(The following post is from my study journal in preparation for a sermon on worship. It is rough but I wanted to share with you what the Holy Spirit was sharing with me. I hope you enjoy...)
There is a story involving Yogi Berra, the well-known catcher for the New York Yankees, and Hank Aaron, who at that time was the chief power hitter for the Milwaukee Braves. The teams were playng in the World Series, and as usual Yogi was keeping up his ceaseless chatter, intended to pep up his teammates on the one hand, and distract the Milwaukee batters on the other. As Aaron came to the plate, Yogi tried to distract him by saying, "Henry, you're holding the bat wrong. You're supposed to hold it so you can read the trademark." Aaron didn't say anything, but when the next pitch came he hit it into the left-field bleachers. After rounding the bases and tagging up at home plate, Aaron looked at Yogi Berra and said, "I didn't come up here to read."
One question: Why do you show up to worship? Is it because you have always done the same thing on Sunday mornings—or because your mom made you go—or because you are genuinely looking for something deeper, something meaningful?
Scripture tells us that worship is about ‘pointing our lives humbly back to God- the same God who humbly gave His life for us on Calvary’.
Wow! That is more than ritual or habit. That speaks to something that cuts deeply passed the brokenness of our lives or the scar tissue of our heart’s ‘same old things...’ to offer a glimpse of what the world cannot show us.
Think for a moment about the moments you’ve experienced real, genuine worship. Are you prepared to ‘point your life back to God’ like that time and time again?
The more I consider this definition of worship, I can’t help but confront what that means for the rest of my spiritual journey, too. A life pointed back to God is no longer concerned with worship styles or the presuppositions of the world’s standards of worship. No, worship as a ‘life pointed back to God’ rattles the tree of beliefs, relationships, and intentions until the condition of my heart shows through and my potential for real fruitfulness and righteousness are no longer just words.
Why? Well, over the last several months, I have journaled about my worship experiences. Not all of them have been wonderful- at least at the same level or measure. No, some times I worshipped like I was going through the motions. First, I realized that was my fault, not the church or worship team—my fault. But, second, I also realized that the moments when worship seize my very being and did something amazing to me and in me, it was due to my willingness to surrender myself to God’s presence. In essence, I pointed myself back to the Creator. Each time, my journal entry reflected a deeper impression physically on the paper, and a much deeper engagement in my soul.
And, for each time that I found myself surrendered back to God’s presence, three things happened.
First, My Life Pointed Back To God:
I. Decreased My Distractions from God’s Will
There are really two major DISTRACTIONS that Satan uses against us where worship is concerned:
1) The distractions of the world—these are the easy ones—money, stress, anxiety, relationships, ambitions, etc. We usually see these coming and know when we have been weighted down by them.
However, I believe there is a second type of distraction in our modern world that is even more dangerous...
2) The distractions of our own selfish wants and desires. I call this Spiritual Narcissism. And, it may be the most dangerous DISTRACTION we face. Read the following scripture passage from the Gospel of Luke:
’38 While Jesus and his disciples were traveling, Jesus entered a village where a woman named Martha welcomed him as a guest. 39 She had a sister named Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to his message. 40 By contrast, Martha was preoccupied with getting everything ready for their meal. So Martha came to him and said, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to prepare the table all by myself? Tell her to help me.”41 The Lord answered, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things. 42 One thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the better part. It won’t be taken away from her.” (Luke 10: 38-42)
Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev used to tell of a time when there was a wave of petty theft in the Soviet Union. To curtail this the authorities put up guards around the factories. At one timberworks in Leningrad, the guard knew the workers in the factory very well. The first evening, out came Pyotr Petrovich with a wheelbarrow and, on the wheelbarrow, a great bulky sack with a suspicious-looking object inside. "All right, Petrovich," said the guard, "what have you got there?" "Oh, just sawdust and shavings," Petrovich replied. "Come on," the guard said, "I wasn't born yesterday. Tip it out." And out came nothing but sawdust and shavings. So he was allowed to put it all back again and go home. When the same thing happened every night of the week the guard became frustrated. Finally, his curiosity overcame his frustration. "Petrovich," he said, "I know you. Tell me what you're smuggling out of here, and I'll let you go." "Wheelbarrows, my friend, " said Petrovich, "wheelbarrows."
We often steal from God and believe God doesn’t notice it. But, when we point our lives away from Him, and, thus, end up worshipping anything BUT Him, we really steal from ourselves.
It is possible to spend our entire life so consumed in doing good, Christian things that we miss what it means to actually be in relationship with Christ. Martha wasn’t doing anything wrong; Jesus just said that Mary had found something better than our routines and habits. Martha was so busy being a good follower of Jesus, she couldn’t see that she was robbing herself of what Jesus was really offering her in that moment on that day.
I don’t want to cheat myself from the best of what God has to offer... I don’t want you to either...
