If it doesn't count for Christ, it doesn't count.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Does it take a raise to get a rise?

From 1 Kings:  Solomon showed his love for the LORD by walking according to the instructions given him by his father David, except that he offered sacrifices and burned incense on the high places.

. . . Solomon offered a thousand burnt offerings on that altar.  At Gibeon the LORD appeared to Solomon during the night in a dream, and God said, “Ask for whatever you want me to give you.”

Solomon's tangible expression of worship and praise to God pleased God to the extent that He commanded Solomon to ask for whatever he wanted. Ultimately, God gave Solomon more than he asked for.  And it all started with focused, true, and tangible praise and worship.  Shouldn't this tell the rest of us something? 

Our pastor and his wife attended a Chris Tomlin concert a couple of weeks ago.  He spent much of the service the following Sunday morning talking about how much he enjoyed the concert.  He wasn't just talking about the music though.  It was the praise which filled the building that impressed him so. The level of praise that was very freely offered up by the 2500 or so people there at Pinelake Church only increased his desire to see that kind of praise raised up in our own church. Preaching from Psalm 135, he called upon our congregation to return in a week prepared to more freely and openly and without fetter worship and praise our God.- - -(fetter - my word, not his that I recall - 1fet·ternoun \ˈfe-tər\ ,definition of FETTER 1 : a chain or shackle for the feet, 2: something that confines : restraint ) - - - 

Question: Is there tangible evidence of our praise and worship before God?   . . . not as a "show" before other people, but before God? Another way to ask that question might be, "Is your praise fettered?"

We talked about this in Sunday School that same week, having no idea of the message that was to come just a short while later. And then Bro. Chris comes out preaching on true praise.  I believe that this is one of God's ways of communicating His will to us.  A word or an impression comes to us in one situation and then it is confirmed in another situation. What can we do but act on God's revealed will for us?  (And it is not as if God has not told us many times before how he loves our praise of Him.)

So, back to my question. I asked our Sunday School class this same question.  Whether you raise your hands in praise or not may not matter. If you are standing or sitting there wearing an expressionless face, or even a solemn expression, no one around you knows what is going on inside. Maybe you are moved and you are praising your heart out, but only God can see. Well, that's ok, because He IS the object of your praise, not the people around you. But, doesn't God want to hear our praise?  Hebrews 13:15 (NKJV) "Therefore by Him let us continually offer the sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of our lips, giving thanks to His name."

On the other hand (no pun intended), maybe you are there standing with arms raised and to all the world you appear to be very actively praising God.  That may be the case. Maybe you are in a state of praise, but then, not all outwardly visible praise is genuine. Sometimes, it's just a show.

So, hands at your side, arms folded, or hands in the air, it is how you express the praise in your heart that matters. That is what God sees, not only your heart, but your tangible expression of what is in your heart. But, is it possible that you and I are somewhat inhibited or restrained, so that our praise is not fully expressed.  So instead of a full expression of praise and thanksgiving, God gets only what we are willing to allow someone else to see?

Think about the things you enjoy in life: sports, business deals, physical accomplishment, weddings, anniversaries, birthdays,  good news of any sort,  . . . you get the drift.  What excites you?  What makes you stand up and cheer or shout, or at least gets a rise out of you?  What stirs you?  These are all what I would call tangible expressions.  God certainly sees what all of these things bring out in us. So what does God bring out in us?

I have seen people in any number of public places uninhibitedly displaying their pleasure, or lack thereof, over an equal number of occurrences.  The truth is they really don't care what anyone else thinks about them at that moment.  But, in a public praise and worship setting they won't open their mouths or take their hands out of their pockets or off of the chair or pew in front of them.  In truth, it mostly comes down to the fact that they are too concerned with what the people around them are going to think of them.  The Spirit may be moving them to praise, but the Spirit is quenched.  The end result is that some ball player or some entertainer or some precious little child taking his or her first step gets the praise that is due them . . . and God doesn't!  "Well, that's different."  YES, it is!

So, does the presence of God tangibly move you?  Is your praise evident to God?  When He looks into your heart does He see you praising Him,  . . . or does He see you holding back?  (When I say "you", believe me, I ask myself this question as well.)

