From the Servant General - Worship Series

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On Servant Leadership Series by FAP

Lent and Lamentation Series


(Part 5)


The book of Psalms is a prayer and hymn book for liturgical worship, used by God’s chosen people, the Israelites. When we look to worship, the psalms are a rich resource. They are full of praise of God, exhortations to trust and joy, and specific prayers for many specific needs.

The psalms certainly enrich our prayer and worship life. They teach us about who God is, and how we can properly relate to Him. The psalms are a school of prayer.

Today we take one verse in one particular psalm (reading for September 8), which gives us the ingredients of what we encounter in a typical time of worship in our household meetings.

“I trust in your faithfulness.
Grant my heart joy in your help,
That I may sing of the Lord,
‘How good our God has been to me!”
(Psalm 13:6)

Ingredients of our time of worship

“That I may sing of the Lord.” We start off with singing songs of praise. We come into the Lord’s presence, and give Him the praise and worship that is His due.

“How good our God has been to me!” Then we have our prayers of thanksgiving. We acknowledge all the blessings God has bestowed on us.

“I trust in your faithfulness. Grant my heart joy in your help.” Then we have our prayers of petition and intercession. We look to God’s help in our problems and challenges in life.

The “process” of worship is a process of building up one on the other.

It starts with our entering into the presence of God, and acknowledging Him for who He is. He is our God and our King. He is Lord of all. This is the proper posture between the Creator and His creatures, between the Savior and those whom He has redeemed, between the Master and His servants. Thus we sing and we shout out our praises.

Then we voice out how good is the God whom we worship. We recall the many blessings we have received. We have a posture of great gratitude, recognizing the big and small miracles in our lives, and the continued outpouring of God’s grace upon us.

Finally, recognizing God as the Almighty and powerful One, recalling all His blessings upon us and His faithfulness to us, we bring to Him our petitions. We seek His continued help for all our needs.

Proper attitudes in worship

During our time of worship, we must have the right posture before God. We manifest great love for Him. We have great gratitude in our hearts for how He has blessed us. We humble ourselves in His awesome presence.

In this particular psalm, there are two other important aspects.

First there is trust. “I trust in your faithfulness.”

When we acknowledge God for who He is, we are saying that we can trust Him. He is our Father. He is our Savior. He is the One who loves us, who keeps us always in the palm of His hands. He guides our steps. He desires to bring us to eternal life with Him in heaven. He is a faithful God.

Then there is joy. “Grant my heart joy in your help.”

Having acknowledged God for who He is, knowing how much He has been blessing us throughout our whole lives, having assurance that He will provide for all our needs and will always answer our prayers, this cannot but bring us great joy. Our help is our God.

Our life together

Now notice that the above speaks about our themes for last year and this year. In 2008 we had the theme of joy. In 2009 we have the theme of trust.

Coming out of our lamentations and being restored to our authentic charism, now being in line with God’s eternal plan for us all along, then we have joy in Christ and we trust in Jesus.

These are two very important postures that we need to have. The basics of course are faith, hope and love. In addition, there is joy and trust. With joy and trust, nothing can ever faze us. We need never be afraid. We can move on confidently, knowing that God loves us and that God desires to use us as His instruments.

Coming together in worship, whether as a household or in a larger assembly, is a great event. It is all about living out the faith that we have. It is about connecting with a good and faithful God.

God is good, all the time. God is faithful, from generation to generation.

Because of that, we trust in Him, and our hearts are filled with joy.

(September 08, 2009)

(Part 4)
“At your right hand is the Lord”
(Psalm 110:5a)

According to the expressions of our spirituality, when we worship, we raise our hands. Now this is a very very meaningful posture. It means a lot and it says a lot. We must understand the implication of raised hands, so that when we raise our hands, it does not just become one of those automatic things we do during worship. Worship is our great privilege, when we come into the presence of the Almighty God. As we worship, and as we raise our hands, we affirm many things.

What then do raised hands during worship mean?
Looking to God
First, and this is what most of us understand raised hands to mean, it is a posture of worship. “Let my prayer be incense before you; my uplifted hands an evening sacrifice.” (Ps 141:2). We in effect are acknowledging the Lord for who He is, saying with our hands, “Hail King Jesus!”[1]

Second, we bless God.[2] “I will bless you as long as I live; I will lift up my hands, calling on your name.” (Ps 63:5). “Lift up your hands toward the sanctuary, and bless the Lord.” (Ps 134:2).
Looking to ourselves
Now since we are in the presence of the Almighty, Omnipotent and holy God, and though God can welcome sinners, but so that we might enter more intimately into our worship, we must be properly attired and have the proper disposition to enter into the banquet.[3] 

So we need to be clean of heart. We need to be repentant of our sins as we come before the Lord in worship.[4] We come with clear consciences. We know we are striving for holiness, and expectantly anticipate the added graces to be showered upon us during our time of worship. We exit the assembly a little bit more holy than when we enter. 

