I had trouble sleeping last night. Not terribly unusual for me but always unwelcome. As I tried to get back to sleep, I prayed for the people in my life that I know are facing struggles and difficulties. And as much as I love the Christmas season, I know it’s not a “Holly Jolly Christmas”for everyone all the time. And the thought ran through my head over and over, “this is what Advent is for.”
Advent simply means “coming,” so part of Advent is repentance that our sin was the reason that made His first coming necessary, but then comes the joyful celebration at Christmas that He DID come to redeem us. But also, we look ahead to His second coming. The fact that we live in this broken world and struggle with our own trials and difficulties makes us long for the time when Jesus will come again and make all things right.
That’s what Advent is for. Advent is for waiting. It’s a time for preparing our hearts. It’s a time for longing. It’s a time for hope.
I love the tree, and the lights and the happy songs and the nostalgic songs and all the fun times with friends. But I love finding the quiet too.
I put together a playlist for Advent. Songs new and ancient. Songs of waiting, hoping, calling out to God for help and songs that speak of Jesus, the coming light. Maybe it will be a way for your heart to “prepare Him room.” I pray it will be a blessing to you.
On Good Friday, among my Christian friends, a common post on Facebook is some variation of “It’s Friday but Sunday’s coming!” It’s a quote from this message which is a beautiful expression of what it would have been like on that Friday, yet looking back with the knowledge that all the grief would be wiped away on Sunday. I appreciate the hope that the message communicates. We don’t know on our worst days when our Sunday will come. But I wonder if those who are so quick to post the glib quote without the context of the rest of the message might be missing out on some important things.
If we skip over Friday and get right to Sunday, we don’t have to reflect on our sin as the cause for Friday. Good Friday gives us the opportunity to remember Jesus’ sacrifice for us. For our sin. “It was my sin that held Him there until it was accomplished.” Good Friday gives us the opportunity to lament. The Psalms are full of lament but that’s a largely lost practice in most contemporary evangelical churches.
At our Good Friday service this evening we’ll be singing “Come Behold the Wondrous Mystery” but we’ll end at verse 3 which takes us through the crucifixion and we won’t sing verse 4 because it’s about the resurrection. Will it feel incomplete? Yes, it probably will. And that’s the point. We should leave tonight with a feeling of incompleteness and of longing.
If we skip right through Friday and Saturday we don’t have to figure out what to do with that awkward day between the remembrance of the cross and the glory of the resurrection. Saturday gives us opportunity to sit in the silence of God, knowing that even when God seems to be silent, He is not absent.
So let’s rejoice in the resurrection on Resurrection Sunday. But let’s not skip there too quickly. There are lessons to be learned in each day.
I enjoyed thinking over this post from Haven Today. Corum Hughes writes:
For many of us, worship is what we do when we sing to God in church. Others would define it as the entire church service. Some would simply say we worship God by living our day-to-day lives as believers who seek to honor Christ.
None of these answers would be wrong. In fact, each could make one very complete definition of worship. The problem is, we don’t often realize the implications of what we are doing, who we are worshiping, or why we should do it in the first place.
You can read the entire post here.
I was encouraged by this article by Keith Getty this week. Our congregation actually doesn’t have a problem with this. They sing out strong and make leading a joy. But this is a good reminder of why it’s important.
Singing affects how we pray, think, and feel. It influences our memory banks and even the deepest parts of our subconscious.
You can read the rest here.
I like the balanced view in this post by Matthew Starner, You’re Not Too Cool for Traditional Or Too Mature for Contemporary.
Those hymns are a gift given to us by our spiritual forefathers. Yes, there are weak hymns that get replaced by stronger ones. Yes, there are some that are better suited to your theological or denominational position than others. But to simply throw out all hymns is to say that these gifts from those who have gone before us are worthless.
So no, you’re not too cool for traditional. You need the depth of content that hymns bring to your worship experience.
If hymns communicate God’s truth, modern worship songs help us apply that truth. They both have a role to play in worship and help us grow as disciples of Jesus. There’s a place for both of them in worship.
Jamie Brown wrote on the Short Shelf Life of New Worship Songs.
Just when we’ve gotten a handle on introducing a new song to our congregation that was written in 2012, a newer new song comes along that’s even newer, making the new song we thought was new feel pretty old. Confused? You should be.
What “new” songs are already old to you?
A few links from this week that have been interesting and helpful to me.
Graham Kendrick has a great post on using the Psalms in personal worship. This is something that has been growing in my heart over the past year so it was nice to read his perspective on it.
“As Psalm phrases lodge in our memories they reshape our view of God and our circumstances, enabling us to make the connection between our human condition, and God”s priorities, purposes and provisions for us. Whereas my own prayer vocabulary becomes exhausted or narrow or the issue looms so large that my faith falters, for example when praying for a nation in turmoil or persecution on a large scale, we can go to Psalm 2 and very quickly God’s perspective and agenda become ours.”
Loved this post over at the Gospel Coalition: Worship is More Important that Your Small Group.
I love small groups. Don’t misunderstand me. They serve a real purpose in most churches, but their importance cannot and does not supersede our gathering together in corporate worship. We are the church. Worship is what we do.
Finally, Lifewayworship published two lists of songs for Resurrection Sunday: One of Hymns and one of Worship Songs. They’re both great lists but we’ll never be able to include them all! It’s a good thing every Sunday is really a celebration of the resurrection.
I just received a new personal worship book, The Book of Worship, compiled by John Randall Dennis, and the reading for today echoes the prayer I’ve been praying all month to find the stillness in this season of Advent. We read it tonight at dinner as we lit the fourth candle at home:
Master of both the light and the darkness,
send your Holy Spirit upon our preparations for Christmas.
We who have so much to do seek quiet spaces
to hear your voice each day.
We who are anxious over many things look forward
to your coming among us.
We who are blessed in so many ways long for
the complete joy of your kingdom.
We whose hearts are heavy seek the joy of your presence.
We are your people, walking in darkness, yet seeking the light.
To you we say, “Come Lord Jesus!”
I still have so much to do before Christmas Day but I’m trying to find the quiet spaces of my day. To be thankful. To soak it in. To listen. I’m praying you find those moments too.