The Place of Worship is a Blessing

***A few months ago, I shared this with my worship team.  I believe it is important to do more than just practice new songs or grow in our skill sets. We must set our hearts to grow in knowledge and understanding of God and His heart. Furthermore, as worship leaders, we must commit to understanding worship as more than music, more than a gift, and more than a feeling. I hope you enjoy the next series I am sharing, entitled: The Place of Worship Is.

 

The place of worship, which can be anywhere, is a blessing (a gift) for those who worship there

Blessed (Happy) are those who dwell in your house; they are ever praising you. Psalm 84:4

Happy are those…

Wherever we are, however we are worshipping, we can be certain that God is listening. We can be certain that he is bending down from the heavens, listening to our praises. What’s more, we can be certain that he meets us in our offering, and finds His dwelling in the midst of our praises.

As we rise to worship Him in spirit and truth, He rises to meet us. The fruit of this encounter is happiness, JOY, strength, hope and peace. Altogether so much more than that great feeling we get after we leave the place of worship!

This makes the act of worship one of our great spiritual weapons. In the darkest night of trouble, our hearts should move directly into the place of worship, fully trusting the power of worship over our circumstances.

So ultimately,

As we give God a genuine expression of adoration and praise,

As we lean our hearts towards Him,

As we sing out songs of praise,

As we dance before Him, with total abandonment,

As we pray and meditate on His goodness,

As we adore and praise him, despite doubts, fears, or injury,

As we sacrifice of ourselves, all in the name of Jesus, day in and day out,

We enter the place of worship.

Happy are those who hear the joyful call to worship, for they will walk in the light of your presence, LordThey rejoice all day long in your wonderful reputation. They exult in your righteousness. You are their glorious strength. It pleases you to make us strong. Psalm 89:15-17

May we all find our way to the place of worship; no matter how we arrive.

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Elijah. A Series of Responses: Loneliness in Ministry

This is my last in the series of responses to discouragement. It is rather lengthy, but I hope you take the time to read this final portion.

1 Kings 19:15-21

My response:

Elijah struggled. Doubt, discouragement, and weariness plagued him. After all, he was human, just like we are. And we, just like Elijah, will struggle. For instance:

  • We want to know that our ministries are successful and growing.
  • We want a definitive answer of where God is calling us and who He is calling us to be.
  • We want to feel confident, appreciated, beloved, and important.
  • We want to see the fruit from our labor quickly, multiplying numbers in our ministries, and to never feel lonely or overwhelmed in the journey.
  • We want to feel good enough and sometimes, superior.

O human nature, how easily you betray! Still, not all of this is bad or good.

It simply just IS.

We may wade (or drown) through such situations, but we should never be DRIVEN by these insecurities, doubts, and/or personal agendas.

It should not be the desire for our advancement that drives us. Rather, it should be the pursuit of intimacy with God, the revelation of His glorious love and the advancement of His kingdom driving us, allowing radical trust, immovable focus, and intentional faith in action to cultivate in our hearts. (A Stephens)

There will be obstacles, challenges, and struggles. However, there is hope beyond the nature of our humanity. You see, human nature may be our natural, but we are not subject to it;  we are set free from it by divine grace. O divine grace that strengthens, empowers, heals, and transforms! May we always call upon the compassion of the Lord, asking, taking…receiving.

Take a moment here and fill in the blank.

God, give ,me grace to ____________

(For me, grace to fast, grace to forgive, grace to let go, grace to restrain)

Moving on…..

Elijah needed a friend; the core of his complaint before God was that he was alone. In His compassion, God let Elijah know that there was a man ready to be discipled, and to be his companion.  Elisha was chosen to be the successor to Elijah’s prophetic office, ensuring that the work would continue on , even after Elijah’s parting. What hope this must have inspired in Elijah!  A kinship provided by God and such a sweet remedy for Elijah’s loneliness.

How many times have I cried out to God in my loneliness, despair, grief and fear ? I can’t count how many times, yet I know it has not been enough. Moreover, the more I pursue God’s heart, the more I realize that this “leadership” thing actually has nothing to do with the lonely and burdensome valleys of ministry.

No, the loneliness and despair comes to all of us, sometimes in small prods and tiny nudges and sometimes in rolling waves. It comes, not because of God or our position, but because the clashing of the natural and the spiritual,  the world and the kingdom, and our hearts against God’s heart is real and happening; It is war, a real live battlefield, my friends.

