Part Two: Up
“In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord seated on a throne, high and exalted, and the train of his robe filled the temple.” Isaiah 6:1.
Now to start, I am not saying up because God in some way lives above the clouds in the ‘sky’. As if we could forget worship as the way to approach God and instead buy a ticket on a space shuttle to get there!
But ‘up’ in the sense that God is bigger than us, greater than us, as Isaiah reveals:
“For 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, NAS95.
The Bible talks of our worship, our prayers and our praise going ‘up’ to God in the sense that they leave our mouths, our hearts, our minds. And as God is so much more in his being – so much greater than us – they rise from us to Him.
On a recent trip to the UK a highlight was a visit to Salisbury cathedral and to stand looking up at its impressive spire. I am also something of an amateur astronomer, and gazing up at the stars on a clear dark night is, to me, awe inspiring. In the physical act of looking up, I find my mental and spiritual perspective changing. Some things grow, others diminish.
There is a reason that for centuries church architecture emphasised the vertical. Not to point to a God who was ‘up there far away’, but to lift our gaze from the things that distract us, and help us to go up, to worship God.
Many Psalms express the motion of lifting up.
“Lift up your heads, O you gates; be lifted up, you ancient doors, that the King of glory may come in.
Who is this King of glory? The LORD strong and mighty, the LORD mighty in battle.
Lift up your heads, O you gates; lift them up, you ancient doors, that the King of glory may come in.”
“To you, O LORD, I lift up my soul;” Psalm 25:1.
“Sing to God, sing praise to his name, extol him who rides on the clouds--his name is the LORD--and rejoice before him.” Psalm 68:4.
“Bring joy to your servant, for to you, O Lord, I lift up my soul.” Psalm 86:4.
“Let me hear Your lovingkindness in the morning; For I trust in You; Teach me the way in which I should walk; For to You I lift up my soul.” Psalm 143:8, NAS95.
There’s something energetic about lifting—about lifting up. It requires action. It requires work. Our will is involved in worship. (Sometimes, unfortunately, our won’t is involved as well!)
Worship is a choice that we make. It can be costly in terms of effort. That’s one aspect where the worth of it comes in. You’ll go the effort to do something, if you think it’s worth it.
Is God worth the effort of lifting up your voice, lifting up your heart, lifting up your soul, lifting up your hands? I believe He is!
Though it oversimplifies things, it can be helpful to call the ‘lifting up’ that we do – praise.
It is tempting to just think of praise as the words which we might say or sing, but the Bible suggests that it is much more than only our words.
“In the fourth year all its fruit will be holy, an offering of praise to the LORD.” Leviticus 19:24.
The fruit of the land was given as an offering to the Lord — and it was praise.
Now while it is true that fruit, unlike money, grows on trees, it still cost the Israelites something to bring it as a sacrifice. They had to forego just hoarding it for themselves to eat or trade as they pleased. It represented something of value, of worth, and so was worship.
Which brings me to an important point: a sacrifice, even of praise, is meant to cost us something
“And they shall come… bringing burnt offerings, and sacrifices, and meat offerings, and incense, and bringing sacrifices of praise, unto the house of the Lord.” Jeremiah 17:25 KJV
“Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise--the fruit of lips that confess his name.” Hebrews 13:15.
I am sure we’ve all been guilty of leaving a service and saying “I didn’t get anything out of worship today,” when actually we were meant to be putting something into it!”
Jeremiah above uses the verb “bring”, Hebrews speaks of praise being “offered”. Rather than evaluating worship as a consumer, engage in it as a producer! Ask yourself what did you bring today to worship, and maybe ask what did it cost you to bring?
Many years ago when I was at University in Sydney I was part of a Church plant, and every week at some time in the service the worship leader used to stand at the front and urge us to ‘give a clap offering’ to God.
I hated it. It seemed forced – and it was forced – but one Sunday morning in the midst of the singing the Holy Spirit spoke clearly to me that it would ‘cost’ me something to do what the leader invited, but that was OK because then it would actually be a sacrifice!
