Learning Humility

crutches

Photo by Josh Benton

Last week I spent a full week down in the Chicago area taking a course on the theological foundations of mission. Awesome course. I had hoped to have blogged about it by now. But something else happened along the way. You see, on Saturday, the day after I came home, I fell down the stairs. I had woken up early and thought “Hey, why not spend some quiet ‘me’ time with some coffee before everyone gets us.” Well, I learned something, socks + wood stairs + walking fast =’s falling down the stinkin’ stairs.

As I lay (lie?) on the floor after taking the tumble, my knee was pinned against the wall, my head just inches from the other side of the wall, and I began to think what I should do. Honestly, I didn’t say any bad words. I didn’t even think bad words. I just simply yelled “Ouch!” No. Seriously, people’ve asked me this question if I said anything bad, but I didn’t.

At first all I thought I did was bruise my ego a bit (something apparently not to joke about at urgent care). But after a while, I hurt too much that I spent two hours at urgent care. After x-rays and pokes and prods and bending of the ankle and knee, I was given crutches and splints for knee and ankle. Joy.

Now, this isn’t the first time I hurt my knee or ankle. In fact, I broke my ankle back in 1991 playing football (long story). And then I broke my knee back in 2011 hiking in the Badlands of South Dakota (another long story). So, now I am limping along, having to use crutches (sometimes just one crutch) and depending on others for help, like my loving wife.

To be honest, It’s hard to allow others to do things for you. It’s hard to allow others to help you out. I’m used to helping others out. It’s what I do. But now I must depend on others for help.

This involves humility.

I’m not good at humility. No, seriously, I’m not. I like to toot my own horn from time to time. And to be honest, that’s great to do. It’s good to be proud of things you do. Now, humility is not the opposite of pride. Hubris is the opposite of humility. It’s okay to be proud of things, but to have hubris, that’s a whole ‘nother story. I’m not trying to say I’m not hubrisitic (or however you might say it). I have my moments. My delusions of grandeur. They are far and few between like a normal person, but still, they’re there.

Learning humility is about learning to let others help when you’re a helper. Learning humility is learning to let go of things you can’t do and know that there are things you can do but only with the help of others. Humility is seeing yourself not lowly but seeing yourself as one who is in need of help. Not a victim, but a servant.

James writes:

Humble yourself before the Lord, and he will lift you up.” James 4:10

Jesus speaks about being humble as well. He talks about placing yourself low in order to show respect to others. He speaks about not gunning for the top position but instead coming before God as a child. He speaks about being a servant not one who came to expect to be served. All of this is humility. All of this I’m still learning.

Crutches help with this. I’ve noticed that as I’m on crutches, I am lowly and in need of help. People are more apt to hold the door open for me, willing to grab something for me, do something for me. And it’s hard to let them do that. But by placing myself lower, I’ve learned that God lifts me up.

The humble learn what it means to be true before God. Jesus himself, didn’t see equality with the Father as something to be grasped but humbled himself to the role of a servant, obedient even unto death itself (check out Philippians 2). And we’re to have this same attitude.

And it’s tough.

It’s tough, but doable by the power of the Holy Spirit.

So, as I limp along with my crutches this week, I will keep asking God to continue to teach me this humility I greatly need to learn.

 

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Is it ADD or the Holy Spirit?

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From more-cliparts.net

Richard Foster, in his book Celebration of Discipline speaks on how imagination is the doorway to doing God’s work. In other words, God can use our imagination to spark a desire to do something different and new for God. God is at work. He calls us to join Him in His work. And, as Foster points out, God can use our imagination to spark that desire to serve him in a unique way. And that’s awesome.

ADD/ADHD is interesting. I have ADD/ADHD (though I think they just now call it ADHD). According to WebMD, some of the symptoms of ADD/ADHD is lateness and procrastination to the extreme. Sometimes it includes jumping for one project to another without completing the prior project first. Another symptom is impulsivity. That is, jumping into things without fully thinking it through. Combine these two together and you sometimes get crazy adventures (at least in my family) or big blow ups (sometimes also in my family).

