Worshiping Ways

I stood in the darkened auditorium, surrounded by the overwhelmingly loud, pulsing, praise music filling every inch of the large space from floor to ceiling, from wall to wall.  The worshipers who filled every seat were as much in motion as the worshipers on the stage, leading the rest of us.  Raised hands were clapping, feet were stomping.  Shouts of praise echoed throughout the room.  With voices and instruments at full volume, there was no mistaking the enthusiasm or devotion of those gathered for worship.

I thought back to a Sunday not so long ago when I sat in a sanctuary full of light streaming in from the stained glass windows.   There was a hushed quiet despite the large number of people already filling the pews.  Some solemn notes sounded from the organ as on cue, the choir, fully robed, filed silently into their place at the front of the church.  We stood as an invocation was given, then sang a hymn, one worshipers had sung centuries before, handed down over the generations.  Our voices rose, blending in the space surrounding us, with the organ as a back drop.

I remembered what it was to be surrounded by Zambian worshipers.  Their voices rising up in praise, no instruments, just the harmonies rising and falling as the group would echo the notes and words of the leader.  Back and forth, back and forth it would go, building in intensity from it’s quiet beginning to a full voiced chorus at the end.

I thought of the reverent flow of a Catholic mass, solemn recitations of words of worship, words of acknowledgement of who God is, of the honor and the glory that are due Him.  Here we worship by kneeling, by bowing heads and by standing silently still as we listen to the priest and then recite words both familiar and full of faith, words that have remained unchanged over the centuries.  (God does not change nor does His word)

I found myself wondering, does God have a preferred way for us to worship Him? Hebrews 13:15 says, “Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise–the fruit of lips that confess His name.”  So our praise, our worship, is a sacrifice that God desires from us but this doesn’t say what “form” God prefers that our worship take.

Cain and Able both offered sacrifices to God as part of their worship of Him.  God accepted Abel’s offering but He did not accept Cain’s.  What was the difference?  Is God judging our worship of Him?  Does He accept some forms of our worship but not others?  How can we know?

Does God prefer the organ to the electric guitar?  Does He prefer kneeling or jumping up and down?  Does He prefer heads bowed or hands clapping?  Which best demonstrates our love for Him?  Is the volume at which we sing the true measure of our devotion to Him?  Or do we show how much we esteem God by our reverent, solemn silence?  Are Handel’s hallelujah’s any holier than a contemporary chorus?

Isaiah 29:13 gave me an answer to these questions.  “These people come near to Me with their mouth and honor Me with their lips, but their hearts are far from Me.  Their worship of Me is made up only of rules taught by men.”  There’s the answer.  God isn’t concerned with the outward form our worship takes, He’s looking at our hearts!  And God is the only one who is able to do that.

” . . . The Lord does not look at the things man looks at.  Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”  (1 Samuel 16:7)  That’s why God accepted Abel’s offering but not Cain’s.  Outwardly all appeared to be in order, but God knew their hearts.  One was right before Him, one wasn’t.  God is a God who judges justly and He is never fooled.

God’s concern is with the posture of my heart, not the posture of my body. Whether I am standing or kneeling is not what God is taking note of.  God is looking at my heart as I worship.  Whether He accepts my sacrifice of praise or not doesn’t depend on how loud I sing or how reverent I appear to be, it all depends on the rightness of my heart in regard to Him, whether my heart is “far from Him” or not.

Joel 2:13 tells me to “Rend your (my) heart and not your (my) garments.”  It’s all about the inside, the unseen; about what is unseen to those worshiping around me and with me, but not unseen to God.  He is my audience of One.  I must not compare myself to those worshiping around me, thinking I need to clap louder, jump higher, shout more Amen’s or bow lower to get God’s attention or to prove that I am truly worshiping to those around me.  God knows my heart.  So whether I am genuflecting or jumping, God is looking at my heart.

We tend to judge ways of worshiping that are different from our own.  Some say of the quieter, more prescribed rituals of worship, that worship becomes no more than rote repetition of words mindlessly recited without thought or feeling.  They make the assumption that people are just going through the motions of worship without truly worshiping.  Equally discounted, some say true worship is lost in the loudness of the music accompanied by the jumping, shouting, clapping of those worshiping.   This latter form of worship is accused of lacking reverence while the former form is accused of lacking feeling and fervency.

My own heart rends when I realize that I have too often been “that worshiper”  in Isaiah 29:13, physically present, going through the motions along with those surrounding me, but my mind was elsewhere and my heart was not fully present. My heart was not right before my Heavenly Father and my heart was not seeking Him nor praising Him in those moments of cooperate worship.  My body was present but my heart was elsewhere.  And this when I had come to worship the Lord on the Lord’s day?  Could I not even spend these few moments fully entered into His presence?  Could I not spend this time with Him, fully focused on Him?

