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A Costly Hallelujah

I saw the lifted hands. I heard the words coming from my mouth. I felt the pressure to have gratitude resonate through my body. Hallelujah. Hallelujah. Our God reigns. Hallelujah. Somehow, I couldn’t quite get my heart to match my words after spending the previous night shaking and sobbing on my knees, my mind unraveling as it fell victim to Postpartum OCD. I didn’t feel an exultation of jubilation in that worship service when hours before I had to call my husband as I questioned my sanity for the horror consuming my thoughts.

 

Hallelujah. The situation reminded me of another worship service, a time when a hallelujah was equally difficult to utter. My body rather than my mind had been the victim then. After seven years of torment, no doctors could cure the pain that ravaged my shoulder. At 19 years old, I could not turn off a light switch without keeling over in pain. I had lost my quality of life, but an ember of hope had remained. At a church service back then, I had lifted my hand in intentional worship, unable to extend it fully for the nerve pain searing down my arm.

 

Hallelujah. Now, I reached out in my mind, trying to grasp the gratitude in which everyone around me seemed to be swimming. The emotion of the hallelujahs seemed to slip through my fingers, but the core conviction of them held firm like a rope in my hand. I tested the rope. It held. I couldn’t quite pull myself toward God’s goodness through the storm in my mind, but I could clench that hallelujah rope like a lifeline.

 

Hallelujah. God had been faithful through the physical pain of losing my quality of life. He was faithful not only in doctors finding my biceps degenerating inside me, but He was faithful through the pain until they did, too. Though I couldn’t see it, I knew the God I wanted to praise through my mental pain was the same God I had praised through my physical suffering. No matter the pain, no matter the unknown, God remained the same. Yet again, He was worthy of my costly hallelujah.

 

When we choose to trust God when He doesn’t seem trustworthy, to express gratitude through our doubt, and to submit a tear of trust to Him in a sea of agony, all with a single, whispered hallelujah, it costs us. It costs us our pride, our view of justice, our impatience, and our control. A costly hallelujah can feel like swallowing lead, but it is sometimes the price of intimacy with a suffering Savior.

 

I’m not the first one to draw the connection between pain and victory embodied in the word hallelujah. In fact, the term hallelujah was popularized by the Hallelujah chorus in Handel’s oratorio, Messiah, oftentimes heard at Christmas season (Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Ha-lee-luuu-jahh!). But of the 30 performances of Messiah in Handel’s lifetime, he didn’t conduct a single one during Christmas time. He considered the composition a Lenten piece, traditionally performed on Easter Day.

 

Handel’s piece was a declaration of victory after a season of grieving and fasting. And that same resurrection power that we celebrate on Easter day is alive and well today, ready and active to weave redemption into every layer of our pain when we invite Jesus into our suffering. We can invite Jesus in because He knows exactly what it’s like to offer up a costly hallelujah.

 

To see what I mean, let’s look at how the word hallelujah is depicted in the Bible. Hallelujah comes from two Hebrew words (hālal - yāh) meaning "Praise ye the Lord" or "Praise Yahweh.” Hālal - yāh is exclusively found in the Psalms as exclamations of praise and is often translated as “Praise the Lord.” The only other place the word hallelujah is found in the Bible is through the translation of the Greek word allēlouia in Revelation 19:1-6:

 

After this I heard what seemed to be the loud voice of a great multitude in heaven, crying out,

 

Hallelujah!

Salvation and glory and power belong to our God,

2     for his judgments are true and just;

for he has judged the great prostitute

    who corrupted the earth with her immorality,

and has avenged on her the blood of his servants.”

3 Once more they cried out,

Hallelujah!

The smoke from her goes up forever and ever.”

4 And the twenty-four elders and the four living creatures fell down and worshiped God who was seated on the throne, saying, “Amen. Hallelujah!” 5 And from the throne came a voice saying,

“Praise our God,

    all you his servants,

you who fear him,

    small and great.”

6 Then I heard what seemed to be the voice of a great multitude, like the roar of many waters and like the sound of mighty peals of thunder, crying out,

 

Hallelujah!

For the Lord our God

    the Almighty reigns.

7 Let us rejoice and exult

    and give him the glory,

for the marriage of the Lamb has come,

    and his Bride has made herself ready;

8 it was granted her to clothe herself

    with fine linen, bright and pure”—

for the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints.”

 

Here, hallelujah is celebrating the defeat of the Great Prostitute, who symbolizes Babylon and the spiritual adultery of the world against God for generations. Ending the passage and the declarations of gratitude is the marriage feast of the Lamb, where after generations and generations of living under the curse of the Fall in our bodies, minds, and emotions, we will celebrate Christ’s ultimate victory when every tear will be wiped away and every pain will cease. In this passage, there is ultimately a triumphant, victorious hallelujah sung for the reigning God, but first there is an equally triumphant hallelujah rejoicing over the downfall of evil at the hand of God.

 

When we sing hallelujah, we can be reminded not only of the gratitude we have for all of God’s faithfulness, but also His coming and current victory in our pain. We know the ending of the story, laid out with a jubilant hallelujah chorus in Revelation 19, so we can sing from that point of victory.

 

To raise a hallelujah in the middle of our pain is a choice. It’s a stake in the ground, a flag of surrender waving from a rod of perseverance that refuses to be moved. It’s an active declaration that regardless of the uncertainty of your future, regardless of the agony of your current circumstance, and regardless of the way God chooses to move in your life, He is worthy of your worship and He is worthy of your trust.



 

As a Jew, Jesus would have recited the Hallel, or the prayers in Psalms 113-118, at Passover each year. It was most likely the Hallel that Jesus and His disciples sang in Matthew 26:30 and Mark 14:26 right before they left for the Mount of Olives, where Jesus was betrayed and handed over to be crucified. I can’t help but wonder if it was the kind of hallelujah in Revelation 19 that Jesus had in mind when he sang the Hallel a few days before His crucifixion. Imagine the hope and victory Jesus must have felt amidst His pain as He sung these words hours before being tortured to death:

 

 “I will not die, but I will live and proclaim what the Lord has done.” (Psalm 118:17)

 

Before Jesus offered up Himself for us, He offered praise to His Father. Before our sin cost Him everything, He offered up His own costly hallelujah. And tucked within that hallelujah were the seeds of victory that would change the world three days later.

  

When we offer up our own costly hallelujahs, we tap into the victory of Christ in our pain. His victory is what makes our hallelujahs triumphant, for it is when our hallelujahs cost us the most that we receive the most. It is when our hallelujahs are uttered from the lips of an empty soul that we are filled to overflowing from the Well of Life itself.

 

Hallelujah isn’t just sarcastic gratitude when a petty annoyance is taken from your shoulders; it’s a sacrificial shout of triumph where you proclaim the victory of the Lamb over your current circumstances as you bring a piece of heaven to Earth in the form of a victorious exclamation of thanksgiving. Hallelujah is singing when you can’t lift your arm; it’s shouting gratitude when you feel like you’re losing your mind. It’s singing the Hallel on the way to the cross.

 

Jesus knows what a costly hallelujah is. He suffered for us, and He calls us to give thanks amidst our pain like He did. Because of His costly hallelujah, we can always sing our own costly hallelujahs. 

 

Hallelujah.

 

 

 

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