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Worshipping the Lord
In his book, The Vision and The Vow, Pete Greig tells of how a distinguished art critic was studying an exquisite painting by the Italian Renaissance master Filippino Lippi. He stood in London’s National Gallery gazing at the fifteenth-century depiction of Mary holding the infant Jesus on her lap, with saints Dominic and Jerome kneeling nearby. But the painting troubled him. There could be no doubting Lippi’s skill, his use of colour or composition. But the proportions of the picture were slightly wrong. The hills in the background seemed exaggerated, as if they might topple out of the frame at any minute onto the gallery’s polished floor. The two kneeling saints looked awkward and uncomfortable.
Art critic Robert Cumming was not the first to criticise Lippi’s work for its poor perspective, but he may well be the last to do so, because at that moment he had a revelation. It suddenly occurred to him that the problem might be his. The painting he was analyzing with clinical objectivity was not just another piece of religious art hanging in a gallery alongside other comparative works. It had never been intended to come anywhere near a gallery. Lippi’s painting had been commissioned to hang in a place of prayer.
Self-consciously, the dignified critic dropped to his knees in the public gallery before the painting. He suddenly saw what generations of art critics had missed. From his new vantage point, Robert Cumming found himself gazing up at a perfectly proportioned piece. The foreground had moved naturally to the background, while the saints seemed settled – their awkwardness, like the painting itself, having turned to grace. Mary now looked intently and kindly directly at him as he knelt at her feet between saints Dominic and Jerome.
It was not the perspective of the painting that had been wrong all these years – it was the perspective of the people looking at it. Robert Cumming on bended knee in a position of worship had found a beauty that Robert Cumming the proud art critic could not. The painting only came alive to those on their knees in prayer.
In the passages for today, we see the difference that a life on bended knee before God makes. We see both the great blessings of worshipping our Creator and the terrible results of turning away from him and worshipping and serving created things instead.
1. Discover the blessings of worshipPsalm 84:8-12
There is nothing in this world that compares to worshipping God, walking in this close relationship with him and enjoying his favour. This is what the psalmist prays, ‘God-of-the-Angel-Armies, listen: O God of Jacob, open your ears – I’m praying! Look at our shields, glistening in the sun, our faces, shining with your gracious anointing (vv.8–9, MSG).
This psalm is all about the blessings of worshipping God in his dwelling place (during this period, the Jerusalem Temple). Those who dwell in God’s house are blessed and they ‘are ever praising you’ (v.4).
The psalmist says he would rather spend one day in the presence of God than a thousand elsewhere: ‘One day spent in your house, this beautiful place of worship, beats thousands spent on Greek island beaches. I’d rather scrub floors in the house of my God than be honoured as a guest in the palace of sin’ (v.10, MSG).
To worship God is to experience him as ‘sunshine’ (v.11, MSG), bathing us in his light and warmth, and a ‘shield’, defending us from evil (v.11).
He prays for this because he knows how wonderful it is. ‘The Lord bestows favour and honour; no good thing does he withhold from those whose walk is blameless. O Lord Almighty, blessed are those who trust in you’ (vv.11–12).
Lord, help me to worship you today. I praise you for all your blessings – especially the blessing of your presence. Thank you so much that one day in your presence is better than a thousand elsewhere. Thank you for the immense blessing it is to enjoy your favour and honour. Thank you for your promise that no good thing will be withheld for those whose walk is blameless. Forgive me for the times when I sin and lose the sense of your presence. Help me to keep trusting in you and worshipping you.
2. Do not misdirect your worshipRomans 1:18-32
We become like what we worship. If we worship worthless idols, our lives become worthless. If we worship God, eventually we will become like him.
The apostle Paul begins, in this passage, to unfold what has gone wrong in the world. The heart of the problem is that humankind has ‘worshipped and served created things rather than the Creator’ (v.25).
Of course, God had specifically revealed himself to the Jewish nation. But what about those who had never heard? Paul’s argument here is that we are all ‘without excuse’ (v.20).
