Worship and Intimacy

 

Of all of God�s attributes it is impossible to say that any one truth is more awe-inspiring than any other.God�s majestic nature creates a mountain of awe for any who dare to gaze upon it. Truly a look at just two attributes is more than enough to give us a solid foundation for worship. Let us consider God�s infinitude and transcendence. These truths encompass all other attributes in harmonious unity.

Foundation

Space unfolds itself into hazy eternity.The brain cannot seem to wrap itself around the concept of an expanse so vast that there seems to be no end.Generations past must have felt similarly insignificant in their tiny boats when first they ventured from the shore.The edge of the world was the challenge then for the mind to maneuver.We call the galaxy upon galaxy, sea of endless space, infinite, though it is not.An even greater challenge is to think of what lies outside the boundaries of our universe.Just as space is infinitely larger than the seas on our speck of a planet, so is God infinitely more expansive than the entire universe.And he is greater still.

We can never comprehend God�s infinitude.To attempt to do so drives the mind mad with awe.

�Here, and in all our meditations upon the qualities and content of God,� writes Novatian, �we pass beyond our power of fit conception, nor can human eloquence put forth a power commensurate with His greatness. At the contemplation and utterance of His majesty all eloquence is rightly dumb; all mental effort is feeble. For God is greater than the mind itself.�[i]

 

This awful infinity is repeated in all things true of the Godhead. Every attribute is the infinite expression of what we know in human terms, and infinitely different from our own attributes.God�s love is boundless. His mercy is unending.His justice is insatiable. His holiness reaches depths no creature can fathom, and deeper still. God is infinite in all that he is.Each of the truths we have about who God is, describe the whole of the one God, they are united, inseparable.God exists in holistic infinitude.

We live in agonizing finitude.We love our families, while subject to limits in our expression of love. We are painfully aware that our affection can never be fully shown or communicated.As full as our experience is, our love it-self is limited.We can never know the kind of unconditional, unlimited love that characterizes God except as he directs it toward us.

We find ourselves powerless.There are difficult questions in every life to which we have no answer.When we face life and death, we are powerless.With all our science and all our tricks to prolong life, in the end we are powerless against death.�Man is like a breath; his days are like a fleeting shadow� (Psalm 144:4 NIV). We as a race experience a particular helplessness when facing the death of a child.With all our courage and strength with which we defend the ones we love, we are frustrated with limits to our power. The Infinite is eternal, unchanging with limitless power.God�s omnipotence is a succor to our vulnerable souls.

All our attempts at virtue, justice and mercy fall short. We are limited even beyond our own sense of virtue.According to C. S. Lewis, there are �two odd things about the human race. First, that they [are] haunted by the idea of a sort of behavior they ought to practice, what you might call fair play, or decency, or morality, or the Law of Nature. Second, that they [do] not in fact do so.�[ii]We are in our nature limited; we are never able to reach even our own standard of morality.Yet if we weren�t afflicted with a fallen nature, and if we perfectly matched God�s standard, we would not reach the perfection that is God, for he created the standard.

We are left frustrated by the injustice in the world.Not only do we feel powerless to stop it, our own dealings daily contradict our ideals and contribute to injustice.We face maddening limits encroaching on the good we want to do.We can rejoice in our God for in him there is no contradiction. He is the infinite Good.

�Your love, O LORD, reaches to the heavens,

��� your faithfulness to the skies.

Your righteousness is like the mighty mountains,

��� your justice like the great deep� (Psalm 36:5,6 NIV).

 

The words of the Poet are varied when speaking of God�s righteousness, and justice.Human language cannot contain them for we know nothing with which they compare.Mighty mountains, the great deep, shining like the dawn or the noonday sun, these words are words of praise and poetry, yet the attributes they describe are larger still. Infinite and beyond comprehension, God transcends our natures and even our highest reckonings.

