Worship in Turbulent Times

Worship in Turbulent Times

By Pastor Emmanuel Akatukunda

How is your worship life these days? Is this even a fair question to ask in times like these? Is it possible to worship in the tough and turbulent times we live in? Today we will share from the book of Habakkuk. Habakkuk was not a typical prophet who spoke God’s word to the people. Instead his is a dialogue, a conversation with God. This book resembles that of Job. It is about, lament (or complaint), listening to God, prayer and worship. It is a beautiful book that speaks to our human experiences. I encourage you to read the book in your free time. It is very short; you can read the entire book in under 10 minutes.

The summary (and paraphrase) of the dialogue goes like this:

Habakkuk: God, why don’t you do something about Judah’s wickedness?

God: I am about to do something. I will raise Babylonians to punish Judah.

Habakkuk: Really? But why would you use a nation more wicked than Judah to punish us?

God: Time will come when all evil will be punished. I am a just God. There will be an end to all evil and righteousness.

Habakkuk: Alright, I may not understand why and how you do Your things but I will trust in You.

Some Christians hesitate or even fear to have and honest dialogue with God. It is okay to have an honest dialogue with God. God is not put off or embarrassed by your honest questions. Our sharing today will focus on the three things that we learn from Habakkuk’s life. His life reveals a believer’s honest journey with God. I pray and hope that we will learn how to lament, to wait, and to worship.

  1. The Lament: How long, LORD, must I call for help, but you do not listen? (Habakkuk 1:2)

How long, LORD, must I call for help, but you do not listen? Or cry out to you, “Violence!” but you do not save? 3 Why do you make me look at injustice? Why do you tolerate wrongdoing? Destruction and violence are before me; there is strife, and conflict abounds. Habakkuk 1:2-3

Your eyes are too pure to look on evil; you cannot tolerate wrongdoing. Why then do you tolerate the treacherous? Why are you silent while the wicked swallow up those more righteous than themselves? Habakkuk 1:13

Habakkuk’s lament is rather shocking. He asks God, “why do you idly look at wrong? Habakkuk 1:3 – ESV). He is shocked and overwhelmed by the evil that is happening around him but God seems to be unbothered.  He is wondering or rather thinks that God tolerates evil.

I don’t know about you, but there are times I have found myself struggling to understand why things are the way they are. There are times I have expected to act in certain ways but he seemed not to care. He did not respond the way I wanted. Some questions we ask are like, “How come?” Because we don’t really understand God’s ways. Or we ask, “How long?” Because we don’t really understand God’s timing.

But then God replies: I am not silent; I do not tolerate evil; I will act. I am going to do something in your days that you would not believe, even if you were told. Habakkuk 1:5

Sometimes God may respond to us in ways we do not understand or ways that are confusing to us. But then we do not have to give up. We need to wait on him and listen.

  1. The Waiting and Listening: I will look to see what he will say to me (Habakkuk 2:1)

I admire Habakkuk’s faith. He was not afraid of asking difficult questions. He expressed his confusion to God. Even when God replied in ways he did not expect, he did not give up. He decided to wait on the Lord. You see, true lament produces hope. We admit our own failures, pain, confusion and limitations but also look up to God for the help; for answers that only He can give. Like Habakkuk we need to come to that point where we resolve that: I will look to see what he will say to me (Habakkuk 2:1)

God responded to Habakkuk:

“Write down the revelation and make it plain on tablets so that a herald may run with it. 3 For the revelation awaits an appointed time; it speaks of the end and will not prove false. Though it linger, wait for it; it will certainly come and will not delay. (Habakkuk 2:2-3)

He also adds: the righteous person will live by his faithfulness I(Habakkuk 2:4)

Victory is assured for those who fear God. Faith—unwavering trust—in God and his will; a determination to follow Christ no matter what, is the key to the believer’s victory.

 

  1. The Prayer and Worship: I stand in awe of your deeds, LORD. Repeat them in our day (Habakkuk 3:2)

Habakkuk reflects on what God has done in the past. He reflects on God’s power, His mercies, His splendor, His glory, His salvation. Can you look back and think of the works of God? What has the Lord done throughout history? What has God done in your life? When did God come through for you when you had given up? When did he move mountains to make a way for you?

