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Thursday, October 26, 2006

Worshiping...forever?

Hunting for a church is a drag.

Anita and I had just moved to Tampa, Florida, years ago, and were looking for the church we felt God wanted us to become a part of. We'd visited three churches that were okay. But we really weren't excited about any of them. Since we were tired of visiting, we tentatively settled on one.

Then one day we drove by a church we hadn't seen before. We decided to give it a try as we sensed that it had great potential to be our next church home.

Our first Sunday was very good. Joe met us at the car and walked us straight to the preschool area where we dropped off our daughter. He took us everywhere we needed to go until we were settled. Joe was terrific!

The service was warm, the people encouraging, and the music inspiring and Christ-centered. We were greatly encouraged by what we experienced that Sunday and settled that day on that church as our new church home.

There was a point in the service where I felt God's presence like I haven't felt often. I was singing a song and it's like it hit me: this is the church family God wants for my little girl; for my family. My eyes welled up with tears as I felt extremely close to God. Like He'd personally led me (us) to this place. That realization of what God did for us that day moved me to worship Him with great joy.

What's interesting about that day is that when what God did for me registered in my pea-brain, I was moved to worship. I mean, really worship. No, I didn't fall on the floor or even raise my hands. I sang the same songs that I had likely sung before. But my heart was full of joy and awe of who God is and with gratitude for what He'd done for us. Time seemed to stand still and I soaked in the moment.

In light of this joyful worship experience, why does the thought of worshiping God in heaven for eternity bother me? Let's look at our heavenly worship examples, angels, for a clue.

The seraphim (literally "flaming ones") kneel before God's throne crying out, "Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of His glory." (Isaiah 6:3)

The apostle John sees an army of angels, "numbering thousands upon thousands, and ten thousand times ten thousand. They encircled the throne and the living creatures and the elders. In a loud voice they sang:

'Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and praise!'" (Revelation 5:11-12)

As a seminary graduate, long-time youth pastor, and now rookie pastor, I know that I'm supposed to worship God and really find joy in it. I realize that it's all over the Bible and that it's "the right answer" to love God by worshiping him with other Christians.

But sometimes I don't feel that way.

In fact, a lot of times I don't. And then to think about heaven I find myself not too excited because I think (wrongly) that heaven is just going to be one eternal church service. That would be a major bummer.

So here I am thinking about these angels. They are singing praises to God and are filled with joy. "You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly," (Hebrews 12:22) Wow. So why do they enJOY worship so much?

I'm just thinking out loud here but I wonder if it's kind of like my experience in Tampa. We'd been in several good churches there and had "worshiped" in each of them. But when I went to the last one, I worshiped deeply.

What was the difference? I think it was because I was more aware of God's presence in my life and His personal love for me and my family. As a result, I WANTED to sing praises to Him. My goodness, when was the last time I had cried in church during a worship song?!

So, as I think about praising God in heaven the thought occurs to me--will I enjoy praising Him more there? I think so because in heaven I will be much more aware of who He is, what He has done for me and how truly great He is. In other words, the distractions and lack of perspective that kills my worship so often here on earth will dissolve as I find myself in the presence of God Himself there in heaven.

So what? Well, now I understand that when I don't feel like worshiping God, it's not because God isn't worthy of my worship. It's because my perspective is blurred or obstructed making it difficult for me to appropriately praise Him.

Now what? I know that in my reading and studying of God's word, I need to be on the look out for all it says about who God is and what He's done. That's studying His character and attributes. An excellent book to help on this is Knowing God by J.I. Packard.

Sometimes I'll read through a Psalm and in my prayer journal write down all the attributes of God that I see in the passage. I learned this by using Louie Giglio's Thirsty Journal.

It also means that as a father I need to continually alert my girls to these attributes of God wherever I see them. When someone exercises mercy, I remind them that God is merciful. When justice is properly carried out in court, I remind them that God is just. When they receive an unexpected gift, they are reminded that God is the great giver and is gracious to all. When God blesses our family, it's a reminder that as He is a Blessor, so we are to be a blessing to others. And so on.

Reality check: If you don't know the God of the Bible, you won't feel like worshiping Him. So dig in and get to know Him. Then when you have a chance to worship Him with other Christians, reflect on who He is and what He's done and let your gratitude become joy as you praise Him together in Christ.

If you need help with knowing Him, click here.

"God help me join the angels in true worship more regularly. Help me rejoice continually in who You are! Help all of us truly connect and worship You as You designed us to do. I pray this in the name of God's Son and ultimate gift to humanity, Jesus Christ, amen."

"Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of His glory."