Worship and justice

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I am so glad you have joined me for this, the last in our series on worship as a lifestyle (next week we will start a new series).

Reflections based on Amos 5:14–15; 21–24.

‘Away with the noise of your songs! I will not listen to the music of your harps. But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream!’

It was with great interest, and an ever-softening heart, that I read The Art of Compassion. Martin Smith, formerly of Delirious, had launched the charity CompassionArt and invited other musicians to write an album with him, the proceeds of which went to helping the poor. I cried buckets reading the book, in which each artist revealed why they had gotten involved. For many, being part of today’s Westernised ‘worship music culture’ had made them desperate to discover the true meaning of worship afresh. One by one they shared how God had led them to these verses and how they had been undone. God doesn’t want our empty words – He doesn’t want us to sing about how much we love Him on a Sunday, then turn away from the person in desperate need on Monday morning.

Many of the artists have taken their families out to Africa to visit orphanages, and also adopted children and brought them home. I realise most of us don’t have the money to take our kids abroad to make them more aware of worldwide needs. But God does hold us accountable for caring for those we come across daily. When Israel was complaining that they were religiously fasting but God hadn’t noticed He replied: ‘Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke?’ (Isaiah 58:6). And in Matthew 25:45 Jesus says: ‘whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me’.

We may not feel that we have much to offer, but when we reach out to those around us God ministers to them. Being His hands and feet in this world is a vital part of worship.

Prayer: If you aren’t sure where the most needy are in your area, start praying that God will open your eyes to see who He wants you to help and how you can bring His justice to your neighbourhood.

Make space for the extravagant

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Reflections based on Luke 7:36–50.

‘A woman in that town who lived a sinful life … came there with an alabaster jar of perfume. As she stood behind him at his feet weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears. Then she wiped them with her hair, kissed them and poured perfume on them.’

After a little break over Christmas, we are back to our Wednesday devotionals on worship…

What total extravagance. Could you picture yourself doing that: entering a home uninvited, weeping and wiping Jesus’ feet with your hair and then kissing them and pouring a year’s worth of perfume over them? Jesus not only accepted the offering of worship from this woman, but also told her that her faith had saved her. Others looked on, probably shocked that Jesus allowed ‘such a sinner’ near him and also appalled at the apparent ‘waste’ (which, incidentally is how the disciples responded to a similar incident later in Jesus’ ministry – see Matthew 26:6–13 for example).

Before we side with the onlookers, condemning the sinner as inappropriate and her actions too ‘showy’ (do we do the same in church?), think about how she truly understood the depth of her sin. She wept enough tears to clean Jesus’ feet! She knew who she was and her dire need of Jesus. As she poured out her love extravagantly, He forgave her extravagantly, extending His love and forgiveness to her.

Extravagant means ‘excessive’, ‘lavish’, ‘wasteful’ and I think worship that can be described like this comes in response to how much we truly understand what we’ve been saved from. I am enjoying listening to a song by Kim Walker Smith at the moment, which has a line in it ‘I wanna waste myself on you’. It seemed like a strange line at first, but it has been hitting my heart each time I listen to it, and, looking at this passage, I can see exactly what it means. Just as in any other love relationship, God enjoys it when we show Him how much we love Him. This woman poured out something so precious that others called her wasteful, yet Jesus understood her extravagant act – and praised her for it. Can He do the same to you?

Question: What extravagant act can you do today to show God how much you love him?

Sing your song!

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Reflections based on Exodus 15:1–20.

‘I will sing to the Lord, for he is highly exalted. Both horse and driver he has hurled into the sea. The Lord is my strength and my defense; he has become my salvation. He is my God, and I will praise him, my father’s God, and I will exalt him.’

Here Moses and the people sing a song of great victory, giving glory to God for the miraculous crossing of the Red Sea. At the end of the reading we are told that Miriam took up her tambourine and led all the women into their own song and dance.

I just wanted to encourage you today to recognise that we all have a song. Psalm 40:3 says that ‘He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God’ so allow your song to bubble up and sing it out! Too often we can allow ourselves to be silenced, but not so Miriam – and we should be the same.

There will be specific songs for specific times – look in this passage at how their song directly responds to what God has just done for them. When was the last time you sang out a song of thanks to God for an answer to prayer?