This morning during my devotions and prayer, I was reading John 4 with Jesus and the Woman at the Well. My mind began to wander. An idea that had been bouncing around in my mind for the last month or so popped up again. It was an idea to start doing discipleship with a group of men that I’ve gotten to know. But the problem is, is that I began to wonder if it was ADD or the Holy Spirit. I have so much going on right now. I’m working on my DMin (Doctor of Ministry) and I have a class next week in which I’m behind on my readings (a big undertaking, another sign of ADD sometimes…I impulsively signed up for the class). And I have a lot of other things going on right now. So, I began to wonder as I wandered: Is this the Holy Spirit or is it just my ADD again.

Six years ago I did an experiment on whether it was ADD or the Holy Spirit at work. Long story short, I wound up in Kansas at a Waffle House. It was an interesting experience to say the least. But I never did decide if it was the Holy Spirit at work or just my ADD. It became frustrating. How did I know if the Holy Spirit was at work moving and guiding me or if it was just me being impulsive and starting yet another project. I just didn’t. I never resolved the issue.

And now I’m back at it again. I have grand ideas. Okay, some good ideas (I think they’re good anyway). But is it, as Foster says, God opening up the doors to do something for Him or is it just my ADD acting up once again?

I’m medicated. Been medicated for a number of years. And the medication helps me focus. Usually more in the morning than in the afternoon and night. But still, pretty focused (hence why I’m blogging in the morning rather than the afternoon, of course i have a lot of other things to do right now too…anyway). So I wonder as I wander, is it just ADD or the Holy Spirit moving.

I once heard someone say that a lack of immediate obedience to God’s leading is disobedience. Not acting right away is not fully trusting in God’s leading. At the same time, it is good to test the spirits (as Paul writes). But he also says not to quench the Spirit’s fire. So what do I do? Do I step forward and test to see if it is the Holy Spirit at work or just once again my ADD acting up?

The Holy Spirit is interesting. He’s the third Person of the Trinity. He moves and guides us. He enables Jesus to live in our hearts. We who are followers of Jesus are living temples to the Holy Spirit. As a community of believers we make up the body of Christ, a temple of to God, powered by the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit gives gifts to His followers of Christ, spiritual gifts. Good gifts for the benefit of the church and God’s Kingdom. We can’t see the Holy Spirit, but like the wind moving in the trees, we can see the affects of the Holy Spirit in our lives and in others. He guides us by prompting us in our hearts and souls. He makes our hearts break for what breaks His heart, the heart of God.

So, is it ADD or the Holy Spirit at work here? I guess I might have to do another experiment.

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Bohemian Canonicity

Queen

From Amazon.com

Among my vinyl collection is  a two record set of Queen’s greatest hits. With the movie Bohemian Rhapsody coming out soon, I started to really think about the music of Queen and the vocal and musical talent of Freddy Mercury and the group as a whole. Between Another One Bites the Dust, Fat Bottom Girls, We Will Rock You, and the famous Bohemian Rhapsody, the range of this group is amazing. To be honest, if you were to just listen to one song and compare it to another you may not even know they were by the same people.

Now, this being Spiritual Musclehead, I started to think spiritually about all of this. I started to think about how the Bible is put together. The Bible is a combination of 66 books. You have traditions on how the collection is put together–the Hebrew Bible and the Christian Bible. Each is from a tradition of putting together the Bible. The Hebrew Bible is arranged by the Law or Covenant History, the Prophets, and the Writings for the Old Testament (or simply the Hebrew Bible of First Testament depending on scholarship). On the other hand, the Christian Bible is organized differently with the The Law, the Histories, the Prophets, and The writings. Each organized in a different way.

Over the centuries, many have argued who wrote what. Some people say that there are two people who wrote Isaiah. While others say there’s three (they call the third Deutero-Isaiah). And then there’s Paul. Paul is the most prolific writer of the Bible and of the New Testament. In fact, the majority of the New Testament is made up of his writings. Yet people doubt if he wrote all those letters or if they were just attributed to him.

The reasoning behind this all is that they are different. He uses different words and ideas in different letters he writes. Some argue that because of this, he really didn’t write 1st and 2nd Timothy and other letters. That is was someone else whom they call “The Pastor.” Because they are so different from his other letters such as Romans and Ephesians they must not be from him.

