Total Obedience

“For Moses writes that the law’s way of making a person right with God requires obedience to all of its commands. But faith’s way of getting right with God says, “Don’t say in your heart, ‘Who will go up to heaven?’ (to bring Christ down to earth). And don’t say, ‘Who will go down to the place of the dead?’ (to bring Christ back to life again).””
Romans 10:5-7 NLT

Paul continues with his apparent obsession with the Law. He quotes a bit of Leviticus 18 , thought to have been written by Moses, – “You must obey all my regulations and be careful to obey my decrees, for I am the Lord your God. If you obey my decrees and my regulations, you will find life through them. I am the Lord” (Leviticus 18:4-5). There is no middle way for the Law-followers. All or nothing. To be made righteous through obeying the Law, all God’s “decrees” and “regulations” had to be followed. The Law’s content, as originally given by God through Moses, wasn’t difficult. Much of it was common sense. So it should have been easy to understand. But the trouble is that human beings start to make things difficult. The Rabbis, the Jewish leaders, started to introduce additional rules and regulations, and expanded on what God had said in the original Mosaic Jewish Law books. This made the Law more difficult to follow, and the intent of the Law, in terms of reconciling a person to God, was lost. 

But before we pilgrims start to take the moral high ground and say that we would never get caught in such a trap, we need to look at our denominational liturgies and see how much they have strayed from the simplicity of the Gospel. For example, we have introduced prayer books, and a routine of worship by rote. The liturgy will have us bobbing up and down, and uttering pre-scripted responses and prayers, all the same, and repeated week after week. Before we know it we have replaced the spontaneity of relational worship to God with something that avoids us having to be engaged with the process. We sing the songs and hymns, enjoying the melodies, but not thinking about what we are singing. We sing songs with words like, “I will worship You with all of my heart (mind, strength)”. Really? Often our minds instead will be dwelling on yesterday’s football, or the meat in the oven. Or am I being too cynical?

Thankfully, God knows our feebleness. Our inability to keep our sin-soaked minds always focused on Him. Of course, we know how wonderful He is. We thank Him that His grace is unlimited. And we know that one day we will be amongst a great crowd of totally uninhibited worshippers. We read in Revelation 19:1, “After this, I heard what sounded like a vast crowd in heaven shouting, “Praise the Lord! Salvation and glory and power belong to our God”. What a time that will be! At long last we will be freed from the chains of humanity, able to worship God in the way that He deserves. But back to Planet Earth – by introducing spontaneity into our worship and prayers we get a brief glimpse of the wonders of Heaven. God doesn’t want us to be disengaged and so busy that we have no time for Him. Perhaps we need to look at our diaries and separate the essential from the indulgent. The last thing the enemy wants is for us to be close to our Maker. So he will load us up with busy-ness to keep us from true worship. 

Jesus said to the Samaritan woman, as recorded in John 4:23, “But the time is coming—indeed it’s here now—when true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth. The Father is looking for those who will worship him that way”. God’s search hasn’t yet ended. He is always looking for faithful worshipers. Join me in reaching out to Him today, praying that we will indeed connect with our wonderful God in the way He desires.

Father God. You desire our worship, not because it is something You need but because it does something within us. Spirit to spirit we worship You today. Amen.

No More Curses

“No longer will there be a curse upon anything. For the throne of God and of the Lamb will be there, and his servants will worship him. And they will see his face, and his name will be written on their foreheads. And there will be no night there—no need for lamps or sun—for the Lord God will shine on them. And they will reign forever and ever.”
Revelation‬ ‭22‬:‭3‬-‭5‬ ‭NLT

The word “curse” isn’t commonly used in Western society today. If it is, it would be in connection with some sort of expletive. In other societies, curses are taken much more seriously. So what is a curse? A dictionary definition is “a solemn utterance intended to invoke a supernatural power to inflict harm or punishment on someone or something”. But in the society in which I live, anything to do with the supernatural is discounted or even ignored.

