Shut Up and Dance With Me: Worship in Strange Places

Worship happens in the strangest of places.  This fall Walk the Moon’s Shut Up and Dance happened to be free on iTunes.  On a whim, I downloaded it.  Since then, it’s been an unexpected source of profound connection with God.

God sometimes does this with me and various songs.  I’m about to apply an interpretation of the song that roughly ignores that author’s original intent.  He’s writing about a girl in a club and presumably falling in love (or at least strong like) with her as she draws him out to dance.  But, I’m not so sure that falling in love with God is so extremely different from falling in love with a person.  After all, we tend to relate to God the way we relate to people.

In case you’re unfamiliar with the song and I’ve somehow made you curious, the band has uploaded the music video to YouTube.

Life feels unsteady these days.  J and I have a lot of chips up in the air.  Between adoption and graduation peeking around the corner, my desire to control the universe and order it to my liking is kicking into high gear.

In the midst of this as I listen to this song, I’m reminded of Peter walking on the water towards Jesus (Matt. 14:22-32). After a windy night, with their boat tossed about by waves, Peter and his buddies look out in the pre-dawn darkness to see Jesus walking towards them upon the churning water.  His buddies fearfully shriek, “It’s a ghost.”

And Jesus responding to their fear tells them, “Take courage.  It is I.  Don’t be afraid.”  Peter says to Jesus, “If it’s really you, then have me come out to you on the water.”

Receiving that invitation, Peter climbs out of the boat onto raging waters in the early morning darkness.  And he starts walking.  He moves towards Jesus.

But then, he looked around and saw the wind kicking up the waves around him. Fear kicked in.  Getting scared, his feet started dropping below the water, and soon he was on the verge of slipping under.  He cried out for Jesus to save him.  Immediately Jesus does.  Jesus reaches out.  Taking him by the hand, Jesus asks Peter, “You of little faith — why did you doubt.”  They head toward the boat together. As they get in, the wind dies down.

Like Peter, I find myself looking at the darkness, the wind and the waves — instead of looking toward Jesus.  I see the problems and the difficulties, and lose sight of hope.  I see worst case scenarios and planning for that.  But, living that way is quite overwhelming.  And not particularly joyful or fun.  I feel myself sinking as I forget that what drew me out of the boat was faith.  

What will sustain me as I move forward is the same: faith.

And this song reminds me that the journey can be fun too.  Years back when I wrote poetry, I wrote one once about dancing before God — a sense of being free to be myself before God and be lost in contentment with just being alive.  A sense that God delighted in and cared for me.  I tried to locate it, but can’t.  And I wasn’t a very good poet anyway, so my recollection probably makes it cooler than it actually was.

As I listen to the song, think about Peter and my past poem, I’ve been feeling God speak to me as well.  God’s inviting me to live.  To rest.  Even as I move into new things and uncertainty, God reminds me that there is life here.  Life now. There will be life later too.  And both are a full and beautiful thing that I need to stop fearing.

I tend to want clear-cut precision destinations.  To want a chart of how I’m getting from point A to point Z.  I want to know that I’m headed on a path that God wants me to go. I want drawn out explanations of how things will happen; I want to know I made the right decision — in part because I don’t want to fail.  Also because I’m afraid the wrong choice will lead to me somehow disappointing God or failing his plan for my life.  The more I ponder this thought process the more I think it misses the point of life.  This thought process, for me, is about earning God’s love, about maintaining my image.

It makes me think of God as a cosmic scorekeeper and micromanager who’s ready to ding me for my mistakes.  And when I think of God that way, it’s hard to keep my eyes on Jesus in the middle of the storm.  If all Jesus sees is my mistakes, then of course I’m going to be scared that he might not grab my hand when the waves crash over my head.  Or that Jesus is withholding something from me.

This song has been a game changer for me.  God reminded me that I am loved and welcomed.  God has grabbed me by the hand and dragged me onto His dance floor.  Like the song says, “I don’t know how it happened.”

Now I am reminded to keep my eyes on the one Whom I am dancing with and to rethink how I view God.  God’s inviting me to re-think my gut image of micromanager, and to rest in the wonder of Him.

So here’s the invitation I received as I listened:

“Don’t look back. Don’t look sidewise.  Ignore the waves and the wind, the naysayers and the self-doubt. Look right at me.  Stop over-thinking.  Quit picking at everything; you’re going to suck the joy out of the journey if you keep at it that way.  Trust that I’m with you and can provide for you.  Shut up and dance with Me.  Enjoy Me.  Savor the life in which you’re planted.”  

So, this fall I’ve been trying to rest in the knowledge that I am God’s beloved.  That somehow God actually likes me and enjoys me.  I don’t earn it.  I can’t make God love me more by performing perfectly or less by failing.  It feels good to type that out — not just think it in my head.

On the days I forget,  I find myself asking God to save me from myself.  God does.  Jesus gives me a hand; sometimes pulling me back in the boat for a time out.  Tomorrow is a new day to try again.  And this song has been helping me muster courage to keep stepping out of the boat on the new day and to keep looking toward life instead of mere survival.


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