Have you ever walked or run and somewhere along the journey you grew tired? But when you looked back, you realized that you had actually covered more distance than you thought; and that became a source of your encouragement? You may not understand all that is going on around you. You may not understand why things are the way they are. But you can trust in God. He has the power to move mountains. He loves you unconditionally and works in all things for your good. He is good all the time. God is merciful. He does not judge us according to what we deserve or else we would all have been destroyed.  He knows what is up to. He knows how all this will end. He guides all things to fit into His purposes.

In light of all this, Habakkuk decides to worship. 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, 18 yet I will rejoice in the LORD, I will be joyful in God my Savior. (Habakkuk 3:17-18)

Habakkuk reflects on his life and circumstances. Things might not change; they may even get worse. Crop failure would lead to starvation and economic distress. Our feelings are not controlled by what happens around us but by our faith in God.

We must make a choice and say, “I will rejoice – in the Lord.” We serve God, not for what he gives but for who He is. He is our victory. He is our savior. He is our helper. God is our restorer. He is our strength.

The Sovereign LORD is my strength; he makes my feet like the feet of a deer, he enables me to tread on the heights. For the director of music. On my stringed instruments. (Habakkuk 3:19)

We will be joyful – in God our savior—the one who rescues me. He doesn’t change. He doesn’t lie. He doesn’t disappoint. He is just. He is sovereign. His ways are beyond what we can comprehend.

God gives us confidence in times of adversity. That’s why we lament, and wait…but above all worship Him.

Too Good for the World

Hebrews 11:26-38 (NIV) Some faced jeers and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were put to death by stoning; they were sawed in two; they were killed by the sword. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated—the world was not worthy of them. They wandered in deserts and mountains, living in caves and in holes in the ground.

Hebrews 11 is one of my favorite chapters. Some commentators have described it as a hall of fame for men and women who exhibited their faith in God. Yet, we can be gripped by a thriller-like description of the lives of these men that we skip one thing that really defined them. One of the most profound statements about these heroes of faith is mentioned almost anecdotally. “The world was not worthy of them” (Hebrews 11:38). What was so special about these men and women that, so to speak, made them too good for the world?

I think that what makes them special is that their singular focus was on heaven. This, however, does not mean that that they were “too heavenly minded to be of any earthly good;” far from it. They were grounded in the realities of their times. They lived, raised families, conducted business; they were as human as anyone could be. But they were not attached to this world. As a matter of fact, very few people could have even noticed that these people actually existed. They were not politically powerful or economically affluent. It seems some were even homeless and “wandered in deserts and mountains, living in caves and in holes in the ground” (Heb. 11:38). So, by this world’s standards, they were really insignificant.

But this did not matter to them. Their allegiance was to Jesus Christ. They lived for God and not this world—and whatever it presents. Could the same be said of us? Are we singularly committed to the cause of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ? Is our faith in God the grid through which we see everything else? Or have we blended with the world so much that it seems like this is where we truly belong?

The world was not good enough for them

Fake Shepherds

Acts 20:28-30: Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood. I know that after I leave, savage wolves will come in among you and will not spare the flock.  Even from your own number men will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them.

In recent years, the world has been introduced to a phenomenon of the so-called fake news, that is, news that intended to misinform and mislead in order to influence public opinion on certain national or global issues. Sadly, the perpetuation of false information is not only limited to the public arena but it is also pervasive in the church.

Jesus declares that “I am the good shepherd” (John 10:11). This is in contrast to the fake shepherds. He calls them “thieves and robbers” (John 10:8) or “the hired hand (John 10:12). They are basically selfish and have no interest in the welfare of the people who follow them. Apostle Paul refers to them as “savage wolves.” They are greedy. They have no fear of God. They use the name of God to advance their own selfish interests. Instead of pointing people to Christ, they draw away disciples after them (Acts 20:30). Their mission is to advance Satan’s agenda, that is, to “to steal and kill and destroy.”

Their methods are also clear. They distort the truth of God’s word. They have an unhealthy interest in controversies. Like a thief, they can be sneaky, secretive, and manipulative. Others are bold and forceful like robbers. Many are indifferent or even hostile to those who attempt to correct them.