Moses warned the early Israelites about blessings and curses. We read in Deuteronomy 30:19, “Today I have given you the choice between life and death, between blessings and curses. Now I call on heaven and earth to witness the choice you make. Oh, that you would choose life, so that you and your descendants might live!” Moses listed the pre-requisites for living a life of blessings, and the consequences of making the wrong choices. 

In the New Jerusalem, curses won’t exist, because everyone by definition will want to live God’s way. But curses became much more widespread after the sin committed by Adam and Eve. Snakes became cursed (Genesis 3:14). The ground became cursed (Genesis 3:17) and a previously fertile environment became difficult to grow anything, thorns and thistles abounding. So we look around at our world today in sadness. Isaiah pointed out the consequences of sin. We read in Isaiah 24:6, “Therefore, a curse consumes the earth. Its people must pay the price for their sin. They are destroyed by fire, and only a few are left alive.” Paul pointed out the difficulties being experienced in the created world around us. We read in Romans 8:22, “For we know that all creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time.” In the Spring, I’m always excited and impressed by the explosion of new growth. Fresh colours. New life. And I remind myself that if this is a world under a curse, how amazing it will be to see a New Earth with the curse removed.

The verses today continue with a wonderful description of the relationship between God and His servants, that’s us pilgrims when we get to join Him one day. We will see the face of God – something that has always been denied mankind. His name will be a part of us, written on our foreheads. And He will shine on us.

There will be no doubt as to who we follow when we get to Heaven. But what about now. Today. Will the people we meet know who we follow? We may not have God’s name tattooed on our foreheads, but will His light reflect from us into the lives of others? Bringing hope to the hopeless? Bringing healing to the sick? Showing the way to eternal life? As servants of God, will our lives reflect our worship of Him? It’s not just singing songs in church or genuflecting at an altar. Our worship of God extends into our everyday lives. How we treat our wives and children. How we behave in the office or school. What we say on social media. We may not be specifically holding out our arms, or be on our knees, in an overt act of worship to God, but worship is all about honouring our Father in Heaven. Keeping His name holy. Bringing His influence to bear in everyday situations. In the supermarket. On the bus. We pilgrims are His servants and His ambassadors here on Planet Earth. We enjoy a little bit of Heaven’s Son-shine, but are we reflecting it to those around us?

Dear Father God. We worship You today. All other gods pale into insignificance in the light of Your glorious face. Amen.

Worshipping Angels

“And the angel said to me, “Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the wedding feast of the Lamb.” And he added, “These are true words that come from God.” Then I fell down at his feet to worship him, but he said, “No, don’t worship me. I am a servant of God, just like you and your brothers and sisters who testify about their faith in Jesus. Worship only God. For the essence of prophecy is to give a clear witness for Jesus.””
Revelation‬ ‭19:9-10‬ ‭NLT

In his part of the vision recorded in Revelation 19, John seems to be accompanied by an angel, who is going out of his way to keep John right over what is happening. He told John what to write about the wedding feast and the honour that is there for all those who receive an invitation. And then, for some reason, he emphasised its importance, by saying to John, “These are true words that come from God.” John took careful note of what was said, and so should we. We don’t know what the wedding feast experience will be like, but some things we do know – it will definitely happen one day, because Jesus said so, as recorded in Matthew 22, and because God said so through His servant, the angel in our verses today. And one other thing, it will be the most amazing experience that we have ever encountered. In fact, there are no words that can adequately describe what the event will be like.

John was so overwhelmed by what the angel was saying, that he fell down at the angel’s feet “to worship him”. The journey that John had been on in his vision, the journey through all the seals and plagues, the beasts, the natural disasters, and so on, were all eclipsed by the wonder of what the angel said, and it was all too much for John. He had no response other than feeling a need to worship. And the angel, in his role as God’s servant, became his focus. The angel soon put John right, with his response, “No, don’t worship me. I am a servant of God”. 

