I don’t like critiquing Music publicly. It’s far, far too dangerous.
These days in the blogosphere it is open season on churches & pastors big and small, Christian culture, missionaries & missions, theologies (or theology itself), and pretty much anything else that a previous generation would have considered sacred or worthy of respect. The Bible, and even God can even be questioned or mocked so long as one assumes the correct demeanour of “a skeptic seeking understanding” or assumes the title “relevant evangelist.” But…lift an eyebrow towards Christian pop culture and WHAMMO! The hammer drops.
Suddenly, one finds themselves on the inside of a four-walled cell (also known as a pigeon-hole) with the letters emblazoned outside: “Danger! 1970’s King-James only Fundamentalist!! Handle with care!”
I used to have a controversial blog, with lots of discussion and anger and controversy. It was fun. But nowadays I just want to serve my work with my own hands and lead a quiet life, as I have been commanded.
And so I would invite you to think, question and reason calmly together with me as I seek to honour the God of the Bible over the sacred cows of our day.
Specifically, I would like to discuss the words of the song, “I’m Trading my Sorrows.”
I grew up with that song, but it has been a long time since I sang it. You know how it goes – as a kid you just mouth along to the words and mostly are interested in what the bassist or drummer is doing. But this line caught me, “He’s under my feat, he’s under my feat…Satan is under my feet.” Especially when it was repeated ad infinitum, (often with foot-stomping motions) I started asking myself, “Is that Biblical? IS Satan under my feet? I know Jesus has defeated him, but where does it say he is under my feet?” Call me legalistic, but I started humming the bridge.
The more I pondered, the more my humming rebellion broke out of the bridge, and into the choruses and verses. “Something this song just doesn’t sound right to me.” I thought to myself. “Are we really called to lay down all the hardships of life, and take up the joy of the Lord? Is this what we are called to do?”
Now, after five weeks on the mission field I just came back from an opening ceremony where this song figured prominently. Not only was I not singing (or even humming) along, my arms were crossed. The earth herself trembled under the fury of my silent rebellion, way back there in the back right corner of the packed auditorium.
But this time, I had more than theological reasons to dislike this song. Today, this song was salt in the festering wounds on the sores I have gained on my back, carrying the cross Jesus put there these past two years. I couldn’t help but ask, “What kind of life/deal/plan of salvation is this song offering? It’s not the package I seem to be signed up for!”
I’m trading my sickness, I’m trading my pain…
Since coming here, in obedience to the call of God, we have been hit with no less than three bugs in under a month. First our baby got Rosella – a long drawn out affair with a five day fever, two day rash and non-stop clingy “I-refuse-to-sleep” mayhem. These all-natural parents were setting a personal record by dousing down the maximum allowable amounts of baby tylenol…and then finally even interspacing baby tylenol with baby Advil. Then the oldest got a 36 hour flu, and we were washing sheets and wiping up vomit. Then I got what is affectionately known as “runny tummy” and now my wife has it, but for her it is just one big, full-body joint ache. Of course disease can happen anywhere, but it doesn’t take a medical doctor to say that our bodies are not used to the viruses and bacteria here: our moving to a radically new environment and climate means our bodies have some adjusting to do. And yes, there will be some sickness, and some pain involved in that.
I’m trading my sorrows…
A pause. Head down. Where do I start? Shall I start with every day, when I log into Facebook and see all my friends staying close, together, in the land I love? Having babies and letting their kids forge life-long friendships as I was able to experience? Shall I talk about the depression that our oldest went through on our first move? (Apparently, a medical/psychological anomaly, because kids that young aren’t supposed to get depressions) Shall I tell of the tears spilled on school books, on grocer receipts, on phone calls, on bills? This one is too personal for me. I must move on.
I’m trading my shame…
At home, in my element, I was a chameleon. I fit. Nobody noticed me. Now, the entire world behind me, and the entire world before me sees this foreigner among them. Our lives are open to the judgement of many and the scorn of a few. It happens often that I feel ashamed of who I am and what I am trying to do for my king.
I’m laying them down for the joy of the Lord.
…and what is this joy? I have the peace of Christ in me, and I can testify that when we pray desperately for help, He is there with us. But I’m not quite sure I’m able to sing along with the old Hymn, “…it was there by faith I received my sight and now I am happy all the day.” No, I’m not happy all the day. I’m not happy as I write this. I just drove through town, and was foolish enough to do as others and pull over in traffic to buy veggies from a roadside stand. I was halfway through the order when I got mobbed by vendors and beggars, all trying to get my money, all yelling things and pushing veggies or themselves into my car. I got out of there and got the veggies I ordered (I think) for kind of a good price (I hope). I am now wide eyed, frazzled, fazed and foggy. Not really especially “joyful” right now. This life is hard – one would need to be on drugs, or act like they were, to be happy all the time in this real world of serving God.
