God gets the worst presents. I give him my worries, my fears, my anger. The other day, I was headed into a doctor appointment where I feared bad news. I told God, “Lord, I’m just giving this to you.” Wow, happy birthday, God. Have some unfounded, overly dramatic fear because I love you so much. And then in return, he gave me peace and hopeful expectation, and an “all clear” from the doctor.
God also gets my songs that are too embarrassing to share with humans. And a daily rundown of the things I hope will happen and things I need his help with. He gets a shopping list of things I’m not sure how we’ll pay for. (And I wonder if he’s got a separate list of all the stuff he’s planning to give us that I don’t think to ask for.)
So I really wouldn’t want to be God, because he gets the worst gifts. But then again, maybe it would be nice to God, because he seems perfectly happy to receive them.
I have a new article up at Bible Study Tools! At first I was hesitant to write on this topic, since my kids haven’t become teenagers yet. But then I realized I worked with teenagers for 15 years! Also I was teenager once…a pretty difficult one, I think 😉
Some of my students call it Football Hands: both hands lifted high in the air like a ref calling a touchdown. They try to predict what part of the worship song “everybody will go Football Hands,” when the music becomes the most moving and people want to express themselves more fully to God. This bothers me as a deeply serious person, but they’re joking in the way kids sometimes can, without real cynicism.
Raising hands, dancing, clapping, and shouting are hallmarks of Pentecostal worship. Having grown up in a well-behaved Baptist culture, I was drawn to this aspect of the college group I joined, which I later learned was Pentecostal. I could see their sincerity on the outside as well as the inside. Worship was about more than singing—it was an experience.
There’s a weak side to this expressive culture. Sometimes you’re expected to wear your worship on the outside for all to see. And if you don’t, you’re thought to be a bit less than spiritual. I’ve been guilty of raising my hands because I didn’t want to be the only one not doing so.
Now I’m attending a somewhat formal liturgical church and I’m back to square one on figuring out when to raise my hands. A few people do in our church, but honestly, one of the biggest obstacles is the printed bulletins we all hold with the words to the songs and prayers written out (no powerpoint slides.) Lifting one’s hands also means waving around a bulletin and not being able to see the words.
Should I overcome this obstacle when I can, or does it not matter much? Why is it wrong to raise my hands for others to see? Why is it weird to be able to predict when everyone will spontaneously go Football Hands?
Scripture is full of descriptions of people worshipping with their bodies, emotions, and minds. Just to keep things brief, I’ll only bring up a few that talk about raising our hands.
Psalm 63:4 says, “I will bless you as long as I live; in your name I will lift up my hands.”
Psalm 141:2 says, “Let my prayer be counted as incense before you, and the lifting up of my hands as the evening sacrifice!”
And Paul says in 1 Timothy 2:8, “I desire then that in every place the men should pray, lifting holy hands without anger or quarreling.”
Maybe there are some scriptures that describe raising hands as an involuntary action, but most of the time it’s either an exhortation or a commitment. (“Lift your hands” or “I will lift my hands.”) It comes across as a choice we can make.
As usual, there are really good reasons for this instruction and practice for God’s people.
When I raise my hands in worship, my mind tends to be more engaged. It takes some attention to keep my hands in the air, and sometimes I have chosen to stay in that position even when my arms were tired. It’s a way of saying to God, “I am fully here. Body, mind, emotions. I mean what I am singing, and I’m not letting my mind wander. I’m not saving my energy for something else.”
Is it right to raise my hands if I don’t really feel overcome by worshipful emotions? Isn’t that insincere? I would suggest that it’s no more insincere than singing words that we’re not really “feeling” in the moment.
Our devotion to God—singing worship songs, spending time with Him, obeying His commands—has to do with his deserving our devotion, not necessarily with our feeling devoted. He deserves our feelings too, but we don’t have a lot of control over that. We do have control over our minds and our bodies and our actions.
One of our choices is to involve our bodies in worship, and people have been doing that for eons. Anyone with an arm or two can participate. This simple act transcends cultures, centuries, languages and social classes.
