Last month Rachel and I had the joy of traveling up to Atlanta to the community of songwriters, worship leaders and teachers that we have been a part of for the last 6 years. This marked a special moment in our lives and the life of the community. For this album, while capturing the songs was important, we were more concerned with capturing worship. In a culture where many albums are recorded from a stage or in a studio we wanted to capture worship in a home, as part of a community of believers, joining together to celebrate what God is doing in and through us. It’s not that we are against studios and stages, but we believe worship is more about the great commission than great concerts. Worship is more about family than fans, it’s not just about an experience but about an encounter with the living God. To us, that is the only thing worth capturing.
Worship leaders flew in from all around the country to record an album and celebrate some of the songs that God has been birthing in the hearts and lives of the community of 10,000 Fathers and in the churches of which many of our students and leaders have the privilege of serving.
(As a side-note, in case you're not familiar, 10,000 Fathers is a community of worship leaders who are asking God to raise up an army of men and women who are gifted to lead worship. We want to see a generation of worship leaders equipped to lead with theological soundness, convicted to grow in both their character and competency, and committed to doing it all for the goal of making disciples in the power of the Holy Spirit.)
The song Rachel and I contributed to the project (which we have a video clip of and lyrics at the bottom of this post) was partly formed in a time of prophetic worship. Taken from Isaiah 64 we see the prophet cry out to the Lord to "rend the Heavens" and bring to an end the children of Israel’s exile in Babylon. In a passage that is sandwiched between a cry for mercy and a confession of sin and a promise of what will be, we see Isaiah call out to the Lord on behalf of the people and their plight.
As I think back to the experience itself, I found myself meditating on a number of things as I wrote this song:
1. As we worship and wait on God, he acts on our behalf, in ways we are unaware, even if we did not petition him to action.
In the Old Testament the physical and temporal things often speak to the spiritual and the eternal. For the children of Israel to be separated from the land is massively significant for an Israelite. It brings into question whether God has abandoned his people and questions their identity as sons and daughters. To not be able to physically go to the temple and offer sacrifices means their sin cannot be atoned for and they cannot worship or draw near to God. This physical distance between God and his people in Isaiah’s time is often indicative of the place we sometimes find ourselves and our cities spiritually. It’s hard for us to grasp but this is before the death of Jesus tore the veil and the presence of God no longer just resided in one place. The only place to meet with God, the only place to worship in Isaiah’s time is the temple in Jerusalem a place that lies in ruins.
The silence and separation from God is more afflicting than the circumstance they find themselves in [v12]- exiled from the place of intimacy & worship with God - Jerusalem; questioning if God has forgotten them; unsure of their identity.
I have to ask myself the question - when I find myself in that place, am I longing for what he can do on my behalf to intervene in the circumstance, or am I besotted, longing, desperate for him?
Am I mourning the circumstance or the lack of his presence?
Am I more concerned with what God should accomplish for me or am I captivated by him and longing for communion with him once again? It seems like the writer is desperate for the presence of God more than the power of God - or maybe the writer has realized that to encounter the presence of God is to encounter the power of God.
Despite the circumstance, Isaiah celebrates the uniqueness of our God, he reminds himself that ours God is not idle or absent despite our perceptions, but one who is acting on behalf of his people [v.4]; that as we wait [chakah: to wait, to long for] on Him he does awesome things we didn’t even dream to look for [v.3] and that he acts for those who wait on him [v.4].
2. The same fire that consumes our enemies & exposes our sin is the fire that kindles hope, draws our hearts out after God, restores and truly transforms [v.8]
While this is definitely more of a nuance in this passage, I can’t help but ponder how time and time again, I’ve seen that when I encounter the presence of God, the Lord graciously exposes my sin. That as he deals with me in a gentle and merciful way my affection for him grows. In His presence sin is confronted and fear of circumstance and mistrust of his goodness has to leave. I remember his name in light of our adversaries [v.2]. In the place of intimacy, in his presence I am reminded he is who he says he is. That he is the healer, he is God most high and he is the God who sees me. That in his presence, as a good father, he molds us as clay and his finger prints are all over his sons and daughters [v.8].
It’s the presence that causes the mountains to quake, causes the nations to tremble and reminds the enemy of who is King. That same presence nurtures my soul and reminds me that I am a son, a daughter. It kindles hope amidst the bleakest of exiles, warms my heart in the most barren wilderness. When it seems like the place of worship and intimacy lies in ruins, when I am convinced my sin has banished me forever, it is in that moment that a song hope; the promise of Isaiah 65:17-25 reaches the ears of my spirit and whispers a melody of joy that floods my soul. It’s the melody of home. It’s the melody of his presence with his people forever, its the melody of the now and the not yet.
3. We are left in a beautiful tension of the now and the not yet.
The good news is that God already did rend the heavens, not as a consuming fire but as a babe. That although the mountains did quake on that hillside of Golgotha, the way he chose to make his name known and the nations tremble, is perhaps somewhat different to the way you or I might have chosen.
In a moment that showcases his kindness and his mercy for all to see, when God has every right to choose wrath and anger towards us God chooses instead to show his true nature the very essence of who he is; God chooses to extend love. The Son of God, the babe now a man, gives his life in our place so that we could enter back into relationship with a holy God. That as his side was pierced, blood and water poured out for the healing and the cleansing of nations, for the restoration of all things including the healing and cleansing of you and I.
At the same time we still wait for that kingdom of complete healing and cleansing to come in full. Isaiah 65:17-25 is not yet fully here. Yet Jesus of Nazareth came to declare that Kingdom was coming, is near, is at hand and is here…. so which one is it? Or is it all of them?
Till that day when he returns and the mountains once again quake and the nations tremble in his presence, we wait expectantly on him, covered in the righteousness his blood afforded to us, that righteousness that allows us to commune and meet with him. The grace that allows us to see in part, walk in step with the Spirit and be ministers of reconciliation, doing the good works he has prepared for us in advance to see his kingdom established on the earth. That grace that allows us by faith to stand in the courts of heaven and petition: on earth as it is in heaven, even so come Lord Jesus. Oh that you would rend the heavens and come down.
(In a few months when the song is released, we will put it up on FMC as well. But for now, here is a quick clip of the song while we were recording it as well as the lyrics. The video was captured on a smartphone, so the quality isn't the best, so please bear with us on that.)