Extreme Worship

I used to be a very black and white person. Everything was either right or wrong. People were either hot or cold. Decisions were either smart or stupid. The idea of both/and didn’t occur to me; it was always either/or.

You can imagine the difficulty that created for me—and for the people in my life. What you might not imagine is the difficulty it created for me and my relationship with God.

It was easy for me to see God as truth. I had no difficulty acknowledging His justice, righteousness, power, and judgment. But His gentler traits—mercy, love, kindness, patience—were harder for me to accept. Sure, I recognized those qualities as theological truths—but I had a hard time with the idea that He would actually relate to me in those ways. So I usually tried to stay below the radar: I would follow His commands as much as I could and hope He didn’t notice when I messed up.

Needless to say, that approach didn’t do much for my relationship with Him, and it did not do much for my prayer life either.

God didn’t change me overnight—He rarely does that. But there were a series of things He did to help me see Him more accurately, more wholly. One was a eureka moment He gave me when I was reading Romans 11 one day: “Note then the kindness and the severity of God: severity toward those who have fallen, but God’s kindness to you, provided you continue in his kindness” (verse 22). I was both puzzled and a little taken aback: How could God be both kind and severe? For me, they seemed like opposites. How could they possibly go together?

God wanted me to see that the paradoxes that were so uncomfortable for me are completely necessary in order for Him to be the incredible, loving, good, powerful, righteous and holy God He is. In order to be God, He has to be both just and merciful, He has to be both powerful and gentle, He has to be both grace and truth. It can be no other way.

When I saw Him from just one extreme, one end of the spectrum, I was seeing Him in only one-dimension. And that is why so many people—myself included—tend to have distorted views of God. We see God as either a giant teddy bear or a punitive judge. We view Him as either indulging our every desire or as a cosmic kill joy. It’s too easy for our perceptions of God to be skewed to one dangerous extreme or the other.

As God has patiently worked with me to see Him more accurately, I have learned to delight in the “opposites” that make up His character. A few weeks ago He invited me to worship Him by reflecting on some of these. It’s been fun to ponder Him in these ways. Here are some of the ways I’ve enjoyed Him recently:

  • You are bigger than the galaxies, God, but You live inside my heart!
  • You cause nations to rise and fall, but You keep track of the hairs on my head!
  • You are King of kings and Lord of lords, but You also came as the Servant of all.
  • You are my Judge, but You are my Advocate.
  • You give me abundant life, but You call me to follow You in death.
  • You are always faithful but never predictable.
  • You are my Protector and Refuge, but You send me into the battle.
  • You challenge and stretch me but never give me more than I can bear up under.
  • You are Prince of peace but Your Word is a sword.
  • You are exalted, but You look kindly on the lowly.
  • You are my Savior who died on a cross.
  • Your voice thunders above the mighty waters, yet speaks to my heart in a gentle whisper.
  • You are a Lion and You are a Lamb.
  • I owe You everything, but You give me everything!

Do you ever worship God this “both/and” way? What are some examples of how You enjoy His wonderful “opposites”? How has seeing Him more completely helped you in your relationship with Him or your prayer life?

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Grumbling to God

Are you ready for a pop quiz? Good! Here we go: Read the following verses. Which do you think represent examples of sinful grumbling? Please explain your answer.

A)    And the people of Israel said to them, “Would that we had died by the hand of the Lord in the land of Egypt … for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger.” (Exodus 16:2-3)

B)    Then Moses turned to the Lord and said, “O Lord, why have you done evil to this people? Why did you ever send me? For since I came to Pharaoh to speak in your name, he has done evil to this people, and you have not delivered your people at all.”  (Exodus 5:22-23)

C)    Therefore the people quarreled with Moses and said, “Give us water to drink.” [They] grumbled against Moses and said, “Why did you bring us up out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and our livestock with thirst?” (Exodus 17:2-3)

D)    The Lord said to Moses, “How long will these people treat me with contempt? How long will they refuse to believe in me? (Numbers 14:11)

