Towards Our Common Sung Theology

16227  Throughout church history, our faith, our doctrines, and our spirituality have been most vitally expressed through our sung words.  Sharing in the rhythm, tone, and energy that music – whether through hymns, praise choruses, A Capella, choral, instrumental, or chanted genres provides us all with a sense of our common humanity and draws us closer to one another and to Christ.  There is something about joining our hearts and our voices in praise and worship to our Creator that often speaks to the deepest level of our souls – weaving together our most profound emotions, inspiring us towards action (and occasionally protest), instilling in us a great sense of comfort, and even challenging us when we would otherwise feel apathetic.

Although there may perhaps be a few churches that still do not employ any form of music, it is fairly safe to say, that almost all major Christian denominations and other world religions find music integral to the life of the congregation.  Within the Mennonite and Anabaptist traditions, music has also been central to our life and witness.  In fact, I can recount being a young teenager and volunteering at the local Mennonite nursing home.  While there I met an elderly woman, Anna, who came across to Canada from the Ukraine on a boat while singing:

“Wherlos und verlassen sehnt sich oft mein Herz nach stiller Ruh; doch Du dekkest mit dem Fittich Deiner Liebe sanft much zu.  Unter Deinem sanften Fittich find’ich Frieden, Trost und Ruh; den Du schrimest mich so freund-lich, shutz-est mich und deckst mich zu.”

The English translation of which reads:

When I’m lonely and defenseless, my heart longs for rest and peace.  Then You spread Your wings of caring, with Your love You cover me.  Under Your soft wings of mercy my soul rests and is renewed, for You shelter me with kindness, keep me covered, close to You.  [https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D1GMdN73rnA  – plus cute baby conducting!]

This song greatly sustained Anna during some very stressful and confusing times of her life.  Being uprooted from the familiar and travelling to a strange land where she did not speak the language or know the customs and culture must have been very unsettling and challenging for such a young girl.  Yet, this song became an anchor to her in the storm, kept her face upright, and allowed her to see goodness and grace amidst the terror, turmoil, and loss.

Many of us also have had similar instances with particular songs.  There are a number of modern worship songs I go to when I am feeling distressed, confused, or anxious.  Here are a few you might like to check out for yourselves:

Strong Enough (Matthew West): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=knuHDPbE5es

You’re My Everything (Owl City): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sbOcVER0WqU

Guardian (Ben Cantelon): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MiRH8Hc8VQI

You’re Not Alone (Owl City, Britt Nicole): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DavJ9UKS2ps

I Will Praise Him (Rebecca St. James): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jXET-duSRr8

The Kindness of Our God (Rebecca St. James): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=roeDXgsmaUA

Diamonds (Hawk Nelson): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Yf1ARbpB0gA

Better Than a Hallelujah (Amy Grant): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Rm5kx3xqmg0

Shoulders (For King and Country): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TfiYWaeAcRw

Sparrows (Jason Gray): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wRJZQFRyZ6s

 

There are also a number of older hymns I turn to for support and guidance: How Firm a Foundation, Blessed Assurance (my baptismal hymn), It Is Well With My Soul, and Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing to name only a few.

 

One of the most wonderful advantages to music is that it allows us to express ourselves when words fail us.  Sometimes I am experiencing something, but don’t know how to share it with a friend, but if I play a certain song it summaries exactly what I would have shared.  At other times, my friends are really struggling with something and no words of advice or wisdom will lessen the impact.  Instead, sharing with them a song allows them to be in the present without meaningless words needing to be exchanged.  We thus minister to one another in this sense of shared musicality, letting the spirit flow freely.

There is a great worship song by the City Harmonic which sums up music ministry perfectly:

Praise the Lord when it comes out easy
Praise the Lord on top of the world
Praise the Lord ‘cause in every moment Jesus Christ is Lord
Even in the middle of the joys of life
There is always grace enough today to
Praise the Lord    

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Lm7V-26flkQ

 

In fact, the Apostle James himself wrote: Is anyone among you in trouble? Let them pray. Is anyone happy? Let them sing songs of praise. https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=James+5%3A13&version=NASB

Worshipping Christ fully through our music is about finding a balance between proclaiming the goodness of our God and singing the Lord’s song in a foreign land.
When we lift up our voices, there will definitely be many moments of jubilation, celebration, and delight.  But there will also be moments of immense pain, intense hurt, and immeasurable grief.  Nevertheless, when we turn our hearts and our voices to God in prayer and in song, we receive all the blessings of a pure and complete relationship with Him.  We are truly able to sing about the rest and peace we find in Him.  We are truly able to ask Him to keep us sheltered, close to Him.  We are capable of praising the Lord at every moment.  We are able to sing and be sustained because of our common sung theology – a solidly scriptural belief that places Christ at the centre.  We are able to share in our common humanity because music is the one gift that unites us all.

