Far too often I get so caught up in and frustrated with the antagonistic American political scene I forget that God is not like us. I must remind myself that humans may indeed have been created in His image but the similarity ends there. I and my fellow citizens are a tangle of insecurities, emotions, conceited notions, misguided opinions, bad habits and we’re all constantly plagued by sinful urges. God isn’t. When I pray to my Heavenly Father it’s important I keep in mind I’m addressing the only perfect being in the universe. God is so far above and superior to everyone and everything that upsets me it ain’t even funny.
I’m not Catholic so I won’t pretend to know all that much about that denomination’s methodologies but I’ve always admired the profound respect the church members seem to be paying God. Via their solemn rites and sacred rituals I get the feeling they’re honoring His distinct otherness in symbolic ways that Protestants might be too quick to label unnecessary. I’m not saying that devout Baptists, Methodists, Lutherans, etc. are doing anything wrong or blasphemous in their services but perhaps they’re overlooking the need for their congregations to experience a vital sense of wonder when standing in the presence of the great I AM. To acknowledge the fact that our God is infinitesimally better than the greatest of us is indispensable to our having both faith in His plan and contentment with the part we’re to play in it. We have a model to emulate and His precious name is Jesus Christ. He showed us what true worship is.
Dallas Willard wrote, “Jesus’s good news about the kingdom can be an effective guide for our lives only if we share his view of the world in which we live. To His eyes this is a God-bathed and God-permeated world. It’s a world filled with a glorious reality, where every component is within the range of God’s direct knowledge and control – though He obviously permits some of it, for good reasons, to be for a while otherwise than as He wishes. It’s a world that’s inconceivably beautiful and good because of God and because God is always in it. It’s a world in which God is continually at play and over which He constantly rejoices. Until our thoughts of God have found every visible thing and event glorious with His presence, the word of Jesus has not yet fully seized us.” I’m as guilty as they come on this score for my viewpoint is myopic and I “…see through a glass darkly” (1 Corinthians 13:12). The hatred, injustices, terrors and evil I witness happening daily on a global scale, thanks to the everywhere-all-the-time media, tend to make me imagine that God’s pacing the hallways of heaven, fretting over all of civilization’s inane madness as intensely as I do. The Bible says that’s not true. God’s not miserable. He’s not tensed up. He’s not anxious. His creatures may be but He never is. We’re taught that He’s the source of all love, of all peace, of all harmony, of all that is good. Thus it’s illogical for us to opine that God’s unhappy. It’s more accurate for His adopted children to consider Him the most exuberantly joyous being in all of His creation and, therefore, immensely deserving of our adoration, our praise and our most sincerely-offered and unfettered worship.
Our worship shouldn’t be limited to the confines of the sanctuary of our choice, either. I try to catch glimpses of God as frequently as I can as the opportunities present themselves. Last week I got to hold a newborn baby in my arms less than 24 hours after she emerged from my grand-niece’s womb. Knowing it was a rare privilege, I tuned out the various relative’s chatter reverberating in the cramped hospital room, relaxed and let the miracle of the moment engulf me. There in my aging hands was God’s immaculate handiwork, dozing in and out of a consciousness she had no means by which to fathom objectively. (Our “old world” is a “brand new world” to her.) I pondered that only an incorruptible Creator could make something so beautifully uncorrupted and contemplating the complex, intricate process that had unfolded during the nine months since seed invaded egg boggled my brain. For those few fleeting minutes the infant Piper and I were joined in peaceful worship of the one true God in and through whom all things are possible.
I also worshiped my Lord just last night, as I drove home from my weekly Celebrate Recovery meeting. For those unfamiliar with the local terrain, there are no mountains and very few hills in northeast Texas but there are some high ridges in places that provide a nice “vista” of sorts and I crested one of them. The air was unusually clear and the thin sliver of the moon hovered just barely above the horizon ahead of me. The stars and planets were sparkling brilliantly so when I got home I stood in the driveway for a while, doing my best to peer into what I was seeing in the sky overhead. I concentrated on not viewing it as a flat, painted canopy but as the three-dimensional reality it actually is. My overwhelming thought was “How can God not be pleased to rule sovereign over such a uniquely gorgeous creation?” To hold in my mind for even an instant the incomprehensible vastness of God’s awesome realm always humbles me to my knees in unabashed reverence. I need to let that happen more often. As should we all, I reckon.
I propose that technological advances haven’t enlightened us at all. Rather that they’ve jaded us to God’s magnificence. Case in point: a little over two decades ago the Hubble Space Telescope beamed down pictures of the Eagle Nebula (google them) that revealed an enormous mass of gas and microscopic dust that span a distance of six trillion miles. A myriad of stars can be detected in it, the majority of them hotter and more massive than our sun. At the time the photos were released they were breathtaking to behold because we’d never seen anything like it. Reporter Joan Beck described it as being “Towering clouds of gases trillions of miles high, backlit by nuclear fires in newly forming stars, galaxies cartwheeling into collision and sending explosive shock waves boiling through millions of light-years of time and space.” Whew! Yet a CGI-inundated young person of today would hardly be impressed. To them it’s nothing they haven’t seen countless times before at the movies. Their sense of authentic wonder and amazement has been gutted by video games and special effects and that’s a pity. Especially for those who attempt to emulate Christ because one of the most admirable features of Jesus’ personality was the abundance of happiness and wonder He possessed and exuded. He never allowed the pain, suffering and grief He encountered to steal the joy He experienced constantly just by being among us. He told His disciples, “The person who has seen me has seen the Father!” (John 14:9). Thus, since Jesus was an upbeat guy 99.99% of the time we must conclude that our Father God is far from depressed or distraught about how things are going on Earth. Willard wrote, “The fondness, the endearment, the unstintingly affectionate regard of God toward all His creatures is the natural outflow of what He is to the core – which we vainly try to capture with our tired but indispensable old word love.”
