“As for God, His way is perfect; the word of the Lord is flawless. He is a shield for all who take refuge in Him. For who is God besides the Lord? And who is the Rock except our God? It is God who arms me with strength and makes my way perfect. He makes my feet like the feet of a deer; he enables me to stand on the heights. He trains my hands for battle; my arms can bend a bow of bronze. You give me your shield of victory; you stoop down to make me great. You broaden the path beneath me, so that my ankles do not turn.”
2 Samuel 22:31-37
Is it just me, or are things kind of difficult right now? I mean, global jihad is enough to mess up your day, but what about all the other things you have to deal with right here at home? Kids, work, health issues, money, marriage, keeping the yard looking better than the neighbors – the list is endless of things that have to be managed every day. And then, there’s ministry! If you’re like me, you can feel pretty overwhelmed sometimes just doing what has to be done and preparing to minister to other busy people often takes a back seat. Well, when life starts to swallow us whole and we feel that all-too-familiar sinking feeling - you know, the one that is accompanied by a loud gasping noise as you go down for the third time - it’s time to remember that God has provided an answer for us in worship.
Jack Hayford wrote in his book Worship His Majesty (Regal Books) that “Worship is to God, but for man.” God deserves and demands the worship because He alone is worthy, but we’re the ones who benefit from worship – it doesn’t alter His worthiness in the least for us to worship Him or not. That singular phrase has helped me to understand worship, and its personal benefits, like no other phrase I have ever read.
Many worship leaders struggle with how worship works and get caught up in the mechanics of corporate celebration, completely losing sight of the personal power of worship and why it works the way that it works. Worship is first personal, then corporate – if it’s not working for us as individuals, it doesn’t work for us as churches and corporate gatherings. That’s why worship is so exciting when we go to worship conferences – everyone there is a dedicated worshiper and the corporate expression and energy is thrilling! Conversely, many of our churches are filled with apathetic Christians who do not practice worship throughout their work week, so corporate worship on Sundays is often dull and flat. The worship leaders and the preachers are often blamed for what is really the responsibility of the persons in the pews. If we could more effectively transmit this message – that worship has personal benefits – I believe we could turn our churches into dynamic places of worship and incredible spiritual power!
Toward that end, here are three things we need to be telling our people about worship. They are simple but powerful tools for energizing personal worship that will have direct and powerful results in corporate worship. And, worship leader friend, instead of looking for the next trick to make you the coolest worship leader, I encourage you to practice these principles to unleash worship’s true benefit and power in your own life.
ONE: Worship as Remembering. I know that we often describe worship as relationship in an attempt to distinguish it from dead religion. This is good. We need relationship. But there are many people with whom I have relationship, but no contact. I’m still related to some people who have died, even though we have no contact (I’m not that weird!). The relationship is intact whether or not we have communication, so relationship itself isn’t what makes worship bring benefit to my life – it’s the contact, the communion, the communication of power and love and grace and peace and truth that emanates from a connection with God that works. Sometimes we have to remember to activate the relationship. Marriage is like that sometimes – the romance can grow a little cold until one partner or the other remembers to do something nice for the other like bring home flowers or clean the kitchen – then the romance is reignited and passion can flame once again. The couple is no less married, even in times of relational struggle, but is not blessed by the relationship and benefiting from it.
King David, of course, understood and rehearsed this truth often in his life. In Psalm 103:1-5, David writes it succinctly for us: “Praise the Lord, O my soul; all my inmost being, praise His holy name. Praise the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all His benefits – who forgives all your sins and heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from the pit and crowns you with love and compassion, who satisfies your desires with good things so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.”
Notice that remembering is an act of worship that calls up to mind the benefits of the Lord to us – he forgives, heals, redeems, crowns, satisfies, and renews – but we can miss it by not remembering it! David says “forget not” which is the same as saying “remember,” so remembering God’s benefits to us is in itself an act of worship that taps into His power source for living right now. It is contact with truth. It is contact with power. It is contact with God Himself and allows all the benefits to flow to you – stop and remember as worship now. Next, find ways to remind your congregation to do the same thing – take a little time each day to remember as worship!
TWO: Worship as Recitation. It seems like David was always surrounded by enemies and people out to get him. Poor guy! There he was -- the anointed King of Israel, the one who blessed the nation like no other king in its history, the one who brought back God’s ark to Jerusalem -- yet he fought battle after battle, conflict after conflict with the enemies of the throne, the nation, and Yahweh, the God of Israel. David was a man of worship and a man of war. Along with remembering the benefits of the Lord, David understood that reciting them out loud was a crucial element in receiving them. We’ve already quoted Psalm 103 where David was stirring up his own soul to recall the benefits of the Lord, but what we should not miss is that David recited these blessings out loud. I can just imagine the lavish halls of the king’s palace filled with the praises of Yahweh as David wandered from room to room and throughout the royal residence shouting and singing God’s benefits! It isn’t always enough to think about the benefits, though that’s a great start – sometimes we’ve got to shout them out at the top of our lungs to begin to sense the faith rising within us again to claim them for our own!
