On Sunday night, Pastor Heath preached a killer message from the breathtaking, Gospel-soaked book of Hebrews. “Do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion.” This was the running theme of the night’s message, the “chorus” as Heath put it. The Gospel was put forth brilliantly and beautifully as I continuously nodded my head in agreement and scribbled notes in my resource book. The message ended and Heath prayed as the band came up. After two services and a long Sunday I was ready to let the music wash over me and have the lyrics sink in and drive the Gospel deeper into my heart. But to my disappointment just the opposite happened. As the band began to play I read through the lyrics on the screen, to be quite honest, I hated them. I love music, I love the Bible, I love good theology, and this song, which definitely met the criteria for music, did not meet my criteria for a theologically sound, true to Scripture worship song. And so I stood with my arms crossed and my brow furrowed as I picked apart each line. I was eager for it to end so we could move on to a “better” worship song. Now let me clarify, my beef is not with the music. Lots of different people prefer lots of different styles of music. To demand a church play a particular style of music that you find most preferable is to exalt your preference over everyone else’s in an act of sinful pseudo-superiority. My beef was with the lyrics. They just seemed so…fickle, so nonchalant. They seemed to undermine God’s glory and underplay man’s depravity. My heart was simply unmoved. And here’s the worst part: we’re doing this song again next Sunday. UGHHH!! I was so annoyed, so frustrated. This song did not lead me into worship.
About 15 minutes into my drive home, God got to work. I started thinking through Heath’s message. “Do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion.” I started thinking about how calloused and impenetrable I had been during that service. I took one look at the lyrics on that screen and had made up my mind that they were garbage. I looked for every theological flaw I could find, no matter how high-minded and pharisaical I had to become to see it. I had no interest in finding truth or the beauty of the Gospel in this song, I was only searching for new ways to tear it down. My heart ached. How could I have just heard the life bringing news of Jesus taking the hit for humanity out of His great love and faithfulness and stand like a statue as my church sang praises to Him? How could I have just been warned about the danger of hardening my heart and then refuse to see any truth of the Gospel in this song? I was wrecked. For the rest of my drive I began to think through the lyrics of that song. I dug deeper than the initial dislike I had upon first seeing the lyrics on the screen. I began to search for truth in these lyrics, for Gospel gems like those we have been searching for in the book of Hebrews. And straight up, I was floored. I have to be honest, I have no idea exactly what the writer of this song was trying to convey when he wrote it. But I know what I saw in it. So I’d like to unpack some of the truth I found in this song, to go a little deeper than what the lyrics seem to present at face value. Understand this is my personal interpretation of this song, rooted in Scripture and the truth of the Gospel, but my opinion nonetheless. I hope it offers some value to those who will be singing it with us at iNVERSION.
Oh Great God, Give Us Rest
Oh great God give us rest
We’re all worn thin from all of this
At the end of our hope with nothing left
Oh great God give us rest
As followers of Jesus we have a promise, a guarantee that we will one day be with Him in glory. That all brokenness, lawlessness, and hopelessness will be put to an end. But as residents of this world we live right in the midst of these awful things. To go with the flow of the world’s fallenness is death. There is no joy in this life apart from Jesus, and to look for it in the fleeting, deceitful enticements of sin is to condemn ourselves to a fruitless, unsatisfying life of separation from God that will ultimately lead to our eternal separation from Him. To ignore the brokenness of the world is to reject the call God has given us. We are to be stewards of His creation, lovers of His people, and heralds of His Gospel. To ignore humanity’s brokenness is to disbelieve that God is correct about the state of the world, is sufficient to guide His people through it, and is good on His word to redeem it. To obsess over changing the state of the world to the point that we swap the Gospel for social justice is to miss the point entirely. The hope of the world is not the end of poverty and war, but rather our hope is in the promise of God to redeem and renew the broken world in which we live. Our goal is not to change the world, but to trust that God will.
