The Life of Worship: The Greatest Commandment

I love my wife. I love her a lot. We have been married for 36 years. We have known each other for almost 45 years. She is my best friend. There is no one I would rather spend time with. No, things are not always smooth and tranquil in our relationship, but we are committed to one another, for life. And I do not want it any other way.

Now, I could be committed to staying with Cheryl, honoring my marriage vows to remain true to only her. However, in our relationship, I could keep myself closed off and isolated from her. I could withhold my love and affection. I could go about my life and never do any acts of kindness for her. I could take care of my own needs and neglect hers. On the other hand, I could be unfaithful, and not remain true to the commitment I made to be faithful to her all the days of our lives together. At the same time, I could do all kinds of wonderful things for her, showering her with gifts, attention, and affection, while being unfaithful.

In both of the situations, there would be a disconnect. Whether one way or another, my wife would be getting part of me, but not all of me. My life would be a contradiction. The actions of my life would be in opposition to each other. I would not be fully devoted to her as my wife. Unfortunately, when it comes to our relationship with God, we frequently have the same disconnect. Well, maybe I should not speak for you. For me, there is.

“And he [Jesus] said to him, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment.’” Matthew 22:37-38

The Westminster Shorter Catechism states that “Man’s chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever.” This is basically a restatement of what Jesus is saying in the passage above, which He is quoting from Deuteronomy 6:4-5, where the Jewish nation is given this command to love God with their heart, soul, mind, and strength. Moses gave the command to the people, as God had given it to Him. Jesus confirmed and validated it as the greatest commandment. Therefore, as those created by this Almighty God, this is our highest call.

There are many commands and principles in the Bible. Sometimes, it is hard to keep them all straight. However, Jesus said this command, and the next greatest command, which is to love our neighbor as ourselves, encompass all of the Law and Prophets. In other words, every other commandment given by God falls under these two (Matthew 22:37-40). For me, this is freeing. I don’t have to remember a long list of dos and don’ts. I give myself to Him through a life of love and devotion and He will work in me to fulfill the whole of His law.

On the other hand, it is an enormous task. To love the Lord with my whole being is a great challenge. In fact, on my own, it is impossible (more on that next week). It involves a total and complete devotion to the Lord.

It involves loving the Lord with my mind. This means that I seek to know Who He is in a greater way on a daily basis. I must pour His truth into my mind, conforming my thinking to His thoughts. But growing in knowledge is not enough. As my knowledge of God and His character and ways increases, my devotion for Him should grow as well. My relationship with God should become deeper and richer. My love for God and my joy in Him should be expanding every day. Then, as my knowledge and devotion deepen, I should grow in my giving myself in service and living out my life in obedience to God, loving God with all of my soul and strength.

The conflict arises when we think we can have one of these aspects without the others. Even though we don’t think it, practically we live it out. Ultimately, we live a lopsided life, overemphasizing one aspect of our lives. We get a lot of head knowledge, but have little love for God or don’t live in obedience. Or maybe we love God, what we know of Him anyway. But we don’t grow in our knowledge of God and the faith, so our love is ignorant and uniformed and we often live lives based on our own wisdom or fantasies, rather the truth. Or maybe we are very busy serving God, but we don’t spend time renewing our minds with His Word or we have little devotion for Him. Our service has become obligation, not a life lived in joy and love for God.

All of these options are less than best. That is why I think God contained all of the aspects into one command, to love Him with all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength. Without one, the others are incomplete. The result is a relationship that is lacking and not fruitful, just as marriage that is not fully devoted in all aspects.

God wants all of us, not just part of us. It is not that God is needy or greedy. He knows that there is no greater fulfillment and joy for us that can be found in any other person, place, or thing. Our highest joy is found in loving Him with all that we are. The pursuit of the life of worship begins with this call. Let us seek to love the Lord our God with all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength. There is no higher calling.

Together for His glory…

Beyond Obligation and Infatuation: Worship in Spirit and Truth, Part 4

“But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” John 4:23-24

Jesus clearly states that those who worship God must worship Him both in spirit and truth. Previously, I have discussed aspects of each individually. Today, I would like to begin to look at how these two work together because I believe that if both are not present, our worship is not what God has intended for us.