Just the other day I was in my car driving somewhere and I was meditating on this principle. I started speaking out the benefits of God in my life. It started kind of softly and then took on more and more force until I was literally shouting loudly the promises of God to me – I am blessed as I come in, blessed as I go out, God’s son, His anointed and appointed minister, blessed in my finances, blessed as a father, blessed as a husband, able to steward well all that God has entrusted to me, and on and on – louder and louder until I was actually sounding like the most powerful Pentecostal preacher you’ve ever heard! There was a kind of violence to my proclamation as I claimed for myself all that God has said is mine in Christ. I was blessed as I remembered and recited these truths. The benefits of speaking the Word out loud are evident throughout the Bible – Jesus is called “the high priest of our confession” in Hebrews – and Romans 10:17 says that “faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God” – our own faith is built as we literally hear the word, whether it’s coming from our own mouths or someone else’s.
Jesus said in Matthew 12: 34 “… out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks…” Our confession, the words that we speak each day, is a reflection of what’s going on in our hearts. If we’re mulling over and meditating on the works of the Lord, remembering as worship, then our words will reflect the benefits of the Lord and not fear, doubt, and unbelief. This is no “good luck charm” or talisman that wards off evil and makes everything go our way – quite the contrary. What remembering and reciting as worship does for us is keeps us in the flow of God’s wisdom and blessing despite our circumstances and problems. Jesus also said in John 16:33 “In this world you shall have tribulation. But be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.” In His overcoming, we overcome – but not if we’re not remembering and reciting. This is how we overcome through worship – we remember that He has overcome death, hell, and the grave, and we recite to ourselves and to others these truths daily. Dr. Robert Webber in Worship Is a Verb calls this “rehearsing the Christ event,” and that is literally what we do in individual and corporate worship – we remember, recite, and rehearse the death and resurrection of Christ for us and we benefit! The point is not that we escape suffering anymore than Jesus did on the cross. The point is that we step into His victory in the midst of the worst suffering imaginable.
Paul also refers to this principle in Colossians 3:16 when he writes “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God.” We remember, recite, and rehearse truth and respond in worship as we speak to ourselves and to one another the word of Christ.
THREE: Worship as Refuge. David, Jesus, and the Apostle Paul all knew the secret of worship as refuge. David, in the quote above from 2nd Samuel, called Yahweh his shield. Jesus said in Matthew 5:11-12 “Blessed are you when men revile you and persecute you and say all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad for your reward is great in heaven.” And Paul wrote in Colossians 3: 1-3 “Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God.” There is a place of refuge in God that involves our remembering and our direct involvement with it intentionally. There is a supernatural place, if you will, of refuge in God when we need it. It’s not a place where we are taken out of the sufferings of the world, but a place where we find indescribable peace and joy in the midst of trials and sufferings.
In 2nd Corinthians 4:17-18, Paul put it this way “This slight momentary affliction is preparing for us am eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, because we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen, for the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.” SO, this refuge, then, is a process of focusing our hearts, minds, priorities, affections, goals, and value on that which is eternal in God and not on what is passing away in this world. The refuge is knowledge of the truth, yes, but it also has a dynamic, active, and present component in the presence of Christ in our lives by the gift of the Holy Spirit. When we remember, recite, and take refuge in worship, His tender presence comforts us, hides us (Col. 3), and enables us to tap into and receive a blessedness, a weight of glory, that cannot be understood by carnal minds who only focus on this world for reward.
One of the most prominent elements of armor is the shield. Shields are the largest pieces of armor and can measure several feet in length and height. The purpose of a shield is to deflect spears, rocks, or other missiles hurled at the soldier in combat. David, as a mighty man of war, understood the use of shields and referred to Yahweh in many places as his shield and buckler (a much smaller version of a shield used in hand to hand combat). The metaphor of God as a shield shows up in the Bible as early as Genesis 15:1 when God promised to be Abram’s “…shield, your very great reward.” David called God his shield, stronghold, refuge, savior, and the horn of his salvation in various places throughout his writings.
There are a couple of points not to miss in these references. One, we are engaged in combat throughout this life. Two, God is metaphorically and practically our shield and protector in the battles we face. The concept of God as our shield is important when you know that shields were always decorated with symbols – these symbols indicated the person’s dignity, rank, title, jurisdiction and more. To this day, a coat of arms is an important family tradition for royalty and for the military. A king’s coat of arms bears the prominence and power of the royal family, for instance. When David says that Yahweh is his shield, he is indicating and acknowledging that he marches under the banner of Almighty God, the Creator of All That Exists, the One Supreme Being of the Universe – God Himself. God’s armor, His shield, bears the name of God and all that it implies! It’s no wonder then that Nahum 1:5 says “The mountains quake before Him, The hills melt, And the earth heaves at His presence, Yes, the world and all who dwell in it.” God is our shield – the ultimate protection. Paul elaborates on this theme in Ephesians 6 when he exhorts us to “take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one.”
We worship by remembering. We worship by reciting what we remember. We find refuge as we enter that secret place of belonging to the One who shields us from the fiery darts of the wicked one and the trials of this life. We exercise faith to enter this place – worship is an exercise of faith as we choose to ascribe to the Lord the glory due His name and not to worship the transient possessions of this world. God bless you as you find your refuge in Him this week!
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