Expressionless

“Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts, as at Meribah, as on the day at Massah in the wilderness, when your fathers put me to the test, and put me to the proof, though they had seen my work”- Psalm 95:7b-9 (ESV)

We are smack dab in the middle of a three week series called Express, in which we’re exploring God’s call and command on us to express ourselves in worship to Him. Yesterday, as we dove headfirst into Psalm 95, we discovered that the range of worshipful expression to which God calls us is incredibly broad and varied, from “singing and shouting” with joy to “bowing and kneeling” in humility.

The first two thirds of this Psalm are pretty standard fare based on what we read throughout Scripture regarding worship. But in the second half of 95:7, this song takes a very different turn, a turn that features a very important reference from Old Testament history, and leads us to an uncomfortable but critical question- If you find yourself unwilling to express yourself in worship to God, why is that? If you can’t “sing and shout” or “bow and kneel”- and truthfully, you don’t even really want to- what does that indicate?

The historical reference to “Meribah…and Massah” clues us in to the answer to that question. We find this account in Exodus 17, immediately on the heels of the single greatest act of God’s deliverance in all of Israel’s history- their exodus for 400+ years of brutal Egyptian slavery. Despite the reality that God had led their entire nation to walk out of the most powerful kingdom in the world without so much as a single soldier or weapon, capping it off by literally parting a body of water and allowing them to walk through on dry ground, the Israelite people weren’t happy. In fact, they were spitting mad- at God, at His man Moses, and at the circumstances in which they now found themselves.

Forgetting momentarily that they are en route to the land that God had promised their forefathers centuries earlier- not to mention free from slavery for the first time in their lifetime- they can’t seem to stop complaining. They are hungry. They are thirsty. They are hot. On and on the grumbling goes. They even had the audacity to ask if God had outright abandoned them to “die in the desert.” Never mind that they just had a front row seat to the one of the greatest miracles in all of history!

The reality is, the Israelites should have been undone in worship at this moment. They had beheld the mercy and power of their God in an undeniable way, and yet they couldn’t seem to see it. This would, by the way, be a pattern that they repeated throughout their history. They couldn’t and wouldn’t express themselves in worship to God because they were too fixated on themselves. In short, as the Psalmist says, they had “hardened hearts that had gone astray.”

Now, fast forward thousands of years to today. With the benefit of historical hindsight, it is quite easy to point a finger of judgment at the Israelites and say, “How dare they?” That is, until we look in the mirror and recognize that each of us has, at some point, done the exact same thing to God. We have beheld His greatness and goodness, and yet refused the invitation to express ourselves in worship. We have doubted His heart and intentions toward us, despite the fact that He has offered us eternal life in His Son, Jesus, and has blessed us in many other ways as well. This tendency in us is rooted in the exact same place as it was for our Israelite counterparts- a heart “hardened” by sin and selfishness.

Next time you have an opportunity to worship God personally or corporately, and you find yourself starkly disinterested or disengaged, I implore you to cut through the clutter of your excuses and honestly examine your heart. Ask yourself, Is it hardened toward God? Has it been led astray from truth into lies? What is going on inside you that is influencing what is- or isn’t– going on outside of you? These are not easy or comfortable questions to ask, but I submit to you that you can’t afford not to engage them. The danger of living with a hard heart is far too grave.

So let’s say you do that, and realize that your heart is indeed hardened and gone astray from our great God. What do you do? You ask God to change it, to soften it in surrender toward Him. I believe that if that desire is genuine, then God will answer that prayer. He isn’t playing some cosmic game of hide and seek with you. He desires that your heart would be right more than you do. So ask Him, and allow Him full access to your heart to strip away what needs to be removed and begin to build in you new desires that reflect and honor Him. Here are a few practical steps you can take as you seek to do the “heart work” necessary to express yourself authentically in worship…

  • Expose yourself to the truth of God’s Word. I know, I know- “Read your Bible” seems like such pat advice. But seriously, it is the pinnacle of God’s revelation of who He is and what He has done, and if you’re ever going to worship Him, you need to meditate on that revelation.
  • Write down your prayers. Writing things down has a way of helping us to focus and process at a deeper level than merely thinking or saying them. Additionally, it provides us with a record of our journey with God- one that we can revisit further down the road, to be reminded of what has done in us and through us before.
  • Ask others for help. Are there people in your life who have hearts that are soft and responsive to God- people who evidently love Him and are living to please Him? Tell them what’s going on with you, and ask them to pray for you and with you, and to walk alongside you as you seek to reengage in your own relationship with God. That kind of encouragement and accountability is irreplaceable.

Examining Worry

“Don’t worry!” How often have you heard these two words spoken to you when it seems the external circumstances are crowding your mind and determining your actions? “Don’t worry” seems like it’s an easy way to for someone to move past conversing about the issue right? Or maybe that is the only advice someone can give because of intimidation or fearing of saying the hard or wrong thing. How do you take that statement? I’ll be real, these are the two words I have heard more than any two words in my life. I start getting offended because it cuts at me, and makes me ask myself “Do I just wear all of my emotions on my sleeves?” Or “Am I overly transparent about what I am going through?” But as I ponder those thoughts, the reality hits me that I am beating around the bush and I am assessing the wrong issue. I shouldn’t be trying to discover why people tell me to not worry or why I am responding to them the way I am responding. The question is really what or who is the object of my worship? Where is my anxiety rooted? Let’s break it down further with scripture and then application.

