Danger Ahead! Too Much Sand, Not Enough Rock

prayer, worship, bible studyDo you ever find it difficult to sit still, put your body at rest and lift your heart and mind up to God in earnest prayer?  I know I do!  It seems our natural inclination these days is to go, go, go and to fill our days with activities and tasks that need to be completed.  We have digital calendars and address books, Facebook reminders, friend requests, email that needs to be read and a million other things that vie for our attention.

Our jobs, our families, our hobbies and even our churches; these are good things and gifts from the Lord.  We have a responsibility to love and care for those around us, especially those who are brothers and sisters in Christ.  This is absolutely a God-given duty, and not to be taken lightly.

But what about God?  Where does He fit?  He who is high and lifted up, the creator and the one who sustains it all.  He has such great love for us that He gave His only son to go and die a cruel and horrible death on a Roman cross just so we could be redeemed and have the opportunity for salvation and eternal life.  If He is our savior then He must be first.  And for Him to be first we must abide with Him through prayer and through time spent in Bible study and meditation on Him and His word.

This is a lesson that I am still learning but when I am successful in putting it into practice I am always blessed and always amazed at what the Lord can do in my life.  One of the most wonderful truths of God’s love for us is that He desires to work in us, through us and along side of us, if we will allow it.  The all powerful God who needs nothing chooses imperfect vessels such as you and I to carry out His work and to show His love.  If we allow that to happen then there is such great joy and great blessing that is poured out on us and through us!

But before we can be used, we must be connected.  And to be connected we have to train ourselves to slow down and to listen.  We must listen for His still small voice as we lift our hearts and minds in prayer and we must learn to be still and to know that He is God.  We need His Word, the Bible, foremost in our thoughts and His truths written on our hearts so that we might not sin against Him and so that we might be well equipped to serve as His hands and His feet.

This is a process.  It does not happen overnight.  It requires care and attention, focus and effort.  But the rewards are eternal and marvelous, both for us and for those touched by God working through us.

Whatever else might be happening in your life right now, however big or small it might seem, it doesn’t matter as much as the call to pray, to worship and to be still before God.  Be right with Him and He will take care of all else.

24 “Therefore everyone who hears these words of Mine and acts on them,  may be compared to a wise man who built his house on the rock. 25 And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and slammed against that house; and yet it did not fall, for it had been founded on the rock. 26 Everyone who hears these words of Mine and does not act on them, will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. 27 The rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and slammed against that house; and it fell—and great was its fall.” Matthew 7:24-27 (NASB)

The Imposition of Real Worship

worship, adore, praiseImposition is not a word with an especially nice meaning.  To impose one’s self upon another is by definition to force an unwelcome or unfair demand upon that person.  In most all cases, when someone tells us that something was an “imposition” they are telling us that they were put out and would have preferred something else to have happened.

And yet, real worship IS an imposition on our human nature, is it not?  If we remain in the flesh and have our selfish desires foremost in our minds then the thought and act of real worship is never welcome or easily accomplished.  Our bodies, which are passing away, and our minds, which  must be renewed daily, will fight the bowing of our knees and the turning of our hearts towards God Almighty and His perfect will.  Simply put, to experience real worship we must approach God with humility and allow the Holy Spirit to impose His will upon ours.

When we first start our Christian walk, it can feel unfair and unnatural to empty ourselves of our own wills and seek to adore and commune with God through the Spirit.  Our old human nature wants nothing to do with this sort of thing and it is only as we gradually persist in this practice that the Holy Spirit can, little by little, imprint the act of worship upon us so that it becomes as natural as breathing.  And like any healthy habit, if we persist  we will reap continual rewards but if we slack off or stop for a period of time then it can become difficult to get started again.  The more we put into it by seeking God and praising Him for who He is and all that He has done, the better our worship will become for ourselves and those around us.