Raising our hands helps us focus our minds, give God our energy, and make sure that worshipping is the only thing we’re doing at the moment. It’s hard to multitask when your hands are in the air, not to mention awkward.
I’m not suggesting that “real” worship must be punctuated with raised hands. There are plenty of other ways to fully involve ourselves in worship. This includes holding my preschooler on my hip and holding the bulletin in the other hand to sing unfamiliar songs to the best of my ability. My utmost for His highest looks different in different moments.
To those who feel strange doing something unfamiliar, afraid that others may notice and judge: try to shift your attention to God’s view of your actions. Try picturing Him watching you worship, listening to your words, and seeing your face. Try turning on a worship song at home and lifting your hands as you sing. Imagine yourself in a crowd with the holy people of old, King David even, hands raised; and there is God, so pleased with His people.
It’s bad press to say that you want to be like God. It’s absurd and sounds delusional. But God invites us to be like him. “Be holy, for I am holy” (1 Peter 1:16). Holy means “set apart.” But how can we be different as God is different? Maybe part of the answer is tht we can be set apart from the world of plants and animals, by joining in his creative work.
In his image
We are made in God’s image. Humility and logic would lead us to believe that we are a shadow of his image or a cheap knock-off that makes you wish you had the real thing. But when God first declared that we’re made in his image, the very next thing he said was that we were to be fruitful and multiply, to fill and rule the earth.
We are to be creative, to reproduce, to fill, to lead and to rule. Those are things God does. This call to be like him was not a parody or an off-brand version of being like God. He told us to do the things he does. He gave us that ability.
Of course there are limits to that. Thank God there are limits. He holds the blueprints and supplies all the materials, and he trains us to do the work. The wonder of it is that we were invited to the jobsite in the first place.
Something out of nothing
Writers are being like God—fulfilling their call to be like God—when they open a blank document in Microsoft Word and begin to write, multiplying and filling the page with that which was not there before. Writers create something out of what was once nothing.
Granted, we have some material to work with: our experience, the language we’ve been given, the sights and sounds around us. We’re responding to something. But creating a short work of fiction, for example, is creating something new.
In the business of doing new things
God busies himself with new things. Behold, he says, I am doing a new thing. I will bring springs of water in a dry land. I will pour out my Spirit like new wine into empty vessels. I will stretch and expose, I will turn traditions on their head, I will grow a new sprout out of a sawed-off stump.
Before I would call myself a writer, I had to wrestle with some cynicism about writing, especially in the Christian sphere. There are SO MANY books. Name a topic and surely there are at least 12 books in print that can say what I would say, only better. But still I have this desire to write a book someday.
I think that desire may be partly the call of God to be like him. Each person has different ways that they can be like God, and a drive under the surface of our consciousness leads us to take a crack at it, even though we know it may fall short of our hopes.
My daughter has recently been asking why I wanted to become a mom. She’s asked 3 or 4 times, and I’ve given her a different answer each time. The one that felt the most right was that I wanted to be like my mom. I have a wonderful mom, and it feels like I was made to be like her in a lot of ways. But I think underneath that is a desire to be like God. God makes people and takes care of them. Being a mom is being like God.
The other thing about writing is the power of the words themselves. Somehow, stringing together a combination of syllables in a written code can change lives. This power comes from being like God! God’s words have power: power to create, power to heal, power to change history. Being made in God’s image means the words people say or write or hear also have power.
This can go wrong. While God’s words always bring life, people’s words someimtes bring death. Proverbs says “the tongue holds the power of life and death.” (Prov. 18:21) Being a writer means using the power of words and if it’s done for the purpose of bringing life, in that way we’re being like God.
This case can be overstated. Being like God doesn’t mean we replace God. Doing the things God does is meant to bring us into closer relationship with him. Working on the job site with him means we get to spend the day with him. It doesn’t mean we tell him not to show up tomorrow, because we’ve got this figured out.
