Here is one my my favourite worship songs, and it’s from my favourite Christian artist, Don Francisco. This track is from the 1988 album ‘High Praise‘, in which Don departs from his usual ‘story songs’ and instead presents a series of lovely praise and worship songs.
This song, No Better Place, reflects my heart of worship. There is indeed no better place than to be before His Throne, basking in His Presence and knowing His love. There’s nowhere else I’d rather be.
There is no better place
Than to be here and to look upon Your Face
In Your church or all alone
No better place than to be before Your Throne
God of comfort, Lord of mercy Love that knows no bound I adore you, worship and bow down Worship and bow down
(Song shared here with Don’s kind permission)
Don’s music can be purchased for download or bought as audio CDs on his website, www.donfrancisco.com. There’s also a lot of his music available on YouTube.
There are a few songs that, without fail, transport me straight into the Throne Room of God. My spirit is lifted and my heart sings, my hands raise up and I am filled with gratitude for all that God has done for me. Usually there’s tears as well, so full is my heart with love for my King.
And there are likely a few more that would have this effect on me, should I listen to them. I have so many worship songs in my repertoire that I don’t remember all of them, and one of Jesus’s favourite tricks is to drop songs on me at random and completely out of the Blue that remind me of things He’s done in my life. This song that I present to you today, ‘Your Name’s Above All Names’, is one of those songs, and He dropped it on me a couple of weeks ago. For some reason, this song melts my heart and causes the spirit of worship to bubble up from deep inside. I’ll make some more comments later, but first, here’s the song:
Your Name’s above all names
Your power is above all powers
And Your glory, Your glory fills this place
Your Name’s above all names
Your power is above all powers
And Your glory, Your glory fills this place
And that’s it. Nice and simple, but for some reason utterly, utterly profound. And it’s gorgeous.
It may be that this song’s effect on me has a lot to do with the idea of Jesus* having the ‘Name that is above all names’ (Phil 2:9). In a similar way to how the knowledge that Jesus defeated death removes all fear from life, so too the knowledge that He is the highest authority in the Universe (and that’s what it means when people say things about His Name being above all other names) removes all the fear that things will not work out right in the end, both in the here-and-now and in the hereafter. And this song reminds me of that belief.
I have written on the idea of the Heavenly Perspective before (here and here) and this concept of Him being the ‘highest authority’ goes along with that idea. I have many friends who believe that God is not in control of things on this Earth. I have many friends who believe the opposite, that He is indeed in complete control of every minute detail. I understand about theodicy; the Big Question about why God, if He is all-powerful and all-loving, does not prevent evil. I’m aware of the phenomenal amount of good things that happen, unheralded and unannounced, on a daily basis, between ordinary people in all walks of life, and just from nature in general too. Sunsets, nice food, cool air, single malt whisky, mountains.
I am also aware that life’s Big Questions deserve Big Answers, and that these answers are usually discerned over a lifetime of walking with God and hearing Him explain things to us. Like all of the really Big God Questions, the truth is somewhere in between the two extremes. God is in control, but not necessarily in the ways that we think He should be. The way we frame our questions almost predicates a particular kind of answer, and that answer is not available in any form which would make sense. Instead, the answers to the Big Questions are based more upon a form of trust: trust in the goodness of God and trust in Jesus (Jn 14:1 (NLT) ) and that that trust is something that is learned as we go along. Every time you see God work something amazing in your life; every time you are thankful for something (whether you think He’s been directly responsible for it or not), you lay another little brick in your building of trust.
Over time, it’s not so much that Life’s Big Questions are answered, more that the questions themselves morph and change into a mode that incorporates the known goodness of God that you have seen and felt and experienced in your life. Increasingly, then, the concept of the Name of Jesus being above all other names and being Lord over your circumstances and those of others, becomes a fluid, trusting reality that incorporates your experience, your worship, your life and your very existence into the life of God. And that Life of God is also present within you too, by His Spirit. All in all, then, it’s a win-win for the believer as we learn to live in this mode of awareness of God’s Presence and yet the freedom to influence events in our own lives ourselves too. You can come to no lasting harm, because underneath are the everlasting arms (Dt 33:27), He will never let go of you (Jn 10:28-29), and nothing can separate you from His Love (Rom 8:38-39).
Maybe that sounds like a huge stretch from the idea of Jesus being the Name above all names. But it’s not, not when you think about it anyway. Because if that Name of Jesus is indeed above everything else, and if indeed He’s ‘exalted to the right hand of the Father’ (Acts 2:33), then His Presence in your life simply has to be the greatest thing you can imagine. No wonder St. Paul waxed so lyrical and enthused so thoroughly and comprehensively, in his letters, about the Love of Christ, and the Grace of God that that Love revealed to us. Salvation is more than just a ‘ticket to heaven’. Amazing though Heaven is going to be, the concept of it all being relevant only after we die is cheapening and reducing the Gospel to just effectively life-insurance. As a great preacher friend of mine once said, your salvation is “…not ‘pie in the sky when we die’. It’s meat on a plate while you wait!” It’s here and now – and yes, of course it’s after death as well.
Maybe, then, that’s why the song has the effect on me that it has. Maybe it’s because it brings home to me how huge, how wide-ranging, how magnificent, how permanent** and how complete is the salvation that Jesus has provided for us. As we are ‘in Christ’, everything that is His is ours too (1Jn 4:17). Grasping that marvellous truth is nothing short of life-changing, and indeed we will spend the rest of our earthly lives increasing in our appreciation of just what Jesus has done for us.
Plus, as I said earlier, the song is just gorgeous. From a worship point of view, it doesn’t actually need any theological discussion!