We pilgrims will understand John’s response, because there is inbuilt within us a need to worship God. But we often find that difficult because God is beyond our natural focus. Sometimes, we need a finely-tuned and sensitive spirit to detect, and respond to, His presence. The story of Elijah is such an example. In 1 Kings 19:12-13, we read, “And after the earthquake there was a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire there was the sound of a gentle whisper. When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his cloak and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave. And a voice said, “What are you doing here, Elijah?””. After a ferocious wind, an earthquake and fire, Elijah’s spirit responded to “the sound of a gentle whisper”. John’s spirit, like Elijah’s, sensed the presence of God. And he was overwhelmed by all that was happening before him. He just had to respond in worship, and the angel, as God’s messenger, became his focus.

The angel encouraged John to “worship only God”, and that is something that Jesus Himself also taught. We read in Matthew 22:37-38, “Jesus replied, “‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment.” We can easily become distracted by an object of beauty, such as a sunset or a piece of art, and something within us responds in worship. But we must constantly hold before us the thought – who created the sunset, or put within someone the ability to paint beautiful pictures? It is all about God, and Him alone. Only He is worthy of our worship. Stained glass windows and statues of saints won’t work. Natural beauty around us in God’s creation can’t be worshipped either. In God’s presence, as we strain to hear the “gentle whisper” of God’s voice, as we take a step back from our busy lives, it is only then that our worship can focus on God, the Author and Perfecter of our faith.

Dear Father God. How can we ever be distracted by a counterfeit when You are the only One we can worship? At Your feet today we do just that, worship You. Amen.

Measuring Stick (2)

“Then I was given a measuring stick, and I was told, “Go and measure the Temple of God and the altar, and count the number of worshipers. But do not measure the outer courtyard, for it has been turned over to the nations. They will trample the holy city for 42 months.”
Revelation‬ ‭11:1-2‬ ‭NLT‬‬

We spend a second day musing over these two verses in Revelation. John was out and about in his vision with a “measuring stick”. Looking over the Church and assessing its spiritual health and well being. If he was roaming over our increasingly secular Western societies, would he find a Church full of life and vigour impacting the very fabric of our culture, or would he find a sick and anaemic group of Christians huddled together in ever-reducing numbers, holding onto the remnants of their faith like drowning men clutch a straw. If John’s measuring stick was able to assess the quality of the worship of God in the Church, would he have found the worshippers going through liturgical motions or was there a meaningful connection with God? Spirit to spirit. Would he have found worshippers more concerned with the flowers on the altar rather than the praise and worship of our loving Heavenly Father? 

Having looked for fruit in the Church, John moves on to measure the altar. When someone mentions the word “altar” a picture emerges in our minds of an ornate, cloth covered table located right at the front of a church building. The church-goers treat it with respect and often go through a process of genuflection, as though publicly declaring that God is somehow located there. But the altar is a place of consecration and it is where we meet God, declaring anew our faith in, and love for, Him. A place where we confess our sins but it needn’t be a physical place or object; for most people it is in their hearts, a place of spiritual significance in the lives of every pilgrim. It’s a place where we pause in our worldly, work-a-day thoughts and prayerfully lift our spirits into His presence. So what would John have measured here?

We consecrate our lives to the worship of God, sacrificing the other less important issues on our altars. On the altar in the Old Testament Temple, a painful and final act took place – an animal was killed as part of an expression of the covenant between God and His people. The sacrifice cost something. And the worship of God in our lives today is also a costly act. It costs us our time. It may cost us financially. But above all, it costs us our independence. A pilgrim sacrifices his or her worldly and sinful ways on God’s altar, expressing our allegiance to our loving Heavenly Father. Paul wrote in Galatians 2:20, “My old self has been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me. So I live in this earthly body by trusting in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” And amazingly, as Jesus said to His disciples in John 8:32, “And you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” Sacrificing ourselves on God’s altar frees us from a life of sin and death – true freedom indeed. We now have the freedom to do what we should, not stuck in a life enslaved to the devil’s ways.

The next task John had to do was to count the number of worshippers. Why should that matter? In our times of dwindling church congregations, we try and rationalise events by saying it is all about quality not quantity. But deep down we mourn the loss of our friends who move on to, at best, another church, or, as so many do, fall away from the faith into more secular activities. So why count the worshippers? Perhaps God is asking John to make sure that no-one is missing. I’m reminded of Jesus’s parable about the Lost Sheep, where He diligently searched for the one that was lost. It is reassuring to know that God wants no-one to be missed when it is the Time of the End.

