Perspective in Worship

Psalm 73:17- “Until I went into the sanctuary of God; Then I understood their end.”

I have a photo that I took of Devils’ Tower that I particularly like. It is difficult to get a feel for just how huge the Tower is from photos, but this one is of three climbers ascending the side of the formation. When you tell people there are climbers in the picture, they have to look hard and long before they find them, perched on a ledge a little over halfway up. They are just tiny, just little specks, and seeing how small they are gives one a feeling of just how huge the Tower is.

In Psalm 73 Asaph is struggling with envy and resentment toward evil men. It often seems like people prosper by their wickedness. The richest, most famous, most powerful people in the world are usually the most evil, and that seems to really cast into doubt the truth of the Christian faith. If God is just, why do people profit from evil and suffer for doing good?

The Bible often labors to give us a right sense of perspective. The problem is that so often our perspective is so limited. If I don’t give my child food right now because we’re going to have dinner in a half an hour, he thinks he’s going to die. The thought of waiting until Christmas for a present seems like an eternity. But an adult hopefully has a better perspective on time frames, and thus does not fret about needing to wait a few minutes for dinner. Likewise, as we mature in the faith, we will recognize that our lives in the present age are, as the Scriptures say, like a flower that springs up and is blown away in the afternoon, like a mist that appears for a short while and then is blown away (James 4:14).

The worship service is a wonderful opportunity to step back and get that sense of perspective. It was in the sanctuary where Asaph got the necessary perspective on life. We spend our week with our nose pressed up against life, focused on details of the job, the family, the house, all those things. And rightly so; we should be careful in our dealings in life. But worship allows us to step back and see the big picture, to see the relative size of my life in comparison to all of eternity with God. God is infinite in might and majesty; He is grand and huge. His plans are complex, multifaceted, and long-term. He will bring justice, truth and right to the world. The wicked man may appear very successful, but he is set on a slippery slope (verse 18) and will suddenly come to ruin.

All this we will see by faith, not by sight. We need to be continually reminded of this broad perspective, like an artist that alternates between looking very closely at his painting to get the detail just right, and stepping back to look at the whole from a distance. In worship we can gain that broad perspective on our lives in this world in the context of God’s infinity and our eternal lives with Him, and be comforted and guided through the difficult tangles of this life.

Opening and Shutting the Gates

…but we preach Christ crucified, to the Jews a stumbling block and to the Greeks foolishness, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. (1Co 1:23-24 NKJ)

83. What is the Office of the Keys?
The preaching of the Holy Gospel and Christian discipline; by these two the kingdom of heaven is opened to believers and shut against unbelievers.

Heidelberg Catechism question 83-84 shows us how it is that the right preaching of the Word (along with Christian discipline) makes clear the way into the kingdom of heaven. When it says that the church opens and shuts the gates, it is of course not saying that the church can make people elect or not elect, saved or not saved. That belongs to God alone. When Jesus says that whatever the church binds on earth shall have been bound in heaven (Matthew 16:19; 18:18) He is saying that when the church does its job properly then the actions of the church reflect heavenly realities- when the church properly declares someone outside the kingdom of heaven, that reflects the truth of that person’s standing with God. That assumes that the church acts according to the truth of Scriptures.

When the church preaches the Word of God, the church declares the truth delivered to us by Christ — that salvation and rescue from sin and death is to be had by repentance and faith in Jesus Christ and in no other way. By this action, the gates of the kingdom of heaven are opened and shut- opened to those who receive the message and by faith in the word of God are then made part of that kingdom, and shut to those who obstinately refuse to hear God’s word.

Both of these aspects of the church’s work need to be kept in mind, by the leadership of the church and by its members. The passage from 1 Corinthians 1 quoted above shows that there will be people of all backgrounds (Jews and Greeks- an all-inclusive concept to Christians of those days) who cannot fit Jesus into their worldview. The right preaching of the gospel shuts the doors against them.

But there will also be people from all backgrounds who have this in common- they are called of God and therefore they hear the truth of the Gospel, they see the kingdom of God and they enter in. The church is not a social club full of people who are comfortable with each other’s educational backgrounds, economic status or ethnicity, but people from every tribe and kindred who have been called by God to hear the gospel.

We dare not try to open or shut the gates of the kingdom ourselves. We do not decide who is and is not a worthy member. It is God’s word, and He decides who rightly belongs in the kingdom, and the faithful preaching of the Word is one of His chief means to do so.

Father I Know That All My Life

1 Father, I know that all my life
Is portioned out for me;
The changes that are sure to come,
I do not fear to see:
I ask thee for a present mind,
Intent on pleasing thee.

2 I would not have the restless will
That hurries to and fro,
Seeking for some great thing to do,
Or secret thing to know;
I would be treated as a child,
And guided where I go.

3 I ask thee for the daily strength,
To none that ask denied,
A mind to blend with outward life,
While keeping at thy side,
Content to fill a little space,
If thou be glorified.

4 In service which thy will appoints
There are no bonds for me;
My secret heart is taught the truth
That makes thy children free;
A life of self-renouncing love
Is one of liberty.

Hymn #559, our hymn of the month, was written by Anna Waring, a Welsh poet in the Church of England in the 19th century. It is an expression of joy in humility, contentment in one’s circumstance, and pleasure in service.

The first verse reflects the poet’s belief that the course of her life is dictated by the sovereign will of God. Because of that, she does not need to live in fear. No doubt there will be difficult things to face, but she is confident that God is good, and she can therefore face the future in faith. She asks the Lord for a “present mind”, that is, a mind focused on pleasing the Lord in the immediate circumstance.

She expresses her desire for humility in the second verse. So often we can struggle to be important in the eyes of the world, being part of a grand movement, knowing something that nobody else knows. Pastors desire to have the biggest or most well-regarded church, or to have their book on the bestseller list. Christians desire to be part of that church, to be at the church with the world-famous pastor, to be well thought of by the world. We want to think in some sense that we are indispensable, that at least in some small way God can’t do without us. But the Christian is called to a life of humble service, of being content to serve God faithfully wherever He puts us and trusting that He will open the doors to greater things if He desires. James tells us to take the lowest seat at the feast and wait to be invited to a more prominent position, rather than suffering the embarrassment of taking a prominent position and being told to vacate it for someone else.

Sinclair Ferguson once said that every ministry failure he had ever seen started with pride. A man gets lifted up believing that he is special, some kind of super-pastor, someone who knows something or can do something that no-one else can know or do, that the kingdom of God somehow uniquely depends on him. As a result he fails to guard his sin, believes he deserves special privileges, and falls. But this is not unique to pastors. Pride lies at the root of all our failures, the thought that I deserve some kind of life, I deserve some sort of happiness or fame or influence, and therefore if I don’t have it I act in sinful ways to try to take it. This hymn is a wonderful antidote for that kind of thinking.

“Content to fill a little space, if thou be glorified.” This is a serving heart. A master hires a servant to do some job. If the servant spends all his time complaining about how he is overqualified and really should have some much more important job, and neglects to do the job he has, then the master will think very poorly of that servant. But one who can faithfully do what is before him, regardless of whether he thinks it suits him or is worthy of his dignity, will be a faithful servant.

In that service we find freedom, for it is for that service that we were created. We will always be happiest when we stop kicking against the goads, stop looking at what others have, what we think we deserve and simply be thankful for what God has given us. Be faithful at the life God has given you. In anyone’s life there are always plenty of opportunities to be faithful, to be disciplined in what you have, to show the love of Christ to others. You probably will not be in any history books. But it is not the approval of history we should be looking for, but the approval of our Father in Heaven, and He sees.

Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross. (Phi 2:5-8 NKJ)