16 January 2009

Reaching for Heaven

Looking back through the archives, I thought I might polish an old post and "re-post" these thoughts on worship from July 2nd, 2005.
As I attempted to worship today, I was overwhelmed by a profound sense of frailty and indescribable gratitude.  “Attempted” is the correct term because I literally could not utter the words.  Suddenly they seemed too holy and pure for me; a man of unclean lips. With tears and a faint whisper, my worship poured out in pure joy.

This is a rare experience for me occurring occasionally in periods of tremendous trial.  Which leads me to ask if I really get it?

When I come to worship do I believe the words I sing? On most occasions, I don’t.  This is not some contrived attempt at "transparency"; it is the truth of my shallow, lightweight existence. If I truly believed these words:
Your love, O LORD, reaches to the heavens,
your faithfulness to the skies.
6 Your righteousness is like the mighty mountains,
your justice like the great deep
.  Psalm 36:5-6
I would be shook by their description of God's faithful love and supreme holiness.  It would seem that I should be grateful for the opportunity to even utter them.  On reflection, I fear that most of my worship is trifling with the holiness of God.  My self-consciousness refuses to let me ascend to that high and holy place of trembling worship.  I'm not comfortable with the exposure, so I contrive a worship "posture" (adaptable to any environment) that allows me to appear focused and in love with God.  Safely, I sing aloud (sometimes even with vigor) mastering the abominable art of “worshipping” without letting the truth crack my self-sufficient heart into a million quivering pieces.  How else am I to explain my lack of soaring joy on Sunday afternoon?  Am I not singing the most beautiful and profound truths in the Universe?

Thankfully today God led me somewhere different - to a glorious place of self-forgetfulness (losing life) and satisfying worship of Him (finding life).

Has natural beauty or human kindness ever stirred you to tears? Then indeed EVERY worship service, as it is proclaiming something infinitely greater, should generate profound fear, trembling and joy. If not, something of the greatness of God and the spectacle of the Gospel most likely has been blocked by self-conscious pride.

Fear the desire to appear dignified in worship. It is deceitful trickery and it betrays a focus on something "other."  Every recorded encounter with God solicited an uncontrolled, knee-jerk response of worship, which, according to the Revelation, continues for eternity and becomes the substance of joy for all who share community with God.

This brings my thoughts to the practice of lifting hands. Why do we do it? 

Lifting hands is prescriptive.
Lift up your hands in the sanctuary and praise the LORD. Psalm 134:2
Why? What is distinctive or descriptive in this act?

Lifting hands is symbolic.
I stretch out my hands to You; My soul longs for You, as a parched land. Selah. Psalm 143:6
The act itself is futile. Are we reaching for God? – for Heaven?

Realizing, in the light of these verses, how short my heart falls from grasping the greatness of God makes sense of lifting hands. The truth of the matter is that, this side of heaven, I will never “get it.” God's holiness, beauty, grace and power are all-consuming (Hebrews 12:29) and unknowable (Ephesians 3:14,15,16,17,18,19).  My heart is too small and my flesh too resistant to total surrender – but there is a flicker of true worship that must be expressed. So helpless and frail, like a baby bird confined to its nest and reaching for food, I stretch my hands to God. I can’t reach heaven with my hands, but with them I can express the desire (however small) to be there worshipping God in true, self-forgetful, trembling joy.

When faced with my limitations to true worship, I have two options. The first is to contrive a pattern of "worship” and perform. The second is to acknowledge my inability to fully appreciate God and humbly continue with the act. That is gospel living. God must come further to us than we do to Him – even in our worship. The gospel beauty here is that my imperfect understanding is not an obstacle to worship.

May my tenderness towards God increase and may every worship service leave me desperately reaching for a God I need and cannot grasp. Here God is glorified and, in trembling tears, I am satisfied.


  1. great post,
    some of these same thoughts have rub through my own mind. you put it in words brilliantly

  2. Appreciate your thoughts. Its what makes it clear that those moments don't come easily with some weakhearted pursuit of God but a wrestling with God, a genuine seeking, and an expectation and desperation for those moments that only God can give that carry you for weeks. Imagine having those moments constantly of pure joy - heaven!