Jonah: Overshadowing God's Grace and Mercy

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Growing up in a Christian home and being a pastor’s son, I’ve pretty much heard every variation of sermon for any given Bible story. With this said, sometimes I struggle reading passages of scripture that would be classified as a “bedtime story” or a children’s Sunday school topic. Stories that fall in this category would be something like Noah’s Ark, Samson, David & Goliath, and in this case, Jonah and the Whale. Despite its familiarity, I felt like God was leading me to read the book of Jonah. 

As I prepared myself to read, of course I thought about all my presuppositions of the story and how it portrays the consequences of what happens when someone disobeys the call God has for their life. However, after reading the book in its entirety for what I thought was “the hundredth time,” my view of the story started to shift. It wasn’t just about what happens when you disobey God or how we should never run from what God is calling us to do. It’s a narrative of God’s grace, mercy, and sovereignty. Not just for stubborn Jonah, but for the lost and morally ignorant people of Nineveh as well.

We all know the story. God called Jonah to cry out to the city of Nineveh about their wickedness but Jonah fled west to Tarshish on a ship instead. When a huge storm came, the mariners on the ship threw Jonah overboard because of their fear that God would sink them along with Jonah. This is when Jonah is swallowed up by a whale. After crying out to God, Jonah was delivered from the great fish and he was vomited onto dry land. After this, Jonah obeyed God’s command and ministered to the people of Nineveh and they turned from their evil ways and all lived happily ever after, right? Wait a minute…this is where the majority of the Sunday school lessons ended for me growing up, but what actually happened? 

We do see in Jonah 3:10 that the people of Nineveh “turned from their evil way; and God relented from the disaster that He had said He would bring up on them, and He did not do it.” However, leading into Chapter 4, we then see Jonah get “displeased and burning with anger” because he wanted to see God judge the Ninevites, not extend grace to them! Jonah says in 4:3, “Therefore now, O Lord, please take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live!” How dramatic is that? Jonah was so upset about seeing God’s grace poured upon the people he was called to minister to, he wanted to die. David Jeremiah says in his study Bible, “Experts in human behavior have noted a link between hatred for others and pity for oneself…The core of Jonah’s concern is revealed in his words: ‘It is better for me.’ Jonah could not have God’s heart for others because he was consumed with himself.”

I find it humorous moving to verse 4 when God says, “Is it right for you to be angry?” Jonah then responded by moving out to the east of the city where he built such an inadequate shelter for himself that God prepared a plant as a covering from the sun to help his misery. Now that Jonah was a little more comfortable and grateful for his plant covering, God sent a worm to destroy the plant through the night. The next day God sent a scorching east wind and Jonah for the second time wished death upon himself saying in verse 8, “It is better for me to die than to live.” God asked again in verse 9, “Is it right for you to be angry about the plant?” Jonah replied with a, “Yes! Even to death!” 

God makes the final “mic drop” moment in the ending statement and the book ends with God asking Jonah a question. “You have had pity on the plant for which you have not labored, nor made it grow, which came up in a night and perished in a night. And should I not pity Nineveh, that great city, in which are more that one hundred and twenty thousand persons who cannot discern between their right hand and their left—and much livestock?” God was trying to make the point to Jonah that he had more pity for one soulless plant than he did for an entire city full of people. 

Let’s talk about the presence of God’s grace and mercy in the story of Jonah. Sometimes it’s hard to distinguish between the two. Wayne Grudem, in his book Systematic Theology, describes God’s grace as “goodness toward those who deserve only punishment,” and God’s mercy as “goodness toward those in misery and distress.” We see God’s saving grace when He sends a prophet to a morally decaying society so that they can hear truth and potentially turn from their evil ways. As we see the Ninevites respond to the message of the Lord, God spares them even though they deserve punishment. We see God’s mercy displayed multiple times when God intervenes for Jonah in times of misery and distress. First, instead of letting Jonah drown in the ocean, God sends a blessing in disguise by the swallowing of the whale. Second, God grows a plant as shelter for Jonah from the scorching sun. The sad thing is, Jonah is so fixated upon himself, he misses every gracious and merciful act of God through the story. 