Finally in these two verses, John is told not to bother with the outer courtyard. When thinking of this, I pictured a place full of spiritual tourists, people with no idea of who God is and with no appreciation of the awesomeness and majesty of God. On a recent visit to Salisbury Cathedral, I was touched spiritually when a member of the cathedral’s clergy asked everyone to be respectful while he offered up the morning prayers to God, joining in if they wished. But sadly, most ignored the moment, instead continuing to wander around chatting and commenting on the artefacts on display. They were the tramplers, visitors to the outer courtyards of the Church, and John was told the trampling would continue to do so for forty two months, three and a half years. The mention of the trampling of the Holy City was perhaps a reference to the verses from the prophet Daniel. We read in Daniel 7:25, “He will defy the Most High and oppress the holy people of the Most High. He will try to change their sacred festivals and laws, and they will be placed under his control for a time, times, and half a time“. And Daniel 12:7, “The man dressed in linen, who was standing above the river, raised both his hands toward heaven and took a solemn oath by the One who lives forever, saying, “It will go on for a time, times, and half a time. When the shattering of the holy people has finally come to an end, all these things will have happened.”” Perhaps God’s people were to be persecuted for forty two months by the Gentiles, the unbelievers, present on the periphery of the Church. 

At a time like this, having read of such events, we pilgrims can only shudder, fascinated yet appalled by the implication behind John’s vision. And we do what the Psalmists did. We pour out our concerns before God. I turned to Psalm 7 this morning and read, “I come to you for protection, O Lord my God. Save me from my persecutors—rescue me! God is my shield, saving those whose hearts are true and right. I will thank the Lord because he is just; I will sing praise to the name of the Lord Most High.” (‭‭Psalms‬ ‭7:1, 10, 17). A couple of pages further on we read, “But the Lord reigns forever, executing judgment from his throne. He will judge the world with justice and rule the nations with fairness. The Lord is a shelter for the oppressed, a refuge in times of trouble. Those who know your name trust in you, for you, O Lord, do not abandon those who search for you.” (‭‭Psalms‬ ‭9:7-10). The Psalms are full of the musings and cries, the prayers and praises, of pilgrims just like us. God’s love just pours from every page, an unstoppable tide of His grace and mercy. And we can’t leave this moment without reading Psalm 46, “God is our refuge and strength, always ready to help in times of trouble. So we will not fear when earthquakes come and the mountains crumble into the sea. Let the oceans roar and foam. Let the mountains tremble as the waters surge!” And somehow, as we put our future in God’s hands, we receive the strength we need. 

Dear Lord God. We once again express our gratitude that You are our loving Heavenly Father, who cares for us. Amen.

Singing in Heaven

“And all the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living beings. And they fell before the throne with their faces to the ground and worshiped God. They sang, “Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honour and power and strength belong to our God forever and ever! Amen.””
Revelation‬ ‭7:11-12‬ ‭NLT

If we had ever hoped to find a quiet and peaceful place in Heaven, when we get there, then we are going to be disappointed. Earlier in this chapter, we heard a “great roar” from a crowd too numerous to mention, making a shout of declaration about God’s salvation. And then in chapter five there was a new song being sung, the twenty four elders and the four living beings singing the verse, millions of angels singing the chorus, and then every living creature, on earth, under the earth and in the seas, making a tuneful contribution to the song for the bridge part. Well, here we are with another song being sung, and the lyrics are, “Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honour and power and strength belong to our God forever and ever! Amen.” Once again it is the twenty four elders and the four living beings who are singing, prostrated before God’s throne in adoration and worship. Heaven will be full of song, full of shouting, full of praise and worship to God, and full of much God-focused life. Not a quiet place for the dead at all.

