While I was singing with the band at church yesterday, I wasn’t quite present. My mind wasn’t in its usual joyful place. It was wandering and tired and waning. I was struggling to focus and get myself into the music. I just felt off. And I’m sure my performance reflected that.
As we sat down to listen to the sermon, I whispered to our drummer, Mike, that I just wasn’t feeling it, that it felt forced. He just looked at me sympathetically like, yeah, I’ve been there before.
I, truthfully, was only half-listening to the sermon. I was busy praying for God to help me focus and shake the distracted, tired, negative place I’d slipped into that morning, the place that was keeping me from worshiping. As I was praying, a scripture I’ve read many times popped into my head. Matthew 16:23, when Jesus says:
…”Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.”
I know that my not-so-religious, agnostic, and atheist friends will think this sounds fanatical and zealous, but I have prayed that prayer many times when my mind or actions go to dark or ambivalent places. “Devil, get thee behind me”. And I tell you what, it works every time. Because, while I hold myself completely accountable for my stupid mistakes and dangerous thoughts, as a Christian I would be ignorant not to acknowledge the fact that a very real and active Satan tempts and torments me every day, trying his hardest to keep me from God.
The prayer worked again yesterday. Pastor Mike’s words began to come through loud and clear, particularly when he played a clip from “The Passion of the Christ” where Pilate asked the crowd to choose to release the murderer, Barabbas or Jesus, who stood there beaten and bloody and sinless. I thought, that’s the God I’m worshipping today - that peaceful, selfless, merciful God who stood there in that moment as a man, with emotions and fears and a broken heart as his children condemned him to die the cruelest of deaths, who was probably angry and tormented and disappointed in us beyond comprehension, yet who loved us in spite us ourselves. And I’m sure I’ll get another eye roll from my not-so-religious, agnostic, and atheist friends at this, but I felt God’s Spirit all around me then.
We went back up to do our last song, "Your Love Never Fails", and I felt the words to my core. I was in it. I was full of God’s spirit. As I sang: “And when the oceans rage, I don't have to be afraid, because I know that You love me. Your love never fails”, tears came to my eyes and I couldn’t sing the last phrase. I got it together for the rest of the song, but I have rarely been that moved during worship. It was powerful.
Because in that moment, I was in that crowd condemning Christ to die. I was dismissing him, drowning in my selfishness, my fear, my shame. I did that to him just as surely as they did on that dark day in history.
Yet he continues to love me and forgive me. I'm his child. He's my father. He will never fail me no matter how many times I fail him. That’s undeniably awesome.
Thanks, God, for hearing your kid ask for help yesterday and sending some down.