When Life Gets Tough, It’s Time for ‘Shigionoth’!

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J. Lee Grady

The prophet Habakkuk knew the secret: When
circumstances look bad, we should hit the “rejoice” button and turn up the

I have never been into country music. Nothing against Loretta Lynn,
Kenny Chesney or Alan Jackson, or any of their fans, but I just don’t like
twangy songs—especially the sentimental ones that drip with sadness about
divorce, alcoholic husbands, wife abuse and rural poverty. Here are some of the
worst examples of these heartbreaking tunes:

  • “I’m Drinkin’ Christmas Dinner (All Alone This
  • “How Can I Miss You If You Won’t Go Away?”
  • “I Bought the Shoes (That Just Walked Out on
  • “This White Circle on My Finger (Means We’re
  • “If You Won’t Leave Me (I’ll Find Someone Who Will)”
  • “Thank God and Greyhound (She’s Gone)”
  • “When You Wrapped My Lunch in a Roadmap, I
    Knew You Meant Goodbye”

“If you are in a difficult place today, I invite you to
cancel your pity party. Stop singing sad songs about how bad it is.  Instead, go in your secret place, shut the
door and raise the roof with some Shigionoth praise.”

I know it can be strangely therapeutic to listen to
someone sing about their problems when you have the blues. But even Elvis
Presley could tell you that sad music will not pull anybody out of depression.
You need to change the channel.

Centuries ago, the prophet Habakkuk composed what sounds like a syrupy
country ballad. The entire third chapter of the book that bears his name is a
song. Part of it says: 

Though the fig tree should not blossom /
And there be no fruit on the vines /
Though the yield of the olive should fail /
And the fields produce no food /
Though the flock should be cut off from the fold /
And there be no cattle in the stalls /
Yet I will exult in the Lord /
I will rejoice in the God of my salvation.

Those first lines sound awfully sad—so much so that
you expect to hear the words accompanied by a steel guitar and crooning
background vocals. But the Bible gives clear instruction about the
instrumentation of this song, and it is not a melancholy dirge. The musical
notation at the beginning of chapter 3 says, “A prayer of Habakkuk the prophet,
according to Shigionoth.”

There is some debate over the exact meaning of this
musical term, but scholars translate the Hebrew as “a highly emotional poetic
form.” Shigionoth is not slow, whiny or sad, and Habakkuk 3 is not a
cry-in-your-beer ballad. Shigionoth is a high form of praise—wild,
rhythmic and exuberant. It is praise with pumped-up volume and no limits; it is
worship punctuated with exclamation marks!

Before I had my own life-changing experience with the Holy Spirit, I
sometimes heard people criticizing Pentecostals for being “too emotional.” The
assumption was that if somebody laughed, cried, shouted, swayed, jumped,
danced, waved his hands in the air or acted remotely undignified in a worship
service, he was theologically off base and maybe even mentally unstable.

Then I discovered the power of praise, and learned
that King David (who literally wrote the book on exuberant worship) believed in
getting “highly emotional” when he was with God. Not only did he sing, shout,
clap and dance to rhythm—he was accused of being a religious fanatic. Habakkuk
apparently understood this same musical principle. He knew there are times in
our lives when we need to go overboard in our praise.

Habakkuk 3 has specific application for all of us
today as we pass through a difficult season of national crisis, economic
uncertainty and spiritual challenge. We are in a day of distress, and we will
be tempted to sing the blues if we focus on barren fig trees, empty fields,
lost jobs and shrinking family budgets.

Habakkuk instructs us to shift the mood by creating
a noisy soundtrack of praise. This prophet refused to let the failures of the
present dictate his future. He was not in denial of the facts, but he saw
clearly that God was above his circumstances. He broke out of depression with a
loud declaration. He chose to Shigionoth instead of sulk. He sang with
deep emotion: “Yet I will exult in the Lord, I will rejoice in the God of my

If you are in a difficult place
today, I invite you to cancel your pity party. Stop singing sad songs about how
bad it is. Instead, go in your secret place, shut the door and raise the roof
with some Shigionoth praise.

J. Lee Grady is the former editor
of Charisma. You can follow him on
Twitter at leegrady. His most recent book is 10 Lies Men Believe
(Charisma House).

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J. Lee Grady is an author, award-winning journalist and ordained minister. He served as a news writer and magazine editor for many years before launching into full-time ministry.

Lee is the author of six books, including 10 Lies the Church Tells Women, 10 Lies Men Believe and Fearless Daughters of the Bible. His years at Charisma magazine also gave him a unique perspective of the Spirit-filled church and led him to write The Holy Spirit Is Not for Sale and Set My Heart on Fire, which is a Bible study on the work of the Holy Spirit.

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