“What worship means is the submission of the whole being to the object of worship. It is the opening of the heart to receive the love of God; it is the subjection of conscience to be directed by Him; it is the declaration of the need to be fulfilled by Him; it is the subjection of desire to be controlled by Him. And as a result of all these together, it is the surrender of the whole being. It is the total giving of self.” – William Temple

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There are times when the words of the Bible just jump off the page, leaping out to teach, correct, training, and yes, reproof. Today was such a day for me, as I read Psalm 119:20. In the New American Standard Bible, the verse says, “My soul is crushed with longing after Your ordinances at all times.” I wondered, almost out loud, whether or not I could claim the universe truth of that verse in my own life.

At once, I was met with a myriad of questions. For starters, this verse paints soul crushing as a positive effect of following God’s ordinances. In what universe is soul-crushing a good thing?! Secondly, the soul is crushed because of longing. What kind of longing is this, that it has the ability to crush the soul? Thirdly, the longing and the soul-crushing is a result of God’s ordinances. What commands, at once, have the effect of crushing the soul and producing great longing?

I can tell you, I have been a Christian since I first knew the Lord at age four. (It is true, he knew me well before that!). But, I have never, in all the years following, thought of God’s commands as being simultaneously soul-crushing and life-giving. But, that’s what the verse in Psalm 119 claims as true!

Now, here is the deal: most of the time we view God’s commands as something that grinds us into some lifeless, colorless submission. And apparently, there is some reason that we think this. God’s commands (and all commands, by nature) are designed to drive us to submission! So, submission, yes! But, that is only half of the story. God’s commands also grant us longing, passion, LIFE!

Doug Brown says that we rightly assume that coming to Christ means that we will have to give our very lives over to Him. But, we wrongly assume that doing so will rob us of the joy that this life has to offer. Remember what Jesus Himself said in John 10:10, “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.”

Friends, the Good News is not only that God has provided a way from sin, but also that He has given new life to you and to me. And it is Hebrew poetry like this that gets at the heart of what Christian worship actually is. We give our very selves to God so that He can, at once, crush our souls and fill us with longing for Himself.

“The very way we express ourselves, even among Christians, may undercut the message we want to transmit.” – Frank Burch Brown

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Fascinating claims have come out of the world of botany, indicating that one can actually speak growth into the plants he or she is cultivating. And while Mythbusters only marks the findings as plausible, there is sufficient argument from case studies that positive or negative words spoken over plants can, in fact, encourage or hinder growth.

Now, if you think that is crazy, and that words couldn’t possibly affect the outcomes of plants, listen to the claim that is made in James 3:3-6.

Now if we put the bits into the horses’ mouths so that they will obey us, we direct their entire body as well. Look at the ships also, though they are so great and are driven by strong winds, are still directed by a very small rudder wherever the inclination of the pilot desires. So also the tongue is a small part of the body, and yet it boasts of great things.

See how great a forest is set aflame by such a small fire! And the tongue is a fire, the very world of iniquity; the tongue is set among our members as that which defiles the entire body, and sets on fire the course of our life, and is set on fire by hell.”

The claim made here, is that something as small as the tongue is able to guide and steer the whole human. James, of course, isn’t talking about the physical tongue, but rather the words that proceed from the mouth. In other words, James argues that words spoken over human beings can in fact influence the very lives of the speaker and the ones over which the words are spoken.

Further, Paul tells Timothy in 2 Timothy 2:16 that empty chatter “will lead to further ungodliness. Proverbs 18:21 says, “Death and life are in the power of the tongue,
And those who love it will eat its fruit.” These are just three of the many directions in Scripture to be careful and clear in the communication of words.

For this reason, content and clarity in the words that we speak become increasingly important. The words that we speak in our homes, in our churches, in our communities have the power to affect change not only in our own lives, but also in the lives of our hearers. As a result, let us look to the Scripture, the very Word of God as we attempt to clearly communicate the truths of life in Christ.