Is it any wonder, then, that this song causes the spirit of worship to rise up within me?
Indeed His name is above all names, and the ramifications of that are huge. Thank You Jesus! Can I encourage you to listen to the song, maybe join in the singing if you like and while you do so, use the song to meditate on the amazing truth of the Name of Jesus being the Name that is above every other name, circumstance, happening, idea and situation, no matter how huge and/or important that thing might be. This is your birthright, it is for you, and it’s for today. Grab it and run with it!
The song is from the Harvestime tape ‘Celebrate’, recorded at Christ for the Nations Institute, Dallas, Texas in 1987. There are mp3 files of all the songs from that album, including this one, on my website VintageWorshipTapes.com.
*Of course, Jesus is simply the Anglicised version of the original name that we also call ‘Joshua’, meaning simply ‘God is my Saviour’ or ‘God saves’ (Mt 1:21). The name can also be rendered as things as exotic-sounding as ‘Yahuwah’, ‘Yeshua’ (to which, of course, the only correct response is ‘Bless you!’) or even ‘Yehoshua’ or ‘Yehushua’ for goodness’ sake. I’m sure some people use these names to make themselves sound more ‘spiritual’, like those people who miss out the ‘o’ in the middle of ‘God’ (so, ‘G_d’). Who cares how it’s spelled when the main thing is the Person that the Name is referring to? It’s really pretentious, if you ask me. Would you believe there are even churches where they insist that people not use the word ‘Jesus’. Call me critical if you like but how bloody silly is that….
**Permanent, in that I firmly believe in ‘once saved, always saved’ because ‘once in Christ, always in Christ’. If you died ‘in Christ’ (Rom 6:8, 2Tim 2:11), then you cannot be ‘un-died’ back ‘into the flesh’ again. Death is a one-way deal. There are those people (mainly legalists, of course) who believe that you can lose your salvation by things you can do. If you are ‘saved’ from drowning by a lifeboat, then that lifeboat sinks, then you have not been ‘saved’. The ‘once saved, NOT always saved’ brigade believe that Jesus is merely a lifeboat, and that we can sink it. Baloney. He’s the Rock, and He doesn’t sink. In any case, as we have seen, salvation is not just about a ‘ticket to Heaven’; it’s far more wide-reaching than that. Praise God, this is good stuff!
As I said in a previous post, my supremely talented daughter Ellie had prereleased her first EP, the four-track album ‘Autumn’.
Recently, the album became available for download on Amazon for the very reasonable price of £2.36, so as her dutiful and very proud Dad I really had to post a link.
If you’re interested in getting hold of a copy of ‘Autumn’, just click the image below to go to its Amazon UK sales page. It will also be available on your own country’s Amazon page. All proceeds go to our local Hospice, Rowcroft Hospice, where Ellie’s Mum was looked after for her last few days on this earth.
Today, it is three years since my love and soul-mate Fiona passed into the Presence of her Lord.
I so miss the feisty, spirited, funny, gentle, talented, generous, gorgeous, wise and above all deeply loving lady that she was.
We have kept her memory very much alive, in so many ways, the chief of which is that we recall the things that she did that were kind, funny and generous, when we are reminded of her by doing those things ourselves. And that’s significant because it means that in a lot of ways we are continuing to be Fiona to ourselves and to others.
We will say things like, ‘Mum would have found that hilarious’, or ‘I think Mum would have done it like this’. And then we laugh about it. And we are sure that ‘that was what Mum would have wanted’ 😀 Because she was that kind of person.
I still dream about her often. I still see little signs of her around the house: pictures, of course, but also little things that she made or set up that had her figurative ‘fingerprints’ all over them. Processes she set in place that we still use. I still see myself doing things that I learned from her, either directly or by ‘absorption’. I still see her attitudes in things I do.
What a privilege! What an intimate, close-up way of remembering a life so precious! So much of what she was to us is still with us…but the house still lacks the light of her presence. The gap she has left is still immense. And yet, I know beyond a shadow of doubt that I will see her again. Even though I may have to wait some decades, and of course I am not ‘wishing my life away’, still I know that she is there ready to welcome me, alongside Jesus, into that glorious Place where she now is. What a day that will be! 😀
On the first anniversary of Fe’s loss, I posted on here a track of my talented daughter Ellie singing the lovely song ‘Fly to Jesus‘. Fe would have been so proud of her. Well this year she would have been even more proud of her, because just a couple of weeks ago, Ellie put on prerelease her first ever EP, Autumn. Ellie has created this EP in the face of a debilitating illness, putting in work on it whenever she has been able, and now the finished product is out there and soon to become available. I am so proud of her and, like I said, I know her Mum would have been too!
The album is due to be released on 9th November, and all profits from sales will be going to Rowcroft Hospice, the place where Fiona was looked after in her final days on this earth. Rowcroft do such incredible work with cancer patients during their illnesses, with their families, and with end-of-life care.
Here is the link, then, to Ellie’s EP album – Autumn, on Amazon (and it’s also available on places like Spotify and iTunes too). And there are preview clips too.
Four songs written and performed by one of the most talented young musicians I have ever known – and that’s not just parental bias, you know! 😉 But yes, again, Fiona would have been so proud of her! Click the album cover graphic below to go to the Amazon UK prerelease page (on 9th November, it will become the sales page):
She has also released one of the songs, 365, later today as a single. If you listen to this, you will need a big box of tissues…
Here’s the YouTube video:
…and it too can be purchased on Amazon, as a single:
Fiona, you would have been sooooo proud of our Ellie! 😀
Edit: I have just looked at the previous post in the series, ‘In So Many Ways…‘. It’s almost identical in content to this one (apart from the plug for Ellie’s EP!). I find that interesting because to me it suggests that what we have left, after losing Fiona, is reasonably constant in its occurrence and its quality. In other words, these little habits I describe in this piece, I also noted in the previous one. So to me that means that our lasting legacy from Fiona is already in place and established. And that’s good news.
