Ash Wednesday is a day for reflection and repentance. In light of the fact that today is also Valentines day we wanted to give you this opportunity to participate in the significance of this day without doing a full service at the church. We have provided this video devotional to help you reflect. The other video here is a song and scripture reading to help you worship as well. Take some time to focus on this practice to experience the benefits of the practice. We hope this blesses you on your journey of following Jesus.
I’m giving the world a rude silent treatment. That is a bit of what it feels like. Today is day four of my three to four-week vocal rest. If you want the back story you can read my first post. My mind has been a flurry of ideas I want to write about. I’ll try to give you a few today.
I truly hope to have more insight into how to worship silently in the days and weeks to come. Right now I can just say, this is difficult for me. I taught a seminar on worship a few times in the past. One of the things I talk about is the role of one’s body in worship. This silence enforces my thoughts on the subject exponentially. In the seminar, I tell a story about how I first learned this lesson.
I’ve been leading worship since I was in high school. One of my great frustrations used to be how difficult it was for me to worship God when I wasn’t leading the music. I wondered if my pride was really so great. I lived with this for many years. About 4 years ago I finally noticed one of the reasons I struggled this way. Whenever I am in the congregation, I tend to be very reserved. If you have ever heard me speak or sing, I am a bit of a loudmouth. I didn’t want to be a distraction to the people around me. One Sunday I was at a rather large church and the music was turned up pretty load so I started to really sing. As my vocal cords tightened and my diaphragm pressed the air through them something clicked in me. It was as if that physical event in my voice bridged the gap between the lyrics I was singing and my soul. Almost instantly I was worshiping fully.
One of the reasons I love to lead worship is the fact that I can sing hard up there and it’s expected. That vocal tension helps me recognize that God is worthy of such praise. I sing hard because it helps me worship and that is largely a mental and physical connection. If you have ever wondered why it’s hard for you to connect with God, you may need to explore new ways of expressing praise with your posture, movement, or with singing.
How does this relate to my silence? Well, I can’t sing hard right now. Actually, my love for singing hard might by one reason I broke myself. Oops. That is genuinely one of the hardest parts of this journey for me. Have I been able to worship over the past few weeks? Yes, I have but my poor guitar is feeling some abuse in the process. Worship IS an expression of value. If we worship anything we find ways to express or value of that person or thing. Over the past few weeks, I have noticed that I am more prone to tap my feet, dance a bit, and play my guitar harder than I should. These physical movements are my vocal release valve of expression. Even smiling helps me worship during our time of singing at the church.
My challenge to you is to consider the importance of expressing praise with your body. This isn’t just my own idea about worship either. There are loads of references in scripture to bodily expressions of worship. Psalm 134 says, “Lift up holy hands in prayer and praise the LORD.” In Deuteronomy 6 we are told, “You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.” Jesus later says that this idea is the greatest commandment. Notice how the body is included in this great command. I could go on forever pulling out reference to various postures of praise that are referenced in scripture. Jonathan Edwards, one great American theologian said it so well.
Some bodily worship is necessary to give liberty to our own devotion; yea though in secret, so more when with others . . . ‘Tis necessary that there should be something bodily and visible in the worship of a congregation; otherwise, there can be no communion at all. – Jonathan Edwards (From Miscellanies #101)
I can’t sing right now but if you can please do and sing hard on my behalf. I’ll enjoy hearing you and you may just unlock praise in waiting to get out of you.
I have many more ideas buzzing around in my head but they can wait for a future post.
Today marks the my first full day of vocal rest. It is the first of three to four weeks of rest that I’ve been instructed to take. What lessons will I learn through this? Will I recover? Can I (an extrovert) survive the silence? These questions are some of the reasons I wanted to write. Writing in my journal or in my blog has always out of my own need to express and think. Writing gets me to slow down enough to make sense of my jumbled thoughts. Right now, typing might be the only way I can get things out of my mind and into the world where I and others can make some sense of it. As I process through writing I hope it benefits you in some way as well.
I guess it would help to start with some back story.
A few weeks ago, I noticed that I had lost my vocal range and control. I didn’t know what was going on. I didn’t feel like I had pushed myself too hard and I didn’t have any pain in my throat. At first, I thought it was a fluke but when I tried to sing the next day I was even worse. Considering the fact that I am a worship pastor, this sent my mind in several different directions. First, what am I going to do Sunday? Second, what happens if this is a long term issue? What does this mean for my job, my family? Isn’t it interesting how my first thoughts were the worst case scenario? The following day I took one full day of vocal rest, which means I didn’t speak or whisper for 24 hours. This still didn’t help or at least not noticeably. It was during that day that I discovered another fear about the condition. What if I can’t sing again? I had no idea how often I sing and how deeply I love to sing. That day was maddening.