God is not numbered among creatures.He does not fit into kingdom, phylum or order.He is not merely the pinnacle of all life. God is transcendent.�Forever God stands apart, in light unapproachable. He is as high above an archangel as above a caterpillar, for the gulf that separates the archangel from the caterpillar is but finite, while the gulf between God and the archangel is infinite.�[iii]

As we�ve explored, every aspect of God�s nature is infinite, and his limitlessness is contrast with our myriad limits.�� God�s vast differences are of frightening magnitude.The unknown has always frightened us, as a people.In God we find the unknowable.�In the awful abyss of the divine Being may lie attributes of which we know nothing and which can have no meaning for us, just as the attributes of mercy and grace can have no personal meaning for seraphim or cherubim.�[iv]In God there certainly is infinity of depth in his character, attributes we have no words or concepts for.They mean nothing to us. �These hidden facets of God�s nature concern His relation to none but Himself.�[v]These truths about God are so far removed from human experience that we cannot understand.Indeed all of God�s attributes are rightly removed infinitely from the attributes of our experience. We only know them because we are created in the image of God and he has given us points of reference to know in the finite what he is in the infinite.

God unknowable, unapproachable, incomprehensible, familiarity with Him, breeds not contempt but awe.We shall spend all eternity learning, getting up to speed on the divine Character, growing in intimacy and we shall not have attained understanding of the smallest fraction of whom He is.The learning curve is so steep it cannot rightly be called a curve. The unknown in the person of God prostrates us in the dust and tears of holy fear.

In olden days, men of faith were said to �walk in the fear of God� and to �serve the Lord with fear.� However intimate their communion with God, however bold their prayers, at the base of their religious life was the conception of God as awesome and dreadful.This idea of God transcendent runs through the whole Bible and gives color and tone to the character of the saints. This fear of God was more than a natural apprehension of danger; it was a nonrational dread, an acute feeling of personal insufficiency in the presence of God the Almighty.[vi]

 

The knowledge that such an awful, terrifying, and insanely superior Being exists somewhere in the universe would be enough to undo us all, the fact that He is infinite and around us and in us at every moment is too much for anyone.Like Isaiah faced with the Shekinah of God, we cry �Woe to me! ...I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips...� (Isaiah 6:5 NIV).Our hearts feign to speak of One so sovereign, or to grapple with the thought of One so limitless.�Yet we console ourselves with the knowledge that it is God Himself who puts it in our hearts to seek Him and makes it possible in some measure to know Him, and he is pleased with even the feeblest effort to make Him known.�[vii]

Though the nature of God makes it impossible for us to see through Him and understand, though His nature is so far removed from every thing we know save, perhaps, an all consuming fire,[viii] though to be in His presence is to be consumed and destroyed, yet does He look us in the eye and draw us to know Him. We celebrate this absurdity with ecstasy mixed with unutterable fear.This is worship.

Philosophy

The command to worship is issued not from God�s lips, but from His very nature.In response to the Transcendent and Infinite, the finite are compelled to stand in awe.For those of us who love Him and are initiated into intimacy, gazing into the awful abyss of Majesty is cause for celebration. All nature shares in this jubilation.

�Man�s chief end is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.�[ix]With all creation man was created for the pleasure of God.The fall changed the relationship of man to God.Tozer speaks of man no longer accepting the Creator-creature relationship; in the fall man has rejected the inherent Lordship of God.[x]For man to be correctly related to God, he must be in total submission, and God must be allowed his rightful place as Sovereign. Man must glorify God; it is his chief end.

Relationship is at the heart of worship.Worship is a function of intimacy with God. As we gaze into the unsearchable depths of God, we are enveloped by his gaze, and experience his Reality. �To worship is to experience Reality, to touch Life. It is to know, to feel, to experience the resurrected Christ in the midst of the gathered community. It is a breaking into the Shekinah of God, or better yet, being invaded by the Shekinah of God.�[xi]Only as we know Him, intimately, sweetly, only as our hearts grow in fondness, only as we touch His Life do we join the Elders around the Throne in worship. Man must enjoy God; it is his chief end, forever.

