As I passed a local church about a week ago, their "pre-4th of July" post on the billboard was simple, but it spoke volumes. It simply read, "Bless God, America". Now don't think you read that wrong - the words are not God Bless America - they are Bless God, America. We usually associate the 4th of July with the words of the great song by Irving Berlin - God Bless America. He wrote the song in the original form in 1918, but it would take on a new arrangement and be heralded during the war against the Nazi's and Hitler in 1938 as Kate Smith belted out those patriotic words of prayer for God to bless America. The pastor's intent was brilliant - it is a call to change our focus from "God what can you do for us?" to "God what can I do to show you my heart of worship?" - two quite different foci indeed!
At that time you will say, “Praise the Lord and call out his name! Tell everyone what he has done and how wonderful he is.” (Isaiah 12:4 ERV)
A heart of worship - now that is something God wants to see and definitely a sound which brings joy to his ears. If we were to stop long enough to actually realize the intent of our worship, we might just begin to worship a little bit more from the heart and a little less from the head. You see, worship isn't about what God can do for us in those moments, but we bring to him. We can bring burdened hearts, and yes, he will unburden them. We can bring our everyday needs, and even the ones not so everyday, and he will meet them with all the splendor of heaven's bounty. Yet, in that coming, he expects us to linger a little, to just take time at his feet and relish his presence. In so doing, we find our hearts begin to turn from "God bless me" to "God I want to just bless you".
Worship is more than coming into his presence, it is experiencing the renewal of his presence and the intimacy of it, too. We can get ourselves into a lot of things (and we do), but to be really engaged in the object of our attention, it has to consume our attention. I think this is what the pastor had in mind - for God to become the consuming force of our attention - no so we might be blessed more and more by the "big God in the sky", but so we may enjoy the peace and restoration of his presence. May I take moment to break worship down a little?
W - WILL surrendered. In order for worship to be "right", there must be a surrender of the will of man to the will of God. All worship which is less than a total surrender is simply not worship, it is religion.
O - OPENED heart and mind. Nothing will take us into the presence of God quicker than recognizing the value of letting down our guard - that one we place so firmly over our thoughts, intentions, and fears.
R - RESPONSIVE attitude. A responsive attitude is the byproduct of a surrendered will and and opened heart and mind. There is nothing more welcomed by God than a heart yielded to his purposes and a mind open to his teachings. In response to his presence, we let ourselves go and really begin to open up to him.
S - SELFLESS focus. We all realize the importance of our focus - wherever our attention is directed, our heart and feet follow. If we begin to focus less on self and more on him, maybe we'd come into worship with a little less of the "bless me" mentality and a little more of the "God I am here to spend time with you - just the two of us getting to know each other better".
H - HONEST expression. Honoring God is done not so much in the words we choose which sound "theological", but in the expression of our hearts in honesty and true intimacy. God is blessed more in our honest expressions of hurt, pain, and anxiety than he is in the words of "theological grandeur" we might hear some mouth.
I - INTENTIONAL purpose. Nothing pleases God more than to actually be intentional in our time with him - to have it set aside, purposefully planned as time for just the two of us to be together. It is no different than when you and that special friend have a time set aside to just bond and share your deepest of intimacies. Being intentional means we set aside whatever distracts and come with purpose into what proves to be the "best of times".
P - PASSIONATE exchange. We begin with yielding and we end with being blessed - even though our intent was to bless him! This is just like God - calling us into his presence, bringing us closer and closer to him, and then blessing us as much as we have blessed him. Intentional worship always brings about a two-way exchange - because it is simply impossible for God to share time with us and us not to walk away changed as a result. Just sayin!