As the child of God stands in the nexus of Fatherly discipline and new creation birth pangs, what are His instructions? What’s a worshiper-in-progress to do?
Therefore lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees, and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint, but rather be healed… It is good for the heart to be strengthened by grace.
In the vernacular: Take a deep breath. Look around for work to be done – it’s there. Move toward stability. Now, more than ever, gobble up spiritual nutrients by consuming the Word of God. In general: Stand strong in Lord and in the strength of his might.
But how does one know that God’s discipline is having its intended effect? What are the typical positions and undertakings of those who are learning that their Father is God of heaven and earth? What does genuine worship look like?
I believe that these are exactly the questions being addressed through most of the 13th chapter of Hebrews. Following the call to worship at the end of chapter 12, this chapter is written to provide details of devotion to worshipers who are being renewed by discipline from the Heavenly Father.
Yes, including the urging to show hospitality, remember brothers in prison, to preserve the purity of the “marriage bed,” etc. So for the interpreter who would explain the exhortations of this chapter, the task is not simply to elucidate the exhortations themselves, but also to connect them to the concept of worshipping the God of heaven and earth.
However, I’m going to save time and cheat a little by heading directly to one of the concluding exhortations where, as luck would have it, the connection between it and worship is spelled out.
So brothers and sisters, since we are being trained for this, let’s ask: what does genuine worship look like? Through every hardship, including this latest, what are we being moved by our Heavenly Father to do?
Through [Jesus] then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name. (Hebrews 13: 15) In our present hardship, we are being prompted to praise.
Here’s the compressed argument: Jesus has gotten us to the place where we are legitimate worshipers. Much of worship is to praise God, so from Jesus’ people praise springs up organically(which is a different word than ‘easily’). So praise is what’s happening to us: We have been begotten to acknowledge and thank and even exalt in God.
Important to note, praise is called a sacrifice, highlighting that it’s inconvenient; we don’t necessarily feel like praising; it exacts something from us.
Worship is praise; praise is noticing and cheerfully appending a comment. So worshipers have been trained in attention. EBC: In the middle of the pressure, and as waves of fear and reaction crash around us – attend to the hand of God! If only you open your eyes, there are so many tokens of the goodness and kindness and greatness and mercy and wisdom of God all about.
We may ignore, but we can nowhere evade,
the presence of God.
The world is crowded with Him.
He walks everywhere incognito.
And the incognito is not always hard
The real labor is to attend.
In fact, to come awake.
Still more, to remain awake. -C.S. Lewis
Brothers and sisters, fellow worshipers: My encouragement to you in this moment is daily to spend extra time in praising God. Stop. Think. Notice. Mention.
I told some of you about last summer when I met with my childhood pastor. During our conversation he described to me his habit of spending the first minutes of his time with God praising Him. “Praise” could be broken up into categories of 1) enjoying Who He is and 2) being thankful for His many kindnesses, both 2a) invisible (e.g. forgiveness of sins) and 2b) visible (chicken shawarma on Tuesday night). Since that conversation I’ve began the same habit. Thanks Pastor Olson.
I wasn’t planning this when I started my e-mail, but may I give you an example from this morning of what this daily praise might look like?
I always read the Scriptures BEFORE I pray, out of the principle that God should get the first word (you don’t have to agree!). And then I almost always write out my praise, more or less in stream of consciousness form.
So this morning I read Luke 24. And then I wrote this:
Abba in Heaven, thank You for assisting me to write and prepare last night’s Zoom lesson. Thank You for the rain of last night. For a good and faithful wife. For Ben’s willingness to wear a tie. For Kai writing Ben. For those who gathered on the internet. For Tonia writing the Sunday School class. For Paul setting up me for Zoom. For Klaus writing poetry and the gift of words. For mom driving out to deliver the OJ. For the _____ [can’t read] and time and quiet. Thank you for Ben C’s [you don’t know him] eagerness to learn. For the preserved Word. For the discernment that you give. For the victory of the Son of God and Creator. For the Spirit who strives. For those before who have walked with You and left their testimony. Thank You for joy in believing. For Your faithfulness to us. For the long-laid plans. For the power in the Holy Spirit that He gives to His people. For peace between Heaven and humanity. For the fact that Jesus is God –Amen.
A couple of notes:
- If you think that I wrote out all that to show off you’re wrong. And I also intend no flattery.
- If you’re sharp you might have noticed that several of the points toward the end came out of Luke 24. In every passage of the Scripture we are provided with new avenues toward thanking God.
- Ben is wearing a tie at home and we all think it’s weird but we also enjoy the Alex P Keaton-ish of it.
OK, you get the idea. You’ll find your own ways of praising God. You’ll also discover that there are no occasions when praise and thanks aren’t appropriate. In making that point, I’m not saying that giving thanks is always our duty (though it is). Rather, if you have your spiritual eyes open, you’ll not only thank ‘by faith’ i.e., without evidence, but you’ll see actual kindnesses.
Even in this latest trial, you’ll notice surprising showings of grace. For example, Klaus wrote me and said he doesn’t remember the last time senior citizens like he were treated so respectfully. That’s from God! Stop. Think. Notice. Comment.
However you do it, and whatever you find as material, praise God we must. Brothers and sisters in Jesus; fellow worshipers: We are made for this!