The command to worship flows from the nature of God and is repeated by longing hearts. The words are used so routinely that the meaning is dulled in our ears.Praise the Lord! We say it time and time again.It is has become more a punctuation than a command.But a command it is.We sing it, we shout it and we murmur it, but unless the soul responds to the command we haven�t praised Him. �Praise the LORD. / Praise the LORD, O my soul� (Psalm 146:1 NIV).

Worship is standing in trembling awe of God. Praise is ecstatic celebration that the Transcendent has drawn our awe-filled hearts into intimacy with him. Thanksgiving is the soul expressing gratitude to its Maker for who He is and what He has done. O, my soul, heed the command I give you: Worship!

The nature of worship is couched in obedience.It is as the creature is correctly related to the Creator that he reflects glory.In creation, the flower turning its head to the sun, drinking in the dewy nectar, dressed in her cool Sunday morning best, glorifies God. She was created for such.The bird gliding and tossing the breeze, chirping its song, knows what it is to worship.The cow ruminating over her cud and the fish flailing against the current, the bee collecting his sweet sustenance to the point of death and the grass lying green under foot are daily living to their chief ends. They obey, created to show the glory of God, they obey. They simply live the lives they were created to live.

Living is the sacrament that all nature reverberates to.�The steps of a man are ordered of the Lord� (Psalm 37:23 NIV). As man embraces this truth in obedience he joins creation in the sacrament of living. This is no fatalistic sense of destiny. No, this is the intimacy of consciously obeying the Sovereign who invades every cell and moment. The sacramental life embraces every instant and duty of the day as worship.

Were worship merely the lot of man, obedience to the thoughts of God a thing to passively accept as fate, we would not know the pull of God to know Him.[1] Man is not only finite and incapable of knowing God in himself; he also is not in a position to properly obey.The fallen nature of man has disconnected the proper Creator-creature relationship.Worship at its core is submission.It is conscious and glorious subjection to the true Sovereign.As that relationship is made right we find ourselves in a place where the grace of God draws us deeper into the knowledge of the Infinite.As the moment-by-moment surrender pulverizes our hardened individuality, we lose our kingdom to find the intimate sweet whispers of God.

Our daily practice of worship tunes our ears to the song of the Spirit.It is in the daily school of the disciple that we learn to sing in harmony with the Divine.The more intimate the love song becomes, the greater the euphoria when other singers join. The more familiar the individual is with the Kol Yahweh, the more corporate worship takes on significance.

The disciplining grace has a way of lashing the heart to the rack and tearing tissue agonizingly from sinew making larger its capacity forever. Worship flows from large hearts. As practice makes the ear acute to the whisperings of God, grace draws the heart to the rack of sacrifice, of submission, of worship. Worship breeds worship.As opened enlarged hearts meet to practice worship together, the intimacy, the mystical bond of the authentic community of worship glows bright, binding all together in the awe and wonder.The sacramental life of worship�the worship that seizes day and moment� initiates the authentic corporate worship of the open heart.

Worship not only rests in being correctly related to God, but also in being correctly related to one another. Jesus said, �So when you are offering your gift at the altar, if you remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift� (Matthew 5:23,24 NRSV). God created us to be dependant on him as well as each other.In the beginning God created community, and in the context of worship, he desires us to be correctly related to one another as well. When our lives are in sync with the Creator-creature relationship, we live in harmony with each other and all creation�this way we worship, submitted, as we should be.

Community grows when diverse people come together and know one another.Saint Augustine writes of being an infant, �Thus, little by little, I became conscious where I was; and to have a wish to express my wishes to those who could content them, and I could not; for the wishes were within me, and they without; nor could they by any sense of theirs enter within my spirit.�[xii] We start life loved but unknown. Slogging the long road, our steps fall to a desire to be known.Even in the most intimate relationships we face the mystery of each other. Diversity is the key to community.In the church, in society, we need one another. The diverse giftings God has given, power the greater body. In many aspects of community life, the personalities that God has created need to be embraced. In fellowship, discipleship, even evangelism, knowing the personalities, as God has created them to be, brings about his purpose. Worship, however, can transcend knowing one another.

