Hands Lifted High?

Every day I call upon you, O LORD; I spread out my hands to you. Psalm 88:9

A twelve-year old friend joined me Saturday for a night of worshipAn hour in, Ally leaned over in the pew and whispered,

Should I lift my hands, too?

Great question, Ally. 

How would you have answered Ally? Do you lift your hands in worship? Should you?

No Gift More Urgent 

I stretch our my hands to you; my soul thirsts for you like a parched land. Answer me quickly, O LORD! My spirit fails! Hide not your face from me, lest I be like those who go down to the pit.  Psalm 143:6-7

June is my Psalms month.

Bible read-throughs always land me here mid-year. Their a staple year round, but in June I bathe in them. I read a handful when I rise. Sarah McCracken’s soul-folk and Sons of Korah’s acoustic-emotive versions of them, and Wendell Kimbrough‘s celtic remix fills my playlist by day.

When the sun sets, I rendezvous with Lewis’ Reflections on the PsalmsThis bit is from the chapter called “The Fair Beauty of the Lord.” 

The old poets do not seem to think they are meritorious or pious for having such [appetites for God] nor, on the other hand, that they are privileged in being given the grace to have them…It has all the cheerful spontaneity of a natural, even a physical, desire. It is gay and jocund. They are glad and rejoice (9:2). Their fingers itch for the harp (43:4), for the lute and the harp-wake up, lute and harp!-(57:9); let’s have a song, bring the tambourine, bring the “merry harp with the lute,” we’re going to sing merrily and make a cheerful noise (81:1-2). Noise, you may well say. Mere music is not enough. Let everyone…clap their hands. (47:1). Let us have clashing cymbals, not only well tuned, but loud, and dances too (150:5). 

There in the Psalms, I find an experience fully God-centered, asking God no gift more urgently than his presence, the gift of Himself, joyous to the highest degree, and unmistakably real. What I see (so to speak) in the faces of these old poets tells me more about the God whom they and we adore. (Reflections on the Psalms, pp. 157-158)

Those who look to the Lord are radiant. Their faces are never covered with shame. And David danced before the LORD with all his might. But we get stuck in ourselves. Self-awareness hinders.

Our Struggle With Self-Awareness

Whenever anything begins to disintegrate your life with Christ, turn to Him at once and ask Him to establish rest. Take every element of disintegration as something to wrestle against, and not to suffer. Say, “Lord, prove Thy consciousness in me,” and self-consciousness will go and he will be all in all. -Oswald Chambers, My Utmost For His Highest, 8/20

A few days that night of worship, I ran across this panel discussion. It was recorded at the 2008 Desiring God National Conference. Words and worship were the focus.

Bob Kauflin, songwriter and producer at Sovereign Grace Music answered this one:

Bob, do you want to follow up on that at all with regard to the aspect of using your body in worship? Lots of people find the idea of raising their hands when they’re singing to be very uncomfortable. I think we touched on that briefly, but do you want to say anything more about that? 

Kauflin: I think we begin with what God desires and how God desires to be praised and what pleases him. I was having a conversation with Mark Dever, the pastor of Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington, D.C. Mark is not the most physically expressive guy in corporate worship, and yet he is a man of God, theologically brilliant, loves the gospel, loves the church. 

I said, “Mark, what about this? What if I were to ask you, ‘If there is any physical action in Scripture that God says pleases him – raising hands, kneeling, dancing, bowing – that you’ve never done, wouldn’t it be a good question to ask why not?’” He said, “Yeah, that’s a good question.” 

I think many of us struggle with this self-awareness as though everybody in the room is really looking at us. It’s crazy. But that’s the human heart. That’s the desire for our own glory and our own praise. I think it’s good just to acknowledge it as sin and confess it and say, “Well, Jesus, that’s why you died. You died because I love my own glory. Even now I’m supposed to be praising you. All I can think about is if anybody’s looking at me, and I can’t shake it. Thank you for dying for this sin.” 

Then I think of “The Expulsive Power of a New Affection” by Thomas Chalmers, the idea of directing your love somewhere else rather than to yourself. The thing that’s been most helpful for me is just to think about the words we’re singing…When I am thinking about how great the Savior is and what he did for me and how glorious God the Father is and how the Father has sent his Spirit through the Son to live in me, I just have to respond some way… It’s often just lifting my hands, saying, “Thank you” or “I need you.” 

