Monday, 13 October 2008

Four Ways to Honour God

The scriptures teach us that God is looking for those who will honour Him. In an encounter with the priest Eli He said, “Those who honour me I will honour”, 1Sam 2.30. I want to explore some practical things we can do to honour God. We’ve been looking at ways to honour one another but all of this is rooted in our desire to honour the Lord. This must be the foundational motivation behind any honour we give to each other.

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The two are of course connected. John demonstrates this connection in his first letter, ‘If someone says, “I love God” , and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, how can he love God whom he has not seen?’, 1Jn 4.20. We could legitimately substitute the word honour for love and still be making a true statement. Our vertical relationship with God will be reflected in our horizontal relationships with one another and vice-versa. They impinge on each other.

So what does it mean to honour God? I want to focus on four things that have helped me in my own walk with the Lord. They have kept my heart in times of great pressure and temptation. After all, sin is ultimately dishonouring attitudes or behaviour towards God or others. By focusing on what we should do we won’t have time for what we shouldn’t do!

The first for me is worship from the heart. Isaiah 29.13 says of Israel: “Inasmuch as these people draw near me with their mouths and honour me with their lips, but have removed their hearts far from me, and their fear towards me is taught by the commandment of men.” This period of Israel’s history when they departed from God is repeated in the days of Jesus and He quotes these very words in Matt 15.8. Note that they had all the outward forms of religion without any engagement of the heart. Ritual had replaced reality, routine had replaced revelation and being reasonable had replaced being radical. It was tragic. And God was tired of it.

In 2Sam 6.13-23 we have the story of the return of the Ark to Jerusalem. It was a day of celebration, worship, music and dancing and blessing all the people. Here David danced before the Lord with all his might in a linen ephod. A king, wearing nothing to distinguish him from the way the common people responded. It would like dancing in your Calvin Kline underwear today. Outrageous! David returned home to bless his household and was met with the scathing sarcasm of Michal, his wife – Saul’s daughter.

David’s response is telling. “It was before the Lord, who chose me instead of your father and all his house, to appoint me ruler over all the people of the Lord, over Israel. Therefore I will play before the Lord. And I will be even more undignified than this, and will be humble in my own sight. But as for the maidservants of whom you have spoken, by them I will be held in honour. Therefore Michal the daughter of Saul had no children to the day of her death”, 2Sam 6.21-23.

Notice the qualities of this heartfelt worship:
1. It was before the Lord. Worship from the heart is never ultimately before men, it is before God. David was not self conscious in the presence of the Lord. He freely responded from his heart to God. The focus was the Lord, not David’s dancing.

2. David saw what he did as play. Most Bibles include the word music but it isn’t there in the Hebrew. It may be implied given the occasion but I like to think that David saw worship like play. Every parent knows the joy they feel when they see their children at play. Children love to perform for their parents. It brings a joyful exchange. What David did was ‘before’ the Lord and ‘for’ the Lord. This was truly honouring God.

3. Finally David was prepared to be ‘undignified’ and ‘humble in my own sight’. Worship from the heart is never pretentious. There is a place for being dignified but David recognised that titles and position was not important when it came to worshipping God. Michal was obviously embarrassed by his behaviour. Kings should not behave this way. But David understood a great truth. Worship is not about focusing on who we are, it is about focusing on who He is. True humility is not about thinking less of yourself, it is about thinking of yourself less. When we are self conscious about how others see us in worship we have lost something of the freedom of true worship.

Worship that is from the heart will engage our whole being, spirit, soul and body. We have often learned to be restrained in our expressions of worship in church. But in almost any culture we see unrestrained expressions of support, (worship) at International football games. People are involved, cheering, singing and responding. We need to recapture this freedom of worship and allow the joy we feel in our spirit’s to be expressed through our bodies while engaging our minds.

How sad to be the people of God in name only. As His people we are called to show forth the praises of Him who called us out of darkness into His marvellous light. And all true praise must come from the heart.

The second way we can honour God is with our possessions. Prov 3.9 says; Honour the Lord with your possessions and with the first fruits of all your increase. Money is a tricky subject to speak about. We can often think there is an agenda when someone does this. But money is neutral. It depends in whose hands it is in as to what can be done with it.

A golf club in my hands won’t do much, but in the hands of Tiger Woods it could win ‘The Open’. So it is with money. Money speaks to land and says, ‘I can but you’. Money speaks to hunger and says, ‘I can feed you’. Money speaks to missions and says, ‘I can send you’. A righteous man know what to do with money and he begins by giving to God – first.

In the book of Malachi we have a series of questions asked by the Lord to His people. The whole issue is ultimately summerised in one word – honour. Mal 1.6 says, ‘a Son honours his father and a servant his master. If I then am the father where is my honour? And if I am a master, where is my reverence?’ Later God contends further with them, ‘and when you offer the blind as a sacrifice, is it not evil. And when you offer the lame and sick, is it not evil?’ The people were despising God in their offerings. God measured the value of their worship by the quality of the sacrifice they brought.

Like their forefathers they were bringing second rate offerings, that which did not truly cost them anything. God’s word is even stronger in chapter 3. They were robbing Him, Mal 3.8. Deut 8.18 tells us that wealth is something God gives to us in order for us to be a blessing to others. Nothing tests our trust in God more than when we give. In Matt 6.24 Jesus teaches that the ultimate loyalty in life will be between money or God. We cannot serve both.