As individuals come to a corporate worship setting the distinctive gifts of the individual are embraced while their individuality is stripped naked.With the walls, that separate individual spirits, down for a time, spirit can kiss spirit, joining together to worship Spirit. The spirit can bypass natural knowledge. The Spirit of God in some way may touch the corporate body, and then the mass of individuals will respond in a single movement.The conscious mind may not be aware that its spirit is communing with the others in the room, all it knows is that it is, in that moment, part of something much bigger than itself.This should be the distinctive of corporate worship of a true Spirit.

Worship is about relationship�correct relationship.To truly worship, we must be correctly related to our Creator in submission.We must also be correctly related to each other, that our worship may transcend the individual.As our whole lives are enveloped in worship, we find ourselves in harmony with all creation as it worships offering its sacrament of living. Oh my soul, worship the Lord!

Family Model

Worship is strangely intimate.We find it more difficult to be open and expressive with our feelings of adoration than to be honest about our guilt.It is as if the spirit of a man is tucked away, so hidden behind abundant folds of the heart, that to expose it is the worst kind of immodesty.As our relationships become more intimate, we close off our spirits all the more. Perhaps we hide our adoration for fear that our human relationship cannot sustain a jealous love affair with The Divine.Perhaps we like to hold a hidden, unseen part of our heart away from others, so to preserve our individuality, our inner mystery.

Knowing one another, then, makes the communion of spirits more intimate for it is a hidden treasure.In the community, the soul may not know that it has joined with another in worship, but when it is known, it cannot hide.In the intimacy of self-disclosure, corporate worship becomes a tender, exposed and vulnerable, expression of love.So intimate and risky to our individuality, is this worship that practicing it as a family is difficult. Difficult in the sense that our will may rebel, but in any other sense it is a natural expression that was created right into the family.Worship that costs the dear sacrifice of exposing our inner mystery to another is an awful and fierce blessing indeed.

To take the great risk, which comes with exposing our innermost adoration, we require a warm environment.No more secure environment should be found than the family.Here we may be known most intimately.With loving and compassionate people around us, knowing us, we may experiment with expressions of worship without fear. For children, this security is that much more important.To be sure, practicing anonymous individual worship among strangers is more comfortable, but to begin to play with transcendent corporate worship, to risk our individuality, we need the warm bonds of family.

The church is the family of God; it should provide a stunning example, to the families that make it up, of warm family worship.In order to do that, the church must approach worship thoughtfully and with consideration.

First we need creativity in our corporateness. We need to think carefully about how we value togetherness in worship and ways we can encourage a corporateness to our worship expressions that transcend ourselves.Always figuratively, and quite often literally, corporate worship means making music together.What can we do in our liturgies to breakdown the artificial forms that separate performer from spectator, priest from laity? Church architecture is hinged on our values as we worship.Platforms, pews, placement of the pulpits and pianos are all determined by our doctrinal priorities. They are either potential obstacles to corporateness in our worship settings or icons to reinforce the message.We can let the value we place on corporateness in worship inform our building designs as the cathedrals of old were.What if you are not planning a new church building?Our thoughts on corporateness start even closer to home. It may involve simple practical things like making worship time varied in volume so that we can express ourselves uninhibited, our shouts carried away with the shouts of the rest of the body, or in quiet stillness hearing our own hushed voices blend with the harmonies around us. Or perhaps the instrumentalists could stand and kneel where the rest of the worshipers stand and kneel. Whatever the expression, our corporateness begins in action. By acting like a family, like a body, in our relationships, we set the tone for whatever changes to our services naturally follow.�� Fellowship is much more important to the truest worship than our times of shaking-hands have realized.

Secondly, we need to be considerate of children in our services.We must carefully consider how we pass on worship experiences to our children so that they may be part of the worshipping community, actively participating in transcendent and awful worship.That worship is more than just singing songs is hopefully apparent. A key for any of us to truly worship as we sing a song is that we have history with it.It�s words hold significance for us because they have been integrated into our own spiritual histories.As children are introduced to the great hymns of the faith or a new song of adoration, they need to find for themselves a sense of history. Hearing the story of the wretched slave trader who found how amazing grace could be, or understanding the old words, connects their hearts with the song.So when implored with �let the amen sound from His people again,� their answer may be �Gladly for aye we adore him!�[2]In addition to explaining the songs, adults can help children integrate songs into their spiritual histories by discussing how they apply to what they are experiencing in the rest of their lives, connecting the service of songs to sacramental worship.