The sheer fact is that the radical pursuit of God can result in loneliness, whether we are pastoring, serving under the pastor, or doing everything we can  to make into the door of church once a week. So, you see, the question is not whether loneliness will come. Rather, the question is, “how do we confront loneliness in ministry?”

  • Do we deny it? Do we refuse to acknowledge it? Do we hide our struggle, refusing to let others see what we deem as weak?
  • Or do we acknowledge it ?
  • And then, do we ask for prayer? Do we enter into prayer ourselves, making the time to be STILL before God?
  • Do we listen, wait, and rest in the presence of the Lord?
  • Do we take from His strength, renew ourselves in His word, and pour out our heart in worship before Him?

I want to say, “Yes, yes to it all!” But the truth is that sometimes,  I’ve done nothing (except deny). And than, there have been times where I’ve done half of the above:  deny, acknowledge, ask for prayer, and pray. But even then, in doing just half, I’ve  neglected the most crucial part of the fight.

Waiting. Listening. Receiving. Renewing. Worshipping.

I’m not proud, yet I’m not ashamed. How can I be ashamed when those failing moments allowed me to fully understand the beauty of God’s grace? Scandalous and undeserved, yet it is given freely and extravagantly. The depression and loneliness, oh it comes! But God’s grace allows me to have a fighting chance.

And,for that I am thankful.

All too well, I know the shock and awe of seemingly perpetual solitude that can come from pursuing God in wholehearted obedience. I see it coming from a mile away, like when I have to make an unpopular decision, address failed expectations,  steer my team into unfamiliar territory, or even when I take a stand against the cruel discrimination that I’ve witnessed in many “Christians” and churches alike.

Like swimming in the ocean alone, a storm approaching, violent waves swelling, and currents forthcoming, I feel at times.

I cannot help but picture this scene in my mind. The picture paints itself ominously. A storm approaching, a familiar one that I’ve known, and yet I pray that I will not turn and run. I pray that I will wait, that I will be emboldened to fight, and disciplined to stand firm. I pray that I will be equipped for victory. And though the storm approaching will surely move to disarm me, I PRAY that I will allow God to guide my hands, my heart, and my words into battle. 

I have this picture given to us by my father-in-law. It is a ship from the time of Columbus. Sailing the ocean blue, it depicts the ship and it’s sailors sailing right off the end of a very flat world.  Doesn’t life often feel that way?  (I actually found the painting online here.)

Did you know that:

 Elijah was as human as we are, and yet when he prayed earnestly that no rain would fall, none fell for three and a half years!  Then, when he prayed again, the sky sent down rain and the earth began to yield its crops. James 5:17-18:

Elijah is considered to be a mighty man of God. He prayed and God listened; He moved and God moved through him. He became exhausted, weary, lonely, and questioned God. In return God gave him rest, ministered to his spiritual and physical weaknesses, strengthened him, answered him AND equipped him for the work remaining.

Elijah is not so different from us.. We are not so different from Elijah. God loves us the same and desires our hearts the same.

Are you weary?

Lonely?

Discouraged?

Doubtful?

Questioning?

Unburden yourself to God and HE will listen.

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” Matthew 11:28


And finally, worship.

PRAY.

In times of trouble, worship.

PRAY. 

There is no quicker way into God’s presence.


A. Stephens.

 

Elijah, A Series of Responses: Discouragement, Part 4

2 Kings 19:11-14

The Lord said, “Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.”

Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake.  After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper. When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave.  Then a voice said to him, “What are you doing here, Elijah?”

And he said, “I have been very zealous for the Lord God of hosts; because the children of Israel have forsaken Your covenant, torn down Your altars, and killed Your prophets with the sword. I alone am left; and they seek to take my life.”

 

Response:

Stop. Think about the scripture for a moment. Envision it.

Pause. Reflect. Now…go.

What a powerful demonstration here.  Certainly, God can be in the midst of such glorious displays.  Yet, it was a whisper that the Lord chose to reveal himself here.   The wind may destroy,  the earthy may quake and the fire may consume. But the voice of God, even in His whisper, is more powerful than any force of the earth combined.

What a marked contrast! What a reminder!

Let us remember that displays of power and glory do not automatically change a person’s heart.

Let us remember that the voice of God is what convicts – not the voice or works of man. May we trust in His strength and not our own.

Let us remember this as we go about our days, planning our services, and ministering to the treasured hearts God loves so much.

And finally,

Let us always seek to create an atmosphere where the voice of God is welcome and where we are are inclined to listen and respond.

