“So how do you pick songs for your worship sets?”
“I pick the ones that make me cry.”
This has been my response to this inquiry from time to time; and though in part I jest, to a larger extent it is more true than not. I pay special attention to songs that move me deeply, both musically and lyrically. In fact quite recently I was listening to a song on the radio, a familiar song actually, and I was moved to tears, and raised my voice in heart felt worship to God. So I started wondering, “What exactly is it that is happening on the inside of me to warrant this response? What exactly am I experiencing, what am I feeling, in the moment?” Right then and there I did an “internal inventory and assessment” of my heart, and this is what I found:
Pain. Wounded-ness. Loneliness.
“Are you serious!? That’s what you found that provoked you to worship!?” Well, yes… and no. This is part of what I found, but not exactly what moved me to the actual response. There was more:
Ah, now we have it. Longing: a deep, insatiable, and sometimes terrible longing, to be joined with “the Desired-One”, “the Longed-for-One.” It’s what lovers feel when forced to be separated for an extended period of time. It’s what the military family feels as they wait to be reunited. It’s what a parent feels who wishes to see their estranged child, or the weary traveler who has been away from his homeland for so very long.
You can find this theme in several places throughout the Bible. For instance, The Song of Solomon (or Song of Songs– the ‘scandalously romantic’ poem of the Scriptures) is laced with expressions of the deep desire and longing between two lovers longing to be with each other.(1) Now I have no intention of over-spiritualizing the Song of Songs (it’s a literal love song), but is it too much of a stretch to believe that this picture eludes to the love-longing that the Great Bride Groom/Lamb has for His Bride, the Bride of Christ?(2)
Several of the psalmists penned their longing for God:
As a deer pants for flowing streams, so pants my soul for You, O God.
My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When shall I come and appear before God? (Psalm 42:1-2)
O God, You are my God; earnestly I seek You; my soul thirsts for You; my flesh faints for You, as in a dry and weary land where there is no water.
So I have looked upon You in the sanctuary, beholding Your power and glory. (Psalm 63:1-2)
How lovely is Your dwelling place, O Lord of hosts!
My soul longs, yes, faints for the courts of the Lord;
my heart and flesh sing for joy to the living God. (Psalm 84:1-2)
I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in His word I hope; my soul waits for the Lord more than watchmen for the morning, more than watchmen for the morning. (Psalm 130:5-6)
Some of the expressions that move me the most are those of God’s longing for His own. For example, the beautiful expression of love that the father has for his sons in the story known as The Prodigal Son(3). “I’m sorry, I think you made a ‘typo’; you said ‘sons’, as in plural.” No, it’s not a typo; I meant to say sons, plural, and I had never really seen it before until recently. The story tells of how the younger of two sons, in a great affront and disrespect of his father, demands his share of the family inheritance, leaves the country, and squanders his wealth. Having become destitute, the Bible says he “came to his senses” (that means he had a “duh” moment), and decides to return to his father and ask to become one of his slaves, who are fairing far better than he is now. But this father has been looking for his son, longing for his son, to return. How do we know this?
But while he (the son) was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him. (v.20)
Safe to say there was no grudge or un-forgiveness here. In fact the father threw a party to celebrate his son’s return!
Enter the elder son.
Returning from his father’s fields, when he hears what is going on, he is quite enraged, and refuses to come near the house. Now this is the part that astounded me. The “father came out and entreated him (the elder son)…” (v.28) This father longed for both of his sons, to be in right relationship with him and with each other. Father God longs for the lost, the prodigal, and the “sons that never left”, albeit estranged right at home (another lesson for another time 😉 ).
But the most poignant story of longing and restoration that I’ve ever encountered in Scripture is the story of Joseph and his father Israel (Jacob)(4). Having been sold as a slave by his jealous brothers (because he was his father’s favorite), and having suffered many injustices, God in His sovereignty promoted Joseph to second-in-command of the most powerful nation on earth. Then, nearly 20 yrs later, through a set of unusual circumstances, he comes face to face with his brothers, though they do not recognize him. To discover if his brothers have changed or not, Joseph puts them through a series of tests. But all through the ordeal, something keeps coming up to the surface; one question is pulling at Joseph’s heart strings: “Is your father still alive?” (see Gen.43:7,27-28). And even after he reveals his true identity to them, in deepest anguish Joseph cries out: “I am Joseph! Is my father still alive!?” (Gen.45:3) From that point on everything is set in motion to bring all of the clans of Israel to Egypt where Joseph can care for them. The moment comes when, after so many long years, Joseph is reunited with his father.
Then Joseph prepared his chariot and went up to meet Israel his father in Goshen. He presented himself to him and fell on his neck and wept on his neck a good while. Israel said to Joseph, “Now let me die, since I have seen your face and know that you are still alive.”
I once saw a painting depicting Jesus embracing a young man. The look of Jesus’ face said it all: “At long last; welcome home! How I have longed for you!” And though the young man’s back is to the viewer, I quite believe he was weeping, the long release of longing fulfilled. I saw this, and thought of Joseph. “Yes, Lord… that’s it right there. That is what I long for.”
I can’t speak for anyone but myself, but at the heart of every expression of worship I offer is this longing to be with the one I so desperately need, long for, love. And the ache is multiplied when I get a glimpse of the reality of His longing for me. There is not enough of… of anything, to adequately express in worship the longing in my heart and the love and honor that is due Him. How well this is expressed in the hymn The Love of God:
Could we with ink the ocean fill,
And were the skies of parchment made,
Were every stalk on earth a quill,
And every man a scribe by trade;
To write the love of God above
Would drain the ocean dry;
Nor could the scroll contain the whole,
Though stretched from sky to sky.
Longing. Yeah… that’s it exactly.
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End notes: (1)Song of Solomon 3:1-4a (2)There are many references where parallels are drawn between the love of man and woman with God and Israel, and also with Christ and the Church: Isaiah 54:5-7; the whole book of Hosea; Ephesians 5:22ff; Revelation 19:7 to mention a few. (3) Luke 15:11-32. (4) The entire story of Joseph is found in Genesis 37 – 50)