And here is the real revelation.  Looking back, I have been the Isaiah 29:13 worshiper while on my knees reciting repeated phrases and while clapping, shouting, singing as lights flash and music echoes off the walls.  The worship setting doesn’t matter, but the state of my heart does, and the state of my heart can be equally “far” in any worship setting.  The attitude of my heart matters to God.  My heart is what He sees. (a reminder to me to never, ever judge the worship of those around me because God knows their hearts, I don’t)  I can “fake it” with others but never with my Heavenly Father.  My desire is that my “sacrifice of praise” be found acceptable in His sight.

I think God must delight in the diversity of ways of worship just as He delights in the diversity with which He created each one of us to begin with.  From the rhythms of the drum beats praising Him across Africa to the silently graceful sign of the cross made by worshipers as they enter into His presence, God welcomes and receives all the praises of His people.  Indeed, God inhabits the praises of His people.  (Psalm 22:3)

All the ways of worship have their own inherent beauty and purpose.  Sometimes I feel like shouting His praises.  Other times I am so humbled by His presence that I long to lie prostrate before Him, knowing no words will ever come close to what God deserves and what I would desire to express to Him.

The form my worship takes is not the deciding factor in whether my worship will be found an acceptable sacrifice to my Heavenly Father or not.  It is the form my heart takes, (yielded, repentant, rended and ready to glorify Him) that will determine the acceptability of my worship before God.

So I will, “Enter His gates with thanksgiving and His courts with praise, give thanks to Him and praise His name.”  (Psalm 100:4)

and I will “Sing and make music in your (my) heart to the Lord,”  (Ephesians 5:19)

sincerely,       Grace Day

 

 

 

 

 

 

today’s prayer – heartchange

“Delight yourself in the Lord and He will give you the desires of your heart.”  (Psalm 37:4)

Lord, as I come to You asking for the desires of my heart, (what I want) change my heart to desire what is Your will for me (what You want for me, what You know I need)

for Your will is always better than what I could desire for myself; “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.  Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is–His good, pleasing and perfect will.”  (Romans 12:2)

I desire the easy, the safe, the secure, the predictable, the comfortable, the painfree course where I am in control; but that kind of life doesn’t require me to trust You, nor to seek You, nor to depend on You instead of me, it doesn’t lead me to You but only to myself.  It doesn’t require me to walk by faith.

You said, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance.”  (James 1:2-3)

I don’t need to be afraid of the trials, Lord, You will be with me.  You were with Daniel in the lion’s den.  You were with David when he faced Goliath.  You were with Rahab when Jericho fell.  You were with Noah in the flood and You will be with me as well.

“Be strong and courageous.  Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the Lord your God goes with you; He will never leave you nor forsake you.”  (Deuteronomy 31:6)

Change my heart Lord and then grant me the desires of my heart in accordance with Your will, Your good and pleasing and perfect will.

for You alone, Lord God, have all wisdom, knowledge and understanding

“By wisdom the Lord laid the earth’s foundations, by understanding He set the heavens in place; by His knowledge the deeps were divided, and the clouds let drop the dew.”  (Proverbs 3:19)

sincerely,      Grace Day

headed home

I knew them both in their younger years, though my memories are those of a child because I was a child then.  Still, there are clear pictures in my mind of a house with colorful gardens guarded by a high stone wall.  A huge, red brick barn, both impressive and mysterious, sat next to the house.  The barn should have been incongruous with its’ surroundings, yet it seemed to belong to the house and so blended in so naturally that no one paid it any extra attention that I can remember.  Both had seen better days, it was true.  They seemed to have aged together, the house and its’ occupant.  Because this was so, it was hard to say which was the worse for the wear, who most in need of repair, the house or its’ occupant?

They had aged together, imperceptibly at first, but then seeming to accelerate with the passing of the years.  Still, it seemed a surprise to behold them now.  Each was different from what they had been, yet each retained that essential essence that was their uniqueness in this world of carbon copies.  Today the gardens are overgrown and the wall, not so high after all, is falling down in some places, unable to do its’ job as well as it once did, yet still standing firm, surrounding and protecting all that lies within from all that lies outside of its’ stony barrier.  The barn, though suffering the effects of years of weather, still retains its’ mystery and its’ link with the past; a legacy of stories both rumor and reality, regarding its’ past uses and inhabitants.  (Dan Patch, the famous race horse, is said to have stayed in this very barn on the way from somewhere to somewhere?)  The occupant of the house, though slower of step, is still quick with her wit, wisdom and warmth. Unlike her outward appearance, her spirit is unchanged by time except to have grown more fully into those intangible qualities that make her both precious and unique.