 

“We should think of Christian discipleship as being similar to learning an entirely new language.” – Michael Horton

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First among words in the worship vocabulary that have been lost in recent years is the word, “ascribe.” The name of the site is Ascribe Site. This is due, in large part, to the fact that the word “ascribe” has been virtually lost from our vocabulary. Even in faith and worship circles, one will rarely hear the word and gain an understanding of what King David has in mind. 1 Chronicles 16:28-29 says, “Ascribe to the Lord, O families of the peoples, ascribe to the Lord glory and strength. Ascribe to the Lord the glory due His name; Bring an offering and come before Him; Worship the Lord in holy array.” This hymn to the Lord, repeated virtually verbatim in Psalm 29:1-2, gives a fantastic perspective of what is going on when God’s people worship Him!

The Hebrew word for ascribe in I Chronicles 16:28-29 is יָהַב , transliterated “yahab.” The simple translation of the word is “give.” But, the better translation is this word “ascribe,” which gives a closer perspective of David’s intention in the passage. Ascribe has the connotation of giving what is already owned. When you ascribe something to something (like “glory” to the “Lord”) you are describing what the object already possesses. In other words, to ascribe glory and strength to the Lord is to give these attributes to the One who already has them. Thus, David gets at this when he says, “Ascribe to the Lord the glory due His name” (I Chronicles 16:28). He is saying give to God what is already His!

This is particularly important when considering the pattern of worship of God’s people. Throughout Scripture, God reveals Himself and His people respond in praise for who He is. In this way, God does not need the praises of His people, nor do the praises of His people make God who He is. Rather, God’s people ascribe to Him what is already true about Him. He is Holy! He is Love! He is Good! He is True! In ascribing these attributes to God, His people make known among the nations His great glory and in fact, His being God.

May we ascribe the glory due to God today, in our thoughts, deeds, actions, and yes, in our words!

“The faith has a basic grammar.” – J.I. Packer

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I remember the first time I heard a pastor say that they don’t use the word, “Worship,” at their church. I was a well-intentioned worship leader, trying to fit in in a church culture that had become increasingly conjoined with popular culture. This particular church was following the widely-respected and partially helpful guidelines of Andy Stanley and his book Deep and Wide. Stanley had intimated that in order to reach the culture churches must remove all potential obstructions of coming to faith. It was, as Stanley said, hard enough already for people to come to Christ. What this translated to was the removal of any of those “churchy” words that were obviously a turn-off to non-church-goers. For example, instead of “worship,” the church used “sing.” Instead of “sermon,” the church used “message.” The word “church” was removed from the church’s name. And while I appreciate the heart of the pastors in this church, as well as the intention that they have in reaching the lost, the removal of the faith’s vocabulary became a detriment to the church cause itself.

In a recent podcast titled, “Youth in Crisis,” Michael Horton spoke about the unfortunate bi-product of removing these kinds of words from our vocabulary. Horton noted that the removal of the words not only kept the words from the seeker audience, but it also kept the words (and their meanings) from the members of the church! In this way, Horton said that we were “unchurching the church itself.” In other words, by removing the words in our faith vocabulary, the church had essentially stopped teaching its members about its own faith.

As Horton and others have suggested, by the removal of its faith vocabulary, the church has largely undermined its own ability to teach its members the core doctrines of the faith. The answer? In order to clearly communicate and instruct the church regarding the Christian faith, the church must return to the biblical language surrounding the faith and worship of God.

Deuteronomy 11:18-21 says, “Fix these words of mine in your hearts and minds; tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Teach them to your children, talking about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates, so that your days and the days of your children may be many in the land the LORD swore to give your ancestors, as many as the days that the heavens are above the earth.”

The New Testament records how these words in Deuteronomy can be taken to a legalistic extreme, which resulted in the Pharisaical behavior in the centuries leading up to Christ. However, in today’s culture, the pendulum has surely swung to the other side, in which the specific words of Scripture have all but lost their significance in many situations. May we take as truth the exhortation in Deuteronomy 11 to diligently recall, remember, and absorb the words of God, as we seek to worship Him in the significance of their meaning.