On this, the 39th anniversary of my ‘birthday’*, I’m sharing this as a memory of yet another of the supernatural events that happened to me when I was a young believer.
One morning in 1982, I awoke with a song on my heart. It was a bit odd because I couldn’t remember where I’d heard it, but eventually I worked out that it’d been playing a couple of days before, on a tape I’d got; a compilation tape from the Christian youth gossip magazine ‘Buzz’ (they’d never have admitted it, but that’s what it was). The song was ‘We Will Magnify’, by Phil Lawson Johnston.
I played the tape track once, then picked up my guitar and played the song perfectly, along with the tape, and had it learned after only twice through, such is my gifting.
Since I was Director of Music at our new church at the time, I was in a position to introduce the song the very next Sunday, and so I did, and it went an absolute bomb (for those who don’t know the colloquialism, that means it was very popular 😀 ). The song as heard on the original track is a majestic declaration of the glory of God, set in a rich orchestration of sound and performed with beautiful dynamics (that is, it’s done with different emphases, created with different volume levels and breadth of instrumentation) and in heartfelt worship. What a glorious song! And we managed to do it very well on that Sunday.
But unbeknownst to me, it seemed that God had also inspired other worship leaders with that song at more or less the same time, because it became a real hit in Charismatic circles. (No-one ever said (at least, not on my blog) that Evangelical Christians can’t hear the voice of God every now and then 😉 )
And I have loved the song ever since. Not for me the ‘flash in the pan’ style of popularity of worship songs, here one minute and gone the next. No, when these songs build into me the things of God, they become a part of me; a part of what made me the person I am. And so they will always carry meaning for me. This is a song from my formative years as a believer, and it played a great part in demonstrating to me the prophetic nature of my calling as a worship leader. Despite my having moved on, so to speak, from those times and the beliefs I held (actually it’s probably more accurate to say I matured), still those times were what made me who I am today. The foundations of those times are still very much a part of me.
So, as you can imagine, great was my rejoicing when I managed to get hold of a copy of the vinyl record that We WillMagnify was on: the album ‘Hallowed Ground’, recorded by ‘Cloud’, who I think were the worship group at Holy Trinity, Brompton. Here, then, is the track itself, complete with vinyl pops and crackles!
Oh Lord our God, how majestic is Your Name!
The Earth is filled with Your glory
Oh Lord our God, You are robed in majesty
You’ve set Your glory above the heavens
Chorus We will magnify, we will magnify the Lord enthroned in Zion We will magnify, we will magnify the Lord enthroned in Zion
Oh Lord our God, You have established a throne
You reign in righteousness and splendour
Oh Lord our God, the skies are ringing with Your praise
Soon those on Earth will come to worship
Oh Lord our God, the world was made at Your command In You all things now hold together Now to Him Who sits on the throne and to the Lamb Be praise and glory and power forever
Back in 1969, when I was seven years old, the classic war film ‘Battle of Britain‘ was in the cinemas, and in this instalment of ‘Beautiful Destroyers’ I am going to showcase a superb piece of music from that film, which is an excellent example of musical storytelling.
But first, some background.
During the decades immediately following World War II, many films were made about the War. These movies told stories about the whole spectrum of the War, and depicted history – or near-history – from all theaters of the War. Films like ‘Bridge on the River Kwai‘ (1957), based on a true story of Japanese use of slave labour to build the Burma Railway. 633 Squadron (1964), from the book by Frederick E. Smith, its story loosely based on real-life exploits of crews of the incredible DeHavilland Mosquito fighter-bomber, and by which George Lucas was inspired to create his Death Star Trench attack from the final act of the movie Star Wars: A New Hope. And, of course, The Dam Busters (1955), telling the true story of the legendary 617 Squadron* and their attack on the Ruhr dams on the night of 16/17 May, 1943, using the ‘Upkeep’ mine, also known as the ‘bouncing bomb’.
This is the raid that I often simulate in my personal light aircraft flying adventures, albeit in daylight and a lot higher up than the 100ft height that 617 Sqn flew the attack at. Because they flew at 100ft in the dark. Amazing flying. And the ‘bouncing bomb’ alone weighed like five times the total weight of my Tomahawk aeroplane 😉 And of course there’s the unforgettable and iconic film The Great Escape (1963), depicting, reasonably accurately, the true story of the escape of 70 prisoners of war from the German prison camp Stalag Luft III at Zagan in Poland. Even today, the main theme tune from that film – composed by Elmer Bernstein – is sung by football crowds all across the UK during matches, and has been essentially immortalised. Such is the power of film music.
Anyway, as a young boy I was absolutely fascinated by Battle of Britain, and indeed all the war films of the time. Since my Dad is ex-RAF, and I have a deep interest in military history, and a passion for aviation in general, this is no doubt largely why I have had a lifelong interest in military aviation in all its forms. We always looked forward to Christmas because there would always be some decent war films on the telly.
But the thing about Battle of Britain that I wanted to write about is the way that the climactic battle is done almost entirely to music. In fact, the music tells the story, and it could in fact be thought of as ‘musical storytelling’. The genius of this music – a piece called ‘Battle in the Air‘ by Sir William Walton – is that it captures perfectly the desperate and fraught feel of aerial combat. The breathtaking fear, the extreme danger, the racing, speeding, swirling and chaotic nature of aerial combat; the rapidly manoeuvring fighters and the rattle of their machine guns and cannon. The menace of the German armed forces and the threat of the invasion they were planning. The triumphs, the terror and the tragedy. It’s all there.