My third thought is I want to do with my body whatever makes Jesus Christ look glorious. If people observe me, I want them to be able to say he knows a great Savior — not an okay Savior, not an average Savior, not a Savior that you can kind of take or leave. I want them to be able to tell from my countenance. Psalm 34:5: “Those who look to him are radiant, and their faces shall never be ashamed.” I want them to know from my body that this is what I was created for — to bring him glory. 

What can people tell about your God from the way you worship Him? Does He look glorious? Do you raise your hands? Should you?

*      *      *      *      * 
Jesus told the Samaritan woman that the Father is seeking true worshipers. God is spirit, and those who worship must worship in spirit and truth (John 4:24).

The Puritans can teach us a lot on how to worship this way- with heart and mind, in spirit and truth. They knew that the Spirit moves in step with the word and so their worship wasn’t haphazard. I don’t know if they raised their hands or not.

But I do know that they prepared for public worship. During the week, in private and in family circles, they fixed their minds on God’s glorious truths. Then Sunday, they sang in the assembly. They worshiped. They adored their Lord and pitched all affections on him.

That is why, 350 years ago Puritan Stephen Charnock could describe worship this way, as,

An act of the understanding, applying itself to the knowledge of the excellency of God, and actual thoughts of his majesty…It is also an act of the will, whereby the soul adores and reverences his majesty, is ravished with his amiableness, embraces his goodness, enters itself into an intimate communion with this most lovely object, and pitches all his affections upon him. (Works, I, 298)

However that looks.

Because your steadfast love is better than life, my lips will praise you. So I will bless you as long as I live; in your name I will lift up my hands. 

Psalm 63:3-4

If you struggle with self-awareness, this Tim Hawkin’s sketch may or may not be for you. If you do watch it, you’ll at least learn some proper terms. 

Selfish Me or Timothy?

Do nothing from selfishness or vain conceit, but with humility count others more significant than yourselves. Look not only to your own interests, but also the interests of others. Philippians 2:3-4

For people will be lovers of self. 
2 Timothy 3:2a

Ughhh. My groan was guttural.

How could I have forgotten? The thoughtlessness was sickening.

I had just hung up after an hour long conversation with my sister-in-law, Lynn. And in that hour-long call not once did I think to ask about her mother. Not once.

Last week, Lynn confided that her mom was very sick. So sick, she had shared, that she and her sister had called hospice. And I didn’t even think to ask.

I wish I could tell you it was because I was to busy about her son’s arrival home for the summer or her daughter’s dance recital, but I can’t. It’s simply not true.

Oh sure, I spent a few minutes asking about my niece and nephew. But the real truth is, Lynn spent three-quarters of an hour asking me about my writing. About my blog and my hopes. Lynn preferred my interests and counted them more important than her own.

Selfish Springs 

Figs are not gathered from thornbushes…The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil person out of his evil treasures produces evil, for out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks. Luke 6:44-45

Think on that for a second. As much as I hate to admit it, my lop-sided conversation with Lynn was no mere faux pas. It was overflow; a selfish heart laid bare. It was a surprise answer to that prayer, Search me, O God and know my heart. 

Selfish hearts beat strong for their own interests. They’re not so concerned for others’ interests. They think that joy is private affair. And they tend to be takers not givers.

We all have these selfish, cynical hearts. And if we’re oblivious to the the one beating in our chest, eagle-eyes spot tell-tale signs of other selfish hearts from a mile away.

We see it in how they talk and how they spend their time and treasure. One friend takes big-ticket cruises but tips at 10%. Another is 20 minutes late whenever you dine, but annoyed by two minutes in line. And one whose topics seem to trump yours: her kids and her job, her health and her-um-blog.

Enter Timothy

A decade ago, Jim and I were embroiled in a church conflict that gripped us tight. Then one night, after another grim meeting, we came home to this voice message from a senior friend:

Hello Jim and Abigail. This is Doris Goodman. I want you to know that I am praying for you two and for this conflict that’s troubling you. I trust God will resolve it in his good time and his good way. Please know He cares about you and I do too. 

