And this is no declaration that I have 'arrived' in this area. It is just like the gospel in that the 'sweet center' of Spirit led understanding seems to always leak out of me. I need to constantly pay close attention the simple gospel and I need to constantly challenge my understanding and experience of Biblical worship.
I want to stop here and reference our outstanding pastor/teacher at Briarwood Presbyterian Church, Harry Reeder and his recent series: 'Worship God' on this vitally important issue. Click this link for links to this series: REV. HARRY REEDER- WORSHIP GOD
There are two aspects of worship- Life Worship and Corporate Worship- both having connections with each other and very important in the life of a believer.
I enjoy hiking and running. In a sense, both accentuate heart desires I have and represent aspects of worship.
This past Saturday though- I have a real life example of how by prayer and preparation- Biblical illumination and Spirit initiated intentionality- a 'normal' run became a mini clinic of how we can worship our way through life.
The tough thing about the following example is that it is not as common as I wished it were and I don't expect it to be an every time type of thing. I think part of real worship is doing the routines faithfully and trusting God to add the Spirit/Truth/Circumstances/Awareness as needed for our growth.
And the following example is easy to mis-understand. I am NOT a mystic, nor am I a Christian version of a transcendentalist. The experience and practice of worship begins and ends with the reality of God, who HE is, and what He has accomplished... no other additives are needed. But in His grace and tender understanding, He adds the things we need as our hearts cry out for 'more of Him'!
So... I wake up this past Saturday, knowing that I am supposed to run at least 12 miles in preparation for the half marathon race I have coming up. I was excited to get an early phone call from my oldest daughter- she wants to join us!
Our plan is to meet at O'Henry's Coffee shop in Homewood and use it as our central point for the run.
We would do our normal 7 mile loop and then I could drop the girls off to enjoy coffee and the new Target while I did about another hour of training.
This running part of Birmingham is one of the great places in our city. You go though Mountain Brook Parkway, past Mountain Brook Country Club cut across Montevallo Road, past Crestline Village, by Birmingham Country Club, through Mountain Brook Village and then I do the Samford/Homewood Greenway on the other side of the coffee shop. It is flat, beautiful, woods, water, quaint shops, golf courses, amazing homes.. terrific place to run!
But true worship 'elevates' this experience... here is how....
It started with Scripture and prayer. As I was getting ready, God's Word was rich in my mind. I was meditating on the Psalms, especially the Psalms of Ascent which I am teaching on right now in Sunday School.
Being with my wife and daughter is a great part of this. I can be alone and worship- but when you have the joy of being with loved ones- it lifts the soul!
We had our coffee, we laughed- small talk stuff and then we started the run...
As we got into the trail part of Mountain Brook Parkway, I couldn't miss the CREATOR aspect of God. It was a gorgeous spring morning. Birds and blooms and bubbling brooks. A lot of my worship has always been centered on the design, intricate beauty, power, and life of all creation. From pictures of distant galaxies taken by Hubble, to animal planet cameras capturing beasts and deep sea creatures, contemplating the double helix of DNA, to having my breath stolen by majestic seasides, mountains, or canyons- My heart leaps in awe of the Creator. Always has.... Always will.
But knowing this God through Jesus creates an intimate awareness of these variety of colors, shapes, sounds, and smells- He did this because He loves us! He designs these things with us in mind! And these are just the temporary wall hangings- ready to be burned and changed... what an amazing God!
And then, by God's grace and Spirit.. I got another blessing. I was just behind my wife and daughter... and they were jogging and talking and laughing, what an uplifting moment. I just thanked God right there in my mind, "Lord, they are really loving this! Thank-you!"
Praising God for His creation and thanking Him for this beautiful picture of mother/daughter are aspects of worship.
Then as we came toward Crestline Village, I was blessed (as I have been many times) by the Cross in front of St Luke's Episcopal Church on Old Leeds Road. They have it up throughout Easter season, but it doesn't stay up all year.
I go right by it on the sidewalk.
At that point songs and thoughts of Christ's sacrifice came flooding in my mind. What He had done for me and how I don't deserve it.
My slight discomfort in running is NOTHING compared to His suffering on that tree.
Thorns on His head, wounds on His body... and that also became a part of this ordinary run that God allowed to become a time of life worship.
Once I dropped the girls off at O'Henry's and continued on- all of these elements continued to carry on. The Creator God, the thankfulness of all of his blessings especially rich relationships of family, the Savior God and the sacrifice needed, and the joy of persevering in a pursuit to 'finish the course'.
