Maybe a few times a lifetime there comes a special friend. They’re the ones who bring out your best and forbear your worst and faithfully share the rest. Jen entered mine at a Valentine’s dance in drafty old town hall almost twenty years ago. This post is by my friend Jen.
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We hobbled into church Sunday morning; husband in a neck brace, toddler in the stroller with a cast on her foot, and me on crutches.
“How beat up we must look; how wearied I feel!” was my thought as I crutch-stepped into worship.
We almost stayed home. It would have been easier. But I kept hearing the still small voice, “Come to me all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28)
It has been a challenging few months.
Last December, my husband had disc replacement surgery on his neck. The recovery has taken much longer than the expected six weeks, and in the midst of it, he was let go from his job. We have been blessed to see the body of Christ functioning in a wonderful way to care for our family.
Just last week, I made a foolish decision to jump on our new trampoline. My knee reminded me in a painful way that I am not as young, thin or in shape as I think I am. Now I am on crutches for at least 2 weeks. Then, Saturday, my sweet year-and-a-half old daughter, tipped a dining chair over while she was standing on it, breaking a bone in her foot. Three weeks in a (pink!) cast for her.
That is how we ended up so beaten up as we entered church Sunday morning.
Jesus, Wearied As He Was
After worshipping in song, a visiting missionary got up to teach from God’s Word. He opened to John 4, the familiar teaching of Jesus meeting with the Samaritan woman at the well. I listened to his French accent read until he came to verse 6,
“…Jesus, wearied as he was from his journey,…” This caught my attention as never before; Jesus was wearied. He was wearied, so He understands my weariness.
“This is how you should always come to Me.”
It wasn’t an audible voice, but I do think it was from God.
Why? Why should we come to him broken, bruised, wearied?
This was the question running through my head Sunday afternoon. Why? Because His grace is sufficient. His power is made perfect in weakness. Then we can boast. Boast in our weakness so the power of Christ may rest upon us. For when I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Corinthians 12:9-10)
As I considered that more, I realized that there are so many weary Christians who show up every Sunday morning. And they worship. Hands raised, voices lifted in worship of the One who understands their weariness.
The single mom.
The parents of prodigal children.
The woman wading through the pain of infertility.
The unemployed man.
The woman who recently buried her mother.
The woman newly widowed.
The woman who just miscarried.
The parents of a child who has to have another surgery.
The parents of an autistic child.
I see them every Sunday morning. Why? Because they too know that His grace is sufficient.
Our church does a church-wide memory verse, a new one every two weeks. Right now we are memorizing Lamentations 3:32-33. I like John Piper’s explanation of it in “Suffering and the Sovereignty of God,”
…Jeremiah gives us a glimpse into the mysterious complexity of the mind of God in Lamentations 3:32-33, “Though he cause grief, he will have compassion according to the abundance of his steadfast love; for he does not willingly afflict or grieve the children of men.” Literally: “He does not from his heart afflict or grieve the children of men.” He ordains that suffering come — “though he cause grief” —but his delight is not in the suffering, but in the great purpose of creation: the display of the glory of the grace of God in the suffering of Christ for the salvation of sinners.
There is suffering in this world. Some suffering is temporary, like crutches for a few weeks. Some is more painful and lifelong. And, I realize I have not even talked about terrible injustices and real suffering that is happening all over the world.
All of it is in God’s control. He ordains it. For His glory. And, in the midst of it, we will continue to hobble into worship. Beaten, bruised, wearied. As well as joyful, glorifying God, and grateful for His grace.
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[B]ut, though he cause grief, he will have compassion according to the abundance of his steadfast love; for he does not afflict from his heart or grieve the children of men.
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 worship. An 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 Psalms. This 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?
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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.
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.