Expecting Big Things From God (Mennocostal: IHOPKC Onething 2013 Series)

Image

The New Year just rolled in a week ago and already I am finding it hard to keep the resolutions that I have made.  It’s not like I made any goals which were beyond grasp.  Rather, I thought back to all that I had learned during my week at the International House of Prayer in Kansas City and from the sermons, worship, and personal prayer times gathered three items which I felt God impressing on my heart.  These items were: to do the night watch twice a week, to fast from all forms of social media once a week, and to read the Bible 15 minutes every day.  Yet, even though my heart remains willing, my flesh stays weak.  It is hard for me to have the same vibrancy in worship even though only a week ago I was on fire for Christ.  It is hard to not be surrounded by that same culture of prayer but to continue to be steadfast and secure in the Word.

Yet, as I was worshiping and reading the Scripture last night during my night watch, I realized that we can spend so much time making New Year’s Resolutions, and there is nothing wrong with that!  It honours God when we try to maintain our physical bodies in a way that edifies Him.[1]  He rejoices when we conquer temptations which once controlled us.  He loves it when we dedicate time to figuring out more of who He is.  He even loves it when we are willing to spend more time being better financial stewards.  But in the end of the day, it’s really not so much about our goals, it’s about what God’s dream for our life in 2014 is.  What His dream in our marriages and families is and what His dream in our church is.  It’s less about our will and desires and more about His mission for our lives.  When we offer up our lives and our churches as a prayerful offering to Him we are letting Him know of our desire to have Him build the house/ministry so that we don’t have to keep labouring in vain![2]      

Making 2014 a Year Covered in Prayer: Every great ministry begins and ends with prayer.  Every great ministry is surrounded by a group of people who support it through prayer and who offer encouragement to the intercessory missionaries who surround it.  It is through prayer that we are able to discern God’s will and direction for our personal lives and for our churches.  It is also through prayer that God gives us the grace to accept failure and to know when a certain ministry is to be completed.

How powerful it would be, how much change we would see – even mountains moving if EACH believer, each church, each community of faith, each ministry, gave even a dedicated small fraction of each day to Christ.  Even if they didn’t feel like it.  The prayers of the struggling and the cries of the doubting are often the most precious and meaningful to Christ.[3]  How great would it be even if we only started with one hour, even just 15 minutes a day.  We would see God accomplish great things.  We will see our attitudes change.  We would see the hearts of the nations be moved and stirred.[4]

It can become easy to be discouraged with the concept of prayer if you always think about prayer as being a prolonged time with Christ.  I want to say to you: God loves and needs BOTH the short and the long prayers.  He needs the breath prayers, because as one of my best friends says, “they make prayer as real as breathing”.  He also needs intercessors who will pray the night watch dedicating an entire working shift to the work of the Kingdom.

In the end of the day, it’s definitely more about the quality of time rather than the quantity.  One can sit with Christ for 3 hours accomplishing nothing and having no real and intimate expression of worship.  Likewise, in half an hour, someone can have gloriously divine fellowship with the Creator.  Yet, there is still something to be said of the immense effort and dedication of spending a significant block of time with Christ.  It calls for a challenging of former priorities and a shifting of what is truly important.  If you want to gain maturity in Christ, it will only happen through spending time with Him.  The more we get to know Him, the more we fall in love with Him.  The more our lives begin to reflect more of who He is in and through us.

The Bible tells us that if we have faith we will be able to see even mountains move.[5]  There can be a temptation to take this verse literally.  To literally believe that God will move physical objects.  I don’t doubt the power of Christ and the fact that He could devote His energy to that if He wished to.  Perhaps that truly is the case in some countries.  HOWEVER, in the North American context I have come to interpret this in a different light.  God promises that with faith, we can move mountains – insurmountable barriers and obstacles that others face.  Areas of our lives that we’ve tried to change and addictions we’ve tried to break, but can’t.  Moving those areas of oppression and bondage of habitual sin and unholy desires out of the way by the instruction of the Holy Spirit and through the power of the Love of Christ so that they (and we) can catch just a glimpse of Christ’s incredible mercy towards us!

