Advent 2

For the great and powerful of this world, there are only two places in which their courage fails them, of which they are afraid deep down in their souls, from which they shy away. These are the manger and the cross of Jesus Christ. No powerful person dares to approach the manger, and this even includes King Herod. For this is where thrones shake, the mighty fall, the prominent perish, because God is with the lowly. Here the rich come to nothing, because God is with the poor and hungry, but the rich and satisfied He sends away empty. Before Mary, the maid, before the manger of Christ, before God in lowliness, the powerful come to naught; they have no right, no hope; they are judged.

—Dietrich Bonhoeffer, God Is in the Manger: Reflections on Advent and Christmas

Thankfulness

O Lord, that lends me life, lend me a heart replete with thankfulness.

—William Shakespeare in Henry VI, Part 2

Gratitude is the heart’s memory.

—Anonymous

Thou hast given to me so much . . . Give one thing more—a grateful heart.

—George Herbert (1593-1633)

In everything give thanks.

—1 Thessalonians 5:18

Be thankful for the smallest blessing, and you will deserve to receive greater. Value the least gifts no less than the greatest, and simple graces as especial favours. If you remember the dignity of the Giver, no gift will seem small or mean, for nothing can be valueless that is given by the most high God.

—Thomas a Kempis (1380-1471)

Count your blessings,
Name them one by one;
Count your blessings,
See what God has done.

—J. Oatman, Jr.

Thanks Be to God!

A thankful heart is not only the greatest virtue, but the parent of all other virtues.

—Cicero in ORATIO PRO CNAEO PLANCIO, XXXIII

Pride slays thanksgiving, but an humble mind is the soil out of which thanks naturally grow. A proud man is seldom a grateful man, for he never thinks he gets as much as he deserves.

—Henry Ward Beecher

The worship most acceptable to God comes from a thankful and cheerful heart.

—Plutarch, c. 100 A.D.

Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God

—Philippians 4:6

Scriptural Singing

By the Eighteenth Century, writers such as Isaac Watts, William Cowper, John Newton, and the Wesley brothers felt at liberty to compose freely words of praise that were not strict paraphrases of Scripture. But they still felt strongly the obligation of being sure that their words were Scriptural if not Scripture. Often in those early days hymns were printed with the biblical references that justified their content appended at the end of every verse or even every line. 

—Donald T. Williams, “Something Old and Something New: The Worship Wars and Christian Ministry,” 4

Only Christ

Biblically speaking, no worship leader, pastor, band, or song will ever bring us close to God. We can’t shout, dance, or prophesy our way into God’s presence. Worship itself cannot lead us into God’s presence. Only Jesus Christ Himself can bring us into God’s presence, and He has done it through a single sacrifice that will never be repeated—only joyfully recounted and trusted in.

—Bob Kauflin, Worship Matters: Leading Others to Encounter the Greatness of God, 74

Theology for Life

Although very few Christians are called to be academic theologians, all Christians are called to think theologically. My conviction is that theology is relevant to Christian living. Theology that does not have some cash value for a life of obedient worship is, at best, of secondary interest.

—Robin Parry, Worshiping Trinity, 8

Big Prayer to a Big God

Enlarge Thy kingdom, O God, and deliver the world from the dominion and tyranny of Satan. Hasten the time, which Thy Spirit hath foretold, when all nations, Whom Thou has made, shall worship Thee, and glorify Thy Name. Bless the good endeavors of those who strive to propagate the Truth, and prepare the hearts of all men to receive it; to the honour of Thy holy Name. Amen.

—Bishop Wilson, AD 1663

The Eternal Song

God has prepared for Himself one great song of praise throughout eternity, and those who enter the community of God join in this song. It is the song that the “morning stars sang together and all the sons of God shouted for joy” at the creation of the world. (Job 38:7). It is the victory song of the children of Israel after passing through the Red Sea, the Magnificat of Mary after the annunciation, the song of Paul and Silas in the night of prison, the song of the singers on the sea of glass after their rescue, the “song of Moses the servant of God, and the song of the Lamb” (Rev. 15:3) It is the song of the heavenly fellowship.

—Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together: The Classic Exploration of Christian Community

Let me suggest that every group brings its own voice, but no group brings the official voice. One Voice sings above them all, and this Voice sings in all their voices, excluding none. His singular voice is distributed among a plurality of people. Just because there are so many dimensions to His own being, the multiplicity of their voices amplifies His song.

