Blessed be the name of the Lord?

I think I’m becoming more emotional! I’ve probably shed more tears in the past year than in all the years previous. It doesn’t take much to get me a little choked up and one of the big catalysts is music. At this point I must confess that I’ve become totally addicted to the TV music shows, The Voice and X Factor. Some of the singing has given me goosebumps. Some of the heart-wrenching stories behind the musos have brought tears to my eyes. Let me say, I think it’s good for me. Crying is a helpful pressure release valve, and I find that music sometimes flicks the switch.

Those of you who know me via church, will recognise that I’m not much of a musician. Sometimes I drift off during the singing. Other times I find myself kind of lip-syncing. Very occasionally, I get into a song and belt it out with gusto. Sometimes I find myself stopping to think, what exactly are we singing?

One song that has become something of an anthem in the Christian circles I mix in is Matt Redman’s Blessed be the name of the Lord. With a great band and lots of people singing, it can really get you going. I’ve sung it many times, I enjoy it, and at times I’ve been swept along by it. But until very recently I haven’t stopped to think about what we’re actually singing. I could be wrong, but I suspect that few others have either. This is a shortened version of how it goes:

Blessed Be Your Name
In the land that is plentiful
Where Your streams of abundance flow
Blessed be Your name

Blessed Be Your name
When I’m found in the desert place
Though I walk through the wilderness
Blessed Be Your name

Blessed be Your name
When the sun’s shining down on me
When the world’s ‘all as it should be’
Blessed be Your name

Blessed be Your name
On the road marked with suffering
Though there’s pain in the offering
Blessed be Your name

Every blessing You pour out
I’ll turn back to praise
When the darkness closes in, Lord
Still I will say

Blessed be the name of the Lord
Blessed be Your name
Blessed be the name of the Lord
Blessed be Your glorious name

It’s a song for all seasons. It’s a message of contrasts and extremes. We sing of plenty and abundance, the sun shining and the world being as it should be. But we also sing of the desert and the wilderness, suffering and pain. The refrain says that it doesn’t matter what comes our way, we will bless God’s glorious name. These are bold promises we are singing and I wonder if we sing them with integrity. When everything is cruising along nicely, how often do we stop to thank God for his goodness to us? When our world seems to be falling apart, how easily do we offer praises to God?

A few weeks back I was singing this song with a crowd of others and I found the tears flowing in the final chorus:

You give and take away
You give and take away
My heart will choose to say
Lord, blessed be Your name

We kept singing over and over You give and take away. I felt like I’d been pierced through the heart. God had given and he had taken away… from me! He’d given me my health and and now it was gone. He’d given us the plan of heading to Darwin and brought us right back to Canberra. He’d given me dreams for the future and he’d cut them short. He’d given me life and he’d take it back again. Suddenly, this song hurt. It asked questions, real questions, of me: Will my heart choose to say Lord, blessed be Your name? How will my faith stand up to the challenges of circumstances? Am I a fair-weather believer? Do I simply turn to God because he protects me and shields me? Will I trust him and honour him in my darkest hours?

As I sang these words and contemplated these thoughts I remembered that I’d heard the words and the context before somewhere. They’re taken from the introduction to the Book of Job in the Bible. Job is a bloke who’s experiencing extreme suffering. His livelihood has been completely taken from him and his family have been killed in a catastrophic disaster. This is suffering and pain at the top end of the richter scale. It’s far more than I’ve endured, or ever want to. This isn’t passing and failing tests at school. It’s not struggling with diets or disappointments. It is life and death. It’s God giving and taking away. We may know people who’ve faced such tragedy, but it doesn’t happen often at this level. How will Job respond? Of what value is his faith? Will he acknowledge and turn to God?

This is how he responds after hearing the disastrous news:

20 At this, Job got up and tore his robe and shaved his head. Then he fell to the ground in worship 21 and said:

“Naked I came from my mother’s womb,
and naked I will depart.
The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away;
may the name of the Lord be praised.”

I think Matt Redman’s song is worth singing. But I also reckon we should pause and consider if we can sing it in all honesty. It’s ridiculous to mouth the words as though they’re the latest Christian pop song. They cut to the heart. They lay bare our soul. They point us to the Lord who leads and guides us through the light and the darkness. I pray that God will enable me to honour his name, whatever he gives and whatever he takes away.

And I think I’ve got it easier than Job in another way. Job didn’t know about all that God had planned to give in the future. A future that has now happened. He didn’t understand that God would give his only son, Jesus, so that all who put their trust in him would not perish, but live forever. Once we grasp this, we can know for sure that God gives far far more than he will ever take. Blessed be the name of the Lord.