THE LORD ACCOMPLISHED GREAT THINGS AT IHOP

Corporate Worship

One thing about IHOP that I just could never get out of my mind was the fact that over 30,000 young adults were joined together in one building all worshiping and praising the same Lord.  People often wonder where the young adults in the church are.  They believe that the institutional church is dying out.  Yet, when you see the size of a small city gathered together you are able to become encouraged!  You know that faith still abounds.  You know that God is not finished with this generation yet!

The Prophet Isaiah writes that in the last days, nations will STREAM to the house of the Lord, and yet we resist this.[6]  We are afraid to see it happening.  We hold it out at an arm’s length.  Sometimes when thousands are worshiping we label it as brainwashing.  Even a cult.  Why?  Didn’t Jonathan Edwards, George Whitfield, Charles Wesley and others witness thousands of salvations in a single week?  Did not the Holy Spirit use the ministry of John the Baptist and of the early church Apostles in the book of Acts to fill thousands with the Spirit?  Every day the Lord added to their number![7]  Why should that change?  Why are we afraid to enter that dance?  Why do we doubt the supernatural love of Christ that wants to see all people and all nations come to Him?  The love of the One who said that He is willing that none should perish, but wants everyone to experience an indwelling of His eternal Spirit?[8]

The young adults of this generation grew up in a “me-centered” culture which says that they are number one.  From a young age they are taught to get to the top at any cost.  They are taught that it’s a “dog-eat-dog” world.  Yet, here at IHOP, I saw 100 nations and over 30,000 young adults[9] willing to give up their vacations and school breaks to go to a church conference.  In an individualistic, entitled world, this is pure craziness!  Many people think the church is dying, but there are still thousands of faithful young men and women heading God’s call for real relationship on their life.  30,000+ people worshiping in Kansas City, MO.  The American Midwest.  What if movements of this magnitude sprung up everywhere?  If thousands of young adults and teenagers who love Jesus gathered weekly, even daily, to worship and pray all over the world?  What a movement would start!  How incredible the Holy Spirit’s outpouring would be on our generation!

A Personal God Even in the Midst of a Great Crowd

One thing I just could never get over during my time at IHOP was the sheer magnitude of the effect that this prayer movement has had on this global generation.  It’s super intense to think about how God greatly impacted these 30,000+ people.  We were all together to worship the same God, and yet God, because He is creative said 30,000 different things to us.  He inspired us in 30,000 different ways.  He gave us thousands of different callings.  But it’s all for the same God, for the same purpose, and for the same mission – the mission of bringing His reign to this earth!  30,000 different experiences and 30,000 separate spiritual encounters.  It’s just incredible how the Holy Spirit works.  How’s He can call so many people to the same mission in so many different contexts, cities, and nations, at the same time.  After experiencing such a thing there is no possible way I could continue to doubt Christ’s love for the church and His heart for this world! 

It is incredible beyond comprehension to think that Jesus knows every single person who attended this conference by Name![10]  He loves each one with an everlasting love.  He never gets tired of loving because He IS love.[11]  Not only does He know everyone’s name, but He knows everything about them.   He knows all of their ups and downs.  Their weaknesses and victories.  And He LOVES them even despite what they have gone through in their lives.  Even despite their vilest sins.  He has given each one a unique personality and unique abilities – no one can take their place.  He has placed each one on this earth at this time to impact this generation.[12]  In my lowly humanity I can’t even comprehend knowing 1,000 people or even 500 people to half of the extent that God knows each one of His children.  I can’t even imagine loving 100 people to half of the extent that God loves the one stray sinner who is lost in their world of grief.[13] 

