A Grateful Heart

Then King David went in and sat before the Lord, and he said:
“Who am I, Sovereign Lord, and what is my family, that you have brought me this far? And as if this were not enough in your sight, Sovereign Lord, you have also spoken about the future of the house of your servant—and this decree, Sovereign Lord, is for a mere human!

“What more can David say to you? For you know your servant, Sovereign Lord. For the sake of your word and according to your will, you have done this great thing and made it known to your servant.

“How great you are, Sovereign Lord! There is no one like you, and there is no God but you…

2 Samuel 7:18-22

This is an amazing example of gratitude to the Lord. King David models for us what our heart posture should be as we pray and contemplate all the Lord has done. What is so amazing about this stream of gratitude that pours out of David is that it comes right after God tells David that he won’t be allowed to build the Temple.

Think about that!

King David made plans to build the Temple of God. But before he could start, the Lord spoke through the prophet Nathan and told David that he’s not allowed to build it. God also told David that God would give David success as King of Israel and that David’s son would build the Temple. God also told David that his house and his kingdom would endure forever (this is a prophetic word about Jesus).

So what we have is a mixture of words to David from God. God tells David what God will do, and He also tells David what He won’t do. But which of these does David choose to focus on? David’s response is pure gratitude. King David doesn’t waste time being upset about what God isn’t doing and instead focuses on what God is doing.

If we are going to be people of gratitude, this has to be our focus as well. So many Christians are only focused on what they want God to do that He isn’t yet doing. They get frustrated and bitter at God, and in the process become completely blind to what He is doing.

We need to release those things we think God should be doing but isn’t. And we need laser-like focus on what God is doing in our midst. If we are able to focus on what God is doing rather than on what He isn’t doing, gratitude will be the natural overflow of our hearts. We won’t be able to help ourselves as gratitude will daily pour out of us as it did King David.

Are you focusing on what God is doing in your life and in your midst? Or are you stuck on what He’s not yet doing? Maybe it is time to shift your focus and lean into gratitude. The apostle Paul gives us clear instructions about thanksgiving and gratitude.

Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts. And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

Colossians 3:15-17

Undignified and Despised

Now King David was told, “The Lord has blessed the household of Obed-Edom and everything he has, because of the ark of God.” So David went to bring up the ark of God from the house of Obed-Edom to the City of David with rejoicing. When those who were carrying the ark of the Lord had taken six steps, he sacrificed a bull and a fattened calf. Wearing a linen ephod, David was dancing before the Lord with all his might, while he and all Israel were bringing up the ark of the Lord with shouts and the sound of trumpets.

As the ark of the Lord was entering the City of David, Michal daughter of Saul watched from a window. And when she saw King David leaping and dancing before the Lord, she despised him in her heart.

2 Samuel 6:12-16

King David eventually learned his lesson and let go of his fear of the manifest Presence of the Lord. He also learned his lesson about reverence. This time, instead of leaving the ark at Obed-Edom’s house, he would take it into his own city. But he would transport it as prescribed in the Law, and he would do it with reverence, awe, and worship.

As I described in my last post, when the manifest Presence of God comes in power, people can sometimes do unusual things. King David couldn’t help but dance before the Lord with all his might. He couldn’t help but celebrate, shout, and leap before the Lord. It’s as if gratitude and love began to well up from within him and it started leaking out into his body. His body couldn’t contain all of it and had to let it out through dancing.

Yet, when King David’s wife sees him acting like a passionate worshiper and not a King with royal decorum, she despised him in her heart. This reaction was pure disgust at David’s exuberance.

When David returned home to bless his household, Michal daughter of Saul came out to meet him and said, “How the king of Israel has distinguished himself today, going around half-naked in full view of the slave girls of his servants as any vulgar fellow would!”

2 Samuel 6:20

King David’s response to her is perfect and something every Christians should take note of.

David said to Michal, “It was before the Lord, who chose me rather than your father or anyone from his house when he appointed me ruler over the Lord’s people Israel—I will celebrate before the Lord. I will become even more undignified than this, and I will be humiliated in my own eyes. But by these slave girls you spoke of, I will be held in honor.”

2 Samual 6:21-22

Essentially, David had to remind Michal that he was dancing for an audience of one. He didn’t care what others might think about him. He wasn’t focused on that. He was full of gratitude in that moment and had to worship the Lord for His goodness and kindness. He wasn’t held back by pride and protocol like Michal was. He wasn’t held back by a sense of shame and superiority like Michal. Unfettered by self-absorption, David could fully worship the Lord with his whole self. And the slave girls seem to understand this better than his own queen.

