Thursday, October 29, 2009

Spiritual Depression in the Psalms

This is a great sermon by John Piper, based on Psalm 42, on dealing with difficult times in your life in a very real but God honouring way. Very down to earth spiritual practicality without any unhelpful uber/hyper super charismatic spirituality. Not that JP does that at all. Just plain old using the word of God and clinging to Truth in the face of tough trials that threaten to overwhelm you and most of all being brutally honest about where you are at.

The points that struck me are where Piper list 6 practical things from the Psalm to do when struggling.

  1. Asking god why is a legitimate question.
  2. Affirm God’s Sovereign Love. Recognising that God is in Sovereign Control of all things and that His love is beyond anything we can fully grasp yet must cling to.
  3. Sing! Yes Sing! Not happy clappy joyous stuff that may not be inappropriate to where you are at but songs that affirm truth and that are brutally honest. Many modern worship songs just don’t go there which is very sad.
  4. For example, Isaac Watts wrote these verses to be sung:

    How long wilt Thou conceal Thy face?
    My God, how long delay?
    When shall I feel those heav’nly rays
    That chase my fears away?

    How long shall my poor labouring soul
    Wrestle and toil in vain?
    Thy word can all my foes control
    And ease my raging pain.

  5. Preach to your own soul. This is a key theme from John Piper and is so helpful. It is also a very good reason to memorise scripture. Preach helpful key truths from the word at yourself. The power of the Word through the Holy Spirit is not something to be underestimated.
  6. Remember past experiences of close and intimate times with God.
  7. Thirst for God as the Deer Pants for Water. This for me is the key to hanging in there when all things around have gone bad and when they are going well. Keeping absolutely focussed on clinging to and thirsting for God alone. Recognising that without God there is nothing else. Where else would you go? Clinging to God and gaining intimacy with the Lord is more important than relief from your circumstances. It is ok to desire relief but not at the expense of clinging to God.

    First you need to recognise the thirst inside you for God. Accessing that thirst and not minimising the feelings that come when you do. It is a deep desire that can be uncomfortable for many who live on the surface of their emotions because it is at the heart of who we are as Image bearers of God. We were created so that only God can satisfy that thirst. Therefore to get in touch with it is to uncover a profound ache deep in the soul longing to be satisfied. If you go to the wrong place for it you are in deep trouble.

    The word of Habakkuk 3:17-19 are apt here. That is my prayer in all things. To gain a depth of trust and faith in God that holds me firm in all circumstances.

Anyway CLICK HERE for the sermon link and enjoy some wonderful biblical teaching.


Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Worship in Spirit and in Truth

I have been reading, on and off, ‘Desiring God’ by John Piper. It is one of those books that I can only read short bits of because there is so much to take in. Re-reading sections is often necessary to grasp what JP is trying to communicate. Not because he is a bad communicator, but because the concepts are so deep to grasp.

The chapter I want to look at here is on Worship. It start with the story of the Samaritan woman at the well in John 4:7-26

A woman from Samaria came to draw water. Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.” 8 (For his disciples had gone away into the city to buy food.) 9 The Samaritan woman said to him, “How is it that you, a Jew, ask for a drink from me, a woman of Samaria?” (For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans.) 10 Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.” 11 The woman said to him, “Sir, you have nothing to draw water with, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water? 12 Are you greater than our father Jacob? He gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did his sons and his livestock.” 13 Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, 14 but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” 15 The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water, so that I will not be thirsty or have to come here to draw water.”

16 Jesus said to her, “Go, call your husband, and come here.” 17 The woman answered him, “I have no husband.” Jesus said to her, “You are right in saying, ‘I have no husband’; 18 for you have had five husbands, and the one you now have is not your husband. What you have said is true.” 19 The woman said to him, “Sir, I perceive that you are a prophet. 20 Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, but you say that in Jerusalem is the place where people ought to worship.” 21 Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. 22 You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. 23 But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. 24 God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” 25 The woman said to him, “I know that Messiah is coming (he who is called Christ). When he comes, he will tell us all things.” 26 Jesus said to her, “I who speak to you am he.”