On December 31st, 2013, all 30,000 of us ushered in the New Year and that was truly an incredible experience to be a part of.  So many people celebrate New Year’s in ways that don’t honour Christ.  Their celebrations include partying, drinking to heavy excess leading to drunken mobs, and strippers.  There are people who are flippantly make resolutions with no resolve to keep them, having change as the farthest idea from their mind.  Some entered the New Year feeling incredibly lost and confused.  Even hopeless.  Left out and abandoned.  2013 did not bring many good things to them – only high medical bills, loss of employment, or the death of a close relative or friend.  But here, at IHOP, over 30,000 young adults gathered in one place ushering in the New Year with an outpouring of tongues and cries of the Spirit.  Here 30,000 people sat and stood ministering to the Nations in incredible ways while the world moved on unrelentingly gratifying the flesh.  What a ministry!  Just like a Song of Song says, we are called out to be lilies among brambles![14]  And that’s exactly what we did that day as we sang and proclaimed the love of Christ over the Nation and over the world!

A Personal Understanding of Greatness in the Spirit

If IHOP taught me one thing, it’s that as long as you are open to the Holy Spirit He will heal, restore, and manifest Himself in miraculous ways.  The Holy Spirit manifests Himself to the extent that we allow Him to.  He accomplishes as much through us as we permit Him to.  If we don’t see evidence of the Holy Spirit in our lives, it’s because we don’t expect greatness from Him.  We don’t have because we haven’t asked![15]*  Had we but simply have asked, we would see even greater things than these in our generation![16]  The Word tells us that God knows how to give good gifts to His children.[17]  These good gifts include intense manifestations of the Spirit, spiritual gifts, and blessings beyond comprehension.[18]

As Misty Edwards shared in one of her sermons, “lukewarmness is the greatest danger of our age.  It’s a subtle indifference in our churches even though we still use the language of Christ – it’s the exact opposite of the person of God.  We cannot survive lukewarm.”[19]  Misty encouraged us that with Christ we either go in the whole way or not at all.   Lukewarmness leads us to a certain numbness.  As Misty boldly proclaimed, “you cannot survive lukewarm!”

Although Misty had so many great applications to her message, I found the historical significance to be the most interesting.  As a student of Theology this kind of stuff just grabs my attention so quickly and I eat it up.  As Misty stated in no uncertain terms, this writing was to the church of Laodicea.  They were a church who had a great reputation for being on fire for the love of Christ.  So this message was not being written to the lost, the sinners, the pagans – it was being written to a core group of believers who had just experienced the revival of the early church![20]  Even though people all around them saw them as being zealous for Christ, God saw them as little more than rotten out corpses.  He used harsh language – He said they made Him SICK!  Have you ever thought of that before?  Being indifferent to the love of Christ and His reconciling mission to the world “makes God ill”.[21]  Watching the poor go to bed hungry and not caring makes God come down with flu-like symptoms (which is just a polite way of me saying… it makes God throw-up). [Hey, St. Paul used this kind of language himself often in the Scriptures].

Our nation has confused ideas about what real man-hood is.  They think that being a man is about being powerful, being mighty, and being able to have control.  They also have confused ideas about what true woman-hood is.  They think a woman’s identity is solely tied up in her beauty, her looks, and how much of a feminist she can become.  Do you want to know what true man-hood is?  It’s being able to look after the orphans and widows in their distress and keeping yourself pure in a world that tries to lure you in to sexual sin and temptation![22]  Do you want to know what being a true woman is?  It’s being able to have a quiet spirit![23]  It’s being able to have a good name and have inner beauty![24] 

You cannot be lukewarm and be a true man or a true woman after Christ!  If you want to be a man [woman] after God’s own heart, then you have to KNOW God fully.[25]  Just like He knows you fully.[26]

Our world often teaches us that we need to BEWARE OF EMOTIONALISM.  Yet, our emotions are so precious to God.  When we experience emotions we are alive.  Pouring out our hearts and crying out to the Father may be as far from my ESTJ personality as Kansas City is from Toronto, but still if I want to grow in my faith and mature in the way I view God, I can’t push it to the side.  Instead I must embrace it.