So third, when we raise our hands, we are showing to the Lord, and for all to see, our blameless hands held aloft. “It is my wish, then, that in every place the men[5] should pray, lifting up holy hands, without anger or argument.” (1 Tm 2:8). Remember the nursery rhyme, “I have two hands, the left and the right, hold them up high so clean and bright”? As children of the Father, we proudly show Him our hands that are clean. Indeed, “clean little hands are good to see.” 

God tells us to be holy because He is holy. Our distinguishing characteristic is holiness. So this aspect of clean hands cannot be emphasized enough. And so as the Lord taught His covenanted people Israel how to worship, the psalmists often stressed this.

David could confidently tell the Lord, “Lord my God, if I am at fault in this, if there is guilt on my hands, …. then let my enemy pursue and overtake me” (Ps 7:4-6). In the same way, God tells us to first settle the wrong that we do before we even worship. “Therefore, if you bring your gift to the altar, and there recall that your brother has anything against you, leave your gift there at the altar, go first and be reconciled with your brother, and then come and offer your gift.” (Mt 5:23-24).[6] [7]

So raising our hands is signifying righteousness. This is pleasing to the Lord. “The Lord acknowledged my righteousness, rewarded my clean hands. So the Lord rewarded my righteousness, the cleanness of my hands in his sight.” (Ps 18:21,25). How do we become righteous? “For I kept the ways of the Lord, I was not disloyal to my God. His laws were all before me, his decrees I did not cast aside. I was honest toward him; I was on guard against sin.” (Ps 18:22-24). Our righteousness is about obeying God, avoiding sin, faithfulness to God’s way of life, and living in integrity.

So as we worship, which involves entering into the presence of a holy God, let us look to our own holiness and righteousness. “Who may go up the mountain of the Lord? Who can stand in his holy place? The clean of hand and pure of heart” (Ps 24:3-4a).

Let us ensure that we have clean hands, which we can raise for all to see, but especially for our God, so that we might be worthy to worship. “I will wash my hands in innocence and walk round your altar, Lord” (Ps 26:6).[8] “But I walk without blame; …. My foot stands on level ground; in assemblies I will bless the Lord.” (Ps 26:11-12).
Worship draws us near to God, and worship, as we have seen, involves righteousness, which in turn involves integrity and obedience.

What is integrity? Among other things, integrity is about pure hearts and singlemindedness for God. It is loving God with our all. It is having God as our one and only priority. It is having no other idols in our lives. It is living for God alone. “Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you of two minds.” (Jas 4:8).

And we need to be obedient to God. God’s law and God’s word are our guideposts to living a life of holiness. We look to God’s word, edicts, teaching, precepts, decrees, commands (Ps 119:42-47). When we worship with hands raised, we affirm our obedience to God and to His commands. “I lift up my hands to your commands; I study your laws, which I love.” (Ps 119:48). Obedience is the fourth meaning of raised hands.
Looking to our need
Hands raised in worship also refer to our posture of weakness and nothingness before the Lord. We are in terrible need of His mercy and grace, and also practical help in our distress in the world. 

So fifth, hands raised during worship are our cry for help from God. “Hear the sound of my pleading when I cry to you, lifting my hands toward your holy place.” (Ps 28:2). Have you ever seen film footages of starving refugees crowding around a truck of relief goods? All are desperately crying out for help, with hands outstretched. So too are we in the presence of a holy and perfect God, who desires us to be as He is.[9] On our own, we are nothing and desperately in need of God’s mercy, grace and blessing. “Here I am, afflicted and poor. God, come quickly! You are my help and deliverer. Lord, do not delay!” (Ps 70:6).