And so each was in need of a healing touch to restore what the years had quietly stolen away while neither one was watching, each busy with the business of living each present day.  They had arrived at this place together and were comfortable with each other, neither noticing the deficiencies of the other and both willing to overlook those shortcomings they were aware of.  She could no longer care for the house, but the house still cared for her, giving her safety and shelter as best it could.

They are what I know, this house and its’ occupant, and I will miss them when they are gone.  Of course, the house could be restored, but never to what I remember it to have been.  A restoration to something new, someone else’s vision of what could be will one day take place and transform this house into something new, not restore it to what it was.  Its’ occupant, however, will not be restored here on earth, but only in heaven when she receives her new and glorious body, promised to each one of us who belong to Jesus.  She will be more than restored, she will be transformed for eternity.  This is my great comfort.  You see, I care not so much for the house, but for my mother.  It gives me wonderful peace to know that she will have no more pain.

So for now, they keep each other company, content and comfortable, one with the other, companions of sorts.  Mom knows every creak of every floor board, every plumbing and furnace noise and every creature noise from the squirrels (and/or raccoons) in the attic to the bees that live in the upstairs corner bedroom from time to time. (they are seasonal)

To me this place is home, because it is where my mom is and has been for so long. The smell of wet leaves in the fall, the bluebells at the kitchen door in the spring, welcomed me home in their season.  Wood smoke from the fireplace, the pine and the sycamore, along with the peonies and iris and the barn’s cool, damp, musty smell, a smell full of dark mystery, all blend together in my mind’s eye.  The house and the barn will always be unique in all the world, as is my mom.

Is home a place or a person?  for me it was both for awhile, they were one and the same.  But ultimately, home is a person.  Jesus said, “In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you.  I am going there to prepare a place for you.  And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with Me that you also may be where I am.”  (John 14:2-3)

Where Jesus is — that is home in the truest sense of the word.  And my mom is there now, my mom is home.  I can’t go home anymore on this earth, but I am headed home.  I am headed for heaven.  Mom liked nothing better than to know that my sisters and I were all headed home, families with us, for a visit.  So hang on Mom, we are all on our way, we are all headed home.  Home is both a place and a person.  Our person, Jesus, is preparing our place for each one of us even now. He said so in His word.

“For this world is not our home; we are looking forward to our everlasting home in heaven.”  (Hebrews 13:14)

some days I am more homesick than others,

sincerely,       Grace Day

 

 

musings of a muser

hope is not an open door

hope is believing in the possibility that the closed door could open

hope is believing that even if the door never opens, it will be well with my soul; because

God is sovereign and God is good at all times; always and forever

hope is believing that there will be other doors

hope is the certain knowledge that God makes dead things alive

hope is believing — believing is faith — faith is what God desires and requires of me

” . . . the God who gives life to the dead and calls things that are not as though they were.”  (Romans 4:17b)

“And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to Him must believe that He exists and that He rewards those who earnestly seek Him.”  (Hebrews 11:6)

“For we walk by faith, not by sight.”  (2 Corinthians 5:7)  in other words —

“We know these things are true by believing, not by seeing.”  (2 Corinthians 5:7, Modern Language translation)

“What is faith? It is the confident assurance that something we want is going to happen.  It is the certainty that what we hope for is waiting for us, even though we cannot see it up ahead.”  (Hebrews 11:1)

“And Abram believed God; then God considered him righteous on account of his faith.”  (Genesis 15:6)

sincerely,        Grace Day

 

 

What if . . . ?

today I am wondering what the world would be like if everyone followed the guideline given in these words, “if you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all!”   would the world suddenly fall silent for lack of nice (kind) words to say?

would conversation cease?  what about public discourse?  would social media cease to function?

would the silence be deafening?  or soothing?  or golden?  would the silence allow us to hear what we could not hear before?  are there voices discernible only in the silence?  would we learn to listen in the silence?  would we discover words of affirmation, encouragement, empathy, compassion, hope, healing and kindness?   I can’t help but wonder . . .

“Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.”  (Ephesians 4:29)

“The tongue has the power of life and death, and those who love it will eat its fruit.”  (Proverbs 18:21)

“For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned.”  (Matthew 12:37)

sincerely,         Grace Day

 

 

into every life . . .

they say (whoever they may be?) that into every life a little rain must fall.  Now I know that this is true, and I prefer my rain to fall in the front yard or the back yard or even the driveway, although nothing is growing there.  But I do not want the rain to fall in my basement.  Yet this is precisely what it has done; fallen there and settled there.  This is not good.

