When others helpers fail and comforts flee…Abide With Me.

At the opening ceremony of the 2012 London Olympics the Scottish singer, Emeli Sandé , sang a song in memory of the London 7/7 bombings that has been popular at various different events throughout history having its origins in the church. The hymn, ‘Abide With Me’, is a prayer asking God to remain with the speaker throughout life, through trial and through death. The lyrics are as follows:

Abide with me; fast falls the eventide;
The darkness deepens; Lord with me abide.
When other helpers fail and comforts flee,
Help of the helpless, O abide with me.

Swift to its close ebbs out life’s little day;
Earth’s joys grow dim; its glories pass away;
Change and decay in all around I see;
O Thou who changest not, abide with me.

Not a brief glance I beg, a passing word,
But as Thou dwell’st with Thy disciples, Lord,
Familiar, condescending, patient, free.
Come not to sojourn, but abide with me.

Come not in terrors, as the King of kings,
But kind and good, with healing in Thy wings;
Tears for all woes, a heart for every plea.
Come, Friend of sinners, thus abide with me.

Thou on my head in early youth didst smile,
And though rebellious and perverse meanwhile,
Thou hast not left me, oft as I left Thee.
On to the close, O Lord, abide with me.

I need Thy presence every passing hour.
What but Thy grace can foil the tempter’s power?
Who, like Thyself, my guide and stay can be?
Through cloud and sunshine, Lord, abide with me.

I fear no foe, with Thee at hand to bless;
Ills have no weight, and tears no bitterness.
Where is death’s sting? Where, grave, thy victory?
I triumph still, if Thou abide with me.

Hold Thou Thy cross before my closing eyes;
Shine through the gloom and point me to the skies.
Heaven’s morning breaks, and earth’s vain shadows flee;
In life, in death, O Lord, abide with me.

Still sung in the old English style that it was originally written in 1847, the song was originally a poem  written by the Scottish Anglican, Henry Francis Lyte. He finished the poem and set it to music as he lay dying from tuberculosis and managed to live on three weeks longer after its completion. As Emeli sang the song at the London Olympics I am certain that many of the listeners and those moved by its stirring lyrics and melody probably had no idea of the origin of the song. As the writer lies dying in his deathbed, he reaches out to God, obviously not in an expression of desperation, but with a conviction that he needs to be close to his maker and creator, no matter what the circumstance. He recognizes that God has given him joys on earth that are now growing dim and that change and decay are creeping in on him, but still recognizes that God ‘changes not’.

He understands that God is awesome and terrifying but is also kind and good and a friend of sinners. The amazing depth of the revelation of God’s supreme nature yet gentle loving personality is in itself a marvel. Many of us tend to only focus on our Father’s strict nature, emphasizing His holiness and pointing out each others sins as though that will make us closer to God if we somehow go on a fear-fest. The incredible balance seen in the writers poem can only be understood as a person who knew our Fathers nature in its totality. What father would not discipline his children if they went out of line? Yet a loving father will also welcome back the prodigal child! That same loving father also has healing in His wings and through the cross has a promise of eternal life.

As people sing this song at the FA cup final, at the Rugby League Challenge Cup finals and at other sporting events, the song may have different meanings to those singing it, some just grateful to be at those events and fueling their sense of nostalgia. There may be the hope that their team will win and they sing this prayer song. I hope that this song will sow the seed of the desire for Gods presence in our lives on a daily basis so that we do not wait to be on our deathbeds to seek His love and grace. He longs to abide with us through every situation, good or bad.

Be blessed! Be encouraged! Be-lieve!

The Measure of True Worship

Of late I must admit that I have been pondering over the importance of worship in my spiritual life. As I look back on my own personal encounters with God and His Presence, I begin to see a common thread that marks those encounters where I truly experienced His tangible presence and where that was accompanied by tangible occurences including healings and demonstrations of the power of God. Having already looked at worship before here are some reminders.

The dictionary definition:

worship |ˈwər sh əp|
the feeling or expression of reverence and adoration for a deity : the worship of God | ancestor worship.
• the acts or rites that make up a formal expression of reverence for a deity; a religious ceremony or ceremonies : the church was opened for public worship.
• adoration or devotion comparable to religious homage, shown toward a person or principle : Krushchev threw the worship of Stalin overboard.
• archaic honor given to someone in recognition of their merit.
• [as title ] ( His/Your Worship) chiefly Brit. used in addressing or referring to an important or high-ranking person, esp. a magistrate or mayor : we were soon joined by His Worship the Mayor.
verb ( -shiped , -shiping ; also -shipped, -shipping) [ trans. ]
show reverence and adoration for (a deity); honor with religious rites : the Maya built jungle pyramids to worship their gods.
• treat (someone or something) with the reverence and adoration appropriate to a deity : she adores her sons and they worship her.
• [ intrans. ] take part in a religious ceremony : he went to the cathedral because he chose to worship in a spiritually inspiring building.
worshiper (also worshipper) noun
ORIGIN Old English weorthscipe [worthiness, acknowledgment of worth] (see worth , -ship ).

