God Rejoices Over Us with Singing
I’m still planning to post something about my novel Deception, but that will have to wait a few days. I feel God prompting me to share something else.
George Mueller once said something like this (not verbatim, but this is its essence): “I read Scripture until I come to a verse that can bear my whole weight, and then I stop and ponder it.”
That happened to me yesterday, and today I am pondering the same verse. But first, the background, so you’ll know why I’ve found such comfort in it.
Recently I’ve been battling depression. While it’s not chronic for me, it’s periodic. Always has been, and until I'm with the Lord and gazing on His face, I suspect it will be. Some good things have happened lately, and some challenging things. This week I didn’t sleep well, had a few exhausting days, and then had a particularly difficult day in which I needed to ask forgiveness of my wife and a couple of friends for cutting them off in a conversation, when I became proud and impatient because they didn’t agree with something that was important to me.
It was humbling, and that’s exactly what I need some times. Worst of all, I let God down. Not that my sin takes Him by surprise, but I love Him so much, and I owe Him everything; I just don’t want to disappoint Him. Yes, I know, believe me I know, He understands and forgives. But sin brought pain to Christ, and I think it should bring pain to us, so when he takes away not only the sin, but the pain, we appreciate the depth of His grace.
Anyway, after I’ve confessed and asked forgiveness of the Lord and others, there is sometimes an abiding sense of defeat at my having failed God and those I love, and having seen the ugliness yet within me (making me long for the new heavens and new earth, where I’ll be righteous, and free from this sin that entangles me). Even the surprise at being humbled is a reflection of pride. In the little book Spiritual Maturity: Principles of Spiritual Growth for Every Believer, which I read as a new Christian in 1970, Miles Stanford said something I’ve never forgotten: “To be disappointed in yourself is to have believed in yourself.”
My sense of defeat isn’t all bad. Arguably, pride is the root of all sin. Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall. God opposes the proud and gives grace to the humble. He prunes the vine that it may bear more fruit, and pruning is by nature painful, sometimes excruciating.
Depression has its good side. It makes me want to be alone with God, the one who understands. Even though I don’t get it, He does. It deepens my friendship with Nanci, because of all people besides the Lord she understands best, and graciously allows me space. She stands beside me, as she has for the nearly 40 years I’ve known her (we met in high school, before I knew Christ). She is precious to me, and I am in her debt. And she makes me laugh, which is a great gift.
Okay, so here’s that verse that I have been resting my weight upon. This isn’t the first time God has used it with me, but this time it has gone deep. It’s Zephaniah 3:17:
The LORD your God is with you, he is mighty to save. He will take great delight in you, he will quiet you with his love, he will rejoice over you with singing.
This is profound on every level. God is with us and is mighty to save—great words, but words often expressed in Scripture, more familiar to us. What is remarkable here is that this great God who created the universe “will take great delight in you.” GOD take delight in ME? God take GREAT delight in me? You must be kidding. No. This is God’s Word. No kidding.
But that’s not all. “He will quiet you with his love.” When the waves are crashing and the ship is sinking, or we’re floundering in the water, getting swallowed in darkness, thinking we’re about to drown, God will rescue us, quieting us with His love. This is the Redeemer not only of us but all His creation, as Romans 8 so powerfully conveys. He promises in Revelation 21:4 that one day there will be no more pain and death and that He will personally wipe away the tears from every eye. (Ponder that—not merely “no more tears,” but He will wipe away every tear from each of our eyes.)
There is much that’s wrong with our world, and much that's wrong with us. But He is the Carpenter from Nazareth, and carpenters not only create, they repair. He’s going to fix us and the entire universe.
There has been much turbulence within me in the last four weeks, for reasons I don’t really understand. I need to be quieted. What will quiet me is God’s love. Mary knew this, when she sat at the feet of Jesus, listening to him. Jesus said only one thing was necessary, and Mary had chosen it. If I sit quietly at His feet, He will quiet me with His love. Despite my to do list, I have only one thing to do: worship Him, love Him, listen to Him, rest in Him.
Zephaniah 3:17 tells us that God is a Singer. Indeed, He sang the universe into being. (Ever read Calvin Miller's The Singer Trilogy? It's wonderful, another of the books from the 70's that shaped me.) Also makes me think of Aslan singing Narnia into existence in The Magician's Nephew. But here in Zephaniah God isn't only our creator, he is our loving parent. Music is many things, but here it is comfort to the crying child. And so personal and intimate. God composes and song with us in mind, and sings it to us. As He holds us we might notice the ugly scars in His hands. How could we ever doubt his love? Do those look like the hands of a God who does not care?
God is said to not merely do his duty to stop us from crying and calm our fears. Rather, He rejoices over us with singing. It’s the picture of a pleased and joyful parent, but perhaps in this case more a mother than father. In light of quieting us with his love and singing over us, doesn’t it make you think of the classic lullaby (which I see online has various versions, but this one I'm familiar with, and it really fits Zephaniah 3):
Hush little darling don’t you cry
Mama’s gonna sing you a lullaby
And when that lullaby is through
Mama’s gonna stay right here with you.
And if you wake up in the night,
Mama’s gonna make everything all right
Hush little darling don’t you weep
Mama’s gonna stay here until you sleep.
There is an incredible tenderness and intimacy in Zephaniah 3 that in some ways is even stronger than the sentiments in that lullaby. God promises to come to us and quiet us with his love and rejoice over us with singing. Wow. What a comfort to young mothers, like my daughters, who are always extending such love to their children, but also need to be the recipients of such love from their God, who is both father and mother to us. (We can't give out love to our families that we have not taken in from God; we love because He first loved us.)
As context always does, the context of Zephaniah 3 sets us up for the full impact of verse 17. Four and five verses earlier God has stated his opposition to the proud and his advocacy for the humble:
I will remove from this city those who rejoice in their pride. Never again will you be haughty on my holy hill. But I will leave within you the meek and humble, who trust in the name of the LORD.
Our Lord is the headwaters of joy. Too often we look first to the lower streams to find joy, forgetting that they flow from the Source of pure Joy, who beckons us to come upstream to Him and drink freely of the rivers of the water of life at their very purest.
Sometimes, in moments of pride, we need to fear Him and repent. Other times, in moments of brokenness and despair, we need to just bathe in His grace, and see His smile and hear him say “Well done, enter into your Master’s joy.” We need to cast our cares upon Him, because he cares for us, come onto him when we’re weary and heavy laden, and He will give us rest. This is such a time for me. And perhaps for you too.
Three verses before Zephaniah 3:17, God calls upon his people, in the midst of terrible hardship, to sing (Paul and Silas sang in prison, remember):
Sing, O Daughter of Zion; shout aloud, O Israel! Be glad and rejoice with all your heart,
O Daughter of Jerusalem!
And what better cause for our singing than God's singing over us? The child in his mother's arms, comforted by her singing, enters into her song. What should make us sing is the knowledge of Zephaniah 3:17, that when we are humble and broken, God promises to quiet us with His love.
The Lord of the Cosmos—who was born in a barn and comforted in the arms of a Gallilean peasant girl who no doubt sang to him—kneels down, picks us up, wipes the tears from our eyes, and rejoices over us with singing? Incredible.
But absolutely true. Bank on it. That's what I'm doing right now. It's still dark, but I can see the light. And I can hear the singing.