What I’m going to do is to let you hear the piece of music first, and then give you a clip from the film itself where the music is actually used. Get a feel for the music and the story it is telling, and then see if it matches up with what you see in the film clip.
This part of the film is narrated almost entirely by the music. Once the music starts, there is very little engine noise, gunfire or anything else, just the occasional bit of monologue from a couple of the actors, and that rarely. The visuals and the music tell the entire story, and it is sheer genius.
September 15th, 1940, the day depicted by the clip, was the height of the Battle of Britain. In the two months leading up to this day, and on the day itself, (which is nowadays celebrated as ‘Battle of Britain Day’), the course of the War in Europe was decided. The hitherto unstoppable Luftwaffe – the German air force – had been defeated for the first time. As a result of this, not long after this day, Hitler decided to ‘postpone indefinitely’ his planned invasion of Britain.
The evocative picture below shows condensation trails (contrails) generated by aircraft operating at extremely high altitudes, fighting over London during the Battle of Britain in the summer of 1940. Yes, that’s Elizabeth Tower, colloquially known as ‘Big Ben’, although that’s actually the name of the bell in the tower, not the tower itself.
“Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed, by so many, to so few”. – Winston Churchill, 20th August 1940
As an additional observation, I’d say that classical music, played by a full orchestra, is generally neither liked nor understood by the general populace. It’s seen as old and stuffy. But in the world of cinema, just about all of cinema music is essentially classical, and is almost always full orchestra stuff. Back in the 70’s and 80’s, there were some forays into synthesiser music – for example Vangelis’s soundtrack to the film Chariots of Fire (1981), and the soundtracks to many science fiction films of the time, such as Dark Star – but these nowadays come across as pretty cheesy, especially the science fiction soundtracks (Chariots of Fire wasn’t too bad in my opinion; for once the synth stuff actually worked). In short, there’s nothing like a full orchestra for a cinematic score.
And the work of the legendary composer John Williams is, in my opinion, some of the finest music ever written, not just in the field of film score music. His work on so many films – Star Wars, Superman, Harry Potter, E.T., – is unsurpassed, and so is his genius.
Yes, music tells the story, usually as part of the screenplay, and usually very well. But today I just wanted to showcases the sheer genius of Battle in the Air, and how it tells the story with very few words and no sound effects audible. I hope you have enjoyed it!
*I’d like to tell a funny and interesting, if somewhat politically-incorrect, story about that film. The RAF officer who led the Dams raid was WgCdr Guy Gibson, and he had a black Labrador dog called ‘Nigger’. It’s an historical fact; deal with it.
As part of the operational planning for the Dams raid, the code word for the destruction of the Möhne dam was the word ‘Nigger’, to be transmitted in Morse code by the wireless operators in the Lancaster bombers taking part in the raid once the dam had been breached. Controversially, because of the somewhat sensitive nature of the dog’s name, some modern TV versions of the film were censored/edited to either blank out Nigger’s name entirely, or replace it with a more ‘acceptable’ name. I hate political correctness, and although I would not go out of my way to offend people, that was the dog’s name, and I am one of those people who thinks that history should be left alone and unchanged, no matter how ‘unacceptable’ something may be deemed to be in these present times.
But what’s funny is this.
Let’s say the dog’s name was redacted to ‘Blackie’. When the Möhne dam is breached in the film, the wireless operators back at base hear the Morse transmission coming in and proclaim joyously, “Blackie! It’s Blackie, sir!” and there are handshakes all around because the job’s a good ‘un and the dam has been breached. Except it’s not ‘Blackie’. Those who can read Morse (and I can) can hear clearly that the Morse message is in fact the original ‘Nigger’, just as it should be. ( _. .. _ _. _ _. . ._. )
These censors are incorrectly assuming that no-one these days knows Morse, a point that, should I be so inclined, I could also get as equally offended about as do those who don’t like the dog’s name. But I don’t get offended…I learned Morse as part of qualifying as a Radio Amateur in 1985 and, although Morse is no longer required as part of the Amateur licence, I still know it and can read and send it proficiently. I also find it very useful when flying at night, as the radio navigation aids I use are identified by a Morse callsign, albeit using a much slower Morse than I am used to reading.
But still, I think the story is funny. A story where politically-correct censors try to find an offence that doesn’t really exist, and thereby create other insults into the bargain. History is best left alone!
Tragically, Nigger was killed by a hit-and-run driver just outside the station gate at RAF Scampton, the Dambusters’ base, on the evening of the raid, not long before the Lancasters set off on their mission. WgCdr Gibson’s wish was that Nigger be buried at midnight that same evening, and this was done while Gibson’s and the other crews were actually carrying out the attacks on the Dams.
Here’s a picture of Nigger’s grave:
…and its position next to one of the hangars at RAF Scampton:
Although at the moment I don’t always feel the burning Presence of God all the time like I usually can, He still gently reminds me – every so often – that He’s still there and still holding my hand.
I think of these reminders as oases of light in the dark valley. Or like pools of lamplight on a dark street, like in the header picture, which I think depicts the concept beautifully.
There are two recent examples in particular which stand out for me.
A couple of mornings ago, I woke up having just been in a dream in which I had been singing the chorus of the Don Francisco song, ‘The Power‘, with my hands lifted high in praise and gratitude. Singing the words, “Praise You, Jesus, for Your Holy Spirit!”
