Worship and Living Art: an interview with Dolly Lee

Originally published Friday, 03 April 2015.

I’ve known Dolly Lee for almost nine years, since our kids were in preschool together. Dolly is the friend who sees you, who pursues you, who asks you to go on a walk and then asks you the tough questions that you needed to be asked. And she does this because she loves you, because she knows that pursuing God is worth it, even if it means going into the hard places. She is a writer and a teacher, a Bible study leader and a prayer warrior. I am honored that she is spending time with us here.

I wanted to interview Dolly, as I'm exploring what it means for women to listen for God in their lives. Specifically, I am curious about how the way each one of us hears Him relates to how we worship, how we uniquely experience God’s presence.

What does it mean to live a life of art and worship, with God?

Jennifer: Dolly, when we hear the word “worship” it is so easy to think of church, to think of praise music, to think of being in a sanctuary full of people and being led by a defined worship leader as we sing songs about God. When you hear the word “worship” what’s the first image that comes to mind?

Dolly: First image: kneeling before God. Surrendering all of me to God— my desires, thoughts, dreams, and body because I know God is worthy of my all. I confess I fail to worship God as He deserves most of the time because my old sin nature wants to worship other false idols, which are more visible.

But on those occasions when my will has been fully surrendered (which is a work of God’s grace), I have felt God’s presence, love and power in ways words cannot describe.

Jennifer: How would you define worship?

Dolly: Worship is a huge topic. Here is my short answer: worship is a heart surrendered to God because one sees God’s worthiness, love, grace, mercy, greatness, goodness, majesty and sovereignty.

True worship is a surrendered heart toward God. One can worship God at church, at home, at work…anywhere because God is everywhere and it is a heart attitude. So one can sing songs at church and worship God but one can also sing those same songs without worshipping God depending on one’s heart attitude toward God.

Choosing to praise God for who He is using Scripture or songs often helps remind me of who God is and helps me to develop more of a heart of worship.

Jennifer: How has your regard for worship evolved and what has shaped that?

Dolly: In late 1998 or early 1999, I read and prayed through the book, 31 Days of Praise by Ruth Myers. She speaks from her own experience of losing her first husband to cancer and becoming a single mom (if I recall correctly).

Ruth learned how to praise or worship God in the depths of her and her husband’s suffering. Ruth writes a prayer (one prayer for each of the 31 days) with endnotes on the Scriptures she used to craft her prayers. She also includes teaching on why one praises God. Praying those prayers even when I didn’t feel like it changed me slowly from the inside-out as I went through the book more than once on and off for at least two years.

Ruth Myers showed me I can worship God regardless of my feelings or circumstances and as I do, I also begin to grow in my trust relationship with God.

To clarify, worship doesn't mean my painful feelings disappear right away, it simply means I've invited God and the truth of who He has revealed Himself to be into my situation.

Even though I have experienced the beauty and benefits of worship, I still struggle to worship sometimes. To worship God, I begin by first being open to His Presence and love.

Jennifer: What are some of your very favorite things to do with God?

Dolly: In 2011, I was introduced to prayer labyrinths. I was skeptical but now I really enjoy walking and praying through one when I can. I also love walking outside. I also enjoy digging deep into God’s Word, such as looking up the Greek for a New Testament word or Hebrew for an Old Testament word because it makes a passage so much richer. Oh, I love to journal because it helps me to sort out my thoughts and feelings so I can bring all of me to God.

Jennifer: How do you love experiencing God's presence?

Dolly: Similar to the previous question and I would add, I experience God’s presence in solitude as well as in community. I always learn so much from being with other sisters and brothers in Christ because they will see a different facet of Christ’s person and/or a truth than I would because of their unique personalities.

Jennifer: How would you define God’s “voice”?

Dolly: God’s “voice” to me is consistent with what He has revealed about Himself in Scripture. God is love, so His voice is never harsh even when God corrects me. His voice would not be inconsistent with what is taught in the Ten Commandments or with how Jesus lived His life, which was one of courageous love.

I’m struck with how Jesus didn’t meet everyone’s expectations of what God’s Messiah would look or act like. Certainly, many of his first followers were expecting Him to overthrow Roman oppression and not die on the Cross like the suffering servant predicted in Isaiah 52:13 through Isaiah 53.