How does that make us pilgrims feel? Challenged perhaps? Worried about having to take part? Unable to get our minds around what a different life with God in Heaven will be like? Do we have unrealistic expectations?  Perhaps there are golfers amongst us who expect Heaven to be full of wonderful golf courses, with perfect greens. Or musicians who expect to find Heavenly orchestras, playing with skills out of this world. Or physicists who are looking forward to answers to their unsolved problems and unanswered questions. Or ministers expecting to preach even longer sermons. But none of these worldly views or expectations feature in John’s vision. All he could see was an environment of totally God-focused worship and praise. There will be no room for anything else.

We of course do not know what we will find in Heaven but we do know who lives there. He is the King of kings and Lord of lords. He is the mighty and merciful God. He sent His Son, Jesus, to show us the way and invite us to spend an eternity with Him. When we look around us and see how wonderfully He has made us and the earth in which we live, and realise that, through Adam’s sin, this is a world under a curse, populated by sinful people, and then we turn our eyes to what Heaven must be like, totally untainted and just as God designed it, I know it’s going to be a wonderful place to be. So let’s fix our eyes on our Heavenly home, just over the horizons of our consciousnesses, and start to flex our praise and worship muscles so we’re ready and raring to go when the time comes.

Father God. You are worthy of our praise and worship, unrestrained from every part of our beings. Please bring a touch of Heaven to this sin-laden world, and increase our knowledge of who You are. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

The Bridge

“And then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea. They sang: “Blessing and honour and glory and power belong to the One sitting on the throne and to the Lamb forever and ever.” And the four living beings said, “Amen!” And the twenty-four elders fell down and worshiped the Lamb.”
‭‭Revelation‬ ‭5:13-14‬ ‭NLT

Every good song has a bridge section (many may choose to differ, but that’s my opinion). It’s not a verse or a chorus, but a supplementary part of the song that provides a extra dimension, adding to the song’s impact. The melody changes, the lyrics add an extra thought or idea. And it introduces a repeat of the chorus, or even ends the song itself. Well, the bridge of the new song went like this;

Blessing and honour
and glory and power 
belong to the One sitting on the throne 
and to the Lamb forever and ever.

There is the addition of another choir at this point, joining the millions of angels, who were singing the chorus. Looking at the structure of the production, the four living beings and the twenty four elders sung the verse, the angels sung the chorus, and now every other living being, “creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea”, joined the song in the bridge. 

This is a mind-boggling event. Did the Apostle John really become aware that every living creature that has ever lived was going to be singing? Was the Heavenly choir really going to be joined by creatures such as fish, animals, and even the micro-organisms that qualify for the term “living”? That was what John became aware of. And we really have to pause here to get our minds around what this means. Whatever our belief system, or theology, Revelation 5:13 does not miss out any living creature. It does not exclude them from being able to give praise to their wonderful Heavenly Creator God. Perhaps the Apostle Paul gave us a hint of the role of all creation in Romans 8.

What do we pilgrims make of all of this? Certainly, in my morning prayers walks around Dean Woods, near where I live, I am very much aware of the bird song. Some days, it seems almost deafening, heralding the early morning sunshine with an avian crescendo of praise, each bird singing its own particular and unique song. And I’m sure God has instilled into the DNA of each living creature the means to be able to praise Him. But they have no choice. That is how they have been “wired”. But how much more is God blessed when men and women, created in His image, choose to lift up their voices in a song of praise and worship to Him?

The thought that all creatures will worship God will, perhaps, give us a different perspective of them. They will be joining us singing worship to “the one sitting on the throne and to the Lamb” one day. How, I don’t know, but it will be exciting when we find out. Another thought is that God will be worshipped forever. We will never get to the end of giving Him our worship. And neither should we stop praising and worshipping Him – He has done so much for us. But in our daily lives, we need to always keep in mind that there is a Heavenly home awaiting us. We only get a glimpse of what it will be like from the Bible, but we know that our relationship with our loving Heavenly Father will finally be realised, face to face. That’s enough for me.

Heavenly Father, we truly worship You today, trusting in Your ways, in Your grace, in Your love, this day and in the days to come. Amen.