Our culture is obsessed with short-term success – but that glory and fame easily fades to God.  Banning Liebscher (member of Jesus Culture) preached a sermon to us about how LONGEVITY MATTERS TO GOD.[27]  He told us that when God first calls us it’s easy to get passionate.  Fired up.  But then it’s easy to forget about the love we first embraced the call with.  That’s lame man!  It’s like the immature boyfriend who gives you a ring then takes it back the very next day.  It’s like the person who looks in the mirror, fixes his hair, and fiddles with his tie then goes out and forgets what he looks like.[28]  He forgets if his eyes are blue or brown.  If his hair is black or blonde. God is calling us to more than that!  He’s the Lover who wants us to remain faithful to Him and His calling no matter how hard it gets.  No matter how steep the path is.  It’s easy to start.  It’s easy to catch the vision.  What’s hard is persevering.  What’s hard is “burning longterm”.[29] 

Let’s be honest.  No one cases how many Facebook friends you have.  How many blogs I’ve written.  In the end of the day, God’s not going to be like, “whoa!  You wrote a lot of books” or “you recorded a lot of albums!”  That isn’t success!  Success is hearing the phrase “well done, good and faithful servant.”[30]  Success is knowing your heart is so intertwined with God’s that it’s inseparable.  If you accomplish great things for God, which you will, if you reach the nations, which you will, if you acquire any measure of earthly success, which you will – it’s only because of Christ!  He uses you to the extent that you are willing to let Him use you!  It’s not about people remembering you – it’s about pointing people to remember Christ!

Success is an attitude of the heart.  It’s not about small or large scale projects.  Showing love to your family and closest friends is just as important to your success as a missionary as showing love to the world.  That’s why when we start ministering we need to begin by praying for revival within our own families, within our own marriages, within our own dating experiences, BEFORE we can even THINK about praying for revival in our nation and in our world! 

There was one day when I was in the prayer room at IHOP and God came to me and very clearly told me “read the Song of Solomon.”  I was like, “that’s random, God.  Are you sure?”  God’s like, “yeah”.  Then as soon as I start reading, the worship team begins singing the Song of Songs![31]  As soon as that happened I was just sitting back and thinking “whoa! This is a Word from the Lord!”  Then as I read the words to this ancient love song every verse comes alive, speaks to me, makes me lovesick for Him!

Do you want true success?  True success is when that happens not just once but more often than not.  When you and God become so tight that when people speak to you, you hear Christ in them.  When experiences happen to you, you see the finger of God in them.  When you read Scripture you feel like it’s personally edifying and speaking a word into your soul.  A word of encouragement you needed to hear which you can no longer ignore.  When that starts to happen, you know that you have become a successful person.  Even if people a world over still don’t know your name and even if your bank account hasn’t grown exponentially.  You are still a successful person in God’s eyes and in the end of the day that’s all that really matters.

A Final Word

Finally, I leave you with a final word of encouragement that I received from one of the teaching outlines in our conference handout book by IHOPKC leader, Stuart Greaves.  His teaching simply states, “there is coming the greatest outpouring of the Holy Spirit (Joel 2:28-29)[32] that will result in a unified and glorious end-time church (Ephesians 5:27)[33], the preaching of the Gospel with power to all of the nations (Matthew 24:14)[34], the greatest release of signs and wonders (John 14:21)[35], and the salvation of Israel (Isaiah 62:7[36]; Romans 11:26[37]).”[38]

If what you just read in Greaves’s quote makes you want to see this change come about in our world and in our nation all you got to do is simply trust God that it will happen.  When you love Christ and when you pour your whole heart and ministry into Him THEN you will see the King of Glory high and lifted up![39]


[3] From “Better than a Hallelujah” By: Amy Grant: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Rm5kx3xqmg0

[9] These numbers do not even begin to include those tuning in to the conference via God T.V. and online webstreaming (bringing the numbers up by several more thousand)

[15] http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=James%204:2-3&version=ESVUK (* If you think God isn’t doing great things in your life is it because He isn’t doing great things or because you aren’t ALLOWING or believing that He will do great things?)

[19] Sermon by Misty Edward at the OneThing IHOPKC Conference

[21] Illustration used in Misty Edward’s OneThing sermon

[27] Sermon by Banning Liebscher at IHOPKC Onething 2013 conference

[29] A phrase Banning used in his sermon

[31] One cool thing about IHOPKC is that they literally SING the words of Scripture.  They have the passage on the screen and accompany it line by line, word by word, to musical scores.

[38] “Standing in the Watches of the Night” outline to Stuart Greave’s sermon at IHOPKC OneThing 2013 conference, found on page 73 of the “2013 Teaching Notes” Handout Book

[39] From the song: Hosanna by Hillsong: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WgJYNlDhY-4