Yet they are.

And what does this have to do with Queen and their greatest hits? A lot.

Freddy Mercury on vocals and piano. Brian May on guitar. It was a match in musical memory that created a phenomenon that can’t be beat today in many areas of music. Yet, who wrote what music? They did. They did as a group together. In fact, toward the end of Freddy Mercury’s life the group attributed all works to Queen as a whole.

When looking at the New Testament, it is important to note how it all pulls together. Luke writes about Paul’s journeys in the Book of Acts. He writes about the places where he and Paul went and where Paul went when Luke wasn’t with them. Paul’s letters were preserved and passed around to other churches in the areas. Paul wrote in different ways to different churches for different reasons.

He wrote to the church in Rome about his desire to do missionary work in Spain and needed a base of operations and financial and spiritual support from them. He wrote twice to the church in Corinth because they had written him first and had questions. That and they were a totally messed up church (think Jerry Springer messed up). He wrote to the church in Colossi, though he didn’t found it, to encourage them in the faith. He wrote two letters to his student Timothy who was pastoring a church. He wrote to another student, Titus, who was pastoring a church in Crete. He wrote to the Philippians about one thing and the Thessalonians about two other things. But he was the same person.

Queen’s music evolved and changed over the years. Their greatest hits shows this. Yet they are the same group. They are the same people. Their music varies and changes yet they are still the same. They changed and evolved over time as a group as their music did. Paul was Paul. He wrote in many different ways to many different people.

The Bible as a whole is a compilation of different people writing together or separate. They are put together as a whole to make one giant claim. God is the God of nations and Jesus is the savior of the world. It is put together as one complete whole, including the different works of Paul.

So, as you read through the Bible, notice the different authors. Notice how Paul writes differently to different people. Enjoy the differences. Enjoy the canon that is the Bible, and read it with joy.

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Trusting God when it’s Hard to Trust

Tree by the water 2

Art by Josh Benton

The readings for my devotions this morning came from Psalm 20 and Jeremiah 17:7-8. I’ve been using A Guide for Prayer for all Who Walk with God as my devotional readings for the last few years now. It, for the most part, not only follows the church calendar, but it also sets up themes for each week. This week’s theme is trust. Psalm 20 is a powerful Psalm about calling for the king of Israel to trust in God and not in chariots or warriors. A Good thing to know. Not to trust in things, that is, but to trust in God alone.

It’s the passage from Jeremiah that was a bit harder for me to read through.

But blessed is the one who trusts in the LORD, whose confidence is in him. They will be like a tree planted by the water that sends out its roots by the stream. It does not fear when heat comes; its leaves are always green. It has no worries in a year of drought and never fails to bear fruit.” Jeremiah 17:7-8

Blessed is hard to accept when it’s hard to trust in God. The word in Hebrew for blessed is בָּרַך (barak) and it has the idea of God giving this blessing. It is a blessing given by God to the one who trusts in Him. Not just that, but trusting in God creates a steadfastness that is every supplied by God’s sustaining power. The Hebrew for trust is בִּטְחָה (biteha). It has the idea of safety, confidence, and trusting. It’s a reliance upon someone else.

And in today’s world, reliance upon someone else is hard to do. We’re taught from an early age to pull ourselves up by our bootstraps. Society has a way of looking down on those who can’t or are unable to pull themselves up by their own bootstraps. It’s a virtue (not always a good one, but still seen as a virtue) of the American way. We are individuals and we can make it if we try.

And so it’s hard to trust in others. It’s hard to be reliant upon others and find safety in doing so. But that’s the thing, in trusting in God, it is a trust that is reliant upon God, a safety found in God. And in that trust, in that reliance upon God, there is a promise of being sustained.

But trust is hard. It is hard to trust in God when you don’t always see Him moving or at work. Yes, there are those mountain top experiences that people have where everywhere they look they see God at work. But to be honest, those are few and far between. And when we don’t see God working like we think he can, we begin to lose trust in what He is doing and able to do.

