Tag Archives: Prayer

PERSONAL MERIT & HOLY WORSHIP?! MAY IT NEVER BE …

Exodus 37:9b ~ “… The faces of the cherubim were toward the mercy seat. …”
This morning, let us think carefully about what we are doing here, right now, within holy worship. What I mean is: What do you think you are doing ~ for God? Let us consider some of the many activities which religious people have performed, in the supposed attempt to merit God’s favor, even though the design of each activity was to teach them of the necessity of God’s unmerited grace.
In Old Testament times, God’s people were highly engaged with sacrifices, feasts, and sacraments:
1. Sacrifices, like those offered on the annual Day of Atonement. How remarkable ~ if it ever happened (!) ~ that a Jew could stand near the Tabernacle or Temple, as the high priest would sprinkle a portion of the blood sacrifice onto him, symbolizing that worshiper’s need to have his own fresh sins covered through the death of another creature. And yet … even while the blood was being applied to him, that worshiper might have been imagining: “What a godly, spiritual person I am, for having bothered to show up at Jerusalem this year” … and counting up how many favors God owed to him for the coming farming season! We could extend this realistic possibility to what similar “worshipers” were thinking about as that same high priest laid his hands on the two goats …
2. Feasts, like the Passover. Again, each family was much involved with blood, this time slaying their own unblemished lamb, and spreading its covering blood onto their doorposts, so that the death this family deserved would be paid symbolically by another creature. And yet, pride of annual performance could often leak in.
3. Sacraments, like circumcision … the very act itself depicting and symbolizing the necessary cutting away of our sinful flesh ~ what we are as fallen humanity ~ a removal of that inborn offense, replaced with full dependence on spiritual help from God. And yet, we know that more racial and personal pride surrounded the circumcision ritual than any other aspect of Jewish life.
Are we New Testament Christians immune from this field of problems? Hardly! Professing believers are very busy about formal worship, Bible reading, the prayers, … and (again) sacraments (in our case, reduced to two ~ Baptism & the Lord’s Supper):
1. Our formal worship. Your presence at New Sabbath services (I trust?!) indicates your heart conviction that we very much need God, His favor, and His means of grace. Yet church attendance, famously, is often a point of personal, comparative pride.
2. Bible reading. How much we need a word from the Lord ~ even more than we need physical bread. And yet, it is way too easy for me to check off my DAILY BIBLE READING RECORD, and then imagine I have maneuvered God into my debt.
3. Prayer. What is genuine, spiritual petition ~ but a confession of faith, of sin, of trust, and of absolute neediness?! And yet this act (too often) is counted by nominal (in-name-only) and disobedient Christians as, somehow, meritorious.
4. Sacraments, like Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. Baptism (akin to circumcision) is to symbolize my need to be washed clean of sin. Though it is properly performed one time on each believer, this cleansing picture applies to a lifetime of sin, all of it needing coverage by that liquid which is stronger than water. The Supper is the repeating sacrament; some of us will enjoy hundreds of celebrations. Each one is to remind us of our need for continuous feeding and life-power from outside the self. And yet, like our Old Covenant counterparts, New Testament saints are too quick to count up what our God owes to us for our sacramental observances.
How much better, my faithful (faith-filled), gracious (grace-bought), merciful (mercy-driven) brothers and sisters ~ to be taught by the Lord through all these means of His blessing and grace, concerning:
1. our personal unworthiness (even our counter-merit) as considered on our own, by ourselves.
2. the absolute and infinite worth of Jesus (the righteous, faithful, worthy One).
3. our inclusion in, union with, and dependence upon Jesus Christ, for any good thing. This is the gospel ~ and what it means to live by faith in the Son of God.
There are a few ways in which we can and should emulate the angels. God has given us this picture in His word about the construction of the wilderness Tabernacle and the design of the Ark of the Covenant within it (see the Exodus 37 reference above). On the top of the Ark, God instructed that the angelic figures should be fashioned to gaze intently at the mercy seat (also known as the atonement cover). This is where satisfaction for Israel’s sin was symbolically made, and where Yahweh said He would meet with His people through their appointed high priest. Jesus Christ, of course, is our Atonement, our Great High Priest, the effective Cause of God’s mercy toward us. Let us follow the angelic gaze, looking to Christ on the basis of blood-bought mercy, and not to any supposed worth in ourselves for ritual compliance or anything else.

The Kind of Revival We Need

 (Worship Meditation … April of 2014)

 … Now for a brief moment favor has been shown by the Lord to leave us a remnant and to give us a secure hold within His holy place, that our God may brighten our eyes and grant us a little reviving in our slavery.  For we are slaves, yet our God has not forsaken us in our slavery, but has extended to us His steadfast love before the kings of Persia, to grant us some reviving to set up the house of our God, to repair its ruins, and to give us protection in Jerusalem. … The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul; the testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple. … You who seek the Lord, let your hearts revive. … You who made me see many troubles and calamities will revive me again.  From the depths of the earth You will bring me up again. … Will You not revive us again, that Your people may rejoice in You? … Thus says the One who is high and lifted up, who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy:  “I dwell in the high and holy place, and also with him who is of a contrite and lowly spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly, and to revive the heart of the contrite.” … O Lord, I have heard the report of You, and Your work, O Lord, do I fear.  In the midst of the years revive it; in the midst of the years make it known.  In wrath remember mercy.  [Ezra 9:8-9; Psalms 19:7; 69:32; 71:20; 85:6; Isaiah 57:15; Habakkuk 3:2]

I mentioned before that this year, some of the most conservative evangelical pastors in Lawrence are giving attention to the topic of revival, agreeing on this basic and obvious point, that if we do not know what revival really is, then it is hard to know what we are asking for, it will be impossible to recognize if the Lord has said “yes” to our cries, and (shall we humbly admit together that, maybe) if we find out what revival really is, we may not want it (full strength)?!

That should have occurred to us, as Bible Christians, because in the Holy Scriptures, there are a number of encounters between the holy God and impure humans, and we know how those meetings turn out!  Far from being a happy and pleasant experience ~ an adding of a bit more joy and power to an otherwise good life … it is quite devastating in a way that is ultimately necessary, enlivening, saving, killing, healing, sanctifying, and strengthening.

The more famous saying is, “Be careful when you pray for patience” (because God will send trials).  So here, take care as you pray for revival, for it will truly disrupt your world and life as you know it.  That said, we must prove to be true disciples, who will declare to Jesus Himself as He asks if there are other options we would like to explore:  “No, for You alone have the words of eternal life!”  That gets to the real meaning of revival, with the root “viv” à life, from what was dead.

So please join me and us, in praying for this life, this revival, not blindly but sincerely, asking like David for that one thing, to know God’s presence, even if it burns away all that used to matter.  God is free to send, or to withhold, His special seasons of revival and renewal, but in the history of revivals recorded in the Bible or after, no revival came without genuine repentance on the part of God’s people, for their own failings first.  Then seek the Lord, according to His word.