Ephesians 5 speaks of our new identity in Christ. As new creations, we live by a different standard. The change that takes place in our hearts results in a change of behavior. Rather than living according to what feels good in the moment, we choose to walk by faith, to live by the Spirit of God. In verses 18-21, we see this contrast very sharply: “Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.”
Oh, to find escape! Escape doesn’t have to be drunkenness; it could be blowing all your money shopping, or destructive eating habits, or any other excessive behavior we indulge in hoping to numb ourselves. I understand the temptation to run, to hide. To give in to life.
But we who know and love Christ don’t have to hide anymore. He has given us everything we need through our relationship with him to overcome whatever life may throw at us. We just need to be focused on him, not the problems. We do this by submitting to authority, by being thankful to God, talking about spiritual things, and singing to the Lord. These are all things that are challenging to us because they go against our flesh and what feels good in the moment; rather, they require us to choose faith, choose delayed gratification, and deny our flesh. The result is wonderful; I can’t explain it to you, though. You’ll have to try it for yourself.
You can’t give in to doubt and fear when you’re praising God and being thankful. Music was one of the most powerful tools in my life over this past year to help me to focus on God instead of my problems, on His power instead of my weakness.
The hurt and pain of the past year is still very real and present in my life. I don’t intend to go in-depth with the trials of this year. However, I thought I’d share some of the pivotal moments in my life over the past year and the songs that helped me to stay thankful, stay focused, and stay the course.
2017 in Song
When I was a teenager and struggling in my relationship with God to reach that point of full surrender, there was one major issue, one major fear that held me back: my parents. I was terrified of losing them. I was fearful that if I surrendered them to God, He would take them from me. Never mind the fact that they were already in God’s care and I could do nothing to ensure their safety or their proximity me, I still was consumed with fear, anxiety, and worry. My parents were becoming idols to me. Eventually, I recognized God’s love and goodness and chose to trust Him with my family, regardless of the outcome. It was a huge turning point in my relationship with God, but it was also a recurring struggle, and something I had to surrender continually.
In January of 2017 my worst fears were realized. My dad went in for routine surgery to replace a heart valve. The surgery went beautifully; however, due to other complications my dad never woke up. My mother and I spent an agonizing 6 days snowed in at the hospital while the doctors and surgeons did everything they could to save my father; but it was of no use. His work on earth was finished; it was time for him to enter into his rest. Thus began the most challenging, painful, difficult, and yet breathtakingly beautiful year of my life.
Track 1: Oh Fear by Moriah Peters
You paralyze me, You shut my eyes when I’m trying to find some hope
You are a prison, You’re on a mission to keep me from where I should go
Oh, I’ve had enough of your scheming, I’ll be leaving
Oh, I hope you know your end is near // Oh fear, you’ll never keep me here
I hear freedom calling, I feel my chains falling, I see Jesus coming
You’ll never keep me here, I know my God is near, I know my God is near
This is a song from an album called “Brave” that I’d listened to quite a bit over the last few months of 2016. Having struggles with fear and courage, I found myself easily identifying with many of the songs. This one in particular is one that God brought to mind frequently over those first few days in the hospital. The bridge says, “These are the moments I feel courageous – God is with me, I can face this.” It became my battle cry.
Track 2: Oceans by Hillsong
Your grace abounds in deepest waters, Your sovereign hand will be my guide
Where feet may fail and fear surrounds me,You’ve never failed and You won’t start now
So I will call upon Your name, keep my eyes above the waves, when oceans rise
My soul will rest in Your embrace, for I am Yours and You are mine
Spirit lead me where my trust is without borders
Let me walk upon the waters, wherever You would call me
Take me deeper than my feet could ever wander
And my faith will be made stronger in the presence of my Savior
God almost immediately brought the lyrics to Oceans to mind that first night in the hospital. I kept repeating the bridge over and over, reminding myself of God’s power, trying to maintain perspective. This song had been the theme of 2016 for me; now I had to choose to really live it.
