Happy is the New Boring: Acknowledging The Lows So The Highs Will Be Sweeter
(guest post by Bobby Gilles)
Ever played Highs and Lows? It’s become a staple of small group meetings around the world. Each person in turn tells about their “high” of the past week, and their “low” – the best and the worst things they’ve gone through. This icebreaker allows us to take stock of our week and share with others.
But it helps us in another way too: each high is sweeter because of the lows. When we’ve had a rough week, perhaps the only “high” we can think of is a beautiful sunrise, an afternoon nap or the smile of a child for whom we bought a new toy. In a week of constant thrills we might have missed these highs, but because of the lows, we treasure them.
It’s the same in worship, although we sometimes fail to acknowledge this as worship planners. We want people to “taste and see that the Lord is good.” (Psalm 34:8) We want them to experience the joy of the Lord and to bask in the victory of our risen King. And so we craft services with one “high” after another. Happy songs, exclamations of praise, joyful sermons and prayers of affirmation.
None of these are wrong by themselves, but if we only allow space for highs, two things can happen:
1. We become numbed to them, experiencing fun moments on the surface but gradually forgetting our abiding reason for joy.
2. We unintentionally make those who are hurting feel “less than.”
We need to give space for lamenting the injustices of this world and for repenting our sins. Doing so will make our joy more complete when we celebrate the promise of God to right the wrongs and the reality that our sins are forgiven in Christ.
In 2001 I attended one night of the National Quarter Convention, which unfortunately occurred the week of the 9/11 attacks. Several performers went through their planned sets that evening: witty banter, toe-tapping gospel songs. It’s what they’d planned and probably all they knew to do, in that dark week when all Americans were almost shell-shocked.
But when Bill Gaither took the stage with his quartet, he acknowledged his difficulty in coming to grips with the tragedy. Instead of his planned set, he led the arena in an a cappella sing-a-long of the meditative gospel hymn “Help Thou My Unbelief.” It was a far more moving experience than if we’d tried to forget about our troubles with a barrage of happy songs. And because we journeyed through that hymn together, we could later sing songs of victory.
As long as we’re in this mortal coil we sin, and need to be forgiven. From Acts to Revelation we find a continuous list of things for which individual Christians, congregations and even pastors needed to repent. Our great assurance is that God will always forgive us, and that the cross is Christ’s once-for-all sacrifice for our sin. But He still longs for us to come to him with repentant hearts, and even to confess our sins to one another (James 5:16).
After I wrote the song of corporate confession “Lead Us Back” with my friend Brooks Ritter, I got a few emails and read some reviews from people who said “It’s just so dark. I wish there was a final verse that celebrates the Lord’s willingness to forgive.”
But that’s the task of another part of the service – another song or prayer. At my church Sojourn we always follow “Lead Us Back” with a celebration of assurance. This celebration, usually through a praise song, is more intense and joyful than it would be if we sang nothing but praise songs. Celebrations are more fun when people know what they’re celebrating.
The gospel story is ultimately one of peace, joy and victory, which is available to us in this life and the next. But we’ll feel it more if we let ourselves be uncomfortable awhile. Let your people give voice to their doubt, their pain, their longing and their sorrowful repentance. Then let them rock on, in the blessed assurance of Jesus. Acknowledge the low, and the high will be sweeter.
Bobby Gilles has written several of Sojourn Music’s popular worship songs for albums like The Water And The Blood, Over The Grave and Before The Throne. He is content manager for sojournmusic.com and has mentored songwriters and led many Sojourn songwriting workshops. Bobby is also Sojourn Church Director Of Communications.Comment on Facebook Comment on Twitter
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