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Singing [church]

posted 19 Mar 2012, 08:46 by Matthew Key

Have you ever had one of those moments where God whispers one of the more odd verses in the Bible to you? Often from one of the more prophetic books in the Bible – Ezekiel perhaps – or maybe from one of the ancient historical books, when “giant Nephilim were walking the earth” (Genesis 6:4)?

I had one of those moments back in October. We were in the middle of our 24-7Prayer week for the term, and I was sitting in the corner, wrapped in swathes of bright and loud cushions. I was doorman for the day, and I was noticing something strange: people kept on coming to the prayer room with an instrument in hand, spontaneously wanting to lead worship. “Sure” I said, “come on in”. It was peculiar - just like someone had got organised and invited them to come or something.

So there I was thinking to myself (worship music just starting up again in the background), “what’s up with the musical theme God? Why so many people turning up at the door with guitars?” And then came an unexpected reply (because we don’t always hear immediately back from God...) “Sing O Barren Woman”.

It’s an odd verse at first sight. But I knew roughly where it was... Isaiah; that source of incredibly dramatic prophecy, detailing God’s amazingly patient relationship with his people. And after a bit of flicking through, there it was, at the top of Chapter 54:

“’Sing O Barren Woman, you who never bore a child; burst into song, shout for joy, you who were never in labour; because more are the children of the desolate woman than of her who has a husband’, says the Lord” (Is 54:1)

Now, what was that about God?

I suppose I got the singing reference straight away. The guy who had just brought his guitar down was now going full pelt, worshipping God with all his might. That kinda linked quite well with ‘Sing’. But what about all the stuff about the woman, children and giving birth? Was this relevant?

Looking further on in the passage, the identity of the barren woman became clearer: verse 5 and 6 says “for your Maker is your husband...  the Lord will call you back as if you were a wife deserted”. This is not just one lady then. Rather, it is the nation of Israel, the people of God. Throughout their history they had constantly been straying from God. And here, in Isaiah 54, he is declaring that he will call them back again. In effect, he’s saying, ‘even though you as a nation are not fruitful (are bearing no children), shout for joy, sing aloud, because I will be making you fruitful – much more than you could imagine’.

And this, I thought, was a pretty wonderful inspiration for our worship. God says: ‘sing, even though you are barren, because I am going to make your lives fruitful again’, and so we do.

Within the week one of my close friends, a pillar of our church community here, had been killed in a bike accident in the centre of town. We were devastated. As we travelled through the months of grief the other side of that tragic day, we wondered how to respond as a community. And this verse hit home to me again: sing o barren woman. Was God speaking...?

Coming into the New Year, we looked forward to another 24-7Prayer week, this one fitting into the year of prayer “Kingdom Come” that is going on everywhere across the UK and Ireland. And a mad plan began to hatch. We felt like God was calling us to sing out of our loss and grief, to ‘shout for joy, and burst into song’, even though we weren’t necessarily feeling like it... so how about we try singing throughout the week of prayer?

The idea hatched into a plan: find around 70 worship leaders to lead an hour of prayer every other hour for the whole week, day and night. Our prayer rota was coloured in to reflect the fact that every even hour (2am, 4am, 6am...) would be devoted to worship, and every odd hour (1am, 3am, 5am...) would be devoted to prayer. And the response was overwhelming! Musicians came from everywhere to help lead the worship slots; bands camped out to cover the night slots; those who had never publically led worship before plucked up the courage to lead God’s people in worship. And over the week, an amazing rhythm of prayer and worship began to be built. People began spending more and more time in the prayer room, in prayer, in worship, giving themselves to God. God was calling us back to himself and his people were responding in ways I have not seen before during a 24-7Prayer week.

The week left many wanting more. Since then, new regular worship slots have started up here in the prayer room, and people can’t wait until the next 24-7Prayer comes round in the summer. And through it all, we had come to learn a lesson: God calls us to sing, to worship, to pray, to be with Him, whatever the season and whatever the circumstance. He’s always calling us to himself; he is just waiting for us to respond.