Here I Am To Worship

by Rachel Pieh Jones on May 14, 2014

I spent our early days in the Horn of Africa going to the market in the morning and learning how to decipher goat from beef from camel meat that hung in fly-covered slabs and then grinding it myself, how to make French Fries from potatoes instead of from the Drive-Thru, and studying language. Sort of. We had toddler twins, no running water, electricity four-six hours a day. There wasn’t a lot of spare time.

I spent the afternoons trying to meet neighbors. This meant I sat outside our front gate and forced our kids to play in the dirt road. They wanted to (mostly). There were goats to chase, kids to greet, camels to watch, flowers to pick, stones to examine. When a neighbor walked by I would stand and greet her, pretend to be able to understand, smile like an idiot, and feel way too happy if she seemed to understand me back.

My husband was at the University most of the time and as the  afternoons dragged on and I felt more and more ridiculous and alone and alien, I would start praying for the evening call to prayer to come quickly so the kids and I could scamper inside for dinner.

I ached for someone to talk to, for the ability to communicate. I had so many questions pent up, so many things I wanted to learn and discuss and process verbally. Loneliness pressed in and my foreignness stuck out.

One afternoon after a particularly awkward conversation in which I asked a woman if she was carrying a baby in the bundle on her back (I think that’s what I asked) and she responded that it was the dirty laundry of her wealthy neighbor (I think that’s what she said), I called the kids to go inside before the call to prayer.

I put on a movie for the twins and retreated to the office to listen to music by myself. I hoped their movie and my music would drown out the sound of me crying and for once was thankful my husband wasn’t home yet. Culture shock and isolation and feelings of uselessness consumed me.

“What on earth am I doing here?” I said. I’m an actor in a play, wearing strange clothes, eating strange food, speaking memorized lines. I’m an alien, transplanted to a planet where every single thing is different and I will never make sense.

“Here I am to worship” by Chris Tomlin came on. I remember standing in the center of the red carpet with my hands up and the words changed.

Instead of ‘here I am to worship,’ I heard ‘I am here to worship. I am here to bow down. I am here to say that you’re my God.’


In that moment, something inside me broke. The expectations I clung to that spoke of all the things I dreamed of accomplishing, all the pressure to speed language study along, all the anxiety about fitting in, learning local customs, participating in the development of an education system from the ground floor up, they crumbled in a heap at my feet.

The answer to my question, ‘what am I doing here?’ was answered in a whisper, in a song.

I am here to worship.

All other striving and work, good and beneficial though it may be, faded in the light of this beauty.

I am here to worship.

It was both promise and purpose, it was a phrase I would carry deep within me across borders and nations and new homes and neighborhoods. I would carry it back to Minnesota and to boarding school and to Djibouti. It hums and burns and undergirds my parenting and marriage and decision-making. It is a phrase for all of life.

In this moment, in this relationship, in the valley of this grief, at the height of this joy, in loneliness and fellowship, in brokenness and in success, God what do you want from me? Why have you set me here?

I am here to worship.

How have you felt your purpose challenged? Changed?

*image via Wikipedia

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About Rachel Pieh Jones

Rachel was raised in the Christian west and said, ‘you betcha’ and ate Jell-O salads, she now lives in the Muslim east, says ‘insha Allah,’ and eats samosas. Her work has appeared in the New York Times, Family Fun, Running Times, and more, and she blogs for Brain Child and Babble.
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  • Anna walmsley

    Wow, you just described where I am at completely right down to the toddlers laying on the road outside in the heat and dirt. We are brand new in our community and I too am struggling with loneliness and a yearning to have anything to say past hello. Thankyou for giving me perspective.

    • Rachel ‘Pieh’ Jones

      Welcome, Anna, to the lonely and at the same time, community-building life of living abroad. Strange how those two things go hand in hand often. Good and hard.

  • debra

    Cut to the chase, life put into perspective=rest and peace. Thank you for the reminder of why I am here.

    • Rachel ‘Pieh’ Jones

      Yup. “In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength.”

  • That is an amazing article. It reminds me very much of a conversation I had with another missionary who was VERY near burnout until God brought him to the place that what he was doing was because of God’s kingship rather than his identity within his ministry. Now everything he does (including the trip he’s on right now) is an act of worship.

    What a powerful concept!

