, You have our hearts, Lord, take our lives, receive our adoration Jesus, Lamb (sacrifice) of God, how wonderful You are…)
Amazing grace
Blessed be Your name (You give and take away, my heart will choose to say blessed be Your name…)
I surrender all I am to the Saviour who surrendered all for me
Take my life and let it be…
Mighty to save (take me as You find me, all my fears and failures, fill my life again, I give my life to follow everything I believe in, now I surrender…)
This is my desire (I give You my heart, I give You my soul, I live for You alone, every breath that I take, every moment I’m awake, Lord have Your way in me…)
All to Jesus I surrender…
Jesus, lover of my soul (it’s not about me, as if You should do things my way, You alone are God and I surrender to Your ways…)

Melting ice ahead

Because they lead my people astray, saying, “Peace,” when there is no peace, and because, when a flimsy wall is built, they cover it with whitewash, therefore tell those who cover it with whitewash that it is going to fall. Rain will come in torrents, and I will send hailstones hurtling down, and violent winds will burst forth. When the wall collapses, will people not ask you, “Where is the whitewash you covered it with?”

– Ezekiel 13:10-12, the Bible

 

A couple of weeks ago, on the first day of Advent and anniversary of the talks that led to the Paris climate agreement, I accompanied some friends as they delivered a symbolic bucket load of melting ice to the government to bear witness to the fact that we are headed the wrong way on climate change.
A year previously, we had all gone to the government department then responsible for climate policy to pray and symbolically paint whitewash on the walls (more about why here). With more forwards talk and backwards action over the past year, we decided to return with a reminder. We handed in a letter and held a prayer and worship vigil outside the building, whilst others put whitewash across the windows and went inside and emptied the melting ice on the floor – and set up wet floor signs saying ‘Caution! Melting ice ahead!’*.
Our government continues to whitewash the falling wall on climate change, like the Biblical false prophets, prophesying 1.5oC of climate peace ahead where there is none. ‘The wall will fall, and then all will ask you, where is the whitewashed wall?’ Where is the Paris Agreement? Where is the Climate Act? It seems as though our government imagines talk and written commitments are enough, that so long as we do something to keep ‘the green movement’ sweet that will suffice to keep the problem at bay. The talk is good. But it isn’t ‘the green movement’ that needs to be impressed; it is the climate itself, and the climate cannot hear our words, nor read our political agreements. All it notices are our emissions; and these continue to rise.
With carbon-heavy policy being pushed through in practice, what the climate sees is deeply alarming. The truth is, there is melting ice ahead and we stand on slippery ground. We need to turn around, prophesy the truth that we are heading for danger, and repent and cut emissions accordingly. Only then can we stop the wall falling.
As citizens of a (theoretical) democracy, we are complicit in our government’s actions, particularly in our silence, and so have a duty to speak out for truth and work as hard as we can to turn things around.
We are given melting ice, whitewashed with words; so as a witness to this, my friends gave the government whitewash and melting ice. I went along to pray and worship, help spread the word, and assist my friends should they be arrested. As it turned out, no arrests this time.
But the stakes are so high already; aside from the present and predicted physical effects of climate change such as melting ice, what I fear most is the social impact, which we may already be witnessing in increasing people movements, rising xenophobia, closing borders, insecurity, desperation and hostility. This is what we risk if we do not continue to speak out, so in light of this, how can we not take these small personal risks to make ourselves heard?

I pray for the church, all of us, to become braver and more visionary in pushing for a better world, more like the promised Eden-peace with God, and one another, and other creatures, and the earth we were put here to care for and work, and less torn apart by division, short term self interest, fear and greed.

 

 

*A double meaning; we genuinely did not want anyone to slip on it, but also meant it to serve as a warning sign of what is ahead on our current climate trajectory. Read more about the action here.

Oh Come Emmanuel

This week I released my first ever song! It took a lot to get to this point, so I want to share a bit more about both the song itself, and my journey this past two years trying to overcome my fear of singing.

The song is an adaptation of the Advent carol ‘O Come, o come Emmanuel’; I have always loved the haunting tune and message of hope of this song. However, I struggle with the lyrics; full of ‘dayspring’s and ‘rods of Jesse’, it’s not just ‘christianese’, but archaic christianese! Beautiful, poetic, and meaningful too once you dig into it, but requiring a lot of explanation. I also feel, as do many others, that there’s a place for more lament in worship. We sing a lot of celebration songs, rightly as we have so much to be thankful for and to celebrate as Christians. But we live in a broken world, where the promised Kingdom of God, and restored relationships between all things, is still yet to come in full. Sometimes it feels impossibly far off. We shouldn’t gloss over the pain of this in our prayers and worship. In fact I believe part of the process of bringing in the Kingdom is to open ourselves up to feel the chasm between how things currently are, and the potential they have in God’s restored order.

