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!

City of the Living God

But you have come to Mount Zion, to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem. You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly, to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven. You have come to God, the Judge of all, to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel…

Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, for our “God is a consuming fire.”[Deuteronomy 4:24]

Hebrews 12:22-24, 28-29

When we worship God we get to enter the heavenly Jerusalem, the city of the living God. We get to walk among thousands upon thousands of angels who have gathered to joyfully worship the Lord. We get to approach the throne of grace with confidence knowing that Jesus has made a way by His blood.

Can you picture it?

As you walk toward God’s throne, surrounded by cheering angels, you are clothed in garments of white. The aisle to the throne is as clear as a crystal sea. The angels, as servants of the King, all know that a child of the King has entered the throne room. Royalty has walked in and they all act accordingly. You are an heir of an unshakeable Kingdom, a co-heir with Christ.

As you approach God on His throne, your pace slows. Your steps are careful. You are reminded that this is not only the King of Kings but also your Heavenly Father. You stop. You know this is close enough. The rest of the distance from you to Him is for Him to walk if He decides. He is a consuming fire, and you can feel His power from here. You bow down with your knees to the ground to honor the One who deserves all glory and honor.

You bow your head in reverence and awe. You don’t bow as a slave bows to a master. You are not afraid. You don’t bow in shame and guilt. His eyes see through you, but it is not a stare of disappointment or judgment. It’s a gaze of pure love. He loves that you bow your head in reverence, but He doesn’t want your head to stay bowed. As a loving Father, He signals to you to lift your head. He doesn’t want the top of your head but your eyes looking back at Him. He loves to see your face. The joy and pride of a proud parent fills His countenance.

As He stands to His feet, all the angels–the cherubim, seraphim, and all the other heavenly beings–drop to their knees in worship. As He walks the transparent aisle toward you, He signals you to your feet. You’re not sure you should be standing so your personal angel has to tell you to stand up. You stand before pure love and pure light walking toward you.

Self-limitation is an act of love and had He not reduced His own glory and power in this moment, you’d be fatally consumed immediately. And you know it. You can feel Him dial down His presence and majesty in order to draw near to you. It’s what He did in Jesus and here He is doing it again…just for a moment with you.

He has a smile that makes you smile. When you see His smile it’s so contagious you can’t help but feel joy well up from your gut and overtake your face. He puts His left hand on your right shoulder. You instinctively know that if His power wasn’t sustaining you in this moment you’d collapse under the weight of His glory.

He doesn’t have to say a word. Somehow everything that needs to be communicated is already being said, heart to heart, mind to mind. And somehow He’s not speaking one word at a time but instead it feels like He’s downloading whole ideas instantaneously. These thoughts would take a long time to explain using words but somehow the ideas come all at once.

He draws even closer. He wraps you in His arms. He transmits a love that is intoxicating and overwhelming. Tears burst from your eyes, and your heart feels like it is about to explode. It’s like your current heart wasn’t meant for this amount of love. You need a new heart, one with the capacity to hold a fraction of what is coursing through you in that moment.

The encounter ends.

Grateful is such a small word for what you feel in the aftermath, but it’s as close as you can get to describing the feeling. You have come to Mount Zion, the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and you are in awe!

The gatekeeper

We sat in the Charlotte airport in those fun rocking chairs they have there. As if we were on a back country porch on a back country road. We were waiting. Our 3 hour layover gave us time to sit, talk, drink Starbucks and wrap our heads around the trip ahead. It’s a long flight to California.

Cam and I were trading stories of God’s goodness. He opened up about the fear and doubt he had experienced the night before about whether God would really show up powerfully on this adventure. He admitted that life gets harder as the disappointments mount, and he wasn’t sure he could handle another one.

That’s when I heard it.

Wafting through the air was piano music from an airport piano player. Just beneath us, a young man in his twenties played skillfully on a grand piano for all of the airport travelers to enjoy. He was positioned right outside a food court area. I assumed he was there for the big jar of cash sitting conspicuously atop the piano. I was wrong.

In the exact moment Cam was reflecting on his doubts, familiar notes filled the atrium. I knew the song the pianist was playing. It was the unmistakable sound of a worship song that I love. The song’s title? “Confident” by Steffany Gretzinger.

As the piano lofted the music our way, the lyrics emerged from my memory as if someone was singing them in the distance.

You’re always moving in the unseen
The breath You exhale sustaining me
Before I call, You know my need
You’re always going before me

Then came the first few lines of the chorus.

I’m confident Your faithfulness will see me through
My soul can rest, my righteousness is found in You

The pianist couldn’t have known was was happening in that moment. He was likely only slightly aware of the angelic whisper in his ear prompting him to choose that song as his next selection. He probably assumed his audience was simply the harried passengers carting their carry-ons from one gate to the next.

Yet, what was happening was profound. He was a prophet, his keys the prophetic instrument. His fingers were declaring the truth Cam so needed to hear, that Cam could be confident in the Lord. In that moment, the pianist was the radio station launching radio waves into the air, and I was the transistor radio offering the translation. But the song was for Cam.

And more than that, the pianist was not only welcoming the passengers to Charlotte but also welcoming the Presence of God. He wasn’t welcoming God’s tangible Presence into the familiar space of a church sanctuary. Instead, he was changing the atmosphere in a place that is a gateway into the city, he the gatekeeper.

Angels gathered. And so did we.