Loathsome Liturgy

Those of us who know so much, we who have been given so many biblical vistas of God’s glory, will naturally struggle to match our hearts with His majesty. Our feet are too small for the worship shoes we have to fill. There is a very real danger to give up, not entirely, but in certain religious ways. Rather than fight against sin and fight for fuller affections, we settle for worship motions.

We’re not the first or only people to ever be in that dangerous spot. Psalm 50 helps us even though it wasn’t written to us. It was for Israel, written by Asaph for Israel to sing. The choir were the “faithful ones” (verse 5), or “godly ones” (NAS), “saints” (NKJV), “consecrated ones” (NIV). The Hebrew word is hesedi, a derivative of hesed which we repeatedly heard last week: “for his hesed endures forever.” This psalm is addressed to recipients of His hesed, His-mercy-have-gotten ones.

But Psalm 50 is not a song of consolation. It is song a judgment because God is angry. “The Mighty One, God the LORD, speaks and summons the earth” (verse 1). “God comes; he does not keep silence; before him is a devouring fire, around him a mighty tempest” (verse 3). He comes to “rebuke” (verse 8), with “rebuke” mentioned again in verse 21 as He “lays [the] charge” before them. God the LORD, the mighty, devouring, righteous judge has come into the universal courtroom to testify against His people. Why?

The indictment can be found in verses 8-21. God did not charge them with failure to offer sacrifices. “Not for your sacrifices do I rebuke you; your burn offerings are continually before me” (verse 8). Nor did He charge them with ignorance of His statutes. His question in verse 16, “What right have you to recite my statutes or take my covenant on your lips?” assumed that they were singing or speaking His law. The people knew who He was. They knew what He revealed. They knew what He required in worship. They knew what He had given them.

Yet two things made their liturgy loathsome to God. They were not depending on God nor were they obeying Him. God hated their liturgy because their hearts weren’t in it. The gestures of their worship were false signals.

Wrong-hearted liturgy is worse than worth-less, it is worth His wrath. The more we have to live up to the more tempting it is to make believe. As we get more excited about growing in our understanding and practice of worship, some may appear to be excited who are not actually more grateful and dependent on Him. That doesn’t mean we need to close up shop, stop learning new songs and new parts, but it does mean that we must always remember that God is looking at our hearts.

Copy and Paste Communion

Those who gather around the Lord’s Table every week as we do face different temptations than those who do it once a year. A plain temptation that we face is that we would get used to it, take it for granted, fail to see it as special. Carrying out communion by copy and paste is a real danger for us.

The really real danger is that our believing might become copy and paste, that our faith might be nothing more than words copied from our Bibles to our notebooks. This is a daily temptation, not just a weekly one. So we really need to fight the temptation.

One weapon in the fight is to remember how much God wants us to have life. How eager is God for us to share life with Himself? The living Father is so eager that He sent His Son to give His flesh as true food and His blood as true drink so that those who eat and drink would live (John 6:57).

We are more in danger by not eating and drinking than by eating and drinking too often. We die if we do not believe. This weekly meal reminds us that we must keep on chewing, we must keep on believing if we want to keep on living. Consuming His flesh and blood is communing with the living God, and this meal won’t become copy and paste as long as we keep coming in living faith.

Two Strings to Tune

Liturgy is an effective teacher. The way we do things and the order in which we do them shapes us and shows others about the worship of God. Because we are souls with bodies, the outward parts of our worship matter.

Likewise, because we are whole persons, because our thinking and our acting are necessarily connected, it is dishonest to conceal heart problems with religious ceremony.

God gave Israel instructions for how to draw near to Him. The sequence of sacrifices cleansed and consecrated the worshipper for sake of communion with God. But Israel often followed the directions and failed to bring their heart along. So, for example, David wrote:

For you will not delight in sacrifice, or I would give it;
you will not be pleased with a burnt offering.
The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit;
a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.
(Psalm 51:16–17)

We are not obedient no matter how carefully we follow certain liturgy if we do not deal with our hearts before the Lord. Then our conduct must match. In David’s case, the song followed and finished with (often ignored verses):

Do good to Zion in your good pleasure;
build up the walls of Jerusalem;
then will you delight in right sacrifices,
in burnt offerings and whole burnt offerings;
then bulls will be offered on your altar.
(Psalm 51:18–19)

A two-stringed guitar has two ways to be out of tune. Our souls and our service are His, both must be tuned for harmony. The inside must be right. And if the inside is right, it must come out right.