How many times have we found ourselves in anguish where we are willing to give up completely or trade any other situation with the one we are currently dealing with? How many times did it feel impossible to “consider it pure joy…whenever you face trials of many kinds” (James 1:2). Maybe it’s because we allowed our own self misery to overshadow God’s work of grace and mercy displayed in every situation. My prayer is that we would not be blinded by our current circumstance but focus our eyes upon God’s sovereign hand. Then we ourselves can begin to pour out the mercy of God on others and approach the Lord’s throne with thankfulness through our worship.

- Aaron Davis

Why Do We Have Access to God's Presence?

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In worship, we always talk about entering into the presence of God. But why do we have this access to His manifested presence? How is it possible we can experience a glimpse of His glory? Well, let’s talk about that…

First, I want to clarify the difference between God’s omnipresence and His manifested presence.  We would describe God’s omnipresence as Him being everywhere at the same time. I mean He holds the cosmos together right? On the contrary, His manifested presence is where He reveals Himself in a very tangible, intentional way for a specific purpose. We see this in scripture a lot! (Jacob’s ladder in Genesis 28, Moses and the burning bush in Exodus 3, Isaiah’s encounter in Isaiah 6, Saul on the road to Damascus in Acts 9, John in Revelation 4, etc.) So again, why do we have access to this manifested presence of God?

Exodus 19 explains how the Lord descended upon Mount Sinai and gave Moses the Law and instructions for the building of the tabernacle. Later in Exodus 40, when the tabernacle was finished, the shekinah glory of the Lord (visible presence), left the mountain and covered the tabernacle. It was here that the Lord resided with His people. Whenever the shekinah glory lifted and moved out, the people followed until it stopped and then they would stay put until it lifted again. They wanted to be where God’s manifested presence was residing. 

Within the gates of the tabernacle, the altar of sacrifice sat in the outer courtyard along with the basin of water for cleansing, called the laver. If you entered the first veil, you were in the Holy Place. This was where the priests would tend to the lamps of the menorah and the altar of incense on a daily basis. If you entered the second veil, you were in the Holy of Holies or “The Most Holy Place.” This was where the ark of the covenant resided. Only the High Priest was allowed in the Holy of Holies and it was once a year on the Day of Atonement. The High Priest would sprinkle blood on the top of the Ark where the cherubim formed the mercy seat. This is where God would pour out His grace and mercy upon the people. 

It’s crazy to think that God was in the people’s midst, but only one person, one day a year could approach the mercy seat. God was not deliberately trying to separate Himself from the people. They were too unclean to enter into His presence. If they tried, they would be struck dead. God was actually protecting them from His magnificent, all consuming glory.

Hebrews 7:23-28 says, “Now there have been many of those priests, since death prevented them from continuing in office; but because Jesus lives forever, he has a permanent priesthood. Therefore he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them. Such a high priest truly meets our need—one who is holy, blameless, pure, set apart from sinners, exalted above the heavens. Unlike the other high priests, he does not need to offer sacrifices day after day, first for his own sins, and then for the sins of the people. He sacrificed for their sins once for all when he offered himself. For the law appoints as high priests men in all their weakness; but the oath, which came after the law, appointed the Son, who has been made perfect forever.”

This passage is saying that we no longer need earthly priests to intercede for us. Jesus is our High Priest! No longer do we have to offer sacrifices day after day. The main difference between Jesus and the other priests is His blood covered all sin in one act. The old covenant sacrifices made the people clean outwardly, but the blood of Jesus under the new covenant makes us clean from the inside out.

Hebrews 9:11-14 says, “But when Christ came as high priest of the good things that are now already here, he went through the greater and more perfect tabernacle that is not made with human hands, that is to say, is not a part of this creation. He did not enter by means of the blood of goats and calves; but he entered the Most Holy Place once for all by his own blood, thus obtaining[b] eternal redemption. The blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkled on those who are ceremonially unclean sanctify them so that they are outwardly clean. How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God!

Jesus didn’t just go through the man made tabernacle (copy and shadow), He entered the real Most Holy Place, God’s throne room. Hebrews 10:19-22 says that we too can enter into the Most Holy Place with confidence by the blood of Jesus. When the veil of the temple split in half as Jesus breathed His last breath on the cross, this symbolized that there was no more separation between God and His people. No longer do we need a physical tabernacle/temple for God’s presence to reside. His Spirit resides within us! We are the temples! The Holy Spirit is in us for our sake but He works through us for other’s sake. We are to operate in power and authority so that the people we serve are impacted for eternity. My prayer is that as our awareness of our access to His manifested presence, the Holy Spirit, increases, our anointing would then increase and our whole city would be impacted for His kingdom!

