A Listening God
When I was in high school, I began to be drawn to music that was quite aggressive. Sometimes brash, sometimes raucous, it helped me feel distinct and bold. There was something in these rugged tunes that was immensely appealing, even comforting. I was craving something candid, something raw and real, that could match the deep yearning developing within me. I had grown disenchanted with the anemic worship fare which permeated every Christian social sphere I knew of. Though I wanted to relate to God honestly, I found few outlets, and I simply didn’t have the language to do so.
A primary reason I often despised church music growing up was because I didn’t feel it was telling the truth about God or about me. I was confused as to why I felt so unreached by the worship. The act of performing seemed essential to the Christian experience based on what I was seeing and hearing. I inherently felt that was wrong, that I should rather be able to approach God without a mask, and even with my downcast eyes.
When I would look at my life, and then attempt to sing along to the tunes in church, I would quickly fall silent. Because what I was experiencing was not being expressed through the music. It was strange to offer praise when God’s character was not fully being disclosed, nor my deepest needs and longings respected.
I was receiving a skewed image of the Christian life. When doubt and fear and sin are never mentioned, we have a cheapened expression that will not hold up. The common spiritual dialogue I grew familiar with was sterilized and tame. But when I read the Psalms, I found something different.
Kevin Twit, RUF minister and champion of the revival of hymns, has helped give words to these feelings. He has posited that Christians have too often been afraid to speak to God with the fullness of their feelings.
“Worship is formative. If we’re singing songs where people feel like they have to put on a happy face to be part of the worship, we’re lying to them about what the normal Christian life feels like, and eventually that comes home to roost. It’s so important that we sing songs that are reality. The reality is, Jesus is the dear refuge of our weary soul.”
“Dear refuge of my weary soul,
On Thee, when sorrows rise
On Thee, when waves of trouble roll,
My fainting hope relies
To Thee I tell each rising grief
For Thou alone canst heal
Thy Word can bring a sweet relief,
For every pain I feel
Hast Thou not bid me seek Thy face,
And shall I seek in vain?
And can the ear of sovereign grace,
Be deaf when I complain?
No still the ear of sovereign grace,
Attends the mourner’s prayer
Oh may I ever find access,
To breathe my sorrows there.”
These words are not contrived pleasantries, but a cry of the heart. Such direct and trusting appeals have changed how I speak to God. The author of this hymn, Anne Steele, intimately familiar with pain and yet also rejoicing, remains a hero of mine.
It is astounding how truthful we are encouraged to be with God. And how great is this understanding for the marginalized, neglected, weak, confused and depressed. These people are not interested in a façade. They want to break through and be made well. Interestingly, it’s often the poorest among us – whether in wealth, education, opportunities, etc. – that most quickly see and take advantage of this path to God’s heart. They have the least to lean on, and thus the least holding them back.
"This fountain though rich,
From charge is quite clear
The poorer the wretch,
The more welcome here
Come needy, and guilty,
Come loathsome, and bare;
Though leprous and filthy,
Come just as you are"
This is how God receives us; without posturing, without payment. His ear cannot be earned: no amount of glamour or intellect will impress him. But his ear is given. The throne of grace cannot be tarnished or devalued by my honesty, though it can be disrespected and wasted by my lack of it. We have nothing to lose by bearing our souls to God, and everything to gain. The less polished, the less promoted, and the more sincere, the quicker our pleas will reach God’s ears.
Our esteemed teacher and friend Scotty Smith introduced me to a fantastic thought from the Puritan Thomas Boston: “At his ascension [Christ] went from us to the Father, to sue out the benefits which he had so dearly purchased. He drew up an answer upon the cross to the bill that sin, by virtue of the law, had drawn against us, and ascended to heaven as an Advocate to plead that answer upon his throne, and to rejoin to all the replies against it.”
The fact is that we can sue heaven by way of Christ’s sacrifice and intercession. How extraordinarily bold. There are infinite riches that we can draw out in an instant. We can look at the promises in scripture and say: “This is what your word says is true; make it so in my experience.”
Tim Keller and others have helped me see that Jesus Christ cried out on the cross and was not answered, so that we may cry out in our time of need and always be answered. I will not deny that I have questioned this when I have felt abandoned. But when I consider the promises God has made to me, and the lengths to which he went to convince me He is trustworthy, I cannot doubt my voice makes it to Him, no matter how thick my doubt or how faint my whisper.
A final word from one of my favorite bands, Brand New:
“Nothing gets so bad
A whisper from your father couldn’t fix it
Your whispers like a bridge, it’s a river span”
We are heard.
For further reflection:
In Labor All Creation Groans – Bifrost Arts
Pensive Doubting Fearful Heart – Indelible Grace
Enclosed By You – Liz Vice
Hold Thou My Hand – Nathan Partain
Satisfied – Red Mountain Music
Runaway – Jess Ray