This week's "thought" comes to you from the book "Simply Christian - Why Christianity Makes Sense" by N. T. Wright. He is presently Bishop of Durham, England (Church of England) and taught at McGill, Cambridge, and Oxford universities. His book attempts to show the reasonableness of the Christian faith and does an admirable job. For those who are honest skeptics (who are earnestly seeking to understand) and not just bandwagon skeptics (who somehow think being skeptical makes them seem more intellectual), it's worth a read. This selection seeks to answer the "why?" of the Bible's call to worship God. I found it helpful, I pray you might as well. Enjoy.
"When we begin to glimpse the reality of God, the natural reaction is to worship him. Not to have that reaction is a fairly sure sign that we haven't yet really understood who he is or what he has done. So what is worship? The best way to discover is to... start in the fourth and fifth chapters of the last book of the Bible, the Revelation of St. John... [There we find] representatives of the animal kingdom and the world of humanity (the whole creation) worshipping God for all he's worth...
Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come...
You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power; for you created all things and by your will, they existed and were created...
You are worthy to take the scroll and open it's seal, for you were slaughtered, and by your blood, you ransomed for God saints from every tribe and people and nation.You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God, and they will reign on earth...
Worthy is the Lamb that was slaughtered to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!To the one seated on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor and glory and might, forever and ever. Amen!
(Revelation 4:8, 11, 5:9-10, 12 and 13)
This is what worship is all about. It is the glad shout of praise that arises to God the Creator and God the Rescuer from the creation that recognizes its Maker, the creation that acknowledges the triumph of Jesus the Lamb. That is the worship that is going on in heaven, in God's dimension, all the time. The question we ought to be asking is how best we might join in. Because that is what we are supposed to do.
And let's get one thing clear before we go any further. There is always a suspicion that creeps into discussions of this kind, a niggling worry that the call to worship God is rather like the order that goes out from a dictator whose subjects may not like him but have learned to fear him. He wants a hundred thousand people to line the route for his birthday parade? Very well, he shall have them. And they will all be cheering and waving as if their lives depended on it -- because, in fact, they do. Turn away in boredom, or don't turn up at all, and it will be the worse for you. If it has crossed your mind that worshipping the true God is like that, let me offer you a very different model.
I have been to many concerts of music ranging from major symphonic works to big-band jazz. I have heard world-class orchestras under world-famous conductors. I have been in the audience for some great performances that have moved me and fed me and satisfied me richly. But only two or three times in my life have I been in an audience which, the moment the conductor's baton came down for the last time, leaped to its feet in electrified excitement, unable to contain its enthusiastic delight and wonder at what it had just experienced. (American readers might like to know that English audiences are very sparing with standing ovations.)
That sort of response is pretty close to genuine worship. Something like that, but more so, is the mood of Revelation 4 and 5. That is what, when we come to worship the living God, we are being invited to join in. What happens when you're at a concert like that is that everyone feels that they have grown in stature. Something has happened to them. They are aware of things in a new way. The whole world looks different. It's a bit like falling in love. In fact, it IS a kind of falling in love. And when you fall in love, when you're ready to throw yourself at the feet of your beloved, what you desire, above all, is union.
This brings us to the first of two golden rules oat the heart of spirituality. #1.) You become like what you worship. When you gaze in awe, admiration, and wonder at something or someone, you begin to take on something of the character of the object of your worship. Those who worship money eventually become human calculating machines. Those who worship sex become obsessed with their own attractiveness of prowess. Those who worship power become more and more ruthless.
So what happens when you worship the creator God whose plan to rescue the world and put it right has been accomplished by the Lamb that was slain? The answer comes in the second golden rule: #2) Because you were made in God's image, worship makes you more truly human. When you gaze in love and gratitude at the God in whose image you were made, you do indeed grow. You discover more of what it means to be fully alive. Conversely, when you give that same total worship to anything or anyone else, you shrink as a human being. It doesn't, of course, feel like that at the time. When you worship part of the creation as though it were the Creator himself (in other words, when you worship an idol) you may feel a brief "high." But like a hallucinatory drug, that worship achieves its effect at a cost. When the effect is over, you are less of a human being than you were to begin with. That is the price of idolatry.
The opportunity, the invitation, the summons is there before us: Come and worship the true God, the Creator, the Redeemer, and to become more truly human in doing so. Worship is at the very center of all Christian living. One of the main reasons that theology (that is, trying to think straight about who God is) matters is that we are called to love God with all our heart, mind, soul and strength. It matters that we learn more about who God is so that we can praise him more appropriately. Perhaps one of the reasons why so much worship, in some churches at least, appears unattractive to so many people, is that we have forgotten, or covered up, the truth about the one we are worshipping.
Yet whenever we glimpse the truth, we are drawn back. Like groupies sneaking off from work to see a rock star who's in town for just an hour or so, like fans waiting all night for a glimpse of a football team returning in triumph (only much more so!) those who come to recognize the God we see in Jesus, the Lion, and the Lamb, will long to come and worship him."
Wonder is at the heart of all true worship. And wonder is what arises in the heart when God's Spirit begins to reveal to us that He really does exist and what He is really like. It happens when we come to see and experience (in greater and more undeniable ways) God's holiness, power, love, grace, and life-altering presence. We come to taste and see that He is good. We become gradually more and more aware of the reality of an invisible Being pursuing, revealing and breaking in upon our lives in tangible and sometimes overwhelming ways. A Being whom we can't help but sense is seeking to enter, possess, indwell, disarm, make Himself known to us, and make us His own. A God who we discover (much to our surprise) has a plan for our lives, and is working out that plan -- at times with our approval, and at other times without our approval. At times clearing obstacles out of our way, and at times placing them immovably in our path to redirect the trajectory of our lives.
Those who have experienced this (myself being just one) testify it was at times overwhelming, and made them feel as if God had taken control of the wheel and was steering them to a destination that fit into a plan ordained for them prior to their existence, but worked out in their present when the time was just right.
Of course, as those who are (for the most part) comfortable with and captive to the temporal, running into the reality of Him who is eternal can be a hair-raising and even fear-spawning experience. We see this in the lives of the prophets and apostles, Isaiah 6 and Revelation 1 being just two of many examples. Discovering God is actually real, and not just a nice idea, can be both a frightening and life-altering experience. Yet, when the initial fear subsides, and we discover He is not out to harm us, but save us; that He is for us, and not against us -- then what seemed so frightening becomes mesmerizingly beautiful, and it's His beauty that drives us to want to worship Him.
That is my prayer. That like the beings in Revelation 4-5 we would find ourselves so overcome by the beauty and majesty and worth of God, and the wonder that is Jesus, that we would ceaselessly yearn to praise, adore and worship Him -- and in doing so, as Wright points out, become more like Him, and at the same time more truly and fully human.
In the Bonds of Christian Affection, Pastor Jeff