Category Archives: worship

It’s not about the music….

Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God – this is your spiritual act of worship. Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – his good, pleasing and perfect will.

(Romans 12.1&2)

Ascribe to the Lord, all you families of nations, ascribe to the Lord glory and strength. Ascribe to the Lord the glory due his name; bring an offering and come before him. Worship the Lord in the splendour of his holiness. Tremble before him, all the earth!

(1 Chron 16.28-30)

But the Lord said to Samuel,..”The Lord does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.

(1 Sam.16.7)

Jesus declared,…”a time is coming and has now come when the true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshippers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshippers must worship in spirit and in truth.”

(Jn 4.23&24)

Worship….what does it look like in my life, to really ‘worship’? I believe that to worship anything is to give honour, to defer and make that object the grounds and goal of all one’s decision-making. It is to express humble adoration, to elevate the adored object and rejoice in being in a position to serve, to dedicate all that is best in myself, to the glorifying and blessing of that which I worship. A worshipper delights to be with others who share the same faith, but is also delighted to have solitary time to contemplate and dwell with the beloved.

The worshipper who is a follower of Jesus Christ, one who is – by faith in the redeeming power of his death – privileged to enter freely into the presence of Almighty God and to call him ‘Father’; that person has the joy of giving their adoration, service and  commitment to one who is utterly worthy. We need have no doubts about our God, our King, He is splendid in his holiness; glorious in his purity; faithful in his justice; and awesome in his grace.

Is the worship – the elevation of, the service to, the humble commitment and dedication of all that I am – of this God to be expressed only when I sing? Surely not! Music may form a very small part of my worship of God – for some people it may be more significant than others – but it cannot and must not be the only way in which we think of this word. My God sees my heart, sees my thoughts, and knows my secret desires and failings. This God is not taken in by the public face I may put on at church on a Sunday, not fooled by enthusiastic singing, or particularly delighted by ecstatic emotional experiences which can arise just as readily at a concert of secular music as in a church service of praise!

He sees my heart, weighs my motives, discerns my private rebellions and those things which I refuse to surrender to his will and purpose. It is here that my true worship begins, in the willed abandonment of any claims to self-government, in deliberate aligning of my own thinking to his law and his truth. True worship, stems from the prostration of my spirit at the cross and results in a life which – in every aspect – is at his command.

I am only too well aware of the extent to which I fall short of this true worship. And I am thankful for this awareness, because it keeps me from the dangers of pride or boasting, or of judging others. I am completely dependent on his loving forgiveness, and daily grace for the small measure of obedience and worship which I am able to render. Praise him for his fathomless mercy and love towards his wayward children, whom he is tenderly leading home!

 

Worshipping God faithfully requires that I remember that I am not my own, but His; bought with a price and for a purpose. My body, intellect, emotions and will are gifts, and I am accountable to God for the use I make of them. True worship requires that I steward these resources according to His will and for His glory – pursuing holiness, selflessness, a proper appreciation of all His gifts. I must continually be asking – why am I doing this, does it glorify God, build up His church, proclaim His love and mercy?

Joyful, faithful, humble stewardship – this is my worship.

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Channels of blessings…

God saw all that he had made, and it was very good…

(Genesis 1.31)

How many are your works, O Lord! In wisdom you made them all; the earth is full of your creatures..May the glory of the Lord endure for ever; may the Lord rejoice in his works…I will sing to the Lord all my life; I will sing praise to my God as long as I live. may my meditation be pleasing to him, as I rejoice in the Lord.

(Ps 104.24, 31, 33&34)

For everything God created is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, because it is consecrated by the word of God and prayer.

(1 Tim.4.4&5)

The evening sun is still high above the horizon, and its brilliance casts a path of silver onto the waves as they drive in across the bay. There is a strong breeze in my face, but I am warm in my coat and boots, and the winter bite has gone from the air. The air is full of the sounds of wind and sea; of little birds calling to one another as they forage among the stones and pools, of gulls mewing as they ride the wind and glide effortlessly high above me, of waves breaking and breaking, then hissing backwards over the shingle. I can smell and taste the salt scent of exposed seaweed and seawater, and the underlay of clean, soft west coast air. Under my fingers, the beach is not cold, but sun-warmed, the stones rounded by countless years of agitation under the waves, each one unique, from tiniest chip to weightiest boulder a creation of water and wind, every variety of colour and gentle in my hands.

