I have been meditating on worship this week and the question my pastor asked last Sunday, “Where does worship come from?” Worship is a response to who God is and what He has done; clearly it is initiated by Him. Yet worship is more than initiated by God; it is powered by Him. God is not only the reason we worship and the object of that worship; but through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit He gives us the power, desire and ability to worship.
Although worship flows from His heart to ours and then through the power of the Spirit is able to flow back to Him again; we are not merely casual observers in this process. Electrical power flows into our homes from an outside source but we still need to flip the switch to benefit from its presence. So it is with worship; it flows into our hearts by the power of the Spirit and then with our words and actions we respond to who He is by lifting our hearts, our hands, and our eyes to heaven as we speak forth His praise (we flip the switch). Yet our worship is not only a response to who He is; it is a response to what He has done for us, which fills us with thanksgiving (“…enter His gates with thanksgiving and enter His courts with praise.”). And it is in response to why He has done it, which fills us with awe; because it is the “why” that gives us our identity and purpose. It is the reason for creation and the cross, the Law and the Prophets, the birth of a nation and the death of a Savior…it is the love of a Father for His children. It is not only who He is but also who we are because of Him that fills us with thanksgiving and praise.
However, just like our homes, power can be interrupted; an appliance breaks down, a switch fails or we can choose to sit in the dark. Yet, in all these instances the power is always there…always available for use. With all this divine power in abundant flow to us; God must have made provision to keep it flowing uninterrupted through us…a way to keep the worship “burning”. Indeed He has; it is through the power of the testimony.
First, there is the testimony of scripture. Even though I am sure that most believers accept the fact that: “All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, and for instruction in righteousness.” (2Timothy 3:16); either consciously or unconsciously we approach the scriptures as someone else’s history. However, the testimony of any brother or sister at any point in history is the testimony of every brother and sister throughout history. The Bible is not merely the history of a people; it is the history of our people. They are not just wonderful and amazing stories of biblical characters; they are family stories we recount to one another whenever the family gets together. Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob are our ancestors as well. Moses crossing the Red Sea through divided waters, Joshua’s miraculous victory at Jericho, David building a nation in war, Solomon ruling a nation at peace, Jehosaphat’s fight to defend the kingdom, Nehemiah’s crusade to rebuild it, the arrival of the prophets, the coming of the Messiah, Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Peter, Paul, Timothy…these are our people; their stories are our stories. The miracles, the defeats, the victories, slavery in Egypt, freedom in Canaan, salvation born in a cave in Bethlehem; these are all in the family scrapbook, all part of our family history. In other words, their testimonies are our testimonies. And there is power in these testimonies if we determine to view them as the treasured family stories that they are and recount them as often as we have opportunity. When we declare what God has done, power is released to make that testimony happen again in the lives of those who hear it. If you are someone who feels like you haven’t experienced much of the miraculous in your life, you need to remember that you possess every story of God as your own.
Perhaps you number yourself among those who find these testimonies a little intimidating. Maybe you are telling yourself, “If this is my family tree then the family is devolving. I don’t measure up. God couldn’t possibly use me like that.” Well, let’s have a look…shall we? Adam failed to take responsibility for his own actions and Eve was easily deceived and both were disobedient, Noah got drunk and exposed himself when he passed out, Abraham was impatient and Sarah was unbelieving, Jacob cheated his brother out of his inheritance and his sons sold their brother into slavery, Moses stuttered and was a murderer, his brother Aaron built a golden idol to worship, Samson was a womanizer, David was an adulterer and a murderer, Elijah ran for his life from Jezebel in spite of witnessing the power of God on Mt Carmel, and Jonah was a whiner. And Jesus’ own disciples…Peter was hot-tempered, Thomas was a doubter, James and John were prideful and ambitious, Matthew was a tax-collector, and Paul was a mass murderer of Christians. Trust me; if He could use them, he can use you. The testimony we are to spread abroad…the family stories we should be ever-ready to share are about Him not us. The great works and miracles that were done through this highly flawed line-up is proof that it is not the perfect and mighty but the humble and willing that He commissions to be His world-changers and the standard-bearers of the testimony. And now they stand ready to pass it on to you. Are you ready to be a bearer of the testimony? Will you be a declarer of the person and purpose of God? Will you allow the power of the testimony to power your worship? However, be forewarned…once you turn this spigot on, it is very hard to shut-off again.
