Celebrating Life--A Time of Healing and Thanksgiving (Part 3)
By Janice S Ramkissoon
4th November 2011
My next stop on this musical journey was at the COGIC (UK) Centre, to experience three nights of Extravagant Praise. The three nights of praise were in June, August and September of 2010. I knew God had something special in stored for my family and I. We were not disappointed! It brought tears to my eyes, blessed my heart, brought confirmation of the direction in which God was leading me and I felt renewed in my spirit. I had been longing for this form of freedom to express my love to God, through uninterrupted, prayerful songs of thanksgiving. God granted my heart's desire by connecting me with Extravagant Praise.
I was used to the team's style of worship in their ministering, so I was eager for the first night of praise to arrive. I always felt at home in the presence of the praise leader, Evangelist Esther Blake. We visited their assembly on the first Sunday after relocating to Luton, from London. Worshipping with the saints that day was a reminder of the way we worshipped in my little hometown in Sligoville, Jamaica. We thoroughly enjoyed it and knew we would re-visit. She also directed the choir for the musical, Gospel Glory! She brought certain energy with her each night, which made me look forward to attending rehearsals. Since that experience, I have always looked forward to visiting their assembly whenever they meet for conventions or other events. Having experienced the power of this praise team on each occasion I have been in their presence, I knew there was a blessing awaiting me and so I could not wait for Extravagant Praise to begin.
"Hold Your Noise!"
Extravagant Praise came at a key stage on my journey towards healing. I knew I was at a place of suffering far too long. I had grown accustomed to travelling with pain and accepted that it was my lot in this life. Fellow believers would give advice in line with this thought, encouraging me to be strong in the Lord, forget the past and carry on with my life. Nevertheless, there was a struggle within. I would be okay with that idea for a while, and then it felt that something was missing in my life. I was indeed trusting God to see me through my dark days but I felt there was something I needed to do in order to access the door to my healing. I was not comfortable and my spirit would not allow me to sit in a state of constantly reflecting on the past with negative thoughts. It was a destructive pattern and I recognised that I needed healing from past hurt in order to move forward.
I needed to move forward but I just did not know how to do that. I had gotten to a place where I was tired of talking to people who just did not understand my pain. People always compared my situation to theirs or others and would often quote a Scripture, appropriate for the situation, but with no further guidance. I have also experienced indirect encouragement where others would shout from the pulpit, using some very negative phrases. Those cruel words would then be knitted together and directly passed onto me by loved ones, in an attempt to dismiss my concerns or lovingly help me move forward.
I could not understand how the same people bringing the word from God, designed to bring life, could be so cruel with their choice of words when they are meant to show compassion. I had reached a place on my journey where I no longer felt like sharing. I feared someone coming back with another smart remark, pushing me a little deeper into a depressive state of mind. I was tired of the direct and indirect noises. I needed practical help to make that much-needed U-turn. Therefore, I became part of the 'fine-i-tis' club where the answer to every concerned individual who asked how I was, would be, "I'm fine, thank you!" At this point, I recognised that I had entered a danger zone. I was at a very bad place on my faith journey. I was no longer motivated to go to church or attend any other events. I felt unworthy when asked to do any form of public speaking. It became a struggle turning up each week to fulfil my duties as a Sunday school teacher. I found it easier, but still with great effort, to attend the weekly or monthly sessions held at my local assembly.
A sign of Trouble
I had arrived at a place where I needed some peace and quiet, away from the crowd and the everyday noises that had invaded my space. I began to struggle with recognising who was speaking (God or man?) and for that reason it was hard to know who was giving the right advice. In the past, my spirit would instantly reject anything that had a hint of deception so I recognised that I was at a critically unhealthy place, spiritually. How did I get here?
I spent my childhood years in a very small village where noise was a sign of trouble. I remembered some of those noises being:
1) The cry of various female neighbours who had been badly beaten-up by their jealous partners;
2) The cry of a child running from perverted men in the community;
3) The cry of a mother pleading to God on behalf of her son possessed by the spirit of alcohol;
4) The cry of an adulterous husband being abused by his unforgiving wife;
5) The dreaded sound of revenge when a sister (hurting for her brother who was being abused by his wife) grabs a knife and verbalises what she would do if the abuse does not stop;
6) The wailing sounds from a family watching their leader unconscious and bleeding to death from the horrific attack by a man suffering from Schizophrenia (a form of insanity in which the individual becomes withdrawn from reality).