What a wonder he is, the Maker of our universe! He not only creates something out of nothing, he creates someones who, in some smaller way, can also make something out of nothing.
I have officially made this my personal blog, which I said I’d never do. What I mean is that I promised myself not to journal online, because there is already so much good material online (and there’s plenty of lousy writing out there, which I wanted to be careful to avoid contributing to.)
My new aim for this blog is to share with my readers what I am learning presently, in my voice and in my own way. Writing for others as a very-part-time occupation has made me miss being able to write my own thoughts without concern for how it reflects on others. QuickReads is an outlet for that.
Also, my family is treating Sundays as our Sabbath day (i.e., our day to rest), and I’ve decided that the afternoon is a perfect time to regularly contribute to my own blog. Therefore you will hopefully see more blog posts coming on Sunday afternoons!
The thing I like about walking at the lake every morning is the same thing I like about holding my newborn niece. They are made by God and not too different from the way he made them. They don’t expect me to say anything coherent to them.
Also these two created things are both constant and changing. I walk the same route to the lake every day. It frees up my mind to think of other things and to talk with God. When I get to the lake, it’s always the same in most ways. A depth of expanse rivaling the sky, it’s empty of complication or obstruction. It’s so deep, there are no plants sticking up in the middle and I guess I’m there too early in the morning to see boats.
The simplicity calms me. Even the path next to the lake is simple. One asphalt lane, on a bluff above the shore. One bridge across a ravine. One bench at the end of the path where I turn around and start walking home.
My one-month-old niece is another story. Her face changes from moment to moment; her sounds gurgle up in charming variety. But there is something pleasantly the same about her. It’s the familiar smells—her head smells just like my kids’ did at that age and so do her diapers. She responds to the same motions and sounds as my kids. Some day soon she’ll become so different I’ll forget all about holding her for an entire movie while she slept. I’ll forget the smell because it’s unlike any other smell besides that of other infants. Is it because she’s the cousin of my children that she is so familiar in her newbornness? Am I smelling my husband’s genes?
The lake has its changes too. One morning, it is hazy and there is no discernible line between the water and the sky. Another day, the lake is so bright with the sun that I can barely look in its direction. But these changes are suitable and not too surprising.
I walk the same way every day. I revel in the sameness of the lake. I rest in the familiarity of the way my niece smells.
As if from outside myself, I’ve noticed how much pleasure I’m taking in these two God-made things, and I have assumed it’s because I generally like nature. But now it dawns on me that I’m enjoying the calm that their sameness brings.
So little in my life is presently familiar. We’ve moved to a new state, which of course means a new house and all sorts of other new things. We now live close to two sets of family (including the sweet-smelling niece). We are just normal participants in our church, rather than being church leaders. Half the people in our neighborhood talk loudly on the phone in Spanish and the other people have professional landscapers mow their lawns. We fit into neither category and feel a little like live-in tourists. But we like it here.
Also unfamiliar is staying at home with my kids rather than sending everyone off to school/daycare so I can go to work. Exceedingly unfamiliar is having my husband home all day every day because he still does not have a job. Neither situation is actually unpleasant, but it does feel unknown.
All this lack-of-normalness has created a thirst in me for that which is known. No one knows the pleasure of water like a desert nomad, which I suppose is one of the perks of being such a person. This is one of the benefits of difficulty: to take pleasure in the things God made because you desperately need them.
Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles of any kind come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. James 1:2
Dear QuickReads friends, I’m sorry I’ve been AWOL for a while. We’ve moved from Indiana to Illinois, celebrated the too-short life of our niece, and I’ve also started assisting a rather industrious science editor.
In the midst of that, I’ve had the opportunity to write for a website that I use on a regular basis! My favorite feature on Bible Study Tools is their Interlinear Bible, where you can look up the Hebrew or Greek for the scripture you’re learning.
And here’s my article, inspired initially by grieving with my kids as we’ve moved states. In the middle of writing it, my niece passed away, so this material became all too relevant. Special thanks to another niece, Mary Grace, who lost her sister, for giving valuable first-hand insights on this article.