The upside of real worship and the rewards and benefits that it brings are a topic that could span several full size books.  Suffice it to say, all of the fruits of the Spirit will be born out of real worship and God’s presence will be felt strongly.  Additionally, those closest to us will be blessed and encouraged in their faith.  Finally, and most importantly, God’s Kingdom will grow as we make ourselves useful and grateful vessels for His service.

Real worship of God, in Spirit and truth, is a completely foreign concept to those who are walking in darkness and who have never trusted Jesus as Savior.  But for those of us who have the Holy Spirit living inside, real worship of God is a necessity for our spiritual growth and always worth the time and effort.  God can use us in incredible ways when we live a life of praise and adoration that is yielded to Him.

Preference or Unity?

unity, worship, church bodyThe unity of the body of Christ and the way we come together to worship has been central in my thoughts this week.  We are each unique individuals with differences in temperament, personality, experiences, age and abilities yet we are all called to worship the Lord in spirit and in truth and to do so in unity of purpose.

For human beings to be in unity for any length of time is not a natural phenomenon.  It does not happen often and when it does, it doesn’t tend to last very long.  Those very traits that make us unique can work against us when it comes to getting along with others.  And then there is the bigger problem of sin and the way we express our fallen nature through selfishness and insistence on our own way to the detriment of others.

How then, can selfish people who have so many differences come together to form a healthy, growing, effective local body of believers (church)?  Quite simply, it requires the laying aside of personal preference and personal ambition in favor of seeking to worship God and then out of that, loving and serving one another.  When each of us has the goal of entering into the presence of God in corporate worship and is willing to lay aside our own will and our own desires then God can perform the miraculous task of causing the many different parts of the body of Christ to work as one complete unit.  And the word “unit”, if you didn’t already see it, is only one letter short of the word “unity”.  When the unit is working together towards the same goal then unity occurs!

Unity is difficult to achieve because selfishness can be sneaky.  To be human is to prefer some things over other things and it is certainly ok to have those preferences.  I may prefer traditional hymns but my friend may prefer contemporary music.  I might prefer the thermostat to be set on 68 while he might prefer 72.  But when we insist upon our own preferences in a corporate worship setting (either verbally or just in our hearts and minds as a silent complaint) instead of laying them down and setting them aside for the goal of true worship then we have allowed selfishness to get in the way of unity.  It takes a conscious decision to not insist upon our own wills and instead tell the Lord that only His will truly matters.

It takes the power of the Holy Spirit and practice and preparation to get to the point of being able to lay ourselves aside.  It most certainly does not happen naturally but it absolutely must happen for a church to function for the glory of God.  To mature as a believer and to grow as a Christian we must practice and perfect the ability let go of what we think and feel in our own hearts and minds in favor of what God thinks.  When you have a group of people who are willing to do that and come together for the purpose of growing God’s kingdom then you will find a church who is doing great things for the glory of God.

He must increase, but I must decrease. (John 3:30) NASB

Finding Your Sacred Pathway

sacred pathway, soul's path to god,worshipI’ve just finished Gary Thomas’ “Sacred Pathways” and what I read there is fresh on my mind.  It has given me much to consider and like a good puzzle, it is going to take me some time to get it all worked out.

I should state up front that this is not a book review.  I may decide to review “Sacred Pathways” in-depth at a later time.  But for now I just want to focus on the broad topics and themes that Mr. Thomas writes about and how they have influenced my thinking.

What exactly is a sacred pathway?  According to Mr. Thomas, a sacred pathway is our soul’s path to God.  Put more simply, it is how we best relate to our Heavenly Father.  The basic idea is this: God created us all uniquely.  Because we are all unique, we view and interact with the world and with God accordingly.  And, as long as we are seeking God honestly and with our whole being, the actual method will vary but the results will be the same; God will be glorified and we will be blessed.

