Monday, January 18, 2010

Singing the songs of Zion

Growing up, we sang songs in church with archaic words that no one but insiders understood: for example,
- Beulah Land - a place where all would be well, marching toward it although most of us hated the thought of dying to get there
- Zion - not Israel as a nation, but the spiritual nation of God, hopefully us
- Lowly worm - believers who had been rescued from the common sinful state of humanity
- Devotion - an attitude of worship and adoration to God, often acted out in daily life with a quick browse of scripture and a hasty morning prayer tossed to the heavens before resuming normal activity

I'm not much of a singer. But when I'm stumped, too weary to pray, too battered for concentration, I grab my old hymn book, the German one of my first 20 years, no less. Only rarely do I have to flip through the pages. I can open it almost anywhere and find words of comfort and prayer. Okay, it helps to have most of the 300 hymn numbers memorized, which I automatically did as a teen, gaining a few seconds of prep for playing the piano intro. Pentecostal song leaders "under the control of the Spirit" gave no advance warning of what they were singing because they never knew where the Spirit would lead them. There was no way the Spirit would give away his secrets for the service in advance, never mind on a Monday or Tuesday morning.

Some of the traditions of my faith journey are precious and still deeply meaningful to me. Others are cultural and hilarious, taken out of the context of our small church community. As I study missions history, I see the same breadth of practice. God works with us, accessing any hearts open to himself, tranforming families, entire societies, and moving his Church through the ages.

Broken and imperfect though we are, our hearts swell with thanks to God for his work in us. Among us. With us. The Psalmist writes:
Sing to the LORD a new song; sing to the LORD, all the earth.
Sing to the LORD, praise his name; proclaim his salvation day after day.
Declare his glory among the nations, his marvelous deeds among all peoples.
For great is the LORD and most worthy of praise; he is to be feared above all gods. (Psalm 96:1-4 NIV)

Amen. And Amen! Allelujah! {"World without end," if you're Anglican.}

Where is that hymnbook? I'm consecrating this day to serving dem Herrn Zabaoth (the Lord of Hosts).

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