Dance Central

So X was about worship leaders, Y was about ‘you,’ as in all of us in the congregation as individuals, and now Z will be about God.

Ok, Z and God don’t really combine well.

But Z goes well with the prophet Zephaniah, who gives us a powerful image of God.

The Lord your God in your midst, The Mighty One, will save; He will rejoice over you with gladness, He will quiet you with His love, He will rejoice over you with singing.” (Zephaniah 3:17 NKJV)

Maybe it sounds sacrilegious, but God goes nuts about you and me. The word for “rejoice” there is also translated “exult,” and it has as part of its meaning the act of dancing with joy. It means to spin around, caught up in powerful emotion.

God celebrates us. He dances over us. He rejoices, He gets wild with gladness. He belts out songs of victory.

Chris Tomlin has a new song called “God’s Great Dance Floor” that I was sure I hated at first. “What is this?” I asked. “Is the church a club now?” And then I listened to the words, and I thought about Zephaniah and the promise that God dances over His people with a love that never stops loving us, no matter how far we run, that never gives up on us and looks always to the future, not the past.

Can we see that? Do we sense The Lord our God in our midst? Do we feel the power and presence of The Mighty One? Can we glimpse God-of-the-Universe doing a jig at the thought of us?

For me, I have to admit, I rarely can picture this. I have a hard time taking hold of this love and internalizing it. I don’t always feel “dance-worthy.” I’m the ashamed wallflower at the prom, the ugly and unpopular one, on the outside of the party.

But God rushes over to those of us on the outskirts and tugs at our arms, smiling wide, eyes bright. He dances when we would not, when we can see nothing worth celebrating. We dance, because He does. We love, because He loved us first. We rejoice, because He rejoices over us and gives us reasons for joy.

Picture David in the Old Testament, dancing and celebrating the return of the Ark to the people of Israel. Everyone holds David in high regard, as a mighty man of war. “Saul has slain his thousands,” they sing, “and David his ten thousands.” This strong warrior is still able to cut loose and express joy in front of the people, even at the expense of his reputation. “I will become even more undignified than this,” he says when challenged. His God is worth celebrating.

God never calls us to do what He would not. He always gives us an example to follow, at His own expense. And so we see God Himself in this word picture, The Lord of Hosts, the Mighty Warrior – and He is willing to become undignified by dancing and rejoicing over what the world says is nothing of worth. He is willing to set aside glory and leave His honor behind in order to reach out to the nobodies and the ne’er-do-wells.

Heads down, staring at the floor, we know what we’re worth… or rather what we’re not. But God extends a hand nonetheless, tapping His foot, brimming with energy and passion, ready to explode into motion, all to express one core foundational truth:

You are My special treasure, My prize, the one that I love.

That’s worthy of a few twirls, isn’t it?

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The X Factor

No, I’m not talking about Simon Cowell’s show.

I’m thinking, as usual, of worship. Specifically, I’m wondering about how we minister as lead worshipers, those folks up front in the church, playing and singing, and hopefully pointing the congregation to Jesus.

x fac·tor

Noun
  1. A variable in a situation that could have the most significant impact on the outcome.
  2. A special talent or quality.

What is that “X Factor,” that special something that makes the difference between satisfactory and superb?

For one, the superb worship leader isn’t trying to be superb. It’s not about him or her. It’s about God, the team, and the people.

Part of that special quality is observing and responding to needs of others – making it about God and the congregation, ducking out of the way. Saying “Come along with me” and charging ahead while being aware enough to realize when no one’s coming. It’s easy to get caught up in powerful emotion, to be swept away in the worship. And sometimes we can feel like everyone’s there with us, when in fact, the folks in the congregation are looking at watches and reading bulletins. Of course we can’t please everyone, but we can go too far with what pleases us.

Communication is also a key part. We have to be aware of what’s going on, and a lot of that is what the leadership is sensing. Paying attention to non-verbal and verbal cues keeps the worship in proper order. Communicating vision and direction to the team keeps everyone going toward the same goal.

Beyond that direction, there’s an ebb and flow to the music, a crescendo here, and a fade there. Sensing the spiritual dynamics of the service can create space for free worship, the unstructured corporate response of individuals to the love of God. Being aware of the strengths and weaknesses of the team ties in with this. We start to understand that certain members might be able to add to a specific song, or musicians playing less common instruments will better minister in a particular song. So once again, we build room into a set, we add flexibility to the rigid in order to create a better experience.