E)     Moses was displeased. Moses said to the Lord, “Why have you dealt ill with your servant? … Did I conceive all this people? Did I give them birth, that you should say to me, ‘Carry them in your bosom, as a nurse carries a nursing child?’… I am not able to carry all this people alone. (Numbers 11:10-15)

F)     And the whole assembly said to them, “If only we had died in Egypt! Or in this wilderness! Why is the Lord bringing us to this land only to let us fall by the sword? … Wouldn’t it be better for us to go back to Egypt?” (Numbers 14:2-3)

G)    “I have seen these people,” the Lord said to Moses, “and they are a stiff-necked people. Now leave me alone so that my anger may burn against them.” (Exodus 32:9-10)

I don’t know how you answered, but I’ll let you know what I thought. Everyone seems to be complaining! When I read Exodus, Leviticus, and Numbers, it seems to me that somebody is always agitating about somebody else. Sure, we know the Israelites were whiners. They were barely five minutes out of Egypt when they were already complaining. God didn’t like it. Moses didn’t like it. New Testament writers centuries later like it either (see 1 Corinthians 10:1-13).

But honestly, doesn’t Moses sound kind of grumbly himself? (See B and E above). Yet God doesn’t seem bothered by Moses’ grumbling. In fact, Moses had such an intimate relationship with God that God spoke with him as a man speaks to his friend (Exodus 33:11).

I know I’m being kind of bold to say this, but God doesn’t seem terribly positive and affirming in examples D and G above, either. I am not saying God was complaining! But He obviously doesn’t mind telling Moses just how unhappy He is about how those “stiff-necked people” are treating Him.

So does that mean grumbling is okay? Of course not! Clearly God views grumbling as sin. On one occasion, He struck 14,700 Israelites dead because they grumbled (See Numbers 14:41, 49). In Philippians 2:14 Paul commands us to “Do all things without grumbling or complaining.” And in 1 Corinthians 10, Paul lumps grumbling right in there with sexual immorality and idolatry (7,8,10). If anything I, probably take grumbling too lightly.

So, if I’m not supposed to grumble what can I do with my frustration when people mistreat, take advantage of, or disappoint me?

I think what Moses teaches me is that God doesn’t expect me to stuff it. He doesn’t expect me to somehow magically just be okay with the fear, hurt, or annoyance I’m experiencing. The problem wasn’t so much that the Israelites were anxious and concerned about where they would find food and water in the wilderness. The real problem was what they did with it. Full doubt and criticism, they complained to (and about) Moses instead of taking their grievances and worries directly to God.

Let me show you how I’m trying to apply this. I know you’ll be shocked by this, but there are people who sometimes frustrate me. I am sorry to admit that I sometimes mention to someone else the various ways these people irritate me—in other words, I grumble.

After reading how blunt Moses and God were with each other about the frustrating people in their lives, however, I had an a-ha moment. It’s not okay to complain about people to other people. But it is okay for people to be brutally honest with God about them.

So I tried it. I told God how certain people were aggravating me. I listed all my grievances, including my fears about how these people could potentially damage me. While I was pouring this out to God, I realized that the irritation and fear were draining away. I was able to tell Him about it and let it go.

Granted, I’m very new at this, but grumbling to God—if that’s what you want to call it—seems to have a different effect on me than grumbling to people does. I feel lighter, less anxious, more hopeful.  I guess if Moses can put it all out there with God—and even God can put it all out there with trusted friends like Moses—then I can, and probably should, too!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Prayer Is a Universal Language

In the last seven days, people from 13 countries have visited this blog. In the last 30 days, I’ve had readers from 23 countries. In the last 90 days, the number goes up to readers from 46 nations. And not just from English-speaking countries like Canada, the United Kingdom, South Africa, and Australia, either. There have been visitors from countries like United Arab Emirates, Germany, Philippines, Singapore, Malaysia, India, Venezuela, Ukraine, Kenya, Japan, and Jamaica. (For a complete listing, go to the end of this post.*)

Prayer is a universal language. People who care about prayer are not all Americans like me. Or if they are Americans, they don’t necessarily live in the United States. Those thoughts humble me. And excite me. And make me want know or at least pray for those of you from other countries who read Let’s Talk.