Our raised hands are meant to catch God’s attention,[10] to ask to be remembered in our need, to plead for timely help. If we truly understood our sorry condition before a holy God, then it would became a desperate plea for help. “On the day of my distress I seek the Lord; by night my hands are raised unceasingly; I refuse to be consoled.” (Ps 77:3). “All day I call on you, Lord; I stretch out my hands to you.” (Ps 88:10b). Our desperate longing for God’s love and care is like the situation of one in the wide desert desperate to satisfy his great thirst. “I stretch out my hands to you; I thirst for you like a parched land.” (Ps 143:6).
Considering our great need and helplessness and our total dependence on God, our raising of our hands in worship indicate, sixth, our total surrender. When a soldier surrenders to the enemy, he indicates this by raising his hands high. When a criminal is cornered by a police officer with a firearm, the former is ordered to raise his hands, indicating acceptance that he has come into the power of the latter.

We are called on to surrender our lives to God, so that He can fully form us and care for us, according to how He knows best. In worship with raised hands, we acknowledge God for who He is, accept that He is the best Person to care for us, abandon our control over our lives, and place ourselves entirely in His hands.
When we humbly acknowledge our need and surrender ourselves to God, then He not only tosses us the relief goods (mercy and grace), but He in fact takes hold of our hands. This is the seventh aspect of our upraised hands in worship. He initiates or deepens a personal relationship. He makes us one with Him, through such an intimate contact. He firmly takes hold of our lives. “Yet I am always with you; you take hold of my right hand.” (Ps 73:23).

As the Lord takes hold of us, then there He will stay, if we let Him. “The Lord is your guardian; the Lord is your shade at your right hand.” (Ps 121:5). Remember the thirsty man in the desert? God not only provides living water, but He provides shade as well. When God takes hold of our right hand, we are assured of His total care. “By day the sun cannot harm you, nor the moon by night. The Lord will guard you from all evil, will always guard your life. The Lord will guard your coming and going both now and forever.” (Ps 121:6-8).

God is there, just waiting for us. When we worship with hands raised, the whole process of God taking over our lives begins, and with subsequent times of worship, deepens. What a great privilege and assurance this is for us. “I keep the Lord always before me; with the Lord at my right, I shall never be shaken.” (Ps 16:8). With our right hand clasped by His right hand, we can rest secure. “You will show me the path to life, abounding joy in your presence, the delights at your right hand forever.” (Ps 16:11).
Affirming our relationship
When we raise our hands in worship, one other thing that we are doing, the eighth aspect, is to pledge our allegiance to God. In effect we are giving God a salute, affirming our loyalty and submission.[11] We affirm that we belong to Him. We are His to dispose of as He wills.

Ninth, we testify to God’s love. When we are a witness in a courtroom, we are asked to raise our right hand and to swear to tell the whole truth and nothing but the truth. So in worship with raised hands, we testify to the truth about the One whom we are worshiping. We affirm God for who He is. And we affirm that we are telling the truth. This is the opposite of those who lie, whose “mouths speak untruth; their right hands are raised in lying oaths.” (Ps 144:11b). Thus to raise our hands in worship is a serious gesture or posture. We are proclaiming to the world that the Lord is King, that we have given our allegiance to Him, that we belong totally to Him. If this is not so, then our right hands are raised in lying oaths.

Tenth, when we raise our hands in worship, we affirm our covenant with God. God has entered into covenant with us, primarily as His people that make up the universal Church, and secondarily as CFC-FFL. When we come before the God who called us and appointed us to our task, we are affirming and renewing our covenant. We are promising, with His help, to live it out more fully.
Being ready for battle
Another very significant aspect, the eleventh, of our raising our hands in worship is that we are saying, “Here I am, Lord, use me.” First we affirm that we are indeed with Him, that we are not the enemy within. We raise and show our hands to be clean, that we “had not worshiped the beast or its image nor had accepted its mark on (our) foreheads or hands.” (Rv 20:4). Then our raised hands indicate or readiness for mission. 

Readiness for mission necessitates proper training. Mission means spiritual warfare. We need to be prepared to do battle. We need to power of the Spirit. So twelve, we raise our hands to be examined by God to show our mission readiness. Just as the soldier would show his weapon to his officer to examine if he is battle-ready, we show our hands to God to show the same thing. In this spiritual battle, God “trained my hands for war, my arms to bend even a bow of bronze.” (Ps 18:35). It is God “who trains my hands for battle, my fingers for war” (Ps 144:1). It is God who checks our weapon as we worship, “with the praise of God in (our) mouths, and a two-edged sword in (our) hands” (Ps 149:6).