By giving to God first we are in effect telling Him that we trust Him to meet our needs. And God deserves our best, not our leftovers and rejects. To do this is to despise Him. Once again Israel had fallen into the trap of substituting ritual for reality. Instead of being radical in their giving they were routine. They saw their possessions as being theirs rather than part of a stewardship given by God. The problem with possessions is they have a way of possessing us. We think we own them but they end up owning us. The acid test of this condition is simply to ask yourself how hard is it for you to let go of something.

I remember asking God to help me be more generous. I clearly remember the Holy Spirit telling me to give away all the clothes I had not worn for a year. I duly complied except for two pairs of suits that I really liked. In fact they no longer fitted me well. My waistline had increased but I kept telling myself I would lose weight and then they will fit again. This disobedience persisted for two months. I kept rationalising that I had already given away a lot of good stuff away. But every time I opened the cupboard there were the suits and my conscience was pricked.

We often rob ourselves of peace through delayed obedience. This was the case for me. Eventually I gave in. What amazed me was hope much joy I finally felt. These garments no longer had power over me. I could use them to bless others. Over the next two years three different people bought me new suits – and they all fit! Ask yourself what you currently possess that would be hard to let go of. Perhaps t holds you more than you hold it. Seek to practice generosity in a way that continually breaks the power of mammon over your life and places you more in dependence on God.

The third way of honouring God is through our service. Jesus said in John 12.26, ‘If anyone serves Me let him follow Me; and where I am there My servant will be also. If any man serves Me, him My Father will honour’. Notice the order here. The service comes out of following Jesus, not the other way around. In following Jesus I am lead to serve – and He chooses where this should be.

I have at times served out of guilt (I ought to...), obligation (I must...), manipulation (persuaded against my better judgment) or my own unmet needs for recognition. Those times brought no joy to me and no honour to God. Psalm 100.1 says, ‘serve the Lord with gladness’. We are meant to enjoy following the Lord. True we will face challenging and demanding situations at times but the promise is, ‘Where I am there My servant will be also’. It is the guarantee of His personal presence that brings joy to service. It comes out of following Him.

A true servant of God is first a follower of God. This was the first and last thing Jesus said to His disciples, Matt 4.19, ‘Follow Me and I will make you fishers of men’. John 21.19......’Follow Me’. And later in vs22 he says, ‘If I will that he remain til I come, what is that to you? You follow Me’, could anything be more simple and yet more profound? It is the willingness to journey with Jesus that qualifies us to be true servants of God.

I have found that when I serve out of the conviction that am doing what God wants me to do, I enjoy the task. Step back for a moment and reflect on why you are serving in the particular sphere of ministry you are involved with. Could God move you on if he chose to or are you deriving your sense of identity from what you do? When Elijah announced that there would be no rain, except at his word you would have thought that would have been the beginning of fruitful ministry. But then God sent him to a widow – outside of Israel!

For three years he was hidden, 1Kings 17.1,9. But his service and identity was not in having a successful prophetic ministry, it was simply in following God. Notice how Elijah phrases it, ‘As the Lord God of Israel lives, before whom I stand....’ Elijah could give commands because he knew how to take commands. He was following God, not a personal ministry agenda.

The final area I believe enables us to honour God is through faith. Consider this event in the life of Jesus. He returns to His home town of Nazareth and preaches in their synagogue, Matt 13.53-58. But they were offended at Him. Jesus response and the outcomes are instructive: He said, ‘A prophet is not without honour except in his own country and in his own house. Now He did not do many mighty works there because of their unbelief’. Notice how a lack of honour led to an attitude of unbelief.

Faith is always looking for ways to honour God, whereas those in unbelief are constantly offended. Jesus was perfect and they were offended with Him; how much more His imperfect servants? Many offences we experience are so minor they are not worthy of the time and attention we give to them. People of faith are able to overlook these faults. Paul calls it, ‘bearing with one another in love’, Eph 4.1. Offended people become imprisoned by their own judgements against others. This attitude of heart is not honouring to God.

We are told in Ps 95 not to ‘harden our hearts ‘. This warning is repeated in Hebrews 3. ‘Today if you will hear His voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion...’ The children of Israel could not enter into the promise land because of their unbelief. Unbelief delayed the purpose of God by 40 years. They dishonoured God in their heart and died in the wilderness. Tragic!

This connects right back to my first point. It is why worship from the heart is so important and why it is the focus of the early verses of Psalm 95. A worshipping heart is an open heart that God can speak to. When our heart is open we can receive His word – and this is how faith comes, Rom 10.17, ‘faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of God’. God is pleased with faith, Heb 11.6. Moses forsook the pleasures of Egypt choosing greater riches – the reproach of Christ, Heb 11.25-26. This honoured God and he in turn was honoured.

As you reflect on how your life honours God you may, by the help of the Spirit, want to make some adjustment. We all need to learn to worship from the heart, be generous with our possessions, serve out of followership and be filled with faith. By cultivating these disciplines we will bring honour to the name above every other name. And, in turn, He will honour us!