The Apostle Paul experienced a lot of heartache in various forms of trials during his life serving The Lord. In his letter to the Philippians he addresses this issue of anxiety and how to approach it. He says in Philippians 4:6-7 “..Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Paul is writing this letter while stuck in a prison in Rome, and it baffles me as to how he is able to write this love letter to the church of Philippi with joy and affection. If you’re like me, you’re questioning Paul. “You’re in prison bro! Maybe you should worry about getting out! How are you going to plant more churches by just sitting there!” But I think Paul would respond with a quick witted response of “My brother, my God is bigger than any other god and He controls my complete affection, and worship.” I think Paul was on to something here when he wrote this part of the letter. He starts off saying to not be anxious about anything, and then he continues in how to handle and fight it off. But until we discover the root of our anxiety, how can we just pray away the object we have no clue about? Reach deep in your heart and soul for this and ask God to reveal what Im about to say in this next section.

The root of your anxiety is whatever controls your time, steals your affections, keeps you awake at night, is the root of your anxiety. Whatever you value most in this life, the amount of value you place on those things, the more anxiety and fear will rule over those things if God is not the highest thing. Whether you like it or not, you must admit and just be bold in saying that those things may just be your god, or your idol. Let’s be real, God has created great things for us to enjoy. God has blessed us with money, food, clothes, spouses, and etc. Hear me, these things are not the root of all evil. No, money is not the root of all evil. As simple as this is, if you set a hundred dollar bill on the table, you are not going see a demon spring forth from the green paper, or see it walk and reap havoc on anything around it. But the moment you pick that hundred dollar bill up, you have the power to do with it as you please and will. Here’s the real issue in our anxiety: the human heart. It has always been the human heart. Your heart will express love, gratitude and worship towards whatever it values most. When these things own you, you need the Lord and Savior Jesus to wreck-shop on your heart like the hero he is.

So how do we fight this root of anxiety? Let’s continue in Philippians.

“But in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:6-7).
Prayer: One of the reasons we give into these desires is because we aren’t in constant communion with The Lord. I once heard that “a prayer-less life is a powerless life.” Nothing can be further from that truth. God wants our attention and he wants to be the ultimate center of your life. Prayer is essential in not only growing closer to The Lord, but fighting off fleshly desires.
Supplication: This is a humble request for help from God to provide. In this adoration, we affirm to God, that whatever he provides, and whatever he chooses not to provide, God is enough. And in this supplication we are thankful for him ultimately for the blessings he’s already given us, through His son Jesus Christ.

Ultimately our weapon in fighting against the root of anxiety is our faith that God is ultimately the ruler and He reigns over our lives. He is good, and trusting him with all of our needs and putting full value in the richness of his glorious grace are how we combat our desire to give into the things of this life. The next time you hear “Don’t worry!” examine the root of that worry in your life. I’ll leave you with this from Ben Stuart, president of Breakaway Ministries once said “What you think about, you care about, and what you care about, you’ll chase.” Whatever rules your mind, will rule your life. My question is: Is it Jesus?

The Worship Choice

In 1999, a movie came out that captured the imaginations of millions worldwide through innovative special effects and an intriguing plot. The premise of the movie, The Matrix, is that all of humanity is living a lie; everything around us is a program designed to keep our minds occupied while our physical bodies are maintained in a sleeping state and tapped for energy. Many efforts have been undertaken to either recognize the Christian themes or, perhaps, construct Christian themes from the movie. I will not attempt a similar effort today.

However, one scene from the movie is on my mind this morning. At one point, the lead character, Mr. Anderson, is faced with a choice of two pills. If he takes the blue pill, his choice is to remain apathetic of the real state of things – to embrace the lie. If, however, he takes the red pill, his choice is to awaken to real existence.

The passage for corporate worship this week at Fellowship was Romans 12:1-2. The second verse of this passage seems to present a similar choice between apathy and true life.

“Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” Romans 12:2 (ESV)

Up to this point in Romans, Paul makes a case for the sufficiency and impact of God’s salvation on man. He says in chapter five that those who trust in Christ have peace with God. He says in chapter eight that there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ. But then he states in 12:1 that our response to these mercies of God should be a laying down of our bodies as living sacrifices. So how, in gratitude for what God has done, do we offer our bodies as living sacrifices? This may be accomplished by choosing between conforming or transforming.

It should be noted at this point that both of these are forces presented to the Christian – neither originate within the person. “This world” is perpetually assaulting the Christian with influence contrary to the standard and goodness of God’s Word. A Christian will, at times, attempt to resist the world by withdrawal from various activities, recreations, or even entire lifestyles. While these withdrawals may be wise and consistent with a flight from sin, withdrawal alone is not worship. Worship is both the willful working and result of transformation. The outer force that acts upon the Christian in the work of transformation is none other than God Himself, in the Holy Spirit. The daily testing of all things against the standard of God’s will – whatever is good and acceptable and perfect – is both an act of worship in itself and enables right worship through a trained heart and mind. It is a daily sacrifice of the desires of our flesh in favor of trust in the goodness of God and His ways.

We must choose between being conformed to the world or transformed by renewal of our minds. One leads to the apathetic life of living a lie. The other awakens us, ever increasingly, to true life. Which pill will you take for each of the tests you face today?