God is looking for worshippers

Hand raised in worship

…who will never submit to the atmosphere of this world. (Continuing our series of blog posts as an introduction to worship).

in 2 Chronicles 20: 1 &2 (NIV) we read;

After this, the Moabites and Ammonites with some of the Meunites came to wage war against Jehoshaphat. Some people came and told Jehoshaphat, “A vast army is coming against you from Edom, from the other side of the Dead Sea. It is already in Hazezon Tamar” (that is, En Gedi).

Picture the scene and try put yourself in that place…

You’re there with Jehoshaphat and you are facing the combined armies of 3 kingdoms who outnumber you by so much that you might not even be able to see them all! Oh, and in case you imagine yourself to be part of an elite fighting force, we read a little further on in this passage (verse 13) that your whole family is there with you!

So Jehoshaphat declares a fast and then He prays to God (verses 6-12)

“LORD, the God of our ancestors, are you not the God who is in heaven? You rule over all the kingdoms of the nations. Power and might are in your hand, and no one can withstand you.
Our God, did you not drive out the inhabitants of this land before your people Israel and give it forever to the descendants of Abraham your friend?

They have lived in it and have built in it a sanctuary for your Name, saying, ‘If calamity comes upon us, whether the sword of judgement, or plague or famine, we will stand in your presence before this temple that bears your Name and will cry out to you in our distress, and you will hear us and save us.’

“But now here are men from Ammon, Moab and Mount Seir, whose territory you would not allow Israel to invade when they came from Egypt; so they turned away from them and did not destroy them. See how they are repaying us by coming to drive us out of the possession you gave us as an inheritance.

Our God, will you not judge them? For we have no power to face this vast army that is attacking us. We do not know what to do, but our eyes are on you.”

What a great prayer that last statement is; Jehoshaphat knew where to go when he didn’t have the answer! Would that have been your first thought, or would you have tried to work it out for yourself first?

Then Jehoshaphat gets an answer to his prayer (verses 14-17)

Then the Spirit of the LORD came on Jahaziel son of Zechariah, the son of Benaiah, the son of Jeiel, the son of Mattaniah, a Levite and descendant of Asaph, as he stood in the assembly.

He said: “Listen, King Jehoshaphat and all who live in Judah and Jerusalem! This is what the LORD says to you: ‘Do not be afraid or discouraged because of this vast army. For the battle is not yours, but God’s.
Tomorrow march down against them. They will be climbing up by the Pass of Ziz, and you will find them at the end of the gorge in the Desert of Jeruel.

You will not have to fight this battle. Take up your positions; stand firm and see the deliverance the LORD will give you, Judah and Jerusalem. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged. Go out to face them tomorrow, and the LORD will be with you.’”

On hearing that you might have every reason to expect that this will turn out to be rather easy after all – so imagine your surprise at finding yourself part of a crowd of worshippers being told to march into battle first – with the rest of the army somewhere behind you!

And what are you doing marching in to battle – holding unfamiliar weapons nervously? No, even more bizarrely …you’re worshipping God and singing!

OK – so you’re marching out ahead of the army and singing…. what song would YOU choose?

How about something like this (Psalm 59);

My God! Rescue me from my enemies, defend me from these mutineers. Rescue me from their dirty tricks, save me from their hit men.

Desperadoes have ganged up on me, they’re hiding in ambush for me. I did nothing to deserve this, God, crossed no one, wronged no one. All the same, they’re after me, determined to get me.

Wake up and see for yourself! You’re God, God-of-Angel-Armies, Israel’s God! Get on the job and take care of these pagans, don’t be soft on these hard cases.

They return when the sun goes down, They howl like coyotes, ringing the city. Then suddenly they’re all at the gate, Snarling invective, drawn daggers in their teeth. They think they’ll never get caught.

But you, God, break out laughing; you treat the godless nations like jokes. Strong God, I’m watching you do it, I can always count on you. God in dependable love shows up on time, shows me my enemies in ruin.

..and the author of that Psalm goes on in similar vein for a while even asking God to finish his enemies off slowly so he can sing songs of praise …from a safe hiding place.

Stirring stuff! Perhaps that sounds like the sort of song to go out in to battle singing!?

