Friday, February 20, 2009

Preparing for Easter

I have great cousins. Another one put this youtube video on his Facebook site. When I viewed it, the Easter season was ushered in for me. Hope you enjoy it too.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

P.S. to Heights of Delight

Just after posting Heights of Delight I opened my e-mail and found a message from my cousin with the following website. I listened and experienced the conscious presence of God. It brought tears of true worship to my eyes.


Heights of Delight

In Heights of Delight, Dick Eastman describes three levels of awareness of the presence of God. The first, which he calls “God’s intellectual presence,” is simply the logical recognition that God is omnipresent, and therefore He is here. Though this awareness depends on faith, the faith is in factual claims and the faith, itself, is simply an unemotional acknowledgement of the facts.

The second, “God’s conscious presence,” has the added impact of a sense, or a feeling of God’s presence. It may come out of a conscious intellectual recognition of the fact of God’s omnipresence, but it also involves the emotions and a spiritual, almost mystical discernment of some kind.

The third is “God’s manifest presence,” which Eastman says is “far more intense,” and often results in an obvious movement of God’s Spirit and observable transformations in the lives of many individuals. He cites the miraculous movement of God’s Holy Spirit over cities and nations at the beginning of spiritual awakenings as an example of the manifest presence of God.

The intellectual awareness of God’s presence produces worship through gritted teeth. “Lord, I don’t sense your presence but I choose to worship you because I know you are real and I know you are here, intellectually.” Job’s declaration of faith in God’s goodness is an example of this level of awareness.

The manifest presence of God happens in snippets in our daily lives, interrupting the more mundane intellectual awareness with hiccups and burps that are sometimes so brief we fail to appreciate them. I know I’ve seen the manifest presence of God in the classroom, when the door suddenly opens to a subject of discussion and I can almost see God walk in and sit down on the edge of the desk beside me. For a few moments I’m able to lead kids into that God-space, sometimes with no direct mention of Him, and I know He is doing things of eternal value on some level in their lives.

But the awareness level I long for the most is the conscious presence of God. I remember a time when it came regularly, in my quiet time or in worship on Sunday mornings. It often brought tears to my eyes and my heart soared with love for Him. I haven’t felt that lately. I’m not sure why, but I want it back. That hunger is what has driven me on this journey toward spiritual renewal.

Tozer regularly experienced worship at this conscious level of awareness of God. For Tozer, to worship was

. . . to be filled with moral excitement. To be captivated and charmed and entranced with who God is, and struck with astonished wonder at the inconceivable elevation and magnitude and splendour of Almighty God. . .To love God with fear and wonder and yearning and awe.

In fact, Tozer defines worship much more narrowly than I did in my previous post. According to Tozer, worship cannot happen at the intellectual level of awareness of God’s presence.

I want to define worship, and here is where I want to be dogmatic. Worship means “to feel in the heart.” A person that merely goes through the form and does not feel anything is not worshipping.

Hmm. Is he right? If so, then Job’s declarations of faith through gritted teeth would not be considered worship, even though they were highly appropriate recognitions of the greatness and sovereignty of God.

Dick Eastman says of Tozer that “worship was his life.” Tozer is an expert. I have to take his strong statements about worship seriously. So I am driven on in my sense that something is still missing in my experience of God.

This post completes my series on spiritual renewal. I haven’t arrived at the end of my journey but I feel I need to move ahead, away from the process of renewal and closer to the Object of worship. I end here with the following determinations:

1) I will focus, from here on out, on God, the true means and end of renewal;
2) I will wait patiently for worship to happen in my heart. I will not attempt to contort myself into a worshipful attitude or manufacture it synthetically, but will trust God to move me into this level of awareness of His presence and the true worship that must surely come as a result.
3) I will assume this hunger has been put into my heart by God, Himself, and therefore I will expect Him to satisfy it in His own time and way.