I’ll speed up the story a bit. I saw my primary care doctor because I suspected that I had some allergies and that maybe that was causing my issues. After a week of treatment and two visits with him, we determined that I did indeed have allergies but that the treatment was not as effective as it should have been. I was given the name of a vocal specialist to see. I decided that I wanted to rule out vocal cord damage. If I had damaged my voice, I couldn’t afford to postpone the treatment.
I saw the specialist and he said I had a litany of different issues affecting my voice. First, I had severe allergies. All these years I just thought it was normal that I had never really breathed through my nose. Second, I had a deviated septum that limited air flow through the nose. Third, I had acid reflux that was affecting my throat and vocal cords. Fourth, I had a nasal infection. Fifth, I had yeast build up in my throat. Finally, there were some signs of vocal strain. The doctor didn’t think my vocal cords were in too bad of shape at first glance. He said he often sees patients with only one of these ailments. I was given quite a few medications and I left the office quite encouraged that there was nothing major wrong with my voice.
Over the next few days, I spoke normally and began the treatment that I thought would have me singing in a few days. Then I got a call mid-morning two days after my visit from the doctor. He said that he had reviewed the footage of my voice further and thought that I had a hemorrhage on one of my vocal folds. Hemorrhage sounded really bad. It is essentially a bruised vocal cord. He reassured me that I would probably be fine but that I needed to take 3-4 weeks of vocal rest, no more than six sentences an hour. After a few moments of panic, I settled down and went silent. Needless to say, I’ve been thinking quite a bit about how to handle this silence business.
I know my situation is not unique. In fact, now that I am suffering from a vocal issue, I have read many stories of singers who have suffered from similar situations. My goal is not to offer some new insight into a diagnosis like this. My goal is simple, I need a place to put down my thoughts so that I don’t forget the lessons I believe God wants to teach me through this. I don’t know how often I’ll write but I hope to continue jotting down the lessons I’m learning so that I don’t forget. And come on, I need to speak somehow and this is my way of doing that.
My Initial Thoughts
I’ll bare the dirty part of my heart first. I hate this situation. Everything in my flesh wants to through a fit and make sure that I get as much special treatment as I can get. I want to complain. In fact, all of last week that is much of what I did before I was placed on compete vocal rest. I see so many tendencies in me to make these next three to four weeks a living hell for my family. I bet I could even milk this far beyond my treatment and complain about it months or years after I go through it. Maybe that’s why I’m blogging too.
In addition to the fears that crept up in me, these feelings all invited my mind almost instantly after I got off the phone with the doctor. Then I remembered my good friend Rob who was diagnosed with cancer not long ago. How differently he demonstrated his foundation on the gospel then I was wanting to. Rob seemed to see cancer as a press designed to squeeze drops of grace, wisdom, and gospel proclamation out of him. So quickly, God’s spirit in me picked me up out of the mud puddle and asked me to walk through this small trial differently then the last paragraph described. So here his my prayer through this: I pray that I would walk through this with grace and the strength that Christ provides. I’ve already stumbled in that desire but I intend to obey God’s leading through this by his strength.
The Lessons I’m learning
First of all, I do think this is God’s way of slowing me down. Honestly, I feel like I’ve been living a healthier pace of life lately. Not long ago I was pushing myself far too hard and not giving myself rest or sufficient soul food in God’s word and In prayer. Those things have been improving lately. In fact, I think that they were improving to the point that I might have been getting too self-confident again. You see, about six months ago, I told myself that I would take a silent retreat to seek God and find rest. I never did that. Instead, I found some ways to gain the balance of myself without that retreat. Guess what, I think God wanted me on that silent retreat and God is pretty good at getting what he wants. I also believe He is my loving father and what he wants is what is best for me. So here I am, not on a three-day silent retreat but a three to four week one. Touché God touché. LESSON: listen the first time? I can’t say this wouldn’t have happened if I had taken the retreat earlier but what I can say is God wanted me to stop speaking for a while.
