One can look at the mega churches of America today, as well as those in small communities, and wonder why there are not many numbers of Christ-centered, dedicated disciples pouring out into American society. Is church something to “do”, like “doing” lunch, and it really has no significant impact on my life? Are those in the pews getting the picture of God as Isaiah did, and cried out, “Woe is me” in desperation because he saw himself as he really was, in the presence of a holy God? (Isaiah 6:1-8).
Three of our local church members, including our pastor, were among the ten Baptists who were jailed in Haiti in January, 2009. Eight were released after 19 days, including our three. The other two were released later.
They came back as radically different people. They had met God in that jail cell and experienced His providential care when they had absolutely no other resource to depend on. Of course, they were not indifferent believers before opting to join up with those going to help rescue orphans devastated by the massive earthquake at that time. Yet, they found a relationship with a personal God not like what they had known before.
Will It Take a Crisis to Wake Us Up?
In J. B. Phillips’ paraphrased New Testament, he includes a sub-heading in the book of Philippians at chapter 2 that has long caught my attention: “Man’s Extremity Is God’s Opportunity”. It seems that it is when all else fails that we turn to God. What is it that will cause us to seek the face of God in non-crisis times? Is it the fear of God? Proverbs 9:10 tells us that the “fear of God is the beginning of wisdom and the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding”.
What is the fear of God? Is it the fear of His punishment? Perhaps, in one sense, but the definition that seems to fit better, for me, is the reverence and respect that comes with the realization of what I would be, and become, without God. It is the fear of what would happen to me, if God were to turn His back on me. That “fear of God” draws me to Him; the fear of His punishment is the fear of His wrath without His mercy, and it does not pull me to Him like the former description. That sense of a need for God can only arise when a person realizes how desperately wicked and prone to evil he really is when left to himself.
It brings to mind the great cry of anguish from the cross when Jesus exclaimed, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken Me?” (Mark 15:34). Because of that sacrifice of Christ, however, we have the promise from God that He “will never leave nor forsake us” (Hebrews 13:5). That also means He will never forget us, either. The cry of the Apostle Paul in Romans 7:24 is echoed in each of us who honestly face who and what we really are before a holy God: “O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” But for Christ, we would have no hope!
It is not surprising, then, that the first one of the “Blessed Attitudes” of Matthew 5 begins with this one: “The truly happy are those who realize their spiritual poverty, for it is they who possess the kingdom of heaven.” [My paraphrase of Matthew 5:3.] This is the beginning of true spirituality and a proper relationship with the God of Creation.
The Beginning of True Discipleship
Jesus responded to the woman at the well in John 4:23-24 with these words: “But the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the father is seeking such to worship Him. God is a spirit and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.”
What does that mean, and how is that done?
Worshipping in spirit would have to mean laying aside all physical attachments and addressing God, one-on-One. The only physical item pertinent to that encounter would be the printed Word of God, the only truly spiritual thing we have in the physical realm. Has not God invited us to do just this? “And you will seek Me and find Me when you search for Me with all your heart” (Jeremiah 29:13).
We must lay aside, and turn from, all of our graven images, whether they have been formed with our hands or pictured in our minds. These two passages seem to highlight the significance that God, and now, Christ, is a spirit being, not physical:
Acts 17:28: “For in Him we live and move and have our being…”.
II Corinthians 5:16: “…Even though we have known Christ according to the flesh, yet now we know Him thus no longer.”
We can think on that as we ponder the reality of the relationship Enoch had with God: “…and Enoch walked with God and he was not for God took him” (Genesis 5:23b).
Worshipping God in truth speaks of honesty and integrity, and of selflessness. It is worshipping God for who He is, His attributes, and what He has done; not for what He can do for me and my wants, except for His forgiveness, mercy and grace, which are an integral part of His character. True worship demands that we are not double-minded, given to serving two masters. In this, God is all or not at all.
Jesus said, in John 8:31-32, “If you abide in My word you are My disciples indeed, and you shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free”. If the Word of God enables us to worship God in truth, then we really can be free, for we will have released all links to our self-centeredness because we will have come to realize, by faith, that He is all we need.
Jesus took up the cross He was later nailed to, and He tells us, “If anyone will come after Me, let him take up his cross daily and follow Me” (Luke 9:23). In these words, let him nail his independent resistance and self-centeredness to his cross every day, seek the face of God, honestly and sincerely, by faith, acknowledging Him for who He is, “for the Father seeks such to worship Him”.
It is only true worshippers who can be true disciples.