Monday, July 7, 2014

Worship: The Sabbath Principle

With this article we begin a series on the topic of worship. By the end of the series, the reader should not only understand what true worship is, but will also know how to enter into it, so that we all might be those worshippers which God seeks--those who worship in spirit and truth.
“Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.” The Lord Almighty is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress.  Psalm 46:10-11 (NIV)
How is it that the faithful are to worship? As we explore various aspects of that question over the next several posts, we will discover that the Bible has a rich and detailed answer for us. In this post, we will concentrate on what we can learn from the text above. Namely, that at its foundation, worship is about a pause, which I'll call the Sabbath principle.

Ensconced throughout the Bible is the principle of Sabbath. It is a principle which concerns rest, that is a cessation from work and effort. At its heart it is a recognition principle: an opportunity to stop and smell the roses, as it were. Part of God's framework for successful, righteous living is the principle of stopping and realizing the wonder of God the Creator and Sovereign Lord.

The practice of Sabbath has been associated with the act of worship through thousands of years of biblical history. Given what I just said above, I think the connection is a valid one. At its most basic, worship is about pausing to recognize God with us. Throughout the New Testament church age, the Sabbath principle has been applied to our existence as believers, even though we no longer are obligated to a certain kind of cessation on a certain day. We may no longer operate under the Law of Sabbath, but we still practice the principle of Sabbath, and it's a principle of worship.

In the biblical text quoted above, a connection between rest and worship, or exaltation, is made, which, I think, clarifies the principle in question for the faithful. The verses just prior to those cited draw a distinction between the solace of God and the turmoil of the world. In the midst of the turmoil that is life, pause is necessary for those who take refuge in God to worship: they must be be still and know God. If there is no pause, the likelihood is that there will be no worship. 

As we live, the exigencies, the pleasures, and even the disappointments of life put anything not germane to them on the back burner. Anything else is, in effect, all but ignored. God will be one of the casualties of our squeaky wheel existence without some concerted, disciplined effort to pay attention to that which doesn't squeak. The text above gets to the heart of the matter--we need to be still and find solace in God's existence.

The phrase "be still" is actually a translation of a single word which literally means "cease," "drop what you're doing." It is a command to stop our planning and conjecturing, stop our efforts of heart and mind and hand, stop the machinations, ruminations, and fascinations. Just stop it!

But not stop just for stopping sake. That may qualify as a legalistic principle, but it would be a mistake to think it was the Sabbath principle. Everyone may need a day off, but that, too, fails to live up to the Sabbath principle. We must stop, but we stop with a purpose, not so much to smell the roses as to recognize the rose's maker.

At its core, this is a faith perspective. Faith starts with the assumption of God's existence and his ability and willingness to bless us. Since worship starts with the acknowledgment of God's existence, worship starts with faith. Without such faith, one cannot worship. So, we must stop everything we're doing and know that God is.

When we let that faith perspective predominate our thoughts and actions, let it consume every other concern, then we're ready to begin worshipping. Until then, the best that could be accomplished would be nothing but going through the motions. Worship hasn't begun until we've stopped. What that might say about what you do in church in the name of worship is something that should be thought long and hard about!

But thoughts of corporate worship aside, this, at its heart, is a personal thing. It's not knowing that "he" is God (second person), but knowing that "I" am God (first person). Worship is a personal interaction with God. It begins with a cessation of effort in which the mind and heart are enveloped in the acknowledgement of God's presence in a personally relational context.

If we don't stop ourselves, and pause to look at God in a personal way we don't worship. If we don't stop and pause to look at God personally, we are not the worshippers God seeks.

To worship is to pause and see God personally.

No comments: