David C. Hughes, Writer

“For the LORD your God will bless you in all your harvest and in all the work of your hands, and your JOY will be complete." –Deuteronomy 16:15

Archive for the tag “Holy Spirit”

The Epiphany of Joy, Chapter 6: Joy in Worship (3 of 3)

All my life I’ve had a tendency to seek approval through accomplishment rather than to embrace God’s truth that I am approved just because I am His child.  There’s nothing else I need to do to deepen His love for me.  Absolutely nothing.  No works will make Him love me more.  No additional prayers can entice Him to favor me any better.  No amount of study, knowledge, or wisdom will cause Him to hold me any closer.  He loves me as much now as He has ever loved me, and as much now as He ever will.  But because I equate lack of action for laziness, I compensate by keeping busy, to the detriment of my relationship with my God and His people.  Instead of sitting at His feet and just loving Him, I spend too much of my time and energy trying to win His approval.  But this is not what God intended when He created us.  “’Be still,’” the Psalmist wrote in Psalm 46:10, “’and know that I am God.’”  Be still.  And worship.

When we turn away from the “better part” and shift our attention to the distractions of the world, we put ourselves in danger of worshiping something other than God; we become idolaters.  Like the Hebrews worshipping the golden calf, or like the Pharisees worshipping their manmade layers of rules and regulations, we shift our natural desire to worship away from God and toward anything and everything which distracts our attention and energy away from God, like money, sports, our houses, our jobs, even our dreams if not centered in God’s will.  The love of money may be the root of all evil, but the worship of God is the beginning of all life.  God made us to worship–and we will worship–but only worshiping the better part will bring us true joy.

What does God want from us when we worship?  He wants us.  “Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God–this is your true and proper worship,” Paul told the church in Rome (Romans 12:1 NIV).  In view of God’s undeserved gifts–His mercy–the only true and proper worship is the offer of our very life to the One who created us.  He wants our very being.  “For I desire mercy, not sacrifice, and acknowledgment of God rather than burnt offerings” God told the Hebrews through Hosea (Hosea 6:6 NIV). And as we slough off our Martha busyness and put on our Mary reverence, joy is the natural outflow of our actions.

As I researched this book, I found that, by far, the majority of instances of the word “joy” in Scripture are within the context of worship, praise, and celebration of God.  The Psalms especially attest to joy in worship as David and the other psalm writers sang God’s praises and released God’s joy in their hymns; worship leads to joy, and joy leads to worship.  “But may all who seek you rejoice and be glad in you,” wrote David, “may those who long for your saving help always say, ‘The Lord is great!’”  (Psalm 40:16 NIV).  “Worship is aligning our mind’s attention with our heart’s affections,” said Michael John Clement, Worship Pastor at New River.  “Praise is the language God gives us to communicate with Him.  Worship is the action.  Let us sit back and watch God be God.”  Yes . . . let us watch God be God.

One morning, as I lay in bed praying, I told God “I really don’t know how to worship.”

“Yes you do,” He assured me.  “You’re doing it now.  You’re trusting me.”  I may not “get” worship fully yet.  I may stand unmoving in church except for the pumping of my right leg to the beat of the music on Sunday morning.  I may look around in wonder at the folks who jump and wave their arms and shout at the ceiling, eyes closed, tears streaming down their cheeks, the ones who truly get it and are not just putting on a show.  I may not worship out loud in my prayer language or wave my Holy Spirit fingers in the air.  But, as Mark Driscoll, Pastor of Mars Hill Church in Seattle, said: “worship is not merely an aspect of our being, but the essence of our being as God’s image-bearers” (theresurgence.com, Worship and Idolatry series).  We worship because we’re made in God’s image, we pour out because God pours in.  Our life is one of continuous worship; it’s what we do, it’s who we are.

King David described in Psalm 22:3 that God is holy, “Enthroned in the praises of Israel.”  God dwells in the praises of His people!  God’s presence is real in the hearts of those who exalt Him.  I may not get worship fully yet, but as I continue to walk in His presence, even on a dark road with the Milky Way flowing over me, as I reach up to give myself to Him, with hands open to receive, He opens my heart a little more with each encounter.  Who knows?  Maybe someday you’ll see me turning cartwheels in the aisles at church too.

Copyright © 2014 David C Hughes

The Epiphany of Joy, Chapter 6: Joy in Worship (1 of 3)

Come, let us sing for joy to the Lord;

    let us shout aloud to the Rock of our

      salvation.

Let us come before him with thanksgiving

    and extol him with music and song.

–Psalm 95:1-2 (NIV)

 

Holy, holy, holy Lord,

God of power and might,

heaven and earth are full of your glory.

Hosanna in the highest.

Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.

Hosanna in the highest.

–The Sanctus

 

Being raised in a small-town Catholic community, I never knew worship, or at least I didn’t recognize it and appreciate it at the time.  I learned the traditional prayers, the structure of the Mass, when to kneel, stand, and sit, and the discipline and responsibility of being an altar boy.  I faithfully went to church with my family on Sunday mornings, a practice which followed through my college years and into adulthood.  It wasn’t until I met Mary and we started dating that I had to embrace a new way of looking at and experiencing church.  You see, she was raised sort-of Baptist, and after we got engaged I asked her if she would be willing to convert to Catholicism.

She agreed to start the process, but when she started filling out the paperwork to get an annulment from her first marriage, she slammed on the brakes.  “God and I talked about my divorce and He still loves me,” she told me emphatically.  “I’m not taking this to a panel of people I don’t know to judge that reconciliation.  What business is it of theirs?  This is between God and me.”  She definitely had a different view of God and His mercy than I did!  And from that moment on, I had to give up my regimented thinking about what church was all about and open my eyes to a different way of experiencing God.  As a result, we started attending a non-denominational evangelical Christian church.  What an eye-opener!  I quickly discovered that, at least for me, this is what church was meant to be: fresh, unbridled, dynamic, Jesus-centered, Bible-based, accepting, built on relationships with God and other believers serving each other and the community at large.  I fit right in!  I was finally home!  But worship was still something I struggled to get my heart wrapped around.

One Sunday evening, Mary and I attended New River Fellowship’s “First Sunday,” a monthly night of worship and digging deeper into God’s word.  An integral part of service which Spirit-filled churches like New River have in common is a half hour or so of praise involving talented singers and musicians.  Typically I listen to the music, sing the words . . . and let my mind wander all over the place.  Even after eight years of attending non-denominational evangelical churches, I still didn’t fully get it.  But that night something shifted.  It’s happened before, to a degree, but that night I lifted my hands above my head and closed my eyes during one song–and started crying.  The Holy Spirit overwhelmed me.  He poured into me, embraced me, loved me.  Just for . . . me.  I stood there, hands held high, and received His mercy, His love, His awesomeness.  I opened myself up to Him and He gushed into me.

Soon after, the Spirit told me very clearly to pray for the guy in the chair in front of me.  As we all stood and sang and danced and shouted, he sat with his face in his hand, virtually unmoving.  So, in unquestioned obedience, I knelt down, put a hand on his shoulder, and prayed for him out loud.  I don’t know what was going on in his life, I don’t know what he needed; the Spirit had nudged me to pray for him, so I did.  And gosh it felt good!

The next morning I got up before sunrise, as is my habit, to take the dogs for a walk.  I do my best thinking, praying, and creating in the quietness before the neighborhood begins to stir, enveloped in nature’s inspiration and God’s whispers.  The pre-dawn morning embraced me in stillness and mid-spring warmth as I led the dogs out the front door and onto the sidewalk.  Something–movement, a flash of light, a disturbance–caught my attention, and I turned toward the western sky just in time to catch the green-white streak of a meteor sacrificing itself in the atmosphere for God’s glory.  It was truly a good-morning kiss from Daddy.  Then I really noticed the sky: cloudless, black, painted with countless stars and the streak of the Milky Way running southwest to northeast.  The sliver of a waning crescent moon hung on the eastern horizon.  The Milky Way glowed softly against the inky backdrop, more pronounced that morning than I’d seen in recent memory, reminding me of those photos you see from the Hubble telescope of nebulae and galaxies.

(continued)

Copyright © 2013 David C Hughes

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