Track 3: The Joy of the Lord by Rend Collective
Though tears may fall, my song will rise, my song will rise to You
Though my heart may fail, my song will rise, my song will rise to You
While there’s breath in my lungs, I will praise You, Lord
The joy of the Lord is my strength, the joy of the Lord is my strength
In the darkness I’ll dance, in the shadows I’ll sing
The joy of the Lord is my strength
This song got me through the first several weeks of learning to live without my dad. I listened to it constantly. I listened to it when were living out of a hotel for a few weeks, still trying to move out of the house we had been renting and were supposed to be out of by the end of the month. I listened to it when I would drive past the church and the memories would overwhelm me. I listened to it while I worked from the thrift store because I couldn’t handle being in my office knowing Dad would never be in his right next to mine again. I sang it out as my anthem; I was determined to praise the Lord, because He is good and everything He does is good.
Track 4: Take Another Step by Steven Curtis Chapman
If there’s an ocean in front of you, you know what you’ve gotta do
Take another step and another step
Maybe He’ll turn the water into land, and maybe He’ll take your hand and say
Let’s take a walk on the waves – Will you trust Me either way?
Take another step
God has used this song at many points in my life to help me narrow my focus and choose to take each next thing as it comes. He brought this song to mind frequently those first few months, and it helped me to remember that it’s not my job to figure things out – it’s my job to take the step in front of me. He will take care of the rest.
Track 5: It Is Well by Bethel Music
Far be it from me to not believe even when my eyes can’t see
And this mountain that’s in front of me will be thrown into the midst of the sea
Through it all, through it all, my eyes are on You
Through it all, through it all, it is well
Through it all, through it all, my eyes are on You
And it is well with me
This beautiful song was one I listened to all spring; it was one of the only songs I listened to for a while. It’s haunting melody and beautiful lyrics brought me such comfort and peace. I also sang it several times at my church. It was perhaps the most impacting song in my life this year. The verses remind me of God’s power; the chorus challenges me to fix my eyes where they belong; and the bridge brings it all together so beautifully: “So let go my soul and trust in Him – the waves and wind still know His name.” Simply, beautifully, wonderfully surrendered.
Track 6: Take Courage by Bethel
Sing praise my soul, find strength in joy
Let His Words lead you on
Do not forget His great faithfulness
He’ll finish all He’s begun
So take courage my heart, stay steadfast my soul
He’s in the waiting, He’s in the waiting
Hold onto your hope as your triumph unfolds
He’s never failing, He’s never failing
Waiting is the worst. So much of this year felt like waiting. Waiting for answers. Waiting for relief. But even in the waiting, God is faithful. He’s at work. This song helped me to remember that waiting is not wasting; I just need to surrender control and let God work.
Track 7: You’re Gonna Be Okay by Jenn Johnson
Just take one step closer, put one foot in front of the other
You’ll get through this, just follow the light in the darkness
You’re gonna be okay
And when the night is closing in, don’t give up and don’t give in
This won’t last, it’s not the end, it’s not the end
You’re gonna be okay
When we’d get another round of bad news, or when memories flooded in, when I felt like I couldn’t go on, I turned this song on. I actually discovered it through someone I follow on Instagram who shared some of the lyrics. So simple, so powerful.
Track 8: Hard Love by needtobreathe
Hold on tight a little longer
What don’t kill ya, makes ya stronger
Get back up, ’cause it’s a hard love
You can’t change without a fallout
It’s gon’ hurt, but don’t you slow down
Get back up, ’cause it’s a hard love
I don’t normally listen to needtobreathe. They’re a crossover band and I don’t really connect to their lyrics or style, generally speaking. Even this song was probably not written exactly how I applied it; however, the lyrics definitely challenged me in a really good way. It was particularly helpful this spring and summer as Lifeline began to struggle, and we had to start making drastic cuts in attempt to continue the ministry. The lyrics challenged me to stay under (hupomeno) and trust God for deliverance; to remember that He loves me, even if that love hurts in the moment. He’s on my side, working for my good, and eventually, someday, I’ll see it.
Track 9: World Changers by Matthew West
This is to all the world changers, keep walking on, don’t you ever
Lose that fire in your soul, lose that fire in your soul
This is to all the world changers, you know you are history makers
This world’s never gonna change you
You’re gonna change, you’re gonna change the world
Keep on fighting the fight, keep on running the race
Keep on winning the crown, keep on keeping the faith
Keep on leading with love, keep on standing your ground
Don’t you ever give up
This summer was brutal in a different way. Lifeline began to fail and things kept getting worse instead of better. I struggled with discouragement and the desire to quit and leave it all behind. I heard this song and it inspired me to push through, to remember that it doesn’t matter what others think, and it doesn’t matter if 9 people fail – I need to focus on that one that’s succeeding.