Whether you have a good voice or not doesn’t come into it. The Bible refers to incense as ‘sweet smoke’ and it is used to describe our prayers, worship and praise. Indeed 2 Corinthians 2:15 says that ‘we are to God the pleasing aroma of Christ’.

Just as Christ’s death on the cross washes us clean of our sins and allows us to come close to our heavenly father, so I believe it turns any out-of-tune, ear-piercing songs into a delightful sound! If you aren’t too sure you agree with me, think about a child doing something for the first time. Whether they have perfected it or not isn’t important – their parents still well up with pride. God is longing to hear your voice today, so won’t you sing to Him with the words He has already placed on your heart?

Meditation/prayer: Spend some time thinking back over what God has done for you in recent months, then let your thankfulness bubble out of you as a song.

Undignified

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Reflections based on 2 Samuel 6:12–22.

‘Wearing a linen ephod, David was dancing before the Lord with all his might…
I will become even more undignified than this.’

Now. Be honest in your response to the question I’m about to ask you. Who did you relate to most when you read today’s passage? The carefree king, totally wrapped up and worshipping his God, or his wife, embarrassed by his ‘show’, who felt his behaviour should have been more befitting of his position? To put it in a modern-day context: how often have you looked at the slightly strange dancer in church, the flag wavers or ‘groaners’ and wished they weren’t in your congregation? Or been upset by something your church leader has suggested, or allowed, as it didn’t seem ‘respectful’ enough for church?

I want to challenge us all to consider whether we are too busy thinking about how others view us to worship freely – and whether we are impinging our notions of what worship should look like onto others. David wasn’t worried about anyone around him because he was concentrating on an audience of one – his Lord. Even when Michal challenged him over his actions he said that he’d be even more undignified, given the chance. What a great retort!

So when was the last time you felt abandoned in worship? As it should be out of the overflow of our hearts that we worship doesn’t it follow that sometimes we should get a little ‘crazy’, doing something out of our normal comfort zones?

Now I know that many of you reading this will be British, like myself, and I also know that I’m quite a reserved person (and enjoy the fact that I’m usually standing behind my keyboard in corporate times of worship!). But I think there is more to it than that. God wants our hearts so captivated by His truths, which transcend race, gender etc, that we can’t help but worship Him fully.

Prayer: I am sorry Lord that I can allow insecurities about what others may think of me to hold me back. Help me to learn how to be abandoned to You in worship.

How praise is made possible

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Reflections based on Hebrews 13:11–16

‘Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise—the fruit of lips that openly profess his name.’

I believe that this passage is a great reminder of our need for a saviour, and the ultimate sacrifice that he had to pay. Before He came, communion with God was only possible through a hugely complicated set of rules and animal sacrifices. Jesus’ death did away with such rituals and opened up the way to the Father.

Let’s ponder Jesus’ sacrifice a little more. Remember the agonising struggle that He had in Gethsemane when he thought about what was about to happen to him? Take a look at Matthew 26:36–46. ‘My soul is overwhelmed’ seems like a very apt description but somewhat inadequate too! Thinking about His humanity, Jesus must have been petrified at this point and yet He was still able to pray: ‘Yet not as I will, but as you will.’ Wow. But thank goodness He was able to do that, as it is only through what He suffered and endured, and then fought and conquered through His resurrection, that we are able to have a relationship with God. Today we are able to worship God freely, without needing to go through a priest.

While Jesus paid the sacrifice for our sins in a way we are totally incapable of doing for ourselves, God does still ask us for sacrifice. We are told to take up our cross on a daily basis (Luke 9:23). We are also asked to put others before ourselves (Philippians 2:1–4). But when each of these things is done from an attitude of thankfulness and remembrance of what Jesus has done for us, they don’t seem like so much of a sacrifice do they?

Prayer: Thank you Lord for paying the price that I could not for my salvation. Help me to live in the light of what you’ve done, remembering to take up my own personal cross daily as well as put on an attitude of thankfulness and praise.

Lips that praise/lips that curse

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Reflections based on Matthew 15:1–20.

‘What goes into someone’s mouth does not defile them, but what comes out of their mouth, that is what defiles them.’

Here Jesus is challenging the Pharisees and teachers of the law that had come to Him to try to trip Him up. He closely reflects what is said in Isaiah 29:13: ‘These people come near to me with their mouth and honour me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. Their worship of me is made up only of rules taught by men.’