This is where faith comes in. The Apostle Paul says it this way:

For we live by faith, not by sight.” 2 Corinthians 5:7

Simple to say, hard to do. But faith is being certain of what we hope for and sure of what we do not see (see Hebrews 11:1). This involves trust. This involves a reliance upon the unseen. In the mountains, it is easy to trust in God because you can see Him moving every which way you go. But we don’t always live on the mountains. We live on the plains and in the valleys. We live in the mundanity of life and in the broken hallelujahs of pain. This is where trusting in God is most needed. This is where reliance upon God is needed. This is where we need to be sustained like a tree planted by the waters.

And it can be hard to trust in God. But when it’s hard to trust in God, that is where it is needed the most. It is when we need to lean hardest on Him when we’re the most frightened to lean. It is easier to say than to do, that I agree upon. But still, when it’s hard to trust in God, that is where you need to trust in Him the most and allow Him to sustain you in those plains of mundanity and the valleys of broken hallelujahs.

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My Dog and the Holy Spirit

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A blurry picture of my dog, Strawberry. Photo by Josh Benton

We have a dog. She’s a 60lbs husky/Rottweiler mix. I emphasize the husky part because she looks more like a Rottweiler than she does a husky, but she has the temperament of a husky while having the build, fur, and coloring of a Rottweiler. It just puts people at ease when I say she’s part husky. She’s a kind dog. A gentle dog. A dog that enjoys being in our company. And there are times when I lay (or is it lie) on the couch where she comes up to me and puts her head on my chest and just wants to be petted. Sometimes she puts her nose up to my cheek just to get my attention.

Now, dogs can’t speak. They don’t have the vocal chords to do so. They don’t have the aptitude to form language like we do. Yet she communicates to me in so many different ways. She whimpers when we don’t let her into my wife and my bedroom at night. She’ll whine, lick your arm, and even bark to be let outside. And when she wants affection, she’ll lick my hand, she’ll put her head under my hand, or she’ll place her head on my chest when I’m on the couch.

She’s a dog. A good dog at that.

So what does this have to do with the Holy Spirit?

The Holy Spirit sometimes feels like the forgotten God. He (and I emphasize He) is the third Person of the Trinity–Father, Son (Jesus), and Holy Spirit. He (not it) proceeds from the Father and the Son. As the Father sent the Son, so the Son sends the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit was given to us on the Day of Pentecost (check out Acts 2), the day wherein the Holy Spirit was poured out on all believers and led the people of God to move out with the gospel message to all corners of the known world.

Sometimes we confuse the Holy Spirit with a force or karma, or even The Force from Star Wars. But He isn’t like that. He is personal. He is intimate. He is powerful. He raised Jesus from the grave, and this same power resides in each follower of Jesus as the Holy Spirit lives in each follower of Jesus.

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Art by Josh Benton

But the Holy Spirit, He can’t be seen, only felt, only perceived. In John 3, Jesus uses the imagery of the wind. You can’t see the wind but you can feel it, you can see its effects on the trees and where it is blowing, but you can’t see the wind. The same is true with the Holy Spirit. Not just that, but the Holy Spirit convicts people of their sin, He teaches people what it means to be a follower of Jesus (see John 16).

The Holy Spirit is gentle, but you can grieve the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit moves in each of us, but you can ignore the Holy Spirit. He guides us, but you can choose to not follow His leading. The Holy Spirit makes it possible for Jesus to live in the hearts of His followers and be a living temple to God, but you can choose not to do so.

So, what does this have to do with my dog?

Analogies can break down very easily. What I learned is that my dog is close by. She cares for me. She is present with me. She checks in on me. She desires to be close to me. She desires my attention. And she loves me unconditionally. The Holy Spirit is more than that though.

The Holy Spirit loves us completely because God loves us through Jesus. As the Father sent the Son, so the Son sends the Holy Spirit. So the Holy Spirit sends us. So the Holy Spirit cares for us. So the Holy Spirit guides us and leads us. When we don’t know what to pray for, the Holy Spirit prays for us in groans only God can understand. As a follower of Jesus, the Holy Spirit resides in us, uplifts us, and leads us.

The Holy Spirit moves where He wishes to move. God will not take His Holy Spirit from us who are followers of Jesus. In fact, the Holy Spirit is the gift that gives gifts. As followers of Jesus, we receive gifts of the Spirit to move the church. As followers of Jesus we receive the Fruit of the Spirit to show that we belong to Jesus.