A New Song

“And they sang a new song with these words: “You are worthy to take the scroll and break its seals and open it. For You were slaughtered, and Your blood has ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation. And You have caused them to become a Kingdom of priests for our God. And they will reign on the earth.””
Revelation‬ ‭5:9-10‬ ‭NLT

John’ vision in Revelation continued, now with a multimedia theme. He heard a new song being sung by the four living creatures and the twenty four elders. And what a song it was! In just a few words it summed up the sacrifice Jesus made, His worth and authority, His saving act of redemption, the all-encompassing nature of the Gospel, and the establishment of a new order of priests who will reign with Him on earth. This was a song of triumph. A song that the devil would have cringed away from when he heard it ringing forth that day in Heaven. A song that established the relationship with God and His people forever.

It was a new song that John heard. He had not heard anything like it before. This was not a backward-looking song, such as would have graced the synagogues and Jewish worship, with words referring to God’s exploits in the past, good and significant though they were. This was a “now” song, bang up to date. A song encapsulating the New Covenant, sealed with the blood of Jesus not the blood of animals. This was a song containing lyrics that cemented God’s message of hope firmly in Heaven for ever.

What do we pilgrims think of new songs? So much of our church liturgies contain old songs and hymns. We retain them because of our traditions, not wanting to let them go, the familiarity somehow making us feel comfortable and secure. So many of our old hymns are riddled with archaic language that was great at the time they were written but the words have largely lost their meaning today. They celebrated a previous move of God.  Even in modern fellowships, singing songs, penned in the last two or three decades, can become a celebration of our heritage rather than an expression of praise and worship to our wonderful God. But having said all that, it’s not the song or hymn and their lyrics that can be a problem. It’s that somehow in their repetition, something spiritually can be missing when we sing them. In the familiarity our minds can switch off or our thoughts move into a different groove instead of the praise and worship God deserves.

In his vision, John saw Heavenly beings singing a declaration of praise to our wonderful Saviour. He had never heard anything like it before. If he had it wouldn’t have been new to him. The lyrics and the melody introduced a tremendous outpouring of praise in Heaven – but more of that later. Suffice to say today that whatever and whenever we sing, songs new or old, we must somehow always remember who we are worshipping. Remembering all that He has done for us. And in return giving Him all the glory, all the praise, all the worship. With every part of our beings.

Do we ever write new songs ourselves? Poetic lyrics expressing our love for God don’t initially need a melody. On my office wall, I have a poem penned by my wife in 1987. It was a wonderful outpouring of her love for God just a short while before her faith in God was severely tested by my daughter’s potentially life-threatening illness. But her “new song” stayed with her, and is still bubbling from her soul even today. When we write down our God-thoughts we capture something significant in our lives that can stay with us for the rest of our lives. So can I encourage us all to write a “new song”? Let’s put a smile on God’s face today.

Dear Lord God. How can we not praise and worship You? Our amazing and wonderful Father. You who have done so much for us. We praise and worship You today. Amen.

Harps and Bowls

“He went and took the scroll from the right hand of Him who sat on the throne. And when He had taken it, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb. Each one had a harp and they were holding golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of God’s people.”
Revelation‬ ‭5:7-8‬ ‭NIVUK

There is a change in John’s vision of Heaven. Jesus had taken the scroll, and John now sees that the twenty four elders are each holding a harp and a golden bowl full of incense. But what are the harps for, and why are they relevant? And what about these golden bowls?

To the Jewish nation, a harp was a national instrument. Much like the bagpipes have become the national instrument in Scotland. And harps cropped up from time to time in the Old Testament. I’m reminded that David, Israel’s greatest king, was a skilful harp player and he often was called to play it for Saul, his predecessor, to help with his mental health issues. The Jewish harp must have been a portable instrument, because each of the elders was holding one. Not like a modern harp in a symphony orchestra, that needs some strong men and a packing case to transport it. It’s strange that the popular image of angels with wings sitting on clouds clutching harps is out there, without any explanation. But a harp would be used in worship, bringing a sense of joy and peace to the listeners. It is interesting that the Greek word for harp is kithara, which means a harp or lyre. And from kithara we get the word English word guitar. So to those of us who are uncomfortable hearing or seeing guitar playing in our places of worship, we might have to get used to it, as there will probably be guitars in Heaven. Not pipe organs, though I could be wrong!