What is good is that I don’t store up treasure in my basement, only junk (which as you know from earlier posts, dear readers, is apparently no one’s treasure).  So now I am the proud collector (we savers prefer the term collector to hoarder as the latter has such negative connotations) of wet junk.  A dubious distinction at best.

I know the rain will continue to fall, I just wish it would stay out of my basement! Fortunately, my true riches, my dearest treasures, are securely stored somewhere else, somewhere safe — so I can rest easy.

“Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God!”  (Romans 11:33)

“My purpose is that they may be encouraged in heart and united in love, so that they may have the full riches of complete understanding, in order that they may know the mystery of God, namely, Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.”  (Colossians 2:2-3)

“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal.  But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Matt. 6:19-21)

sincerely,      Grace Day

skyscraper or bridge?

ever play that game where you are asked a series of questions like ” if you could be a car would you be a . . . or a . . . ?  if you could be an animal would you be a . . . or a . . . ?  Well, if you had to choose between being a skyscraper or being a bridge, what would you choose?  Skyscrapers stand out and get a lot of attention.  They are noticed and they are named.  They become famous landmarks of the land they tower over.  People even travel great distances just to see them and to take their picture.  Skyscrapers are nothing new or modern.  We have been building skyscrapers since the days after Noah and his family survived the flood. Remember the tower of Babel?  And why were the people building this tower?  to make a name for themselves.  Just like the skyscraper they were building, they wanted to be famous.  That is the nature of a skyscraper.  Ironically, our quest to search out skyscrapers usually involves travel over bridges of some kind at some point.

So what about bridges you ask?  Some of them are famous and some of them have names as well.  I like the definition of bridge that reads, “something that is intended to reconcile or form a connection between two things”.  I found this Hindi definition of bridge to be quite telling; it states, “something that fills in the gap between two people or things, acts as a connection between them, makes it easier for the differences or disagreements between them to be reduced or overcome.”

A noble purpose for sure.  We’ve all heard the expression, “bridging the gap.”  And there are certainly a lot of gaps in my life and in the life of the culture that we live our daily lives in that need bridging — big time.  Bridges enable us to get from point A to point B; they provide the necessary connection.  Some distances that need “bridging” are greater than others; some are physical distances, while some are distances of the heart, resulting in distances in my relationships with others with whom I long to be connected.  But all bridges are vital to those that depend on them. Would I want to be a bridge?  Bridges get walked on and worn out.

Skyscrapers get admired.  They stand out and make a name for themselves.  They compete with each other for the honor of being the tallest.  Sure they sometimes block out the sun (and also the sunrise and sunset) obstructing our view of the horizon, but does that matter?  We have to navigate our way around them, they are an obstruction in our path.  A bridge, on the other hand, provides a path for us, connecting us to where we want to be.

So I can’t avoid the fact that I’m called to be a bridge.  To stand in the gap, or more accurately to lay down in the gap, in order to provide a way of connection.  To be a bridge is to lay down not to rise up.  When I elevate myself, I become a barrier when what is needed is a bridge.  We are in need of bridges everywhere.  Bridges are needed in my workplace, my church, my neighborhood, my family . . .  there are too many barriers and not nearly enough bridges as it stands now.

This means every morning when I rise up, I have to purposefully lay my life back down again lest I become a barrier instead of a bridge.  The world tells me to stand up, to stand up for myself, to make a name for myself.  But I think of John the Baptist’s words in John 3:30, “He (Jesus) must become greater; I must become less.”

Jesus is the ultimate, eternal bridge for me and for you for all time.  “Jesus answered, ‘I am the way and the truth and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through Me.’ ”  (John 14:6)  Jesus came to provide me with the way to God that I sought but could not find.  The tallest skyscraper man can build (even the tower of Babel, which they wanted to reach the heavens) cannot get me close enough to reach heaven or to know God.

As it turns out, I don’t need a skyscraper to reach heaven or to know God, I need a bridge; something or someone to provide me with the connection that I seek.  Jesus is my connection, He is my bridge.  He is the One who reconciles me to my Creator. Just like in the Hindi definition of bridge, Jesus has overcome the differences and disagreements between a sinful me and a Holy God.  And He is still actively bridging the gap for me!  ” . . . Christ Jesus, who died — more than that, who was raised to life — is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us.” (Romans 8:34)  He is daily pleading my case for me with God!

