Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Worship: The Wonder Drug

Dear Friends,

William came running up and introduced himself to me right after the service at the assisted living facility. A trim and fit-looking African-American man in his seventies, William told me that he had been one of the James Cleveland Singers and he asked if I knew who that was. I told him that I knew James Cleveland was one of the greatest Gospel singers of all time and I asked William what it was like to be in his Gospel choir. He told me that they traveled all over the country and even had performed Gospel concerts in other nations but he couldn’t remember which ones. William walked away and then a few minutes later, came back again. He greeted me with the same up-beat enthusiasm as before and said, “Say, did you know that I was one of the James Cleveland singers?” For many months, William would approach me both before and after the service to let me know that he was a James Cleveland Gospel singer. He would tell me that at least five or six times every time we were there. His dementia had progressed to the point that, within a minute after he and I spoke, he would have no memory of the conversation. He was no longer able to remember much about his past other than that he had once been a Gospel singer. I listened patiently every time he told me that because it was the one precious memory that he had. It was the most important thing in his life.

He couldn’t remember any of the songs he used to sing, but sometimes after I had sung a Gospel song, he’d tell me that he remembered singing that one. I asked him if he’d like to sing a hymn or a Gospel song with me sometime and he told me he could no longer sing. In a moment of mental clarity, he told me that what he missed most was being able to sing to God. I told him that I loved to watch him worship along with me. He couldn’t remember how to sing the songs but his face would light up and his whole body would move in time to the music as if he were back on the stage. Then one Wednesday, I was singing “I SURRENDER ALL” and suddenly from the back of the room I heard the most beautiful baritone voice singing right along with me, I surrender all, I surrender all, All to Thee, my blessed Savior, I surrender all. William sang the whole song with me. His deep resonant voice filling the room. Every word remembered. Every note perfectly hit. The song ended and I looked up from my music stand to see William’s face. Tears streaming down it. William was doing what he had most cherished. He was singing and worshiping the Lord again! After the service, as I was packing up to leave, William started singing to the Abbey Road Villa residents. The haze obscuring his memory had lifted and he was singing one Gospel song after another – the James Cleveland Gospel songs that had won the Grammy Awards and the songs they had sung on the road. As I loaded up my car, I could still hear William singing a worship concert of Gospel songs to the glory of God!

Sally Morgenthaler leads seminars and writes books on worship. She wrote, “aside from the Spirit of God, music is the most potent element in a worship service. It has an incredible, matchless capacity to open the human heart to God, accessing the soul more quickly and deeply and permanently then any other element in the service including human speech.” Every Wednesday for the past two years Noem sits in her wheelchair off to my right. When I preach the sermon, she frequently takes that opportunity to settle into a nice, restful sleep. That doesn’t bother me at all. She’s Armenian and doesn’t speak or understand a word of English. But when I sing and worship, she worships right along with me. I’ll look over and see her sitting up straight with both hands raised to shoulder height. An angelic smile lights up her face and her glistening eyes are looking up into the heavens. Worshiping the God she loves. The music has opened her heart and she is in the presence of God.

Last week, a few were rewarded with a blissful slumber during my sermon, but all were engaged during worship and tears ran down faces when we were singing, “Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so.” My sermons tell them about Jesus. The worship songs take them into His arms. After that service, a Russian woman who speaks practically no English, smiled at me and said, “Like music.” She hugged herself and said,“God.” She was telling me that she knew that God loved her.  

You and I have been madly and passionately in love with someone. (Maybe we still are!) Hugging, kissing them and even just thinking of them brings a release of the hormone “oxytocin” that acts as a neurotransmitter in the brain and we feel exhilaration, euphoria and increased energy. That’s why oxytocin is often called “the love hormone,” and now recent studies have shown that expressing worship to God through singing also brings a divine injection of oxytocin in the brain. Worship songs declare our love for Him and while the “love hormone” fades for the humans we fall in love with, it never fades for the one true God we will love for ever! We worship Him because of who He is and what He has done for us and He then blesses us with our body’s own feel-good drug! 

There is growing scientific evidence showing that singing worship to God affects the entire body and mind and we see that every Wednesday at the assisted living facility. Do you ever feel depressed, distressed, anxious or angry? Get a mood boosting shot of oxytocin by singing your favorite praise songs or hymns and receive His peace that  surpasses all understanding. Worship brings healing to our mind and health to our body! Worship is the wonder drug that modern medical science has proven effective for the reduction of blood pressure, reduction of pain and anxiety and restoration of the mind. No prescription necessary!

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