Thank you for being with me on this journey. It’s strange, but I’ve been comforted to feel that some of you are listening and that my yearnings have been resonating with you. It has made the journey feel less lonely, and it has also given me a kind of sounding board for my thoughts that I wouldn’t have had if this had been only a personal journal. So you, whoever you are, wherever you are, have been a blessing to me. May God bless you in return.

I promised you a list of the sources of the Tozer quotes I’ve been using. You’ll find them in the side bar to the left. Many of them are probably out of print but might be researchable if you want to explore them further.

I will be posting again if you’d like to stick around. I’m just not too sure which fork of the road ahead I’ll follow. I don’t think I’m entirely through with Tozer. I’ve run into some hard sayings of his that I want to wrestle with a bit. I’d also like to express some thoughts on the Bible, the ultimate source of our knowledge of God.

I might go down both forks, since the journey is probably at least as important as arriving at the destination in good time. At any rate, your company will always be welcome, wherever I go.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Worship Through Gritted Teeth

I’ve said that worship comes naturally if we’re in the conscious presence of God. But what if it doesn’t? What if we go through all the steps, from submission to obedience, and we still don’t “feel” worship? Is something wrong? Is worship a feeling? Or is it, like love, sometimes simply a choice or an act?

Could the process of drawing near to God, itself, be worship? Maybe we’ve already been doing it? I want the feelings. I want joy alongside the worship. But maybe it doesn’t always have to be there. Some of the most moving expressions of worship in the Bible are spoken out of great trial. In the midst of his suffering, Job says of God: Though he slay me, yet will I hope in Him.* He had to have been saying that through gritted teeth. He was in pain.

The pain that might have robbed his worship of joy came from three sources, and we experience the same in our lives.

First, Job suffered physical pain. When our bodies are afflicted, pain demands our attention. God knows what that’s like. When Christ was on the cross, bewilderment overcame Him and He cried out to God. The cry wasn’t worship. If we are physically or emotionally ailing, we won’t necessarily feel joy, and acute pain can rob us of the ability to worship for a time. That’s okay. We’re allowed to be human. The good thing about acute pain is that it won’t last. Both joy and worship will.

Job’s pain also came from the Enemy. Satan afflicted Him. We often underestimate Satan’s involvement in our lives. He is the great joy-robber. If our hearts are right with God and yet we feel oppressed with a heaviness that keeps us from delighting in God’s goodness, we need to suspect Satan’s involvement. He uses oppression to immobilize us. But Satan’s affliction is also always temporary. The cross was Satan’s plan to defeat the Creator, but God turned the plan around and used it to destroy the Enemy. He will do the same in our lives if we trust Him.

Perhaps the hardest source of pain to understand is God, Himself. Job’s pain was allowed by God, and God did nothing to make it easier on him. Is God good? Yes. All the time. Pain is like fire. It can do good things to us. God can use it, as He did with Job, to stretch our faith, to develop our longing, and to lead us into a deeper understanding of Himself. God brings great good out of our pain when we submit to Him in it.

So what do we do when pain robs us of joy in worship?

It’s fine to seek relief from physical pain, if we can get it. Pain relievers are God’s buffers to keep the pain from being more than we can bear. But sometimes we just need to let it happen and wait for it to pass.

If the pain is demonically inspired, we need to speak out against it in Jesus’ Name and in the power of the Holy Spirit. Exercising authority over Satan by faith in Jesus’ Name sometimes dispels the darkness immediately, and joy rushes in to fill the void it has left.

If God has brought the pain, the only answer is to wait for His deliverance. It will come. He does not leave us in pain longer than we can bear, and the pain He allows always refines us.

But no matter how we deal with the pain, we need to determine, like Job, to remain committed to worship. Through gritted teeth if necessary. The joy will come, in the end—joy much larger than the size of the grief. God always rewards abundantly when we suffer in submission to Him.

The Psalmist says: Weeping may endure for the night, but joy comes in the morning.** Knowing this should help me worship with an open mouth instead of through gritted teeth.

We can afford to suffer now; we'll have a long eternity to enjoy ourselves.

* Job 13:15
** Psalm 30:5