  • Richelle Wright

    I think keeping that perspective is one of the hardest things about changing fields. I’d finally gotten past that point and didn’t feel so foreign ALL of the time… actually felt like I could contribute and had some genuine friendships that transcended all those boundaries – Now to start over in a diametrically different place, a place that seems more scary and dangerous (especially when I compare unknown, difficult to understand cultures, snakes and diseases to the moral, narcissistic, materialistic challenges of life in the west)… sometimes the knowledge that we can do all from a heart of worship is all that keeps me not even moving forward, but at least mostly standing and looking up.

    thanks for this, rachel.

    • Rachel ‘Pieh’ Jones

      This connection to life back in the US, and needing some of these same lessons there, is so good Richelle. And this word, about worship, has been what helps me over and over again (though I often forget) on both sides of the ocean. And it certainly helps me through various parenting stages too. Can I worship while changing a diaper? Pourquoi pas?! Why not? And through all kinds of other ups and downs and monotonies and adventures…

  • Rachel, thank you. *tears*

  • Marilyn Gardner

    I hereby declare that your posts should carry a “Warning: Tears ahead” sign. I read this about an hour ago and my husband wondered why I was on the couch, face wet with tears. “Who died?” he asks…..These words pierce the soul “All other striving and work, good and beneficial though it may be, faded in the light of this beauty.” Thank you for using your voice so beautifully – a voice that stretches so far beyond your world in Djibouti.

    • Rachel ‘Pieh’ Jones

      I try to write funny things sometimes but they just don’t come out very funny. :O) I think Tara Livesay has got that pretty well covered though so I should learn from her. I should send you a box of Kleenex. Thanks for being a gentle, receptive heart.

  • Kelly Hallahan

    Yes! My word for 2014 is “here”. And this post encapsulates why. Here is the only place I can worship. And even though right now “here” means homeland ministry I can worship here- just as well as I can worship in Africa! Thank you for giving voice to my word, and for your truth-telling about missions life!

    • Rachel ‘Pieh’ Jones

      Good word. So, well, present. Its true, you can’t worship in the future or in the past or in a different place, you can only do it where you are, by being fully where you are.

  • Elizabeth Trotter

    I love this idea of worship being our purpose in life (to glorify God and enjoy Him forever, right?). Sometimes that feels so selfish, though. In an environment where everything is measured, we have all these “key result areas,” and we’re not supposed to rest until the whole world is saved, it feels selfish to be able to enjoy God personally, and to worship Him because we want to, because we love to, because we were made to. I can’t help but notice, though, that after days where I feel I’ve failed at everything I’m supposed to “perform” at, that taking time to just sing to God takes the pain of those disappointments and embarrassments away. How this happens is a mystery, because *I* could never take those feelings away in my own power, no matter how hard I tried. It’s like they don’t matter, though, because He is the one who matters, He is the one who is good. You are right, worship really IS our purpose.

  • Ashlee Englund

    Thanks for sharing this. It reminds me of the song, “Broken Hallelujah” by The Afters. Even when we’re going through pain, our purpose is still to worship; thanks for the reminder.

    Here is one verse and chorus:

    I can barely stand right now.
    Everything is crashing down,
    And I wonder where You are.
    I try to find the words to pray.
    I don’t always know what to say,
    But You’re the one that can hear my heart.
    Even though I don’t know what your plan is,
    I know You’re making beauty from these ashes.

    I’ve seen joy and I’ve seen pain.
    On my knees, I call Your name.
    Here’s my broken hallelujah.
    With nothing left to hold onto,
    I raise these empty hands to You.
    Here’s my broken hallelujah.

    • Rachel ‘Pieh’ Jones

      Beautiful. Thanks Ashlee.

  • mpieh

    I am here to worship. Five words that change EVERYTHING. When you really stop and think about it, that is what the Christian life all boils down to. It is simply and intentionally placing ourselves in the presence of God every day, right where we are, giving our lives as an offering to Him, open to whatever he has for us…checking our pride, our good works, our wills, and our plans at the door. It requires a tremendous amount of faith and trust, emptying and dying to self…but, oh, the PEACE.
    Rachel, thank you, once again, for openly and honestly sharing your journey with us. You have such a beautiful way of imparting wisdom and truth, while challenging and encouraging your readers in their own faith journeys.
    Much love from your Alaska cousins…can’t wait to see you this summer! 🙂

  • Tara Porter-Livesay

    Amen, sister. Preach.

  • I needed that. Thank you for sharing your moment of transformation.

