“Hallelujah” and Thoughts on Being Good

There is a song our worship team has been leading the church in singing for a few months now that has resonated deeply with me.

“I raise a hallelujah, with everything inside of me
I raise a hallelujah, I will watch the darkness flee.”

There’s also a line that says,

“Sing a little louder in the presence of my enemies.”

I used to see the Christian use of the word “enemy” as overplayed and unnecessarily dramatized. Sure, there are some people I don’t care for in my life, but I don’t consider them enemies.

As I’ve grown older, I’ve learned to recognize and understand the true enemies: fear, from which grows shame, despair, anxiety and resentment. These are all weapons the Devil uses to separate us from Christ.

Praising God in the midst of suffering through these feelings is a thought with power.

Another song recently re-entered my life, from the first time I heard it in college.

“Hallelujah” was written by a Leonard Cohen, a Jew who admired Jesus, and was poignantly performed by Jeff Buckley on his only studio-length album “Grace” in 1994.

The song speaks of desire, of sin and sorrow, and of love. Most memorable are the lines:

“Love is not a victory march

It’s a cold and it’s a broken hallelujah.”

A broken exaltation to the Lord.

Both the lyrics and the melody haunted me throughout a December filled with heartbreak.

While researching the song, I came across a Unitarian sermon, which explores the link between the song and the meaning of the word.

Today, the word is often used jokingly, with delight but without understanding.

“Hallelujah” is two parts, “hallelu,” to praise, and “jah,” or Yahweh, God. As the author of the article points out, it is the imperative, commanding form of the verb.

“Hallelujah is the commandment to praise, not the invitation or the suggestion,” Merritt writes. “It is the sacred obligation—the requirement to praise—it doesn’t matter whether you understand your circumstances to be holy, or wholly broken—every one of us is called to sing hallelujah, and it can be a loud and happy song in a major key, or it can be a quiet, persistent melody in a minor key.”

I was struck by the importance of praise as a commandment, regardless of circumstance or situation.

Hallelujah is a choice I have had to make many times over the past few months. Praising the Lord isn’t just cranking up Hillsong in your car, though that has certainly been helpful for me at times.

To praise the Lord, one must obey the Lord. Obedience is praise.

The apostle John wrote,

“We know that we have come to know him if we keep his commands. Whoever says, ‘I know him,’ but does not do what he commands is a liar, and the truth is not in that person. But if anyone obeys his word, love for God is truly made complete in them. This is how we know we are in him: Whoever claims to live in him must live as Jesus did.” ~ 1 John 2:3-6

We know we ought to obey, but we always want to know why. Why should I praise the Lord? What purpose does my praise fulfill?

Inclining our faces toward God exposes us to His sheer brilliance and the power of all things good, just and pure. When we turn away from ourselves and into God, we choose to focus on His perfection.

Having a God-centered mindset does not fix our problems, but it places the trials of our temporal lives into perspective. That heavenly perspective in itself is a powerful cure.

Still, obedience is a wall we keep running into.

When I was a senior in high school, I came upon my first real ethical dilemma as a Christian. I struggled to do what my conscience knew to be right, and I failed.

I was consumed with guilt, and the struggle to lead a good and moral Christian life felt overwhelming. I didn’t want to fall into the trap of justifying my actions and thus continuing to repeat my failures. But I felt, as a Christian, that my life was doomed to failure in many small ways.

At the time, my math teacher, the gentlest and most loving human, shared some advice:

“Do the next right thing you know how to do.”

As someone who is often overcome by defeat, to the point of giving up, this has proven to be enormously practical advice.

Try as I might, in this life I will never stop failing to be a good Christian. I often grow tired of trying to do what is right.

But I know that I will never give up, because I have the encouragement of a power beyond anything in this world. Though I do not fully comprehend it, I believe in the power of the cross.

Each time I fall, I will pick myself up and continue on, comforted by the promises of a good Father who hears my cry of hallelujah, no matter how broken. He is the only one who can take what is shattered and make it beautiful and whole.

Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. ~ Galatians 6:9



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