When we commit ourselves to godly leadership of a local church that faithfully teaches the Word of God, we will be able to discern these fake shepherds. More importantly, we should emulate the life and teachings of the Good and Chief Shepherd, Jesus Christ.

Be shepherds of the church of God,

Contending with Evil Altars

2 Chronicles 15:16-18 (NIV)16 King Asa also deposed his grandmother Maakah from her position as queen mother, because she had made a repulsive image for the worship of Asherah. Asa cut it down, broke it up and burned it in the Kidron Valley. 17 Although he did not remove the high places from Israel, Asa’s heart was fully committed to the Lord all his life. 18 He brought into the temple of God the silver and gold and the articles that he and his father had dedicated.

An altar is a place where people make sacrifices to a deity. The first mention of the altar in the Bible is when Noah builds one after the flood in order to offer sacrifices to God (Gen. 8:20). God instructed Moses to build an altar, as part of the tabernacle, to burn incense for the Lord (Exod.  30:1). The priests were tasked to burn incense on the altar every morning. In the New Testament believers are exhorted to offer their bodies as living sacrifices to God.  Therefore, for Christian believers, altars may be the spaces where we live out and the activities we do in the name of Christ to honor God. This may include prayer and worship gatherings or even our day-to-day work as long as it is done to honor Christ. Altars concretize and energize our worship of God.

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However, even in the biblical times, altars were not the preserve for the worshipers of the One true God. Other nations also erected altars to sacrifice to their gods. Sadly, time and again the people of Israel were lured to worship the foreign gods on the pagan altars. This of course displeased God and He likens it to spiritual prostitution.

Evil altars, then, are spaces and activities where the name of the Lord is dishonored and evil is glorified. As believers, we are called to contend with evil altars. But we also need to realize that we contend with evil forces and not human beings. We don’t kill “non-believers” or disown our children when they refuse to follow Christ. We content against spiritual altars by speaking and living by the truth of God’s Word and praying against them in the name of Jesus Christ.

FOOD FOR THOUGHT

What radical steps of obedience do you fell led to take as a follower of Jesus Christ?

The Presence of God

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Exodus 33:14-15 (NIV) The LORD replied, “My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.”  Then Moses said to him, “If your Presence does not go with us, do not send us up from here.

The motif of the presence of God is pervasive in the scriptures. Although God is everywhere, He chooses to localize his manifest presence among His people. Before the Fall, God dealt directly with His people. There were no intermediaries such as priests, altars, sacrifices or a temple. In the Garden of Eden, God came to Adam and Eve in the “cool of the day” (Gen. 3:8).

During the time of the exodus, God instructed Moses to make the Ark of the Covenant—a gold-coated wooden box where the two tablets of the Ten Commandments were kept (Exodus 25:10ff). The covenant Box was always kept in the holiest section of the sanctuary and its access was limited to a few prescribed priests.  It signified the presence of God in the midst of His people.

In the New Covenant, Jesus is the Immanuel—God in our midst. Even when Jesus returned to heaven, He sent us the Holy Spirit who dwells in the life of every believer. Again, although God is omnipresent, He manifests His presence among His people.

When Christ returns, we the believers shall be with Him in the New City. Apostle John saw a vision of the New Jerusalem. What is remarkable in John’s vision is that there is no “temple in the city, because the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple” (Rev. 21:22). Indeed as someone has put it, “all of life—and, principally, the gospel life—is about being in God’s relational presence.”  We all should long to be in God’s presence both now and in the life to come.

The “What” of Worship

1 Chronicles 16:8-11 (NIV)

Give praise to the Lord, proclaim his name;
make known among the nations what he has done.
Sing to him, sing praise to him;
tell of all his wonderful acts.
10 Glory in his holy name;
let the hearts of those who seek the Lord rejoice.
11 Look to the Lord and his strength;
seek his face always.

