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Sunday, January 31, 2010

Worship in Difficult Times

Worship in Difficult Times
Psalm 57

Few would disagree that worship is important when we face difficult times, but how can we do it? When everything seems to be caving in on us, or the news continues to get worse and worse, we know we need to look to the Father, but at times we seem almost frozen in our tracks. In Psalm 57, David gives us some help as we walk with him as he faces a life and death situation.

It is interesting that Psalm 57 was written to “Do Not Destroy” and although scholars are not exactly sure if this was a tune, a style or even an instrument, its choice is significant in that he is facing certain danger and chooses to write to “Do Not Destroy.” There is a plea even in the choice of tune or style. The song is a prayer, or perhaps it could be said the prayer is a song.

The introduction not only states that to what it was written, and how it was written, but in what circumstances David penned the psalm: fleeing from Saul and hiding in a cave. On at least two occasions David hid in caves while eluding Saul’s pursuit: I Samuel 21 and I Samuel 23. Both times he is delivered by God. In fact, this psalm is just one of many where David is crying out to God for help, but our focus will remain here for right now. That’s the basic context, let’s look at the heart of the song.

Before we understand how worship fits into the picture, we need to trace a progression that is found in the psalm. This is not to provide an in-depth study, but just to highlight the process of David’s prayersong:
    •    He begins with a plea for mercy to God, because “in You I have taken shelter” [v. 1]
    •    “I cry out for help” to God to deliver for enemies, to send love and faithfulness [v. 2]
    •    “I am surrounded by lions,” he describes his circumstances [v. 4]
    •    “I lie down among those who want to devour me,” more about his circumstances [v. 4]
    •    A plea for God to rise up and show His splendor [v. 5]
    •    “I am discouraged,” he describes his feelings [v. 6]
    •    “I am determined,” action based on will, not emotion [v.7]
    •    “I will sing and praise you,” he chooses to praise as an act of the will [v. 7]
    •    “I will wake up at dawn,” he put his time of praise as a priority [v. 8]
    •    “I will give you, thanks,” he chooses to thank God ‘in’ (not for) his circumstance [v. 9]
    •    “I will sing praises to you,” praise and thanksgiving as a testimony [v. 9]
    •    “For your loyal love...and faithfulness,” he focus changes on God’s nature and character [v.10]
    •    He repeats his plea for God to rise up and show His splendor [v. 11]

Notice the progression: (1) calling to God for mercy in the midst of the difficulty, (2) clarification of the difficulty, (3) admission of personal feelings, (4) choosing to praise God as an act of will over emotion, (5) giving thanks “in” the situation [not for], (6) focus on God’s nature and character. His faith is implied in that he goes to God from the outset, but the process is also important because it can serve as a model for how to worship while facing difficult times.

Knowledge of the content is not enough, we must learn to apply what Scripture teaches if we are to experience true change and growth. So let’s apply what David did to deal with the situation. First, we need to go to God for His mercy; He is a merciful and loving God, slow to anger and abounding in mercy. David was hiding in a cave, but his confidence was not in the cave, but in God. Our going to Him first is that expression of faith that He is able to handle the situation. We call out to Him.

Secondly, we need to clarify the difficulty. Sometimes we feel overwhelmed by cloud of difficulties and need to literally list them out. Many times writing them out on paper helps put them in perspective and even clarify what the real issues are.

Thirdly, we must admit to ourselves and to God how we are feeling. The longer we are in the faith, there exists the temptation to avoid admitting that we are struggling with negative feelings, bitterness, hurt, pride, and even anger against God for allowing some things to happen. David is such a strong example in this area. Time and time again he pours out his deepest hurts and feelings toward God, Himself. How does God respond? Did God whip David into shape for saying such thing? No, God continued to reveal more and more of His nature and character. What David shows is an honesty before God that leads to greater trust, not an anger that pushes itself away from God. In addition to honesty before God, sometimes our pride prevents us from admitting to others that we are struggling with “feelings that we shouldn’t have.” However, being transparent about our feelings before others can be a very helpful tool so long as it does not slide into an excuse for wrong behavior.

Fourthly, perhaps one of the most difficult, is to choose to praise God by an act of will over our feelings. The fact is that we must live by faith, not by feelings. Some might say, “I don’t want to be hypocritical.” Point taken, but please allow me to give a personal example: I am not a “morning person,” however, as an act of the will I still get up at 5:00 am during the school year to get ready. Am I a hypocrite for getting up? No, it would be hypocritical if I said that I enjoy getting up, but acting on my will rather than my emotion does not make me a hypocrite. A mature Christian once told me to choose to act regardless how you feel and your feeling will eventually follow. I have found that to be true. We choose to praise God. Praise Him for His nature, His character, His works, list them out, say them out loud. Recall what He has done for you in the past, His salvation, protection, provision and His very presence in the past. Praising God in the way will lead  to the next part as it did for David.

