Updated: Feb 4, 2021
Evangelical Christianity is in an interesting moment right now. It's a group that prides itself on having correct theology, on not being "works-based"--that is, recognizing that salvation is unearned and come through faith alone. However, the crux of the issue is what faith actually is. Many voices in the Church have been warning for quite some time that faith is not simply a mental and verbal assent to a handful of beliefs. As A.W. Tozer said,
"Faith has been made everything and obedience nothing. The result among religious persons is moral weakness, spiritual blindness and a slow but constant drift away from New Testament Christianity. Our Lord made it very plain that spiritual truth cannot be understood until the heart has made a full committal to it."
On top of this, a "personal relationship" with Christ--another hallmark of the Evangelical faith--is possibly another area that may be a bit neglected these days. What are some qualities of what a personal relationship looks like?
emotional connection and intimacy
conversation and dialogue
enjoying one another's company
This same level of connection that we may feel with friends and family is what many in Christian history have described as being part of their relationship with God. A favorite of mine, Teresa of Avila, puts this well:
"Mental prayer in my opinion is nothing else than an intimate sharing between friends; it means taking time frequently to be alone with Him who we know loves us. In order that love be true and the friendship endure, the will of the friends must be in accord."
Intimate sharing, frequent time together, and being in-step with one another--very helpful in painting a picture in what friendship with God looks like. What makes this relationship different, though, is that this friendship is with the Creator of the Universe. Awe and worship is warranted.
Isaiah 12 is a refreshing moment of respite in these early chapters of Isaiah. From start to finish, the chapter focuses on thanksgiving and praise. It's an invitation to just "be" and worship the Lord. Part of this worshipful moment involves a Psalm reference:
Give thanks to the Lord, call on his name; make known his deeds among the nations; proclaim that his name is exalted (Isaiah 12:3, alluding to Psalm 105, which was recited each year on the first day of Passover).
It's a reminder of God's covenantal relationship with Israel, which the celebration of Passover kept fresh in mind. A covenantal relationship is an incredibly deep one, based on mutual promises (think of a marriage covenant). I'm also reminded of God's faithfulness to people today, and am particularly taken with the verses just before this,
Surely God is my salvation; I will trust, and will not be afraid, for the Lord God is my strength and my might; he has become my salvation.
Just prior to blogging today, I caught an Instagram video jokingly showing the differences between first-born, middle, and youngest children (see--I'm not solely focused on ancient and medieval sources!). Here's a fun one on going down the stairs:
We first-borns do often come across as being very put-together, but the dark side of that can be the pressure of self-reliance. I have constantly fought the temptation to do things on my own and to instead see the beauty of working together with others. I think my earnestness for pursing community and collaboration is all the more passionate because it is hard-fought. So, the phrase, "he has become my salvation" jumps out at me because this describes my spiritual life perfectly. I've moved in my life from feeling like I can pretty much handle things myself to God "becoming" my salvation---me recognizing that God is the source of my strength and ability. Like manna from heaven, every gift and fruitful situation I have comes from Him and can't be taken for granted. It's so much less anxiety-provoking to release the pressure to be one's own salvation, for everything to always depend on me. This is likely going to be a continual fight, but I love reminders like Isaiah 12.
The pressure to "do, do, do" can be countered with reminders to just "be," especially when the "be-ing" involves worship and awe, finding moments to stop the press of day-to-day reality and instead reflect on what is really true and awe-inspiring.
Beautifully, nineteenth century preacher Charles Spurgeon had similar thoughts--just much more poetic ones--as he reflected on Isaiah 12:
Try to put a 'Selah' into your life, as David often did in his Psalms. Frequently, he put in a 'Selah,' and then he changed the key directly. In like manner, change the key of your singing; you are a great deal too low...Give us some other key, please, and begin to say with the prophet Isaiah, 'Lord, I will praise Thee...'
"Selah," a Hebrew word that is used 74 times in the Old Testament, is a word that hasn't held up in modern times. That is, we see the word in the text, but scholars aren't entirely sure what it means. Based on the context in which it typically appears (the vast majority in the Psalms), it is likely a musical term, and some possible meanings include:
Stop and listen
A pause, for an "amen"
As a musician, I love having the composer's musical notation in a score. It gives me insight into the original intent of how the music should be played. For my daily life, I need these "Selah's" as well, because my temptation will be to go, go, go continuously. Instead, I should intentionally "try to put a Selah" in, especially when something needs to be changed. In moments of sadness, or feeling overwhelmed, or losing perspective (i.e. will this issue matter at all 5 years from now?), a worshipful pause can be life-changing. I can then say, with Spurgeon and Isaiah, "I will trust and will not be afraid." And, this is faith.