Deliver Me (Psalm 71)
“Deliver Me (Psalm 71)” gives voice to the cries of those oppressed by injustice. I wrote this song on August 12, 2014 as a desperate response to the intense persecution facing Christians in the Middle East at the hands of the Islamic State, also known as ISIS. Overwhelmed with grief and a sense of helplessness, I penned the following journal entry right before composing the song:
“I am heavy this morning, burdened by the horrors happening to my brothers and sisters
in northern Iraq. They have nothing. They are starving. The children are being
beheaded. The women are being tortured and raped. Men are crucified on raised
gallows. Itʼs so horrific, I donʼt want to think of it. Yet, I cannot turn away.”
Confronted with such atrocities, all I knew to do was to cry out to God and turn to Scripture for truth and comfort. Psalm 71 resonated as my prayer in solidarity with my persecuted brothers and sisters. So I sat down at the piano and just began to emote. This song, “Deliver Me,” is what surfaced, and it is the cry of my heart on behalf of the persecuted Church and for all those oppressed by injustice.
You Are There (Psalm 139)
A declaration of God’s eternally constant presence, “You Are There (Psalm 139)” emerged one morning in early September 2014, several days before I moved to Switzerland. With this major life adjustment in mind, I was particularly struck by the psalmist’s unwavering confidence in God’s omnipresence, his certainty that he could go absolutely anywhere and God would still be with him. This knowledge that I am never alone, that Jesus will never leave me nor forsake me, that the Holy Spirit lives in me--is what enables me to say “Yes” to whatever crazy adventure He sets in front of me. And it’s what sustains me both in the highest of highs and lowest of lows. No matter where I go, no matter what the circumstances, God is there.
I Will Be With You (Isaiah 43)
The melody of “I Will Be With You (Isaiah 43)” came to life during an instrumental improvisation that I made on the flute in collaboration with my violist friend, Tabea, who is featured throughout the album. Tabea and I enjoy doing what we call “play and pray,” the concept that we can connect with the heart of God and have a non-verbal dialogue with Him through our instruments. For me, this often means asking God, “Hey, what’s on your heart in this moment? What are you wanting to say?” Then I listen, wait for His response, and start praying through my instrument.
At the moment when we made this improvisation, we were particularly praying for the people I would meet on my trip this summer--especially for India and for girls who have been trafficked. As we played and prayed, God simply highlighted this phrase over and over again: “I am with them.” Several days later, as I continued to pray for girls trapped by such injustice, God led me to this Scripture passage in Isaiah 43. I had been wondering, how exactly would I answer these girls if they asked me, “Where is God? All those times men were violating, abusing, and manipulating me--where was He? How can you say God loves me when He allowed these horrible things to happen?”
In fact, I found myself asking God those very questions. And His response came through these verses: “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you. When you walk through the flames, they won’t overwhelm you. For I will be with you.” I don’t have a clear-cut answer for why God sometimes allows evil to prevail or for why He only intervenes some times and not other times.
But I do know that it can’t be because He doesn’t care or doesn’t love us. That was settled some 2,000 years ago when Christ Jesus humbly entered humanity, suffered and died, and three days later resurrected. Through the cross, I see Emmanuel--which means “God with us”--willingly subjecting Himself to immense suffering so that, in the end, we might once again enter into right relationship with God. So it’s not as though God doesn’t understand or care about our deep pain and suffering. On the contrary, He is present with us in the midst of the trial. God’s presence is a reality even in extreme grief, pain, and tragedy--in moments when the flames of Hell seem to be burning all around. Even then, He is there.
For many, this may be a strange or conceivably oxymoronic concept--that a good God is present in the midst of suffering and still remains “good” even when He has power to stop the suffering. I certainly don’t have all the answers, and it would be a lie to say that I never have moments of doubt. But one thing I do know is that running away from God won’t solve the problem.
In the grand scheme of life, I may not ever fully understand why God allowed my cousin to fall asleep at the wheel or why He didn’t stop the earthquake from hitting Nepal. Yet, I believe in a God of redemption. A God who can take even the worst of situations that we are presented with (because our world is broken and corrupted by the Fall)--and use it for good. He is the God who brings beauty from ashes, who restores and transforms our broken lives when we let Him--when we run into Him rather than away from Him.
There’s much more to say on this complex and crucial topic, and I won’t attempt to address it with the detailed attention that it deserves. But for those of you interested, I invite you to check out several of the following (short) videos. I hope they are helpful to you as they have been to me.
And for those of you with a little more time, I highly recommend Tim Keller’s 30-minute sermon on the topic.
At the end of the day, for me, it always comes back to Jesus. How do I know God truly is love? Look at Jesus hanging on a cross, giving His life for mine. How do I know He cares about the plight of the penniless widow and the orphaned child? Look at Jesus caring for the outcasts of society and telling His followers (Christians) to do the same. How do I know that I don’t have to face this bittersweet life alone? Listen to Jesus’ promise: “I will be with you.” And He’s a man of His word.
Put Your Hope in God (Psalm 42)
This song, “Put Your Hope in God (Psalm 42),” is a self-directed sermon that reminds my soul that true hope comes from God and nothing or no one less. I love how honest the writer of this psalm was. He didn’t pretend that everything was fine and dandy, ignoring the reality of his burdened heart and overwhelming circumstances. On the contrary, he acknowledged the turmoil of his soul. Yet, he didn’t stay there, wallowing in despair. He preached to his downcast soul, reminding himself that hope comes from God, and walking in that hope often requires the active choice of worshiping in the midst of the turmoil. So when the cares of this life begin to constrict me, when I’m too near-sighted to see from God’s perspective, when I feel too small and insignificant to fight the immense injustices facing our world--I, with the psalmist, tell my soul, “Put your hope in God! I will again praise Him, my Salvation and my God.”