The fasting, waiting, preparation seasons of Lent and Advent in the traditional church calendar are good times to refocus on this before throwing ourselves too heavily back into the celebrations of Christmas and Easter. At Lent we often focus on ourselves, the gap between our own failure and frailty, and where our salvation is headed through Christ. So Advent is the perfect time to look at the wider world, to see our current state of pain, feel ourselves far from home and longing for the promised coming of a restored world, offer the pain to God in prayer and be encouraged by the reality of the promised hope, foreshadowed by the first coming of Jesus as a baby in fulfilment of the ancient messianic prophecies. We spend a lot of time imagining ourselves into the pre-Jesus world, looking towards his first coming as a baby, but not so much time thinking about the in-between state we are in today and looking towards what His return will mean for the world. I decided to rewrite the carol as a modern-day Advent lament, drawing myself as a worshipper to lament the brokenness in our lives and world, how far we feel from God at times, and from being the bringers of the Kingdom… and yet drawing myself to the hope that, as Christ once arrived in this world to begin its salvation, so He will come again to complete it.

That’s a lot to try to achieve in a song! And I’m well aware my lyrics are a little contrived, not as poetic as the original, and are a long way off capturing the hugeness of the modern Advent waiting. But I’m nonetheless, as a beginner songwriter, pleased with how it came out.

Here’s the song; my lyrics are released under a creative commons license so feel free to use or adapt them yourself.


Lyrics:

O come, O come, Emmanuel
And ransom captive Israel
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the Son of God appears
Rejoice! Rejoice!
Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel

Creation groans in agony
We hold the keys to liberty
But so worn down by cares of life
We e’en neglect our own in strife
(rejoice…)

O God, we feel so far from Thee
Thy presence, Thy eternity
This fallen world is far from home
And You seem hid by cloud, unknown
(rejoice…)

And on that day when God shall dwell
With man in our new ‘Israel’
Thy kingdom come, our fall undone
And all creation joined as one
(rejoice…)

https://broomsofdestruction.bandcamp.com/track/o-come-emmanuel-a-lament


And learning to sing? That has been a long process! Singing solo has been a paralysing fear as long as I can remember; I’m not sure why but there’s something incredibly, uncomfortably vulnerable about singing, and I just couldn’t make myself do it. Over the past couple of years, since I find these qualities in pretty much everyone I admire, I’ve challenged myself to push out of my comfort zone and become more real, open and vulnerable in as many ways as I can, step by step.

Learning to share my imperfect poetry was a first step; it makes me cringe! But how else can I grow, and how else can I inspire others to share their hearts too if I myself want to wait till I have things perfectly sorted out before sharing? So, I slowly began sharing poetry.

Sharing song lyrics seemed for some reason an extra step of vulnerability, so I began with this, sharing it with my bandmates. The tune already exists, so it wasn’t as painful as sharing an original tune as well as lyrics. And they decided they liked it and wanted to record it for our Christmas album – with me singing it! :O Terrifying!

This whole time I’ve been pushing myself more and more to sing; I’ve been singing group backing vocals for a little while, which is fine if I think noone can hear me individually! I’ve more and more this past couple of years been learning to sing louder so I can be heard, allowing myself to be given a microphone when performing live. Last year for the first time, the band persuaded me to record a harmony part for a song, which although mixed into the finished track would be behind other vocals, it had to be recorded solo; that involved a lot of persuasion, sugar and adrenaline!!

But this year something clicked; M and I were asked to perform at a wedding, and somehow I managed to just take a microphone, set to full volume, and sing a duet with him, with almost no nerves! I’ve since managed to repeat it at a couple of small festivals. At one of the festivals, we had a prophetic prayer session, and the leader came and spent some time praying for me. He began praying for me to find my voice, and though he had no idea he was doing so or the significance of the words to me, his prayers over me began to quote the Switchfoot song ‘Let It Out‘! It changed things for me. Though I was still horrified at the thought of singing a lead vocal on Oh Come Emmanuel, worse, in my own lyrics, I managed it!

Next: Learn to sing solo live, and well 😉

More Christmas music from my band can be found here (a mix of choral, rock and folk carols, original songs silly and serious, and much festivity!), free to download; happy Christmas! 🙂