But no! Instead you find yourself marching out ahead of the army singing ”Give thanks to the LORD; His faithful love endures forever!” (2 Chronicles 20: 21)

But there’s even more!

There are a number of different words in the Hebrew language that can be translated as ‘praise’ – the word used in this account is ’Yadah’; which means to wilfully throw your hands up to praise with power.

So there you are, amid a company of worshippers, marching out onto the battlefield …the rest of the army (the ones with the actual weapons) somewhere behind you, and you’re singing a love song to God with your hands in the air! Which we all know is the internationally recognised stance of surrender!! (Who says God doesn’t have a sense of humour!!)

And then ….a strange thing happens – the Bible tells us (verses 22 & 23) that as they sang and worshipped God the enemy armies were thrown into confusion and started fighting amongst themselves. By the time the worshippers arrived at the actual battlefield it was all over! (verse 24)

Sometimes we hear people talking about worship and they’ll say things like “I don’t feel like praising God today” – “I have had a hard week and I’m tired” – “I’m really worried about my job” – “it’s all very well you encouraging us to worship God but you don’t know what I’m going through at the moment”.

I guess we all have days when we feel a bit like that, but if we don’t move beyond that then we have a problem, because our response to that feeling can either be submitted to it or one that declares Gods truth over it in worship.

You see we have a choice …there is a kingdom of worry and weariness; it’s the kingdom of the world around us and we can choose to submit ourselves to that kingdom …or we can remember that we are called into a different Kingdom.

When we gather together we come with different circumstances;
Some of us will have been worshipping God all week and are bursting to celebrate with others, but others of us are distracted by thoughts and worries about unpaid bills, work difficulties, unkind words spoken to us by others, illness, the new noise the car started making on the way over, a difficult family relationship, an ongoing battle with some sin or other, or any of a million other details of life.

When our minds are preoccupied with the cares, worries and concerns of our lives God can seem very small and that’s just when our enemy likes to sidle up to us and whisper in our ears that God has forgotten us, that He won’t come through for us …and when we’re in the middle of a difficulty it can feel a little like that sometimes!

This is not a modern phenomenon; you don’t have to look far in the Psalms to find the writers struggling with difficulty, take the beginning of Psalm 77 for example.

The writer, Asaph, is clearly in such distress that he’s crying out to God, won’t be comforted, can’t sleep and can’t stop thinking about better days and (presumably) happier songs – he even asks the question many of us have asked one time or other, ‘Has God failed me?’

But then as we read on, we see him reminding himself of God’s faithfulness to His people, of God’s greatness – and this is one of the ways in which worship can be used as a weapon…

Worshipping God, even in the middle of difficulty; reminding ourself of what He has said about himself in scripture, and declaring the stories of His faithfulness to us, builds up faith, encourages us, reminds us that He is not the same sort of person as we are and puts our own thinking back back in perspective… and helps us to remember that God is not small…

JI Packer puts it this way,

“Our personal life is a finite thing; it is limited in every direction, in space, in time, in knowledge, in power. But God is not so limited. He is eternal, infinite and almighty.

He has us in his hands; we never have him in ours. Like us, He is personal, but unlike us, he is great”

I have to admit that there have been times for me when worshipping God in the middle of pain, worry and personal difficulty have been almost defiant acts, a declaration to my mind, my body and my spirit (and to my enemy who wants me to give up) that, whatever I’m going through, God IS good and I WILL worship him, no matter what the outcome.

I hope I’m never in the situation that Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego faced (see Daniel 3)– but I admire what they were able to say when King Nebuchadnezzar threatened them with the fiery furnace if they would not bow down and worship the giant statue he’d made of himself,

“…we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter. If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to deliver us from it, and he will deliver us from Your Majesty’s hand. But even if he does not, we want you to know, Your Majesty, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.”

In some parts of the world this kind of peril is real (though for most of us the ‘terrible’ circumstances we face bear no comparison) but I believe God is looking for worshippers who, even when faced with problems that threaten to overwhelm them, remember that God is well able to deliver them and yet are resolved that even if, for reasons they do not understand, he seems not to, they will still worship him.