Second... A life pointed back to God:
II. Increases Our Discipline for Responding to God’s Work
A life pointed back to God is not only free from distractions but gets a chance to focus on other principles that dominate life. Take the life of Jesus for example. Jesus’ ministry on earth is one long ‘exercise in discipline’—and not just for the disciples but for everyone he meets—including himself. His goal is to transform the normal patterns and procedures of this world that we might see God from a new and more powerful angle. But, Jesus begins with his own daily patterns. He takes time away to be with the Father. He prays. He spends time with those in need. He teaches his followers. He does life and fellowship with others. Jesus walks the countryside and meets strangers. He interacts with the broken and marginalized. And, he enjoys spending time with friends. The pattern goes on and on.
In the process, Jesus models for his disciples (and for everyone of his followers then and now) what it means to become a true follower. He ‘disciplines’ everyone who draws close to him through His:
a) Teachings—name One teaching of Jesus that he is emphatic about... turn the other cheek, for instance.
b) Relationships with others—look at the way he treated people, even the ones who have disappointed and abandoned him.
c) Relationship with the Father—look at how much spending time with the Father meant to him—shouldn’t it mean as much to us.
Jesus believed strongly in the process of shaping and transforming discipline. He experienced it personally in his own worship and time with the Father and he transferred the experience to his followers as well. Read the following Scriptures about discipline--
Hebrews 12: 11 For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.
1 Corinthians 9: 27-- But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.
Jesus knew that discipline was not easy or simple. But, discipline was how his followers went from being mere students or spiritual bystanders to being disciples. Don’t you want more as well?
William Barclay tells the story of Coleridge. He is the supreme example of the tragedy of indiscipline. Barclay said that never did so great a mind produce so little. He left Cambridge University to join the army; he left the army because he could not rub down a horse; he returned to Oxford and left without a degree. He began a paper called "The Watchman" which lived for ten numbers and then died. It has been said of him, "he lost himself in visions of work to be done, that always remained to be done. Coleridge had every poetic gift but one--the gift of sustained and concentrated effort." In his head and in his mind he had all kinds of books, as he said, "completed save for transcription." But the books were never composed outside of Coleridge's mind, because he would not face the discipline of sitting down to write them out. No one ever reached any eminence, and no one having reached it ever maintained it, without discipline.
To truly worship God means engaging in a new life of discipline modeled through the faithfulness of Jesus himself.
Finally, a life pointed back to God:
III. Aligns the Desires of Our Heart with God’s Heart
The word align means to bring into cooperation or adjust to improve the response over a frequency band... In other words, the adjustment makes the signal more powerful and clear than ever. God wants the signal of our relationship with Him and each other to be strong and easy to understand. Worship becomes the process for how we align the signal of our heart with the signal of God’s. And, even more, Scripture tells us that when these signals are aligned, God seeks to provide us with the desires of our heart—listen carefully—not to give us everything we want, BUT if our desires are in alignment with God’s desires for us, why would God not provide for us?
Listen to what the Psalmist says... Trust the Lord and do good; live in the land, and farm faithfulness. 4 Enjoy the Lord, and he will give what your heart asks. 5 Commit your way to the Lord! Trust him! He will act 6 and will make your righteousness shine like the dawn, your justice like high noon. 7 Be still before the Lord, and wait[b] for him. Psalm 37: 3-7a
Thus, when our hearts align with God, the dynamics of understanding our priorities and desires change. We no longer think in terms of the question, ‘What is best for me?’ Instead we think and live against the backdrop of a different question, namely, ‘What does God believe is best for me?’
As many of you know, I am a movie fan. There is a great scene in the last movie of the latest Batman movie trilogy—Batman Rises. In this scene, Bruce Wayne attempts to escape this seemingly inescapable prison. He tries twice to make this impossible jump from one ledge to another so that he may climb to the top of an opening and achieve his freedom. Each jump, he is tied to a safety rope that secures him if he falls. But, each time he is unsuccessful. Finally, a wise cellmate tells him that the only other person who had made the jump did so when he was willing to risk everything and not use the rope. Bruce Wayne makes another attempt, but this time, he takes off the safety rope and makes the jump to freedom. There is no security to back him up, he either gives it his all and makes it, or dies trying
Today, many of you are praying and begging God to set you free, give you a second chance, or show you some mercy for a new beginning... but you can’t fully take hold of what God is offering you, because you won’t let go of what holds you back.
Worship is the experience of letting go of all that holds you back from God’s full love and grace. What you have been holding on to may not be bad or even wrong, but it is just not the ‘best’ thing for drawing close to Christ for a changed and new life.
I don’t want you to live this way—half in and half out of God’s amazing will and future for your life. There is so much more in store for you. But, to fully experience God’s presence, we have to point ALL OF OUR LIFE back to God, not just the convenient, simple, or comfortable parts.
Will it be easy—NO! Will it make all the difference? You bet!
Make the commitment to point yourself back to God and watch how the view on the journey changes. You will discover a God already poised to answer your questions, receive your praise and prayers, and take each step with you.
We love you.
Be Salt and Light... You Matter.
Shane Stanford is a pastor, teacher and author committed to sharing the hope of Jesus Christ with the world.