I think the X Factor comes down to a right understanding of availability and adequacy. Worship is a God-thing. We can’t even really do it without His help, because it’s a response to His revelation. It’s not possible for us, of our own willpower and skill, to make worship “adequate” enough. God brings the adequacy – He does the work. But we do have to be available; we do put all our skill and energy at His disposal, to glorify Him and minister to His people.

We put everything on the figurative altar of worship, and God turns it into something meaningful.

So ultimately, He’s the essential quality, the One who makes all the rest come together and matter.

Within Us

One of the phrases I heard so often on worship teams and at churches was “We have to get into the presence of God.”

The impression I got was that God’s presence was a difficult place to attain, a challenging state to achieve, where all the music goes right and everyone is caught up in worship. That experience was the goal, and apparently it was rare, but we were going to try for it anyway.

For the “W” entry in the A to Z challenge, I want to talk about the term within.

This understanding of worship that I mention above seems to follow the Holy of Holies model.

If we look into the Old Testament and the laws about the setup and rituals of the Tabernacle of God, we find that there were three main sections to the place of worship. The Outer Court was the largest, where most people could go. It was where the average Israelites brought their sacrifices.

Then there was the Holy Place, the sort-of makeshift Temple in the middle of the Outer Court. That housed a number of key elements, and there was a much more strict set of rules about who could enter, when they could enter, and what duties they would perform.

Inside the Holy Place was the Holy of Holies or Most Holy Place – the spot where God’s presence dwelt. Only the high priest could enter, and that only once a year. It was a significant duty that could result in death if the rituals were not performed properly.

We sometimes treat worship like this, as though there are levels we have to reach, areas we have to go through, to progress from the start of the Sunday service as far as we can get toward the presence of God. Some Sundays, we feel like we almost made it. Some Sundays, everything comes apart. And some few Sundays, we feel like we really did it; we really entered into God’s presence through our worship.

Older songs convey this understanding… the chorus “Take Me In” uses the picture of the Tabernacle to describe the desire to draw near to God.

Take me past the outer courts, into the Holy Place
Past the brazen altar, Lord I want to see Your face
Pass me by the crowds of people, the priests who sing Your praise
I hunger and thirst for Your righteousness, and it’s only found one place:
Take me in to the Holy of Holies, take me in by the blood of the Lamb
Take me in to the Holy of Holies, take the coal, touch my lips, here I am

Nothing against the heart of the song, but I don’t believe that’s how worship works for us as New Testament believers.

“The Kingdom of God is in your midst” (also translated as “the Kingdom of God is within you.”  – Jesus, in Luke 17:21

A while back, a movie called Stigmata came out using religious symbolism and a thriller plot to call attention to a “Gospel” not included in the traditional Bible. The Gospel of Thomas, in the movie, contained a powerful truth the church would rather keep secret: the idea that the kingdom of God isn’t a church building or religious institution, but that the kingdom is actually within you and me.

I was dumbfounded by this movie’s attempt to convey this as a “new” truth that the Church would fear. It’s quite biblical (though I’d say the Gospel of Thomas is not, for good reason).

Consider the implications of these verses:

19 Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own? 20 For you have been bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body.  – 1 Corinthians 6:19-20 NASB

and

For we are the temple of the living God; just as God said,
“I will dwell in them and walk among them;
And I will be their God, and they shall be My people.
17 “Therefore, come out from their midst and be separate,” says the Lord.
“And do not touch what is unclean;
And I will welcome you.
18 “And I will be a father to you,
And you shall be sons and daughters to Me,”
Says the Lord Almighty. – 2 Corinthians 6:16-18  NASB

and

the mystery which has been hidden from the past ages and generations, but has now been manifested to His saints, 27 …which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.  Colossians 1:26-27  NASB

oh, and also

20 I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me. – Galatians 2:20

So the point is, God in us is really not a new concept. (To be fair, the Old Testament has its share of verses that point to the same truth. The passage from 2 Cor 6:16-18 quotes from Leviticus, Ezekiel, and Isaiah.)

Long story short, the movie was a silly attempt to make a big deal out of a Gnostic “gospel” by calling attention to a particular line that is already established Christian doctrine.

What does this have to do with worship?