After engaging with the woman Jesus, in a series of leads tries to draw the woman towards who He is. She is very slow to grasp what he is saying and sees only the practical and not the spiritual. So Jesus goes for the heart and addresses her adultery. Not out of cruelty but because often the only way into a persons heart is through a wound. Backed into a corner the woman responds in a common way, by changing the subject. As Piper puts it “Why, yes as long as we are talking about my adultery, what is your stance on the issue of where people should worship?”. Amazing isn’t it how we can try to so easily take the focus off ourselves, when the light is shined upon us and place it on something totally unconnected. However Jesus follows her rationale and takes us to the heart of the issue. The issue is not where we worship but far more important is how and whom we worship.

The Samaritan woman did not ‘know’ the One she worshipped. Worship must be based on having a true understanding of who God is as well as being deep and passionate in the heart.

The two paragraphs at the bottom of page 81 in my version are brilliantly insightful and I will quote them:

Worshipping in spirit is the opposite of worshipping in merely external ways. it is the opposite of empty formalism and traditionalism. Worshipping in truth is the opposite of worship based on an inadequate view of God. Worship must have heart and head. Worship must engage emotions and thought.

Truth without emotion produces dead orthodoxy and a church full of artificial admirers. On the other hand, emotion without truth produces empty frenzy and cultivates shallow people who refuse the discipline of rigorous thought. But true worship comes from people who are deeply emotional and who love deep and sound doctrine. Strong affections for God rooted in truth are the bone and marrow of biblical worship.(page 81-82, Desiring God, John Piper, Inter-Varsity Press)

Piper then lays out the following picture: The Fuel of worship is the truth of God. A true understanding of who God is as revealed in scripture. The furnace of worship being the regenerated human spirit. The heat of worship being the stuff of the heart. Like the joy, gratitude, trust, reverence etc… One thing is missing in that picture. The fire! This is where the Holy Spirit comes in. Until the Holy Spirit turns an unregenerate soul, which is dead in spirit and unable to worship God, into a living spirit there is no true worship. ‘That which is born of the Spirit is spirit’.

So our vision of God’s true greatness, fired by the flame of the Holy Spirit in the furnace of the renewed human spirit brings the resulting outpouring of our affections in worship with song, tears, longings and obedient lives.

What is then pointed out is that all things can be done in vain.

Piper then quotes Isaiah 29:13

Because this people draw near with their mouth
and honor me with their lips,
while their hearts are far from me,
and their fear of me is a commandment taught by men

Worship here is seen as Honouring God. Not increasing God’s honour since that is impossible. It is rightly reflecting the honour He already has. But the core point is that it must be done with gladness or else it is not worship. It is more than just willing the heart to try and worship. For without real desire there can be no real worship.

We can outwardly go through all the ‘acts’ of worship however they are performed in the church by an act of the will. This is dead worship where the heart is not engaged.

So what makes worship authentic?

The psalms give a whole array of reasons to worship God. From stunned silence at the holiness of God, Psalm 46:10, Habakkuk 2:20, Psalm 33:8

Or in reverence at our sinfulness faced with Gods power. Isaiah 8:13, Psalm 5:7

This leads to brokenness and grief for out sinfulness, Psalm 51:17, Isaiah 57:15

Then a longing for God in the brokenness. Psalm 42:1-2, Psalm 73:25-26, Psalm 63:1

God brings relief from the burden of sin and lifts our hearts Psalm 30:11-12 and turns our gratitude into Hope Psalm 42:5-6 and Psalm 130:5

Our heart will, in the end, long not for God’s gifts but for God himself. Psalm 27:4, Psalm 16:11, Psalm 37:4

These are the things that turn worship in vain to true worship. A heart captured by God which responds in the only way it can. Worship becomes an end in itself. John Calvin puts it like this: “If God contains the fullness of all good things in himself like an inexhaustible fountain, nothing beyond him is to be sought by those who strike after the highest good and all the elements of happiness” (John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion)

If we see the reality of God arrayed in front of us through His word and His world and our hearts do not respond with any grief, longing, hope, fear, awe, joy or thankfulness then any outward act of worship is dead. We cannot honour God if our ‘heart is far from him’.