There will always be a struggle of leaning too heavily in one direction or another. People who know me are aware that I place a very heavy emphasis on truth in worship. This is true. Both Scripture and personal experience have taught me that this is essential. However, as I look closely at my life, I find that I vacillate back and forth between two extremes, with occasional stops in some sort of balanced area.

It is very easy for me to get lost in the details. I know what I need to do, most of the time. I know what my obligations are as follower of Christ, husband, father, pastor, employee, etc. I have certain things that I know I need to do every day. And I do them. This includes my spiritual life. I read the Word. I try to pray. I listen to music that focuses on the gospel. I try to live in obedience to what I think is God’s will. However, I find that there is, at times, little devotion or delight in the process of carrying out these daily duties. I am attempting to live out God’s truth, but something is missing.

Then, maybe I swing to the other extreme. I am looking for something that shows me the purpose in what I am doing. Or maybe I am looking for some demonstration of God’s love or purpose for me. Am I following God’s path for my life? Why do I feel so far away from You God? How long will this situation go on? Why will you not give me some sign that shows me I am not drifting in a boat without a sail or paddle? Why can’t I hear Your voice? Why do other people seem to hear You and know exactly where You are taking them? Why can’t I have what they have?  Oh God, please empower me to be the man I need to be! Give me Your strength and wisdom! Show me You are there! As so the conversation goes.

Two different ways of living. Both include aspects that can be present in a godly, balanced Christian life. Living in obedience and wanting to experience the presence of God are great pursuits. However, lived in exclusion of each other, we become unbalanced and I think we miss God’s best for our lives. The first can lead to a life of obligation or duty.  The second, can lead to a life of infatuation and disenchantment.

A life lived solely out of obligation and duty has little or no devotion. It does not move beyond the task or principles to the Person behind the principles. We live our lives, fulfilling our responsibilities, and our relationship with God gets lost in the details. The law of God and the works He has called us to do were not meant to exist apart from our relationship to Him. The coming of Christ, our Immanuel, was for the purpose of uniting us with our Creator, breaking forever the curse of sin. Our God is with us.

The life of infatuation rarely goes below the surface or the immediate. We are looking for experiences or signs that make us feel close to God or prove that He is with us. When the fruit and direction from God are apparent and overflowing, we are on a roll. We are running with God. When things don’t go well or God seems to have gone on vacation, we become disheartened or bored with spiritual things. Even worse, we can feel that God has abandoned us. We don’t move beyond the gifts or benefits to the Giver of the gifts. God wants to grow and build our lives and show us the depth of Who He is and what He has done, but we are grasping for temporary things. Again, Christ is lost in our pursuit.

“Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing (John 15:4-5).” “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God (Colossians 3:16).”

Truth is foundational to worship that is in spirit and truth. As we learn from the Word of God, that truth produces wisdom and knowledge in our lives of Who God really is. We better understand ourselves and our utter hopelessness apart from Christ. The Holy Spirit enlightens our heart and minds to understand the wonders of Who God is and what He has done for us in Christ. As we fill our minds with the Word of God, He works in us to transform our minds and lives into the image of His Son.

As God’s truth sinks down into our hearts, the flame of worship is ignited by the Holy Spirit.  The expression of our hearts, in response to the wonders of God and His works, is an essential part of biblical worship.  We worship God in spirit, and this response is grounded on the truth of God as revealed in His Word. As our relationship with God grows and deepens, we respond to Him in love, rather than mere duty or obligation. We are no longer trying to produce fruit through our own good works. God is producing the fruit in us, by the power of His Spirit.

The binding together of worship in spirit and truth together produces a treasuring of Christ. As we seek to know God better through His Word, our knowledge of Him increases, and so we grow in love for Him. This in turn, should propel us to seek to know Him more, and so the journey continues. We sink our roots deeper and deeper into Christ and our lives become saturated with Him. He truly becomes our treasure, our First Love. God works in and through us to do His will and to spread the gospel of Christ. Our worship is not based on obligation or pursuing experiences, but it is rooted in truth and producing a life that pursues after Him. What a glorious gift God has given to us. We may come to Him and know Him through Christ.

What greater aspiration could we have? Though this life will be filled with struggles and our relationship with God will have its ups and downs, God will not forsake us. He calls us to draw near to Him, in Christ. It is this life’s great pursuit. Through it, God will transform our lives and use us for the great glory of His holy name.

Together for His glory…