We must also consider the needs of children as we design our services.We can guide them through the service, explaining worship, focusing them on the shimmering nature of God.We should use whatever means available to show children the nature of God.Visual aids, illustrative methods, object lessons, art, humor, puppets, multimedia, are as at home in the Sunday service, and the family room as they are in the children�s service. We can scatter songs of worship throughout our liturgy so as to anchor in their minds that offering, the preaching of the word, and fellowship, are also acts of worship, confiding that we come together on Sunday for this one purpose.We can publicly invite them to participate specifically, thanking God for their presence.With creativity, we can engage children in the mystery of worship, as we do they will develop a spiritual history that they will not soon depart.

The Sunday service is for corporate worship, but it is not the only time we worship corporately.The church should provide a model for worshipping families as they approach the sacredness of every day.Family worship begins in the habits and rituals of the day.Mealtime and bedtime prayers are a liturgy that structure our days. As we get ready in the morning, we can allow the newness of the day to remind us of mercy�s perpetual freshness. As we gaze through the window waiting for sleep to calm our thoughts, the sea of stars can remind us of God�s dimensions and depth. Reflecting on the events of the day can connect us with the providence of God, giving us a sense of spiritual history.These are the places we find our sacramental worship.In the family, our mandate is to enjoy these times with our children, to take every moment to remind each other of the beauty of God.These moments are the building blocks for corporate family worship.They are practice for times set aside for devotion.We have the great opportunity to not only enjoy moments in our day that incarnate our love for God with our children, but to express our feelings to each other.As we connect these moments of inward incarnated devotion with times of corporate worship, we open the doors of worship to our children.We show them experientially what it is to worship.We prepare our children�we prepare ourselves, for worship with the greater community.

Finally, to experience transcendent worship in the church body or in the family, we must focus on God.We must proclaim his attributes, make known his deeds, and shout out his reality.Above all we must gaze into his Glory alone.As we worship we must forget ourselves. Even in looking at how unworthy we are of God, we take our eyes of God and put it on ourselves.Our sinfulness, baseness, and depravity provide no basis for worship.Our blessedness, salvation, and ministries provide no basis for worship.God Transcendent, God Infinite, God alone is worthy of thoughts of worship. On God alone we must fix our gaze.

 



[1] God brings glory to Himself inherently. He has no need of our acquiescence to be glorified through our actions.His nature is what always brings him glory.Indeed a soul in hell fires glorifies God in that he is holy and just.God is sovereign and will be glorified, but it is not worship if we are not offering our actions to him � if we are not offering ourselves as the sacrifice.

[2] Praise Ye the Lord



[i] A.W. Tozer. The Knowledge of the Holy. (New York: Harper & Row. 1961.) 50.

[ii] C. S. Lewis. Mere Christianity. (San Francisco: HarperCollins Publishers Inc. 1980.) 16.

[iii] Tozer. The Knowledge of the Holy. 76.

[iv] Tozer. The Knowledge of the Holy. 51.

[v] Tozer. The Knowledge of the Holy. 51.

[vi] Tozer. The Knowledge of the Holy. 77.

[vii] Tozer. The Knowledge of the Holy. 76.

[viii] A. W. Tozer. The Pursuit of God.(Camp Hill, Pennsylvania: Christian Publications. 1993.) 37.

[ix] The Westminster Catechism as quoted by Tozer. (Tozer. The Pursuit of God. 32.)

[x] Tozer. The Pursuit of God. 94.

[xi] Foster. Celebration of Discipline. 159.

[xii] Augustine, Saint, Bishop of Hippo. Confessions. (New York: Random House. 1999.) 7.


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