 

“He first wrapped his mantle about his face – he became subdued and awe-stricken – full of reverence. Oh! it is a great thing when a sinner is willing to wrap his face when he is confounded, and say, ‘I cannot defend my course; I am guilty.’ We know that if at our judgment-seat a man pleads guilty, he is punished; but at the judgment-seat of the gospel whoever pleads guilty is forgiven. Wrap your face.” (Spurgeon)

 

Elijah, A Series of Responses: Discouragement, Part 3

1 KING 19:9-10, NIV

 And there he went into a cave, and spent the night in that place; and behold, the word of the Lord came to him, and He said to him, “What are you doing here, Elijah?”  So he said, “I have been very zealous for the Lord God of hosts; for the children of Israel have forsaken Your covenant, torn down Your altars, and killed Your prophets with the sword. I alone am left; and they seek to take my life.”

 

When Elijah was rested, he went into one of the many surrounding caves. This is the man who prayed for a drought for 3 years, and the Lord answered. This is the man who prayed for rain to end the drought and the Lord answered. And, this is the man who prayed earnestly to the Lord in his time of fear. Elijah did not hold back. He said to God, “I have been zealous for You. I have been obedient. And now, I am alone and in danger of death.”

Elijah unburdened his heart to the Lord, raw in his honesty.  Yet, it was God who subtedly prodded Elijah to unburden his heart, asking, “Why are you here?” Certainly, God knew. But, He wanted to hear Elijah’s heart in the words of his choosing.

God wants a real, authentic, relationship. The kind where we actually talk to him. A lot.  The kind where we unashamedly tell him the journey is too much, or that we have had more than we can bare, or that we feel abandoned and alone, despite our faithfulness.

Even in our deepest discouragement, even when our words are most bitter, even when we find ourselves surprised at the condition of our hearts, we can trust that God is not surprised at all. Instead, He is prepared and waiting.

In closing,

When my daughter’s bestfriend moved away, she told me, “I am all alone now and there is no one to play with me. Nobody loves me now!” And then, crying loudly, she ran to her room and slammed the door. As a parent, it broke my heart. The sound of my daughter crying always pains me, no matter the circumstances. I suspect that God looks down on us as compassionately as I did my daughter. You see, I knew that her loneliness was real and justified. I knew that her sadness was real and untamed. Because I knew,  I did not tell her to stop crying or to stop feeling sad. Rather, I entered her room and sat beside her for a while, waiting. Eventually, she crawled into my lap. When she calmed down a little, I talked to her, validating her feelings and guiding her through them. Soon enough, the moment passed, and my daughter was ready to play again.

Just like a parent, God knows our circumstances. He knows that, just as a child, sometimes we run to our “rooms” crying and distraught. He knows that our pain and loneliness is big and real, and He does not prevent us from enduring all the difficulties living a faithful life yields.  He knows, just as parents do, that tribulations produce perseverance, character, and hope.

He knows and He waits beside us.  He waits for the crying to settle, the heart to soften, and the soul to calm. Tenderly and patiently, He waits.

And then, in the most perfect of moments, He speaks…(Please come back tomorrow to read my response to 1 KINGS 19:11-14

I leave you with this scripture:

Romans 5:1-5, NIV

 Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have[a] peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ,  through whom also we have access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God.  And not only that, but we also glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance; and perseverance, character; and character, hope.  Now hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us.

Elijah, A Series of Responses: Discouragement, Part 2

1 Kings 19:5-8 New International Version (NIV)

Then he lay down under the bush and fell asleep. All at once an angel touched him and said, “Get up and eat.” He looked around, and there by his head was some bread baked over hot coals, and a jar of water. He ate and drank and then lay down again. The angel of the Lord came back a second time and touched him and said, “Get up and eat, for the journey is too much for you.” So he got up and ate and drank. Strengthened by that food, he traveled forty days and forty nights until he reached Horeb, the mountain of God.

My response:

The angel said,  “Arise and eat.

But the message from God was  “Arise from this pit of despair. Take from my strength and feed yourself. Rest and be replenished.”

God,

When we allow fear to settle,

when we hide in shame and despair,

when we are drowning in doubt,

may we always remember Your response,

A Stephens

The spirit needs to be fed, and the body needs feeding also. Do not forget these matters; it may seem to some people that I ought not to mention such small things as food and rest, but these may be the very first elements in really helping a poor depressed servant of God.” (Spurgeon)

“It was very gracious for God to deal this with his servant. We might have expected rebuke or remonstrance, chiding or chastisement; but we would hardly have expected such loving, gentle treatment as this.” (Meyer)