When we realize that God is with us everywhere we go, it changes our understanding of “getting into the presence of God.” He’s not far off, waiting for me to get there, if only I can jump through the right hoops and hit the right notes and somehow bring the congregation with me. He’s here, inside me, inside you if you’re a believer, inside each of us in the church building as we gather together. It’s not about getting us into His presence at all.

It’s about opening our eyes to the fact that He is already there with us, within us.

Here’s an analogy: My heart is full of love for my wife and my children. In a sense, I carry them everywhere I go, because they hold a special place in my affections. It’s not something I have to work up or fake. There’s no complicated ritual about it. My love for them simply is, and it is within me.

I can be distracted, or I can let frustrations steal my focus, or I can allow problems in the relationship to keep me distant. But the love for them is there, and all it takes is for me to stop and think about them.

How much more so with God who lives within us?

What do you think? Do we often try to work our way into God’s presence? Or do we recognize He’s there already, and work to fix our gaze on Him? What does it mean that God is within us?

Vanity

For ‘T’ I wrote about theology as a tool to better understand God and our relationship to Him. For ‘U’ I wrote about unity and the need for us to look to others ahead of our own interests. For ‘V’ I will continue the “Jesus – Others – You” pattern of ‘JOY’ and talk about ourselves.

In other words, Vanity.

As worshipers – especially if we’re musicians and singers involved with church worship teams – vanity can be a spirit-killer. It disrupts teams, it affects our emotions and our concentration, it takes our focus off the God we’re there to worship. It’s a problem.

With all the emphasis on self-esteem over the last couple decades, it might sound like I’m saying having some pride in a job well done is a bad thing. That’s not the case. We want to do our best, to excel. But we want to do it with appropriate humility and confidence.

Confidence says I know I’m good.

Arrogance is when we know everyone else thinks we’re good.

False humility says, “I need attention, tell me how good I am.”

Worry has us wondering if our efforts are good enough.

Confidence allows us to play our best, together. Arrogance, worry and false humility focus on our performance and on us as individuals. And any kind of self-centered worship is absolutely wrong.

Vanity means we spend less time going vertical, looking up to God. And we spend little time going horizontal, reaching out to others.

At best we go through the motions, doing what looks good and seems right. But God checks the motives of the heart as well as the actions.

We must always remember why we’re up front leading worship, or why we’re serving others. It’s not about us; it has to be about Him.

No Lone Wolves

If yesterday’s ‘theology’ post was about the vertical relationship between God above and humanity below, then today’s post on unity is about the horizontal relationship we have with the people around us.

If someone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for the one who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from Him, that the one who loves God should love his brother also. (1 John 4:20, 21 NASB)

Throughout Scripture we are reminded that we’re all in this together. No one can claim a healthy Christian life without connection to their fellow believers. Paul makes a lengthy analogy of us all as individual parts of a body, where no part of the body can tell another “I have no need of you.” If we can’t tell parts that we don’t need them, we certainly can’t blow off the entire rest of the body. (See 1 Cor 12 for the full analogy.)

Every piece is important, because each of us brings something unique to help the greater whole.

So here’s what I want you to do. When you gather for worship, each one of you be prepared with something that will be useful for all: Sing a hymn, teach a lesson, tell a story, lead a prayer, provide an insight.(1 Corinthians 14:26 MSG)

Formal translations often use the term “edification” as in the building up of others. In Peter’s epistle, we are likened to stones that God is using to build up His house, and so I would ask what kind of a house we would have with just one brick sitting off by itself.

We’re meant to be together. The Message paraphrase continues to say, “When we worship the right way, God doesn’t stir us up into confusion; he brings us into harmony” (v.33).

What are some practical ways to work toward this?

