CHApter three notes

In The Millennial Narrative, my friend Jaco titled Chapter 3, ‘The Compassionate God and the Promise of Personal Restoration’ with the header word ‘DISCOVER.’ And that is exactly what these songs are about. After the plagues of locusts and the desolation that ensues, which is basically the whole first half of Joel, this is where it turns and begins to look different. In Joel 2:12, God speaks for the first time and beckons the reader to return to him with all our hearts, even more in the midst of the pain and heartache we find ourselves in. He then declares his authority and who He is, and he begins to lay out his promises of what he will do. 

Every first Sunday of the month my church community celebrates Communion. We take an extended time to prepare our hearts through singing and silence to come to the table and often we say that Communion Sunday is a time to ’remember and proclaim’ God’s faithfulness and his goodness, as Jesus calls us to do in the Gospels. We gather as community to ‘remember and proclaim’ because there is great power when we do that in a body of people, as opposed to doing it alone. As Jaco writes, ‘we awaken hope when we remember and proclaim.’ And as we’ve heard already, especially in Chapter one, Joel calls us to gather together and this call gets even louder in Chapter two. For years, I have wanted to write a song for my community with these three words… a song that we could sing over and over again to help remind us. And I really wanted to unpack the last line of Verse 1 in ‘Cannot Know You’ from Chapter two that reads, ‘To walk forward we must look behind.’ I love that line and we kind of left it out there without really explaining it… so now in song #5 it was time to unpack it. And in the process of writing the song, my friend Randy preached on this idea that the Hebrew word for ‘future’ comes from the noun for ‘past’ and that the Israelites when they thought of the future, could not not think about remembering what God had done in the past. The words in Hebrew, as I understand it, both define and inform each other.

So when my friend Rob and I sat down to write this song in my kitchen, I thought it was going to be an easy one because of all of the years of wanting and the arsenal of info I had been thinking about. The first verse and chorus came pretty quickly, almost too quickly… and we loved what we wrote, but it wasn’t right. As a song standing on it’s own, it would be great, but to fit in this greater narrative of Joel it needed to be more specific. So I took a step back, paused for a couple days, and then spent an entire Saturday wrestling the first verse to the ground until it was what I imagined it to be - a reflection on the landscape and what it used to be like before the desolation. The word ‘valley’ within most Christian contexts is viewed as a negative, hard place, but I started reflecting about that place before it had that darker meaning. I envisioned it like the valley of Crested Butte as you drive into that mountain village or the many hikes I have done, like Yosemite, where you are walking below something as majestic as Half Dome, and you can see the streams and rivers cutting through the mountain down to the valley, and that God created these things to remind us of His power… and that how often I feel His presence in nature. The valley wasn’t always dry and hot and a desert wasteland… even though it may feel like that when you are walking alone in it -

Do you remember the valley you walked through. Heaven and earth gathered to bring you home, to bring you home

The mountains reached down to rivers that fed you. Both from my hand to show you are not alone, you are not alone

The second verse was even more of a holy wrestling match and one of the coolest songwriting experiences I have had. My wife and son were incredibly patient with my writing endeavors that day, but at a certain point after me bouncing ideas off of her that night, she went to bed and left me to my own creative devices to finish verse 2 on my own. I wrestled until late at night with no success… but then I awoke with a dream so real and tangible that I believe it was from God. Suzanne had let me sleep in that morning so I was alone and in this dream, Suzanne came into our room holding our eight year old as a tiny infant; she whispered something and then laid him down next to me. I shot up out of bed like it was real and then paid back down praying for understanding and to remember everything that I needed to. I stumbled out into the living room, to my confused sons surprise, grabbed my computer and guitar and wrote verse 2 -

Do you remember how I first loved you. Called you by name holding you in my arms, I held you in my arms.

Now even more, come hungry and mourning. Return to me, come ready to rend your heart, to rend your heart

I needed to remember back even further, past the valley, to when I was a helpless child and trace the line from that time to the green lush valley, to the present place of hardship that I find myself in; so that I can proclaim His goodness throughout. Remember it all, that He is in every season, not just certain ones… and in that remembering, return to Him… because of who He is, which is described in Joel 2:13 - For he is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love and he relents from sending calamity.

The second song in this chapter, I Am Not Alone, is a response to song number 5. When we remember and proclaim, we remember that we are not alone, although in the depths of our pain we may feel as though we are. The people of Judah were an agricultural people, so all throughout Joel there are references to the land and specifically the dryness created by the devastation of the locusts. In his book, Jaco draws the comparison between the dryness of the land and that of our hearts in seasons of loss… and so I knew that I wanted to draw that same comparison and that as he says, ‘the outpouring of God’s spirit will be more powerful than the rain on the parched earth… and that Gods promise was with his people and not the land.’ Working my way to the beautiful and most famous verse of Joel, that ‘God will repay all the years the locusts have eaten.’ The desolation of this earth we walk upon physically, albeit difficult, will be replenished, and even more so, will our hearts be restored. It’s what he promises us… throughout Joel and all of scripture.

In our current culture of technology and uber-connectedness, studies show that we are more alone and isolated than we ever have been before and I wanted to tap into that within this song as well. And that the burden of isolation referenced in ‘Cannot Know You,’ reveals itself in unique ways through the way we carry shame and guilt and our thirst for something different. Four of my favorite words in the Bible are ‘Do not be afraid’ as they are written throughout both the Old and New Testament and in so many stories and contexts, so it was not surprising and incredibly comforting for me to come upon them as I read through Joel 2; Especially because of the importance of that song in my life, as it rebooted my career, when I thought that I might be done making more albums. Beautifully in the mix of Joel 2, those words come side by side with God declaring that ‘surely he has done great things! So do not be afraid.’ 

‘I Am Not Alone’ is a prayer and an encouragement to push back on this fear of feeling alone. Proclaiming that God is with us in everything; that He is the desert, He is the storm, He is the promise, and that He will restore. And that His rains will be a testament to his faithfulness and that within that replenishment, as my friend Jaco writes, ‘our faith will be built back up again… but it may not look the same. As God sometimes breaks things, so that He can mend them.’

He is a faithful God. And I hope that within these songs you can hear that in a new way - 


I Am Not Alone

I’ve never seen the earth turn this dry and weary

These cracks beneath my feet resemble my heart

My thirst for rain is a burden I cannot carry

This ritual of shame tears my world apart

I am not alone. You are the desert you are the storm

I am not alone. You are the promise you will restore 

I am not alone

Moment to moment I live hoping to be known

These days, from where I stand, move painfully slow

You God of time know the cries of all your children

You ache while we try to make this world our home 

You will send the rains. Never again will I be shamed

I know you will repay all the years the locusts have taken

I am not alone. You are the desert you are the storm

I am not alone. You are the promise you will restore 

I am not alone