In the summer of 2018, I stepped into one of the most trying and difficult seasons I have ever experienced. Grief and anxiety were at their fever pitch and became the threshold of my life. I began to struggle with panic. At the same time, many friends and family in our church began to deal with similar things.
Somewhere in the midst of the chaos, a dear friend of mine sat me down and suggested a return to writing songs with the Lord.
“Don’t think about writing for other people. Write with God. Hang out in your bedroom with Jesus. Sing to Him, sing over your friends, sing over yourself. Write about your anxiety. Sing about your grief. Dedicate it all to Jesus.”
So I did that. And much to my surprise, songs started to pour out. I sent my crummy demos to my friends who were experiencing the same things. I hoped that maybe some of the truth that the Lord was revealing to me through Scripture and song might encourage them too.
A year later, I had a group of songs that I really believed in, wrapped up in the truth that the Lord’s presence is steadfast in the darkest of times. We don’t have the guarantee that grief, anxiety, or whatever you are facing will end, but we do have a hope that is invincible; Jesus, the Prince of Peace.
I hope the Holy Spirit uses these songs to speak truth, hope, and peace to you.
2 Corinthians 12:9-10
Have you ever wondered what it means when someone says “a sacrifice of praise”?
We all have times of ease in worshipping Jesus. I see the exhortation in Ephesians 5, “Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord”, and I think to myself, “No problem, God”. As I type this in the studio at the Reach offices, I think the same thing. Easy. I’m a worship pastor, so if I found singing to be difficult that might be a problem.
But I have also had times when singing did not come so easy. We all have those seasons where we choke on the anger, fear, discontent, anxiety, depression, or loneliness. In those times, it can seem impossible to open our mouths in worship to Jesus.
And that is the exact time we need to pull Ephesians 5:18-20,
“Instead, be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit.”
What we often skip over, is that this famous verse on praise begins with this awkward charge, “do not get drunk”. Doesn’t seem like a very “churchy” way to explain how important praise is right?
But God isn’t afraid to tell us what we need to hear. Being filled with the Spirit leads to joy in our sorrow. Being filled with a lousy substitute leads to numbness in our pain. Whether it's alcohol, entertainment, social media, or apathy—our God seems to draw a parallel between praise and a heart that’s full of the right things. Most Christians don’t realize that praise soothes our pain. God designed it that way.
When we choose to give God a “sacrifice of praise” we boldly rage against our circumstances and declare God as our true source of comfort. Our circumstances do not have the final word. Jesus has the final word over you. Push through the discomfort with praise. Act in faith that He will meet you. He does not disappoint.
I can’t multitask when I am watching my kids, y’all.
My wife is incredibly gracious with me. She knows I can’t have a meaningful conversation when my children are climbing a tree or sledding down a steep hill. I’m not going to stop them from learning the valuable lesson of getting hurt and getting back up again, but the second that branch breaks or they hit the hill a little too fast I will be ready to help. In that moment, I will be whatever my kids need me to be.
In the same way, God’s got His eyes on you. Psalm 33 talks about a God who “looks down from Heaven; He sees all the children of man” (v 13).
“Behold, the eye of the Lord is on those who fear Him, on those who hope in His steadfast love” (v 18).
Historically, when I have pondered the magnitude of those beautiful truths, I’ve assumed God was watching and waiting for me to mess up. I knew He would come in with all of His grace, mercy, and wisdom and make everything right again. But I have to admit, I rarely saw him as a God who was looking out for me and desiring to protect me from harm.
When we get to rock bottom a shift happens. When we are given the unique vantage point of suffering, we understand new depths of trusting Him. We realize that He is showing up when we can’t anymore.
In the deepest darkness of my struggle with mental health, God met with me every morning through the Psalms. I prayed that the torment would end. I wish I could tell you there was a miraculous moment when everything was better. But I can’t. I can say that reading about a God who saw me and promised to be my help gave me the strength I needed to face the day.
He’s doing the same for you! He’s promising He sees you. He’s with you when things are easy. He’s with you when the bottom gives out. When the flimsy branch of whatever you are trusting in gives out underneath you, He’s there to help and protect. Put your feet down on the firm foundation He is offering.
How often do I undervalue God’s presence?
In the midst of most trials, what I really want is for God to take the trial away. If stuff gets hard, I simply ask for it to stop. “Jesus, I want little-to-no resistance in my life please. Oh, and I’ll take a coconut horchata while you’re at it. Amen.” While that’s completely natural, I realize that when I do that I am asking for victory on my own terms.
All of us will face opposition. Trouble is unavoidable (1 Peter 4:12). And if somehow it hasn’t happened to you yet, I don’t want to be a downer but...it will. I also know from experience that until we’ve been relentlessly opposed we are unable to fully experience the peace that Jesus’ presence provides.