I have had other memorable experiences like that. I remember a day at Shoal Creek years ago with my spiritual mentor, Mr. Bill Stegall. I remember a time fishing out of Venice, LA with my good friend, Bill Hawkins. And there have been a myriad of other times- even just sitting at my desk or eating a meal.
So what are some common factors in these life worship experiences? And is there a way for it to be more common?
It is easy to slide through a day with little acknowledgement of God. "Many hours for the world and few minutes for Christ" There are times at the end of a day I come to a disappointing realization that I rarely addressed the Lord, if at all. There are times I realize I have gone a short season with little prayer, thought. no Bible reading.
But there are other times where I have had that 'prayer without ceasing' time of a day long conversation with the Lord. Usually spurred on by Scripture, or listening to a good sermon or devotional, Christian music.
I wish I INITIATED this invitation more often and I realize without the Holy Spirit prompting me, I likely would not do it. But I am slowly improving in my practice of asking the Lord to be with and engage in whatever I am doing
"So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God." I Corinthians 10:31
PRAYER AND SCRIPTURE PREP
Jesus: God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth. John 4:24Part of my journey in understanding the nature of acceptable worship is the process of learning from God's Word the truth...who God is, the grand narrative of history, the covenant promise, the act of redemption, the growth and function of God's church.
The craziest aspect of this is that no matter how well I know the Word, I must keep re-visiting it over and over- because it is a dynamic and living Word. Without worship, we shrink and without God's Word, we starve.
Prayers and petitions, supplications... the discipline of prayer- prostrating before the King in submission, yet pleading with Him at the same time.
ATTITUDE OF GRATITUDE
Philippians 4 says "with thanksgiving" let our requests be made known to God. When I count my blessings it keeps me in a positive frame of mind. Observing/experiencing life positively allows me to love better, to hope better, to bear better, to overlook more.
When I get weighed down with how unfair and hard life is- I see things more negatively and I become more cynical and sarcastic. It is hard to grow a tree of worship in such foul soil.
CAREFUL ATTENTION TO THE GOSPEL OF GRACE
The message of God's grace has to be central in this quest for worship. We don't worship to somehow earn a merit badge. We don't do it because we are good. We don't do it in our strength. We have to be aware that worship could become an idol. We have to be suspicious of our on sinful hearts to slide... prone to wander.
We can effectively worship God alone. But God has designed us to fellowship with one another. My best friends deepen my thirst for God. I can play golf alone. But it is always better with a friend. Even better with 3 friends. And even better when we all commune with God-glorifying talk in the process.
Life goes better when I learn to enjoy it with others and focus on them more than me.
PRETENDING/ PRACTICE/ PATIENCE/ PERSEVERANCE
Finally, as much as we would like for it to happen- a powerful worship experience will not always take place. And it is good that it doesn't, because our expectations spoil reality. We are still swimming upstream in a now but not yet existence.
I have learned to not be so cynical at religious routine. It is a dress rehearsal that points to future fulfillment. God gives shadows and hints of this in this life.
C.S. Lewis makes an astute point in Mere Christianity:
Why? What is the good of pretending to be what you are not? Well, even on the human level, you know, there are two kinds of pretending. There is a bad kind, where the pretense is there instead of the real thing; as when a man pretends he is going to help you instead of really helping you. But there is also a good kind, where the pretense leads up to the real thing. When you are not feeling particularly friendly but know you ought to be, the best thing you can do, very often, is to put on a friendly manner and behave as if you were a nicer person than you actually are. And in a few minutes, as we have all noticed, you will be really feeling friendlier than you were. Very often the only way to get a quality in reality is to start behaving as if you had it already. That is why children’s games are so important. They are always pretending to be grownups—playing soldiers, playing shop. But all the time, they are hardening their muscles and sharpening their wits so that the pretence of being grown-up helps them to grow up in earnest. Now, the moment you realise ‘Here I am, dressing up as Christ,’ it is extremely likely that you will see at once some way in which at that very moment the pretense could be made less of a pretence and more of a reality.I will run again soon and though all of the elements will still be there, it still doesn't 'rise' to the level of God authorized approved worship- and that is OK.
But I eagerly prepare for enjoying Him again in that intense and intimate way.
I may fall today, I may fail today- but He is worth the pain of perseverance and the weariness of patience. Because true worship elevates everything.