My dog is finite. She’s roughly 9 years old. She will die one day. The Holy Spirit will never leave you nor die on you as a follower of Jesus. He will always be present with you as a follower of Jesus. Remember the Holy Spirit and what He can do with you. Allow Him to move and work in your life, being ever present with you. Listen to Him, follow Him, be guided by Him, and allow Him to work in your life.

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The Power of the Kinetic Church

chapel

Photo by Josh Benton

About a year ago, I wrote on here on the Kinetic Church and the Movement of the Kinetic Church. There’s something about the church today that’s so important. Many people see the church to be outdated, regulated to the corner of morality for personal use. Not just that, but in the last 18 months, many people have denounced the Evangelical Church in the US due to it’s highly charged politicalness in things. This isn’t good. For many years, the Church had its standing within society. It was the center for many towns and villages. The entire town was built around the church. It was the center of society–political, cultural, and moral. And it was this way for many centuries. Until the Enlightenment era came (The Enlightenment Age started sometime in the 17th to 18th century and changed how we see things in the west. You can read more about it here). Long and short–it became the age of reason and logic. The church was no longer needed to run society.

And in some ways, this was a good thing. The Church itself had fallen short. It had started out in the book of Acts in the New Testament as a rag tag group of people who had witnessed the power of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost. And from that time on forward, the early followers of Jesus called The Way and later Christians, took time together, prayed together, helped one another out, and did so much to help the poor and the suffering.

Later, the church began to spread out from Jerusalem and made its way into the Balkans, into Greece, into all areas of society and even into the capital of Rome itself. But it was still on the fringe of society. People were persecuted, hunted down and killed for the faith. Paul, one of the greatest missionaries and theologians of the New Testament was hurt, stoned, shipwrecked, and more for speaking up about Jesus and planting churches.

Somewhere along the way, the Church lost its way. It became industrialized, institutionalized, a political behemoth to be reckoned with. And then things fell apart. The Reformation happened. Wars happened. And that’s where people got tired of the Church.

Now, don’t get me wrong. The Church did many things good. The Church did many things right. Don’t toss the baby out with the bathwater here. Hospitals were created, the poor and the orphan and the widow were taken care of, people were helped when needed. The Church did much to do good in Jesus’ name.

Today things are much different than they were years ago. It’s a post Christendom world. It’s a post Enlightenment world. Globalization has happened. One author on the subject called it a McWorld. People from all over world can read my blog post. The Church is facing a crisis and it needs to respond.

This is where the church on mission, the missional church, comes in. Alan Hirsch, one of the creators of the term “missional” once said that after its coining, it means so little now. The missional church is a church on mission for God. God is about redeeming and restoring all creation.

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Art by Josh Benton

The kinetic church is a church on mission. But it is a church powered by the Holy Spirit. It is a church that has the power built up in it by centuries of work, centuries of history fueling it now.

The power of the kinetic church is having an Acts 2:42-44 identity, a Philippians 2 vision, and a Micah 6:8 mission. Let me break this down a bit.

In Acts after the day of Pentecost where the Holy Spirit was given to all believers, people came to faith in Jesus. The devoted themselves to the teaching of the apostles about Jesus, the devoted themselves to prayer, they broke bread together (celebrated the Lord’s Supper/Communion/The Eucharist), and they helped one another out.

This is the identity of what the Kinetic Church should be about. But it shouldn’t stop there. The mark of the follower of Jesus is love, the love of God for others, the love of God for one’s neighbor, the love of God for one another. And this love is given when it is poured out as Jesus poured himself out. Paul writes about this in Philippians 2. Jesus humbled himself and became a servant to others when he could have easily taken over all things by force. The vision of the kinetic church is one where we pour out ourselves to help others, we are filled to be emptied. And when we operate church with this view, we no longer are to bicker and fight but to pour ourselves out to one another in love, in the love of Jesus.

But the church should also be on mission. This is where the power of the kinetic church comes into play. It is in play because of the power of the Gospel. It is in play because of the power of the Holy Spirit. It is moved by the Holy Spirit in order to do justice, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with God.

