What kind of book is the Bible? I think the Bible is a personal book telling a story of our God’s interaction with sinful folks like you and me. Jesus references God’s personal relationship with us by quoting the Hebrew Scriptures, “I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob.” In Abraham and Sarah, we see an unfolding personal relationship with God. Think of the people’s names behind Biblical books: Ruth, Esther, Amos, or Habakkuk. Some books are named after events: Genesis (beginnings), Exodus (leaving), Judges, and Kings. Half the New Testament books are named for churches: Ephesians, Galatians, or Romans. The Bible culminates with God coming to dwell among us in the form of Jesus. Jesus comes to save us from our sins and be our model and example. Jesus is more than our savior- Jesus is our example. In Jesus, God comes to us as a person! The Bible is a story of God working among sinful people.
Listen for God’s relationship in Genesis 12: “The Lord had said to Abram, “Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you… and I will bless you… and you will be a blessing.” So at 75 years of age Abram went… (and when he arrived) Abram built an altar there to the Lord, who had appeared to him.” God never explicitly told Abe to build an altar- I think altar building may be innate within us. Perhaps being “made in the image of God” we just know we need to look beyond ourselves to our Creator! We are made for worship! It is deep within us- the need to acknowledge the Lord- the creator- the giver of life. Where is your altar? When do we look beyond the routine to the eternal? When do you acknowledge God?
Last week we talked about our first step in spiritual fitness as cultivating a practice of daily quiet time with God. In quiet time we walk through our day unloading our burdens, confessing our sins, evaluating our spiritual progress, and allowing God to untangle our hearts from life’s distractions. Too often Christians stumble around carrying spiritual baggage like fear, shame, legalism, coveting, strife, anger, or un-forgiveness. God longs for us to check in and lay aside these burdens and entanglements.
My personal daily prayer begins with praise and worship- I love to be outside in God’s first sanctuary where birds or the skies sing praises to God. After praise, my daily prayer is, “Creator, where did I fall short of your love and grace yesterday? Holy Spirit, show me how to become more Christ-like! Jesus, You loved us all the way to the cross – forgive me and come empower me to be more like you.” The Holy Spirit always reveals some way I can improve! I want to win the prize! (1 Corinthians 9:24)
John Wesley called this daily checking in with God “spiritual respiration.” We exhale the stale, deadening, sinful air that pollutes our soul and inhale God’s renewing grace, peace and love. , Wesley wrote, “God’s breathing into the soul, and the soul’s breathing back what it receives from God; a continual action of God upon the soul, and a re-action of the soul upon God; an unceasing presence of God, the loving, pardoning God, manifested to the heart, and perceived by faith; and an unceasing return of love, praise, and prayer, offering up all the thoughts of our hearts, all the words of our tongues, all the works of our hands, all our body, soul, and spirit, to be a holy sacrifice, acceptable unto God in Christ Jesus.” The Privilege of the Children of God.
This first step of a daily Quiet Time is very similar to the second step of worshipping/following. Quiet time might simply be focusing in our souls on the worship and emulation of Jesus. Prayer, Worship and Following Christ move me beyond my day, breaking sinful patterns, calling me away from my need, my faults, my failing, my struggles, my hurts, my wounds, my, my ,my… Quiet Time, Worship, and Striving to Follow Christ move my focus away from where I am towards God.
Quiet Time, Worship, and Striving to Follow re-orient us to God. Quiet Time, Worship, and Striving to Follow gets us back on track! How can we live spiritual lives without a daily spiritual check-in and weekly gathering where we rehearse a different pattern of speaking and doing?