Track 10: Breakthrough by Britt Nicole
Hey there fear, I’ve seen you here before
You keep coming back and knocking at my door
For so long, so long, I’ve been trying to soar
With my hands tied up and my feet held to the floor
But I’m feeling’ like a breakthrough is coming
I can see that a breakthrough is coming, coming for me
Cuz my heart, it was made to fly, destiny can’t be denied
I’m tired of waiting, I am overdue for a breakthrough
Britt Nicole is another one I don’t listen to often; but this song helped me to choose hope. It helped me to remember that pain and trials are temporary, and that something good is coming; I just need to trust God and not give in to my fear by looking around me instead of at Him.
Track 11: Get Down by Finding Favour
Get down when you got no answers
Get down when there is no way
Get down when you’re holdin’ hopeless
Get down on your knees and pray
Get down on the highest mountain
Get down when the good times stay
Get down ’cause He wants to hear you
Get down on your knees and pray
The first time I heard this song it was like a slap in the face (in a good way!). Prayer has been very difficult for me this year. This song reminded me that prayer is the key, and I must make it a priority if I want direction and help and hope.
Track 12: Psalm 46 (Lord of Hosts) by Shane & Shane
Lord of Hosts, You’re with us, with us in the fire
With us as a shelter, with us in the storm
You will lead us through the fiercest battle
Oh where else would we go, but with the Lord of Hosts.
I heard this song just a few weeks ago and I’ve already listened to it at least a hundred times. It was my Dad’s birthday, and it’d been an emotional day, as you can imagine. Add Christmas to that, along with the struggles of Lifeline and the potential for having to shut things down soon, and I was overwhelmed, to say the least. I got home, turned on the computer we run Netflix through, and saw that Shane & Shane and Phil Wickham were on Facebook Live with a Christmas concert, so I put it up on the TV screen. Within just a few minutes, they started talking about this song, sharing the story behind it – the story I wrote about here. God used this song at just the right time to remind me of His power and might, and whispered to me, “just be still.”
Track 13: Surrounded (Fight My Battles) by Michael W. Smith
This is how I fight my battles, this is how I fight my battles
It might look like I’m surrounded, by I’m surrounded by You
I heard this song when it was released on December 29th. As soon as I heard it, I knew it was exactly what I needed as I was considering the past year and the year to come. The year is almost over. God has done great things. But the trial isn’t over yet; there’s still struggle, there’s still pain. Lifeline is still in bad shape. The church still doesn’t have a pastor. There are a lot of unknowns. It’s easy to still give in to fear, to the feeling of being surrounded – but, as the song reminds me, it might look like I’m surrounded, but I’m surrounded by the Lord. I’m trusting in the unseen work of the Lord and taking each next step the Lord lights along my path.
These are just a few of the songs that God has used in my life over the course of the last year. There are dozens more I could add; there are many great and encouraging songs available to us. I hope that you will discover for yourself the power of making music in your heart for the Lord and discover strength, focus, and hope through the process.
(To listen to these songs, check out my playlist here.)
2017 was tough. I lost my father, my best friend, my pastor, and my boss. My family will never be the same. Our church is faltering. Lifeline is failing. But God has done many beautiful things, as well. He renewed friendships. He provided exactly what we needed it when we needed it; from housing for my mom and me, to money for the ministry, to people to preach at the church. He worked it out for my mom and I to go to Maine for vacation in August. He allowed me to go to Indiana for Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth’s Adorned conference with my dear friend, Ariel. And I met Cameron, who has been an incredible adventure over the last 4 months.
God is not done with my life; for every challenge, there’s grace. For every difficulty, there’s reward. In the midst of brokenness and pain, there’s great beauty. I can’t say I’m sorry to see 2017 go. But I am thankful for it, for in it, I learned the ultimate lessons of surrender. I can’t wait to see what 2018 holds.
In a word: passionate. About Jesus, church, ministry, music, reading, family, friends, and sometimes even iced skinny soy mochas.