Jennifer: Do you think it is possible for everyone to hear God’s voice?

Dolly: Yes. God speaks (through the Bible, creation and other believers) but are we listening? And I don’t mean God’s voice is necessarily audible. For me it is more a sense of the Spirit nudging me to do something or away from something or when I read a Bible passage, such as I Cor. 13: 4-7 and I become painfully aware of how I fail to love as God calls me to love. But at the same time, I know God doesn’t condemn me (Rom. 8:1) and that as I am in God’s Presence (2 Cor. 3:18), God changes me from the inside-out.

God (through prophets) in the Old Testament and Jesus in the New Testament both talk about people who are “deaf” because they choose not to listen.

Lately, I’ve been struck anew with the truth of Psalm 46:10. We need to be still or in some translations, “cease striving,” to know God.

We can’t really know God if we’re busy with our preconceived notions of God. From personal experience and from talking to friends, sometimes our preconceived and false images (or idols) of God are unconscious. Then a crisis hits and your false image of God is revealed. It can be painful. And from reading other people share their journeys, if they’ve walked for God for a while, they talk about how a crisis revealed their false perception of God. I've experienced the painful wrenching of false idols and I'm glad for God's severe mercy as it has increased my intimacy with God. Yet in my humanity, I'd rather not go through it again.

If one can eventually worship God in the midst of the crisis, one can grow in intimacy with God. It sounds counterintuitive but I’ve experienced it and so have many others. I wonder if that is what worship is.

Jennifer: How does hearing God relate to the experience of worshipping Him?

Dolly: When one truly worships God, one is not doing so because one is hoping or trying to get God to give you something, however good it may be. True worship is when one recognizes who God truly is and who one is in relationship to God.

Apart from the Holy Spirit giving us the eyes to see our own need of Christ as Savior because of our sin/brokenness, we can’t see truly our own condition. When we become a new creation in Christ (2 Cor. 5:17), we begin to see more and more God’s goodness and greatness. The more I worship God, the more I am open or receptive to hearing God because I know He has the answers to my deepest longings.

Jennifer: How do you discern God’s voice over all the other noise in your life? What are some practical ways to figure out if it is His voice you are hearing--or something else?

Dolly: This is a very hard one and an ongoing process in my life. But let me try to list some practical things I try to do:

How to know if it is God's voice you are hearing: by Dolly Lee

  • Always compare with Scripture . . . God is not going to ask you to do something contrary to His teachings, such as commit adultery, cheat, etc.
  • Check with trusted Christian leaders and/or friends.They may have insights you don’t have about yourself or a situation.
  • Study God’s Word for yourself.
  • Pray . . . be willing to go out of your comfort zone.
  • Read and listen to solid Bible teachers like Timothy Keller, Charles Swindoll, Ray Stedman and Beth Moore, to name a few.
  • Pray and mean it when you tell God, “Thy will be done.” It can be very hard to surrender to God’s will when it doesn’t look like what you wanted. I speak from experience.
  • Don’t make any major decisions when you’ve suffered a huge loss or are in crisis or when you’re HALT (Hungry, Angry, Lonely or Tired). A wiser friend taught me the HALT acronym.

Jennifer: I so appreciate your sharing this, Dolly. . . On another note, I know it was no small thing for you to beginning writing, specifically blogging. Before you began writing on your blog you already had years of experience teaching and leading women’s ministry. How does your experience of creating art, with God, relate to worship? What can we learn from your experience of listening for God’s voice in your life?

Dolly: You can learn to be a better listener for God’s voice. Sometimes you will get it wrong but you can always repent/ change your mind and actions. Learn from it.

After being married to my husband for 23 years, I know his voice and what he will say and do sometimes before he does. I’ve studied him, learned what he likes and dislikes so I can better understand him.

I’ve known God longer than I’ve known my husband. Likewise, when I’ve actively studied God through His Word, through being with Him in solitude, through being in community with other Christ-followers, I become better able to discern God’s voice.

Jennifer: Dolly, thank you so much, my dear friend.

Question for you, dear reader: What is one way you discern God's voice in your life? 

Dolly Lee is a beautiful writer, encourager, and prayer warrior. Connect with her at her blog, SoulStops.

Also follow her on Twitter and on Facebook, where she shares encouraging quotes and posts throughout the week.