One of the things I most love in my travels is worshiping God with others who are different from me. The cultures, the languages, the music, it is all so very unusual and rings distinctively in my ears. The differences cause me to step out of my comfort zone and they wake me up from my American slumber.
In our country, singing the same worship songs over and over can get monotonous. Worship can develop into a rut, just as all good things can, if overdone. I can be lulled to sleep, all the while thinking that my worship is deep and intimate. One day I wake up and realize I have been going through the motions. The songs have ceased to be powerful prayers from my heart and have instead become songs which I repeat as a mantra without much connection. It is not uncommon for this to happen and my guess is that it happens in every culture.
To shake off the repetitive doldrums, God takes me out of my comfort zone, regularly. For me, that looks like going to other countries and entering into worship which is unfamiliar to my ears. The unfamiliarity forces me to listen closely. Not understanding the words causes me to listen to the spirit of the song in order to understand and feel it.
The most recent journey out of my comfort zone was in Asia. I had the opportunity to worship with those from different tribes and nations. They lifted their voices and I got chill bumps. The first few songs were in English. Some I recognized and sang along. Some were different and I had to pay close attention in order to sing them. At times, I stopped singing and just closed my eyes to listen.
The men’s voices were beautiful and heartfelt. It was a sweet, sweet sound. Maybe being in a country where this kind of worship can get you arrested is part of the passion. Maybe possible persecution for your beliefs increases the desire to sing loudly for all to hear. Their backgrounds, their desire for freedom for their tribes, their hardships, their passion…all of it came through their voices. My ears were welcomed into a holy place to take it all in.
When they broke out into a song in their native tongue I could only stand in awe. They lifted their voices to God and it was a beautiful picture of what I imagine heaven to be like.
After these things I looked, and behold, a great multitude which no one could count, from every nation and all tribes and peoples and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, and palm branches were in their hands; and they cry out with a loud voice, saying, Salvation to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb. Revelation 7:9-10
The phrase ‘every tribe and tongue’ means something entirely different when you are standing among the tribes and listening to the tongues. My one-note-American worship has only imagined such a thing to this point. Yet, I feel the sincerity and the sacredness of their words when I am standing among them. The music flows through me somehow and I am a part of it; like I am inside the song and it is inside of me. My preconceived ideas of worship are put down, and a new song fills my heart. I enter into it. I soak it in. My heart swells with each syllable, as if it understands the words. It grows with each note bigger and more resolute in its connection to the divine.
When the chorus breaks out into a hallelujah my heart leaps to join in the song. For a moment, we are all singing the same song, despite our differences, despite our language barrier, despite our cultural backgrounds…we are all the same. We stand before God and we cry out to him. We are unified. You could not tear us apart in that moment. Our hearts are bonded by our love of God and our desire to worship the one who set us free.
It is a beautiful moment that echoes heaven and touches earth. At the intersection of the two, we find ourselves in a holy place where tears are the language spoken. They flow freely with deep feeling, but without understanding. They are the liquid prayers which go up in such a moment. My thoughts are banished, my feelings are expelled, my heart is caught up in the song. It is joined with it, and we are all transported to an other-worldly place.
The simplicity of such a holy moment is staggering. It doesn’t take warming up, or a fancy place, sound system, or light show. It takes willing hearts. Precious genuine people to raise their voices in sweet song. Humility before God and each other will change the atmosphere in a room. It brings together every tribe and tongue and demonstrates heavenly unity. Unity is scarce these days, so when the opportunity to enter into it comes along, it is a beautiful thing.