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How Big is the God You Worship?

As most Christians in the United States are forced to worship God virtually during the coronavirus pandemic – watching (and hopefully, still engaging) over the internet – it can lead to a view of a very small God. One Who fits comfortably in our homes as well as our limited understanding. Even when we are worshipping in churches with dozens or hundreds of others, this can happen.

I’ve attended church almost every week since I was a young child. I’ve read the Bible many times; a couple times, even reading it straight through in a year (or so). And to be honest, it can be easy to become complacent when it comes how I think about God in general, and even during worship. It’s not that I purposely take God for granted, or take worship lightly. But in the familiarity of things (like songs, or Bible passages, or liturgy of a worship service), I can easily forget just how big God is.

My church spends time in worship each week to confess sins and receive forgiveness. But to be honest, I don’t marvel at God’s mercy or feel the tremendous relief of the lifting of guilt or shame that a new Christian experiences who has just realized God’s forgiveness. But I should.

People sometimes ask questions that are difficult to answer, like “If God is all-loving, why is there suffering in the world?” I’m sure there are many people who are wondering why God would allow a pandemic to happen. The answer is not that God is limited; He is all-knowing and all-powerful. But God is also mysterious; there are things we won’t know on this side of heaven, and He is not obligated to explain it to us (not that we would even understand the explanation). “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” (Isaiah 55:9)

God is also more loving and patient than we can fully grasp, because on our best day, our patience and capacity for loving others is still limited. At the same time, He is a “consuming fire” (Deuteronomy 4:24), “who stretches out the heavens, who lays the foundation of the earth, and who forms the human spirit within a person” (Zechariah 12:1) If you’ve forgotten just how big God is, try reading Job chapters 38-41.

Nothing catches God by surprise, and nothing is too big for God. Whether it’s something you individually are dealing with, or a worldwide pandemic, God is bigger. We just have to remember how big God really is.


Worship Lessons from the Samaritan Woman at the Well

Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you Jews claim that the place where we must worship is in Jerusalem.” “Woman,” Jesus replied, “believe me, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem… Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth.”

John 4:20-21,23-24

Many Christians around the United States, if not all over the world, are faced with a dilemma these days when it comes to ‘going to church.’ Due to concerns surrounding the coronavirus, many people will be staying home this weekend either out of voluntary precaution, or in the case of those of us in Wisconsin, due to mandated restrictions on gatherings of over 10 people. Many churches are meeting this challenge by offering online streaming of their services, so we can still worship, in our own homes. One might be tempted to think, “should we really bother ‘worshipping’ online? It won’t really be the same.”

In the fourth chapter of the gospel of John, Jesus meets a woman from Samaria at a well. For sake of context, it’s important to note that Samaritans and Jews (of which Jesus was one) did not get along, for a number of reasons. During their conversation, this woman challenges Jesus with a question of where is the proper place to worship. Jesus’ response to her indicates that one’s location of worship doesn’t matter; how you worship is what matters (more on that in a bit). In today’s context, Jesus is telling us that it doesn’t matter whether we worship Him in a church building or in our homes watching online. What matters is that we worship God in spirit and in truth. But what does that mean?

This can have multiple meanings.  On one level, worshiping in spirit involves a freedom, “as the Spirit moves me,” while worshiping in truth involves the understanding of Who God is.  Worship in spirit is loving God with all your heart; worship in truth is loving God with all your mind.  Worship in spirit is more right-brain, worship in truth is more left-brain.  Often people get focused too much on one side or the other. Gerrit Gustafson, songwriter and president of WholeHearted Worship, explains it this way:

Jesus said that His Father is looking for worshipers who worship in spirit and truth – not one or the other.  Here’s the principle: An acceptable sacrifice is an offering that is pleasing to God, in harmony with His Spirit, and in accordance with His Truth.  If we genuinely want to please God in our worship, we must understand that truth without spirit is unacceptable, as is spirit without truth.

