Song: Great Are You Lord
Artist: All Sons & Daughters
The past two weeks have been hard for me. We are seeing businesses reopen and I’m happy that some of my friends who were unemployed are able to start back to work, but the reality of how different life has become has hit me and I’ve begun to grieve. I'm grieving that wearing masks in public places (please do it) has become our new normal - I miss smiles. I’m grieving that I’m unable to gather with all of my friends and family together in one place. I’m grieving not being able to hug on my niece and nephew. But there has been one unexpected thing that has been hard for me to process: the near future of congregational singing.
I feel like in the past week, I’ve seen increasingly more news on singers being “superspreaders” of the coronavirus. On May 5th, the National Association of Teachers of Singing (NATS) with American Choral Directors Association (ACDA), Barbershop Harmony Society (BHS), Performing Arts Medical Association (PAMA), and Chorus America hosted a webinar regarding what science and data say about the near term future of singing. The news was sobering and my heart hurts for our classic worship friends and choirs across the world. In summary, choral rehearsals and performances will be greatly impacted until a vaccination is accessible for all. (If you are interested in the full webinar, here’s a link: Singing and Reopening Safely in the Time of the Coronavirus.)
I’m so proud to be a part of the United Methodist Church - words that I haven’t said in quite some time. Our Bishop is doing an incredible job being proactive and leading our UMC congregations as we discuss the reopening of our churches. (Shoutout to Central’s Executive Director, Brian Swain who is on the Reopening Task Force for our conference. Be praying for this task force as they make big decisions to help keep us safe.) One of John Wesley’s 3 Simple Rules states that we, as followers of Christ should “do no harm.” Bishop Mueller came out with a tentative guideline for reopening and says the following about worship:
“All worship participants and leaders must wear masks. When a worship leader or pastor is speaking or singing, he or she does not have to wear a mask, but must maintain a distance of 12 feet. Onstage bands must be spaced accordingly. No choirs or congregational singing are allowed at this time.”
The season of uncertainty that we are in will remain in our imminent future. With these new guidelines, questions of how we will worship together go through my head repeatedly. But, in the midst of the unknowns, God still remains as our constant and is worthy of our worship, regardless of the new ways we go about it. Great Are You Lord is a contemporary worship classic. It’s simple, repetitive, not too trendy and I think it will be an anthem for us for years and years to come. Let’s dive into it.
“You give life, You are love. You bring light to the darkness. You give hope, You restore every heart that is broken. Great are You, Lord”
Whew - what a good word. What an amazing promise.
Last fall, Dave Williams and I had the opportunity to hang out with David Leonard who co-wrote this song. We asked him about the songwriting process and it wasn’t the answer I was expecting. He was scheduled for a co-writing session that he really didn’t want to go to, but in that mindset God used him and placed these words on his heart. He had no idea the extent to which this song was going to move people. A lot of inspiration was drawn from Ezekiel 37: 4-10, that reads this:
“Then he said to me, “Prophesy to these bones and say to them, ‘Dry bones, hear the word of the Lord! This is what the Sovereign Lord says to these bones: I will make breath enter you, and you will come to life. I will attach tendons to you and make flesh come upon you and cover you with skin; I will put breath in you, and you will come to life. Then you will know that I am the Lord.’” So I prophesied as I was commanded. And as I was prophesying, there was a noise, a rattling sound, and the bones came together, bone to bone. I looked, and tendons and flesh appeared on them and skin covered them, but there was no breath in them.Then he said to me, “Prophesy to the breath; prophesy, son of man, and say to it, ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: Come, breath, from the four winds and breathe into these slain, that they may live.’” So I prophesied as he commanded me, and breath entered them; they came to life and stood up on their feet—a vast army.” Ezekiel 37: 4-10 (NIV)
I think songs of lament will come from this season. From spring 2018-fall 2019, I felt a strong sense of awakening throughout our church. We repented of our complacency and were hungry for more of God’s presence in our lives. That season of awakening was refreshing and perhaps served as preparation as we entered into a season of lament and longing for God’s restoration. I’m not a pastor or a counselor, but I think it’s ok to grieve the things you are missing out on during this time. I’m the type of person that likes to have a well thought out vision for my future. I’m grieving that my dreams and goals for 2020 might not come to fruition. The verse of this song has been a reminder that God heals our heartache. He continues to breathe life into us - even into the driest bones. He continues to love us in our brokenness, and He gives us hope when we feel that all hope is lost. God deserves all of our praise.
“It’s Your breath in our lungs, so we pour out our praise to You only”
When this song first came out, All Sons & Daughters would introduce it by saying “worship is when we give God His breath back.” Worship is about responding. Dave Williams has taught me that worship is a response to who God is and what He has done for us. Relationships are not one-sided - that includes being in relationship with Christ. If we remain uninterested in our relationship with God, we miss the beauty of what He has for us. We are called to pour out our praise to Christ, regardless of our circumstances.
“All the earth will shout Your praise. Our hearts will cry, these bones will sing, great are You, Lord”
Singing/playing for an empty room has been harder than I ever dreamt. I’m a singer and a worshipper, and I’m not going to lie - worshipping online has been hard for me. It’s awkward and not natural. There’s something about a room full of people singing together that inspires and emotes certain feelings in us. I think non-believers would agree with this too. I saw Coldplay on their “A Head Full of Dreams” tour, and the euphoric feeling of everyone singing out their songs was so prominent among every person in the BOK Center that night in 2016. Singing together unites us. It’s vulnerable, and it encourages community.
How do we pour out our praise to God when we are limited to how we can worship? Well, for starters, worship takes place in all forms, not just singing. For our worship team, a lot of us might connect best with God through song (myself included), but during this season, God might be calling us to step out of our comfort zones and become more active in our prayer lives, journaling, reading devotionals, etc. Secondly, I praise God that He has made us to be creative and unique. One of my all time favorite scriptures is 1 Corinthians 12:12-27. It teaches us that there are many different parts of the body, but each part plays an essential role to the body as a whole. If it weren’t for our creative/production team, we wouldn’t have online worship. (Shoutout to David Lee and Lawson Templeton, specifically.) We all have different giftings, and I believe that together, we can creatively navigate this new (and hopefully very temporary) normal. I think the first thing we have to do is be open-minded to the process. If you haven’t seen, each week before the service premieres, Central posts tips to better engage in worship at home:
- Gather your household together before the service starts and pray that God will speak to you.
- Read through the text prior to the start of the service. (Try reading a few different versions)
- Put the livestream on your smart TV or a computer monitor so you can see clearly.
- Interact with others on the livestream, by commenting in real-time.
- Sing with us. It may be strange, but it’s a way to participate rather than spectate. (If this is uncomfortable to you, as it is to me, I suggest really thinking and praying over the lyrics. If a line inspires you, comment it for others to also be encouraged.)
- Invite your friends by sharing the livestream on Facebook. (What an easy way to evangelize! Especially for us who have a hard time being vulnerable and sharing our personal faith journeys. Even if none of your friends tune in because of your share, it’s definitely worth a shot.)
When we are able to reunite together again in worship, it will be a day of celebration. I pray that this season will inspire our congregation to not take worship for granted, and to be more in tune with the Holy Spirit and vulnerable with each other. I can’t wait to sing praise to God with you all again, someday. Until then, I will find other ways to pour out my praise.
Challenge: This week, think about how you (and your family, if that is applicable for your situation) can pour out your praise to God. Get creative, and if something is effective for you, share it with others! This is a time we can learn from each other. Be filled with hope and have great anticipation of when our entire congregation can come together again!