Sometimes, it is as though my senses are newly wakened – often it happens after a time of illness, or in this current case a time of intense labour and anxiety. The bright light of sunshine after a cloudy morning beguiled me out to walk in the evening and the empty beach called me down off the road. I sat- I don’t know for how long – and felt myself nourished, felt tension easing and peace restored, as I literally grounded my body in the reality of creation and allowed blessing to flow in through my senses.

What joy, to be a child of this world’s creator; to know to whom we owe the immeasurable debt of gratitude for all his provision for us – that it should be so much more than the bare minimum of necessities of life, but this incredibly bountiful experience. How wonderful to know that in providing us with senses by which we can navigate and exist safely in the world, our God also provided channels through which we can receive so much pure pleasure, and feel ourselves nurtured and loved. Truly we are fearfully and wonderfully made!

In one sense, beauty and pleasure are not necessary for life…but we know that without them, we are impoverished and suffer deep in our spirits. We know that Christ came to give us life in all its fulness, a rich and fruitful life which results in thanksgiving and glory to the author of our creation, our redemption and the new life which is in us. And in that context, the gifts which we receive by our senses are as much nourishment as the food and drink which we consume. Anyone may appreciate beauty – God gave that gift to all his children – but the believer has the particular blessing of knowing to whom thanks is due, and of sharing her delight in beauty with its author. Our joys are thus multiplied and deepened, and our lives enlarged and enriched.

May I never confuse the gifts with the Giver, nor pursue their pleasure at the expense of his will; may I allow him to decide when to bless me with that occasional ecstasy of delight which sends my heart soaring in thankfulness and praise, and not make it my goal in life to repeat the experience. I can live richly from day to day on the unnumbered pleasures of normal food and drink, sights, sounds, scents and touch, if only I will notice them and appreciate them as they come. Praise God, from whom ALL blessings flow, and who has given us so many ways to receive them…

 

Spelling it out..

When I am afraid, I will trust in you. In God, whose word I praise, in God I trust; I will not be afraid. What can mortal man do to me?………..Record my lament; list my tears on your scroll – are they not in your record? I am under vows to you, O God; I will present my thank-offerings to you. For you have delivered me from death and my feet from stumbling, that I may walk before God in the light of life.

(Psalm 56. 3,4,8,12&13)

Have mercy on me, O God, have mercy on me, for in you my soul takes refuge. I will take refuge in the shadow of your wings until the disaster has passed. I cry out to God most high, to God, who fulfills his purpose for me. He sends from heaven and saves me…God sends his love and his faithfulness…My heart is steadfast, O God, my heart is steadfast; I will sing and make music….I will praise you, O Lord, among the nations; I will sing of you among the peoples. For great is your love, reaching to the heavens; your faithfulness reaches to the skies. Be exalted, O God, above the heavens; let your glory be over all the earth.

(Psalm 57.2,3,7-10)

Turn to God, look up from your clenched hands, look up through your tears;

Reach out in faith, confess your lack of resources, that you might receive from him.

Understand that even in this trial, you are in his care, in his love, in his heart;

Submit willingly to the trial, and seek to lean hard and learn of him in it, and

Then make your sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving, to God most high…

 

I have been freshly convicted recently about the way in which so often my praise of God is purely thankful – not that this is inappropriate, we ought indeed to be filled with gratitude for all that we have and are receiving, and will receive! But the response of mature faith to the revelation of God – in creation and most especially in his word and in Christ the incarnate word – should also be adoration..

By this I mean that I need to move on from thanking God for his gifts, to worshiping and praising him for simply who he is.

I have fond memories of attending a weekly prayer meeting while a student, where the first 15 or 20 minutes of prayer were purely adoration and thanksgiving, celebrating God’s character and all his goodness. It was an excellent discipline, focusing our minds on God, lifting our eyes from our own preoccupations to the eternal realities, and keeping the “shopping list” of intercessory prayer in its rightful place.. But even the great prayer warriors assembled in that room often found it easier to express gratitude than simply to praise!

It is this ability to adore, to be enchanted by the holiness, power, wisdom and love of God which is most powerful in supporting me in the darkest times. These are unchanging realities, unaffected by my feelings, by the things which are oppressing me. I may feel I have little to be thankful for – although this is rarely true…But I can ALWAYS celebrate the goodness of God, rejoice in his utter purity and the perfect loving communion which exists within the trinity. He has spoken, and his promises must be kept, because his nature and character demand that he keep his word. Therefore, I can trust him.

When I feel that the particular purposes of God being worked out in my life through my current trials are obscure and improbable, that I can hardly bear to endure, I can contemplate the incredible love and commitment which planned my redemption in Christ. Such passionate engagement on my behalf by eternal God is not to be wasted! If he has said that he is working for my good, then he can be trusted, and all the weight of my grief, confusion and despair can properly be cast on him.