Fifthly, we begin to give God thanks “in” the situation. I Thess. 5:18 Paul says, “In everything give thanks, for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus.” Notice that Paul said “in,” not “for.” Tragedies by their very nature are not something we are thankful for, but we can still be grateful “in,” by an act of the will as we mediate on the goodness of the Lord and all that He has done in the past. Notice also that it is not a command to “feel thankful.” Our feelings must not be the sole measure of our relationship with God. As we enumerate back to God our gratitude for His countless blessings, our emotions will catch up to our minds, which will lead us to the last part of the process.

Sixthly, we focus on God and who He is. As we continue to rehearse in our hearts and minds the greatness of God and the glorious things He has done in Scripture, in the lives of others and in our own life, we begin to realize anew that God is in control, that we can trust Him, that the problems are real, but God is greater than our problems. As we continue in the process we realize that worship has transformed our perception of the difficulty and deepened our understanding of God.

Whether you are in the middle of a terrible situation now or face one next week, go back to some lessons taught by someone who was after “God’s own heart.” Realize how worshiping God can teach us how to respond in the darkest times.


Saturday, January 23, 2010

The Centrality of Christ in Worship

Although we use them multiple times daily in speech and other forms of communication, we rarely take time to consider the importance of prepositions in our language. They function to show the relationship of one thing to another. We can take advantage of these little words to help us gain insight into our relationship to Christ in regards to worship. This is provided not as an exhaustive listing, nor as a theological treatise, but simply to help us refocus as we think and dialogue about worship.

1. To Him
Worship is directed to Christ.  “Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us, to Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations forever and ever. Amen.” [Ephesians 3:20-1]
Worship directed to anything or anyone other than God is idolatry.

2. In Him
His Spirit lives in us and empowers us, the  relationship that abides is that we are "in Him"
“For in him we live, and move, and have our being; as certain also of your own poets have said,
For we are also his offspring.” [Acts 17:28]  “Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come.” [2 Corinthians 5:17] The fact that He is in us should continually lead us away from worshiping any other.

3. With Him
He is present with us in worship. “For where two or three have gathered together in My name, I am there in their midst.” [Matthew 18:20]. He not only lives in us, there should be an awareness of His Spirit and presence as we worship.

4. For Him
Worship is for Him.   We exist for Him, as Paul stated, “yet for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom are all things and we exist for Him; and one Lord, Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we exist through Him.” [1 Corinthians 8:6] Although worship has immense  benefits for the worshipper, it is not for him, but for Christ. There is that sense that we are ministering to God as we worship. Our worship and ministry for Him is not because God needs it; He is self-sufficient. Our worship is that specific time in which we affirm His worthiness through obedience in recognizing that it is all for Him.

One might say, “I go worship because I have needs and I want those needs to be met.” I believe I understand what is meant, but we must be careful. The goal of worship is not that my needs are met, but that we worship Christ. If we focus on “our needs,” then we have redirected our attention away from the very One who is able to do anything about those needs. But, as we focus on Christ and His greatness, love, mercy, grace and forgiveness in worship, somehow He works to minister to our needs. Christ’s ministry to us then, is  a byproduct of worship and not the central focus.

5. About Him
The subject of worship is Jesus.  As Peter stood to deliver his sermon on the day of Pentecost found in Acts 2:14-36, the message from beginning to end was about Christ. Our message is to share how God from the beginning of history has moved to restore relationship with His creation through the death and resurrection of His Son. Even when threatened by the Council, Peter and John could only say, “we cannot stop speaking about what we have see and heard.” [Acts 4:20]

6. By Him
In worship we acknowledge that all things were made by Him. “For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities all things have been created through Him and for Him.” [Colossians 1:16]

7. Through Him

We are powerless to worship without His help. “Through Him then, let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is the fruit of lips that give thanks to His name.” [Hebrews 13:15]
“All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being.” [John 1:3] “For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever. Amen.” [Romans 11:36] “He helps you want to obey Him and then help you do  what He wants.” [Phil. 2:13 LB]

Our times of worship can be laden with distractions. Perhaps a simple review of some prepositions might help us see Jesus Christ as the central focus of our corporate worship. As we gather for worship let’s remember that it is To Him, and In Him; it is With Him and For Him; it is About Him, By Him and Through Him! Worship centers itself, has its central focus, all on Jesus Christ. Anything less is less than worship.