How different is your day when you hear the Word of God enter into life’s flow? Listen! “Praise the Lord, my soul; all my inmost being, praise God’s holy name. Praise the Lord, my soul, and forget not all the Lord’s benefits— who forgives all your sins and heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from the pit and crowns you with love and compassion, who satisfies your desires with good things so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s. The Lord works righteousness and justice for the oppressed. The Lord is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love. God will not always accuse, nor treat us as our sins deserve. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is God’s love for those who worship him; as far as the east is from the west, so far has God casted our willful-sins from us. As a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who honor him; for God knows how we are formed, The Lord remembers that we are merely dust. From everlasting to everlasting the Lord’s love dwells with those who worship him, and God’s righteousness with their children’s children— Praise the Lord… Praise the Lord, my soul.” From Psalm 103. That will change your day! That will change your life!
We need that holy modeling. We need those words from God spoken over us! If you give a child a trumpet and say- play it- practice five hours every day- without offering any instruction about where to place one’s lips- or how to blow- or what valves you depress to make different notes – it will take the child a long time to learn to play. The young horn player needs to look beyond themselves and learn from a teacher. The same goes with sport or education. We do not leave children alone in with Tolstoy and expect them to learn to read. Why do we think we will just somehow master the spiritual life? Why do we think we can become Christians without intentional prayer, worship, study, and emulation?
The Gospels tell us Jesus took 40 days in quiet time facing down the Tempter’s alluring alternative vision for his life. We face a great temptation to live a misguided life- to live for ourselves. Jesus rebuffs the devil and defines life’s purpose saying, “worship the Lord your God and serve God alone” Matthew 4:1, restating Deuteronomy 6:13. Do you know the easiest way to misuse this life God has given us? Worship something less than God!
We need to breathe in the things of God, reorienting our day or week around God. Listen- breathe in- worship. “Come, let us sing for joy to the Lord; let us shout aloud to the Rock of our salvation. Let us come before the Lord offering our thanksgivings. Let us extol God with music and song. For the Lord is the great God over everything. In God’s hand are the deepest ocean depths and the mountain peaks. The sea is the Lord’s, for God made it, and the Creator’s hands formed the meadows. Come, let us bow down in worship, let us kneel before the Lord our Maker; for the Lord is our God and we are his people, the flock under God’s care.” Psalm 95:1-7
Worship resets our soul. Worship realigns our week. We need to look to God. We need to let God change our plans. In worship, we seek to experience “on earth as in heaven.” We start over again with forgiveness. Worship comes each week as a new beginning grounding us within the love of God. Worship reminds us that we belong to God, came from God, and will return to God. Worship retunes us to Heaven’s rhythms and realigns us with God’s Word.
Today, with all our technology we have such wonderful ways to worship. Wednesday I drove to Nashville. I started with silence, watching the fields and grey skies from TULLAHOMA to Manchester. That is a spiritual practice called solitude or emptying oneself in prayer. Around Murfreesboro, the traffic was too busy to dwell in solitude so I turned on my praise play list- Third Day, Jars of Clay, Selah, Chris Rice, Rich Mullins… but as traffic got worse and the phone navigation sent me on winding back roads outside of LaVergne, I stumbled onto the heavy guns of Handel’s “Messiah” and locked in. How obtuse to be stuck behind a plumbing truck on a rainy Nolensville road, creeping along at 4mph and almost weeping as the London Symphony sang “Comfort ye my people.” I arrived after 2.5 hours in snarling traffic but worship rerouted my day.
Our souls need weekly corporate worship. It is a weekly reset- reminder- reconnection- rehearsal of God’s vision for our living. Weekly worship opens the word of God for us- we hear it read and preached. We sing together as we will in heaven. We pray for each other. We say the creeds, remembering the beliefs that unite us. Our presence encourages others. Our presences hold us accountable. “Let us draw near to God with a sincere heart and with the assurance of faith! Let us hold tightly to the hope we profess, for God is faithful. And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not neglecting our meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another” Hebrews 10:19-25 adapted.