  • Aaron Davis

A Garment of Praise

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I have had many conversations with family and friends about physical expressions of worship, the fear of being inauthentic, and what to do with our feelings and emotions.

Thoughts and questions like these: 

“What if I’m having a hard time believing the words I’m singing?” 

“Isn’t it hypocritical for me to sing about joy when everyone knows I’m grieving?”

“I felt like I wanted to lift my hands in worship, but I was worried about what others might think.”

“What if I’m only responding because I’m being influenced by everyone else?” 

These thoughts come from a desire to be genuine, which is a good thing! They are very normal questions in our journey as worshippers. Unfortunately, some of these concerns and questions cause confusion, and they can lead people to the idea that it’s better for them to just observe.  

So, let’s talk through some of these things. We’ll start with the first two questions. 


“What if I’m having a hard time believing the words I’m singing?” 

“Isn’t it hypocritical for me to sing about joy when everyone knows I’m grieving?”

In 2 Samuel 6, we remember that King David danced with abandon before the Lord. And rightfully so! He brought the Ark of the Covenant, the host of the Presence, back from the house of Obed-Edom into the City of David. Can you imagine the joy for David and the members of this city? The Ark contained the Ten Commandments, Aaron’s rod, and a pot of manna - all pieces of the Jews’ history where God had shown up in powerful and miraculous ways. In this moment, they were anticipating the blessings that would come from the Ark being back in their city. So it seems appropriate that David cut loose a bit! He said, “I will become even more undignified than this!” I love it! This story will forever be a beautiful representation for the Church of what it looks like to lose all concern for your own dignity as you are completely consumed with the desire to offer everything in praise. But what was more common in David’s life and ministry was the conscious choice to surrender himself in worship despite his feelings. 

In 2 Samuel 12, David pleaded with the Lord for days to spare his friend’s son’s life. On the seventh day the child died. David got up from the ground where he had prayed. After he had taken a bath, put on lotions, and changed his clothes, he went into the house of the Lord and worshipped. 

In Psalm 63, when David was stranded in the desert of Judah, he says, “Because your love is better than life, my lips will glorify you. I will praise you as long as I live, and in your name I will lift up my hands. I will be fully satisfied as with the richest of foods; with singing lips my mouth will praise you.”

In Psalm 57, when David had fled from Saul into a cave, he writes, “I will take refuge in the shadow of your wings until the disaster has passed… My heart, O God, is steadfast, my heart is steadfast; I will sing and make music.”

In Psalm 43, David speaks to his own soul and says, “Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God.”

You see, sometimes our worship is an overflow of how we are feeling towards the Father. We are overcome with joy or celebration, and it’s almost as if praise is exploding out of us. It’s easy and effortless. What sweet moments those are! But more often than not, worship becomes the path that directs our feelings in the way they should go. Worship is the place where we meet face to face with Jesus, the One who is so very acquainted with grief. Worship actually helps shift our feelings of hopelessness (specifically, feelings about God and His character). Because let’s be honest, we cannot always trust our thoughts and feelings to lead us well. In times of anxiety or grief or fatigue, we make the conscious choice to open our mouths to sing or raise our hands in praise, and we watch as our thoughts come in line with truth. My friends, this is not hypocrisy. This is us making the choice to stay the course! This is us waging war against the enemy and the lies he is throwing at us. This is how we fight our battles. 

Here are a few scenarios that could be relatable:

My friend was just diagnosed with cancer. I also know God is good. So I will sing and declare His goodness over my situation until I believe it. Faith begins to rise.

My spouse just lost their job and we have 4 children. I also know God is Provider. So I will sing and declare His provision over my situation until I believe it. Trust begins to rise.

I have just made the biggest mistake of my life, and I’m filled with shame. I also know God is Redeemer. So I will sing and declare His grace over my situation until I believe it. Hope begins to rise. 

I am walking through a divorce. I also know God has never left my side. So I will sing and declare His love over my situation until I believe it. Peace begins to rise. 

Catching on yet? 