Delight…

If you were asked to define what worship is, what would you say? Would you define it in emotional terms by how you feel about God? Would you approach it academically by avoiding the emotional and subjective undertones?  Warren Wiersbe defines worship as “the believer’s response of all that they are—mind, emotions, will, body—to what God is and says and does.” The Word of God commands us to love Him with all of our heart, soul, strength and mind (Luke 10:27). Worship is all about delighting in all that God is and does.

Reverence…

Worship is reverential by nature because we acknowledge that the One we worship is greater than everything else—and He is therefore worthy to be loved, feared and obeyed. The other reason why true worship must be characterized by awe is that although God has revealed Himself to us, we can never fully comprehend Him. The more we draw closer to Him the more we desire to know more about Him.

Witness…

Worship also involves telling of God’s greatness and His deeds to the nations; to those who are still estranged from Him. When we truly worship God we radiate His glory to the world. The Bible says we are “we are to God the pleasing aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing.”  For some the aroma will be life-giving while for others it will be repugnant.  Although we cannot control the results of our Christian witness, our responsibility is to make the greatness of our God known.

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The Centrality of Worship

In the beginning…

God is Holy and demands that the people He created worship Him. Simply put, we were created to worship the One living God. When God created mankind, Adam and Eve, he put them in the Garden of Eden “to work it and take care of it” (Genesis 2:15). This was their act of worship. There was neither temple nor altar in the Garden of Eden because the fellowship between God and people was unbroken. But because of sin, mankind could no longer have direct fellowship with God. As a result altars, temples, sacrifices and priests became necessary. You see, the heart of worship is obedience. We cannot worship God on our terms. God has set the terms and conditions for those who worship Him. To worship God is to acknowledge Him for who He is and what He does.

Let my people go, so that they may worship me (Exodus 10:3).

The encounters between Moses and Pharaoh in the book of Exodus highlight the centrality of worship. God’s purpose is delivering the children of Israel from Egypt was “that they may worship [Him]” (Exodus 9:13). “Who is the LORD, that I should obey him and let Israel go” Pharaoh asked Moses (Exodus 5:2). Pharaoh’s response to Moses signifies how the devil’s primary mission is to stop or distract us from worshiping God. So, in this sense, worship is spiritual warfare.

I did not see a temple in the city, because the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple (Revelation 21:22 22).

Jesus Christ reiterated the centrality of worship when He told the Samaritan woman that the Father seeks for worshipers who worship Him “in spirit and truth” (John 4:23-24). In the Book of Revelation, the worship ideal is restored. There will be no temple in the new earth and new heaven because God’s presence will be with His people (Revelation 21:22). This is the ultimate goal of life—the sommum bonum; to find pleasure in the presence of God. May we all strive to make worship the center of our lives.

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Worship and the Authority of God

Worship is one of the subjects widely discussed in the church circles today. Most of the discussion has more to do with forms and styles than the essence of worship.  Of course styles and aesthetics have their place but the essence of worship should not be sacrificed at the altar of forms. In his book, Return to Worship, Ron Owens states that the “fundamental problem with much of our worship today, and with our lives in general, is that we don’t see God as the God whose throne is really above the world. We don’t see Him as the God who lives outside of time.”

Theology and worship are closely related. In fact theology influences worship. How people worship is a reflection of their understanding of God. Whenever people lose the sense of the transcendent, they turn to idolatry. People have a tendency to depend on what is visible and tangible but true faith causes us to trust in the One who is invisible but sovereign.

Worship goes beyond our feelings and experiences. God has revealed Himself in His Word as the creator of the universe, the redeemer of the world, and the One seated on the throne.  As Owens puts it, “may we never forget that the One we approach to worship is the One who is from everlasting to everlasting. He has all authority and power. To Him be all blessing and honor and glory and power.”

Whenever we lose the sense of the Transcendent

Reference: Owens, Ron, with Jan McMurray. Return to Worship: A God-Centered Approach. Nashville, Tennessee: B&H Publishing Group, 1999.

What are You Chasing?

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1 Timothy 6:11-12 (NIV) But you, man of God, flee from all this, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness. Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called when you made your good confession in the presence of many witnesses.

