Claire Hamilton is a worship leader at Christian Fellowship Church Belfast and songwriter at Integrity Music. In August 2012, her husband David was diagnosed with cancer and underwent emergency surgery to remove the tumor two days later. Claire and David then waited forty days and forty nights until they received the news that the cancer was gone. Claire shares the lessons and wisdom that she’s gained through this process.
A while ago, I spent some time reflecting on suffering, wondering how I could give something useful and insightful around the topic. Suffering, grief, pain and loss are words that have become all too familiar in my life.
As a “worship leader/facilitator” and songwriter, I have always been drawn to writing songs of intimacy which help usher us into His presence. A place of healing and restoration, where the broken get made whole and where as we draw near to Him, He draws near to us. A few years ago, I wrote a song called ‘Breathe On Me’. It was the first time I felt like I’d written something that captured my heart’s cry in the midst of painful circumstances. It was bittersweet as I’d longed to write that song for years. Finally it came to help lift my soul and give Him Praise in the middle of deep sadness and turmoil.
‘Breathe on Me’ is a simple song yet one line has become my mission, my ethos, my core value, that ‘His praise will fall from my lips at ALL times’.
When I prepared to write this post earlier in 2013, I imagined telling my story of pain and the background to the song as something that had passed, as an encouragement for those of you walking hard times. I didn’t imagine that soon my husband David would be diagnosed with cancer at the age of 29 having already had cancer as a child. As we walked that road of pain again where the world was at a standstill, our lives were tipped over in the blink of an eye and yet there was only one thing that has remained constant, our great Father from whom we receive “Strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow” (Thomas O. Chisholm). Yes, even today ‘His Praise Will Fall From My Lips’. He stands in the middle of our pain and suffering. He carries us. It doesn’t mean we stop feeling all the associated emotions or that we don’t continue to cry out for deliverance and rescue but while we’re ‘in it’ He is there, “Closer than the mention of His Name” (‘My Refuge’).
‘What can be seen is temporary, but what cannot be seen is eternal’. 2 Corinthians 4:18
‘We pray that you’ll have the strength to stick it out over the long haul—not the grim strength of gritting your teeth but the glory-strength God gives. It is strength that endures the unendurable and spills over into joy, thanking the Father who makes us strong enough to take part in everything bright and beautiful that He has for us’. Col 1:9 (Message)
While we can cry out to God in our pain, there is one precious response we need to learn. We must respond with worship: re-assigning ultimate value to God. Most of the time life is too comfortable and the volume of our busyness is too loud for us to see or feel the necessity of total surrender to the Holy Spirit. When we realize our need of Him, even when it’s in the sorest of places, the relationship that is opened up with Him is sweet. If we are honest, for the most part, we sit on the throne of our own lives, but in pain, we are moved and we again realize that He is the only one worthy to sit on that throne.
We are always worshiping something, someone, but He is the only One whose worship will not distort our lives. It is time for us to once again let go of control and trust that He is infinitely wise and infinitely loving. If we believe this to be true, then we will follow Him whatever it costs us.
Let us be living sacrifices of Worship, His Praise falling from our lips at all times.
Made to Lie Down
‘He makes me lie down in green pastures…’ Psalm 23:2
When my husband was diagnosed with cancer and taken in for emergency surgery, it was a shock, a trauma and today it still feels like we aren’t quite anchored to normality yet. But, we became anchored in a way I had never experienced before. Whilst still feeling the emotions associated with such a traumatic event and the pain of the experience, we were brought to a place where we had to ‘lie down’. While everyone else busied around us, we were waiting; waiting each morning for the strength of the Lord: living each day by the grace of God, not ready or able for tomorrow because tomorrow has enough worries of its own.
What I learned through this is that when we stop running at life we suddenly feel exposed to who we really are, what our relationships look like and ultimately what our view of God is and what His view of us is. It brings me to a place where I have to ask ‘From what place have I been leading others in worship?’ Have I really understood the grace that I so keenly speak of in times of ‘Worship’? Are our worship times fast paced and ferocious like our lives or do we come to lie down in green pastures taking account of who He really is and what is available to us today?
In this season, I finally understood that my health, stability and survival depend on the Shepherd. In the middle of pain, anguish, worry and the unknown, I was somehow able to lie down in comfort even amid the most uncomfortable circumstances. Be still and know that He is God. He is the Shepherd who knows us and leads us to lie down in green pastures and walk by still waters.
Over the period of weeks and months since my husband’s illness, I have heard the call that God spoke to Abram resounding over my life. This call reminds us that having peace and comfort is not necessarily symbolic of our obedience to God. God calls us out of our comfort and the familiar and says that if we are willing, He will make us a blessing.
This is not simply a call for me. This is the call over all our lives as followers of Jesus. We are to be missionally radical i.e. once we hear the call of God personally, our worshipful response is to take our hands off our lives and to no longer make decisions based on what is most comfortable. We are challenged to bless others and be a humble people, a people who think more about others than we do about ourselves.
God has given the church the special mission of carrying His truth from generation to generation. When we obediently sign up to this call, we are surrounded by care when life is tough and we become more like Him as we care for and share grace with those around us. It is particularly in times of worship that we stand in unity and sing reminding ourselves who He is regardless of what is affecting our lives. It is good for the soul.
As a result of difficult experiences in my life, I have made decisions to step out. Out of grief, I have been propelled forward as I have chosen to worship God, giving Him thanks and praise. I have chosen to trust Him as a God who gives good things to His children. I do not claim to have done this by myself or solely by God’s supernatural intervention. Being part of a community of believers is essential.
Since our waiting forty days and forty nights for the news that the cancer was gone, the Lord has placed His favour on us in a new way. As we have stepped out and started to move with confidence into the areas of ministry and work that we sense His guidance in, we have been blessed with new and exciting quests and adventures. Ten years ago when I imagined moving into leadership in worship ministry, I did not imagine it would come about after so many transformational experiences. I read One Thousand Gifts by Ann Voskamp shortly after my husband’s illness, and the entire book was timely for me. There is a statement she makes that I was reminded of recently which says, “The Lord has to break us down at the strongest part of our self-life before He can have his own way of blessing with us.” What is the strongest part of your self-life?
I suspect for many of us it is feeling like we can do things ourselves, wanting to stay in control and placing ourselves on the throne of our hearts and not trusting Him and living a life of obedience, submission and sacrifice for the Greatest King of Kings. I am grateful to the Lord for what He has done in the lives of the Hamiltons over the past year. He has shown us that He is fully trustworthy and that He loves us incredibly and infinitely. Living out of this is a much more costly and sacrificial way to live but it is the most satisfying, full life I have ever experienced.
During our waiting for final results about the type and stage of this cancer, I walked a lot. I walked miles each day as a way of releasing some of the adrenaline and to meet and talk with my Maker. I don’t remember a time in my life when I’ve been so closely confronted with the prospect of being left on my own and losing the most precious person in my life. I had to resolve within myself that I would be a worshipper: that even the very things that would tear me open and leave me weak and exposed would be the very places that God would fill and make places of beauty.
“The Eucharist invites us to give thanks for dying, to take part in His death with our own daily dying and give thanks for it” (Ann Voskamp). I am learning to die to myself, to begin each day with a view of God’s mercy and step out into all that is available to me as a child of God and a worshipper.