Let me give you an example.  From my reading, I have discovered that I am an Enthusiast, Contemplative, Intellectual.  I also show tendencies in the Naturalist and Ascetic Categories.  (And if all of this sounds vaguely like a Myers-Briggs style personality test for worship styles then you wouldn’t be far off of the mark.)

As an Enthusiast, I am excited about God.  I look forward to seeing His handiwork each and every day and I wait expectantly to see what He is going to do next.  I need that sense of excitement, adventure and enthusiasm about my relationship to the Lord and I am grateful whenever the Lord allows me even a glimpse of His wonderful work.  Enthusiasts are sometimes regarded as odd and often misunderstood by those who do not understand this particular sacred pathway.

As a Contemplative, I crave time to sit at my Savior’s feet and enjoy His company.  I identify with Mary more than Martha in this regard.  I want to meditate on His greatness and explore the depths of His love in my heart, soul and mind.  Contemplatives and Caregivers (another sacred pathway – think Mary and Martha again) often do not see eye to eye but both are valid forms of worship as long as the object is God and His glory.

As an Intellectual, I am fed when I discover new truths about my Lord.  I have an appetite for knowledge and I tend to read everything I can get my hands on.   As an intellectual, I am a perpetual student and I am happiest when I am studying and exercising my mind in the pursuit of Godly wisdom and direction.

Why does this matter and how does this help us?  For one, it has helped identify those activities and exercises that best feed me spiritually.  I need to prioritize  prayer and meditation every day and give myself plenty of time to just sit in my Father’s presence.  I also need to be involved in what God is doing in as many ways as possible while I appreciate the mystery and adventure that comes through walking with Him.  Finally, I need to make sure that I continue to learn, study and exercise the brain that God has given me.

On the other hand, I score lowest as a Traditionalist and this helps explain why traditional church services have never been my strong suit for feeling most connected to God.  Corporate worship is incredibly important to the body of Christ but I also need to make sure that I spend plenty of time alone in my prayer closet (this also relates to the Ascetic pathway) if I truly want to grow.

Mr. Thomas identifies nine sacred pathways.  In addition to the seven I have listed here (Enthusiast, Contemplative, Intellectual, Naturalist, Ascetic, Caregiver and Traditionalist) there is also the Sensate and the Activist.  Mr. Thomas identifies each sacred pathway thusly:

Naturalist – Loving God by Being Outside with His Creation.  Ever wanted to spontaneously worship and thank God while viewing a sunset or leaves in the Fall?  Do you feel closer to God while under an open sky than under a roof?  If so, you have some Naturalistic tendencies.

Sensate –  Loving God with the Senses.  Being moved by music, drawn closer to God through smell or taste or seeing a painting or fresco that caused your spirit to soar are all signs of a sensate.

Traditionalist – Loving God through ritual and symbolism.  Traditionalists are fed by the historic traditions of the faith including sacraments, rituals and symbols.

Ascetic –  Loving God in Solitude and Simplicity.  Ascetics value solitude and simple surroundings and are fed by silence.

Activists – Loving God through Confrontation.  Activists need to stand up for justice and call sinners to repentance.  They are energized by fighting for the Lord against evil.

Caregivers –  Loving God by Loving Others.  Caregivers often see God in the poor and needy and are best fed through service to others.

Enthusiast –  Loving God through Mystery and Celebration.  Enthusiasts want excitement and mystery in worship and are cheerleaders for God and the Christian life.

Contemplative –  The Contemplative seeks to love God with the deepest, purest love possible.  Contemplative desire to give themselves completely to God; body, soul and mind.

Intellectual – Loving God with the Mind.  Intellectuals love to discover new truths about God and explore Him with their minds.

Having defined the sacred pathways, it is very important that we understand that no sacred pathway is better than another and that Jesus Christ showed strength in all of them.  As our model, we can look at the life of Jesus and understand that as we grow and mature in our faith we too will begin to exhibit preferences for all of these sacred pathways.  As young Christians, we may begin our faith journey by most identifying with only one or two pathways.  But as we begin to let the Holy Spirit work in us and we become more like Christ, we will begin to grow into other pathways and new ways to worship.