Because I so enjoy immersing myself daily in the Holy Word and in the mind-expanding writings of great Christian authors I fear I fall victim to sometimes “overthinking” God. That’s why, when it comes to reading through the Psalms, I feel like a fish out of water due to its richly poetic language that expresses uninhibited worship so fluently. When perusing the Psalms I find that all my intellectualizing and navel-gazing introspection is forced to take a back seat to learning how to have a personal relationship with God. And sometimes that makes me uncomfortable. I guess that’s why I’m a big fan of contemporary Christian praise music. Through it I’m able to leave Scripture interpretation behind and freely praise God solely for the sake of praising Him. Take the lyrics for Matt Redman’s 10,000 Reasons for example: “Bless the Lord, Oh my soul/Worship His holy name/Sing like never before, Oh my soul/I’ll worship your holy name.” Nothing brain-taxing about that, just an announcement of one’s unfiltered adoration for God. Another would be Chris Tomlin’s poignant composition, Almighty, wherein we can sing “You have no rival/You stand alone/The heavens worship/Before your throne/There is no one like you/You have no equal/Your kingdom reigns/Yours is the highest of every name.” They’re both modern-day Psalms. A lifelong musician/songwriter, I know I can depend on the power of music to transport my soul away from the confines of my body into a spiritual dimension where I can dispense with all pretenses and worship the God who made me without my inflated pride getting in the way. Little wonder music has always been inseparable from the effective spreading of the gospel message. I hate to imagine where the 21st century body of Christ would be without it.
None other than our Savior Himself assured us that, no matter how frightening things may look at times, the Father in heaven is reliably good all the time and He’s firmly in control. Check out what our Lord Jesus taught in the Sermon on the Mount (from Matthew 6, as translated by Eugene Peterson in his remarkable tome, The Message). Christ says, “If you decide for God, living a life of God-worship, it follows that you don’t fuss about what’s on the table at mealtimes or whether the clothes in your closet are in fashion. There is far more to your life than the food you put in your stomach, more to your outer appearance than the clothes you hang on your body. Look at the birds, free and unfettered, not tied down to a job description, careless in the care of God. And you count far more to Him than birds. Has anyone by fussing in front of the mirror ever gotten taller by so much as an inch? All this time and money wasted on fashion – do you think it makes that much difference? Instead of looking at the fashions, walk out into the fields and look at the wildflowers. They never primp or shop, but have you ever seen color and design quite like it? The ten best-dressed men and women in the country look shabby alongside them. If God gives such attention to the appearance of wildflowers – most of which are never even seen – don’t you think He’ll attend to you, take pride in you, do His best for you? What I’m trying to do here is to get you to relax, to not be so preoccupied with getting, so you can respond to God’s giving. People who don’t know God and the way He works fuss over these things, but you know both God and how He works. Steep your life in God-reality, God-initiative, God-provisions. Don’t worry about missing out. You’ll find all your everyday human concerns will be met. Give your entire attention to what God is doing right now, and don’t get worked up about what may or may not happen tomorrow. God will help you deal with whatever hard things come up when the time comes.” I ask you, does Jesus sound like a doom-and-gloom God to you? No way.
I’m not implying God doesn’t get angry at times. He’ll put up with a lot from us but to blatantly disrespect Him is to risk His wrath. Anyone familiar with the Old Testament knows He doesn’t tolerate insolent behavior well. Like any good, good father He’s not averse to administering corporal punishment when He deems it necessary but that doesn’t mean He walks around with a chip on His shoulder. The bottom line is that He loves us and wants us to return that love. We demonstrate our love for Him most courteously by being voluntarily subservient to His perfect will. Dostoevsky wisely wrote, “The whole law of human existence lies in this: that man be able to bow down before the infinitely great.” Yet worship is going to be tough sledding if one thinks of God as a mean-spirited tyrant with revenge always on His mind. Philip Yancey wrote, “I have concluded that most Christians today avoid the Old Testament for the simple reason that they find the God depicted there scary and remote. In Doris Lessing’s wry phrase, ‘Jehovah does not think or behave like a social worker.’ Jehovah behaves, instead, like a holy God trying desperately to communicate to cantankerous human beings.” I think too many Christians don’t realize how much God desires for them to trust in Him completely. And that trust is made audible and therefore palpable when we worship Him without reservation, singing (or at least atonally mouthing like I do) lines such as those found in Elevation Worship’s Glory is Yours: “Oh, God, the glory is yours/The kingdom has come and the battle is over/Jesus, in your name we rise/And the glory is yours!”
We can also worship God in stillness, in absolute silence. Brennan Manning wrote, “Words such as union, fusion, and symbiosis hint at the ineffable oneness with Jesus that the apostle Paul experienced: ‘…It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me’ (Galatians 2:20). No human word is even remotely adequate to convey the mysterious and furious longing of Jesus for you and me to live in His smile and hang on His words. But union comes close, very close; it is a word pregnant with a reality that surpasses understanding, the only reality worth yearning for with love and patience, the only reality before which we should stay very quiet.” Worship without unconditional trust being involved is worship with a gaping hole in it. Partial worship won’t supply what we so desperately need to give. God is our one and only higher power and we should treat Him as such. I like what Thomas Merton said in one of his prayers. He uttered, “My Lord God, I have no idea where I’m going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think I’m following your will does not mean that I’m actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you.” That’s my prayer, too. The apostle Paul suggested that believers be “fools for Christ.” Perhaps we should act most foolishly when we worship Him.