This leads us to our second testimony; the testimony of our own lives. We have established that the testimony of scripture is part of every believer’s family history and that there is power and blessing that can flow from keeping this testimony. Yet, we each have personal testimonies that need to be remembered and recounted; times when God “invaded” our world with personal healing, financial provision, miraculous intervention or supernatural wisdom and knowledge. The entire social and family life of Israel was one built on repetition of testimony (Duet. 6). They were told to recount it to each other and to their children morning and night, before bed and upon rising, when they went out and when they came back. Stone piles dotted the land as memorials to a particular act of God in a particular place. Both were keeping the testimony and both served as reminders and connectors; connected the people to their God, to each other, and generation to generation. By constantly repeating the testimonies, they set their hope in God and fixed their minds on Him; growing in thanksgiving and worship. As long as they remembered what God had said and done, they moved in faith and experienced victory. However, when they forsook the testimony they “turned back.”
The children of Ephraim, being armed and carrying bows, turned back in the day of battle. They kept not the covenant of God, and refused to walk in his law; and forgot his works, and his wonders that he had showed them. (Psalm 78:9-11)
We humans have the exceptional but unfortunate ability to forget what we do not actively seek to remember. If we fail to share and recount certain events and occurrences in our daily lives they have a tendency to pass into obscurity; even the most extraordinary and miraculous things. The less we keep these testimonies in our conversation and minds, the less we expect to see the miraculous; the less we experience the miraculous, the less we have to talk about. And so it spirals ever downward until it becomes a dream you can’t quite remember.
I remember a time when I was about sixteen years old. I was driving with my buddies on a rain-soaked road way too fast. When I came to the corner the car went out of control; traveling through a wooded area and into a small pond. None of us were hurt but as I waded to shore I checked out the path our car had taken through the woods. What I discovered amazed me. Two giant oaks stood side by side several feet apart; paint from the driver’s door on one and paint from the passenger’s door on the other. It was as if God guided our car like thread through a needle. Years later I was working on a two-story salt-box home in a near-by town. I was working by myself and there was nobody home. I was at the top of a 32’ ladder leaning against a house that was built on the edge of a rock cliff with a 40’ drop. I was trying to put a nail in a shingle when the left foot of my ladder slipped off the blocks I had put under it to level the ladder. As the ladder slid down the “rake” of the roof, I quickly found myself above the roofline with nothing to grab but the ladder. I called out to Jesus but I knew it was over. I was heading for a 70’ fall and there was nothing to stop me. Suddenly, just as the ladder was picking up speed, it stopped. It was at about a 30 to 35 degree angle, so shaking all over I gingerly made my way to the ground. When I regained control of my bodily functions I reset the ladder and went back up to see what saved my life. There was nothing; no nail sticking out, no protruding board or shingle…nothing that could cause a 32' ladder to stop. The ladder had actually been picking up speed. It was at almost a 40 degree angle. And it just stopped?! What had just happened was impossible. Unless…. I recounted these stories in a piece I wrote years ago; but in the forty years since these events I have sadly failed to keep the testimony of those days. As a result I forgot that the miraculous is all around me. I began to complain about its absence; then I began to covet other people’s testimonies until finally I began to doubt that miracles were available to me at all. And as my testimony failed so did my worship to the author of that testimony.
Failing to keep the testimony not only makes us forget who God is, but who we are. Like Israel, the only thing that distinguishes believers from the rest of the world is the reality that God is active among us. If we don’t know where we came from, we won’t know where we’re going or how to get there. We must learn to keep the testimony. Keeping the testimony sets our hearts and minds on the truest of realities; who God is and who we are in His eyes. It is the testimony that helps us remember we are who we are because of His great love for us; a reality that will infect our worship with a holy contagion. And as we tell it forth we allow ourselves to succumb to the thanksgiving and praise that wells-up inside us until it explodes outward in an eruption of joy.
Worship like that, even from ones as flawed as us can easily become an epidemic.