Our human hands are also what God uses to transfer His power for mission. Thus we pray over those who will serve and who will do mission. In appointing assistants, the community of disciples chose seven reputable men, and then the apostles “prayed and laid hands on them.” (Acts 6:6). In sending Barnabas and Saul off for mission, the disciples fasted and prayed, and then “they laid hands on them and sent them off.” (Acts 13:3). As Simon the magician observed, “the Spirit was conferred by the laying on of the apostles’ hands” (Acts 8:18). But this was not just a human gesture or ritual, something that Simon thought could be bought by money. Rather, Peter told Simon that his “heart  was not upright before God” and directed him to “repent of this wickedness” (Acts 8:21-22). Here again we see the proper posture of repentance and holiness before our God. We are to be holy warriors. We are to go forth into battle “in the power of God; with weapons of righteousness at the right and at the left” (2 Cor 6:7).[12]
Upraised hands in worship
Whew! There is much to upraised hands in worship than most of us thought, or did not think about. Now we know. It is a very serious and meaningful posture, which practically encapsulates the fullness of our life in Christ! 

We should praise God for the privilege of worship, and mean everything that raised hands signify.
*     *     *
As a postscript, let me add something about the proper posture of raising our hands.[13]

Normally it is hand raised, palm outward to God. Having our palm pointed inward towards us is proper to petition and of course is part of our time of worship. But the normative posture is palm outward. We are addressing God.

When we raise our hand, it can be low, medium or high (for lack of better terms). Our arm[14] can be bent at the elbow, forming a “V” with our elbow pointing to the floor. Or our arm can be raised higher, with our arm bent at the elbow at a right angle to our body, forming an “L” with our elbow pointing horizontally (our upper arm[15] parallel to the floor). Or our arm can be raised fully, with the arm not bent but straight.

We can raise either our right hand or both our right and left hands. Normally, if we raise only one hand, it will be the right and not the left.[16]

Understanding the important of raised hands should also mean that we do not just clap our hands when we sing during worship. While there are certainly times for clapping our hands while singing, clapping is more proper immediately after the song, when we also shout out our praises to God. Clapping is certainly part of worship and pleasing to God, but if it keeps us from raising our hands to God, then we will be missing a lot.
*     *     *
Discussion starter for household meetings:

What have you learned about raising hands during worship? How can you now more properly respond to our times of worship?

[1] For a fuller treatment of this, see On Worship (Part 1).
[2] For a fuller treatment of this, see On Worship (Part 3).
[3] For a fuller treatment of worship as a banquet, see On Worship (Part 2).
[4] This is why at times the worship leader leads the congregation into repentance. However, such repentance should already have happened individually before we even enter into the period of worship. This is why, if we have not entered into it even before we arrive at the venue, it is good to take a little time just to sit in silence at our place, as the congregation settles down and prepares to start the worship. The same is true at a Eucharistic celebration.
[5] And women of course.
[6] Recalling if a brother has anything against us involves an examination of conscience. If we find that indeed we have done an unrighteous act against the brother, then this applies. However, it is possible that a brother has something against us though we are blameless. In this case, our conscience is clear and we can continue with our worship.
[7] We certainly can act on this literally. However, right before the time of worship or a Eucharistic celebration, if we recall such unrighteousness against a brother on our part, we can just resolve to rectify the situation soonest possible, and continue on with our worship.
[8] Versus dirty hands. “Their hands carry out their schemes; their right hands are full of bribes.” (Ps 26:10).
[9] Jesus says, “So be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Mt 5:48).
[10] Not that God needs to be prodded to attend to us. This is about our proper posture and not God’s. So perhaps we need to consider that if we do not raise our hands in worship, God might not notice us in the milling crowd, and we would not get our share of help and blessings (note to footnote: God will of course always notice us. Again this is about our posture and not God’s).
[11] A good visual image is that of the Nazi salute to Hitler. Right hands and arms are fully stretched out. Our analogy here of course is just in the manner of salute.
[12] Precisely because we engage in spiritual warfare with righteousness, then sending brethren off on mission necessitates looking into their spiritual condition. As laying on of hands imposes God’s power and authority for mission, then those who do so need to be prudent and discerning. “Do not lay hands too readily on anyone, and do not share in another’s sins.” (1 Tm 5:22).
[13] Technically we raise our arm and our hand.
[14] The arm is the human limb between the shoulder and the wrist.
[15] Shoulder to elbow.
[16] There are many Biblical passages about the importance of the right hand, especially when referring to God. In many cultures, interaction involving hands (whether shaking hands or handing an important document over) is done with the right hand. Swearing in for the Presidency of a country or in a courtroom is done using the right hand. On a lighter note, if you saw the movie Slumdog Millionaire (I hope you see it), there is that amusing scene where one was told not to eat with his left hand because that was the hand used to wipe his ___ (oh, go and see the movie yourself).

