I am a child. I must be four or five years old. It is Wednesday night, and we are having what we call prayer meeting but what is really, at our little church in the tiny farming village where my father pastors, an informal hour of singing, testimonies and a short study of a passage of scripture. The person “leading the singing” is not a “musician” or a “minister of music.” He is a farmer who has finished his chores, taken a shower, put on a clean cotton shirt and “work pants” and eaten a simple supper with his family before heading off “into town” to the service. His wife plays the piano as those gathered in the little white church by Michigan State Road M-60 begin to sing.
I am singing, too. I know the familiar words by heart to the first song “When We All Get to Heaven.” But I have my finger in page 444, marking my favorite just in case the song leader says at the end of this song, “Does anyone have a request?”
I will be quick. I am ready. “Page 444!” I say before anyone else even has time to thumb through the hymnal.
“Turn to page 444,” the song leader says with a twinkle in his eye and a smile in my direction. I am suddenly bathed in the warm embrace of acceptance, love, and confirmation. And I sing – do I ever sing! – at the top of my voice.
I love to tell the story of unseen things above,
Of Jesus and His glory, of Jesus and His love;
I love to tell the story because I know ‘tis true;
It satisfies my longing as nothing else can do.
Now I am a songwriter myself. I have written my life’s journey into nearly a thousand lyrics to the wonderfully accessible tunes my husband has heard in his head. I’ve watched amazed as my words of praise, discovery, question, and revelation have found their way into other persons’ lives, words that at the time seemed so personal to our pilgrimage that I couldn’t imagine them helping someone else.
And I have come to believe that we as a body of struggling, growing, emerging believers need a shared history with God to stockpile against the winters of our lives and the dark nights of the soul. Like the Israelites who carried stones from the bed of the parted Jordan River, we need to have resources in our possessions with which we can stoop to build an altar in celebration of those times when God “showed up” in our distress. We need to be able to point to these altars – those Ebenezers along our path – when “Satan would buffet” and say to each other and our children, “I know God is with us! He met us there, and there and there. I know He will be faithful in this hour, too.”
The words I learned as a child flowed over me like a warm shower. I loved the sound of them, the embrace of the voices around me singing them. But decades have passed since then. The words and the tune that glued them to my memory have been investigated and scrutinized under the glaring eye of reality. What have I discovered? A resource of truth richer and deeper and broader then I ever could have imagined. As the years have passed, life experiences have spotlighted the validity of different verses for me.
At this juncture of my journey, this is currently my favorite:
I love to tell the story for those who know it best
Seem hungering and thirsting to hear it like the rest;
And when in scenes of glory I sing a new, new song,
‘Twill be its old, old story that I have loved so long.
When we tell the eternal story, let’s tell more than the punch line. We need the whole song, all the verses and the choruses to serve us as our own story unfolds because, trust me, life is hard, but God is good.