I once interviewed a candidate for a worship leadership position. She was a gifted musician with a pretty good church resume. I asked her- “where are you worshipping right now?” She said, “Well I haven’t been able to find a church and truthfully we stopped looking after a few months.” That is a huge problem. She couldn’t lead worship because, fundamentally, worship is not about having our needs met. If we focus on our needs, then we take charge of worship. We become worship judges. Only the Lord who looks at hearts can judge worship! The non-worshipping worship leader would have found the Corinthian (1 Cor. 5:1) and Galatian (3:1) Church not up to her high standards! Indeed, Paul accuses First Corinth of embarrassing immorality and First Galatia of being bewitched! I am guessing First Galatia never put “The Bewitched Church” on their sign. The Bible is the story of God working with sinful people and churches! You can’t follow Jesus and neglect worship. Jesus worshipped in the synagogue even when the congregation tried to stone him or displayed a troubling hardness of heart. If you can’t find people to worship with then you are too focused on the people instead of the Lord! Only the Lord saves our souls, transforms our lives, and deserves our worship!
Jesus said, “Worship the Lord your God and serve God alone”(Matthew 4:1). Worship and emulating Jesus go together- they come as a package. Jesus is not just our savior to be praised, but our example to follow. If we love God- then we serve God. If we are our highest value then we serve ourselves. Worship demands that we emulate the one we worship. Jesus must not just be our savior, Jesus must become our example- our model- our goal. All who wear the name of Christ- must strive to be like Christ. We must “lay aside every weight and the sin that so easily entangles us and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith… Do not grow weary or lose heart.” (Hebrews 12:1-3)
Now one last idea- if we worship and strive to become like Jesus, then we must learn the scriptures. I would venture to guess many of us can quote more lines penned in Nashville or Hollywood than in the Bible- and the words we know by heart shape our hearts. Worship opens the Scripture, and the Word of God becomes our guide, our goal and our standard. The Bible is a story of God working with sinful folks like us: people like Amos, Joel, Nehemiah, Ruth, Peter, James and John. The Bible tells of churches like Romans, Corinthians and Galatians. The scriptures reveal the character, nature, path and plan of God! I used to read the Bible and wonder how God could use the sinful folks I encountered there, now I say praise God that God keeps on working with sinners like me!
We must not read the Bible with a wooden legalism or literalism. There is no worship in wooden legalism. Such legal reductionism removes our relationship with God, replacing it with a contract. Legalism kills (2 Cor. 3:6). Image a beautiful moonlit night. After a wonderful meal a couple strolls down the street arm and arm. A violin player steps out from behind a rose bush and begins to play wonderful soft romantic music. A nightingale chirps along from the trees. Looking tenderly into his lover’s eyes the man drops to one knee before his beloved. He slides a small box from his coat pocket and opens it. He proceeds to unfold a seven page legal agreement prepared by his lawyer. He extends a golden ink-pen and asks “will you marry me?” There is no love in legalism. When we become rule-bound, we remove love and grace, reducing our relationship with the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Ruth, Rahab, and Ester to rules we wield. Know this: Everyone interrupts Scripture! Rest assured no one believes Jesus was a plant even though he said, “I am the true vine.” We must use our tools. God gave us the ability to reason. The Bible unfolded inside churches, who argued about how to best to understand the Gospel in their context! (Acts 9-15) The Bible is a story of God working to save sinful folks and we read it with grace and the Holy Spirit!
So let us pick up the Bible and begin to read it- especially the Gospels so we might emulate Christ, our Savior and Lord. Let us get in a Sunday school class or a Life Group where we can ask questions and share our journey. Let us reset each day and each week with Worship, looking beyond our present circumstances to our God.
Let us run the race to win the prize.
- Our first step is taking time every day for daily quiet time: prayer and worship, leaving our burdens with God and breathing in the love of God.
- Our Second step is worshipping and emulating Jesus by staying connected to other believers in worship and learning the Word of God and seeking to live into it.
- And when we fail, we confess our sins together and restart again each week. May Jesus be more than our savior- may Jesus become our lifestyle! May we worship and serve the Lord and never misspend this gift of life that God has given us! Let us worship and serve the Lord. Amen!