What Jesus was trying to get across to them was that worship is not about just paying lip service. He explains that it is what comes out of a person’s lips that makes them unclean because it is out of the overflow of his heart that a man speaks. This is a sobering thought and prompts me to ask – what are you like when no one is looking? In church, even at work, we can put on a show of behaving like Christians and yet, behind closed doors, the reality can be very different. Ironically, the one that we profess to follow and worship sees it all – and knows us to the very depths of our beings. What He wants from us is a walk of worship that is full of integrity day in day out.

‘Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers, this should not be.’ (James 3:10) This verse reveals to me that part of our daily worship is to keep a check on our tongues, possibly because I know it is an area that I need to work on further! Words of healing but also words that cut and hurt can come out of the very same mouth at various times in a day, but here we are being reminded that there is something vitally wrong with this.

Prayer: Use the following psalm as a prayer. ‘May these words of my mouth and this meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer.’ (Psalm 19:14)

 

In Spirit and in truth…

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‘Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshippers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshippers the Father seeks.’

Reflections based on John 4:1–26

There is so much that I could say about this passage – including how Jesus crossed cultural boundaries to reach out to this woman – but today I want to focus on what He teaches us about the importance of attitude over place in worship. The Samaritan woman is bowled over by how much this man knows about her and recognises the fact that He must be a prophet or some such person. So, feeling uncomfortable, she changes the subject and asks Him about a popular theological question of the day – where the correct place to worship was: ‘Our fathers worshipped on this mountain, but you Jews claim that the place where we must worship is in Jerusalem’.

Jesus’ answer is one of the most important teachings on worship that He gave: ‘believe me, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem… God is spirit, and his worshippers must worship in the Spirit and in truth’. In this statement Jesus was revealing the importance of attitude rather than location when we worship. He also spoke of the importance of the Spirit as well as truth, as it is through the Spirit that we are able to really connect with God and celebrate the truths that we know about Him. And the Bible clearly teaches that we are all born of the Spirit when we become Christians. That means we can each draw on His wisdom and strength day by day (Ephesians 1:13–14).

Sadly, sometimes our Westernised ‘worship culture’ can actually be a smoke screen if we get too caught up in it, and it can actually end up hiding us from God rather than drawing us nearer to Him. The means by which we worship should always remain that – the means, not the end. It is not about the latest songs, or the ‘best’ worship leader. While I enjoy singing new songs, putting too much emphasis on them causes them to be a distraction.

Question: Do you have a tendency to focus on the songs and musical arrangements rather than God when you take part in corporate worship? Ask God to help you to focus on Him alone, and to teach you more about what it means to worship Him in Spirit and in truth.

God reveals; we respond

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‘The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they reveal knowledge.’

Reflections based on Psalm 19:1–11

Going back through the books I have on worship, I was struck once more by how many of them focused on worship as a response to what we know about God. This makes so much sense as it is only out of revelation that we can make a heartfelt response. And yet how often do we try and worship out of a dry and unfed bank of revelation? One writer simply suggested that if we aren’t very good at worshipping it’s because we don’t know our God very well. Ouch. I know there are seasons in which worshipping is harder, and we will look at that specifically later on, but there is a basic truth to what they said.

So where should we go to find out more about God? His Word is the obvious place and a great starting point is the psalms, such as the one we’ve read today. It’s there that we learn of the absolute awesomeness of God and yet, more than that, are reminded that He knows even the number of hairs on our heads and wants a personal relationship with us. What incredible truths!

Spend some time soaking those truths in. The more science discovers about the universe the more we can be in awe of the God who, as Graham Kendrick’s song ‘The Servant King’ so beautifully describes, ‘flung the stars into space’*. And yet He also knows every intimate detail of our lives and wants to spend time with us.

I love the way that Psalm 19 paints such a vivid picture of how God’s own creation literally pulsates with the truth about Him – that everything reveals His glory. It also reveals how God’s laws and commands are ordered and right. That to me shows His care for humanity.

Meditation: Sit quietly and write down some of the things this psalm reveals to you about God. Try and write a response in the form of a prayer, thank you letter, psalm or song.

