Worship Song of the Month

Worship Song of the Month

March 4: How Deep the Father’s Love for Us

Many years ago, when I served as Director of Music at a church in Illinois, I shared my very first “Worship Song of the Month” article with our church family there.  I reached out to Stuart Townend for his thoughts on his hymn “How Deep the Father’s Love for Us,” and he graciously responded.  Of course, this was long before the proliferation of “stories-behind-the-songs” videos and blogs on church websites and YouTube.

As our church at Parkminster continues a Journey through Matthew’s Gospel, and as we approach our remembrance of Jesus’s death on Good Friday and our celebration of his resurrection on Easter, I think it’s appropriate for us to again sing this hymn—which is now more than 25 years old!  For our “Worship Song of the Month” devotionals, we will reflect together on Jesus’s death, with a focus on the Father, Jesus, and me.

When I sing the first verse of How Deep the Father’s Love for Us, several questions about the Father come to my mind. What was the Father feeling when Jesus was suffering on the cross? Did the Father experience loss when Jesus died?  Did he turn his face away from the Son?

What we do know is that the Father sent the Son to earth for the purpose of death on the cross.  This is a theme of John’s gospel, with Jesus repeatedly declaring that he had been sent by God (John 6:29, 8:42, 10:36, and 17:3).  Galatians 4:4-5 asserts that Jesus’s death was always part of the Father’s plan: “But when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law.” 

I can’t imagine what it must have been like for the Father to purposefully send his Son to his execution.  Jesus’s flogging and crucifixion were excruciating, and the Father knew it would be that way.   As his death drew agonizingly near, Jesus prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me.  Yet not as I will, but as you will” (Matthew 26:39).  But the Father was not deterred in his purposes: “It was the LORD’s will to crush him and cause him to suffer” (Isaiah 53:10). Did the Father suffer as he saw his Son suffer, even as he was pleased with Jesus’s obedience and redemptive act?

I don’t know whether the Father turned his face away as Jesus suffered on the cross, as Stuart Townend’s lyrics poetically state.  I imagine these lyrics could express some of the suffering the Father may have experienced as he witnessed his suffering Son. Or the isolation Jesus might have felt on the cross. Or it’s possible that, when Jesus cried out from the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46), there was a physical separation—a distance between the holy Father and his Son, who, on the cross, had the sin of the entire world piled upon him (Isaiah 53:6, 1 John 2:2). Some people who are smarter and more qualified than I reject that idea, speaking about the eternal, unbroken relationship of the Trinity. But in any case, the Father certainly planned for, initiated, and brought to fulfillment his Son’s death.  He didn’t “rescue” Jesus from the cross. And, though much of the Psalm 22 that Jesus quoted in his tumultuous prayer proclaims trust in God’s ultimate deliverance, the suffering was immediate and real. “We considered [Jesus] punished by God, stricken by him, and afflicted” (Isaiah 53:4).

Of course, the Father did not abandon Jesus permanently (Acts 2:31-32). But unlike Jesus, who lived and died in perfect obedience to the Father, our sin has the potential to separate us fully and permanently from God. It is only because of Jesus’s sacrifice that the Father will no longer turn his face away from us (Isaiah 59:1-2) in our sinfulness.  Because of Jesus’s death on the cross, the Father’s wrath is satiated (Romans 5:8-9). The penalty for sin is death (Romans 6:23)—but Jesus has received our punishment.

Even as I try to imagine what the Father may have been feeling at the death of his Son, what is clear in Scripture is that he felt great love—love for us! “This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins” (1 John 4:10). The Father sent his one and only beloved Son to die, in order that many sons (and daughters) might be brought to glory (Hebrews 2:9-11). He sent his Son to his death to make wretches into treasures, slaves into sons. “See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!” (1 John 3:1).

How great the Father’s love for us!

Worship Song of the Month

Worship Song of the Month

February 4: Hallelujah, Praise Jehovah

This week, I invite you to read my blog post on Ephesians 5, which, for me, is a “life passage” for worship.  In Ephesians 5:19, we are instructed to “speak to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit.”  This directive has become a bit of a theme for me, as I try to include both hymns and songs in our worship repertoire on Sunday mornings and in our “Worship Song of the Month” devotionals, and also to choose some hymns and songs that are based on Psalms. 

This month, we will be singing a hymn that is even more directly tied to the Psalms. Hallelujah, Praise Jehovah is an example of what we call a metrical, versified, or rhymed Psalm. Throughout the month of February, we will look at Psalm 146 (NIV) side by side with the metered version, and enjoy singing what is essentially Scripture itself.

Today, let’s look at the first verse of “Hallelujah, Praise Jehovah.”

Praise the LORD. 

Hallelujah, praise Jehovah.

Praise the LORD, my soul.

O my soul, Jehovah praise.

I will praise the LORD all my life; I will sing praise to my God as long as I live.

I will sing the glorious praises of my God through all my days.