It is Jesus who takes away my desire to be a skyscraper and gives me the ability to be a bridge.  He shows me how to lay down my life each day and be a bridge because He did it first.  Jesus said,  “The reason My Father loves Me is that I lay down My life — only to take it up again.  No one takes it from Me, but I lay it down of My own accord.  I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again.  This command I received from My Father.”  (John 10:17-18)

My culture tells me, “don’t be a doormat, don’t let people walk all over you!”  well, in John 10:9 Jesus says, “I am the door; if any one enters by Me, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture.”  So if in order to enter in at “the Door” that leads to eternal life, people have to walk on me to access the door, (after all, that’s the purpose of a doormat, isn’t it?) then I have served God’s higher purpose for me by laying down rather than rising up.

Lord, let me be a bridge that leads people to You.  Bridges get walked on, that is their sole purpose.  May I lay down in the gap and allow souls to find You by being the bridge along their broken road, the connection over their chasm, which separates them from You and Your love for them.  Every day when I rise, help me to lay down my life in Your service.

sincerely,       Grace Day

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

a fish named Edmond

I can’t say whether it was because the road was closed and I had been forced to take an unexpected detour or because when I arrived the shop was a totally different color, even the door, than when I had seen it last, making me doubt for a second whether I was in the right place or not.  But whatever the reason, I entered without even glancing at the one hundred fifty gallon tank just inside the door.  This was out of character for me because normally I greeted the occupant of the tank before engaging with anyone else.

Had I bothered to look, I would have seen that the tank was empty.  I would have known in that moment that Edmond was gone.   But I didn’t look and so I proceeded to make conversation with the beauty shop owner as if nothing was amiss, as if nothing was changed in our ordinary day to day world.  The empty fish tank however, silently told a different story.

Now Edmond was a real people person (well except for the fact that he was a fish). Edmond had personality plus, poise, pizzazz; he was a real people pleaser if you will (again except for the fact of him being a fish).  Edmond got along great with people but not so much with other fish.  Actually, Edmond ate other fish.  Now you understand why he had the one hundred fifty gallon tank all to himself, don’t you?  So Edmond lived alone but he wasn’t lonely at all.

Edmond was the shop’s official mascot and greeter.  Everyone paid their respects to him as they entered and exited the shop.  He was also quite the topic of conversation and provided entertainment of sorts to waiting customers.  Edmond fulfilled his many duties faithfully each day as only he could.

Edmond was far from his original home.  He was a Red Devil Cichlid from Africa. His most distinguishing feature and my favorite, was the large knot or hump on the top of his head.  This gave him the appearance of being a thinker, of being deep in thought at all times, kind of a furrowed brow thing going on.  Personally, Edmond reminded me of Winston Churchill.  He just needed glasses and a bow tie.

I never thought that I was particularly attached to Edmond until the day he wasn’t there to greet me and to bid me farewell.  Edmond is the only fish I have ever known.  All my pets have been of the four-legged, furry variety, able to be held and petted and played with.  Turns out Edmond could do two out of those three.  He would swim up to the surface so his owner could pet him and he would follow my finger back and forth along the glass side of the tank.

I always felt Edmond understood me.  Again, probably because of that large knot on his forehead, giving him the look of the super intelligent.  It was like he had an oversized brain.  And in his wisdom, Edmond was a fish who kept his own counsel. He was privy to all the secrets shared daily in the beauty shop between cutter and customer.  Yet we could know that our secrets were safe with Edmond.  (after all, he lived alone in that big tank — who was he going to tell them to anyway?)

So I guess Edmond has taken my secrets with him to his grave.  I miss him.  Of all the fish in all the oceans, and all the lakes and all the rivers of the world; I had the privilege of knowing a fish named Edmond.  And Edmond had the honor of being known by name to many humans.  How many fish can put that on their resume? Before I met Edmond, I never knew there was such a thing as a Red Devil Cichlid fish.  Edmond stands (swam) as a testament to the infinite diversity and creativity of his Creator which surrounds us here on earth.  We just have to open our eyes to behold and to witness the beauty in all that He has made.  And when we do, we see that it is good!

“And God said, ‘Let the water teem with living creatures,’  . . .  So God created the great creatures of the sea and every living and moving thing with which the water teems, according to their kinds, . . .  And God saw that it was good.”  (Genesis 1:20-21)

“All things bright and beautiful, all creatures great and small, all things wise and wonderful, the Lord God made them all.”  Cecil Frances Alexander

Edmond, you were both wise and wonderful!  I will miss you.

sincerely,       Grace Day