  • Look for the good in others, not the differences. While our differences may be many, and may be important, we can usually find something special and valuable about even those we do not like. Focusing on that helps us keep ill will in check. God called to us in the midst of sin and rebellion; we can see the value in others even when we disagree with them.
  • Consider how God sees others. If we can’t see any good, God can, because He paid the same price for that other person that He paid for us. We can be honest about how we feel, but we should also ask God to give His perspective. God sees us through Christ; we should seek to see others the same way.
  • Seek what benefits others, if not all. If it serves my own purpose, it may not be the right choice, and it probably isn’t the best way to bring harmony with others. If it serves God’s purpose, it may not always be popular, but it should be what’s necessary to build up His people. Christ gave all for us; we can give some for others.
  • Be honest and forgiving. Confrontations must sometimes take place so that a relationship can build stronger ties of trust and respect. Misunderstandings can keep us at arm’s length, not in open conflict but in cold separation. That’s not acceptable. We’re made to work together. Sometimes that means speaking the truth in love, and many times that means asking or extending forgiveness for wrongs. We’ve been forgiven much; we can forgive.
  • Be willing to be wronged. Paul writes to the Corinthians to condemn them for taking disputes to the public courts, doing disservice to the work of the church to shine as a beacon to the world around them. He tells them that their issues could have been resolved in the church walls, and then he asks them, “Wouldn’t it be better to just let yourselves be wronged, and forget it?” Sometimes we just need to choke on some pride and get past a problem instead of fighting for our rights. That doesn’t mean be a doormat, and it never ever justifies abuse or harm. But when it’s a minor snub or a silly argument about unimportant matters, why not cast aside the offense in favor of love and pursuit of God’s purpose? He’s been patient with us; we can be patient with others.
  • What do you think are some other ways to work toward unity in the body? Let me know in a comment.

    Safe Prisons

    Today, for ‘S’, I thought about the title of this blog: Wanton Disregard for Safety. That doesn’t sound sensible, so I thought it good to elaborate.

    There’s an oft-quoted line attributed to Ben Franklin, that “those who would trade liberty for security deserve neither.”

    Certain voices in America are now suggesting that perhaps the Constitution has to change, because we live in a different time than that of our forefathers. Perhaps some of the protections on certain freedoms need to be limited further, because, what else can we do in the face of unexpected and indiscriminate terror attacks on the public? The logic justifies ubiquitous security cameras and intrusive door-to-door searches like that conducted in Boston. It explains the IRS mindset that private e-mails are free sources of information, and calls to mind the recent CISPA measure that passed the House, enabling companies to share private information. Of course, the desire for security informs the gun control debate, as our society tries to balance freedom and the Second Amendment with safety, security, and good common sense about the use and proliferation of weapons.

    Franklin’s quote came up with regularity after the passage of the Patriot Act under President Bush. Those who opposed his administration’s efforts in the War on Terror used the quote to question invasive TSA searches, Guantanamo Bay, indefinite detention, and military tribunals.
    The desire for security is innate and powerful. If not for myself, I wonder how I can better protect my wife, my children, the property I care about, and the free society I love. When something challenges that safety, it’s hard to resist withdrawing behind locked doors, shutting out the dangers of the world, and finding a place of limited peace.

    There’s a spiritual parallel. I believe the opposite of Franklin’s statement is true for the Christian. Those who trade security for liberty find both.

    Many of us have built fortresses to withstand the chaos of life: financial stability, an upwardly mobile career, the all-important protective bubble around our children, the certainty of knowing what will happen next, the not too cold not too hot Goldilocks religion so common in Western Christianity.

    When troubles challenge us and we hide in those man-made places of refuge, we give up the freedom to move, to fully live, to experience the provision of God in the midst of the trial. To guard that security, we become bound to and consumed by the effort of maintaining whatever we’re trusting in. We choose safe prisons and solitary confinement over the presence and protection of the Good Shepherd.

    When we abandon those high safe walls and step out into the world, we are indeed at risk. But that’s where He is, and He’s beckoning for us to come and follow. It’s hard to follow from a fortress that doesn’t move.

    There’s a tale in King David’s time of Eleazar, one of David’s mighty men. At one battle, the people of Israel flee, and only Eleazar remains to stand against the enemy, fighting until his hand can’t even let go of his sword.

    and after him was Eleazar the son of Dodo the Ahohite, one of the three mighty men with David when they defied the Philistines who were gathered there to battle and the men of Israel had withdrawn. He arose and struck the Philistines until his hand was weary and clung to the sword, and the Lord brought about a great victory that day; and the people returned after him only to strip the slain. (2 Samuel 23:9, 10 NASB)

    The second account of the story gives crucial information: Eleazar wasn’t alone. His king stood with him against the enemy.

