Beyond Compare

If you read through the Bible you’ll find there are many times where there is an attempt to compare the one we worship to something. Their attempts generally go to show that whatever it is that we’re using as comparison is insufficient! See how often, instead of saying God is like, we find that God is beyond!

Sweeter than.

“They are more precious than gold, than much pure gold; they are sweeter than honey, than honey from the comb.”  Psalm 19:10.

“How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth!”  Psalm 119:103.

Higher than.

“From the ends of the earth I call to you, I call as my heart grows faint; lead me to the rock that is higher than I.”   Psalm 61:2.

“As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” Isaiah 55:9.

Better than.

“Because your love is better than life, my lips will glorify you.”  Psalm 63:3.

“Better is one day in your courts than a thousand elsewhere; Psalm 84:10.

Greater than.

“Now I know that the LORD is greater than all other gods, for he did this to those who had treated Israel arrogantly.”  Exodus 18:11.

“Among the gods there is none like you, O Lord; no deeds can compare with yours.” Psalm 86:8.

“For who in the skies above can compare with the LORD? Who is like the LORD among the heavenly beings?”  Psalm 89:6.


Beyond Imagining.

Our God is beyond compare but more than that, He is beyond imagining!

When we come to think about and read about God we probably have some mental images, some ‘imagining’ in our minds. It might not be the bearded old man on the clouds –   but even if we know our mental picture is not quite right – we probably have one. But God is beyond any imagining.

“Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us,”  Ephesians 3:20.

We worship a truth that is beyond what we can ever hope to know. We don’t worship a wooden idol or a carved stone, but even so we still have a mental image or idea of God. It is important to realise that whatever “imagining” we have, it does not fully describe or explain what God actually is like!

We only need to read the prophets as they try in vain to describe heaven and the worship that goes on there. Read the passages in either Ezekiel or Revelation where the writers talk about the living creatures –  the appearance of heaven that goes on about being covered in ice and coals and torches – and moving backwards and forwards.

As I looked they sang and they had wings everywhere, and they had feet and they moved this way and that way.  Then there were wheels and the wheels were turning and the wheels were here and there and they went up and they went this way…

I’m sure some people tried to paint pictures out of those passages of Ezekiel and Revelation and ended up using an awful lot of paint and canvas because the picture is ever changing.

It’s ever changing because nothing that we imagine – no picture – which is static or fixed could captures what God is like.

I often say when preaching on such passages when we read those description that they are “ever changing images of never changing truths”.

There is a God behind those images.  There is a God behind our imaginings and our mental pictures but He’s behind and He’s beyond those things.

We will never fully understand God.

Alec Motyer puts it beautifully when he says that such descriptions of God and Heaven are “Pictures drawn in the colours of this life… That project the perfection of the life to come.”

I don’t know if his words inspired songwriter Vicky Beeching, but she eloquently elaborates on the theme saying:

Trying to describe the eternal using earthly words is like trying to scoop up the whole ocean into the palm of your hand.
We’re like children with crayons trying to copy a majestic Monet, or Van Gogh.  It’s crazy that we should even try.  So we step out by faith not sight.  Bringing our childlike worship to him.
Loving the one that we’ve not yet seen.  Seeking to the one who is beautiful beyond our wildest imaginations.  Joyfully struggling for words.
We will continue in our worshipful quest of expressing the inexpressible, describing the indescribable, pronouncing the unspeakable, explaining the unfathomable, and painting the invisible.”

We will continue in our worshipful quest of expressing the inexpressible, describing the indescribable, pronouncing the unspeakable, explaining the unfathomable, and painting the invisible. Vicky Beeching

One of the early church writers expressed the mystery of the indescribable God by pointing out that no one can ever get to the other side of God to describe what He’s like!

Someone could go on the other side of a mountain or the other side of a tree or the other side of a sculpture and tell you what is beyond, but no one can go beyond God to tell us what He’s like. We can only glimpse the portions we see from time to time.

He tries to reveal himself to us as much as He can but it’s beyond our imagining.  In fact this is one of the profound reasons for the incarnation, the “word becoming flesh” and dwelling amongst us.

“And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.
John bore witness of Him and cried out, saying, “This was He of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me is preferred before me, for He was before me.’”
And of His fullness we have all received, and grace for grace. For the law was given through Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.
No one has seen God at any time. The only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, He has declared Him.” John 1:14-18.

No one but God could reveal God to us!


Beyond Circumstances.

Our worship, besides going beyond what we picture in our minds, beyond what we imagine, needs to also go beyond our circumstances.

