This morning on the way to church, the words of the Doxology (a.k.a. “Praise God from Whom All Blessings Flow”) popped into my mind for some odd reason. We used to sing it every week in the Presbyterian church I attended as a teenager, but only rarely have I heard it since then. I started singing in the van, remembering as I did that this is actually the tenth stanza in Thomas Ken’s longer 1674 hymn, “Awake My Soul” which starts: “Awake, my soul, and with the sun / Thy daily stage of duty run / Shake off dull sloth, and joyful rise / To pay thy morning sacrifice.” It turned out to be an apt start to the morning; I’ll tell you more as we go along. (Side note: Be sure to click the links to find more information! And you don't have to stop reading this if you aren't a particularly religious person. You might learn something about what makes us tick.)
Running a little late for the service, I slipped into the sanctuary with the kids just about the time the first song started. I hadn’t heard it before, but was instantly moved by not only the lilting violins and electric cello, but also the worshipful words. I grabbed my pen and paper as fast as I could to try to catch them in snatches. In my most hasty scrawl, I jotted down the chorus… “Oh to see you, Jesus, I can hardly wait to behold the One I love! Oh to see you, Jesus, know your sweet embrace. My heart is yours, for you I long.”
As it turns out, I hadn’t heard the song before because it is brand new! Several internationally known worship song writers had converged on our church in the past few days for a retreat, and this was one of the fruits of their labor of love. It was written by Ryan, Jonathan, and Megan Baird of the California band West Coast Revival, who also led worship. Bob Kauflin, Steve and Vikki Cook, Mark and Stephen Altrogge and others were in town for the conference, too. These fine musicians, all associated with Sovereign Grace Ministries, are working on two upcoming projects: a children’s album and one on the fatherhood of God. The saints of yesteryear still bless us with their heartfelt lyrics, but the saints of now are obeying the ancient call to “Sing a new song unto the Lord!”
Old songs and new! I love them both! My friend Phyllis Reinhardt is 74 and she loves them both, too. She sometimes plays vintage hymns for me when we visit her for speech therapy each week, yet on Sunday mornings she claps and sings right along with the modern praise and worship choruses, the ones with the electric guitars, synthesizers, and full percussion. And so, this morning, the songs continued, new with old, old with new. Sometimes they seemed to intertwine since the newer ones still cherish a hymn-like reverence and the older ones are jazzed up with new contemporary arrangements.
The next song this morning, “Jesus Paid It All,” always reminds me of my daughter Julia. The second time she was in Bolivia, in 2007, she sang it constantly. She is there again on a three month mission trip now (and feeling quite sick this morning), and I know she’ll appreciate the reminder, too. (I love you, Julia!) “Jesus paid it all! All to him I owe! Sin had left a crimson stain; he washed it white as snow!” It is no surprise that these words inspired her to outreach, because, as Matt Redman sings, “Let worship be the fuel for mission’s flame / We’re going with a passion for Your name / We’re going for we care about Your praise / Send us out!” (I first heard that song at Julia’s Bolivia reunion meeting in 2007 and bought the Facedown CD immediately.)
Next up? Another dance-in-the-aisles tune, “My First Love” by Stuart Townend, which starts, “My first love is a blazing fire / I feel His pow'rful love in me! / For He has kindled a flame of passion / And I will let it grow in me.” At this point in our worship service, a few folks in our church trickled up to the microphone to share whatever Biblical encouragement God had laid on their hearts. Daniel Howell spoke for a few minutes, asking, “Are your trials blessings or burdens?” and assuring us that “He will receive the glory and you will receive the joy!” Another man, whose face I could not see, ended his encouragement with, “Your life is hidden in Christ, and Christ has already won the victory!” And Stephanie Graham (who is in 5th grade) read Psalm 143 and said she thought God would want us to know, “We do not need to worry because he will bring us the word of unfailing love and show us the way to go.” (You go, girl!) You see, not all worship has music attached, and it is certainly not limited to a church sanctuary or a Sunday morning. Worship is a way of life!
Our friend Regina Brown, who has a hearty “gospel music” voice, sang a solo introduction to “It is Well With My Soul” by Horatio Spafford and Philip Bliss. I don’t know if you are all aware of the story behind this venerable old hymn; according to Cyberhymnal, “This hymn was written after two major traumas in Spafford’s life. The first was the great Chicago Fire of October 1871, which ruined him financially (he had been a wealthy businessman). Shortly after, while crossing the Atlantic, all four of Spafford’s daughters died in a collision with another ship. Spafford’s wife Anna survived and sent him the now famous telegram, “Saved alone.” Several weeks later, as Spafford’s own ship passed near the spot where his daughters died, the Holy Spirit inspired these words. They speak to the eternal hope that all believers have, no matter what pain and grief befall them on earth.” And so Spafford wrote, “When peace, like a river, attendeth my way / When sorrows like sea billows roll / Whatever my lot, Thou has taught me to say / It is well, it is well, with my soul.”
We also sang Graham Kendrick’s worship song “To You O Lord” and, after the sermon, “Blessed Be Your Name” by Matt Redman, which echoes the same themes as in “It Is Well With My Soul.” (This must have been British morning, since Graham Kendrick, Matt Redman and Stuart Townend are all from the UK!)
I’ll bet some of you are wondering how I remember all of this. I usually take notes during the sermon, but I’m also trying to cultivate the habit of writing things down beforehand, too. This might include names of people I have just met, or a prayer request someone has shared with me, or a word of encouragement, or a reminder to myself to call someone or bring them a book next week, or whatever. And this morning I actually kept a running commentary on the music!
But I’m not done yet! Bear with me a few paragraphs longer. As I mentioned, several noted songwriters were in town for that retreat. One of them is Mark Altrogge, who pastors the Sovereign Grace Church north of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (I remember singing his classic “I Stand in Awe of You” many years before we even came to Metro Life Church.) His sermon this morning, titled “The Kind of Sacrifice God Desires” was based on Psalm 50, especially verse 23: “The one who offers thanksgiving as his sacrifice glorifies me” (English Standard Version). Mark exhorted us that it’s not enough to go through the external duties of Christianity. We must have thankful, glad hearts! As he said, “Pigs gobble down the acorns without looking up at the tree,” but we are called to look up and offer our wholehearted praise to the one who has blessed us so abundantly! Yes, even when we are going through times of trial! He quoted Matthew Henry, who had been robbed by highwaymen, as saying in response, “Let me be thankful first because I was never robbed before; second, although they took my purse, they did not take my life; third, because, although they took all, it was not much; and fourth, because it was I who was robbed, and not someone else.”
If we are struggling with our attitudes, we can always ask God to fill us with joy and thankfulness. Giving thanks is not so much a matter of feelings, but of choosing. As Mark reminded us from Hebrews 13:15, “Through him (Jesus) then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name.” And so we are back to the first song of the morning, the one in the van, “Awake, my soul, and with the sun / Thy daily stage of duty run / Shake off dull sloth, and joyful rise / To pay thy morning sacrifice.” The most important gift we can give to the Lord every day is our praise. That is what worship, musical or otherwise, is all about.
You can download the audio for Mark’s sermon at the http://www.metrolife.org/ web site.
I guess that's about it!