When the church acts justly, loves mercy, and walks humbly with God, it is on mission to do as God commanded. God is a God of justice. He desires the poor to be taken care of, the foreigner to be taken care of, the systems that hold people down to be fought against. Those who are downtrodden should be lifted up because they are made in the image of God. God is a God of love. He desires mercy not sacrifices (check out Hosea 6:6). God desires his people to do love mercy, to love their neighbor as themselves. And in so doing, the light of Jesus is shone. And all of this is walking humbly with God.

Phew this is a long post.

In short, the power of the kinetic church rests in the power of the Holy Spirit who moves the church. The church has power ready to be used. It has potential power. And when it is moved, it can do marvelous things in God’s name, in Jesus’ name, by the power given to it. But only if it truly has an identity rooted in Christ–living out the Acts 2:42-44 life, a vision of emptying out oneself for others, and a mission to act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with God.

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Singing Broken Hallelujahs

guitar black and white

Photo by Josh Benton

Leonard Cohen wrote the beautiful song “Hallelujah” that begins simply “Now I heard there was a secret chord/That David played and it pleased the Lord.” It’s a powerful sad song. It’s filled with imagery of hurt, of pain, of suffering. Sometimes Christians and others try to co-opt this song by making it happier. But it’s not. Some want a moratorium placed on this song so it won’t be sung for some time because it’s over done. But I don’t think so. Why? It’s a broken, sad hallelujah. In fact, in the song we hear

Baby I’ve been here before/I know this room, I’ve walked this floor/I used to live alone before I knew you/I’ve seen your flag on the marble arch/Love is not a victory march/It’s cold and a broken hallelujah.”

Hallelujah is from the Hebrew which literally means “Praise the LORD.” And not just Lord but the LORD. In the NIV and other translations, when you see LORD written like this, it means that God’s name is actually written in the Hebrew–YHWH. And God, the LORD is called upon in time of praise but also in times of lament. A lament is a crying out, a plea, a song of sadness to God.

The Psalms in the Bible are filled with laments to God.

How long, LORD? Will you forget me forever? how long will you hide your face from me?” Psalm 13:1

Lord, you are the God who saves me; day and night I cry out to you. May my prayer come before you; turn your ear to my cry.” Psalm 88:1-2

Hear my cry, O God; listen to my prayer. From the ends of the earth I call to you, I call as my heart grows faint” Psalm 61:1-2

These are songs, these are prayers, these are broken hallelujahs to God.

On the cross as he was in pain and agony, Jesus cried out broken hallelujahs. He cries out in a loud voice:

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Matthew 27:46

This is a direct quote from Psalm 22, another lament, another broken hallelujah

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you far from saving me, so far from my cries of anguish? My God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer, by night, but I find no rest.” Psalm 22:1-2

These are broken hallelujahs.

Too many times, people think that Christianity is all happy clappy being blessed (especially other Christians). But that is far from the truth. Yes, there are mountain top experiences. Yes, there are times where followers of Jesus feel especially close to God, to Jesus, by the power of the Holy Spirit. But those are actually few and far between. In the middle of the mountains you have the mundanity of life. And other times you have the valleys of faith.

This is when singing broken hallelujahs comes in. When the valleys hit, when God feels distant, when things aren’t going the way they seem, when love feels cold, we sing broken hallelujahs. We sing them through tears in our eyes. We sing them with quivering lips and pounding hearts and broken souls. We sing these broken hallelujahs.

In the lament of Psalm 22 we read this:

But you, LORD, do not be far from me. You are my strength; come quickly to help me.” Psalm 22:19

In the lament of Psalm 13, it ends with this:

But I trust in your unfailing love; my heart rejoices in your salvation. I will sing the LORD’s praise for he has been good to me.” Psalm 13: 5-6

It only takes the faith the size of a mustard seed to say that. But it’s still hard to say it when you’re in the middle of singing broken hallelujahs.

When you’re in the middle of singing broken hallelujahs, it’s okay to sing them. God has given us words to use even in these broken hallelujahs as found in the Psalms of lament. Be willing to sing broken hallelujahs. Be willing to sing them boldly, crying out to God, seeking the LORD’s face in your tears and pain and quivering lips. Sing your broken hallelujahs.

 

 

 

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