March 13, 2013

Worship and rabbit trails

My Uncle Edward was a storyteller who at the same time built patience in those who listened. His stories were worth hearing to the end, but he had a habit of going down rabbit trails. That is, parts of his story would remind him of events or people somewhat related to the story, but he had to put them in. A yarn that could be told in five minutes might require an hour.

This morning’s devotional verse seemed at first to take me down a rabbit trail. It is the same verse as yesterday and the reading is about worship. My Bible has “cross references” which means there are numbers on words and phrases with corresponding links to other verses with the same or similar words and ideas. God seemed to prod the reading of them, and one thing led to another. This is the path that I followed…

Worship the Lord in the splendor of holiness; tremble before him, all the earth! (Psalm 96:9)
Ascribe to the Lord the glory due his name; worship the Lord in the splendor of holiness. (Psalm 29:2)
Tremble, O earth, at the presence of the Lord, at the presence of the God of Jacob. (Psalm 114:7)
All these things my hand has made, and so all these things came to be, declares the Lord. But this is the one to whom I will look: he who is humble and contrite in spirit and trembles at my word. (Isaiah 66:2)
The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit. (Psalm 34:18)

After reading these together, I’m wondering about the connections in my head. How did I get from the first verse to the last? What does God want me to understand from these verses?

The reading asks, “What is worship?” Its answer is “prostration, bowing down” with the attitude that recognizes His throne and superiority, and that takes the low place of reverence in the presence of God. It is also speaking from that attitude in words that ascribe to God what is due Him. He is splendid in holiness (and so I am to be as I worship). That is the bridge from the first verse to the second.

Both were in mind when I read verse three. Worship is about trembling in the presence of God, and the Bible calls the whole earth to this act of reverence. Why tremble? There is something about the majesty of God that is so awesome, so beyond all else, that my trembling can be related to sheer amazement and delight.

But there is another reason to tremble in worship. As I realize my sinfulness and total lack of anything in me that I should even be able to worship this Holy God, I know that it is by mercy that I am in this place. I stand before God because of Jesus Christ, with no other reason or claim. He died that I can be brought into a saving relationship with my Creator, and for this I tremble.

Again, the whole earth is called to tremble at the presence of God. All these things His hand has made, yet all can see that not all people in the earth are in that saving relationship with their Creator. This relationship is enjoyed by those to whom God has revealed Himself. He has shown us our sinfulness and we have responded with “Yes, God” to truth about ourselves and our need of grace. The rest of the world shakes its fist at God. Only the contrite who are brokenhearted over sin and crushed in spirit will feel the eyes of the Lord upon them and sense His presence near them.

This runs full circle back to the first verse. Holiness is about being set apart for God. This happens when God opens our eyes to His great love for us and when we respond to that love by giving ourselves back to Him in humility and with a contrite spirit. The reading describes how I feel as the Spirit mixes these thoughts into my mind.

I worship in the presence of God as I recognize that in him I find everything that my life demands, that in myself I am incomplete. A sense of my need and his resource, a sense that my life finds its heights and its best and fulfills itself in relation to him produces the act and the attitude of worship. The attitude of worship is the attitude of a subject bent before a monarch; the attitude of a child yielding all its love to a parent; the attitude of the sheep that follows the shepherd and is content in all the pasturage that the shepherd appoints. It is the attitude of saying yes to everything that God says.

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