The sound of the ‘new normal’

I saw a friend’s FB post this morning from New Zealand. Tomorrow they’re allowed to go back to the church building and to worship together in groups no larger than 100. It made me think about the privilege of being able to come together. Over the last 10 weeks I’ve loved being the church with my family but the coming together of people from different spheres of life is special, significant and vital for true community. I think its something I’ve taken for granted.

From childhood I’ve always loved being in church. It always felt like a good place to be. Even when my parents said we couldn’t go, I would beg them to let me go alone! And they did! They would drop me off outside the church building and I would sneak in just in time for kids church!

Over the years I’ve loved being in church conferences of thousands but never imagined a day would come when all of that would have to cease.

For me my favourite part of church is corporate worship – when we sing to God! That’s when I hear God speak to me the clearest and I see evidence of God moving. You can hear it in the voices and you can see it in the faces. There’s a sound of desperation in some voices, in others celebration. Some faces display the pain of recent events, yet they choose to lift their hands and hearts in worship! I see the faces of the elderly, the ones who have walked with Jesus through all the ups and downs of life. There’s the faces of the forgiven, the faces of the redeemed, the faces of the children, the faces of the searching. Each face bringing their own unique sound to God collectively producing worship that is like a fine fragrance to our King!

Oh what a sound we’re going to make when get back together to worship God!

It’s going to be loud because there will be an eruption of gratefulness! He never left us nor forsook us! Those words will hold new meaning for so many of us!

It’s going to be triumphant! We live for Jesus! We have this amazing hope in tomorrow. Despite the hardships we’re confident that hope will continue!

It’s going to be sincere! We’re done mouthing words to songs and not giving our hearts permission to fully let go in praise! This pandemic has taught us every day is precious and every opportunity to praise is one we need to grab hold of with both hands!

• It’s going to exalt God higher than ever before! The last 10 weeks have shown us that there is none higher than our God. COVID-19 baffled everyone. These were unprecedented times. There is only ONE person this didn’t baffle – our God! He continued to reign, His love and faithfulness has prevailed.

It’s going to have an awareness attached to it! An awareness that every person has their own story of COVID-19. It may be one of bereavement, difficulty, financial instability, or relational breakdown. Together we will stand in worship, physically praying and praising with one another. Never again will we underestimate the value of this.

It’s going to be victorious! Our praise will lead to breakthrough. I’m reminded of Jehosophat leading his army into battle with no armour but praise! And they won! He just encouraged his army with these words, “Have faith in the Lord your God and you will be upheld” (2 chronicles 20:20)

I cannot wait for this day when when we get to worship together. I can’t wait to hear the sound we produce together. My prayer is that it’s soon and that our hearts are open to the new normal, to wholeheartedly be a part of the next chapter.

When God unexpectedly showed up

Cancer had affected every part of his body. It had left him with a skeletal frame and little energy. After an unexpected fall it stripped him of all confidence to ever walk again and later take his dignity too. It was devastating to watch. My dad had always been up and about, the first to wake up and the last to go to bed. Always on the move, active, productive. Now he lay in his bed crippled by this disease. Despite all of this he kept telling us God was going to heal him but the doctors were saying otherwise. I had the faith the God could heal him. In every fibre of my body I know Go can switch things around and do the miraculous but things weren’t looking good. I felt angry with God. If He was going to heal him He needed to strengthen our faith, if He wasn’t going to heal him He needed to speak to us, give us the chance to say our goodbyes, give my dad the chance to come to terms with the truth that he was going home. It hurt me to see my dad barking up the wrong tree of healing, if that wasn’t for him. Wasn’t it better for him to spend his final days in peace knowing the King of King was waiting for him and his place there was already prepared for him?

In frustration and anger I crept down the stairs into the kitchen and got on my knees and began to pray, cry out to God in a way I had never done before! ‘Please God heal him, I want him to stay here with us.  But if it’s not your will, speak to him, tell him you’re waiting for him.  Please let conversation of healing stop and conversation of going home begin so peace in his heart will begin to settle.  He’s suffering Lord, I can’t bear to see the suffering.’  I cried and prayed from the deepest place of my heart and God met me there in my quiet broken place. I can only describe it as an anchor that dropped deep into my soul.  It steadied my emotions, my outburst, my faith.

As I walked back up the stairs I felt led to pray with dad.  I had the strength to pray for God to have his way.  We even managed to sing together.  We sang ‘Break every Chain’ by Jesus Culture over and over.  I desperately wanted every chain to be broken.  Chain of pain, chain of cancer, chain of disappointment, confinement, and hurt. 

The next morning when dad woke up the first thing he told me was that he was going home.  I couldn’t believe it, the transition to heaven had begun.

It was only 10 days later that dad’s health deteriorated significantly.  The last time I saw him I prayed with him and I sang the song ‘I surrender all’ with him.  It was the most painful moment of my life but God was present with us.

A few weeks after he passed away I was at Hillsong Conference in London.  Friends were surprised  to see me so soon after dad’s funeral but I couldn’t think of a better place to be.  A place that resembled where dad was  – were thousands were worshipping their Saviour.  It was emotional as every time we sang, I imagined my dad doing the same in heaven. On day 3 of the conference I was exhausted.  I never knew how much grief physically and emotionally exhausted a person.  As I considered skipping the last session and going home early I somehow convinced myself to stay.  I bargained with God in my mind that I would be there but not give anything of myself.  I just wanted to sit.  As the worship began I couldn’t even find the strength to stand but in my heart I felt God starting to whisper into my heart.

‘You were blessed with a great father for almost 40 years. I want you to remember that you’re the KIng’s daughter and in your time left here on earth you’ll experience the Father’s love in new ways.’

I wasn’t sure if God was speaking to me or if I was imagining it so with head down I began bargaining some more with God.  If this is really you speaking to me, demonstrate your presence and power to me in this place.

There were 10,000 people there that day but what happened next made me feel like I was the only one in the room, just me with my Heavenly Father.

As the worship leader led the service he stopped and said tonight we’re going to sing a few older songs that God’s laid on my heart.  First song was “Break every chain” – ‘What? That was the song I sang with dad” I thought.  God had my attention so I stood up.  Whatever God had for me I wanted it.   As hard as it was for me I lifted my hands in worship and sang that song for the first time since I had sung it with my dad.  That was enough for me.  God had convinced me he was with me and he loved and cherished me.  But in His generous love He gave me more.  We went on to sing the old school version of ‘ I surrender all’ – the same song I sang with dad the day before he passed but also the same song I had grown up singing with him.  It was so unusual for these songs to be sung – the worship leader said it himself.  This moment caught my attention in a surreal way.  God had unexpectedly showed up and demonstrated to me that He could see me and my pain and healing was important to him.  The King had lavishly embraced His Princess – an embrace I would hold on to for the painful months of grief  and healing ahead.