    After him was Eleazar the son of Dodo, the Ahohite, who was one of the three mighty men. He was with David at Pasdammim when the Philistines were gathered together there to battle, and there was a plot of ground full of barley; and the people fled before the Philistines. They took their stand in the midst of the plot and defended it, and struck down the Philistines; and the Lord saved them by a great victory. (1 Chronicles 11:12-14 NASB)

    In the midst of the confusion, in the harsh realities we face outside our carefully crafted fortresses, we can find security greater than any we can create for ourselves. We encounter “the peace of God, which surpasses comprehension” (Php 4:7). We realize that true liberty is found in the presence of the Lord (2 Cor 3:17).
    That’s why Pastor Saeed can go to a place like Iran and face cruelty and opposition. He knows a freedom that outshines any man-made refuge, one that can’t be stopped by chains or a jail cell. That’s why brave men and women throughout the last two thousand years have been able to forsake all and pour out their lives in service of others, strangers they’ve never known. Some risk all to reach into oppressive regimes in order to meet the spiritual and physical needs of the people. Some spend all they can to minister to those the world calls worthless, to break the chains of modern-day slavery. Some forsake friendships and family ties in order to pursue the life-changing liberty we casually enjoy.

    We have a choice. We can throw a heavy bar across the doors of our lives, closing ourselves off from every danger, shutting the world out and ourselves in – safely imprisoned. Or we can throw wide the doors and charge into the world around us, aware of the dangers but more aware of the opportunities and liberties found in the footsteps of the Savior.

    May we be found on the spiritual field of battle, arms sagging, taking our stand back-to-back with our King.

    Remember

    Still catching up from the lazy weekend. I hope to get S and T tomorrow, thereby getting back on track.

    Saturday was R in the A to Z blog challenge. My ‘R’ is something I believe drives our lifestyle of worship and fuels our desire to chase God’s presence:

    Remember.

    When Jesus speaks to the church of Ephesus, He says, “You’ve forgotten your first love. Remember from where you have fallen; repent and do what you did at first” (Rev 2:4-5).

    In the Old Testament, several times we see the people of God set up stones and altars as markers of remembrance, so that they and their descendants can remember what God did on their behalf.

    In the Psalm 77, we see Asaph lay out a list of trials and troubles. And then he stops and focuses back on God, and writes:

    I shall remember the deeds of the Lord; Surely I will remember Your wonders of old. (Psalms 77:11 NASB)

    From there, his lament turns to praise, his despair to faith in the promise of God.

    Frequently in the Gospel of John, we see the disciples confused by something Jesus said. But John adds the note that “Later they remembered what is written in the Scriptures” or “Later they remembered that Jesus had said these things.”

    Paul writes:

    remember that you were at that time separate from Christ, excluded from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who formerly were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. (Ephesians 2:12, 13 NASB)

    I wrote a piece of prose-poetry a while back that expresses my thoughts as I remember.

    I’ve forgotten what it meant

    that You reached out to the leper.

    You saw the need and You responded.

    I’ve forgotten what it meant that You ignored the condemning cries

    and told the sinner, “Go and sin no more.”

    I’ve forgotten what You came for.

    Sitting with the wicked,

    yet separated by Your virtue…

    I separate myself by venue.

    You reach down into the gutter

    and lift up the one in need.

    I’d be afraid to get dirt on my Sunday best.

    My Christian tie could get ruined.

    And You loved those You saw

    as You traveled by foot from city to city.

    I try not to get caught speeding,

    since someone might see the fish

    or the church bumper sticker on my car.

    Miracles followed You.

    They don’t seem to catch up with me.

    You did all You could

    to make the message known,

    while I get scared someone might ruin

    the gold edge of my Bible as I witness,

    armed with a leather-bound book.

    You were armed with a heart of love,

    and You died innocent between two thieves

    to heal the one who was sick but never knew it.

    I’ve forgotten what it meant

    that You reached out to the leper,

    but now I remember Your touch.

    And though nine others forget,

    I’m coming back to thank You,

    And I’m bringing some of my sick friends.

    Memory fuels worship. Sometimes we need the reminder of where we were to push us once again into pursuit of God.

    What memories inspire or propel you into action in your spirituality? Let me know in a comment.

    Quality Time

    Catching back up to the A to Z blog challenge… I took too much time over the weekend and failed to get Q and R posted. It’s amazing how fast stuff piles up.

    If I don’t make the time for writing, I find I won’t get much done. It’s intentional, a choice, a setting of priorities that I must then carry out.

    Otherwise I find myself scrambling to keep up, or looking back on missed opportunities.

    My daughter turns 14 in June, and my wife and I aren’t quite sure how we feel about that. On the one hand, she has often been so helpful and mature, and on the other hand, we worry she may not be fully prepared for adult life. And of course there’s the fact that as parents, it’s hard to let go.