So what else could we do but lift weary hands and cry out “Oh great God give us rest!”? How much of a toll do the trials and pains of this life take on us? Without the hope of Christ’s redemption and restoration of the world, we have nothing. Hebrews speaks repeatedly of holding fast to our confidence. So the line “At the end of our hope with nothing left” made me giddy. For starters, as a writer I appreciate cleverness and wit in lyrics, so swapping out “rope” for “hope” lit me up. But beyond that, Heath compared holding onto our confession with someone gripping a rope. When I read this line I picture a man, his face is red, great beads of sweat have rolled from his forehead down his cheeks, the veins in his arms are bulging, the palms of his hands are blistered and calloused, his knuckles are white. He is dangling from the end of a rope, one thick knot of grace tied at the bottom keeping him from slipping as he cries out “Oh great God give us rest!”
Oh great God do Your best
Have You seen this place it’s all a mess
And I’ve done my part too well I guess
Oh great God do Your best
Now this is the line that hit me like tinfoil to a filling. “Oh great God do Your best”? What in the world does that mean?! “Try extra hard, God; this is a big one. I hope you brought your A Game!” But as I looked deeper into the lyrics and past my own impulse to cringe at anything that questions the sovereignty and sufficiency of God, I saw something awesome. I was reminded of Moses in the book of Exodus, refusing to settle for one of God’s angels to lead them but insisting that God Himself travel with the Israelites on their way to the promised land. I was also drawn to the story of Jacob wrestling with God, refusing to give up until God blessed him. Exposure to the grace and power of God creates a peculiar confidence and courage in the heart of the believer. The kind of confidence that allows us to approach God and petition Him, pester Him even, until He blesses us. Not out of greed, but out of recognition of how woefully hopeless we are unless God acts.
The second line didn’t sit with me any better. Of course God has seen the world. But this line had so much raw honesty and emotion. It pulled me back into the Psalms where the psalmist repeatedly pleads with God not to abandon him, to ask if He is still present in his suffering, to fear that God will not rescue him from his enemies, to wonder if God has forgotten him.
And this admission of guilt. Not only by our sinful nature, but by our willingness to act on that nature we have all contributed to the brokenness and lawlessness of humanity. And this timid “I guess” at the end took my thoughts back to Adam and Eve in Eden. So drenched in shame and guilt, so suddenly and fully aware of what they had done, moments away from being banished from the Garden and spending their lives under the curse. How could they even make eye contact? How could they even find a voice to answer for what they had done? How could they stand without their knees buckling and collapsing under the weight of their rebellion? This “I guess” that bothered me so much began to make the reality of our rebellion all the more real to me. So what else could we do but plead with God to give us His best, His begotten, His beloved son Jesus to reconcile us back to Him?
Could You take a song and make it thine
From a crooked heart twisted up like mine
Would You open up Heaven’s glory light
Shine on in and give these dead bones life
What do we have to offer this incredible, gracious, loving, faithful, ridiculously giving God? Nothing! Nothing that comes from us will ever be good enough to give to God. Only God Himself could give something worthy of being received by our glorious Creator. Our songs, our sermons, our sharing life together are nothing but silly self-righteous babbling and do-goodery unless they are empowered and brought to life by the Holy Spirit. This is a cry, a pleading question: can you take the songs produced by this wayward, broken, twisted heart and turn them into something worthy of being heard by the King of the universe? This is an admittance of our insufficiency and our need for a Savior. Apart from Christ we are unworthy to even speak His name, let alone rule and reign with Him in glory. But if Christ’s goodness is revealed to us, if it is made fresh for us each day, if we are constantly being called back to gaze at the beauty of the Gospel, then we can sing, and preach, and live life together in a way the edifies the Church and glorifies our God.
What is heaven’s glory light? Is it some kind of high-watt, eternal, incandescent bulb only available in the afterlife? Is it a magical beam of light that shoots down from the Heavens like the light that shot out of the Beast when Belle finally confessed her love for him? No. It’s Jesus. He is the radiance of God’s glory. He is the Light of the World. Only by Jesus shining upon the corpses filling the pews can they be brought to life. Only by Jesus shining on our darkened hearts can they be awakened to the joys of true life in Christ. Only by Jesus shining on these dead bones can they be ignited with a Gospel fire that erupts in the proclamation of His Word.
As I said, I don’t know if this is what the writer of the song had in mind. These are simply the things I discovered when I stopped searching for ways to rip this song to shreds and instead, began searching for ways for it to stir my affection for Jesus. So this Sunday when I lift my voice and praise my Savior who has promised us rest from this weary, worn-out world and provided us power and perseverance to walk faithfully in it until that day, I hope you join me.