Her message would have lifted any soul. Now add this: Doris was in the last days of her fight with cancer. Two weeks later she would be home in heaven. And she was interested in us.

Paul urged the Philippians to consider others’ interests, even count them more important than your own. Then Paul put a name on the love that seeks not its own. Timothy.

I have no one like him, who is genuinely concerned for your welfare. They all seek their own interests, not those of Jesus Christ.  Philippians 2:20-21

Do you know a Timothy? They sometimes go by other names.

Like Jan, whose six kids didn’t stop her from bringing soup the spring influenza laid me low. Or Diane, she-whose own womb never bore- delivered orchids one special Mother’s Day. Or Chris, who took me to the ER at 11:30 the night a cake plate crashed and gashed my hand. Or Sandy, who risked her kids’ precious nap time Friday to listen to my latest mishap.

Or Doris “Timothy” Goodman.

To Be A Timothy

Name it right.

Selfishness is such an ugly word we don’t like to say it. We couch it. We justify selfishness with I deserve and Just getting what’s mine. We excuse selfish omission with our strong sense of fair play. We shake our heads and say, Not my circus, not my monkeys. 

Jerry Bridges included selfishness in his book, Respectable Sins. While some selfishness might be obvious, it’s usually more subtly expressed. Since we do care what others think of us, Bridges notes, our selfishness will likely be more delicate and refined. 

But let’s not deceive ourselves. It’s there and way more serious than than most of us make it sound. Almost 400 years ago, Richard Baxter wrote, that self is the god of wicked men, or the world’s greatest idol; and that the inordinate love of pleasure, profits and honor is self-love. Every man is an idolater, so far as he is selfish.

So selfishness is a mother sin. It explains great sins of commission and excuses our sins of omission. It not just self-indulgence; it’s why we daily don’t take others’ interests to heart.

Author Paul Tripp explains how serious it is, and how it reduces our relationships.

Sin does something terrible to me. Sin turns me in on myself. Sin shrinks my life to the size of my life. Sin makes me obsessed with my wants, my needs, my feelings. I want. I want. I want. I want. I want. I want.

If sin turns me in on myself so that all I live for is me, then sin in its essence is antisocial. Living for myself and the satisfaction of my selfish desires dehumanizes the people in my life… People are reduced either to vehicles to help me get what I want or obstacles in the way of what I want.  

Thank God. There is a way out of our life-shrinking, selfish mess.

Look to Christ 

Selfishness must always be forgiven you know, because there is no hope of a cure.      -Jane Austen 
Apologies to the Jane fans, but she got this one wrong. Mostly. 
Because sin’s disease does have a remedy. Selfishness, like Richard Baxter wrote, may well be the hardest sin in the world to overcome. But it is not without cure. In 2 Corinthians 5:14-15, Paul explains that Christ died that those who live would no longer live for themselves, but for him who for their sake died and was raised (2 Corinthians 5:15). 
Sometimes we trip and must be forgiven. Pride and selfishness are replaced gradually. Remember James and John’s request, Grant us to sit one at your right hand and one at your left in your glory? Even walking with Jesus didn’t drive it out completely.

We know God is faithful to forgive and cleanse from us from our sin, our selfishness. So we confess and turn giver again. Then we get up and fight. 

Fight it right.

If by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body you will live (Romans 8:13). We fight selfishness the same as other sins. We take up the sword of the Spirit which is the Word of God. And we meditate on that true Word day and night. It’s how we put out selfish fires.

The fight might look like this:

Selfishness says, Don’t bother making a meal for Sally. She never brought you a meal when your baby came. You put out that flaming dart with Acts 20:35, It is more blessed to give than receive, and ask Sally if lasagne’s okay.

Selfishness says, You’ve got a right to be mad. Can’t she see that I’ve got other places to be? I’ll make sure she knows once I get to there. You put that one out with Romans 15:1, We who are strong ought to bear with the weak and not to please ourselves, and smile friendly at the clerk.

Selfishness says, Not my turn turn to host. We’ve had them over the last three times we shared dinner. You repeat Matthew 5:46, If you love those who love you what reward do you have? And intone, It is more blessed to give than receive, as you type your invite.