    Our children grow so fast, but the distractions and trials of life often keep us from noticing the passage of time until it’s too late. Especially when they’re young, but even when they’re older, parents often worry about their relationship with their kids.

    Are we spending enough time with them? Are we getting quality time? Do they know how much we love them?

    One of the hard lessons as a parent is that we can’t make quality time without quantity time. We don’t get to flip the switch and say, “I’ve got ten minutes right now, let’s make it awesome, okay GO. Instant quality.”

    Quality moments happen here and there as we spend a significant amount of time and put forth significant effort to make it as good as it can be.

    The same is true of our relationship with our Father in heaven, isn’t it? I never feel like I’ve really connected when I take five minutes in the morning to glance through a devotion and whisper a prayer. I hardly feel close to God when I forget Him in the daily shuffle and only remember just before bed.

    And just like with kids, greater quantity doesn’t ensure quality unless we put forth effort. I’ve been to prayer meetings and worship services where I come in exhausted. Sitting there half asleep listening to the prayers and songs of others, maybe mumbling an Amen or Yes, Lord… that doesn’t grow my relationship to God.

    Don’t get me wrong, I do believe that just like with fitness, the collection of little things we do all day is more important than some arbitrary measure of ‘devotion.’ Keeping God in mind, staying true to our beliefs, maintaining frequent prayer, and meditating on His Word is – in my experience – more beneficial than trying to read five chapters of the Bible a day or hitting an hour-long prayer goal.

    But there should also be those special moments, as with any relationship, where we take extra time to be together, to grow closer, to learn more about the other party. And that will often only happen when we set aside time.

    We are called upon to seek the Lord, to draw near to Him. He’s taken several steps to reach out to us, hand extended. How we respond determines the quality of our relationship to God.

    We make time for what is important. Our kids see that. Our friends see that. Our spouses or significant others understand it. God is no different in this respect.

    I have to make a quantity of time available, and as I do so, I’m sure to discover a better quality of time. That’s not just my opinion, not just a hope or common sense. It’s His promise.

    “Draw near to God, and He will draw near to you.” – James 4:8

    Perception, Participation

    Have you ever stood in a church service and heard “Thus saith the Lord” — then realized the person speaking isn’t quoting Scripture, but instead is claiming to speak for God?

    One controversial concept in the church today is the subject of prophecy, especially among charismatic churches or those that use the term “Spirit-filled.”

    Different denominations have their own take, of course. That’s kind of the whole point of denominations, isn’t it? To have their own particular take on everything.

    Most mainline denominations claim that prophecy is not for today – as in, “Thus says the Lord: in two years’ time I will do X, Y, and Z.” They look to the Bible as perfect, the complete revelation of God for His people. And they quote 1st Corinthians 13 as their source:

    if there are gifts of prophecy, they will be done away… For we know in part and we prophesy in part; 10 but when the perfect comes, the partial will be done away. (NASB)

    Other denominations, especially any that emphasize being Spirit-filled or using spiritual gifts, will declare that prophecy is alive and well as a gift of God to the church.

    11 And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, 12 for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ; 13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ. (Ephesians 4:11-13 NASB)

    Why, they ask, would we do away with one of the gifts God has given to equip us, to build us up, to help us attain unity and maturity?

    But the key question is, “What is prophecy?” And by answering that, perhaps we can avoid some of the denominational debates.

    Prophecy comes from a combination of Greek words “pro” – before or forward, and “phemi” – to speak one’s mind. So it can be “fore-telling” what will happen in the future known to God but revealed to man. But it can also be “forth-telling” or speaking forward the mind of God on a given matter. This latter version of “prophecy” is what I want to focus on.

    He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. (Rev 2:7 NASB)

    God is a communicator. We are promised that His people hear His voice and follow Him. (John 10:27-30). Certainly there’s an individual application to that, where we each seek God and He speaks to us in our relationship with Him. But there can also be a corporate aspect to it, where God provides His insights to our church leaders and members in order to guide His people in the world today.

    Paul lays out lots of specific guidance for how prophecy works in the Body in 1st Corinthians 12 and 14, and we see the concept of hearing God all throughout Scripture.

    For me, prophecy comes down to two things: perception, and participation.

