// the reason we sing (part 4)

THE STORY SO FAR

Asking God to be glorified in us is an act of sacrifice; a statement that we are no longer our own, and that we are willing to go wherever He is calling us. That moment is a moment in which we lay down our own pretensions at worth, our own efforts, in order to let His glory dwell in us; it is about coming to Him in honesty and vulnerability, in awareness of our own faults and the sacrifice that He made for us. And in praying that God will be glorified through us, that His glory will dwell within us, we remind ourselves that all of this is about bringing glory to His name. First and foremost, before all else, it is that end to which all of this points.

This is all about Him…

DAY FOUR

All of which brings us back to a drug rehab community in Madrid, and the starting point of this whole discussion: the reason we sing. All those people who feel a sense of discomfort in worship gatherings, who don’t know entirely what to do with it, or how singing forty minutes’ worth of songs once a week relates in any way to the rest of our lives, this is for you, and I’m glad that you exist, as these are questions that need to be asked…

If you’re anything like me, you’ve read passages like Psalm 50 or Isaiah 58 or Amos 5:21-27 (by the way, if you’ve not read them, go do so now – I’ll be here when you get back – but be warned, as they may just make you very uncomfortable indeed…) and wondered where you stand in all this. Are you one of the good guys, or are you one of those people who Isaiah is calling up?

I don’t know, as I don’t know you as well as God does. But I do know that those passages make me very, very uncomfortable, and they also get me thinking about the whole point of worship, and its relation to God’s glory, and what it is that we’re supposed to be doing in our gatherings…

With the past few days in mind, then, here’s some thoughts on how our worship gatherings need to relate to God’s glory:

First, I’d argue that our worship gatherings need to be places of consecration; that is to say, places where we come to be made holy again. The person who does that is Jesus, the man who the author of the letter to the Hebrews describes as “our great High Priest” (Hebrews 7-8), and so that means that our worship must provide the space for us to come before God honestly, individually as well as collectively, and admit our faults.

That shows itself in more than just the speaking of a confession. It’s reflected in the choice of songs, bringing us back to an awareness of God’s power, God’s character, God’s purposes. It’s reflected in the space provided to meditate on these things, too. This isn’t something to be hurried past to get to the ‘real purpose’ of the service; this is a vital part of preparing ourselves to meet with God.

None of this is meant to be about putting ourselves down or dwelling unnecessarily on what is past – on how flawed we are, how inadequate or sinful (although we need to remember that) – rather it’s about refocussing our perspective towards God, and away from ourselves; as this is all about Him, after all. If God’s glory is going to dwell among us, we need to come to the place of worship aware of the purpose that lies behind His revealing it, aware of what it is that this whole experience points towards.

Secondly, our worship gatherings need to provide the space for intimacy. God’s glory directed the Israelites, and it was the emblem of His presence among them; our gatherings, too, need to provide the space to listen to God, and to discern where He is calling us, both individually and collectively. If we are to be a people who will declare His presence and power where it needs to be declared; if we are truly seeking His glory; then first we must listen.

Our God is not simply a concept, an abstract, invented figure; He is a relational God, a God who speaks even now, a God who has chosen to come and dwell in human hearts. I would argue, too, that our response to this requires some measure of emotion – requires us to be stirred with passion at the injustice of what goes on in this world, to be overwhelmed with love for the God who saved us, to be broken-hearted at the thought of those who do not know Him. John Piper puts it like this:

If God’s reality is displayed to us in His word or His world and we do not feel in our hearts any grief or longing or hope or fear or awe or joy or gratitude or confidence, then we may dutifully sing and pray and recite and gesture as much as we like, but it will not be real worship. We cannot honour God if “our hearts are far from Him”.

Worship is a way of gladly reflecting back to God the radiance of His worth. This cannot be done by mere acts of duty.

In our intimacy with Him, we will find ourselves asking, ‘Lord, for Your glory, what do You require of me?’

And we need the space to ask those questions and to see His answers, rather than simply having the answers told to us from the front…

And thirdly, our worship gatherings need to be the space in which we declare God’s glory to a world that needs to hear it. If this life, this world, is all about His glory, that means our worship needs to engage with this life and this world, in some cases directly. Not just in abstract pleas that God will change our world, but speaking His truth and His word over the things that are profoundly wrong in it – over human trafficking; over devastating poverty; over genocides and persecutions; over loneliness, hopelessness, despair.

Over these situations we declare “our God reigns”, that these situations are not the way that they should be, but that our God will be glorified in putting them right.

And we pray that in willingness to go if we are called to.

As Switchfoot’s Jon Foreman put it brilliantly, “the shadow proves the sunshine”; things may be dark, and they may be broken, but the fact that we recognise that means that we can envision something different – and in declaring that different world in our prayers, we can become those whom the theologian Walter Wink said could “believe the future into being”. In our gatherings we are the ones praying that God’s glory will dwell in those situations. And if God’s glory dwells in us

Well, that might just mean booking a plane ticket out there.

And finally, our worship gatherings need to be places in which we are transformed. And that can’t be forced. That will happen when we pursue God, individually and collectively. It will come in order that He is brought glory in the places where His glory needs to be seen the most; it will come as we learn holiness, and obedience, and worship…

But our worship is not abstract. As John Piper puts it, talking about Jesus’s meeting with a Samaritan woman at a well, “worship has to do with real life. It is not a mythical interlude in a week of reality. Worship has to do with adultery and hunger and racial conflict”.

It’s not optional. It’s vital. It’s part of your existence in this world. It’s a vital expression of God’s glory and a vital part of the outworking of His purposes. It’s the extension of our prayers and our pleas and we need to learn to worship, to learn just how inseparable it is from His glory, and to learn that both things are about laying down our lives in front of an awesome God and saying, ‘this is all about You’…

That is what our prayers add up to. That is what true worship points towards.

And that is a story for tomorrow…

[TO BE CONTINUED]

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