Brother Lawrence (1614-1691) was born to very poor peasant parents in Lorraine, France. To escape poverty he joined the French army. One day he noticed a barren tree in mid-winter, stripped of all leaves and fruit, waiting silently and patiently for the sure hope of summer abundance. He recognized in that image his own life. The sight kindled within him a love for God that never ceased to burn! He volunteered to serve as a lay brother in a Carmelite monastery in Paris. A big, awkward fellow serving as a cook in the kitchen, he discovered the secret to holiness as ‘practicing the presence of God in the ordinary business of life.’ A classic booklet bearing that title was published after his death. The story goes that when he was dying a brother asked him what he was doing: he replied that he was doing what he had been doing the past 40 years, viz. worshiping God! You see, for brother Lawrence, worship was primary and death secondary. Incidentally, it came to me that the best way to deal with our worldliness of heart at this moment is to likewise focus on worshiping our beautiful God, amid the ordinary business of life, including the trials of life and whatever our enemy throws at us (e.g. the isolation of Covid, loneliness, despair, depression, weariness in well-doing, etc), then self-crucifixion becomes just a tad easier!
We come now to some of the spiritual spin-off’s and practical implications of a life of true worship:
(1) Worship precedes work. We are worshipers before we are workers. Many Christian leaders have made the fatal mistake of reversing the biblical order. One thinks of the prophet Isaiah’s encounter with God preceding his call to ministry (Is. 6:1-8). One thinks of the great awakenings in 18th century England, marked by the devotion, worship and music of the Wesley’s. In my personal experience I find that any depressed mood on my part is almost immediately lifted by listening and worshiping along to one of Charles’ many revival-inspired hymns of praise! ‘And can it be…’
(2) Worship impels/propels our ministry: the apostle Paul wrote of this in his 2nd Letter to the Corinthians, concerning our all-important ministry of reconciliation: ‘For the love of Christ urges us on, because we are convinced that one has died for all, so that those who live might live no longer for themselves, but for him who died and was raised for them’ (2 Cor. 5:14-15/NRSV). Reconciliation is very hard work (1), and in our personal and corporate endeavours we shall need the propelling power of Christ’s love to succeed in the Church and in our torn-apart world. When I grow weary in this ministry of reconciliation, I often fall back on the words of Helen Keller (deaf and blind American author and activist, 1880-1968), ‘I am only one, but still I am one. I cannot do everything, but still I can do something; And because I cannot do everything I will not refuse to do the something that I can do.’ God’s love will empower us in whatever he lays on our heart to do, whether big or small. ‘He aint heavy, he’s my brother!’
(3) Worship is ‘key’ to overturning any kind of idolatry. One of the earlier Minor Prophets, Hosea, sketches a picture of Israel’s continued infidelity to God despite his repeated expressions of divine goodness and love to the nation: “When Ephraim spoke, there was excitement; he was praised in Israel; but he became guilty through Baal and died. And now they keep on sinning; they have made metal images, idols of silver, as a result of their skill… ‘sacrifice to these,’ they say… Yet I have been the LORD your God ever since the land of Egypt… there is no savior besides me… When I fed them they became satisfied; and their hearts became proud; therefore, they forget me…’ (Hos. 6:13:1-6/CEB). Ch.14 describes God’s plea to return to him, with a promise of gracious healing: ‘I will heal their faithlessness; I will love them freely… I will be like the dew to Israel… they will again live beneath my shadow, they will flourish like a garden; they will blossom like the vine… Ephraim, what do idols have to do with me? It is I who answer and look after you. I am like a green cyprus tree; your fruit comes from me’ (14:1-8). At this point, think of some of the idols found in our world and even among God’s people today… search your own heart as to any signs of idolatry, conscious or unconscious.
What can break these shackles? Certainly not the ‘gospel of trying harder,’ nor more discipline, rules or ceremonies. Only ‘The Sight of Peerless Worth!’ (Ora Rowen):
‘Idols once they won thee, charmed thee
Lovely things of time and sense;
Gilded, thus does sin disarm thee,
Honeyed lest thou turn thee thence.
Not the crushing of those idols,
With its bitter void and smart,
But the beaming of his beauty,
The unveiling of His heart…
‘Tis that look that melted Peter,
‘Tis that face that Stephen saw,
‘Tis that heart that wept with Mary,
Can alone from idols draw –
Draw, and win, and fill completely,
Till the cup o’erflow the brim;
What have we to do with idols,
Who have companied with Him?’ (2)
(1) Dr. Michael Cassidy’s ‘Footprints in the African Sand’ makes a wonderful read as to reconciliation through prayer and the Cross. His organization African Enterprise was mightily used of God over decades to save the South African nation from a bloodbath in 1994. Further north, in Rwanda, the toll was almost 1 million lives in the genocide of the Tutsi tribe. Sometimes I think that the work of reconciliation in SA has hardly begun. Sadly in a way, sport (SA are the current Rugby world cup champions) has been an amazing uni-fier and has in many ways outstripped the Church in recent years. The Church needs the fullness of Christ’s love to empower us to complete the task. PS, you can find watch the amazing story of ‘The Threatened Miracle of South Africa’s Democracy’ at https://youtu.be/QtGrymp/EpTs
(2) Through Alcoholics Anonymous, world-wide, many a shattered life and family has been restored through the application of this ‘new attachment’ principle.‘At the end of your tether, there is God!’
WHY NOT COME BACK IN A WEEK OR TWO FOR PART 4, SO THAT YOU MAY PROCESS THE ABOVE IN MIND, HEART AND LIFE!?