Selfishness says, Let them get their own glass of water. You’re not their servant. You worked hard all day and they ought to be asleep anyway. You fight back with Mark 10:45, For even the Son of Man did not come to be serve, but to serve, and fill a glass with water.

Selfishness says, She never sent you so much as a Facebook greeting so she doesn’t deserve mine. You fight and recite Luke 6:35, Do good expecting nothing in return and your reward will be great. 

And intone, It is more blessed to give than receive, as you send some birthday wishes.

Timothy’s Secret

Anyone can sympathize with the sufferings of a friend, but it takes a fine nature to sympathize with a friend’s success. -Oscar Wilde

You won’t find this secret in Ayn Rand’s The Virtue of Selfishness or Bud Harris’ Sacred Selfishness. It’s not in Healthy Selfishness or Cultivating the Fine Art of Selfishness, either. I found it in the same place where I read It is more blessed to give than receive. 

The Enemy wants us believe joy is a zero sum gain. As if my joy will shrink when I’m take interest, take joy, in another. As if joy were a pie and a slice for your friend means you’re down a piece.

That your joy may be full. That’s why we obey and love this interested in others’ way. Paul assumed it was true in 2 Corinthians 2:2: For I felt sure of all of you, that my joy would be the joy of you all. Timothy knew that the happiest ones are the ones who share others’ joy.

I think Doris and Diane and Jan and Chris and Sandy know it too.

Givers and Takers

We’re all givers and takers. God made us that way. What’s deadly is to let love flow into your life without finding an outlet in others. 
That’s a picture of the Dead Sea. The Jordan River flows in, in, in. Never out. There are no outlet streams. The water just evaporates. You might say it’s wasted. As a result, the Dead Sea is too salty and mineral rich to support much life. 
But the Jordan River also feeds the Sea of Galilee, just north of the Dead Sea. The Jordan’s water flows in and it flows out. And the Sea of Galilee supports much marine life. 
The difference? Both bodies have a life-giving water source. But the Dead Sea only takes. The Sea of Galilee is a source. And God loves a cheerful giver. He makes his grace abound to us so that our giving will overflow in others thanking God (2 Corinthians 9:7,12). Sea of Galilee. Taker and Giver. 
*  *  *  *  *  *  * 

I know how relentlessly daily this fight for a others-interested heart is. Some days I make way more room for self than I ought. Or I’m not up for the fight and selfishness sneaks in through Fair play, and My time, and Do for you. I’m like the Dead Sea.

But other days, by God’s grace, the Spirit is mighty in me and the truth transforms this self-interested talker, and staunch defender of her time. Then I live love’s secret, that shared joy is full joy.

I recite the words of the Lord Jesus, ‘Tis more blessed to give than receive. And I make a meal and send the note and listen up. And He makes me Timothy.


Assertive, Right?

When to Waive, When to Claim 

Nevertheless, we have not made use of this right, but we endure anything rather than put an obstacle in the way of the gospel of Christ. 

1 Corinthians 9:12b

Bless this food we’re about to receive from Thy bounty, through Christ, our Lord. Amen. 

We opened our eyes to find this food, these four burgers, beside us in the hands of our waitress.

Here you are, folks. Anything else I can get for you?

Don’t think so. It all looks great. 

We dug in. Three of four diners were well- pleased. One was not.

They got it wrong, Hon, I sighed. This is well done, not medium. And I asked them to hold the mayo, but it’s in there. Should I say something?

You could, Jim shrugged. You have a right to get what you ordered. We’re paying for it. 

Why I didn’t say anything. 

We do not find happiness by being assertive…The Scriptures don’t teach us to be assertive. The Scriptures teach us—and this is remarkable—the Scriptures teach us to be submissive. This is not a popular idea. 

That from Rich Mullins; still spot-on, spoken decades ago. Culture says, Stand up for your rights. Assert yourself. Never surrender. 

Submission is a dirty word, I learned looking for online images just now, and yielding-waiving one’s rights- is anathema.

In 2 Thessalonians 3, Paul gives-and lives-two principals that are as counter-cultural now as they were then. He upends our upside-down wisdom about when to demand rights and when to surrender them. Paul wrote to a church body loaded with free-loaders. 