7) The shouts, screams and cry for help from a neighbour who discovered a woman at the bottom of the well (Her undetected depression, brought on by unprocessed grief , being separated from her twin sister who died and having no other close living relatives, felt she could no longer cope with life).
Therefore, whenever I encounter excessive noise I get frightened. I used to attend a small Baptist church where things were quite calm, with the exception of an individual or two speaking in an unknown language or just repeating, "Praise the Lord!" or "Hallelujah!" being thankful for His mercies. Then there would be the sound of the tambourines, hand clapping or the keyboard, adding to the sound of our singing voices. Whenever there were concerts or Sunday school presentations, we would hear cheers from the congregation as they celebrate with the children who would share in drama pieces or as they received their certificate of attendances. Outside of those events, there was order. I would next encounter noise during lunchtime or at the end of the day during the school week.
Having relocated to our current community, we began attending a church where we felt right at home until the very noise that enticed us was becoming a deterrent when it appeared to be the order of each day. From start to finish, I found that there was little time for reflection. Noise! Noise! Noise! It was very distracting. The sound of the drums; the shouting of the saints; the loud singing and the many people speaking in tongues (at the same time) often makes me feel like I am in a market place. The continuous noise from the moment I enter the sanctuary to the moment the benediction is pronounced began to take its toll on my mental status. I thank God for his gift of self-control for I was tempted on several occasions to cry out, "Hold your noise!" but that would have been disrespectful.
During the week, I had to deal with more noise from the playground to the classroom. Daily I would try to be effective and efficient, working in an unhealthy environment. Picking up my son after school, I had to confront the sometimes, overbearing sound of parents as they wait for their children and the explosion of noise once the bell goes and the children are released from class. I then went home and it was non-stop with my growing child wanting to know the answers to 101 questions before bedtime. Then there were the constant phone calls..." I could barely hear myself think and neither could I clearly hear that still soft voice guiding me. I had to re-train my ears to shut out the noise and re-focus so I could hear from God once more.
I was no longer sure of the direction in which I was heading (I felt stuck in a rut). However, I had come a very long way since I started this journey and I could not return to where I was coming from; neither did I want to stay in a place of suffering. Moving forward was my desire but how would I achieve that?
I received an invitation to attend Extravagant Praise, and straight away I saw that the dates represented celebration of life. The first night of praise would be a great "Father's Day" gift for my husband. The second night of praise would be a perfect gift for my birthday. What better way to celebrate my birthday than with a night of praise; giving God thanks for all that He has brought me through, blessed me with, and continued doing in my life? Being in the celebratory mood, reaching a milestone on our marriage journey, we felt that Extravagant Praise was specially designed for us. Therefore, we set aside those three nights of praise as our way of celebrating our togetherness. It was the perfect way to celebrate our 10th wedding anniversary. God had rescued our marriage from the claws of the enemy and this was an opportunity to offer up a praise of thanksgiving. It was indeed a time of celebration.
I had a wonderful time celebrating life! At the end of the second night of praise, we were encouraged to come again for the final night of praise and to invite someone. My neighbour had a turbulent faith journey. She had lost her best friend to cancer, after praying to God for healing. With unanswered prayers came a turning point on her faith journey. However, God continued to reveal Himself in powerful ways concerning her children. She had been listening to a particular Gospel song, I was playing and it became a topic of conversation when I learned that she wanted to start going back to church but was afraid to make that first step. I knew she loved gospel music and so I thought Extravagant Praise would be an ideal way to receive the word in a relaxed environment. She accepted the invitation. She and her children came with us for that final night of praise and indeed God did a work in her that night. Knowing the journey she had been on, I was overwhelmed with joy for her, I just couldn't contain it! We hugged and wiped the tears; crying from a heart of praise; giving God thanks for the work He had started in her. Appropriately, this happened in line with a time of reflection as Sis. Esther encouraged the saints to talk to God in their own way.
I had the opportunity to share in the ministering of songs, as sister Esther called for volunteers to minister to the congregation while the praise team rest their voices. I was out of my seat the moment the words were out of her mouth. Normally, I would hesitate, waiting to see if others would respond and that way, this shy individual would not need to face such an intimidating crowd. It was the spirit of fear holding me bondage, though I did not know it at the time. However, since attending our current fellowship, one thing that has been drummed into us is that we should study the word of God (2nd Timothy 2:15) in order to grow spiritually, and not just depend on what we hear from the pulpit. I had been studying the word and realising that I had the power to bind and to loose (Matthew 18:18) and growing in the knowledge of the Lord I also understood that the spirit of fear is not of God. Therefore, I concluded that if the spirit of fear was not from God, then I needed to replace it with that which is of God. 2nd Timothy 1:7 tells me that God gives to me the spirit of power, and of love and of a sound mind/self-control. The knowledge I was absorbing as I read the bible, were ignited in me and I was about to see the evidence of it bearing fruits.
