Just yesterday I experienced something quite mysterious. A veil of sadness that I had walked under for over a week and a half, was suddenly lifted. It wasn’t a gradual thing and perhaps only temporary. Yet one moment it was there and the next it was gone.
I first heard the worship song, Desert Song some years ago, during a music practice before one of the church services at my previous church. I went into the worship area for a quick sound check before the service but I ended up staying so I could listen to the musicians practise this song. It didn’t take long before I was hooked. I sung it at home, I added it to my request list for the music team, I bought the CD and listened to it in the car. There was something about this song.
“This is my prayer in the desert
When all that’s within me feels dry
This is my prayer in my hunger and need
My God is the God who provides”
She is in the desert, in the fire, in the battle, and yet she rejoices and brings praise for God. She recognizes that in all of her life, in every season – God is still God and so she has a reason to sing, to worship.
In addition to the significant lyrics, yes I have to admit, I also fell in love with the piano riff. And it helped that the worship leader who introduced it was a very gifted singer and pianist…
But I kept coming back to those lyrics. It can be easy to jump for joy praising God in worship and song when everything is going well in your life. When you ‘feel’ like praising God. You ‘feel’ like thanking someone for all this awesomeness.
But what about those times, when you are in the desert, when you feel dry, when you feel tired, when you feel under fire. Brooke reminds us in this song that this is when you still turn to God and declare his praises, rejoicing. But how?
I remember a friend who was suffering from depression at the time, describing what it was like for her to attend a worship service. She stood and watched everyone with their emotions wildly evident and yet she felt nothing. She looked at their joyful faces, yet she felt trapped in darkness. ‘How can I go and endure this week after week?’ she asked of me.
We live in a world corrupted by sin. We live in a world where people experience pain and suffering on a scale that I could not begin to imagine. And yet among Christians my experience has been that it is often those who are suffering greatly that seem to have the most robust and resilient faith, the strongest hope and a visibly beautiful love. How can this be?
Paul writes in Romans 5:3-5, ‘we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.’ Later in Romans 8:18, he writes ‘For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.’ And he goes on in chapter eight to speak of the future glory of which we have the first fruits of now – in the Holy Spirit.
Just yesterday I experienced something quite mysterious. A veil of sadness that I had walked under for over a week and a half, was suddenly lifted. It wasn’t a gradual thing and perhaps only temporary. Yet one moment it was there and the next it was gone. I have been unwell and by Monday was feeling much better so at first I logically connected it to this – a physical explanation. Next I found myself wondering if someone had been praying for me on Sunday – perhaps that was the reason for the sudden turn around.
Both of these explanations are likely. Yet, I know that it was the Holy Spirit. God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. While I like many others yearn for the future glory where there will be no more suffering, death and evil, where we will be united with faithful brothers and sisters in Christ who we miss greatly now, where we will rest in the presence of our Lord… I am right now, in the present, the undeserving recipient of the first fruits of this future. The Holy Spirit, the advocate, the comforter, the guarantee of my future inheritance – in my life now. The Holy Spirit who can break through physical and emotional pain and lift your heart to the truth of God’s love and grace poured out for us in Christ Jesus. The Holy Spirit who can reach into your heart and mind and fill it with joy in the Lord even when you don’t ‘feel’ like praising God with a joyful heart, even when the full range of emotions that others enjoy are beyond your reach at that moment. The peace and joy of the Lord is not sourced simply from our emotions and present circumstances. It is the fruit of the Spirit, the fortaste of heaven that comes from heaven. The kingdom of God is a matter of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit (Romans 14:17). Like our righteousness which is not earned or manufactured from within us, but comes from our righteous God, the peace and joy of the Holy Spirit are God’s gift to us in the Spirit. If you are walking in the desert, the fire, the battle, wondering how to manufacture Christian joy, feel free to groan, as creation is likewise groaning and turn to the Holy Spirit who helps us in our weakness, when we do not know what to pray. Who intercedes for us in accordance with God’s will and who gives the first tastes of our eternal future of glory; love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.
All of my life, in every season, nothing can separate me from the love of God in Christ Jesus. And while I might not always ‘feel’ it in the way that I would wish, I have certain hope of a eternal future that is not just an intellectual notion I cling to, but a certainty evidenced right now in my life through the Holy Spirit.
In Romans, Paul paints a dramatic contrast between two realities. The reality of sin and death and the righteousness and life we are given by God. He assures us that the power of the gospel means that those who accept forgiveness and life in Christ have by his abundant grace God’s righteousness in the present and the resurrection life in God’s eternal future. It is true, we are not yet in the future glory that we yearn for. Yet we live in a new realm – the realm of the Holy Spirit, which produces righteousness and helps us in our present suffering. As Moo writes in his commentary on Romans, ‘the Holy Spirit is not only instrumental in making us God’s children, he also makes us aware that we are God’s children.’
“Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written: “For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.”
No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
How? How am I convinced? How will you stand in worship when you are in the desert? How do Christians around the world experiencing unimaginable suffering in their present persevere with enviable faith, hope and love? It is, I believe, the power of the Spirit.
Join us this year as we read through Paul’s letter to the Romans at the river @ St Stephen’s Warrandyte. May the Holy Spirit work in your life such that you know the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes, in which the righteousness of God is revealed. (Romans 1:16-17)