Also, I need to add this: We are not to be afraid of our emotions, tears, or feelings of disappointment. We have to be aware of what’s in our own hearts, because God actually lives there! It is, in fact, impossible to be intimate with God without being aware of our emotions. We don’t worship to avoid our feelings. We worship as a way to process through them with a loving Father. 

Let’s look at the next couple thoughts.

 “I felt like I wanted to lift my hands in worship, but I was worried about what others might think.”

“What if I’m only responding because I’m being influenced by everyone else?” 

If I could encourage you with one thing regarding the fear of what others think, it would be this: An offering of worship is solely about you and the Father. It’s not about the songs being played. It’s not about the style of music or the denomination. It’s about this sacred moment in time where we have gathered to honor Him. If you were face to face with Jesus in the flesh, what would you give Him - physically, verbally, sacrificially? What would you talk to Him about? What would it look like if you walked into a worship setting and your only concern was encountering Him?

So, it’s time to ask Him what He desires of you. And if you don’t feel the freedom to respond in the way He is calling you, why is that? Have you created rules for yourself? Maybe it’s time to surrender those limitations. Also, if you’re wondering what this is supposed to look like, we have the perfect example right in the Word of God! He paints a beautiful picture of what worship looks like privately, corporately, and in the throne room. There will always be new songs and styles, but I believe our response should look the same as it did then. And my favorite part is this: He has given us this gift of worship because He longs to connect with us. He wants to spend time with us, to be close to us, to give us hope. What a good Father! 

Here are a few verses that can show us how to participate with Him in worship:

Ephesians 5:18-19 - Be filled with the Holy Spirit, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs among yourselves, and making music to the Lord in your hearts. 

Psalm 100:1-2 - Shout with joy to the Lord, all the earth! Worship the Lord with gladness. Come before him, singing with joy. 

Psalm 149:1 - Praise the LORD. Sing to the LORD a new song, his praise in the assembly of his faithful people. 

Psalm 95:6 - Come, let us bow down in worship, let us kneel before the LORD our Maker.

Psalm 149:3 - Let them praise his name with dancing and make music to him with timbrel and harp.

Psalm 47:1 - Clap your hands, all you nations; shout to God with cries of joy. For the Lord Most High is awesome, the great King over all the earth.

Psalm 134:2 - Lift up your hands in the sanctuary and praise the Lord.


Friends, my prayer is that you begin to take hold of the weapon of worship that is available to you. May you offer your whole hearts every time there’s an opportunity to worship, and watch as your surrender in song and posture lead you into the heart and mind of Christ. We long for more of you, Jesus.


“The Spirit of the Lord God is upon Me, because the Lord has anointed me to preach good tidings to the poor; He has sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound; to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn, to console those who mourn in Zion, to give them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness.” Isaiah 61:1-3


-Emily Davis 

Have We Lost Artistic Expression In Church Music?

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Church music always has and always will be a hot topic in church culture. The expression and execution of music in the church has become one of the largest dividing factors within denominations. Regardless of whether a person holds contemporary or traditional preferences, it seems that most have heard of or discussed the prevalent allegations that contemporary Christian music is “dumbed down” or too “cookie cutter.” If you’re a church musician, you know as well as I do that as long as you can play I, IV, V, and vi (maybe a ii) chords in any pattern, you’re good to go. This same statement is true with modern pop music as well. I’m not here to discuss modern music culture as a whole, but rather, I’d like to address the following questions: have we lost the art in church music, and what are the primary goals of worship music?

    If you study music history, you know that the church, up until the last half century, has been the trendsetter for music. Many of the best composers, musicians, and venues were commissioned by the church. If you wanted to hear good music and hear it performed well, the church was a great place to do so. However, during the Reformation, Martin Luther realized that church music was not congregational and fought to redefine worship by writing choral hymns in the vernacular instead of Latin. Even during the Counter-Reformation, it is said that the Council of Trent worried that music for the Mass had over complicated itself. Legend has it that the famous composer Palestrina tried to save the polyphonic writing style in the church by simplifying his musical composition of The Pope Marcellus Mass to not distract from the lyrics. But have we swung too far in this direction? Has worship music lost most of its artistic expression and resulted in a far too simplistic music genre?