God has revealed himself in his creation. ‘But the basic reality of God is plain enough. Open your eyes and there it is! By taking a long and thoughtful look at what God has created, people have always been able to see what their eyes as such can’t see: eternal power, for instance, and the mystery of his divine being. So nobody has a good excuse’ (vv.19–20, MSG).
This knowledge of God is only partial and limited. But, as the psalmist puts it, ‘The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands’ (Psalm 19:1).
We only have to go outside and look at the created world to know that there must be a God. The problem with the world is that, in spite of this revelation of God, ‘they refused to worship him’ (Romans 1:21, MSG). ‘They neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him’ (v.21). Instead, they ‘worshipped and served created things’ (v.25).
Therefore, the apostle Paul writes, ‘God gave them over’ (vv.24,26,28). God allowed us to go our own way in order that we might at last learn from the terrible consequences that follow, to hate the futility of a life turned away from the worship of God: ‘emptied of God and love’, they were ‘godless and loveless’ (v.27, MSG).
‘Since they didn’t bother to acknowledge God, God quit bothering them and let them run loose. And then all hell broke loose’ (v.28, MSG).
As the worship of God declines, so the morality of a society declines, following in its wake. We should not be surprised that as the worship of God has declined in our nation, so many of the things described in this passage have followed in its wake.
Lord, as we look around at our society and see people doing many of the things listed here and not only doing these very things, but also approving of ‘those who practise them’ (v.32), we pray Lord that you would open people’s eyes to see what is happening. May there be a turning away in our society from the worship of created things and a restoration of worship of you, our Creator.
3. Pray for a restoration of worship2 Kings 24:8-25:30
As we look around at our society it can sometimes seem as if we are in a kind of exile. It can seem that the church is breaking down.
As we read this passage, we see that the people of God have been through desperate times in the past. We see that there is hope for the future.
As the book of Kings closes, we read of the terrible consequences of a nation that has done exactly what the apostle Paul describes in Romans 1. They had turned away from worshipping God to worshipping idols (created things).
As a result, we see the destruction of Jerusalem and its temple, and the people going into exile.
During the reign of Jehoiachin (597 BC), ‘Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon advanced on Jerusalem and laid siege to it’ (24:10). The exile began (v.14). The next king was appointed by the king of Babylon. Zedekiah (597-587 BC) was no better and things went from bad to worse, ‘It was because of the Lord’s anger that all this happened to Jerusalem and Judah, and in the end he thrust them from his presence’ (v.20).
Nebuchadnezzar ‘set fire to the temple of the Lord, the royal palace and all the houses of Jerusalem. Every important building he burned down’ (25:9). The people were ‘carried into exile’ (v.11), ‘Judah went into exile, orphaned from her land’ (v.21, MSG).
All of this needs to be read alongside the books of Jeremiah and Ezekiel – two prophets who were prophesying at this time. (See especially Jeremiah 13:18, chapters 39 and 52, Ezekiel 12 and 24). The greatest loss for the people of God was the destruction of the temple. This was the place where they worshipped God and experienced his presence. Now they were ‘thrust’ from his presence (2 Kings 24:20). This was the worst impact of the exile.
Yet, the book of Kings ends with a small ray of hope. In the thirty-seventh year of the exile of Jehoiachin king of Judah, he is released from prison (25:27). He is invited to eat regularly at the king’s table (v.29). The exile is not going to last forever. Here is a note of anticipation of better things to come. The people of God will return from exile and rebuild the temple and begin to enjoy the presence of God and the worship of God.
Lord, we cry out to you for restoration and revival. Would you restore your church in this country. Revive us again. May our nation turn back to you and begin to worship you again and enjoy your presence.
‘No good thing does [the Lord] withhold from those whose walk is blameless’.
I have been pondering this. It is a wonderful thing that ‘no good thing does [the Lord] withhold’. But I sometimes wish that it said ‘for those who are not doing too badly’ because ‘blameless’ seems rather a high standard. That’s why we need the cross, because we can’t do it on our own.