It’s all too easy to worship just based on the circumstances in which we find ourselves. But the Bible shows worship as going beyond our situation.

“Though the fig-tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls,  yet I will rejoice in the LORD, I will be joyful in God my Saviour.” Habakkuk 3:17, 18.

How can someone do that?  In pain and sorrow, in tragedy and sadness, say “I will rejoice, I will be joyful?” We might go so far as to say we will put up with the problems, and try stoically not to grumble too much – but to say we will rejoice?

Part of the answer is recognising that we are not expected to resign ourselves to ‘fate’.  To just accepting those things, or welcoming them. We don’t have to be glad they have happened!

1 Thessalonians 5:18 is sometimes misquoted – it says “in everything give thanks” – not foreverything!

We can honestly tell God of our pain, of our trouble –but with that said – we can still acknowledge that He is good!

In the first chapter I talked about the cost we pay, showing the worth of worship.

When everything is going great it might not cost us much to worship.  In very real terms it costs us more when circumstances are bad  – but God is good all the time  – deserving of our praise.  Our worship has to go beyond our circumstances.

I am continually in awe of the apostle Paul, who after facing shipwreck, imprisonment, whipping, beating, abuse and deprivation could worship, seeing beyond his circumstances in a way that brought a new perspective. That he could descibre such hardship as: “momentary, light affliction” that  “is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison,” (2 Corinthians 4:17).


Beyond Words.

There is a short verse in the Bible where Jesus tells us about worshipping God.

“His worshippers must worship in spirit and in truth.” John 4:24.

We rightly contend to have good theology, right truths expressed in the words that we sing or say in worship. But the words of themselves are not worship.

Researching for this sermon series I found someone had used the Wizard of Oz to help explain the differences between worship in spirit and truth.

John Ortberg and Pam Howell, in “Can You Engage Both Heart and Mind?” Leadership (4-1-99) wrote:

Some churches specialize in generating emotion. The platform people are expert at moving worshipers to laughter or tears. Prayers are offered in highly emotive style and bathed in background music. Stories have to get more dramatic, songs more sentimental, preaching more dramatic, to help people keep having intense emotional experiences.

It develops people who have a “zeal for God, but not according to knowledge” (Rom. 10:2). They become worship junkies, searching for whichever church can supply the best rush.

This is Scarecrow worship: it would be better if it only had a brain.

On the other hand, some churches focus keenly on intellectual correctness. They recite great creeds, distribute reams of information, craft careful prayers ahead of time. And yet the heart and spirit are not seized with the wonder and passion that characterize those in Scripture who must fall on their faces when they encounter the living God.
No one is ever so moved by the service that they actually move!
Such worship is dry—it does not connect with people’s deepest hurts and desires. Rarely does it generate awe or healing, and never raucous joy.

This is Tin Man worship: if it only had a heart.”

One has ‘spirit’ and one has ‘truth’. One may be demonstrative, the other declarative, but worship goes beyond just one or the other.

As a worship leader, at times I question how strongly to lead songs that call for some physical expression, especially when I’m not sure how comfortable the congregation are to turn such words into action.

At such times I am helped by recalling a description of someone in worship that I received some years ago.

You may be familiar with the name of Joni Eareckson. Joni became a quadraplegic in a diving accident as a teenager, and was the subject of a film and a number of books, and has also expressed her faith in art, drawn with a pencil grasped between her teeth.

During the time I was initially preaching the sermons that have become this blog, I received an email from Sam Storms, who my wife and I came to know while living in the USA.

He was speaking at a conference, and Joni was there too. Sam describes the night like this:

The worship that night began with the rousing song, “We are Marching in the Light of God” It was great to hear so many Reformed folk singing and, yes, actually moving (ever so slightly!) while they sang! But nothing could compare with what was happening on the right hand side of the stage.

Joni handles her wheelchair as deftly as any Formula 1 driver on a racetrack. No sooner had the music begun than Joni began to “dance”. As much as a quadriplegic can dance, she danced. Joni has just enough movement and strength in her hands and shoulders to grip the controls on her chair and maneuver herself without the aid of others. Suddenly the chair began to move with the music. She thrust forward, then backwards, then forwards again, then backwards. Smoothly, and yet with obvious passion, she turned to the right, then the left, then the right again.

Suddenly, the forward and backward and side to side movements gave way to spinning….Joni began to turn her chair in circles, first clockwise, then back again. If she ceased her movements, it was only so that she could lift her contorted hands as high as her paralysis would allow. It wasn’t very high, but who’s measuring!