In the dream, I knew that the song was just as real to me as it has always been, Dark Night notwithstanding. The dream, and the song within it, served to remind me of my deep knowledge that the Spirit of God lives within me, and that She is the guarantee of my inheritance in the Kingdom, both in the here and now, and in the hereafter too (2Cor 1:22, Eph 1:14). And I could indeed feel the ‘flood of joy’ that Don describes in his song. Ok, it was ‘just a dream’, but it was a dream that I needed and a dream that bore fruit. I have absolutely no doubt that it was from the Lord.
And then today a box of old worship tapes arrived, from a very kind lady who had contacted me through my website ‘Vintage Worship Tapes‘, with a view to donating some tapes to the ‘ministry’. In the box was a copy of the tape ‘Thank You Lord’, by David J Hadden, whose work I have featured on my blog before. The title track, unsurprisingly called ‘Thank You, Lord‘, I have known for about thirty years, but only today have I heard David’s own version of it. I’ve even previously shared the words for the song, but been unable to publish the audio track until now – because, of course, I didn’t have it! – but today I have made an mp3 track of the song and I share it with you below, along with the lyrics. But the thing is that the song has lifted me up again, on the back of the Don Francisco song and now this David Hadden song, and once again the joy is there and it’s real.
I don’t know if this is the end of the Dark Night or not; certainly it doesn’t feel as decisive as the last time I ’emerged’, five years ago, in February 2014. Here’s what I wrote on that day:
“What a morning. First time voluntarily in a church for fifteen years, and getting thoroughly zapped by God: weeping, laughing, complete acceptance, forgiveness. Wow, wow, wow! Going again tonight hehe 😉 “
It’s not like that this time! But then I appreciate that each time is going to be different. That said, I don’t feel like everything is sorted yet anyway, so we’ll wait and see. But for those of my readers going through a Dark Night of your own, and for those who simply wanted to get my perspective from within the valley, I thought I would post this today so that you have the information. I think it’s quite fascinating and in some ways this writing of these experiences here on my blog is enabling me to observe what is happening with a more analytical eye. And I trust that many of you are finding it useful. You see, there are oases of light in the dark valley, and God will lead you to them.
Anyhow, here’s David’s song, ‘Thank You, Lord‘, shared here with his gracious permission:
When I consider all you mean to me My heart responds in worship The songs you’ve given me, O Lord to sing They’re songs of worship They’re songs of praise They’re songs of gratitude
Thank you Lord Thank you Lord Thank you from the bottom of my heart Thank you Lord Thank you Lord Thank you from the bottom of my heart
You mean so much to me my God and King My heart is full of worship I long to bless you and to build a throne Through my songs of worship Through my songs of praise Through my songs of gratitude
Thank you Lord……….
Great is the Lord and worthy of your praise His name endures for ever People of Zion come and sing your songs Sing your songs of worship Sing your songs of praise Sing your songs of gratitude
Thank you Lord……….
(Words and music copyright David J. Hadden, 1985, used here with his kind permission)*.
Even as I Iisten to this song right now, it’s moving me to tears of gratitude, and to grateful worship, and to raising my hands in thanksgiving. I am just so grateful to Father for what He’s doing with me at this time.
And I am so especially grateful for these oases of light.
Thank You Lord, indeed 😀
Peace and Grace to you
*David is the lead vocalist on the track, and he’s also playing the keyboards and piano.
Here’s another magnificent song from Terry MacAlmon, In the Presence of Jehovah, by Becky and Geron Davis.
Terry is just so talented on the piano, and this piece showcases this skill to excellent effect. And this song speaks of the healing that is to be found in the Presence of God. As you listen to this lovely music, just let your heart be lifted up by the Holy Spirit, and let Her minister healing to your innermost being.
While much of the recording is instrumental, I have also included the lyrics for the verses too.
In and out of situations, That tug-of-war at me All day long I struggle For answers that I need But then I come into Your presence, And all my questions become clear And for this sacred moment, No doubts can interfere
In the presence of Jehovah, God Almighty, Prince of Peace Troubles vanish, hearts are mended, In the presence of The King
Through His love the Lord provided, A place for us to rest A place to find the answers, In the hour of distress Now there’s never any reason, For you to give up in despair Just slip away and breathe His name, For He will surely meet you there
In the presence of Jehovah, God Almighty, Prince of Peace Troubles vanish, hearts are mended, In the presence of The King
Let your heart be lifted and your spirit refreshed. Feel the Presence of God right there with you.
I thought I would present things slightly differently in this instalment of the series on the Stages of Spiritual Growth. Today, I’m going to present the ideas partly as personal testimony, and partly as a song: the beautiful ‘Where My Heart Will Take Me’, also known as ‘Faith of the Heart‘, from the TV series Star Trek – Enterprise. You’ll hopefully understand the reasoning behind this by the time we get there. And rather than disrupt the narrative flow of this article, I will place the more technical stuff at the end of the article, as an Appendix*.
First, let’s recap.
In the last episode of this series, I talked about ‘The Wall’, the ‘Dark Night of the Soul’, the ‘Individuative – Reflective’ Stage (Stage 4) of Fowler’s Stages of Faith. In this Stage, a person realises that they have been in a spiritual ‘box’ and they find that the box is too small. And so the distinguishing mark of Stage 4 is that the believer is breaking free of all (or most) of the previous strictures under which they lived their spiritual life. It may be that they are realising that the paths of Grace and the open plains of the believer’s walk are so much huger, broader, wider and free, than they had previously believed while in their ‘box’.
Because I have recently (well, four years ago) come out of a ‘Dark Night’, much of what I write below is stuff that I can personally testify to; things I have personally experienced. But please remember that your own personal spiritual walk will not look like mine; we all have our own walk to experience for ourselves. Think of it as an example of what things can look like.