Is it important that others see you praising God? Yes!  I can attest to that in my own life. Some years ago, when our church, Hillcrest Baptist, was in transition from one area to another, we met in an elementary school auditorium/lunch room. A young couple there, Paul and Natalie, very freely and very visibly worshiped and praised God right down there on the front row.  It was all-the-more evident because they were about the only ones praising and worshiping in that manner at the time.

I will admit that I was distracted by it at the time. Even from my spot on the back row. I didn't understand it. I couldn't. I didn't even know that I was lost at the time, and there I was making judgments about how someone else expressed their relationship with Jesus! Over time I came to recognize the purity of their worship for what it was, and I began to wonder what it was that I had missed. Why didn't I feel that?  Why couldn't I worship and praise God in that way? In all probability, this is where I first recognized that something was wrong with my relationship with God. This may well be where the first crack formed in my own hard veneer of religion, and where Jesus first began the breakthrough that would lead me to true salvation.  So, yes! It matters what people see. Natalie and Paul were not "putting on a show" with their worship.  But, God reached me through their worship and showed me how very distant I was from Him.

Big letters here, so I'm not misunderstood. I am saying "praising and worshiping" because there is a difference between the two. Praise is a part of our worship.  So, when you see me refer to "worship" here in this post, please remember that I am referring to praise as it applies to worship. (And some of what is said here can be applied strictly to worship as well.)

So, am I advocating a particular "style" of worship? No. Far be it from me to judge the way in which anyone worships the Father through the Son by the power of the Holy Spirit.  I am advocating true worship, whatever form it takes.  God calls us to worship and only God can determine the way we worship.

All I am saying is open up and be true to your God, your Savior, and The Holy Spirit in your worship.
John 4:23-24 (NIV) "Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.”

In His own words Jesus uses the term "true worshipers", which implies that false worship is indeed practiced. He also says that God seeks those who will worship Him in the Spirit and in truth. God seeks worship!  True worshipers can only be those who know Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. For only those inhabited by the Spirit can worship in the Spirit.  And only those to whom the truth, the Word of God, has been revealed can worship in truth. What a wonderful gift we have as Christians that we can be - should be - "the true worshipers"!

We know from as far back as Cain and Able that some worship is acceptable to God while some worship is not acceptable to Him. If worship is not directed by the Holy Spirit in accordance with the Word of God, the worship is false and unacceptable to God.  It has nothing to do with what we feel like doing or not, or what we decide we want to do as worship. So we have to be very careful. Just as lack of emotion, or a reserved nature, might stifle the worship God seeks from us, unbridled emotion and giving ourselves completely over to the way we feel might result in a form of false worship as well. 

Keep in mind that among the vast multitude of things that Jesus set us free to do, one of the greatest is to worship Him freely, "in the Spirit and in truth". We must never think in terms of worshiping in the way we want to worship.  If our worship is going to be good and right and acceptable before God it must be the kind of worship He seeks, not a feeling that we seek

Psalm 100 (NIV)

 1 Shout for joy to the LORD, all the earth.
 2 Worship the LORD with gladness;
   come before him with joyful songs.
3 Know that the LORD is God.
   It is he who made us, and we are his;
   we are his people, the sheep of his pasture.

 4 Enter his gates with thanksgiving
   and his courts with praise;
   give thanks to him and praise his name.
5 For the LORD is good and his love endures forever;
   his faithfulness continues through all generations. 

When it comes right down to it, all of our relationships are defined by their confines, their boundaries. It is how far we will go, what we are willing, or not, to do for someone else that sets the boundaries of that relationship. Our relationship to God is no different.  Our relationship with God in this life will never go beyond what we are willing to do for Him at His beckoning.  I believe that if we want to live in the fullness of His boundless grace and mercy and love for us, then our love and our willingness to follow Him must be boundless as well. I also believe that, as we see in Solomon's story, unfettered praise and worship is where our boundaries, our self-imposed limits, are erased.

When we fall before our Savior in worship and praise and adoration, it is then that we will rise!