I say yes Lord yes Lord yes yes Lord…(etc. etc. etc.) amen.
Well, who wouldn’t say yes to that? A life of no sickness, no pain? A life of no sorrows, and no shame? Sign me up, please! You can find me on the first plane out of here, and back to my cozy home town and country where I belong, where nobody judges me, where I have free healthcare and a sanitary environment.
But that is not what Jesus has called me to.
First He said, “Follow me.” So I did. Then He said, “Pick up your cross and follow me.” So I did. And it hurt. And just so we were clear He said, “Whosoever puts their hand to the plough and looks back is not worthy of me.” And so I didn’t. Well, at least I try not to look back.
And He is good. And His mercies really are new every morning. And I can testify with honesty that no matter how hard this life is, I’d really rather be in a hard place with Jesus than in a good place without Him. He is all the world to me. But here’s the deal: it’s hard! So why do we tell our children that following Jesus will be easy? Even, that this is what He is calling them to?
What is a cross? It is shame. It is a cause of pain. It is sickness, it is death. Do we call our children to lay these things down? If so, we are standing in opposition to the call of Christ.
Jesus came to give us life, and life more abundantly. But then He added the little caveat: unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it cannot truly live. Those who gain their lives will lose them: but those who lose their lives for Christ’s sake will find them.
Why is there such a high rate of attrition on the mission field and in the ministry? We used to send out missionaries with their luggage stored in coffins, with sober words and services bordering on funerals: we did not expect to see them again, and we usually didn’t. Now we send out missionaries with promises of adventure, wholesome family times, fun and cultural experiences. And it’s just not like that over here.
Did you know that they had missionaries in the Bible? Of course you do. Peter was the first one, then there was Andrew, Thomas, and the most famous of all was Paul. They called their ministry the ministry of apostleship. (Small “a”…as apposed to The Apostles, of whom there were only 12) An apostle went were there was no church, or only very young churches, to plant a new work. Listen to how Paul describes what it is like to be an apostle:
…For, I think, God has exhibited us apostles last of all, as men condemned to death; because we have become a spectacle to the world, both to angels and to men. We are fools for Christ’s sake, but you are prudent in Christ; we are weak, but you are strong; you are distinguished, but we are without honour. To this present hour we are both hungry and thirsty, and are poorly clothed, and are roughly treated, and are homeless; and we toil, working with our own hands; when we are reviled, we bless; when we are persecuted, we endure; when we are slandered, we try to conciliate; we have become as the scum of the world, the dregs of all things, even until now…by glory and dishonor, by evil report and good report; regarded as deceivers and yet true; as unknown yet well-known, as dying yet behold, we live; as punished yet not put to death, as sorrowful yet always rejoicing, as poor yet making many rich, as having nothing yet possessing all things. (2 Cor 5 & 6)
A fellow missionary recently told Anne Jisca an Arabic saying: “Some days are honey, some days are onions.” She told me she has really been meditating on that saying. It so fits our reality here! Also, interestingly, Anne Jisca has made a “miracle-mend” caught syrup (hey, it really works well, folks!) whose main two ingredients are onions and honey.
I want to make it clear that I don’t have any particular problem with singing the song “I’m trading my sorrows.” I also mean no disrespect towards those who sang it today, as I myself have sung and lead it many many times. The song has some truth to it – as no doubt will become clear as people draw verses from Matthew and from Isaiah and post them in the comments below.
The song isn’t pure heresy. However, what it is is pure honey. It is in need of a bit of a rewrite. Would it be possible to incorporate some of the verses above? Something like:
“I’m taking my hunger, I’m taking my needs…
“I’m taking my weakness, I’m taking infermity…
“I’m taking my persecutions, I’m taking my shame…
“I’m taking them up, for the glory of His name!”
Another thing. The song aught to be sung in a minor key. Perhaps D minor. In the colour of purple. With the taste of onions and honey.
Because that is the savour of a life following after the crucified Lord.
When I wrote this I was not able to
get online to read the actual lyrics.
To be fair to Darrel Evan, the line “he’s under my feet” seem to be a regional variation of the song, that he didn’t write.
He also has a very good bridge (which wasn’t sung during the opening ceremony) which goes like this:
I am pressed but not crushed
Persecuted not abandoned
Struck down but not destroyed
I am blessed beyond the curse
For His promise will endure
That His joy’s gonna be my strength
Though the sorrow may last for the night
His joy comes with the morning
…and so I stand corrected. It seems that Evans wrote some onions in along with the honey after all. I still think the song should be dropped to d minor: but now I’m just being nit picky! :-)