Let us learn to contemplate and rejoice in the God who has made us his own, let’s learn to spell out for ourselves what we know….

He is Abba(father); He is Beautiful; He is Compassionate; He is Defender: He is Enthroned: He is Faithful…

I leave you to continue the list for yourself… God bless us and give us clearer vision that we might glorify him!

When morning gilds the skies..

Then the Lord answered Job out of the storm. He said: “Who is this that darkens my counsel with words without knowledge?….Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation? On what were its footings set, or who laid its cornerstone – while the morning stars sang together and all the angels shouted for joy?… Have you ever given orders to the morning, or shown the dawn its place, that it might take the earth by the edges and shake the wicked out of it?

(Job 38.1,4,6,7,12&13)

Praise the Lord! Praise the Lord from the heavens! Praise him from the skies! Praise him, all his angels! Praise him, all the armies of heaven! Praise him, sun and moon! Praise him all you twinkling stars! Praise him skies above!.. Let every created thing give praise to the Lord, for he issued his command, and they came into being. 

(Psalm 148.1-3,5)

Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

(Philippians 2.9-11)

O Lord, let me wake in my right mind tomorrow.. so that my first thoughts are not of the unsettled sleep of the night; nor of the aches and pains of my ageing body; but of you.

O Lord, let me wake in my right mind tomorrow…so that my first thoughts are not of the fragility of the lives of my loved ones; nor of the troubles, trials and temptations they are facing; but of you.

O Lord, let me wake in my right mind tomorrow….so that my first thoughts are not of the tasks which I must accomplish; nor of the pleasures in which I hope to indulge; but of you.

Who or what am I, that I should differ from all the rest of creation, by failing to praise you, my creator, with every breath and every fibre of my being?

Who, or what am I, that I should demand an accounting from the almighty, eternal God, for his dealings with me, instead of worshipping him in prostrate adoration, and freely confessing his right to do exactly as he pleases?

Who, or what am I, that I should believe that alone among all people, I have trials and difficulties which are beyond God’s care or capacity to deal with?

May I be forgiven, in the name of my sweet and glorious Lord, for such foolish, wicked arrogance. May I realise more clearly than ever, that I can trust God, in all his ways, because in Christ he has revealed his love for me. May I let that love so heal my thinking that I no longer doubt him, or when doubting yet claim his promises and refuse to despair.

I have been shown the loving face of God, the Almighty and unimaginably other, in the person of Jesus, his son. I have been given the revelation of God’s love in action, the story of his great plan to redeem his creation from its bondage to decay. I have seen glimpses – all that the human mind can bear – of the glory which is assured to me through his promises to all who call Jesus Lord. And do I still dare to allow my own sin-skewed perspective to twist the truth about him into lies?

Oh God, give me the clear-sight which I need, so that I see things straight again. Let me see that everything, all creation, all humankind, is here solely that your Son, your beloved one, might receive the glory you desire and which is his due. In your astonishing love and mercy, you have set your love upon us, and plan for our blessing; but the end of it all is so much bigger than that!

Let me join daily with the morning stars, as they rejoice together in the dawn, and praise the eternal Word from whom they sprang; let me think not of myself, but of him and be so entranced by his beauty and worth that all the shadows of my own life shrink into their proper size, and no longer dominate my thinking.

When morning gilds the skies my heart awaking cries, may Jesus Christ be praised!

Alike at work and prayer, to Jesus I repair: May Jesus Christ be praised!

Be this, while life is mine, my canticle* divine, may Jesus Christ be praised!

Be this the eternal song through all the ages long, may Jesus Christ be praised!

( German 19th century; translated Ed Caswall, 1814-78)

*canticle – a song

 

Accepting my limitations

Seek the Lord while he may be found; call on him while he is near. Let the wicked forsake his way and the evil man his thoughts. Let him turn to the Lord, and he will have mercy on him, and to our God, for he will freely pardon.     “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, ” declares the Lord.

(Isaiah 55.6-8)

Then Job replied to the Lord: “I know that you can do all things; no plan of yours can be thwarted…Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know….My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you. Therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes.

(Job 42. 1-6)

Though the fig-tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Saviour.

(Habbakuk 3. 17&18)

Has it ever struck you that many of the stories contained in the biblical narrative are of people in really horrid situations? The bible is not shy of confronting us with the brutal realities of life – war, torture and destruction; famine and starvation; murder, rape, abuse, enslavement and humiliation inflicted by one human being on another; abuse of power and status – and we recognise them all around us today.