(June 13, 2009) 

(Part 3)
God is a God who blesses. From the very start, God blessed His people. God blessed Adam and Eve (Gn 1:28), Noah (Gn 9:1), Abraham (Gn 12:2), and so on through the generations, to our very own time today. We look to God for His blessings, we implore Him to bless us, we rejoice whenever we experience His blessings.

Even when we bless each other, what do we say? We say “God bless you.” We do not say “I bless you.” Ministers might say “I bless you,” but it is a blessing “in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” It is still God who blesses, with the minister as just an instrument.
Blessing God
But here is something striking. We can also bless God. In fact, we are told in the Bible to bless God.[1]
“Bless our God, you peoples” (Ps 66:8a)
“Come, bless the Lord, all you servants of the Lord” (Ps 134:1a)
Bless the Lord, my soul; all my being, bless his holy name! Bless the Lord, my soul” (Ps 103:1-2a)
Understand what the Bible is telling us: it is not just that we can be a blessing to God, but that we can actually bless God. It is not just God who blesses us, but we in turn can bless God as well. “It is we who bless the Lord, both now and forever.” (Ps 115:18)

Now it is right for us to praise God, to worship God, to thank God, to exult God. That is the proper relationship between a creature and the Creator, between the servant and the Master. But to bless God? What does this mean?[2] Isn’t a blessing imparted by the greater to the lesser, by the one higher placed to the one lower placed? How is it possible for us to bless God?
How to bless God
What does God bless us with? God blesses us with good things with His grace, with His mercy, with His gifts. When we say to another “God bless you,” what do we desire for that person? We desire the good things of God health, prosperity, protection, happiness, and so on. We desire that that person be able to live his life according to God’s wonderful plan for him. At times we may be specific, as in “May God bless you with healing.” But most of the time we might just say “God bless you.”

So what does it mean if we bless God? God is the Almighty. God owns everything. Is there anything that God needs? Is there anything we can give God that He does not have? Is there anything we can add to God?

The answer is yes, there is. Now that is a very striking and provocative statement. What could we possibly have that God might want but not have?

The answer is: ourselves.
God created human beings, not because He was lonely or incomplete or in need of anything. God created human beings out of love, to share His life and to live eternally with Him in paradise. When they disobeyed and lost paradise, God continued to work for their restoration. Ultimately God sent His very own Son Jesus to suffer and die for His creatures so that they might be restored to Him, and again have the possibility of making it to paradise.

God desires His people and did not spare anything, including His own Son, to have them back. Though He was complete, He made Himself incomplete. After all His blessings, when His people still reject Him, God wonders with a plaintive cry: “O my people, what have I done to you, or how have I wearied you? Answer me!” (Mi 6:3).

So what God wants most but might not possess are His people! This is because God endowed people with free will and respects that free will. God will not impose His love on people. Thus they can reject Him. 
So even with their salvation already won by Jesus on the cross, people still reject God. Such rejection grieves God. “But they rebelled, and grieved his holy spirit” (Is 63:10a).

Without His beloved people, then God, according to His own eternal plan, is not complete. Without the people that He loves, without His plan being accomplished, God is not blessed.

How then can God be blessed? This happens when people return to Him and live their lives according to His divine will, thus assuring their entry into eternal life with Him in heaven. This has been God’s plan all along.
Blessing God and worship
Now when we turn our lives over to God, a vibrant expression of that is when we worship. It is right and it is expected that God’s people will worship Him. When we worship God in Spirit and truth, then we manifest that we are indeed His people. When we are sincere in worship, we show that we are renewed in His Spirit, that we accept Jesus as Savior and Lord, that we are His disciples.

