Worship in Winters of the Soul

Posted by Naomi Vacaro on

Three Ways Singing Draws Us Into the Warmth of God's Presence

By: Caroline Cobb

As a native Texan, I have not lived through many real winters: snow blanketing the landscape in white, darkness setting in before dinner is even on the table, and cold days stretching on for months and months. But, like many others, I have lived through “winters of the soul.” I have walked through seasons of melancholy when I felt depressed and dreary, a shadow of sadness making me ache for brighter, sunlit days. I’ve experienced seasons of grief where death seemed to win; when I wondered if life would ever spring up green again from bare branches. At times, feeling distracted, “too busy,” or just plain self-absorbed, I have wandered away from the warm hearth of God’s presence, only to wake up numb and cold toward His words and ways.

In these winters of the soul, I have found the act of worship brings light and heat. Worship lifts my gaze from the shadows, re-kindles my affection for God in heart, mind, soul, and body, and anticipates the springtime joy of heaven itself. And, for me, worship through singing has a particularly warming effect.   

Why Worship Through Song?

The word for “worship” comes from the Old English word “worth-ship.” Simply put, when we worship we ascribe worth to someone or something. Christian worship is an all-of-life response to the glorious character of the Father and the good news of the Son, through the transforming power of the Holy Spirit. With this definition in mind, we know worship is far more than just singing; we can ascribe worth to God in every aspect of our lives! And yet, again and again, the Bible prescribes music and singing as one of the primary means of engaging in worship. 

See Miriam praising God through music at the far side of the Red Sea, David writing psalm after psalm for God’s people, Paul and Silas lifting their voices in prison, and Jesus singing with his disciples at the Last Supper. Hear the apostle Paul encourage the early church: “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.” (Colossians 3:16, ESV) 

God’s Word seems to say that worship through song is both good (i.e. a right and fitting response to God’s glory) and good for us. Even when we do not feel like singing or our faith feels cold, expressing our prayers and praises through music is a gracious invitation as well as a command. It is also an act as simple as drawing near a warm fire on a cold winter night. Why wouldn’t we?  

We Sing to Lift Our Gaze and Behold God

A few years ago, I felt burned out, angsty about doing music as my vocation and overshadowed with melancholy. I grew so focused on figuring out why I felt the way that I did, that I began to navel-gaze without realizing it. Months into this particular winter of the soul, I found myself singing songs of worship alongside thousands of other women at a conference. The words and music lifted my eyes from my navel-gazing and helped me gaze at the beauty of God instead. No amount of self-reflection or wrestling had helped. But singing those God-exalting songs re-anchored me to a rock-solid gospel and re-oriented me to the reality of God’s glory. 

Worship does not necessarily answer all our questions or solve all our problems, but it does put them into the right perspective, re-framing them in light of God and eternity. And over time, it can change us. As Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 3:18, “And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another.(ESV) Worship through song helps us behold Him, and beholding Him transforms us.   

We Sing to Kindle Our Affection

In the 1700’s Jonathan Edwards wrote, “The duty of singing praises to God seems to be given wholly to excite and express religious affections. There is no other reason why we should express ourselves to God in verse rather than in prose… except that these things have a tendency to move our affections” (A Treatise concerning Religious Affections, 1746, part 1, section 2, point 9).

More recently, Andy Crouch wrote “singing may be the one human activity that most perfectly combines heart, mind, soul and strength… When we sing in worship, our minds are engaged with the text and what it says about us and God, our hearts are moved and express a range of emotions, our bodily strength is required, and – if we sing with soul – we reach down into the depths of our beings to do justice to the joy and heartbreak of human life” (The Tech-Wise Family, 2017, p. 191). While we should not think of music as a magic bullet, it is certainly something God has designed to warm our hearts, minds, and wills to God’s presence and ways. 

Even when we do not feel like singing, even when our vocal skill falls far short of American Idol, we sing to put ourselves in a place where God can kindle a deeper, more fervent love for Him. A love marked not by mere emotionalism, but manifesting itself in heart, mind, soul, and strength (Luke 10:27, Deut. 6:5). Singing in our winter seasons is an act of faith. We believe it does something to us, whether we feel it right away or not. When we worship through music, we gather the kindling and stoke the low-burning embers, trusting God will fan them into flame in His time.

We Sing to Anticipate the “Springtime” of Heaven

In Chronicles of Narnia, C.S. Lewis writes of a long, hopeless winter brought about by the White Witch’s evil reign. ‘“It’s winter in Narnia,” says Mr. Tumnus, “and has been for ever so long… Always winter and never Christmas” (The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, 1978, p. 12, 19). Even still, many Narnians hold onto a great hope; they are anticipating the return of Aslan: 

Wrong will be right, when Aslan comes in sight
At the sound of his roar, sorrows will be no more
When he bares his teeth, winter meets its death
And when he shakes his mane, we shall have spring again. (p. 79)

Worship helps us look back at what Jesus has done and look up at the glory of God. But it also reminds us to look forward. One day, Jesus will return to wipe away our tears and break the curse of sin and death (Revelation 21:3-5). On that day, our winter will be swallowed up into what hymn writer William How calls a “bright awakening… a never-fading Spring.” (“Winter Reigneth Over the Land,” 1918). When we worship God, we are stoking our anticipation for His return. 

We do not go too far when we say that worship is a rehearsal for heaven. In the new heavens and new earth, saints from every tribe and tongue will raise their voices in worship, crying “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” and “To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!” (Revelation 5:13, 7:12; ESV) When we worship alongside our church family, we are getting a taste of heaven. We are rehearsing for eternity.

In Your Winter of the Soul, Sing

Our winters of the soul, even if they follow us all the way to death, are no match for the blazing fire of the Living God. Today, if your heart is cold to Him, take up a song as an act of faith. Today, if you find yourself weighed down by winter’s long, cold darkness, heed his invitation to lift your gaze and come near to the hearth in worship. Obey his command to sing, knowing it is both good and good for you. Let the simple act of worship warm you to Him, in His time and for His glory. 

 

Singer-songwriter Caroline Cobb is passionate about telling God’s Story through music, helping you rehearse and respond as you listen. Her newest album, Psalms: The Poetry of Prayer, builds on previous Story-telling projects A King & His Kindness (2021), A Seed, A Sunrise (2020), The Blood + The Breath (2013), and A Home & A Hunger (2017), the latter being named among The Gospel Coalition’s “Best Albums of the 2010’s.” Caroline lives in Dallas with her husband, Nick, and three children.

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