So, for the public good and for the sake of the gospel, he commands that they work. He demands the right, not for himself, but for the greater group. Work must precede bread. The workers among the church have a right to demand that the idle among them work not mooch.

Now we command you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you keep away from any brother who is walking in idleness… For you yourselves know how you ought to imitate us, because we were not idle when we were with you, nor did we eat anyone’s bread without paying for it, but with toil and labor we worked night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you. It was not because we do not have that right, but to give you in ourselves an example to imitate. For even when we were with you, we gave you this command: If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat (vv. 6-10). 

Before and after describes waiving his own right, Paul claims the right. He justly demands that each man work for his own bread. Implicit is the right that hard-workers have to say no to feeding free-loaders. Love for the welfare of the idle is explicit: Warn him as a brother. 

Sandwiched between a command to work and naming the right he has to share bread with those he serves, Paul waives that very right. Out of love for his brothers and sisters and for the sake of the gospel, he yielded. He didn’t insist.

It’s as if your pastor or a church missionary came for lunch and insisted on leaving a $20 on the table. They have the right to a free lunch. More than a free lunch. But Paul worked harder than he had to and took less than he had a right to, all for the privilege of sharing the gospel with a spotless witness. To give you, he explained, an example to imitate.

Justice or mercy: Should I claim my rights or let them go?

Sometimes it’s really hard to know. Should you insist your your friend pay you back as she promised at the restaurant? Should you demand the school board enforce its rule, that all students have a right to bully-free school bus ride? Do you force the issue if your child is bullied?

And, do you insist that the bully’s single parent, who’s gone-you happen to know-before the bus comes, change his schedule? Or do you change yours, mercy to a single parent?

So we pray and seek God’s wisdom. There are principles, too. John Piper offers these three guidelines to help us decide when we should claim and when we should wave our rights. 

  1. Know your personality well and be vigilant not to indulge your bent carelessly. If you are naturally merciful, consider justice seriously. If you are naturally judicial, consider mercy seriously. We are very likely to indulge our natural bent at the expense of love.
  2. The more personal and private a matter is, the more likely surrendering rights will be the loving way. But the more communal and public a matter is, the more likely demanding rights will be the loving way. The reason for this is that, in public, demanding rights can be seen as a way of caring for others, not just yourself; but in private a demanded right will almost surely communicate self-aggrandizement, and a failure to treasure Christ above all.
  3. Be sure in either case—loving with mercy, or loving with justice—that your burden is the greatest good for the greatest number. That is, seek to help the greatest number enjoy making much of Christ forever.

I’m glad I didn’t return the burger. 

The waitress had just seen us pray. I waived my right to the burger I ordered so that Christian would not be connected with complainer. For me on that night, a browner burger with mayo was well worth a witness to our waitress. For you, on a different day, it might be right to claim your right.

Culture shouts, Take every cent your owed. Tap the system-you’re entitled. Get all that you’ve got coming to you.

But Christ beckons, Whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s sake will save it.



When I dropped the ball (and what good came of it.)

The little twist in my gut tightened. As the team talked on, vague unease suddenly turned sure-fire shame. Yup. I did. I dropped the ball. 
Not epic, still big.  
Honestly, I dropped the ball two months ago, but didn’t realize until last week. It wasn’t super huge, nor super heavy. But still, I failed. I forgot. I dropped the ball and didn’t follow-up when I said I would. 
“I totally dropped the ball. I’m so sorry,” I choked to my colleagues around me. 
The ball had left an impression where it fell, there at the long formica-topped table. My lapse would cost the team extra time, more work. My boss would take the force of my fail. 
“Forty lashes,” she quipped, only half-joking. And we began picking up the pieces.

The Sweetness at the Bottom of the (humble) Pie 

Surprise gets our attention. Break a pattern and you’ll command attention, write Chip and Dan Heath, authors of Made To Stick. Dropped balls, big mistakes, and even little lapses in the patterns of our lives grab our attention. They jolt us out of our routine. The aftershocks keep our attention.
Mistake refocus our vision. We see that our failures don’t fold God’s plans. He restores our souls and redeems our fails. He deals in dropped balls and works in weakness. His power is perfected in weakness. God gives grace to the humble.
We get up and hope on. O Israel, hope in the LORD! For with the LORD is steadfast love, and with him is plentiful redemption. And he will redeem Israel from all his iniquities (Psalm 130:7-8) 

Judge Not

Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle. It was scrawled in bathroom stall back in college. I forget it. But when I dropped the ball, it came flooding back. 

