It happened again today. Yet another pastor I had run into wanted to know about the church, how it’s faring, who’s left. You’ve lost a lot of people, haven’t you? he quipped. There was no compassion in his words, just a man who needed to feel better about his own ministry, I suppose. What could I say? Yep, the ranks are skinnying up some more. But God is good, doncha think? How’s your church? Growing? Fantastic, and God bless you more (grumble, grumble)!
Each week Sandy and I find ourselves at a venue where some of those who have left our fellowship also attend. We smile and greet, but the pain of separation is there. Most of them are quite warm and gracious. That’s not the problem. The issue is the insidious voices inside our minds that tell us to keep our heads down. Don’t look anyone in the eye, they say. If you must speak, make it short, sweet and move on. You are a failure. You have let these people down. It’s your fault. They hate you. I confess, if I let myself go there, I can begin to believe these sulfur and brimstone rumors. My throat gets raw and scratchy from vomiting back up the poison the devil wants me to swallow.
When the voices started in on me the other evening, I just tuned into another frequency and listened for the opera of Heaven. I listened for the sopranos.
What do you do when a person for whom you prayed over to receive healing of cancer, saw the miracle happen, then months later that person tells you on their way out that your church will close its doors in a year? How, pray tell, can you keep your heading when a companion with whom you’ve shared bread and life walks away from the dream you’ve built together, thus ending a valued friendship?
You call in the sopranos. No, not those Sopranos.
When the sons of Asaph watched the noose of hate and turmoil tighten around the neck of their nation’s existence, they wrote a song. The inscription over Psalm 46 reads, “set to Alamoth.” The word in Hebrew is plural for ‘virgin’ or ‘maiden’ and it is generally thought the chorus was written for the high voices in the choir. Not the earthy, grainy croonings of Joe Cocker or the screechy nails-on-chalkboard stylings of Steven Tyler. Pure voices. Melodic voices. There’s nothing like the grace of blending sopranos to “make it all go away”. Picture a child, fearful and crying over the boogeyman he thinks hides in his closet, and his mother who soothingly lullabies him into slumber. Now picture that multiplied by a crystalline choir of heavenly Sarah Brightmans. Oh, yeah, you just got duck bumps, didn’t you?
When life deals a hard hand, learn to listen for the sopranos. And if you listen really hard, you will be able to download their lyrics. And, man, they’re good!
1. LEARN TO SAY “IT’S GOD”!
And what is the message of Psalm 46? Let’s consider two things. First, notice God’s Name is used in four different ways in these few verses. The psalm starts out with ‘Elohim’, a plural proper noun illustrating His power and authority. Also we find ‘Yaweh’, or Jehovah, which is God’s covenant name. It comes from a root ‘haya’ which means ‘to make or cause to happen’. The prefix ‘ya’ (Lord) brings out the harmonic beauty of “The God Who Makes Things Happen.” (thanks, Lloyd John Ogilvie!)
Two other names float from the refrains. ‘Sabaoth’ is a military term meaning He is the commander-in-chief of all the angel armies. He is the Warrior’s Warrior. He fights for us. And wins EVERY battle. Then there is ‘Elyon’ which denotes His absolute supremacy. Elohim. Elyon. Sabaoth. Yaweh. Four names for God in a scant eleven verses. See it? I think the lyricists mean for us to know that whatever happens in life, good or bad, we say, “It’s God.” That doesn’t mean He knocks down tall buildings with jets or molests children or fired you from your job. I’m not saying He caused it, but He’s most certainly in it.
There is certainly something He is working out in me (the operative word being “out”) whenever I suffer humiliation or criticism or brokenness or despair. These things drive me to God. What safer place is there for a troubled soul?
2. LEARN TO LOOK FOR A RIVER
In the three movements found in this Psalm (each punctuated with “Selah” which could mean either a pause or modulation), the glorious voices crescendo in verse four to discover an amazing truth for those who are getting hammered (ummm, no, not drunkenly hammered). A literal rendering could be “Lo! A river!” When we find Him in our trials, we always know there is a River nearby. He is the River of Life. To me, the River speaks of Resurrection. Every time He works something “out” in me, He also does a corresponding work of bringing new life, new glory from the deaths I die (2 Corinthians 3:18; 4:16).
Hallelujah! No wonder there is gladness in the “City of God.” We are the City of God, by the way—the habitation of the Holy One (Revelation 21:9,10). And in the midst of her is a River that washes, nourishes and revives. Take heart, oh beaten down one. God is showing you a river if you will only open your eyes. Remember Hagar? Crying in the desert, watching her child die, waiting for her own demise, and the Lord shows up and creates a well for her to drink from out of the dusty earth. Lo! A river, indeed.
There’s more but let me just wrap it up with a quick baseball anecdote. Alex Rodriguez plays third base for the hated Yankees (‘scuse my gratuitous editorializing). His career has been festooned with MVP seasons and All-Star performances, but this year his otherwise illustrious career has hit some bumps on the road to the Hall. The Yankee fans have been on him about his hitting, fielding and throwing. He’s heard it all. “Dat Bum,” he’s been called along with an assortment of other colorful not-to-be-mentioned-here colloquialisms.
Imagine going to the office and having 60,000 people watching your every move and booing you when you make a mistake. If I could encourage A-Rod (which I won’t because, remember, he is still a Yankee), I would tell him to forget the Bronx-ish diatribes lobbed his way but picture a choir of sopranos offering the very best of their golden-tongued arias.
Heaven isn’t booing you, either, saint of God. Just listen. It’s music to your ears.