So I would encourage you, as long as you may be confined to your home or unable to go to church to worship due to social distancing, that you find any way you can to worship God. Follow a church’s live streaming of a service, or just improvise your own worship at home. It’s not the same as meeting with others to worship (a topic for another post), but as long as you strive to worship God in spirit and in truth, you are the kind of worshipper that God seeks.

Lent Fasting

During this season of Lent, many Christians take up the practice of giving something up.  You may ask, ‘What does this have to do with worship?’  Romans 12:1 says “I urge you…to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God – this is your spiritual act of worship.”  As I mentioned in a previous blog, worship is not just what you do on Sundays, it should be a lifestyle that indicates your dedication to and adoration of God. Adopting this familiar Lenten practice is a great way to do that.

What is the point of giving something up for Lent?  Is it just to see if we can go without a creature comfort for a few weeks?  Is it a way to begin a new resolution, to start up a new habit, to break a bad habit? During Lent we should take time to focus on the suffering and the sacrifice that Jesus went through to save us from our sins.  On one level, giving up something for Lent is a response to all that Jesus gave up for us (Phil 2:6-7).  On another level, we can give up something that distracts us from our relationship with God in order to add something that draws us closer to God. 

 May you find a new way to worship God this season, whether it’s giving something up, adding a spiritual discipline, or both!

Worship Even When It Hurts

There is a worship song by Matt Redman that those who enjoy contemporary worship are probably familiar with: Blessed Be Your Name.  It’s about deciding to worship God regardless of one’s circumstances, good or bad.  Whether you know the song or not, the words are poignant:

“Blessed be Your Name, in the land of plentiful, where streams of abundance flow” is a call to not forget God in the good times, in the times of plenty.   “Blessed be Your Name, when I’m found in the desert place, though I walk through the wilderness” is a call to not give up on God but worship Him in times of need.  “Blessed be Your Name when the sun’s shining down on me, when the world’s all is it should be” again reminds us not to be complacent or indifferent toward God just because things are good.  “Blessed be Your Name on the road marked with suffering, though there’s pain in the offering.”  Even when we’re hurting, when the last thing we want to do is worship God, that is just what we should do.

But how can one worship when they’ve lost a loved one, or have been given an earth-shattering diagnosis? I would point to another favorite contemporary worship song of mine, How Can I Keep From Singing by Chris Tomlin. It has some strong lyrics that encourage those who are hurting:

I will lift my eyes
In the darkest night
For I know my Savior lives
And I will walk with You (God)
Knowing You’ll see me through
And sing the songs You give…

I can sing in the troubled times
Sing when I win
I can sing when I lose my step
And fall down again
I can sing ’cause You pick me up
Sing ’cause You’re there
I can sing ’cause You hear me Lord
When I call to You in prayer
I can sing with my last breath
Sing for I know
That I’ll sing with the angels
And the saints around the throne

Another Christian artist who knows firsthand the challenge of worshipping when you are hurting is Bart Millard of Mercy Me. He has endured the loss of loved ones in his life, and has turned that pain into songs which have given comfort to many. Among them is I Can Only Imagine, which attempts to guess what it will be like when one gets to heaven, and Homesick, which is written from the perspective of one grieving the loss of a loved one, missing that person as well as yearning to be in our eternal home of heaven ourselves, and relying on Christ to provide strength to make it through the pain.

Of course, God can (and does) also speak to those who are hurting as you read the Bible, as you pray, and as you connect with other Christians. But because this is a worship blog, I’ve chosen to focus on the importance of worshipping when you are hurt, because it can be a powerful way that God can speak to you, strengthen your faith, and help you through times of heartache and pain.

If you are reading this, and are currently going through a time of pain, or hurt, or personal loss, I am so sorry. I can’t say that I know what you’re going through or what you’re feeling. But I know that God does know how you feel, and what you’re going through. And He promises to comfort you (Matthew 5:4, 2 Corinthians 1:3-4) So I would encourage you to seek God in your hurt, through His Word (the Bible), through prayer, through Christian friends, and yes, even through worship!

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