Faith an Advent Devotional Part 2 of 4
Last week in the first of this five part Advent Devotional series, we looked at the question of what do we seek first when we face the most difficult moments in life. We talked about how these moments cause our heart to be fully engaged. But, more importantly, they reveal the depths of what we believe or what we truly thirst after in looking for identity, hope, and purpose in life. The scriptures say that the only place to find “these things” (Matt 6:33) is to “seek first His kingdom and His righteousness”. So this week, let’s look at why worship is the perfect starting point for seeking first His Kingdom and Righteousness.
Psalm 100:4 says “Enter into His gates with thanksgiving, And into His courts with praise. Be thankful to Him, and bless His name.” This verse always makes me contemplate the difference between thanksgiving, praise and worship. These words seem too often be used interchangeably in Christian circles. This may be a good subject on which to open a dialogue amongst our church. Here are some helpful ideas to think about as a starting point.
- Thanksgiving – The emotion of giving thanks is always sparked by something. We typically express appreciation in thanksgiving for what we receive. For example, we give thanks to God for what Jesus has done for us on the cross. At Christmas we can express our thanksgiving for Jesus’ birth and our inheritance as sons and daughters, kept in heaven for us, that can never perish, spoil or fade.
- Praise – The expression of admiration or praise requires that we take the emphasis off ourselves. For example, giving thanks is focused on what we’ve received, whereas, praise is about our hearts and minds being fixed on something outside of ourselves, something greater (e.g. the amazing nature, character and ways of our incredible God). Praise is a response to knowing and experiencing this greatness. It’s interesting that in Psalms 100 the “courts” are entered by the faithful whose deeper expression of relationship through praise has taken them into a deeper place in the temple or presence of God. Some of the meanings of the words used in the bible for praise are: to boast, to rejoice, to shine, to bless, to kneel, to make music and to sing. Hebrews 13:15 it says, “Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise—the fruit of lips that openly proclaim our allegiance and give thanks to His name. What a great thought to meditate on through this Christmas season.
- Worship – Worship could be thought of as an expression of the reverence, honor and worth we give as an offering to the object of our worship. In other words, what we worship and the extent to which we worship the object reveals what we value most in life. So we could consider worship and praise to be similar but the word “offering” changes the nature. Romans 12:1 says, “offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship, your reasonable service.” Worship in this definition starts by making God the object of our worship. But, more importantly it is born from a place of being holy and pleasing to God, a sacrifice or offering of our lives. Worship then becomes a part of who we are, a holy consecration if you will, and means that our lives are continually submitted to God and to bringing honor and glory to the God we worship. I think of this as a fairly significant step above praise. This kind of worship is born from a deep knowing of God. It comes from a desire to please God and to “prove what is the good and acceptable and perfect will of God”. According to Romans 12:2 this can only take place through, “being transformed by the renewing of your mind”. In worship, God imparts Himself to us.
Given this context, it would suggest that each of these words represent a deepening of the relationship and expression of that gratitude, admiration, reverence and consecration for the one true God, the one we call “our God”. In order to get to this place of deep intimacy in the God we love, it has to start somewhere. If as the Bible says, “we enter His gates with thanksgiving and His courts with praise”, maybe this is where we consider our journey into worship.
Thanksgiving recognizes what our God has done, what He has revealed and allowed us to see and hear. One of the fabulous things about praise is that by taking the emphasis off ourselves, our finances, our stresses and our desires, the self-centered lives and soulish ways that so dominate our thinking begin to take a back seat and give room for our spirits to be free to connect with the Holy Spirit. The bible says that riches, worries and pleasures choke off the seed that has been planted in our heart. They choke off the new life that Jesus has begun through our spiritual rebirth. Even the smallest of frustration, bitterness, resentment or contempt will grieve and choke off the sensitive Holy Spirit. The fact that these minor sins happen almost daily in our lives suggest that we need to begin this journey inward through thanksgiving, praise and worship constantly, continually.
Christmas and this devotional season as a church is a perfect moment to ask ourselves if Jesus really is the reason for the Christmas season in our own lives. This season is a perfect time to give thanks and praise His Holy Name. Maybe as we continue through this month of prayer, fasting and devotion, we can take time every day to enter His gates and His courts through thanksgiving and praise. Maybe we can pay attention to whether our heart is grateful in the midst of isolation, chaotic demands, and the constant barrage of messages focusing us on self-centered desires and material things. Consider continually turning your attention to the Great I AM and a baby born in such humble beginnings to become the lamb who sits on the Throne and reigns over all. Maybe we can even break into and sustain a deeper intimacy of worship and presenting our bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God. What do you Seek? To what do you give your praise? Maybe this is a perfect moment in our lives to contemplate the extent we actually worship our Lord and God. Worship the Lord in the splendor of his holiness; tremble before him, all the earth. Say among the nations, “The Lord reigns.”
In the next part we will look at how expressing the growing thanksgiving, praise and worship in our lives through proclamation contributes to our process of seeking first His Kingdom and His Righteousness.