*Graham Kendrick Copyright © 1983 Thankyou Music/Adm. by Capitol CMG Publishing worldwide excl. UK & Europe, adm. by Integritymusic.com, a division of David C Cook songs@integritymusic.com Used by Permission.

Worship Central: pithy quotes to ponder

This year’s Worship Central Conference was full of great times of worship, unsurprisingly, but also jam-packed with wisdom to take away and ponder. Here are some thought-provoking quotes taken from the weekend, which I have been spending time with ever since. Hopefully they will give you something to reflect and act upon too:

“Every great thing requires a great sacrifice.” Louie Giglio

“God has lots of children in the church today; I’m honestly not sure He has many friends.” Mike Pilavachi

“Life comes from death. To the degree that I can live in the death of Jesus – to that degree I can channel God’s life to others.” Louie Giglio

 “Worship starts with seeing something great and then reflecting it to the world. Let’s see God so we can reflect God.” Louie Giglio

 “My life is not about the set list, it is to be set apart.” Louie Giglio

 “Worship should be about united values instead of united styles.” Mark Underwood

 “Whatever your story, the world does not need to mould you.” Tim Hughes

 “As long as we are faking it we are just showing the world how to fake it – but they already are! They want to see us get real.” Louie Giglio

 “Invite failure into the process of song writing; allow yourself permission to fail. Rock bottom becomes your foundation on which to build. Have you reached rock bottom so you can know what matters to you – what God has put into you?” Nick Herbert

 “We don’t tend to focus on our creative processes but on the final outcome. We’ve lost the art of enjoying our creativity.” Rev Will van der Hart

 “Write songs which reflect God’s perspective and then you’ll see God move.” Jake Isaac

“Quit trying to do what I already know you can’t do and let Christ do what only He can through you.” Louie Giglio

 “Our culture doesn’t like being told what to do; that’s happening in the Church.” Mike Pilavachi

 “The Holy Spirit was not sent so we can have bless ups in our churches but so the world can be changed.” Mike Pilavachi

 “You have to get out of the boat so you can know the intimacy of walking with Jesus.” Mike Pilavachi

 “Greater intimacy leads to greater fruitfulness.” Rachel Hughes, quoting Heidi Baker

 “As Christians we can call self-health and compassion ‘self-indulgence’.” Rev Will van der Hart

 “Point to the creator, rather than to yourself.” Rev Will van der Hart

 “Are we going to lead safe lives, based on our past experiences or cling to the Lord and His promises?” Rachel Hughes

 

Why do we always want something different?

On Friday my two new books are published. I am taking a moment to celebrate that fact – to thank the editor who asked if I would like to write them, and to acknowledge all the hard work it took to put them together.

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But it also makes me long for the day when the book I have burning within me makes it out of my heart and mind and onto the bookshelves. You see, so far I have four books under my writerly belt. But each one I was asked to write. The ideas did not originally come from me. Yes, I ran with them, developed them, put my all into them – but they don’t feel like they are quite ‘mine’.

I also look around at the Christian non-fiction authors who have huge followings, bestsellers and sell-out tours. I look and wonder – will I ever get anywhere close to that? And does God even want me to? In the times when I get frustrated, I have to consciously take my eyes off of another’s path and focus on my own. Because God has called me to walk out my own life, not someone else’s.

God really challenged me recently. I was considering whether I could feasibly take on the leadership training that I had been offered. So often we are told to look at our priorities, to check where all our time goes (yes I’ve previously written about doing a time budget – we got partway there!). I know that working parents will probably relate to what I’m going to say next: most of the time I feel like my whole self is being simultaneously stretched in at least four different directions.

Writing and editing make up my ‘job’, but I also believe they are part of my calling. I also know that first and foremost I am to love my God above everything and everyone – and then my husband and my children. I also now have a deep passion for those who attend our church. I want to see them reach their full potential, walk free from those things that have bound them and be all they can be. I am also fired up by worship and long to see people engaging with God in new and creative ways.

And yet so often I feel like I’m only just scratching the surface with each of those areas. That I’m just treading water rather than taking ground. I wonder whether I’m selling people short by not giving more – but then I know that, realistically, I haven’t got any more to give. So how can I take on anything else? But then that quiet small voice whispers to me, encouraging me and telling me it could be the one thing that equips me to serve others better, and gives me the time to actually stop and check my priorities.

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