I’ve never really enjoyed what’s classified as Christian Contemporary Music (CCM). The lines between it and secular music get a little murky. The lyrics are sometimes shallow, and I listen to music for the words. Nevertheless, one can hardly be a child of the ‘90s without hearing at least some CCM, including the classic Casting Crowns.
Several years ago, I checked my phone mid-school day and saw a text from Mom. She said that when they’d done x-rays on my little brother’s broken arm, they’d found a tumour. I wanted to throw back my head and yell, “No!” in one long, scale-descending wail; but I was the teacher, and I didn’t want to scare my little first graders, placidly sucking their yogurt tubes.
After school, in staff meeting, I started to tell my co-teachers, but I couldn’t get the words out around the tears. I handed my phone to a friend, and she read Mom’s text aloud.
The sheer immensity of my emotions surprised me. After all, by that point cancer had touched my grandma, mother, and sister. This was almost normal.
Later, in my classroom, I thought of Casting Crowns and “Praise You in This Storm.” I pulled up the song and just listened.
I was sure by now God, you would have reached down And wiped our tears away Stepped in and saved the day But once again, I say "Amen," and it's still raining As the thunder rolls I barely hear your whisper through the rain "I'm with you" And as your mercy falls I raise my hands and praise the God who gives And takes away And I'll praise you in this storm And I will lift my hands For you are who you are No matter where I am And every tear I've cried You hold in your hand You never left my side And though my heart is torn I will praise you in this storm
That was it. “I was sure by now” that we were done with these tumours and treatments and sunshine boxes, but it was “still raining.” Through all this God was whispering, “Can you still praise me?”
The tumour was benign. Apparently, it’s fairly common for young children to have random tumours, which they outgrow. Our storm passed quickly that time.
But over the years there have been other storms. I expect you’ve had your share. Through unexpected accidents, wayward children, and unmet expectations, God’s question remains, “Can you still praise me?”
In Acts 16, Paul and Silas find themselves chained in prison for releasing a girl from the chains of demons and slavery that held her. They had every right to throw up their hands and say, “God, we did Your work, and now we’re here?” But come midnight, they’re praying and singing loud enough for all the other prisoners to hear.
God hears and shakes the foundations of the prison with an earthquake that loosens all the chains. Now, every single prisoner is free.
The jailer panics. He knows the consequences of Rome for even one escaped prisoner. He draws his sword, ready to kill himself, but Paul shouts, “Don’t kill yourself. We’re all still here!”
The jailer calls for lights and begs Paul to tell him the way of salvation. The jailer’s whole household is baptized that day, because two men dared to praise God.
Praise is giving God glory for who He is. Praise recentres us, drawing our focus to the majesty, power, and loving grace of God. Praise takes our eyes off the problem and focuses them on the Problem Solver.
A wise friend of mine asked me a month or so ago, “Who has God been to You through the pandemic?” I didn’t have a ready answer.
I like to be able to claim the names of God, meditating on different names in different seasons. I’m intrigued by how God introduces Himself with different names to different people throughout the Bible. My particular favourite is when God comes to Hagar in the wilderness and tells her, “I am El Roi,” which means “the God Who Sees.” But through this season, God didn’t seem to be giving me a name.
Sitting at the piano in a quiet house Good Friday morning, I hit a few chords and was given these words:
You may call Him Messiah, You may call Him your friend, You may call Him Saviour, And bless His Name again. You may call Him Creator, You may call Him King, But my God is, My God simply is. I don’t like when I can’t feel Anything at all, When I don’t have the words When I don’t know His Name, But my God is, My God simply is.
Like every class of seventh graders before them, my students this year liked to ask, “When will we ever use grammar in real life anyway?” The unit on pronouns proved especially tricky, with each kind of pronoun taking its own kind of verb.
It’s through a trick of pronouns that the truth comes to me that Good Friday evening. It comes like a light in the night of the prison. “He is” is the third-person pronoun, but when Jesus stands before Pilate, He names Himself in the first-person, “I am.”
It was Good Friday when this truth touched me. It’s only as I write these words that I finally remember the second-person pronoun. Here in this moment, my praise is simple.
You are who You are.