Many of us would agree that life is busy. We spend most of it chasing after so many things. Someone will tell you that “I am chasing this deal”, “this job”, or even “this person.”  People chase after money or material things (which the Bible calls greed). Others chase after pleasure (sex, orgies), otherwise called lust. Others are busy chasing after power and fame is all its forms.

Paul’s charge to Timothy is, therefore, a wakeup call for all of us. The passage uses a couple of strong verbs that are worth noting. Let’s have a look at them:

Flee

To “flee” means to run away.  It is more than simply saying “avoid, turn way, or walk away from.” What are we supposed to flee from? Verses 3-10 give us an idea of what Timothy is being warned against.  We are to flee from false spirituality. And here are some of the features of false spirituality:

  • It is inconsistent with the teachings of Jesus Christ and it does not promote godliness (righteousness) (verse 3)
  • It promotes controversies (verse 4).
  • It focuses on the material/worldly things. They make you want more of this world. False spirituality makes us feel comfortable living in this world (verses 4-10).

But Christian discipleship and formation is radical. It calls for serious discipline, especially in this generation that does not take sin seriously. The modern spiritualties give Christian disciplines lip service. They promote religious experiences that are void of Godliness. But whole hearted followers of Jesus Christ are to free from what the rest of the world is pursuing.

Pursue

This is another strong verb. To “pursue” means to chase, follow, or persistently seek. We are called to pursue Christian virtues of righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness. One of the spiritual pitfalls of today is that we do not take spiritual disciplines seriously. Authentic Christian experience is a dynamic cooperation with God. God is fully involved in your formation. But you are also fully responsible for your Christian formation. We “work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose” (1 Timothy 6:2:12-13 – NIV).

Fight

The Christian experience is warfare, only that the fight is “a good fight.” It is a fight of faith. It is a spiritual fight. We fight against whatever would hinder us from being what God wants us to be. We have to fight to pray, we have to fight in order to live by the truth, and we have to fight to act kindly in a cruel world. The good news is that it is a fight we are sure of winning because we are not fighting in our own power but by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Take Hold

Lastly, the last verb is “take hold.” It means to grasp; to seize; to capture. We are to “Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called when you made your good confession in the presence of many witnesses.” Our salvation is eternally secure but that is not a license for reckless living. Having a comprehensive motor insurance cover for your vehicle is not a license for reckless driving. We guard our salvation, not because we fear losing it but because it is precious.

A Solemn Charge

1 Timothy 6:13-16. In the sight of God, who gives life to everything, and of Christ Jesus, who while testifying before Pontius Pilate made the good confession, I charge you to keep this command without spot or blame until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ, which God will bring about in his own time—God, the blessed and only Ruler, the King of kings and Lord of lords, who alone is immortal and who lives in unapproachable light, whom no one has seen or can see. To him be honor and might forever. Amen.

These are not just nice word that Paul is saying to Timothy; this is a solemn charge to Timothy and all of us. How seriously do you take your life, calling and ministry? God takes you and your calling seriously. Is what you are chasing worth your life? As someone put it, “Is what you are living for worth dying for?”

Dealing with Life-Disruptions

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Psalm 46:2-3 (NIV)  Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging. Selah

Yesterday I was greeted with some not-so-good news. Although it was not life threatening, it disrupts a fairly major course of action of a department I supervise. It affects our timelines and I am trying to figure out what good might be in it. As I was trying to deal with it, I was also handed a bill that was totally out of my budget—and yet it was for an important and urgent emergency need.

Life does not always loyally follow our plans and expectations and along the journey we encounter disruptions. Some may be minor, like the one I encountered yesterday, but others are major and devastating like the news one receives from the doctor when you had simply visited for a routine medical checkup. How should we respond when life does not deliver according to our plans? The natural (human) thing to do is to freeze, feel bad about ourselves and other people, or give up. But we know that not only is this kind of response unhelpful, it can also be destructive.

The better way is to look Up, beyond ourselves and circumstances, to God our Father and ask for wisdom and direction. God’s wisdom will ensure that we take the right course of action in any circumstances. The Bible says that God’s wisdom is way different from worldly wisdom.  But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere (James 3:17).

Food for Thought

  1. What life-disruptions are you dealing with right now?
  2. How can you glorify God in your circumstances?