I believe I struggle with a verbal form of gluttony and pride. Interestingly, over the past 2 years or so, I’ve noticed that I tend to speak too much and too hastily. “Do you see a man who is hasty in his words? There is more hope for a fool than for him.” (Pro 29:20) “When words are many, transgression is not lacking, but whoever restrains his lips is prudent.” (Pro. 10:19) “Even a fool who keeps silent is considered wise; when he closes his lips, he is deemed intelligent.” (Pro 17:28) I could go on an on listing texts of scripture like this. So yeah, the bible doesn’t advise that you speak too quickly or too much. Again, I had heard God nudging me about this and I had not taken any significant steps to obey his lead. I pray that now I will learn a bit about silence.
This is related to the last point. The doctor told me I could only speak six sentences an hour. Imagine that you were given that doctors order. What words are worth speaking if you only get six sentences an hour? It didn’t take long for me to realize that the words worth speaking are those that comfort or care for people. I felt the strongest urges to speak when I was greeted or when I wanted to express gratitude. I didn’t want someone to feel put off when they greeted me or when a “thank you” was justified. The other words that seem important are words of love. The words that I made absolutely sure I spoke today were the words “I love you” to my girls. I made sure they were looking at me in the eye when I said it too. I didn’t want those words to go wasted. What would you say if you could only say a few things in a day?
Just so I don’t sound holier than I am, the other words I spoke today were used to portray my frustration about something. I bet we can all agree that was not as good a use of my limited word quotient.
I have many other thoughts brewing in my soul. I’ll let those thoughts grow more in me before I share. I’ll leave this post with this challenge from Colossians, “Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person.” (Colossians 4:6)
I have been in Athens Greece for the past week. I came here to lead worship for a gathering of missionaries. It was a sweet time for them to be refreshed before they return to some hard places around the world.
If you look, I mean really look, illustrations of God’s hand are everywhere. God didn’t create the world randomly he created everything to reflect facets of His glory and ways. I think one of the problems I have is a lack of awareness. The pace of life moves so quickly I often let beautiful illustrations of God pass me by. It almost happened to me again this past week. In fact, I didn’t notice it until a day or two after it happened.
We were walking along a road near by the great Acropolis of Athens, and we found this guy playing a hang drum. I had no idea what it was, but it had a really unique sound. I loved it! As we got closer, the sound grabbed me. I was compelled enough to stop and flip out my camera to record the little video you see below. Later I started to look online for what type of instrument it was. That is when I discovered the name of the mysterious instrument; “hang drum.” I wanted one! My search continued as I tried to find a dealer who sold hang drums. My search left me sad because they were extremely expensive many were well over $1300. Why were they so expensive? The illustration suddenly jumped out at me.
Hang drums like kettle drums are hand hammered metal. A sheet of round metal is pounded into a bowl like shape. The notes are then meticulously measured out and drawn onto the bowl. Then they begin to hammer the into the shapes they drew. The builder of the instrument must have a wonderful ear because they tune it one hammer hit at a time. This process could take a week or two. They put a blow torch on the bent edges to temper the metal and make the notes more resonant. They then fine tune the pitch again. The completed drum could take hundreds of hours to perfect. I guess that explains the price.
On our flight home from Greece, the illustration came alive. God is the master craftsman, and we are like the raw metal. Each time God takes a hammer and masterfully pounds into my life He has an aim, a resonant note that he is striving for. I don’t think the craftsman sees the bangs and bruises that I get along the way in quite the same way. I’m sure He has compassion for us in the midst of the process because scripture tells us that He does (Heb. 4:15). Even though he can sympathize with the pain of growth, He still sees the process differently then we do (Heb.5:8). Each hammer hit has purpose. Occasionally he uses a hot torch to temper us so that we resonate more.
Tuning an instrument is a finicky thing. The thing that makes music sound good is the combination of notes. The notes must be exactly the right distance apart from each other. If a note is not the right distance from the next it my ring loud and long but it will never sound good with other notes. When you tune an instrument you must constantly check to ensure that the distance between pitches is accurate. Music is an illustration of a balanced life. Our lives are a combination of many facets, and God is constantly helping us achieve better balance. If one area is hammered too far, it goes sharp and makes the whole instrument sound bad. If it is not hammered enough, it is flat and also sounds bad.
I think I could continue the illustration for ages, but you get the idea. Ultimately WE DON’T tune our hearts God does. Jeremiah 17:9 says, “the heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it.” We cannot tune ourselves. We have no point of reference to begin only the master musician can tune our hearts. Jeremiah goes on to say, “I the LORD search the heart and test the mind…”
So why are we learning about ways to help us tune our hearts? Although it is God who does the tuning we can place ourselves on his work bench. When we exercise the various disciplines that God has given us they are like the hammers and torches that tune us. Let us stay on the work bench until we resonate glorious praise to him.