A wonderful episode that illustrates this can be found in the life of King David.
Having offended God, David planned to build an altar and offer a sacrifice at the place the prophet Gad had revealed. The owner of the site, Araunah, saw the King coming, and offered him the site, his oxen, and even the carts and yoke of the oxen as wood for the sacrifice.
Let’s see the conversation the Bible records.
“Araunah said to David, “Let my lord the king take and offer up what is good in his sight. Look, the oxen for the burnt offering, the threshing sledges and the yokes of the oxen for the wood. “Everything, O king, Araunah gives to the king.”… “However, the king said to Araunah, “No, but I will surely buy it from you for a price, for I will not offer burnt offerings to the LORD my God which cost me nothing.” So David bought the threshing floor and the oxen for fifty shekels of silver.””
2 Samuel 24:22-24, NAS95.
David rightly recognises that it would not be his sacrifice, his offering, if it cost him nothing to bring it.
It cost me some of my comfort, my dignity, and my pride to “bring a clap offering”. It may not have been what I would have chosen of my own accord, but it can be argued that what I find easy to do in worship costs me less than what I find awkward, and as David observed should I only offer the Lord that “which cost me nothing”?
The cost of praise may be developing a willingness to participate in something a bit out of your comfort zone.
But more likely, and more often the costliness of praise and worship is in making the effort of will, of choice we have to make to set our mind on God, and to ‘lift’ our soul before him.
It is not always easy to lift our soul. What makes lifting hard is heaviness.
It is not always easy to lift our soul.
What makes lifting hard is heaviness.
Recently my daughter brought all her school books home in her backpack - she put it on the scale and it was well over 20kg (almost 50lb). That’s a backpack that you wouldn’t really want to go walking far with.
Lifting is hard because gravity and the weight of what you’re carrying work against the fact that you’re trying to lift it. It’s an effort.
We often have a spirit of heaviness in our souls, in our hearts, and lifting can be harder than any physical weight. But the Psalms urge us on – lift up your voice, lift up your soul, lift up your heart. But we answer back – I’m depressed. I’m struggling. I’m troubled. I’m in a bad mood. I’m whatever. That’s heavy. That’s hard to do.
Making the effort is something vital, in the real sense of vitality (vite = latin for life - think vital organs!).
Have you ever noticed that in the Psalms David talks to himself a lot? Talks to his soul, talks to his heart. “Oh my soul, bless the Lord. My soul’s feeling heavy, but I’m going to tell it to get it back together and try and do something.”
If we lift our spirit of heaviness to God, he will change it, actually we are told he will exchange it.
“To console those who mourn in Zion, To give
them beauty for ashes, The oil of joy for mourning,
The garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness;
That they may be called trees of righteousness,
The planting of the LORD, that He may be glorified.” Isaiah 61:3, NKJV.
We can move from being weighed down by circumstances, to being able to ‘rejoice greatly’!
“I will greatly rejoice in the LORD, My soul shall be joyful in my God; For He has clothed me with the garments of salvation, He has covered me with the robe of righteousness.” Isaiah 61:10, NKJV.
If this talk of effort has alarm bells ringing because you know that we are saved by Grace, just let me say it’s true our salvation, our redemption is something given to us, freely, and not earned. I’m not saying the effort we put into worship in some way earns us God’s favour. But while Grace is opposed to earning, it’s not always devoid of effort!
We no longer choose the purest lamb from our flock, the one worth the most and sacrifice it at an altar. We no longer change our money for ‘temple money’ and come to tables in the church foyer where we buy a dove to be killed in a ceremony that makes us ‘clean’ to approach God.
There isn’t that type of ‘costliness’ in worship that there was in the Old Testament temple practices.
Instead of those things, we bring our thanksgiving, our praise, our worship!
“Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise; give thanks to him and praise his name.”
But lifting up, bringing, sacrificing is a choice we make, even a calculated choice, based on the worth-ship we want to ascribe to our God.