I wonder if you’d be willing to comment at the end of this blog? Maybe you could tell us something about you and how to pray for you or your nation. I realize that might be sensitive for some of you, depending on where you live, however, so I want you to know that I will pray for you whether you comment here or not.

A few years ago I wrote a simple Scripture-based prayer guide for the nations of the world (Pray! March/April 2004). I’ll include it here so that other readers of this blog can join me in praying for you, our friends around the world.

1. Be exalted among the nations, O LORD; be exalted in the earth! May Your ways be known on earth, Your salvation among all nations. May all the peoples praise You, O God. May the nations be glad and sing for joy (Ps. 46:10, 67:2–4)!

2. Mighty God, send Your gospel throughout the world, not simply with words, but also with power, with the Holy Spirit, and with deep conviction. Inspire new believers to imitate You, Father, so that even in severe suffering, they will welcome the message with supernatural joy. Cause them to become models to other believers so Your message will ring out and become known everywhere (1 Thess. 1:5–8).

3. Lord, You have said that Your house will be called a house of prayer for all nations. Forgive us for failing to pray for the nations. Forgive us for prayers that are self-centered and hearts that are cold. Give us hearts of flesh! Give us the compassion of Jesus! Open our eyes to see the harvest fields ripe for harvest! Stir our hearts to intercede for the lost because You want all people to be saved (1 Sam. 12:23; Is. 56:7; Ezk. 36:26; Mk. 6:34; Jn. 4:35; 1 Tim. 2:1–4).

4. Lord, grant Your children perseverance to pray in the Spirit on all occasions, with all kinds of prayers and requests. Make us alert so we will keep praying for Your saints who minister in the harvest fields of the world. Help us not to become weary in doing this, clinging to Your promise that at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up (Eph. 6:18; Gal. 6:9).

5. We know, God of grace, that our enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. We resist him on behalf of our suffering brothers and sisters around the world, standing firm in the faith. We depend on You to restore them and make them strong, firm, and steadfast (1 Pet. 5:8–10).

6. Oh Jesus, we long for Your return! Help us to live our lives in a way that speeds Your coming! Lead Your people into repentance, and cause Your gospel to be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations. Then bring the end, when Father God will restore everything and send You back for us (2 Pet. 3:11–12; Acts 3:19–21; Mt. 24:14).

7. Omnipotent God, confirm Your message of salvation to those who hear it around the world with signs, wonders, miracles, and gifts of the Holy Spirit, distributed according to Your will (Heb. 2:4).

8. Jesus, You declare that the doors You open no one can shut. Fling wide the doors to the nations so that Your message may be proclaimed freely everywhere (Rev. 3:7–8; Col. 4:3)!

9. Lord, thank You for making us to be a light to the nations so that Your salvation may reach to the ends of the earth. You cause the peoples—even kings—to go to where Your light shines in Your children. You determine the times set for the peoples and the exact places where they should live so they will seek and find You. Cause our light to shine before the internationals You bring into our lives so they will see You in us and give praise to You (Is. 49:6, 60:3; Acts 17:26–27; Mt. 5:16).

10. Sovereign Lord, we rejoice in Your plan to bring all nations to worship before You! How fitting that the kings of the earth will bring their splendor to You and to the Lamb, and that the nations will give their glory and honor to You as well. Hasten the day when we will join the throng of worshipers around Your throne—from every tribe and language and people and nation. Your kingdom come, Lord (Rev. 15:4, 5:9, 21:24, 26; Mt. 6:10)!

11. Holy Spirit, endow Your messengers’ words so that the faith of new believers will rest on Your power rather than on the wisdom of humans. Enable your messengers to proclaim the message of Christ clearly. Give them wisdom in the way they act toward nonbelievers and show them how to make the most of every opportunity (1 Cor. 2:4–5; Col. 4:4–5).