People who pass through Stage 4 and into Stage 5 – what Fowler calls ‘Conjunctive Faith’ – I believe, are the people who discover the true freedom in Christ that is spoken about so much but so rarely practised. Or, alternatively, if they are in the right kind of environment, they can go straight into Stage 5, and this does happen. Let’s say, for example, that there was no problematic doctrine, no religious straitjacket in a person’s life, then that person has very little to be set free from in terms of toxic spirituality. This might occur if someone has been brought up in an atmosphere of Grace instead of Legalism, or someone who comes to know the Lord later in life and has a clean slate which the Lord can write on. Having said that, just about everyone has some sort of ‘toxic’ baggage about faith which needs to be dropped at some stage – but only when the Lord feels you are ready to do so. (You can’t rush this stuff). And that’s what is known as ‘repentance – changing your mind about things. In this way, the way of faith is a continual walk of repentance, because we are constantly being taught new things by the Spirit of God in our hearts, and changing our minds, our thought patterns, to conform to what She teaches us.
Anyway, in Stage 5, we are free to pick and choose; accept and disregard, ideas, doctrine, advice, comment or admonishment from others, or indeed from any source. That’s not to say that we don’t discuss things with others, or that we don’t let ourselves be influenced by others’ ideas or opinions; far from it! We accept and take in the good stuff from others, while gently leaving behind those things we find unhelpful. In short, we can make up our own minds, think for ourselves, stand on our own two feet…and we are free to follow Jesus where He leads and to listen to His teaching without the constraints of others’ opinions. This sounds very much as if the believer is approaching something that looks like like spiritual maturity, doesn’t it? 😀 And this is really what I am talking about today.
And there is also the freedom that comes with this responsibility of thinking for ourselves. We as adults are now free to make our own choices: what we will eat tonight; what we will wear; whom we will hang out with; what we spend our time doing. In a similar way, a person in Stage 5 has developed the ability to accept the responsibility for his or her own beliefs, and is not bound by others’ opinions – or, at least, they are learning not to be so bound – and they can increasingly make their own choices. Do you go to the cinema? Yes, if you want to, you go. Do I listen to rock music? Yes, if you like it anyway. (I do). The person is free not only to make their own choices, but also to choose to live life in the Spirit. There is no need to worry about ‘straying into sin’ if a person is led by the Spirit. Freedom is only freedom when a person has a choice; if there is no choice, then there is no freedom. In fact, I would say that it is a logical progression from this that unless a person is free from living under Law, it’s actually not possible to live in the Spirit. Only once a person is free from the shackles, restrictions and indeed decisionsof following the Law, are they fully free to live life in the Spirit. So if in the past a believer was constrained by a set of ‘Rules of Expected Behaviour’, they have come through the (sometimes chaotic) Dark Night of Stage 4, and now they are in the process of learning how to live in that freedom that they have now they realise they have a choice.
And this is Stage 5. You can see that the person really has not ‘arrived’ at any kind of final stage of spiritual maturity despite me calling it the Stage of Spiritual Maturity – it’s more a stage of learning how to use that maturity and growing in it. Indeed, if someone thinks they have ‘arrived’, it’s a sure sign they have not!
Anyhow, have a listen to this song – ‘Where My Heart Will Take Me’, written by Diane Warren and performed here by Russell Watson:
Where My Heart Will Take Me
It’s been a long road Getting from there to here It’s been a long time But my time is finally near And I can feel the change in the wind right now Nothing’s in my way And they’re not gonna hold me down no more No, they’re not gonna hold me down
‘Cause I’ve got faith of the heart I’m going where my heart will take me I’ve got faith to believe I can do anything I’ve got strength of the soul And no one’s gonna bend or break me I can reach any star I’ve got faith I’ve got faith, faith of the heart
It’s been a long night Trying to find my way Been through the darkness Now I finally have my day And I will see my dream come alive at last I will touch the sky And they’re not gonna hold me down no more No, they’re not gonna change my mind
‘Cause I’ve got faith of the heart I’m going where my heart will take me I’ve got faith to believe I can do anything I’ve got strength of the soul And no one’s gonna bend or break me I can reach any star I’ve got faith, faith of the heart
I’ve known a wind so cold, and seen the darkest days But now the winds I feel, are only winds of change I’ve been through the fire and I’ve been through the rains But I’ve been fine
‘Cause I’ve got faith of the heart I’m going where my heart will take me I’ve got faith to believe I can do anything I’ve got strength of the soul And no one’s gonna bend or break me I can reach any star
‘Cause I’ve got faith of the heart I’m going where my heart will take me I’ve got strength of the soul No one’s gonna bend or break me I can reach any star I’ve got faith I’ve got faith, faith of the heart It’s been a long road
This is the Stage of Faith where your heart is allowed to find its true expression, unshackled by Law, dogma and doctrinal strictures and limitations. You are free to be what you want to be, but, and here’s the beautiful irony, only because of what you have been through ‘before’, what you have built on that, and you’ve then put in its proper place. This is a position of faith where your wisdom has been learned through experience, both bitter and sweet, at the feet of the Master; sometimes consciously, sometimes not. And it is a living, dynamic faith, not a staid and static faith.
Because this faith enables us to respect others’ faith viewpoints as being valid for their holders at their stage in their spiritual walk; without seeing their ‘different’ beliefs as a threat to our own, because we are secure in our own faith, we actually appear more tolerant – because we are – and because our faith is stronger than ever; and not at the expense of pulling down someone else’s belief system. Because we have found that the freedom to question our own beliefs, without feeling lost or ‘unsaved’, also enables us to recognise that others’ faith can be different from ours because we have already questioned our own beliefs and are secure in why we believe what we do, because we have worked them out for ourselves. Our faith is therefore not under threat by people with a different faith. If you like, “The power of your own salvation does not depend on someone else’s faith being ‘wrong’”. And this isn’t to say that our beliefs can’t change; they can and they will. But the core Relationship with Jesus is the solidity that keeps us standing in the faith – whatever stage of our walk we are at.
