Until My Voice Is Gone
As I write this, a great tragedy has unfolded at a large music event, where at least eight young people were killed in a crowd surge, and as many as 300 were injured. I can viscerally relate to this calamity, because our family experienced something like it. We lived in West Germany when the Berlin Wall came down. We were visiting Nuremberg for their famous Christmas Market when a phalanx of exuberant East Germans, intoxicated on the joys of their new-found freedoms, had locked arms and were plowing through the crowds, singing jubilantly at the tops of their lungs. Unfortunately, they were pressing the large market crowds in those narrow streets into a dangerous crush. Our then three-year-old daughter was up on her dad’s shoulders, so she was safe, but our then five-year-old son was being squashed between his dad and me so much that I could not lift him up to safety. In desperation I cried out, “Es gibt Kinder hier!!!!” (there are children here), and miraculously I was heard above the din. The leaders of the phalanx chuckled a bit, but backed off from their forward press, and I was able to lift my son up into my arms.
While these stories are a bit frightening, they do relate in points to the theme of our anthem. This song describes singing praises exuberantly, intensely, excitedly. There are many who are reading this who have cheered so loudly for their kids’ sporting events, or for their favorite teams that they have gotten hoarse, or they have sung along and screamed at concerts with them same effect. But how many of us have lost our voices because of loud or long times of praise? How many of us have felt the joy and exhilaration of those East Germans, set free from their restrictions, overwhelmed with delight, and singing at the top of their voices? Haven’t we been set free from a fate far worse than theirs? Isn’t the New Land we are now given far more glorious than these Germans were experiencing? On top of that, we have not only been given freedom and blessing, but we are now united with the most loving, most wonderful, most beautiful, most delightful, and most benevolent Being in the universe. Isn’t He worth praising and thanking with even more enthusiasm than those blessed East Germans?
Yes, there is ample room for quiet, reverent praise, and sweet intimate expressions of adoration, and there are some of us definitely more naturally wired for exuberance than others, but do we have space and experience in our lives for the kind of praise that is so intense that we stand until our knees give way and praise until our voices strain? If we look at Scripture we see many invitations and commands to shout and be loud, and to do so corporately, as well. We even see that the joyous demonstration of praise and worship from the returned exiles from Babylon was so loud that it was heard far beyond the borders of the city of Jerusalem.
Some of our reticence for such enthusiastic manifestations of praise can be a learned decorum of what is “proper” in church—what is accepted by our church culture. After all, many denominations were founded by the staid and often stoic traditions. I know my own upbringing by a demure and quiet Scot/German mother emphasized not worshiping in a way that brought attention to myself (i.e., no raised hands or other outward displays). But it may go much deeper than that. For those East Germans the freedom was fresh. The contrast between what was and what is/would be was so glaring. I’m sure that more than 30 years later they aren’t expressing that same level of enthusiasm. Freedom is normal for them now. Those of us who experienced that day are all are significantly older, and perhaps have a been-there-done-that, what-have-you-done-for-me-lately attitude is reflected in most of us after decades of freedom.
The only way we will shake the cobwebs off our whole-hearted worship is to remind ourselves regularly where/what we were and the dreadful destination to which we were headed, and contrast these with where we are going now, and with Whom, and to grow in our knowledge of who this God is Whom we are praising. In the Old Testament we see that God regularly directed Israel’s attention to their former bondage in Egypt, and contrast it with what He had done to redeem and bless them. We would be wise to regularly do the same. We need to renew our memories of the grace, mercy, and blessings that are ours in and through Him.
We also need to remember that praising God is not just buttering God up so He’ll bless us more. The act of praising is meant to be an act of enjoyment. It is where we meet Him. It is where we acknowledge His vast wonders. Not only does it intensify our intimacy and enjoyment of Him, but hearing the sounds of our own voices in our own ears actually drives the vital truths of Who our God is deeper into our minds and hearts, igniting more profound praise.
While sometimes we will grow into spontaneous declaration of our praise through renewing our hearts and minds. Other times we have to really be intentional about breaking out of our comfort zones at the guidance of His Holy Spirit. Certainly, we need to conclude that He is worthy our joyous outpourings of delight and gratitude, and give them full expression!