    First we need to see what God is doing, to hear what He is saying, to figure out where He is moving. We can’t speak forth the mind of God on any given matter without getting in line with Him. That’s where perception comes in. “Perception is reality” is a stretch, but the fact is we respond to what we perceive. So we have to catch a glimpse of God in order to start the process of responding to Him. For example, consider this comment about the tribe of Issachar:

    the sons of Issachar, men who understood the times, with knowledge of what Israel should do (1st Chronicles 12:32 NASB).

    Second, once we see where God is moving and hear what God is saying, we act. We join Him, and do His will. We participate. Maybe that means a particular brand of outreach, or a timely response to a crisis. Maybe it’s a unique solution to an ongoing problem in our community. Whatever it is, the goal of the people of God is not just to hear the voice of their Shepherd, but to act on that voice and follow Him.

    27 My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me. (John 10:27 NASB)

    Certainly, denominations will have their debates and their differences. But as individuals and as corporate churches, we can incorporate this understanding of “prophecy” into our worship and our devotion to God. We want to perceive what He is saying, and then we want to participate in what He is doing in the world around us.

    Regardless of denomination, regardless of preferred expression of worship, we believe in a living God who speaks to His people – through the Scriptures, through personal devotion and prayer, through the songs we sing, through individual Christians and through the corporate church.

    God is speaking. As those who wish to pursue Him, we must have our eyes and ears attentive, and our feet ready to follow.

    So, I’m curious: Knowing that each of His children has a unique individual relationship to Him, how do you find it easiest to hear God? In what ways does He most often communicate to you?

    Owned

    In thinking about various aspects of worship, I came to what I believe is the most important:

    Our worship must be our own.

    Trust in Him at all times, o people; Pour out your heart before Him; God is a refuge for us. Psalm 62:8 NASB

    Since I’ve been recovering from foot surgery, my wife has been driving me to work, so she has been picking me up for lunch each day. We’ve been enjoying the rare treat of time together during my work day, and we’ve been going out to lunch. I saw very quickly how daily visits to fast food franchises have been affecting my diet and my wallet. Sure, I can make decent choices and save some money or some calories. But the fact is, eating out every day is not the most wholesome and healthy option.

    It’s so different from selecting my own ingredients, preparing each item or dish to my liking, adding in spices to match my personal taste.

    So too when I sit down to worship – whether with worship music (David Crowder’s “After All” and Hillsong’s “Alive in Us” are playing in my ears as I type) or with Bible study resources.  How much of my worship comes pre-packaged and processed for me? How much is coming from my own heart responding to the Gospel and the God of grace?

    Imagine giving Hallmark cards to your significant other, but when they open the card, there’s no personal note, no signature, no explanation. Just the poem or joke or pretty words provided by the company. How much would that touch someone’s heart?

    Resources are great. The huge variety of worship music is a blessing, and the vast array of Bible study tools is helpful, no doubt about it. But these are tools that should propel my own response to God, not take the place of it.

    When we worship in church, do we ever take time to use our own words? Chris Tomlin, Matt Redman, and Jared Anderson are all amazing songwriters who can capture the heart of a message in a thought-provoking song, no doubt. But those words are theirs, written for our benefit and use, but still theirs.

    How do we make it our own?

    Consider the following:

    In Bible study or devotional reading, we can set aside the commentaries and articles sometimes, and go to the God who speaks through His Word. Ask, “What does this passage reveal to me about You? What does it say about how I should live for You?” Pray for the Spirit to illuminate the meaning beneath the surface text.

    In singing and meditating on music, the songs of others are a fabulous starting point. Can those inspire us to sing or pray our own additions, our own experiences put into words? For example, the current popular song One Thing Remains can call to mind specific trials and ‘mountains’ of mine, and give me the opportunity to cast those cares upon Him in light of His unfailing love.

    In prayer, we may have specific structured methods or even liturgical and rote prayers, but these are likewise starting points that help us get out into the depths. Maybe it’s the Lord’s Prayer, maybe it’s an ACTS model (Adoration Confession Thanksgiving Supplication), maybe it’s something else. Whatever it is, I don’t want to stop there. I want to go further, to make my prayer time my own.

    At one point, King David wants to make a sacrifice to God. He goes to make an offering, and the owner says, “Here you go, it’s yours, o King.” David says no, and purchases the items. His justification? “I will not offer burnt offerings to the Lord my God which cost me nothing” (2 Sam 24:24 NASB).

    It’s a little bit more costly to take the time to personalize our worship, but the expression of love and the experience of love in return proves well worth the price.

    How else can we personalize our time with God? Drop a comment with your suggestions.