And so blessing God is very much connected with worship.
“Bless our God, you peoples; loudly sound his praise” (Ps 66:8)
“Sing to the Lord a new song; sing to the Lord, all the earth. Sing to the Lord, bless his name” (Ps 96:1-2a)
“… in assemblies I will bless the Lord.” (Ps 26:12b)
“I will bless the Lord at all times; praise shall be always in my mouth.” (Ps 34:2)
When we praise God in the assembly, if that is truly an expression of who we have become and how we have been restored to God, then we are blessing God.
Blessing God and evangelization
Now God created all human beings and want them all to live eternally with Him in heaven. Jesus died for all humanity. So God will be fully blessed when all the peoples turn back to Him.
“Your procession comes into view, O God, your procession into the holy place, my God and king. The singers go first, the harpists follow; in their midst girls sound the timbrels. In your choirs, bless God; bless the Lord, you from Israel’s assemblies. In the lead is Benjamin, few in number; there the princes of Judah, a large throng, the princes of Zebulun, the princes of Naphtali, too.” (Ps 68:25-28)
 This is why we must evangelize, so that God will be fully blessed. We are to proclaim the good news of salvation in Jesus day after day among all peoples, so that all the earth will also turn to God, and manifest this in worship.
“Sing to the Lord, a new song; sing to the Lord, all the earth. Sing to the Lord, bless his name; announce his salvation day after day. Tell God’s glory among the nations, among all peoples, God’s marvelous deeds.” (Ps 96:1-3)
This is why a community assembly with communal worship is part of a people’s preparation to continue with the work of evangelization. After their worship and assembly, God sends them forth to proclaim Christ to the society and world that they are returning to.[3]
Blessing God in the assembly

When we pray over someone and invoke God’s blessings upon the person, we lift our hands and extend them, palms out, towards the person. In the same way, when we praise and worship, we lift up our hands to God. “Lift up your hands toward the sanctuary, and bless the Lord.” (Ps 134:2).
When we worship, Jesus is there, for where two or three are gathered together in his name, there he is in their midst (Mt 18:20). And where Jesus is, so too are the angels and saints. 

Thus it is a great blessing for us to worship. And it is a great incentive to us to bring all peoples to worship with us.
“Bless the Lord, all you angels, mighty in strength and attentive, obedient to every command. Bless the Lord, all you hosts, ministers who do God’s will. Bless the Lord, all creatures, everywhere in God’s domain. Bless the Lord, my soul!” (Ps 103:20-22)
Never forget: with the privilege to come before the Lord in worship, we are not the only ones who are blessed. The One we worship is blessed as well.
 (May 11, 2009)

[1] There are many other passages, not just in the Psalms (for example, Ps 16:7a, Ps 100:4b, Ps 104:1a), but also in Sirach (39:14c, 39:35, 43:11, 45:26a, 50:22a, 51:12b), Daniel (3:57-90), Tobit (13:15).
[2] The Catechism of the Catholic Church has this to say: “Blessing is a divine and life-giving action, the source of which is the Father; his blessing is both word and gift. When applied to man, the word ‘blessing’ means adoration, and surrender to his Creator in thanksgiving.” In this paper, we look to a deeper meaning of “blessing God.”
[3] This is the same with a Eucharistic celebration (Mass).

(Part 2)
As the people of God, we come together in communal worship. This is something that is very much a part of our community life. We almost always start our meetings, assemblies and conferences with worship. Many times our worship sets the tone for the rest of the meeting. And rightly so. God called us, He brought us together, He sends us forth, He is in the midst of His people, and so we start by acknowledging Him for who He is, our God and King. Thus we worship.

But worship is not only what we “do” for God. It is also what He does for us. Consider what David said in one of his psalms.
“My soul shall savor the rich banquet of praise, with joyous lips my mouth shall honor you!” (Ps 63:6)
David describes worship as a “rich banquet.” This is very significant.
What is a banquet?
A banquet is a great feast. It is a filling and fulfilling occasion. It is characterized by celebration and great joy.

A banquet suggests lots of food and merriment. You can have your fill. Indeed you have to watch it because you are being tempted to overeat.

A banquet is usually given by a person of importance, who invites those who are important to him. A banquet is often extravagant, showcasing the stature and means of the one giving it, and it accords great honor to those who are deserving of an invitation.
God’s banquet
Now God invites us to a rich banquet, to a great feast, whenever we worship.

Our host is the Lord Himself. Being the King of kings, He is the greatest of all. Owning the whole universe, He is the richest of all. Being God, it is our great honor to be invited into His presence.

What happens during worship? We enter into God’s holy presence, and He pours out His bountiful graces upon us. “Happy the chosen ones you bring to dwell in your courts. May we be filled with the good things of your house, the blessings of your holy temple!” (Ps 65:5).

When we worship, God leads us to a veritable smorgasbord of blessings, and showers us with all good things  a deeper faith, wisdom, consolation, strength, healing, reconciliation, forgiveness, transformation in Christ, perseverance, faithfulness, holiness. It is all there for the taking. God fills our hearts, raises our spirits and touches the very depths of our souls. God enriches our spiritual lives.