Do not put your trust in princes,

Put no confidence in princes,

in human beings, who cannot save.

nor for help on man depend.

When their spirit departs, they return to the ground;

He shall die, to dust returning,

on that very day their plans come to nothing.

and his purposes shall end.

In this part of the Psalm and song, we instruct our souls to praise the LORD (in all caps, meaning Jehovah or Yahweh or I AM). We call him by his most intimate and holy name, and then we commit to worship him our entire lives. We remind ourselves to put our trust only in God, not in earthly rulers or leaders or human helpers. Our plans and the plans of those on whom we would rely will ultimately end. Only God’s purposes extend beyond a lifetime, from generation to generation, throughout eternity.

For Reflection: Remind your “soul” of all that God has done for you. Remind yourself that, even when you fail, leaders fail, or the people around you fail, God never does. Commit to praising God for the rest of your life. Praise the Lord!

Worship Song of the Month

Worship Song of the Month: Kids’ Edition

It’s been a while since I’ve written a “Kids’ Edition” devotional, so I thought I would share a story for kids—and for all of us—as we look at our Worship Song of the Month Only a Holy God.  This story reminds us to get “up-close and personal” with God.

This past summer for our son’s sixteenth birthday, we visited Niagara Falls.  My husband David and I had seen the Falls many times, but it was great to be there with our kids—several of whom were experiencing these waterfalls for the first time.  A first for all of us was hiking up the side of the American Falls.  We donned our ponchos and walked down to the bottom of the Falls. 

In my opinion, the Falls are even more beautiful up-close.  We touched the mossy rocks, felt the mist spraying us, and reached into the falling water.  And looking up, the Falls loomed over us—tall and majestic. 

As we walked up the steps next to the Falls, the water at our feet increased and the mist became heavier.  Partway up, a landing was set up so that we could try to walk towards and under the Falls—emphasis on “try.”  The power of the water pushing us back was amazing, and the rushing sound of the water was overwhelming. 

Later that day, our family also got to ride in a giant boat that takes passengers as close as possible to the curve of the Canadian Falls.  The closer we got to the Falls, the more the boat was rocked back and forth by gusts of wind, and spray washed over us in waves.  At one point, a burst of wind and water knocked us all back so hard and suddenly that everyone on the boat screamed in unison. 

Experiences in nature can remind us of the beauty and power of our God, who created everything in the world.  And in the same way that getting “up-close” to a natural wonder increases our appreciation of that wonder, we need to get up-close to our holy God to truly know and experience how wonderful he is. 

When was the last time you prayed by yourself, not just with your family or in church?  When did you last read your Bible?  Do you ever sing worship songs when you are alone?  I encourage you this week to get “up-close and personal” with God.  Find a book of the Bible that interests you, and start to read a chapter each day.  Write down a sentence or two about what you read, so that you can hear what God is saying to you.  Then take a moment to pray and maybe even sing. 

As we sing in our Worship Song of the Month, “Only a Holy God,” God invites us to worship him. So, go ahead—get up-close to our sovereign, beautiful, powerful, and holy God.

“Deep calls to deep
    in the roar of your waterfalls;
all your waves and breakers
    have swept over me.

“By day the Lord directs his love,
    at night his song is with me—
    a prayer to the God of my life.” (Psalm 42:7-8)

Worship Song of the Month

Worship Song of the Month

January 14: Only a Holy God

I don’t know about you, but I feel a need for expressing and hearing a singular message this month, which is why I chose Only a Holy God as our Worship Song of the Month.  The invitation of this song is simple:  Come and worship the holy God.

In the first verse of “Only a Holy God” we worship God for his amazing sovereignty.  Who else commands all the hosts of heaven?  Who else could make every king bow down?  Who else can whisper and darkness trembles?  Only a holy God.

In the second verse, we praise him for his beauty.  What other beauty demands such praises?  What other splendor outshines the sun?  What other majesty rules with justice?  Only a holy God.

The third verse proclaims God’s power.  What other glory consumes like fire?  What other power can raise the dead?  What other name remains undefeated?  Only a holy God.

Finally, in the fourth verse, we see our failures in light of God’s sovereignty.  We see our unworthiness in light of his beauty.  And we see we can only worship such a powerful God—calling him “my” holy God—because he invites us.   Who else could rescue me from my failing?  Who else would offer his only Son?  Who else invites me to call him Father?  Only a holy God.  Only my holy God.

When we sing “Only a Holy God,” we affirm that God alone is holy—always right and good—not me, not you, not any of our leaders or favorite spokespeople.   We are reminded that God alone should be worshipped—put above all of our other principles and priorities.

The invitation to worship is for our gatherings on Sundays and for our daily lives: Come and worship the holy God.

For Reflection:  Read 1 Chronicles 16:7-36.  How are God’s attributes of sovereignty, beauty, power, and holiness celebrated in this passage?  Worship him, and thank him for inviting you to worship him.