Why are the stories there? It is not because in every case, God intervened to make everything right again and to create some fluffy happy endings. There are individual examples of particular provision, miraculous escapes, healings and even resurrections, but they are the exceptions not the rule. Why?

I believe that one of the main reasons we have these stories, is to help us to face our own realities with faith – not in a God who makes everything ok at once, or even in our own lifetimes; but a God who is big enough to see from beginning to end, to see the roots of the trouble and to be willing to deal with it. This is what the bible narrative reveals – a God who never gives up. Many generations of Israelites died in abject slavery in Egypt before Moses arrived to lead them out. Countless, nameless thousands died over the centuries in wars and famines, just so much collateral damage in the power games of nations.

And yet, we have the testimony of prophets like Zechariah, that in the midst of the apparent chaos, lawlessness and despair, God is not absent, that he is and is good, and that justice, healing and wholeness will come. We have the examples not only of the psalmists, but also men like Job, who when things appeared to have gone hopelessly wrong and God was surely absent or even powerless, chose to respond by passionately appealing to him for justice, and lamenting their wrongs.

We don’t need to have faith in something when we can see and understand how it works, we need faith when there is a mystery, when we cannot make sense of what is going on. The stories of the bible show us what such faith looks like – the faith that says with Habakkuk that we will rejoice in the God who is our Saviour even though there is no sign of his salvation.

In our time, the pride of man in his achievements has made it hard to accept that anything can or should remain mysterious, and it is common for people to use the mystery of suffering as a condemnation of a just and loving God. But, as Job learned, who are we to put the creator upon the stand and accuse him of being inscrutable? Am I willing to accept that God is beyond my understanding, with all that implies? Indeed God has revealed himself to us in Christ Jesus, and there we see love and purity and so many of the wonderful characteristics of God. But surely it is only to be expected that a God who can create on the scales that we now perceive, a God who is outside time and space, must be utterly other than we can comprehend?

In the face of suffering and evil in all its dreadful manifestations, as the hand of God in judgement is still withheld and creation groans, I have a daily choice. Either I allow the inexplicable darkness to poison my mind and spirit, and bitterly reject any notion of a sovereign and good God; or I turn to him in faith, in that trust which says, “I cannot begin to understand this Lord, but I see your love laid bare upon the Cross of Christ; I see there the pain that this darkness causes you, and I will choose to believe that none of it is wasted, and that you know what you are doing. You will not delay a moment longer than you need, and in the end, the judge of all the earth will surely do right!”

And yet I dare to enter…

And there is no God apart from me, a righteous God and a Saviour; there is none but me. Turn to me and be saved, all you ends of the earth; for I am God, and there is no other. By myself I have sworn, my mouth has uttered in all integrity a word that will not be revoked: Before me every knee will bow; by me every tongue will swear. They will say of me, “In the Lord alone are righteousness and strength.” All who have raged against him will come to him and be put to shame.

(Isaiah 45.21-24)

But you have come to Mount Zion, to the heavenly Jerusalem, the city of the living God. You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly, to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven. You have come to God, the judge of all men, to the spirits of righteous men made perfect, to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel…Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, for our “God is a consuming fire.”

(Hebrews 12.22-24,28&29)

One of the pitfalls of having spent my entire life within a christian community, is that so many of the phrases we use and read are so familiar – I stop seeing them, stop noticing how bold and audacious they are!

And then God in his goodness gives my mind a nudge, the Spirit opens my eyes and ears, and suddenly I see it afresh. That happened with the little phrase from Isaiah, “And there is no God but me, a righteous God and a Saviour; there is none but me.”

To the mind of sophisticated 21st century humankind, that statement is outrageous, arrogant, or ludicrous – depending on one’s viewpoint. As a follower of Jesus in Scotland in 2017, I am in the minority, regarded by many as deluded and foolish, by some as dangerous in my commitment to my faith. The notion that there is a God is mocked by many, and others would argue that all faith systems lead to the same place, so that all “gods” are equal.

Where do I stand? I am made uneasy by the strength and vehemence of the secularists, as they denounce my faith and my God. I am dumb in the presence of articulate intellects, mocking all that I hold dear, and dragging away the foundations of my world. I cannot defeat clever speech, nor do I desire to mock others for their beliefs – mockery is no way to gain respect or a hearing for my own belief.

When I am conscious of being under assault, I fling myself back at the foot of the cross – that great pivotal point in history, when God declared that He would not be mocked by sin, and that the devil would not have lasting dominion over God’s creation.