The important meaning taken from this definition is the acknowledgement and hence display of adoring reverence, and this can also be applied to a feeling of adoration or reverence.

In the book of John, Chapter 4 from verses 21 to 24, Jesus tells a Samaritan woman that the time has come for worshipping the Father in the Spirit and in truth. He essentially tears down a religious ordinance by declaring that God the Father will neither be worshipped as they had thought, on a mountain or in a holy city, but that they will do this ‘in the Spirit and in truth’. Sadly many are still tied down to paying reverence and homage to a place, temple or person representing a diety. In John 16:13 Jesus says: “”But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come.”” In all fairness it is good practice to acknowledge the value of those who have shown us the truth and continue to be a positive influence in our lives. The problem begins when we begin to assign undue worth to those people or things that we hold dear. This becomes a form of worship and many of us do this, sometimes unconsciously. In Deuteronomy 5:8,9 Moses reads out the commandment from God in which He decrees that they should not make any image in the form of ANYTHING in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below and should not bow down or worship them.

This brings into dispute several ceremonial practices but I really cannot see any ambiguity in the commandment that leaves a loophole for the use of images, icons or rituals in the worship of God the Father. The essence of true worship then can only be in the experience of an adoring and reverential relationship with and assignment of worth to our father. As jesus explains to the Samaritan woman, God the Father is actively seeking these kinds of worshippers!

This then brings me back to my own personal experiences and that which I found to be the common denominator in all of the times I truly ‘experienced’ His presence. Please be mindful that while experiences can be similar, our Father does not neccessarily give each one of us the same exact experiences or feelings when we come into fellowship with Him. This would be, in my opinion, very unlike Him and would belittle His creative nature. In the vastness of His nature, we cannot apply some kind of formula to our experiences with Him, just as we all experience our natural parents in different manners. As an example, some people break down into tears upon experiencing God’s presence, others become silent, others laugh, others begin to proclaim His goodness and praise. This is very much in line with the Apostle Paul’s account of the different gifts of the Holy Spirit and how he gives these out (I Cor 12:11 All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he distributes them to each one, just as he determines.) Considering that our worship of God must include the Holy Spirit, then we cannot discount the possibility of each one of us experiencing worship in a different way. The end result is essentially the same: a heightened awareness of the nature and presence of our Father and an increase in our assignment of value to our relationship with Him. In the same chapter (ICor. 12), in verse 3 Paul says ‘ Therefore I want you to know that no one who is speaking by the Spirit of God says, “”Jesus be cursed,”” and no one can say, “”Jesus is Lord,”” except by the Holy Spirit.’ We can see here that Jesus is called ‘Lord’ and hence assigned value, or worth.

What I found to be common in my experiences was that I was that the more profound ones usually were not of my own making or planning but seemed to come out of a desire to lose my self awareness and worth and to focus on Him. Often I would just have this deep desire to fellowship with Him and the Holy Spirit complied. I must say that I have never had an encounter replicated, but as a child knows his father, I have always known when He was there. Each one of us will therefore have our own experience but some truths will emerge from our encounters.

1. No one encounters our Father and remains the same.
2. Each one of our encounters strengthens our relationship with Him.
3. Each encounter serves His ultimate purpose and bears fruit.
4. None of these encounters leaves us feeling condemned, but we become more determined to love and please Him.
5. Each encounter gives us a clearer revelation of His love and His nature.

Does true worship result in us immediately becoming perfect? I don’t think so, but it keeps us in a place where the Father can speak to us, admonish us, encourage us and transform us. The more we worship Him, the more we get to know Him and the more we get to know Him, the more we worship Him.

This has been my personal experience and I cannot say that I have exhausted all there is to experience or know about worship. Be aware that only the Holy Spirit can enable us to experience true worship and he will not contradict the word of God, so a good start towards true worship is to study the word of God diligently. The next step is to be consistent in our time that we spend seeking God’s face. Many great men of God who acheived great things for Him with the demonstration of His power were known to spend a lot of time in His presence on a daily basis. In Moses’ case he would come back from the mountain with his face glowing! Finally whenever you get the opportunity for corporate worship, be careful not to assign undue value to the songs, the style, the worship leader or even the venue. Let all things fade away, as in the song written by Matt Redman, The Heart of Worship. It’s all about Him, after all.

Be blessed! Believe! Be a worshipper!