Don’t get me wrong, victory with Jesus can be found in the defeat of what plagues you. Absolutely. But it can also be found in clinging to Jesus’ promises when you remain beat up and bloodied by your circumstance.
Believing that Jesus is always with me isn’t something I tell myself to pretend things are better than they are. I remind myself of that promise consistently, because it's true. When we’re in trouble, we are invited to ask Jesus to make things better. But that isn’t all we are invited to do. We should also respond in faith to the promise we already have. We must lift our hands and shout for joy to God even when the trouble doesn’t go away, because He is there in the thick of it. With us.
God’s people: you stand in the shadow of the Almighty! Trials will come and you’ll be in His shadow. You will be grieved and you’ll be in His shadow. You will face opposition from the enemy and from the world and you’ll be in His shadow.
Celebrate the victory of His presence and peace!
My wife and I experience movies very differently.
I love the rush of every emotion. I love conflict and setbacks and every small victory. I like to sit back and let it all crash over me like a wave.
My wife, on the other hand, absolutely loves knowing the ending of a movie before she watches it. In fact, she will open up the movie’s Wikipedia page when the first major conflict arises and say, “Ohhhhhh, ok. I’m good, I’m good. Let’s watch it.” For her, knowing where it's all going to end up enables her to enjoy it while it's happening.
When conflict arises, we are all tempted to do this. We want to know why it's happening and where it's going. And depending on how much time exists between the first conflict and the next one we can also be tempted to despair. For me, blinders go up and all I can see is what is right ahead of me. I lose sight of my identity, my hope, and my destination. “I will probably feel like this forever,” is pretty standard for me.
But when I think about Jesus on the cross and the finality of what unfolded on that day, I have an unprecedented story of hope written on my heart. If I’m paying attention, I can see his steadfast love through every conflict. How wonderful is the peace that Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection gives us. He has the final word over sin and death.
So I guess my lovely wife is onto something after all. We must be people who remember how the story ends. Jesus came so that eternal peace is possible for us all. No matter what suffering or struggle you find yourself currently in, there is no better ending than what he’s already done.
To be completely honest with you, my theology can be summed up in verse four of Robert Lowry’s beloved hymn:
This is all my hope and peace; nothing but the blood of Jesus.
A prayer I often pray when preparing music is that the Lord would take something that I have sung a thousand times and reveal something new to me in it. He does that kind of stuff. We just have to ask. Take a moment right where you are and ask the Lord to do that for you through this hymn.
God’s goodness to you isn’t going to stop. Christian, you can declare that in every high and every low. My friend Ryan knows this well. Here’s what he told me about writing this song:
“Written in a time of peace, I had no idea just how prophetic this song was for me as the months following would be some of the most difficult I’ve faced. Sometimes it’s the songs we write or the songs we sing today that we need most for tomorrow. As I had to wrestle with my own season of hurt and bitterness, I kept returning to this song as an anchor for the consistent truths regarding who my God is and the peace that he brings to me.”
For Christians, doubting God’s goodness might seem foreign or even wrong—until we face something that knocks us down.
“God, did you do this?”
“God, are you letting this happen to me?”
“God, will it always be like this?”
These are the questions that kept me awake at night in my hard season with mental health. Something was stopping me from being the man I wanted to be. I needed the Lord to show up and answer me. In the waiting, seeds of doubt propagated. I wanted the audible voice of the God I love to speak and give me the resolution I pined for.
I wanted answers. I wanted out. I did not get what I wanted. But even though those things didn’t happen, I was given a new perspective. I learned what it meant to truly cling to Jesus. I learned what it meant to really begin and end my days with Him.
I learned that I am not above counseling and therapy. I had to be incredibly (sometimes brutally) honest with the people I love and myself. I learned how to talk about my struggles with others. I met many Christians who felt the same way I did and realized I wasn’t alone in the fear I had about my anxiety and depression. I learned to cry in front of my kids and tell them that dad needs Jesus more than ever. I learned how to step back and let others pick up my slack when I didn’t have the strength.
All of the above happened because of the unique perspective the Lord gave me in the midst of suffering. If I had my way, God would have snapped His fingers and I could have skipped it all. But if that would have happened, I would’ve missed out on all of God’s goodness that came from the darkness. My season of battling mental health might be the most fruitful season I have ever experienced.
That’s what our God does. That’s Romans 8:28. God is working good in all things for those that love Him. It’s easy to see His goodness when things are good. It’s a lot harder to see his goodness when things are bad.
But he is ever good to me, and to you, in every season. Trust it. Sing it. Believe it.