Was it just 48 hours ago I’d sunk to play smug judge? I hate to admit it was. The nature of my judging matters here, because the best correction always fits the crime

It wasn’t out loud, like the Pharisee’s. But it was there, self-righteous, under my breath: 

Thank you Lord, that I’m not like one of those- those micromanaging, detail-oriented friends who get overwhelmed in minutia. Thank you, Lord, that I sit loose and rest in my broad-minded, don’t-sweat-the-small-stuff, perspective.

should have applied more Dry Idea.

Sweet Truth #1: Our failure reveals sinful layers might might otherwise lay hidden. For me, it was the “some smug judge” layer (I fear there’s still more.). Why do you pass judgment on your brother? Or you, why do you despise your brother? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God (Romans 14:10). 

We’ll all stand, big-picture and detail-people alike. So be kind. 

Embrace Weakness

If we never see our failure, one wise man said, we’re either blind or we haven’t taken enough risks.

It’s not as if I had the world on a string. I wasn’t exactly coasting through the last month at work. But maybe a slight saunter, a little too much self-reliance and basking in the glow of modest achievement. A good performance review here, colleague compliments there. 

But weak is where He wants us. Weak means we know we’re deficient and lacking. It means we don’t have what it takes to keep all the balls in the air on our own. I know I can’t say I’d prayed for his strength at work. For friends and family, sure. For missionaries, definitely. But his help at work? Umm. Not so much.

Sweet Truth #2: When the ball falls, we see what was true all along: we’re weak and desperately need a strong God. My grace is sufficient for you for my power is made perfect in weakness…For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses…(2 Corinthians 12:9-10).

God loves us where we are, but-praise be, way too much to leave us there.

Forgive Others As Yourself.  

I still wince recalling how I dropped the ball. It’s uncomfortable. I wish I hadn’t done it. I dislike-I loathe-the fact that I’d break my word.

So I stop thinking of it. I forgive myself and keep right on going. It’s just like C.S. Lewis said we must do, we for whom forgiveness is a non-negotiable.

But that doesn’t make it easy. Lewis explores how it is that we forgive those who sin against us.

Apparently ‘Love your neighbour as yourself’ does not mean ‘feel fond of him’ or ‘find him attractive’. Do I think well of myself, think myself a nice chap? … In my most clear-sighted moments not only do I not think myself a nice man, but I know that I am a very nasty one. I can look at some of the things I have done with horror and loathing. So apparently I am allowed to loathe and hate some of the things my enemies do…to hate the sin but not the sinner.

For a long time I used to think this a silly, straw-splitting distinction: how could you hate what a man did and not hate the man? But years later it occurred to me that there was one man to whom I had been doing this all my life-namely myself. However much I might dislike my own cowardice or conceit or greed, I went on loving myself… In fact, the very reason why I hated the things was that I loved the man. Just because I loved myself, I was sorry to find that I was the sort of man who did those things. Consequently, Christianity does not want us to reduce by one atom the hatred we feel for cruelty and treachery…But it does want us to hate them in the same way in which we hate things in ourselves: being sorry that the man should have done such things, and hoping, if it is anyway, possible that somehow, sometime, somewhere he can be cured and made human again.  (Mere Christianity, “Forgiveness”)

Sweet Truth #3: We must forgive others as God forgives us, and as we forgive ourselves. We fail and feel bad we’re the sort who do those things. But then, we forgive ourselves. Let’s forgive others the same way: Sorry to find that the man should have done it and loving him still. 

Forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive (Colossians 3:13).

We all fail and fall down. The righteous get back up. 

Next time you fail and drop the ball- no matter how big or small-just take a breath. Look to Christ and get back in the game. No good thing does he withhold. He disciplines us for our good. Taste and see his goodness. It’s there to be found, even in your failure.

Righteous fall. We all drop the ball. And in God’s good time, we can even be restored, remade, better, more human than before.

“For the righteous falls seven times, and rises again…” 
Proverbs 24:16