We must worship God! This is not a ritualistic must, out of duty, but one of deep heartfelt desire to worship. For instance, I must tell my wife I Love her. Not out of duty, or I think it the right thing to do, but because deep in my heart I feel passionately in love with her and that causes me to want to say it. If I say it out of duty then it is meaningless. So it is with the worship of God. It is utterly meaningless unless motivated by a heart captivated by God alone. We come to God humbly recognising our desperate need of Him knowing that He alone can satisfy the deep heartfelt longing to be happy.

Piper then goes on to describe three stages of worship that I found to be terribly helpful. The above could leave us feeling like we are, either not Christians, or that we have such dead spirits that we cannot worship God truly.

The first stage is where it all starts. A barrenness of soul that can scarcely feel any longing but yet feels that sorrow for having so little love. Psalm 73:21-22

I think we would all recognise this stage and is one I certainly seem to return to far too often.

The second stage is where we feel deep longing and desire yet are not feeling the fullness of the banquet. We can recall, maybe, times when we did and felt Gods goodness close.

I would say this stage is where most of us end up. In this world, where God’s kingdom has come yet is not yet we are caught between two realities. No matter our satisfaction in God in this life we will still lack fullness and therefore will feel that deep longing having tasted yet not been sated. The more we taste, the more insatiably we will feel our thirst and longings for that which can only be fully satisfied in heaven.

The third stage Piper describes as being one where we feel unencumbered joy in Gods perfection. Being satisfied with Gods excellency and overflowing with the joy of fellowship.

I am not sure if JP is hinting that this is possible in this life or that it is the ultimate goal of the Christian yet is only achieved in heaven. I personally would err on the side of heaven, but with the caveat that God could break into our reality in such a way as to bring a temporary taste of this third stage.

God is glorified even by a spark of longing in our hearts. Again this spark can not be manufactured or willed into existence. It only comes from a heart renewed and touched by the Holy Spirit.

The chapter then moves on to look at how we are too easily pleased and settle for far less than could be achieved. He quotes a brilliantly insightful sermon by C. S. Lewis that talks about how our thinking has been influenced too much by the stoics and Kant. That enjoyment or worship is a bad thing. Lewis points out that if we look at the rewards promised in the Gospels it would indicate our desire is too weak not too strong. Half heartedly fooling about with drink, drugs, sex when infinite joy is offered. As Jeremiah 2:11-13 puts it. We walk past a spring of living water and dig about in muddy cesspools looking for satisfaction.

Finally Piper takes us back to the ‘Truth’ part of the worship in ‘spirit and in truth’. There must be a balance between spirit which much of the above tackles and truth. He makes the point that the only affection that honour God are those rooted in the rock of biblical truth.

Without the revealed word of God in scripture we can know nothing of the true nature of who God is. Without the word we cannot know the whom we worship. As the Samaritan woman did not know.

Without the heat of the Holy Spirit our worship will be dead and lifeless. Without the light of the word then worship becomes a fervent, corrupt out of control mess leading wholly in the wrong direction. A deep passion for truth and sound doctrine need not create dead lifeless worship as is often said by those who are unwilling to see this connection. If the feast of worship is rare in the land, it is because there is a famine of the word of God (Amos 8:11-12)

So worship should engage both the mind to grasp the truths of God’s reality and for the heart to respond to the beauty of that truth. This is why I like worship songs that declare wonderful truths about God and take our eyes off ourselves and focus them on Him. Then my heart responds to the truth with a longing to draw closer and experience the satisfaction of honouring God in worship. For in doing so ones soul finds the only source of true lasting joy in the universe. To know God and be known by Him.

The Chief end of man is to Glorify God


enjoying Him forever.

All scripture quoted is from the ESV

This is a review and paraphrase of Chapter 3 of

Desiring God
John Piper
Inter-Varsity Press
ISBN: 978-1-84474-044-4
© 1986, 1996, 2003 by Desiring God Foundation