12. You don’t want us to be unaware of Satan’s schemes, Father. You have told us that Satan not only deceives individuals—he deceives entire nations! We take up the spiritual weapons You have given us on behalf of the nations. In Jesus’ name we demolish strongholds, arguments, and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God. We speak freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, in the strong name of Jesus, who is the way, the truth, and the life (2 Cor. 2:11; Rev. 20:3; 2 Cor. 10:4–5; Is. 61:1; Jn. 14:6).

*Australia, Bahamas, Bahrain, Bolivia, Brazil, Canada, Costa Rica, Egypt, El Salvador, France, Germany, Ghana, Guadeloupe, Honduras, Hong Kong, India, Ireland, Jamaica, Japan, Kenya, Kuwait, Macao, Malaysia ,Namibia, Netherlands, New Zealand, Nigeria, Oman, Peru, Philippines, Poland, Qatar, Romania, Singapore, Slovakia, South Africa, Swaziland, Sweden, Switzerland, Trinidad and Tobago, Turkey, Ukraine, United Arab Emirates, United Kingdom, United States, Venezuela.

Ten

The Laboratory of Neuro Imaging at UCLA says that the average person thinks 70,000 thoughts per day. If that’s true, then I’m pretty sure I’m above average.

The report doesn’t define what constitutes a “thought” nor does it specify how many hours that average person is awake to be thinking all those thoughts. But let’s just say that dream-thoughts don’t count, that the person is awake 16 hours per day, and that whatever blips through his or her mind constitutes a “thought.” In that case, it works out to 4,375 thoughts per hour, or 73 thoughts per minute.   

Like I said, I think I’m above average. But don’t envy me. You really wouldn’t want to live inside my head.  The thoughts that race around in there are usually random and uninspiring thoughts. They’re not necessarily bad thoughts, just not all that helpful.  Things like, “I wonder how painting my house pink would affect its resale value?” or “What was my phone number when I lived in Indiana 15 years ago?”

So, while all those thoughts occasionally result in a rare and wonderful idea, often they are just distracting. Especially when I try to pray.

I was frustrated by this fact the other day. I really wanted be still and focused so I could pray. It was early in the morning, but already I was well on my way toward making my 70,000 thoughts per day quota.

But then I had an unusual thought. It wasn’t one of those “I wonder what the nutritional value of celery is?” kind of thoughts.  It was one I’d never thought of before. The type that makes me think,” Hmmm, that’s smarter than what I would ordinarily think. I wonder if that’s a God-thought?” The thought was simply this: “Ten.”

I knew right away what it meant. My Bible was open to Exodus where Moses is receiving instructions for worship. I had been thinking (among many other things) about the kind of worship God likes to receive. So when I heard “Ten,” I was immediately inspired to find ten ways things to worship Him about.

My list went something like this:

  1. You’re beautiful.
  2. You’re incredibly creative.
  3. You are kind.
  4. You are holy.
  5. You care about the oppressed.
  6. You are faithful.
  7. You are sympathetic with my weakness.
  8. You are always with me.
  9. You are majestic.
  10. You are full of compassion.

I felt peace come over me as I quietly listed those ten things I love about God. And then a sense of surprise and satisfaction came. I realized that while I was focusing on making that list of things I wanted to worship God for, I was completely undistracted. I had zero other thoughts going through my head—just God, and all I love about Him. I was amazed.

Since then I’ve prayed different “Tens.” I have prayed for ten adult children, ten countries I have special interest in and concern for, ten blessings for a friend, ten things I was thankful for in a specific moment. And each time I prayed that way, I had the pleasure of being completely focused and peaceful, unmolested by distractions.

I imagine that I am not the only person who struggles with being distracted in prayer. So I wonder if any of my readers out there have ideas about how to deal with what Henri Nouwen described as the thoughts that “jump about … like monkeys in a banana tree”? Won’t you share your tips with us? Or if you decide to try my “Ten” idea, will you tell the rest of us how it went for you?