Friday, May 21, 2010

Guidelines for a good sleep

What do you do before sleep? There are various ways of going to bed. Some people will like to read in bed and finally you will find them sleeping with an open book on their chest. Some people watch TV and doze off to sleep, the remote still in their hands. Some may have their earphones plugged in and the iPod still playing. However, there a number of people who go to bed fighting thoughts that wage war in their heads.

The psalmist who penned Psalm 4 talks about two such people because their thoughts while going to bed are different. While Psalm 3 is generally considered as a morning Psalm, Psalm 4 is considered as an evening Psalm. That means, a Psalm where the psalmist gathers his thought before retiring to bed.

The psalmist has been facing immense opposition from his enemies. His main worry is the plot of his enemies to spoil his reputation. He seems to be a man of some standing in the society, may be a king or a person of reputation. However, the plot is to spoil his reputation in society. That is why he cries, "How long will you people ruin my reputation? How long will you make groundless accusations?" (Psalm 4:2 NLT). A good name is important in his society where the controlling factor was shame. In his culture whether you are guilty or innocent doesn't matter much, but what matters is what people think of you.

This is enough to give sleepless nights. If his accusers can find enough buyers for all the false accusations they are making, then his very life even will be at risk. However, the psalmist is cool and composed. He is so cool to say to himself while going to bed: "In peace I lie down and sleep." (Psalm 4:8). His cool stems from his faith in God who makes him dwell safely (Psalm 4:8).

However, the people who are bent on spoiling his name in the society go to bed restless. Their heads are booming with plots and schemes to destroy the godly person who wrote this psalm. However, the psalmist full of confidence in his God has an advice laced with some sarcasm. "In your anger do not sin; when you are on your beds, search your hearts and be silent." (Psalm 4:5). His advice is that do not lose your sleep thinking about the harm you can do to me. I am special to God and no harm can ever happen to me.

We can carry the anger and frustration of the day to bed at night and keep ourselves awake. Most of the time, the people who hurt us or people whom we are envious of, take shooting positions in our thoughts when we descend to bed. We lose our sleep because we fight battles that we should not fight in our thoughts. Some of us worry a lot about the harm others can do to us and lose our sleep. However, the example of the Psalmist is to sleep trusting in God. That quiet trust, which the psalmist who authored Psalm 3 also echoes is important: "I lie down and sleep; I wake again, because the LORD sustains me." (Psalm 3:5).

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Attitude in Worship

There are times when we are very few in number when we gather for worship on Sundays. Our eyes scan the room to find who has come and who has missed that Sunday. Our spirits are down when we are few and up when there are many people. The preacher feels less "anointed" when there are more empty chairs than people and the spirit of the worship team depends on the number of people too. I have been pasturing an urban church for three years now where the number dwindles during the holidays. During the holiday season, most of my church members would like to travel, visit their families and only a faithful few will be left during for weeks. I have learned to cope with this and am teaching my leaders to cope with this. We are learning to keep the same level of "anointing" and the spirit whether we are few or many!
The first thing that we realize is that we are not few in worship even when there are empty chairs around. Christian worship is a joint celebration with the angelic hosts in heaven and believers all over the world. The angelic hosts in heaven are in constantly in worship of the Jesus Christ; they don't take any break! So when we are in worship we are only joining them for an hour or two and withdraw. The writer of the Book of Hebrews puts this truth this way:

But you have come to Mount Zion, to the heavenly Jerusalem, the city of the living God. You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly, to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven. You have come to God, the judge of all men, to the spirits of righteous men made perfect& (Hebrews 12:22-23 NIV).

To put it in another way, the strength of a worshipping congregation is not the number of people who occupy the chairs but includes myriads of angels in worship in heaven. Christian worship is not just the worship of the congregation that is gathered in one given place. When we worship at any given place we also need to realize that we are joining other worshippers who are in worship of Christ at the same time in different places. At any moment in time, there are thousands of Christ-worshippers in worship before him and no one is alone! This is to say that there is no one who is in solitude when it comes to Christian worship. Whether in multitude, a large stadium with thousands of people, a great band and a golden-tongued preacher what pleases God is our attitude in worship. The number and the performance don't really matter to God.
Though it addresses a situation in ancient Israel, Psalm 50 teaches some important principles of worship of God. It addresses people who were keen on worship by offering sacrifices and offerings and paying their vows. That is the mode of worship that they were used to. There is nothing wrong with that however. But God's problem with them was their attitude to worship. They thought that God is dependent on them for food (Psalm 50:12).
What God expects from them was not sacrifices which they thought is feeding a hungry God but sacrifices they offered as symbols of their gratitude to God. The psalmist called such sacrifices "thank offerings" and "vows" (Psalm 50:14). God invited his people to pray to him when they are in trouble so that he can help them out of those troubles (Psalm 50:15). When worshippers engage God in their struggle they worship him with grateful hearts. So all that God expects is the right attitude in worship; he expects people to recognize him as their savior, deliverer and bring a heart of gratitude to worship. They recognize their dependence on God rather than God's dependence on them! The multitude without this attitude doesn't please him.
So, let us remember this: Whether in solitude or in multitude, what matters in worship is our attitude.

Being the light of the world

'You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that t...