In this Stage, it’s almost as if you are looking in at the Church from the outside, while all the time still being a part of it. You can see where all the tenets and beliefs come from; you can see the sources of the fears and problems. And all this is because your thoughts have been set free to hear the voice of the Spirit. Some might consider this a state of ‘enlightenment’; maybe it is, but the thing is that having had the blinkers removed by the detoxifying effect of Stage 4 (the ‘Dark Night’), you feel as if you can see it all so clearly. Paradoxically, you develop a childlike innocence and lightness of spirit, not weighed down by the constraints of Religion and those of its adherents, but the freedom to go, live, and be who you were always meant to be.
What to do with that knowledge, though, does require wisdom. One needs especially to avoid all kinds of being ‘puffed up’ by one’s own ‘spirituality’. As hinted at above, the spiritual maturity of a believer in this Stage is, usually by necessity, built on the Stages that preceded it. You need to know where you came from in order to have a firm foundation to know where you are going. And, for this reason, it is not good to disrespect those Stages you have come through, nor those who are still in those Stages, but to recognise their value in teaching you both the good and the bad in the Christian walk. But also don’t ever feel that you have to go back to that state of being. Because once you have tasted of the freedom of the Children of God, there is no going back, because the former things will likely look like a cage. You will never want to have your freedom taken away again, even though people may well try to steal your peace, kill your joy, and destroy your freedom (Jn 10:10). This is your freedom; no-one else’s, and it will not look like someone else’s freedom either, because we are all different and we were made that way.
Because of this, don’t follow someone else’s plan for your life; follow God’s plan. He speaks to your heart, so follow your heart. The answer to the question ‘What does God want me to do with my life’ is not found in the pages of the Bible, nor, in my experience, is it found in well-meaning ‘prophecies’ from people supposedly giving ‘direction’. It’s found in your own desires, your own personal longings for the things that God also wants.
Let God take the lid off your spirituality. Decide to go where your heart will take you. If it means a ‘dark night’, so be it. Don’t let them hold you down any more. Maybe its been a long road for you; maybe you’ve known a spiritual wind so cold and seen the darkest of days. But the winds of change are not here to bend or break you, they are here to give you a heart-based faith that you can indeed do anything, through Christ, Who strengthens you (Phil 4:13).
How can I put this any more effectively than this? Listen to the song again; be inspired by it, take it in and make it yours. Remember how I once said that some of the finest worship songs are actually secular ones? This one is no different. This is a song of the Spirit, it’s for you, and it’s for today.
This is freedom!
*Appendix: Fowler and Peck
Here are the more formal descriptions of this Stage from our old friends Fowler and Peck, as promised. It’s quite ‘heavy’, but it may increase your understanding a little.
In this table, we can see that Peck combines Fowler’s Stages 5 and 6 into one Stage IV. We will come on to this in a later instalment. For now, let’s take both Fowler’s and Peck’s table entries here together, because they do complement each other nicely.
“It is rare for people to reach this stage before mid-life. This is the point when people begin to realize the limits of logic and start to accept the paradoxes in life. They begin to see life as a mystery and often return to sacred stories and symbols but this time without being stuck in a theological box.”
Here is Fowler’s ‘formal’ definition:
Restless with the self-images and outlook maintained by Stage 4, the person ready for transition finds him- or herself attending to what may feel like anarchic and disturbing inner voices. Elements from a childish past, images and energies from a deeper self, a gnawing sense of the sterility and flatness of the meanings one serves – any or all of these may signal readiness for something new.
Stories, symbols, myths and paradoxes from one’s own or other traditions may insist on breaking in upon the neatness of the previous faith. Disillusionment with one’s compromises and recognition that life is more complex than Stage 4’s logic of clear distinctions and abstract concepts can comprehend, press one toward a more dialectical and multileveled approach to life truth.
Stage 5 Conjunctive faith involves the integration into self and outlook of much that was suppressed or unrecognized in the interest of Stage 4’s self-certainty and conscious cognitive and affective adaptation to reality. This stage develops a “second naiveté” in which symbolic power is reunited with conceptual meanings. Here there must also be a new reclaiming and reworking of one’s past. There must be an opening to the voices of one’s “deeper self.” Importantly, this involves a critical recognition of one’s social unconscious-the myths, ideal images and prejudices built deeply into the self-system by virtue of one’s nurture within a particular social class, religious tradition, ethnic group or the like.
Unusual before mid-life, Stage 5 knows the sacrament of defeat and the reality of irrevocable commitments and acts. What the previous stage struggled to clarify, in terms of the boundaries of self and outlook, this stage now makes porous and permeable.
Alive to paradox and the truth in apparent contradictions, this stage strives to unify opposites in mind and experience. It generates and maintains vulnerability to the strange truths of those who are “other.” Ready for closeness to that which is different and threatening to self and outlook (including new depths of experience in spirituality and religious revelation), this stage’s commitment to justice is freed from the confines of tribe, class, religious community or nation. And with the seriousness that can arise when life is more than half over, this stage is ready to spend and be spent for the cause of conserving and cultivating the possibility of others’ generating identity and meaning.
The new strength of this stage comes in the rise of the ironic imagination-a capacity to see and be in one’s or one’s group’s most powerful meanings, while simultaneously recognizing that they are relative, partial and inevitably distorting apprehensions of transcendent reality. Its danger lies in the direction of a paralyzing passivity or inaction, giving rise to complacency or cynical withdrawal, due to its paradoxical understanding of truth.