I did not realise the following until I began to write the previous paragraph. Volunteering to sing that night, without giving it a thought, was evidence that the spirit of power and of love and of a sound mind was in operation, cancelling out the spirit of fear. Wow! How beautiful! I am elated. I have struggled with the spirit of fear for so long that in every area of my life, I second guess myself and often wonder if I am heading in the right direction. This often happens when I try to execute any plans I have made. However, my focus is now returning as I experience freedom from the spirit of fear. Fear cripples!
Although on the night I volunteered to sing, I was just being obedient to my human leader, I am now looking back in recognition that God was using that moment to complete the work He started in me, three years prior to that day, when I prayed for boldness to do His will. Extravagant Praise, on its 2nd night, gave me the opportunity to rededicate my voice to God, in light of the vision He gave me of a praise celebration. Sis. Esther encouraged the saints after singing one of my favourite hymns, "Take My Life", saying:
"He sees our potential but sometimes we are stubborn...Sometimes we let doubt enter..."
As Sister Esther exhorted the congregation; I felt God was gently chastising me. I was then taken back to an evening when we were singing that song at my local assembly, during a prayer meeting. For keeping with the schedule, the person moderating at the service, chose to skip the verse that says, "Take my voice..." That was what I desired that day, for God to:
"Take my voice, and let me sing
Always, only, for my King;
Take my lips, and let them be
Filled with messages from Thee."
At the end of the singing, the moderator handed over to our pastor. His first words were, "I wonder, who is asking God today, to take their voice?" We were then able to sing that verse of the song and my heart's prayer was given a voice.
"While I'm Alive, I will Praise"
We ended the 2nd night of praise with the theme song: "While I'm Alive". I could not stop singing that song. All night I was singing, early hours of the morning, I was still singing and when my mouth could not verbalise it I was humming away. I used the song to talk to God and God spoke to me using those very words, via our Bishop on the final night of praise.
When I started writing this piece, my intention was to write a similar piece to that of part 2, thanking the praise team for their service over those three nights. However, as I continued to write, God began to open my eyes to what really took place over those three nights of praise and so it took a slightly different direction. I can still see the smiling faces within the praise team that gave a warm welcome each night. I felt as if I was in my home assembly. I can still hear those sweet melodies that made me enjoy those three nights of worship and I want to highlight individuals but for the sake of this article I will keep it simple and say to the team, "Thank you for allowing God to use you to make a difference in the life of others. Please continue to let your light shine so that others may see your good works and come to know your Father who is in heaven. Continue to praise with extravagance."
I can remember the exhortation that Bishop gave us, using the theme song, "While I'm Alive" which brought home the seriousness of my procrastination in the areas of ministry placed before me, due to the spirit of fear. My heart's desire, of ministering to the hurting, through songs, was put on hold because I had no idea which direction God was leading me. I have had varying advice and I was left confused. My motto is, when in doubt leave it alone until it becomes clear. The years had been rolling by, and God had given instructions but I was still unsure of the various voices and I did not want to make a wrong move. I then found that waiting on God had become simply a process of procrastination. I feared so many things and people in moving forward with this vision that I almost lost focus. Bishop's words of encouragement got me out of the waiting room and here I am ministering through songs, though in a slightly different way. I am obviously not singing now (though I would love to be verbally ministering to you right now) but this is the area God is using me to minister to you for this season, via my gift of writing. As I share the various inspirations I receive from these songs and the biblical references concerning leadership within the praise and worship setting, I pray that you will be encouraged, motivated and inspired to move into the greatness that God is calling you.
I also remember the note of encouragement that accompanied the song, "Bless The Lord With Me", I leave with you those words of encouragement: "With such an assurance of victory through Jesus we must go into the world and encourage others to bring their offering of praise before the Lord." Psalm 34:3 says, "O magnify the LORD with me, and let us exalt His name together" (KJV). Let us keep praise alive, for He is worthy to be praised.
Thank you for joining me on this journey. God bless you as you continue on your journey.
Your sister in Christ,
4th November 2011
Celebrating Life Part1: http://www.faithwriters.com/article-details.php?id=138855
Celebrating Life Part2: http://www.faithwriters.com/article-details.php?id=138856