Our church is in the midst of a powerful worship series on systems theory. Our pastor, Bob Kaylor, is sharing with us some strategies that can be used to help us get along better in every organization of which we find ourselves a part – families, workplaces, classrooms, PTOs, and everything else. Many of us at Tri-Lakes United Methodist Church are discovering that at times we have allowed others to set the agenda for our lives rather than fully following God. I am hearing stories from many about how they are working to set new boundaries to foster healthier relationships. It all makes perfect sense, but is not easy to do.
This Sunday our praise team will introduce the song “Our God” (CCLI Song #5677416 by Chris Tomlin, Jesse Reeves, Jonas Myrin and Matt Redman –lyrics here) to the congregation. I offer the song as a source of encouragement and hope that we might find ourselves humming through particularly difficult times next week.
When I first heard the song I didn’t hear it that way. In fact it turned me off. I thought it was a statement to non-Christians intended to convince them that our God is stronger than whatever they are leaning on. While that may be the case, I find it an ineffective evangelism strategy that may do more harm than good.
Having listened more closely, I now sing “Our God” when I need a shot of encouragement. “Into the darkness you shine,” we sing in the second verse, “out of the ashes we rise.” These images of resurrection function like a psalm, not intended to convince someone else of God’s ability, but to remind ourselves of the love and power of God. Heard that way, these words become a prayer of hope in the midst of despair, a reminder in the darkness that the ashes do not get the final word, but that light and resurrection do.
Finally, I am really glad this song is Our God, and not My God; the plural is important. For we are not called to go it alone, or to find inner strength to continue in rough times. Instead, we are called to be the church, a community of followers of the way of Jesus.
When I sing the bridge, “And if our God is for us, then who could ever stop us / And if our God is with us, then what could stand against,” I am reminded of some very famous words from the New Testament. Chained in a Roman prison cell the Apostle Paul wrote, “I can do all things through him who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13, NRSV). Surrounding this sentence we hear Paul expressing his gratitude to the church in Philippi for sending friends to visit him in prison. As Paul dictated those words to his scribe, I wonder if he was not gazing upon those who had been sent, by the church and by God, to give him strength in his time of helplessness and hopelessness.
As we sing this song in praise of our God this Sunday in worship, and as you hear it on the radio or in your congregation, may we remember that we have a responsibly to be the arms of God carrying our brothers and sisters in their times of weakness, and when our time of weakness comes to allow them to carry us.