This is particularly significant because we come from outside, from a world that is in darkness, from the poverty of our own souls. We are thirsty and hungry. “For you my body yearns; for you my soul thirsts, like a land parched, lifeless, and without water.” (Ps 63:2). We have been crawling, greatly weakened, through the desert, and now we have come to the oasis. Suddenly we are faced with the richest and choicest foods, and with the finest wines. We have arrived at the feast. 

And when we have had our fill and the banquet is over, God is not done. He gives each one a doggie bag so that we can take out and take home more of the goodies. He continues to fill us so that we can become holy. He equips us for the work that we are to do in the world.
Our response
If an important person invited you to a banquet, how would you react? You would be greatly honored and you would look forward to it, perhaps thinking of nothing else in the meantime.

Now God Himself invites us. We are His honored guests, being His beloved people. He lays out the banquet table, filling it will all good things of His house. 

We must realize what God is doing, and what a great honor and privilege it is for mere mortals such as us to be ushered into the presence of the Almighty. We must be filled with great joy. We must look forward to the occasion with anticipation and eagerness and awe. We must exclaim in our hearts: “O God, you are my God – for you I long!” (Ps 63:2a).

And we must prepare ourselves. We must be properly attired  with reverence and humility, with great respect for our Lord, with full expectation of what we are to receive at His hands. One important thing: do not be late. Do not dishonor the Host by arriving when He is already seated at the head table. Do not risk the doors of the banquet hall being closed on you.
The banquet of praise
How do we partake of this banquet of praise? In a banquet we put food into our mouths to satisfy ourselves. In worship we use our mouths to praise God, to satisfy Him by giving Him the honor and glory that is His due. “My lips offer you worship! …. with joyous lips my mouth shall honor you!” (Ps 63:4b,6b). It is not about what goes into our mouths, but what goes out from our mouths. And what comes from our mouths ought to reflect what is in our hearts. “For from the fullness of the heart the mouth speaks.” (Mt 12:34b). The gratitude and great joy that fills our hearts pour forth from our mouths in exultant praise. 

So our focus is not on the goodies we can get from God, but is just on God Himself. But we know that as we focus on God and worship Him, God will bountifully pour out His graces and blessings upon us. We worship in order to honor God, but in worship we have come into a rich banquet, and God will not fail in filling us.
The love of God
God invites us to His banquet out of His great love for us, so that He can bless us and fill us with good things. We enter with our souls thirsty and our lives parched, but in the banquet we are filled, and we begin to experience life in its abundance. But what really is the treasure of the banquet, the piece de resistance, is the very love of God. The banquet is all about God’s love for us.

We come into the banquet dead or dying in the world, we are revived in the banquet and receive life, but more than life itself, we experience the great love of God for us. “For your love is better than life” (Ps 63:4a). It is a movement from death to life to the very love of God. It just gets better and better.
Let us worship
It is a great blessing for us that God allows us in His holy presence to give Him praise and worship. It is something that we must greatly desire to do, realizing what a great privilege it truly is.

But here is a secret: it is not only you who looks forward to the rich banquet. It is God Himself who is more eager to see you, and expectantly awaits your presence.

So let us worship, with our whole being with mind and heart, with body and soul. Let us partake fully of the spiritual food that is laid out at God’s banquet table.

(April 30, 2009)

(Part 1)
“The Lord is king forever”
(Psalm 10:16a)

Jesus is the King of kings, and we are his subjects. When we in CFC-FFL worship, the situation is similar to a people coming before their king. What happens during the time of worship can be described and understood in terms of a sequence of events in such a scenario.
The people are invited to have an audience with the king.

The king wishes to be accessible to his subjects. He meets with them regularly, speaking and listening to them.

In CFC-FFL, we have our weekly household meetings and monthly prayer assemblies, as well as other times when we worship. We are a people who have been invited to enter into the presence of our King, so that He might interact with us.

Pastoral note: We need to realize what a great privilege it is to be invited into the presence of the King of kings. As such, we should prepare ourselves spiritually whenever we have these blessed times.
The people enter into the throne room of the king.

The people assemble prior to the arrival of the king and are ushered into his throne room.

In CFC-FFL, we should be seated prior to the announced time of the start of the prayer assembly. When alerted by the prayer leader as to the imminent start of the assembly, all conversation and moving around should cease.