I believe in an historical Jesus, God-incarnate walking the earth, working steadily towards the unveiling of an unparalleled act of divine intervention. Who else has a God who is utterly holy, just and pure – a searing brilliance that our polluted minds cannot being to imagine – and YET who is full of mercy and love, and chooses to reconcile his love and his justice in order that He might be re-united with his unfaithful people?

There is truly NO God like this, and all our philosophies and science, all the pride of  man in his thinking and discovering has uncovered nothing as beautiful and life-changing as this God in his act of reconciliation through Jesus death on the cross.

I would rather be a fool for Christ, than considered wise by men; would rather remain on the fringes of society as a faithful follower, than enjoy popular success without my Lord. He has opened the way for me – even me, so broken and flawed by sin – to enter the presence of this righteous God, and not to enter as one dreading well-earned punishment, but rather as a beloved child.

What does it matter to me if men mock? My eternal fate is not in their hands, but safe in the hands that bled for me, the hands that are raised to intercede for me, the hands that extend to welcome me with love into my Father’s presence. He is mighty and glorious indeed, and worthy of reverent praise, but because Jesus died, I dare to run to him, to cling and call him Father. In his house, I am at rest and safe, and nothing can drag me from his arms.

How true is my vision?

Then Moses set up the courtyard around the tabernacle and altar and put up the curtain at the entrance to the courtyard. And so Moses finished the work. Then the cloud covered the Tent of Meeting, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle. Moses could not enter the Tent of Meeting because..the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle.

(Exodus 40.33-35)

The priests then brought the ark of the Lord’s covenant to its place in the inner sanctuary of the temple, the Most Holy Place, and put it beneath the wings of the cherubim….When the priests withdrew from the Holy Place, the cloud filled the temple of the Lord. And the priests could not perform their service because of the cloud, for the glory of the Lord filled his temple.

(1Kings 8.6,10&11)

But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, looked up to heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. “Look”, he said,” I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.”….While they were stoning him, Stephen prayed,”Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” Then he fell on his knees and cried out, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.”

(Acts 7.55, 56, 59&60)

For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.

(2Corinthians 4.6)

We really have no idea just what the ‘glory’ of God is like, although the references quoted from the Old Testament suggest that it is something before which humanity quails and cannot stand. Isaiah’s vision of God in the temple sees him convicted of his sin and unworthiness to be in God’s presence, and the shepherds on the hills around Bethlehem on the night of Jesus’ birth were terrified by the glory which shone around them.

We habitually think of glory as having some of the quality of light about it, especially the light of the sun, which obscures its source because of its brilliance and concentrated power. We quite literally cannot bear to see the sun with our naked eyes, and must wait for a reflection, or a veil, or some other device to moderate the light by which we see and by which all life is sustained.

Is the glory of God then something like this sunlight which ancient peoples worshipped as a god which gave them life? God is pure, there is no spot or imperfection in him. His justice, holiness, power and love are of scale and quality beyond our ability to see or comprehend. God is literally hidden from us by his own indescribably beautiful and holy qualities – we cannot bear to see him unveiled, because we are made of such inferior stuff, tainted and undermined by sin. Even a glimpse in a dream or vision was enough for Isaiah to proclaim that he was a doomed man, certain to perish from having been exposed to such divine power and holiness.

And yet, the bible story is one of God’s yearning to reveal himself to us, to be known by us, and to welcome us into his presence for all eternity that we might share in his glory! How is this possible?!

It is the miraculous revelation of God’s character through Jesus Christ which has allowed fallen humanity to behold the face of God and not perish on the spot. All the divine qualities of the Creator are somehow translated for us into the person of the Son, and there we can see and understand in some measure, just what our God is like. The overwhelming brilliance has been shaded for mortal eyes, so that we might not be blinded but illuminated. Our minds can grasp in their small capacity a little of the greatness of our God, and in realising just how dim our vision is, we also realise how very bright and dazzling the unclouded light must be.

God is good to his children, and in Stephen’s moment of extreme need, he received a special vision of glory, a view as it were over the heads of his persecuters of the place which was open to welcome him home. God’s work in Stephen’s mortal life was complete, he was going home to glory, to the arms of his Lord and Saviour who stood ready to receive him. Stephen had found the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ Jesus, confessing the divinity of this crucified and risen Son of Man, and pledging allegiance to him. Now Jesus stood to acknowledge his servant; to claim him and honour him in glory.

May I grow in the knowledge of the glory of God in the face – the whole person and work – of Christ, so that I may be faithful through trials, and walk humbly before my great and awesome God.