God loves our worship when we offer our sacrifices as humble, whole-hearted, open-handed people. He made blood and tongues and knees and hearts for worship. He is pleased with broken hearts and then delights in the offerings we are. True worship begins in the heart, but it doesn’t end there.

Ten for Ten

This year, rather than making resolutions proper, I’m going to answer Don Whitney’s Ten Questions to Ask at the Start of a New Year. It’s free, it’s fresh (to me), and should be spiritually fruitful.

1. What’s one thing you could do this year to increase your enjoyment of God?

Taking my cue from 1 Peter 1:13, I want to build up my “hope on the grace that will brought to [us] at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” The blueprint has two pages. First, I intend to “gird up the loins of my mind” by my answer/approach to #5 below. Second, I plan to put up walls over in the eschatology district so that hope can play happily.

2. What’s the most humanly impossible thing you will ask God to do this year?

Prudence advises that I keep this answer in my prayers and out of the post.

3. What’s the single most important thing you could do to improve the quality of your family life this year?

Maybe it isn’t “the single most important thing,” but in order to improve the quality of our family (worship) life, I’m going to explore and establish our sabbath dinner liturgy. If that isn’t enough, see also #10.

4. In which spiritual discipline do you most want to make progress this year, and what will you do about it?

Journaling has always been more miss than hit for me. Though it isn’t as crucial as Bible reading and prayer, most books on spiritual disciplines include it, and I’ve benefited from doing it. So to make progress in this discipline I’ll give it shot at least three times a week in 2010. I have also decided to read the Bible chronologically for my first time.

5. What is the single biggest time-waster in your life, and what will you do about it this year?

The Internet.

In order to lay aside every weight, not get entangled in civilian pursuits, and gird up the loins of my mind, I’m going on an Internet diet for the year. I will imbibe from the Internet only three days a week (Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday). That includes all email, tweets, news, and blogs. On the other four days I will send (update, post, etc.), but won’t receive. With email, I’ll triage twice a day in case of emergencies, but otherwise it’s days with less dings for me. Besides….

I already removed Safari and Tweetie from my Dock, and I’m thinking about changing the shortcuts on my iPhone’s home page.

Also, to kick start the diet, and for more focused preparation for snow retreat, I’m taking another total Google Reader fast until January 30.

6. What is the most helpful new way you could strengthen your church?

This isn’t only up to me, but GBC has the opportunity to start supporting a new missionary this year, and I’ve been given the go ahead to begin that research.

7. For whose salvation will you pray most fervently this year?

I figure she reads my blog. That’s great; I want her to know. I have been praying for my sister’s salvation for a while, but I’ve arranged to keep it near the center of my prayer radar this year.

8. What’s the most important way you will, by God’s grace, try to make this year different from last year?

I came late to the celebration table in 2009. It’s taken quite a while for me to realize how dishonoring I’ve been to the good Giver, so I hope to make 2010 an entire year of knowing the time to mourn and time to dance. Sometimes fearing is learned in feasting, and to whom much has been given, much rejoicing is required.

9. What one thing could you do to improve your prayer life this year?

My prayer program is as tight as ever. I even taught a seminar on prayer last year, and tried some new things myself. But there is always room to excel still more. I’ve heard excellent things about A Praying Life, so I Amazoned a copy and will start reading in February.

10. What single thing that you plan to do this year will matter most in ten years? In eternity?

Paperwork. We don’t have an abundance of free moments at our end of the cul-de-sac, but taking time to fill in these blanks may matter more than many other things. Mo and I have in hand the initial go-round of forms to get the adoption process started through Antioch Adoptions.