How Joni moved and “danced” is secondary. What’s amazing is THAT she did. What struck me… was that a woman who has suffered so horribly and painfully and persistently for 38 years so loves her God and finds him so utterly worthy of her trust and hope that she WANTED to dance.

Joni shared in her message how she struggled spiritually in the early days and months after her accident. She wrestled with bitterness and self-pity and anger at God and longed to die rather than live in that condition. But here she was, 38 years later, celebrating God, enjoying God, honoring and glorifying God. Not simply in her mind or her spirit but with her body as best as that body could worship.

I was standing, as were most of the others. All of us could choose when to sit down, were we to tire of being on our feet. We could easily clap or shove our hands into our pockets. Throughout the conference, up till that night, I had taken for granted that I could walk out of the auditorium under my own power and feed myself and tie my shoes and bathe and run and go to the bathroom without anyone’s help. Joni, and others like her, don’t take that for granted, because they can’t do any of those things. Yet, there she was, “dancing” in joy and delight and singing…

Then he says this, “I thought to myself what she wouldn’t give to do what you and I can but won’t.”

“I thought to myself what she wouldn’t give to do what you and I can but won’t.”

That’s worth repeating.

“What she wouldn’t give to do what you and I can but won’t.”

Joni was worshipping God with her body.  She longs to praise and celebrate her God, not simply in mind, spirit and soul but with arms and legs and hands as well.

That comes easily for the rest of us, at least in the physical sense, yet many are terrified of doing any of those things.  Raising our hands, kneeling or clapping or even dancing.

Worship goes far beyond words.  You might not be very comfortable doing anything like that in public and that’s okay by me, but I would urge you in private to allow yourself some degree of worship beyond words.

Some people might dance as freely as a ballerina every Sunday and for them perhaps they need to know that worship goes not just beyond words but even beyond dance!

Worship is also expressed in righteousness and justice!

Amos chapter 5, one of those little prophets in the Old Testament says this, “

“I hate, I despise your religious feasts; I cannot stand  your assemblies. Even though you bring me burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them. Though you bring choice fellowship offerings, I will have no regard for them.
Away with the noise of your songs! I will not listen to the music of your harps.
But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream!”  Amos 5:21-24.

Justice and righteousness – and beyond those in the New Testament we find Mercy and Compassion – are the things God calls us to have as part of our acceptable worship to Him.

How are you living your life?  How am I living my life?  Are we acceptable to God?


Beyond Belief.

Another beyond is that our worship can be beyond belief!

That doesn’t mean we have to do things that you’d never believe, but that even though we might believe all the right things about God, our worship needs to go beyond just assenting to the right ideas. In the end, it is not belief that makes it worship..

“You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that–and shudder.” James 2:19.


Beyond Doubt.

Tied to what I have just said, that belief alone does not constitute, (make up) worship, in the same way neither does doubt negate or disqualify worship!

You really can’t force yourself to believe something. If you believe something, you believe it.  If you don’t believe it, you don’t believe it.  If you have doubts, you have doubts.  You can’t really help that.

Coming to God – if you have doubts about something and try to tell him that you don’t doubt – makes you dishonest,  and you’ll probably feel uncomfortable about that and so will God.

But despite doubts we can still worship, because worship goes beyond doubt.

You are probably familiar with the passage in the New Testament where there’s a boy who’s sick and his father comes to Jesus and he says, “Oh Lord, I believe.  Help my unbelief.”

“Immediately the boy’s father exclaimed, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!”” Mark 9:24.

Jesus doesn’t condemn him and say, “Well, I can’t help you until you get rid of that unbelief.  I’m sorry.  While there’s any doubt there I won’t perform a miracle.”

No, He takes the belief and Jesus says, “Great.  You put your belief in the right place.”

Something I am grateful to God for showing me is that the greatest enemy of faith isn’t doubt.

Something I am grateful to God for showing me is that the greatest enemy of faith isn’t doubt.

The enemy of faith in God is misplaced faith in something other than God.

You can have faith in God but have some doubts and God will still accept your worship and God will still honor you.

But if you have faith in God and are at the same time trying to have faith in some “idol” (your own strength, enough money, popularity, or some other thing) that is when God will be upset.

The disciples, after they had seen Jesus resurrected, came and gathered around him and it says when they saw him they worship him but some doubted.

“Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go.  When they saw him, they worshipped him; but some doubted.” Matthew 28:16-17.

Thats an astonishing passage! They were able to worship even though they still had niggling doubts.  That’s natural in their life.

