|Gerrit Gustafson, part of Integrity Music's original creative team, has been actively involved for the last twenty years in a church-transforming worship revolution. Founder and president of WholeHearted Worship, which creates praise and worship products, he also conducts weekend training events called Worship Schools. Gerrit and his wife, Himmie, have five children and live in the Nashville area.
Songs in the Night
By Gerrit Gustafson
CBN.com A true worshiper sings songs in the night.
Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Savior. – Habakkuk 3:17-18
The magistrates ordered them to be stripped and beaten. After they had been severely flogged, they were thrown into prison, and the jailer … put them in the inner cell and fastened their feet in the stocks. About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God. – Acts 167:22-25
American theologian, philosopher, preacher, and the president of Princeton University, Jonathan Edwards (1703–1758) distinguished between two kinds of gratitude in his Religious Affections: “natural” gratitude and “gracious” gratitude. Natural gratitude involves being appreciative for good gifts: “Thank You, Lord, for a beautiful day.” Gracious gratitude, however, gives thanks for who God is, not just for benefits received: “Thank You, Lord, that nothing can separate us from Your love.” According to Chuck Colson, gracious gratitude is “relational, not conditional.”1
Anyone can give thanks for blessings. But true worshipers have learned to give thanks in everything. It was gracious gratitude that flowed from Paul and Silas in the pain of their prison experience. Their story is a high-water mark in God’s search for worshipers. I want to become a worshiper like them.
There was a time when I thought that by exercising faith, almost any unpleasant situation would turn around. When my wife’s mother was sick with cancer, our fellowship mounted a vigorous prayer assault. We were certain she would be healed. After all, didn’t Jesus say, “Ask and you shall receive”? We were stunned when she died. How could that have happened?
That was the beginning of a refining process that my faith is still undergoing today as I learn gracious gratitude. Several years after my mother-in-law’s death, I was in Manila and heard the testimony of a leader in the Chinese church. This man had been sent to prison multiple times and spent years there for his faith. I will never forget how he told of volunteering for a job in prison that required him to wade in human excrement and sewage up to his chest. The stench was awful, but because no one else was around, it provided him with the rare occasion to sing God’s praises unhindered, especially the hymn, “In the Garden.”2 Since that day, I have often cried when I hear the words of this
hymn and think of his story: “And He walks with me, and He talks with me, and He tells me I am His own; and the joy we share as we tarry there none other has ever known.” I want to be a worshiper like this amazing man.
Praise that is dependent upon blessing can easily turn into grumbling when the blessing is gone. It reveals that we measure what is good by a temporal standard, rather than by an eternal one.
When we suffer, we must first learn endurance: “If you suffer for doing good and you endure it, this is commendable before God” (1 Peter 2:20); “endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as sons” (Hebrews 12:7); “if we endure, we will also reign with him” (2 Timothy 2:12).
But beyond patiently waiting out a difficulty is an even deeper response—giving thanks for the difficulty: “Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed” (1 Peter 4:12–13).
How can we rejoice in our sufferings? By realizing that through those sufferings, our identification and fellowship with Christ will increase and we will better know Him and His love for us: “I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings” (Philippians 3:10).
I went through a severe period of financial testing during a time when I had three children in college. Early one morning, I was desperate to know why God was not answering my prayer and ending the trial. He brought to mind that my own father and mother had gone through a business failure and were also nearly bankrupt at a time when they had three children in college. The Holy Spirit led me to remember things to which I had been oblivious at the time. In that moment, I said “thank You” for the trial I was experiencing—I would not have known the depth
of my parents’ love without it. In identifying with their sufferings, I knew them better.
Peter encouraged us to “greatly rejoice” when we experience trials. He said that they, like the refiner’s fire, prove that our faith is genuine and will result in praise and glory: “And even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls” (1 Peter 1:8–9).
When Stephen was stoned, he exulted in God’s presence. He “looked up to heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God” (Acts 7:55). Jesus is usually seated at the right hand of God, but in Stephen’s case, He stood up to welcome him into His presence.
God is certainly pleased with natural gratitude, the kind that springs up in response to His blessings. But when He hears songs in the night—rejoicing in the midst of suffering—He stops what He is doing and gives it His undivided attention.
God, we are humbled by the kind of worship we see in Paul and Silas—and in the Chinese pastor. We ask You to let our worship be like theirs. Convince us that You are worthy of worship, no matter what the circumstances are. Help us sing songs of praise even in the darkness of night. Amen.
Excerpted from The Adventure of Worship: Discovering Your Highest Calling, by Gerrit Gustafson. Copyright © 2006, Chosen Books. All rights reserved. Used by permission.
1. Breakpoint with Chuck Colson, May 17, 2005, www.breakpoint.org.
2. C. Austin Miles, "In the Garden," (1912), public domain.
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