In the life of every Christian there are certain books that propel us forward spiritually simply by supplying a missing piece of the puzzle entitled: "How to live the Christian life." Today's excerpt comes from a book that served that function in my life. To use the words of Os Guiness in describing this book, it is, "Mind-hammering and heart-warming." The author is John Piper, and the title of the book is, "Desiring God -- Meditations of a Christian Hedonist."
Simply reading the introduction and first chapter of this book resolved for me a long standing struggle with why God commands us to praise, adore, magnify and exalt his name. Initially (because we tend to think in relation to people who would do such a thing) it seems somewhat "egotistical" of God to command us to worship him. Yet I finished reading those two sections saying: "Of course! He must command us to! It would be wrong for him not to command us to worship him."
If you've ever struggled with similar thoughts, simply read those two sections and it should erase them from your mind, and not only show you how nonsensical they are, but (as Piper points out) that "for [God], self-exaltation is the highest virtue." I'll leave it to you to read the book and find out why!
Today's thought comes from the chapter on "Worship." (Another chapter which alone would justify the cost of the book!) I trust you'll find it both encouraging and challenging. Enjoy.
"These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me." (Is. 29:13)
"The hour is coming, and now is, when true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth,
for such the Father seeks to worship him." (John 4:23)
"Worship must be vital and real in the heart, and worship must rest on a true perception of God. There must be spirit and there must be truth... Worshiping in spirit is the opposite of worshiping in merely external ways. It is the opposite of empty formalism and traditionalism. Worshiping in truth is the opposite of worship based on an inadequate view of God. Worshiping must have heart and head. Worship must engage emotions and thought.
Truth without emotion produces dead orthodoxy and a church full (or half-full) of artificial admirers (like people who write generic anniversary cards for a living). On the other hand, emotion without truth produces empty frenzy and cultivates shallow people who refuse the discipline of rigorous thought. But true worship comes from people who are deeply emotional and who love deep and sound doctrine. Strong affections for God rooted in truth are the bone and marrow of biblical worship.
Perhaps we can tie things together with this picture: The fuel of worship is the truth of God, the furnace of worship is the spirit of man, and the heat of worship is the vital affections of reverence, contrition, trust, gratitude and joy. But there is something missing from this picture. There is furnace, fuel and heat, but no fire... There must be ignition and fire. This is the Holy Spirit...
Now we can complete our picture. The fuel of worship is a true vision of the greatness of God; the fire that makes the fuel burn white hot is the quickening of the Holy Spirit; the furnace made alive and warm by the flame of truth is our renewed spirit; and the resulting heat of our affections is powerful worship, pushing its way out in confessions, longings, acclamations, tears, songs, shouts, bowed heads, lifted hands and obedient lives....
Worship is authentic when affections for God arise in the heart as an end in themselves... If God's reality is displayed to us in his Word or his world, and we do not then feel in our heart any grief or longing or hope or fear or awe or joy or gratitude or confidence, then we may dutifully sing and pray and recite and gesture as much as we like, but it will not be real worship. We cannot honor God if our 'heart is far from him.' Worship is a way of gladly reflecting back to God the radiance of his worth. This cannot be done by mere acts of duty. It can be done only when spontaneous affections arise in the heart.
Consider the analogy of a wedding anniversary. Mine is on December 21. Suppose on this day I bring home a dozen long-stemmed roses for Noel. When she meets me at the door I hold out the roses, and she says, 'O Johnny, they're beautiful, thank you,' and gives me a big hug. Then suppose I hold up my hand and say matter-of-factly, 'Don't mention it, it's my duty.'
What happens? Is not the exercise of duty a noble thing? Do not we honor those we dutifully serve? Not much. Not if there's no heart in it. Dutiful roses are a contradiction of terms. If I am not moved by a spontaneous affection for her as a person, the roses do not honor her. In fact they belittle her. They are a very thin covering for the fact that she does not have the worth or beauty in my eyes to kindle affection...
Edward Carnell put it this way...'Unless a spontaneous affection for my person motivates you, your overtures are stripped of all moral value"...
The real duty of worship is not the outward duty to say or do the liturgy. It is the inward duty, the command -- 'Delight yourself in the Lord (Ps. 37:4). "Be glad in the LORD and rejoice!' (Psalm 32:11)... If I take my wife out for the evening on our anniversary and she asks me, 'why do you do this?' the answer that honors her most is, 'Because nothing makes me happier tonight than to be with you.' 'It's my duty' is a dishonor to her. 'It's my joy' is an honor.' How shall we honor God in worship? By saying, 'It's my duty"? Or by saying, 'It's my joy?' "
With prayers to the end that our worship will always be authentic, Pastor Jeff