—Reggie Kidd, With One Voice: Discovering Christ’s Song in Our Worship, 145

Heart Worship 15

I think when you’re in church and a worship song is played (provided it’s not heretical), you have two choices:

1) Worship
2) Criticize, evaluate, and engage in pompous elitism.

I think what we need to do is just worship. When we got to church yesterday (we were very late) I didn’t feel like worshipping, for various reasons. And I may not have liked every song that was played.

But that’s my problem. None of the songs were heretical, and just because I wasn’t inspired to lift up Jesus, it doesn’t mean that the people around me were wrong to do so. In fact, they were right. I was wrong.

I think what’s needed in the worship wars, ultimately, is humility, thankfulness for what we have, and a renewal of the desire to worship God in spirit and truth. Worship, like grace, does not find an easy dwelling in an agitated, proud, critical heart.

—”Bill,” thinklings.org

Heart Worship 13

The all-encompassing criterion for acceptable sacrifice before God in the Old Testament was the posture and the attitude of the person making the sacrifice. Jesus affirmed this truth when He watched worshipers making their offerings in the temple (mark 12:41-44). He pronounced His benediction on the widow who offered her two mites, the smallest measure of currency. Jesus pointed out that her gift was more costly for her than the offerings of the men of great wealth, who dropped the equivalent of $10,000 in the offering plate. He said that because He was able to read her heart when she gave her sacrifice.

—R. C. Sproul, A Taste of Heaven: Worship in the Light of Eternity, 28

Heart Worship 12

You see, I love the use of music in church worship, and I have a special appreciation for the classic hymns of the historic church—I love the beautiful harmonies, the wonderful sound of the organ, the poetry of the lyrics. Unfortunately, the church I attend makes frequent use of two songbooks: one excellent hymnal that contains all of my beloved hymns of the faith, and another (a paperback!) that contains what I considered shallow, musically simplistic, “politically correct” (whatever that means), more modern (post-1960s) worship songs. It wasn’t that the songs in that dread paperback songbook were theologically incorrect or somehow inappropriate for a worship service; I just really didn’t like ‘em.

For a long time, I would cringe each time during the Sunday worship service that I had to haul out the Modern Praise Book; I’d roll my eyes at each repetitive chorus, and I’d ruthlessly document how much worse it was than my favorite hymns. I’d subject my wife to rambling diatribes about Modern Worship Music on the car ride home from church.

But at some point in the last year, I realized that I was spending more time snootily picking apart the songs than I was actually singing. And I realized that my overly critical attitude was completely distracting me from the act of worship. It’s hard to get much out of a Sunday sermon when you’re mentally agitated over the praise song used earlier in the service. That was a problem, and I knew deep inside that the problem was more with me than it was with the church’s choice of Sunday music.

Since that moment of realization, it’s been as if a weight were lifted off my shoulders—I still prefer good old-fashioned hymns, but I’m finding that it’s much more pleasant to just participate in worship than it is to sit back and continually critique it. My wife still has to put up with the occasional music-themed rant from me, but over the last few months I’ve even caught myself starting to appreciate some of the Modern Praise Songs I used to complain about. Who cares if the lyrics aren’t quite as clever or poetic as I would’ve preferred? I don’t think St. Peter is standing at the Pearly Gates handing out awards to the snarkiest church music critics.

All this to say: sometimes you just have to shut up and worship.

Andy Rau, “Shut Up and Worship: Confessions of a Church Music Snob”

Heart Worship 11

Music and liturgy can assist or express a worshiping heart, but they cannot make a non-worshiping heart into a worshiping one. The danger is that they can give a nonworshiping
heart the sense of having worshiped.

So the crucial factor in worship in the church is not the form of worship, but the state of the hearts of the saints. If our corporate worship isn’t the expression of our individual
worshiping lives, it is unacceptable.

—John MacArthur, The Ultimate Priority, 104

Heart Worship 10

We must beware of the naïve idea that our music can ‘please’ God as it would please a cultivated human hearer. That is like thinking, under the old Law, that He really needed the blood of bulls and goats. To which an answer came, mine are the cattle upon a thousand hills’, and ‘if I am hungry, I will not tell thee.’ If God (in that sense) wanted music, He would not tell us. For all our offerings, whether of music or martyrdom, are like the intrinsically worthless present of a child, which a father values indeed, but values only for the intention.

—C. S. Lewis, “On Church Music” in Christian Reflections, 98-99