Pastoral note: People should not be late in arriving, since it would be a big insult to arrive after the king. In addition, the people should look forward to what is to happen with excitement and anticipation.
The leader exhorts the people to welcome the king upon his arrival.

It is the leader’s task to prepare the people for the arrival of the king. In a way, he is the cheer leader who hypes up anticipation and excitement for the king’s arrival.

In CFC-FFL, this is the nature of the opening remarks of the prayer leader. It is an exhortation to worship.

Pastoral note: The prayer leader is not there to give a talk or to do a sharing or to tell stories, unless these are necessary in his task of exhorting to worship. The exhortation is normally short, because it is just an introduction to the main event.
Upon the arrival of the king, all stand. At this point, the people either praise or sing a song. As the king enters his throne room, the people continue to sing and praise.

When the king arrives, the people stand, as a show of respect and giving honor. Then they burst out in greetings of joy through shouting and singing. They cannot contain their excitement. They wave and clap their hands, they cry out in loud voices.

In CFC-FFL, we normally sing two praise songs followed by simultaneous praising. The brethren, in jubilation, raise hands and shout and clap and dance.

Pastoral note: By the very nature of the situation, the worship songs should be fast. The mood is joyful and exuberant. There is no room for inhibition.
When the king reaches and mounts his throne, the exuberance gives way to a more subdued and solemn adoration.

The people have been exuberant as the king walked to his throne. Now having reached his throne, he turns to face the people, and they become subdued, bowing their heads and even kneeling.

In CFC-FFL, we sing our worship song, followed by singing in tongues.

Pastoral note: When we sing in tongues, our “spirit is at prayer” (1 Cor 14:14). After interacting with the King with our mind and our body, now we enter into intimacy with Him with our spirit.
The people fall silent before the king, waiting for him to speak.

There is now total silence in the throne room, as the people await the king’s words.

In CFC-FFL, the singing in tongues is followed by a period of silence. The brethren are connected to the King in spirit. All await His words.

Pastoral note: This is a time to listen to God in our hearts. He will speak to each one of us. And if His word is not just for us but for the others as well, we should be open to being used by God as His mouthpiece in speaking to His people.
The king speaks.

The king uses this time to speak to his people. At times he commends them, at times he chastises them, at times he directs them, but at all times he encourages them and expresses his love and care.

In CFC-FFL, God speaks through prophecy or inspired Scripture readings.

Pastoral note: We should listen attentively to such words spoken, while at the same time being discerning whether the words are truly from God.
The people, individually or through the leader, respond.

Now it is the people’s turn to be heard. This is their audience with the king. They either express their admiration for the king, beg his indulgence for shortcomings, give thanks for some favor or good done for them, or place their requests before him.

In CFC-FFL, these are the prayers of adoration, repentance, thanksgiving and petition. In a prayer assembly, this is done by the prayer leader. In a household meeting, these prayers are done by the individual members.

Pastoral note: Because we are one body, we make everyone’s prayer our own by some verbal affirmation, such as saying “Amen” or “Yes, Lord” or some other.
The leader speaks the final word on behalf of the people.

Knowing that the time of audience is ending, the leader makes the closing remarks.

In CFC-FFL, this is the ending prayer done by the prayer leader. He may also include a closing communal prayer, such as the Lord’s Prayer or the Glory Be.
The king dismisses the people and leaves the throne room. 

Once again the people are on their feet with great joy, having spent such a privileged time with the king. Once again they are exuberant in their praise of their king who is exiting from the assembly.

In CFC-FFL, we usually have, in a prayer assembly, an exuberant closing song, followed by a big round of applause at the end.

Pastoral note: For this closing song, it is very appropriate to sing songs that reflect on our being sent off on our mission after our time with our God. This might be about our worldwide mission (e.g., Shine Jesus Shine) or our being an army (e.g., We Will Fight) or the like.

Additional pastoral notes:
1. When we worship, we are a people led by the Spirit of God. Thus, while the above describes well what is happening during the time of worship, the sequence and activities will not necessarily be similar all the time. For example, the Lord might speak through prophecy at different times during a household meeting, or the congregation might be led to kneel in repentance.
2. In a prayer assembly, the dismissal and closing song happen not after the time of worship but at the end of thewhole prayer meeting. Between the worship time and the closing are the sharings, prayers of intercession, announcements, etc.
(Note: I have slightly rehashed what I first wrote in 2000)

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Renewing the Family and Defending Life