However, as finite, not to mention fallen, human beings, there are times when our faith may be shaken, when circumstances may lead us to question our most basic beliefs. Perhaps we have doubted God’s providence because the forecast rain never came and our crops withered and died. Perhaps we have doubted God’s love because of a painful situation in our family. Perhaps, because a fervent prayer seems to have gone unanswered, we have wondered whether the God we worship even exists.

Yet, despite our doubts, we continue to worship. And, despite our doubts, God accepts our adoration and praise”.   Robert P Mills.

Worship goes beyond doubt.  Don’t ever think that doubts prevent you from being able to worship God – or from that worship being pleasing.

A double minded man isn’t necessarily one who has faith and doubt mixed up.  It’s one who is trying to do two different things at once and please God and Mammon at the same time or God and Baal or God and whatever else that you have in your life that you might be trying to please.

In fact sometimes in the midst of pain and doubt, to turn to worship is the best thing we can do.  Sometimes in circumstances that are difficult, to turn to worship is the best thing we can do because we can get in touch with an eternal perspective.

Perhaps to sum up this beyond aspect of worship is to quote the great commandment as it appears in Mark chapter 12.

When Jesus is wanting his followers to understand what sums up all of the Old Testament and explain the things that need to be done to please God.  He says this,

“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.”

Never miss that little word all that’s in there.  Don’t just love the Lord your God with your heart, your soul and your mind and strength.

Don’t just love him with word and movement.

Love him with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind and all your strength.

Become a worshipper with all your life.

Never miss that little word all that’s in there.  Don’t just love the Lord your God with your heart, your soul and your mind and strength.

Don’t just love him with word and movement.

Love him with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind and all your strength.

Become a worshipper with all your life

Worship goes beyond an hour on a Sunday morning.  Worship goes far beyond that.  Worship goes beyond the 30 minutes that you might spend a day, or a week,  reading some devotional book. Worship goes beyond this span of 80 or a 100 years that we might live on this Earth.

One of the things that is so much a part of being a person – being human – is to get our self-esteem out of what we do, to get our self-esteem out of what we have accomplished.

The thing is that if we get our self-esteem in what we’ve accomplished and we haven’t accomplished much we have low self-esteem!  If we find our self-esteem in what we do and we can no longer do it we lose our self-esteem.

I think that our identity needs to be something that goes beyond the 80 years that we spend here.  If I find my identity in somebody who preaches and teaches then a few hundred years from now  – I won’t be doing that anymore!

Much better is to find your identity in whatever it is that will never end.  It’s why God seeks for himself worshippers.

I sometimes suspect that there are those who hold back in their Christian life because they intuitively know that God wants worshippers, but the idea of worship they have is limited. I have come across those who have said “I really don’t like music so to be on a cloud with a harp and in a choir is not going to be my idea of heaven,”

But to embrace their identity as a worshipper is still the best thing they can do because as we have seen worship goes way beyond just music and song.

Just as worship is our action in approaching the divine, I believe worship is our reaction on encountering Gods glory.

In the same way that we have a response on seeing a sight like the Grand Canyon for the first time, or hearing a beautiful song, or tasting a wonderful flavour – We have an emotional response that comes upon encountering God.

For some of us it is when we are singing, for others when we are moving. When whatever we do reveals something about God to us, it’s that emotional response to God that makes us a worshipper, and it’s that worship which will shape our identity into eternity.


Not Beyond Reach.

But the best thing about worship is it’s never beyond reach.

All these things – the act of worship, the heart of worship, the one that we worship – are not beyond reach.

We don’t do all these things in our endeavor to move from here to approach God and fall short.  It’s not that we have to learn a better way of meditating, it’s not that we have to become better at some act of worship so that we can approach God more closely.

We might need to be aware of some directions in worship, but the distance is not something we need to try to cover! Worship is approaching the divine, but he is never beyond reach.

All we have to do is set our heart toward him and he approaches us.

James 4: 8 says, “Draw near to God and he will draw near to you,” or, “Come near to God and he will come near to you.”

It doesn’t matter if all you can manage is to raise your hands a little or to half sing a song or even just to hum along or to perhaps just sit looking at the words and thinking “God I’d like to know you better in the way that these words, the person that wrote them seems to know you.”

Whatever step you take in worship, God is never beyond reach.  If you need more of God in your life, if you want to feel more of God in your life, point your heart in these worship directions.

In, Up, Out and Beyond.

 This blog post is distilled from a series of sermons preached at Torquay Christian Fellowship (Australia) in late 2005.

Click here to download a PDF suitable for 2 sided printing: Booklet Worship Directions
P.O. Box 195
Torquay VIC 3228