Stage 5 can appreciate symbols, myths and rituals (its own and others’) because it has been grasped, in some measure, by the depth of reality to which they refer. It also sees the divisions of the human family vividly because it has been apprehended by the possibility (and imperative) of an inclusive community of being.
But this stage remains divided. It lives and acts between an untransformed world and a transforming vision and loyalties. In some few cases this division yields to the call of the radical actualization that we call Stage 6. 
“People who reach this stage start to realize that there is truth to be found in both the previous two stages and that life can be paradoxical and full of mystery. Emphasis is placed more on community than on individual concerns.”
Peck’s ‘Stage IV: Mystic, communal’ is also fleshed out by Margaret Placentra Johnston thus:
“According to Peck, Stage IV of spiritual growth arises when the seeker in Stage III keeps seeking. They keep finding more pieces to the puzzle and the “larger and more magnificent the puzzle becomes.”
“Thus the person in Stage IV grows to value the beauty of the mystery of our existence over the definitive answers provided by the traditional church. They speak of unity and connectedness and are not into magnifying the differences that divide us. Peck’s StageIV of spiritual growth is roughly equivalent to the “Mystic” stage [as described on her website].” 
Peck is also paraphrased by Schwartz:
“Stage IV: Mystic, communal. Out of love and commitment to the whole, using their ability to transcend their backgrounds, culture and limitations with all others, reaching toward the notion of world community and the possibility of either transcending culture or — depending on which way you want to use the words — belonging to a planetary culture. They are religious, not looking for clear cut, proto type answers, but desiring to enter into the mystery of uncertainty, living in the unknown. The Christian mystic, as with all other mystics, Sufi and Zen alike, through contemplation, meditation, reflection and prayer, see the Christ, Gods indwelling Spirit or the Buddha nature, in all people, including all the Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims, Jews and so forth, recognizing the connectedness of all humanity with God, never separating oneself from others with doctrine and scripture, recognizing that all scripture acts as fallible pointers of inspiration, unable to capture the essence of truth outside of both human perception and the linguistic straight jacket of language and articulation, that is, the words of fallible men who experienced the nature of God, that of their inner true self, and attempted to record their experience in human words, words constrained by the era of time they were written in that became compromised the moment they were penned and are further removed from objectivity when interpreted by us, fallible men and women who read them.
“It is as if the words of each had two different translations. In the Christian example: “Jesus is my savior,” Stage II often translates this into a Jesus who is a kind of fairy godmother who will rescue us whenever we get in trouble as long as we remember to call upon his name. At Stage IV, “Jesus is my savior” is translated as “Jesus, through his life and death, taught the way, not through virgin births, cosmic ascensions, walking on water and blood sacrifice of reconciliation – man with an external daddy Warbucks that lives in the sky – mythological stories interpreted as literal accounts, but rather as one loving the whole, the outcasts, overcoming prejudices, incorporating inclusiveness and unconditional love, this, with the courage to be as oneself – that is what I must follow for my salvation.” Two totally different meanings.
“The Stage IV – the mystic – views the conception of “back sliding” as the movement away from the collective consciousness and true inner nature, returning to the separate self – the ego, as opposed to the Stage II – the fundamentalist, whose conception of “back sliding,” is the movement away from mapped out security to that of chaos. Two totally different views.” 
References quoted in this article:
James W. Fowler, “Stages of Faith – the Psychology of Human Development and the Quest for Meaning” – Harper San Francisco, a division of HarperCollins Publishers, 1995, p. 183, 197-8
It’s been a while since I’ve shared a Terry MacAlmon worship song, so let’s put that right straight away, shall we?
Here’s a lovely number from Terry’s album ‘Visit Us‘. The song is called ‘Spirit Of The Lord’, and is very simple to sing. I’ll put the song up first and the lyrics, and then make a few observations on it.
Spirit of the Lord, fall on me And fill me with Your glory Spirit of the Lord, set me free And fill me with Your glory
Terry MacAlmon is not only a talented and anointed worship leader, but he’s probably the best worship pianist I have ever heard. His style is flexible and varied, resembling a cross between a classical concert pianist style and a lounge music style. But the technical aspect which many will not notice – because he does it so masterfully – is the accompaniment style, which Terry’s songs work particularly well with. What do I mean by this? Well, if you listen closely, you’ll hear that when people are singing, he keeps the piano simple, but in between each line of the lyrics, he carries the music along and leads the congregation into the next line with a musical (piano) flourish, bridge or interlude – even though it’s only a couple of seconds long. So, for example, ‘Spirit of the Lord, set me free’ – (di-da-dumm – di di) – ‘and fill me with Your glory’. I hope that makes sense; if not, listen to it again and pay particular attention to the music when people are not singing the lyrics; where the lines of the lyrics are linked together by music. That’s what I’m talking about, and that’s showcasing the real talent of accompanying people in their singing – it’s providing a strong rhythm and key lead so that the people feel confident to sing out and that they won’t be left ‘hanging’ or – the opposite – come in too early. Worship leading is not just about hearing the Spirit directing what She wants you to play, say or do next – or indeed not play, say or do – but it’s about making sure that the people in the congregation feel as confident and secure as possible in their singing. Believe it or not, many people find it hard to sing in public, and having a skilled accompanist on the lead instrument makes a huge positive difference to their worship experience.
What I particularly love about this track is Terry’s imaginative use of the piano during the accompaniment ‘links’. The musical phrases he uses – yes, they really are called ‘phrases’! – are varied and uplifting, and in fact I think this is one of his best tracks yet for showcasing this talent that he has.