This happens so often in church services. While one person–unshackled by pride, self-consciousness, and shame–worships with their whole being, the person nearby scoffs in their heart, judging them with disgust and distain for their outward expression. Yet, secretly, the scoffer wishes that she could worship so freely.

In the American church we have to get past this accusation of being “overly emotional.” Is it even possible to be “overly emotional” about Jesus dying on the cross for our sin? Is it even possible to get “overly emotional” about a Savior who gave up everything to rescue us from eternal destruction? In light of God’s infinite goodness and kindness toward us in Christ, just how much emotion is too much? And when the Holy Spirit starts stirring in our hearts, will our heart not react with emotion? Isn’t that what it is supposed to do? My guess is that most Christians aren’t showing near enough emotion, and our lack of emotion is proof that we don’t understand how good this “good news” really is.

When people get rescued from imminent death from police or fire fighters, they don’t just stoically shake their rescuers hand and walk away. They passionately embrace their rescuer with tears streaming down their face and weep in the presence of their savior. Maybe the person in the corner who is raising their hands, shouting to the Lord, and weeping has a better handle on reality than the rest of us. Before we judge them, maybe they are grasping this great gospel we believe a little more fully than the rest of us. Maybe in that moment, they are the undignified King David and we are the Michal.

We must ask ourselves what kind of worshiper we are. Are we shackled by our own pride? Are we bound by our shame and our concern about what people might think? Are we fettered by a sense of superiority or embarrassment? If so, we need to heed of the writer of Hebrews who challenged us to “throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles”(Hebrews 12:1). Let’s worship the Lord in Spirit and in truth, and let’s abandoned our self-consciousness and all that would hold us back from a robust and worshipful response to the goodness of God.

Vampire Christians

Immediately Jesus made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead of him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowd. After he had dismissed them, he went up on a mountainside by himself to pray. Later that night, he was there alone…

Matthew 14:22-23

Jesus Himself believed it was essential to get alone to spend time with the Father. Jesus intentionally dismissed the crowd and sent His disciples ahead of him to the other side of the lake. He then went alone up the side of a 3000 foot elevation around the Sea of Galilee and spent time praying.

Jesus wasn’t praying because He was checking some religious box. Jesus was perfect. Jesus never sinned. He wasn’t praying to show people how spiritual He was. He just wanted to be with His Father. He longed for the intimacy and nearness that only time alone with the Father can bring.

Jesus said that He only does “what He sees His Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does“(John 5:19). He accomplished this by staying in constant communion with the Father through prayer. While Jesus “prayed continuously” as He walked through life, He also sought alone time with God where no one else was around. He got alone in order to listen to the Father as much as to talk to the Father.

With packed schedules, hurried and harried lives, many Christians are not spending alone time with God. I believe this has resulted in so much of the dysfunction in the lives of Christians and the Church. How can we expect to be shaped into the image of Christ if we are not spending daily alone time with Him? How can we expect to love the unlovable if we are not daily receiving love from the Father? How can we expect to forgive those who’ve hurt us if we are not daily reminded of the forgiveness we’ve received from Jesus?

I believe that many Christians look for programs in the local church to fill in for their lack of one-on-one time with the Lord. They want once-a-week worship services to build in them intimacy with God without ever spending alone time with Him. They want once-a-week bible studies to help them grow spiritually without having to dig into the word of God on their own. They want people praying for them but never spend time praying alone themselves. Then they wonder why they can’t seem to find a “good church” or a church that “fits them.”

The local church will never be able to give us what only time alone with the Lord gives us. It was never meant to. We have it backwards. Christians were meant to fuel up in their alone time with the Lord–worshiping, studying scripture, and praying–so that they could enter Christian community with something to give to others when they are there. Church was never meant to be a consumeristic place that meets all of our spiritual needs. American churches have too many vampire Christians who suck the life out of the community because they never receive from God the other six days a week in alone time with Him.

Spending daily time with the Lord is not a sign of super-spirituality. It’s one of the very basic, foundational things every Christian should be doing. It is an admission of our weakness, our daily need for God. It’s a posture of humility, knowing we can’t live the life we are called to live without spending regular time with the Father.

The Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit can’t wait to spend time with you every single day. They love time alone with you. It’s one of their favorite things in the world. They treasure it. They can’t wait to be with you…if only you’d set aside a little time for them.

Are you spending alone time with the Lord? Or have you become a vampire Christian?

Time With Him

What I tell you in the dark, speak in the daylight; what is whispered in your ear, proclaim from the roofs. 

Matthew 10:27

Imagine waking up, not drinking coffee, and skipping breakfast. Lunch rolls around and you have too much work to do so you skip that. Just as you get home from working late, your child is late to a sporting event. So you rush out the door skipping dinner. You finally get home and get all the kids to bed. How are you feeling right now? And what are the chances of you eating something healthy?

For most of us in this moment, we’re feeling tired, run-down, exhausted, irritable and possibly depressed. The likelihood that we will eat something good for us is very slim.

While most of us would try to limit days like this because of the physical toll it would take, many of us are doing this very thing daily when it comes to our spiritual lives. We are not getting up in the morning and spending time worshiping, praying and reading God’s word. We’re not spending time in silence hearing from the Lord. And we aren’t checking in with God throughout the day.

We get to the end of each day and wonder why our spirit is worn down. We wonder why God feels distant. We wonder why we are so tempted by sin, so tempted to feed our soul with destructive things rather than healthy things.

Spending time with the Lord is like stepping into sunlight. Our spirit has a solar panel for the glory of God. When we worship, when we pray, when we read scripture, heaven opens up over us, the glory of God shines on us, and angels ascend and descend upon us (Genesis 28:12; John 1:51; Luke 22:43). The batteries in our spirit and our soul get recharged. As we draw near to God, He draws near to us (James 4:8; Hebrews 10:22). And just like a wireless charger for our phone, our proximity to Him causes our spirit to be recharged with His Spirit.

It is in this place of proximity, this place of intimacy–this place of adoration and worship–that the Lord shares things with us. If we draw near to Him and quiet our hearts enough to listen, He will whisper things into our ears. He will tell us things. He will show us mental pictures of things. He will speak.

If we get alone with Him in the dark morning hours, we will have lots to share in the daylight hours. He will tell us things to proclaim from the rooftops.

How are you spending time alone with God?

How are you daily recharging your spirit?

They Never Stop

Day and night they never stop saying:

“‘Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty,’ who was, and is, and is to come.”

Whenever the living creatures give glory, honor and thanks to him who sits on the throne and who lives for ever and ever, the twenty-four elders fall down before him who sits on the throne and worship him who lives for ever and ever. They lay their crowns before the throne and say:

“You are worthy, our Lord and God,
    to receive glory and honor and power,
for you created all things,
    and by your will they were created
    and have their being.”

Revelation 4:8-11

John got a glimpse of the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders worshiping the Lord day and night. Whenever we enter into worship and praise, we are joining something that is already in progress 24/7. It reminds me of how after a show gets interrupted by a special news broadcast, right before it returns, the announcer says, “We now join the regularly scheduled program already in progress.”

In the heavenly realms, around the throne of grace, worship is the regularly scheduled program that is always already in progress. Worship is the norm. Worship is the atmosphere, the oxygen, of heaven.

When we worship and praise the Lord, we are not doing something for God. We are entering the environment He is already in. We are simply agreeing with what is already being proclaimed as true. We are joining all of heaven and all of creation in what is the most natural response to God. When God shows up, reverence, awe, joy and celebration are the natural responses to His glory, grace, goodness and majesty.

We don’t do worship; we enter worship. We don’t work our way into worship; we surrender our way into worship. Moments of worship remind us of what we were created for. Our mind, will, emotions, body and spirit were all fine tuned in their design to be used for worship. It is what we were made for and so should be what we live for.

Worshiping God is such a gift to us. It is universally true that we become like whatever we worship. So when our whole life is about the worship of the Only One who is worthy, we are graciously gifted the opportunity to become more and more like Jesus. If we choose to worship false idols like our self, our career, our comfort, the praise of men, our favorite addiction, or our most used self-medication (alcohol, pornography, greed, success), then we become less and less what we were created to be.

Jesus alone is worthy of our worship, and He is worthy of ALL of our worship!

First Love

To the angel of the church in Ephesus write:

These are the words of him who holds the seven stars in his right hand and walks among the seven golden lampstands. I know your deeds, your hard work and your perseverance. I know that you cannot tolerate wicked people, that you have tested those who claim to be apostles but are not, and have found them false. You have persevered and have endured hardships for my name, and have not grown weary.

Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken the love you had at first.

Revelation 2:1-4

The church in Ephesus was working hard and persevering under trial without growing weary. They are to be commended for doing what many churches do not in recognizing false teachings. Yet, Jesus calls them back to their first love. He implores them to “do the things you did at first“(Revelation 2:5).

This is one of the keys to deepening our relationship with Jesus. So often we must return to child-like faith–child-like dependence and trust in the Father. Kids live with a freedom and a joy that is often absent in adults. They live unafraid of what others will think of them in the moment. They enjoy giving love to and receiving love from their parents. If we want to take the next step in our journey with the Lord, it will often look like returning to what we did at first when we became a Christian.

So many people start their journey with the Lord excited, full of faith, spending time in God’s word, and spending abundant time in worship and prayer. Then life happens and we move away from these as if they are somehow less necessary as we grow in Christ.

But the reality is that triathlon athletes need more food not less. Body builders need more protein not less. The stronger we get the more fuel we need. The more elite athletes need not only more fuel but better fuel for their bodies. This same principle is true of us spiritually.

If we want to continue to grow in Christ as we get older, we need more time with Him, not less. We need more of God’s word, more time in prayer, more moments of worship, not less. It is striking how many so-called “mature” Christians don’t spend any time with the Lord. It is even more shocking how many ministers hardly have a prayer life, hardly read the word (unless they’re getting ready for a sermon) and only worship on Sundays. This is mostly true in America because the Church around the world knows it can’t afford to dabble in such foolishness.

Sacrifice of Praise

Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise—the fruit of lips that openly profess his name. And do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased.

Hebrews 13:15-16

Why do Christians sing about God’s goodness and praise Him even in the midst of the difficulties of life? To the outside observer, this sort of worship can seem fake. But far from being disingenuous, this is one of the most profound and real things a follower of Jesus can do.

When we praise God during the difficult times of life, when we declare His goodness when nothing around us seems good, when we celebrate His faithfulness when things are crumbling around us, what we are offering is a sacrifice of praise. We are declaring what is true about God’s nature even though our circumstances don’t seem to reveal that truth. We are saying that God is good regardless of our circumstances. This is what makes it a sacrifice. And this is the kind of sacrifice with which God is especially pleased.

This past Sunday in church we were singing about the goodness of God. I looked around the room and knew all the extremely hard situations people were in. And yet, they were singing to God and praising Him for His goodness. Was this them being fake? No, this is as real as it gets. This was them giving God one of His most treasured gifts. This was a sacrifice of praise.

In that moment, the Lord gave me a picture. Imagine you are a servant and soldier to the true King. It is easy to sing the King’s praises while in the King’s court. It’s easy to declare that he is the one true King from his palace.

But what if you had crossed into enemy territory? What if, while you were fighting to expand the one true Kingdom, you got caught and imprisoned by the enemy. Everyone around you mocked the one true King. They beat you and starved you. They asked, “Where is your King now?” In this environment, could you still praise the King? Could you still declare his goodness? Are you willing to offer him a sacrifice of praise?

That is essentially what we are doing when we praise God for His goodness even when our circumstances are difficult. What we are saying is that God’s nature and His goodness don’t change even if our circumstances do. We are declaring that we have tasted the goodness of the King in the past and that we will taste that goodness again in the future even if we aren’t experiencing it right now. In a way, we are prophesying God’s goodness. We are calling the future into the present.

A sacrifice of praise is something we can only give when we are behind enemy lines. In heaven, when we are with Jesus for eternity, we will be completely saturated in the goodness of God. Declaring God’s goodness will be easy. The only time we can give a sacrifice of praise is when things are hard and we decide to declare God’s goodness anyway. This is a special gift that we can only give to God right now. For the rest of eternity we won’t be able to give Him this meaningful sacrifice. We can only do it now and for a limited time.

So if things are difficult in life, that is the time to praise God for His goodness. He is worthy! Being “real” doesn’t mean letting our circumstances dictate our worship. Being “real” doesn’t mean letting our hardships change our confidence in the nature of God as a good and loving Father. Yes, let’s be honest about our struggles and trials. Let’s be honest about our disappointments and frustrations. But let’s wrap our honesty in the truth. The truest thing we can declare is that God is good! He is slow to anger, abounding in love. His kindness leads us to repentance. His goodness knows no end!