As long as true, honest worship of our Savior is our aim then God will be glorified and our faith and maturity as Christians will grow.  This is always the ultimate goal.  Even so, knowing your sacred pathway(s) can help you in your journey.

Having read through the definitions above and given some time to consider it, what sacred pathways do you most identify with and how might that affect your worship style?

 

Monday Music Musings

Third Day,Newsboys,Amy Grant,Barlow GirlI live a musical life.  It’s a rare day that I don’t have a song playing in my head at least some of the time.  As I’ve previously written about, I enjoy music from many genres and in many styles.  Music energizes me and lifts my spirit and in many cases turns my heart towards my Heavenly Father in praise.

This particular song has been on my mind and in my heart a lot lately.  It’s as much a prayer as it’s a song and it’s beautiful in its simplicity.  Listen to the words and hear the important message of “Lead Me Lord” as sung by the Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir.  TBC choir and our faithful leader Milena, I dedicate this one to you.  Bless you for what you do.

“Lead Me Lord” is an amazing song and it is a great place to start our Monday music musing but it isn’t where we will stop.  We live in an amazing time where anyone with internet access and a computer has access to a huge selection of music.  I’ve been a music fan for most of my life so narrowing down just a few for a post like this is sometimes difficult.  But not today.

As I lay down to sleep last night the songs that I wanted to celebrate today were right there in my head.  I think the Lord knew I needed some encouragement and strengthening and was ministering to me even then.  Listening to these songs this morning has really touched me and excited me; it’s great to be a child of God!

I get tears in my eyes every time I listen to this next song.  Every time.  The words and the music together form a powerful combination of hope and praise that just makes my heart feel like it is about to burst with joy.  This is the Newsboys singing “He Reigns”.

The Newsboys and their music have meant a lot to me over the years.  I have plans to do a piece that covers their ministry and discography and to share more of the unique gift that God has given them.

One more for today.  This is a song from my formative teenage years and I can remember listening to this song as I was approaching high school graduation and how it filled me with a sense of purpose.  It’s a hopeful song that is sung with power and energy and it’s 90’s rock right to the core.  Most appropriately for Matthew515.com, this is White Heart singing “Light a Candle”.  I’m posting the lyrics for this one underneath the video because they form a message that still resounds to this day.

Lyrics:
A flame is rising up in you,
A spark is struck,
Electric blue,
For the hand of love has brushed your eyes, and now it’s love that shines,
Light a candle.

There’s a surge of hope within your heart and you want to play a bigger part for you heard the word that Jesus said,
You want to turn the world upon its head,
Now lift your hands up high into the sky and light a candle.

A city of faith can not be hid,
Let the fire burn on the holy wind,
So if you want to change your world and be a living flame, light a candle.

So, on a cold and moonless night, in your window place your candlelight, and let it burn so all can see your holy torch of liberty,
And pray for love, pray for peace,
Pray the world will be released from the fear that locks us in the dark, from the hate that pulls us all apart,
In the ashes there will rise a sacred flame,
Light a candle,
Light it up now.

You’re back may be against a wall but you’ve seen the love that conquers all,
You know that he can change your world, so be a living flame,
Light a candle.

Oh, light a candle,
Oh, light a candle.

You can change your world if you believe,
Do you know you can light up the world?
Light up, light up,
Light up, light up,
Light up, light up,
Light up the world.

Light a candle,
See love shine,
Light a candle,
Light a candle,
All Gods people, all God’s people,
Would you light a candle?
Let it shine,
Oh, let it shine,
Light a candle,
See the face of all the people, see them shine.

I hope that you have been sincerely blessed by the Monday Music Musing’s and that you go about your day encouraged and with a song in your heart.

Do you have a favorite song that really gets your spiritual juices flowing?  I’d love for you to share in the comment section below!