  • Jen

    I needed this also. Thank you for such a beautiful article. Our family is in a month long language and culture acquisition training this month as we get ready to move to a closed country in SE Asia and with all of the talk of the culture stress we are about to face and the exhaustion of coming language learning, I was feeling overwhelmed and needed to hear this to get refocused. Great article. Worship – Yes! We will be there to worship the King, and He will be more than enough to see us through.

  • Heidi Jessurun

    I came out at the same place, Rachel: worship is what God wants. However, that led me to ask, “Well, God, can’t I just worship you in the U.S. then?” The question of PURPOSE is critical if I am to remain in joyful service over the long haul. Do I have something unique to offer by being obedient to my calling to serve in a difficult, uncomfortable environment? If not, then I perhaps could justify staying home.
    For me I see that my contribution as a wife and mother allows my husband to fulfill the vision God placed more strongly on his heart than I sometimes feel on any given day when I taxi my kids, show hospitality, stumble through the paltry amount of language I know with a neighbor, or hole up in my house during times of political unrest. For me, I must be convinced that my obedience to God (through submission to my husband as much as any “ministry” I am privileged to do) serves a purpose in building God’s Kingdom. That requires FAITH that God is accomplishing something through my little contributions that I probably won’t see this side of heaven. I’m not always so comfortable with that, but that, too, is my act of worship.

    • Rachel ‘Pieh’ Jones

      Thanks for this -good point. I guess one answer is Yes – you could worship God in the US. But your point of purpose is key, too. He has brought you here, or there, or through this trial and worship is what I’m gonna do, darn it all, in the middle of it even when I feel like a failure. Taxiing the kids, stumbling around language awkwardnesses (like that one I just wrote), God is putting you there for a purpose and while that purpose is being fulfilled, worship. Something like that, hand in hand. I wonder, too, though, could it be enough if our purpose was, really, exclusively or firstly, to worship? And then obedience in living in a certain place and doing a certain work was subsidiary to that? What do you think?

  • I am here to worship. I want to put those words above my desk. I struggle many times with why I am here and this is the answer no matter where I am . I am here to worship.

    • Rachel ‘Pieh’ Jones

      Above my computer I have a few quotes from a wide variety of sources (Cheryl Strayed, Rumi, and the Bible) So whatever you do, whether you eat or drink, do it all for the glory of God. I guess that is like worship – doing what we are doing, here, in this moment, for his glory.

  • Love this, and so many of your blogs. Thanks so much for sharing. After living overseas for five years, I’m getting ready to head “home” to the US for awhile… a place that feels about as much like “home” as Tanzania does these days. I feel like a lot of my “purpose” is being left-behind as I finish teaching MKs, change directions and locations… but in the States as well as in East Africa, I can stand on the reminder that my purpose is to be there to worship!

    • Rachel ‘Pieh’ Jones

      So hard to transition between all these places that start to feel like home. That’s what I love about this purpose – it goes everywhere with me and fits.

  • Hi Rachel, I found you through a link at TC Avey’s blog, and so glad I did. This is such a beautiful post. I’ve been thinking that’s also how I need to approach writing. As an opportunity to worship God. Your post also reminded me of Romans 12:1. When Paul tells us to offer our bodies as a living sacrifice and that it’s our spiritual service of worship, the word for spiritual is logikane – having to do the with the mind. A thought out sort of worship. The idea of sacrifice and thinking both seem to tie into the story you told of your day in Africa. Thank you for sharing it!

    • Rachel ‘Pieh’ Jones

      Good word from Romans 12, thanks Barb for making that connection and sharing it.

  • Thanks Rachel. Getting ready to head back to the States for a year and am feeling so overwhelmed at all the transition I see looming just down the road. I needed this reminder that my main purpose is not to accomplish or do or fix–my main purpose is to worship God. Thank you for this!

  • I have always had a beef with that song for that very line. “Here I am to worship” seemed so pretentious to me. “Here I am, Lord, look at me, I’m worshiping you, aren’t you impressed?” But it’s amazing how just the rearranging of those words completely changes things. I love it and will sing it like that from now on. Thanks so much for sharing this.

  • Nia

    Overwhelming honest words. I am about to go overseas for my first mission trip so far away from home (I am from South America about to go to SE Asia). But lately I have found myself asking God that I want His presence to be my home. I want “to feel at home” everywhere I find a secret place to worship Him. Maybe I will find myself struggling with language, mission team, customs and food, but I want to make my ultimate goal to just worship Jesus so His presence fills the small village I’ll be living in for the next 10 months.

  • Ecuador Missions

    Just beautiful. Amen .

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