    As a musician who has played in church for 20 years and led worship for almost 15 years, I have developed my own set of goals that I’d like to achieve within a worship set. My wife Emily and I always have trouble nailing down a song list each week for our church, not because we procrastinate, but because we care deeply about the songs and lyrics we sing over our congregation. We are always analyzing the message of the lyrics, making sure the melodies are singable, deciding whether or not it’s a song our band can pull off, and if we simply resonate with the song. One of our greatest desires and goals for a worship set is participation from the congregation. 

    I remember when the song So Will I (100 Billion X) by Hillsong United came out. I sat listening to the artistry of the arrangement and the depth of the lyrics. My connection with the song ran deep. However, I thought that because of the wordiness of the melody, it would not translate well into a congregational setting. Through the leading of the Holy Spirit, we decided to play the song on a Sunday anyway. Before we started the song, someone from the congregation came up and gave testimony of what the Lord had been revealing to them that week. Through some difficult circumstances, the Lord had brought comfort and revelation to them through the song So Will I which we were about to introduce. Because of this story being shared about the song, there was an instant connection between the congregation and the song that was not expected. On the contrary, we’ve introduced songs in the past that we thought would connect instantly but that never really stuck. 

    A few years ago, I had the privilege of having a Q&A lunch with the band All Sons and Daughters. I asked Leslie, the lead vocalist and guitarist, what she thought made a song congregational and how they implemented it in their songwriting. I remember her response being something along the lines of, “I don’t think it’s just the structure of the melody or what chords you put to the song. We write songs about stories that come out of our church.” I think her point was, their church had ownership of the songs because they came from their experiences. Regardless of the song’s complexity or simplicity, people worship to songs they feel connected to or that make them feel connected to God. So, give people a connection point. Share the story behind the song or why it draws you to a place of worship. 

It is very common for a contemporary worship song to repeat the same phrase over and over, compared to a hymn that has recurring melodies, but varying lyrics verse by verse. This is another common complaint I hear about modern worship songs. My defense to this is that sometimes we have to say something over and over before we actually believe it. Singing the lyrics, “You are good, good, oh” over and over seems “surface level” and “dumbed down.” However, actually believing that God is good in every circumstance is a hard thing to grasp. These simple phrases or melodies in songs are not only easy to catch on to, but they’re usually built around a simple recurring progression. This makes it easy to build upon. For example, when Emily and I are leading worship, we are constantly praying and asking the Holy Spirit to reveal to us what needs to be prayed over the room. If He reveals the theme of peace, we will sing a new improvisational melody over the recurring progression. It’s in these moments that we’ve found true breakthrough in our worship and invited the prophetic ministry of the Holy Spirit to be active. It’s easier to do this when it’s a recurring, four chord progression compared to the chordal, counterpoint style with a sixteen-bar, double period phrased progression often utilized in hymns. Please don’t misunderstand and think that I am against hymns. I love their rich theology and the historical heritage they offer. I am only trying to point out that just because a melodic phrase is simple and recurring doesn’t mean it has to be “surface level.”

    From a functional standpoint, many modern worship songs are written to be easily played by non-professionals. In the past, you needed an accomplished pianist or organist to accompany hymn singing. Now, it’s a lot easier for someone who is a beginner to jump in and at least strum a few chords on a guitar for the accompaniment. However, this should not eliminate the need for accomplished musicians in the church or lower the standard of excellence. It should simply open the door for more participation from musicians of all levels.

    Just because a song is built upon a four chord progression doesn’t mean it has to be musically boring or uncreative. I’ve heard amazing musicians build complex and beautiful melodies over top just one or two chords. Yes, a modern worship song can be led by a beginner guitar student strumming only the downbeats of each chord, but it can also be led with a creative arrangement played with a six piece band where each instrument has detailed, intricate parts to offer. The same goes with a hymn. I don’t have to play Amazing Grace by reading the music straight out of the hymnal. I could simply strum three chords on my guitar for accompaniment. The arrangement of a song can be as creative as you want it to be, regardless of the progression.

    My prayer is that musical preference will no longer prevent people from being able to worship or participate in a congregational setting. Let’s check our hearts. We need to find a way to connect with the Father and declare His worth even when it’s a song or style we don’t enjoy. Whether it’s hymnal singing or the most cutting-edge worship setting, let’s make the choice to overcome our preferences and set our hearts toward Him.

- Aaron Davis