We move on to the golden bowls of incense. But what was the incense for? Incense was burned by the Jews as part of their worship to God. And we read in Psalms 141:2, “Accept my prayer as incense offered to you, and my upraised hands as an evening offering“. That Scripture was repeated in our verse today from Revelation, which points out that the incense in the golden bowls is the prayers of God’s people. And the encouraging thing is the the bowls were full, not half full, or nearly empty. There were many prayers in those bowls. What sort of prayers, I wonder? Just those applicable to the scene unfolding before John in his vision? Or every prayer ever uttered? There are many different prayers spoken and recorded in the Bible. There are prayers of anguish such as Hannah’s in 1 Samuel 1:10, “Hannah was in deep anguish, crying bitterly as she prayed to the Lord”. Of course, we have what we call the Lord’s Prayer in Matthew 6. And Jonah’s prayer from the stomach of a large fish. David’s prayer for forgiveness after his affair with Bathsheba in Psalm 51. There were some great prayers in those bowls. Prayers that perhaps make our own efforts sound a bit feeble. But our wonderful Heavenly Father hears them all. And we’re told in today’s verse that they are all stored up in the golden bowls.

What do we pilgrims make of this? Harps and bowls indeed, perhaps we say, in a way that sees little, if any, relevance to our daily walk. To me though, the presence of harps and golden bowls in Heaven is significant. It confirms the importance of our dialogue with God and our worship of Him. We must never give up praying to God. Through our faith, we know that He hears and answers every prayer that we sincerely say to Him. 

As an aside, to those doubters who say God never answers their prayers, there are three answers that He provides – “Yes”, “No” and “Not Yet”. His answers to our prayers are for our highest good, not in response to our wants. Sometimes we expect God to answer our prayers in a particular way or with a particular response. But His answers will always be righteous. And sometimes we need to be careful about what we pray for – we might get a response we least expect!

Regarding the harps, I hear many say that they can’t play an instrument at all, let alone a harp, so how will that work? Playing a musical instrument is not the only way to worship God here on earth. We can do it with the instrument God provided for us at birth, our voices. Even those who are tone deaf can worship with their songs. Those humans around them might complain but our loving Father in Heaven thinks they are the most tuneful and marvellous expression of worship to Him. We can even worship God with our thoughts and actions. True worship is offered in “spirit and truth”. We read in John 4:23, “But the time is coming—indeed it’s here now—when true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth. The Father is looking for those who will worship him that way.” The presence of harps is optional. Worship isn’t. And I have a suspicion that when we reach Heaven we will find we have a new-found ability to do all sorts of things we can’t today, even playing a harp.

Dear Father God. Once again we are reminded of the importance of our prayers and our worship. How wonderful You are. You hear us when we call out to You and respond with Your love and grace. We are so grateful. Amen.

He Created All

“Whenever the living beings give glory and honour and thanks to the One sitting on the throne (the One who lives forever and ever), the twenty-four elders fall down and worship the One sitting on the throne (the One who lives forever and ever). And they lay their crowns before the throne and say, “You are worthy, O Lord our God, to receive glory and honour and power. For you created all things, and they exist because you created what you pleased.””
Revelation‬ ‭4:9-11‬ NLT

The Apostle John had no doubts about God’s creative abilities. He wrote, “For you created all things, and they exist because you created what you pleased”. John wrote that God created all. Everything. Mankind might do wonders creating objects but God created the building blocks used in the process. And the amazing thing was that God created matter out of nothing. That’s what the Bible says.

There has been an interminable debate over the last two centuries about a relatively new theory – evolution. A theory that is unfortunately taught as fact in our schools. Even though there are many unknowns and a lack of evidence to support it. It is a theory supported only by assumptions and the necessity for millions, even billions, of years, for evolution to produce what we see around us. But there are two big holes in the evolutionary arguments. Where did all the matter, needed to make the universe and all that is in it, come from in the first place? And why is there matter at all – why not just nothing? Personally, though, I lack the faith necessary to believe in evolution. When I see the wonder of a baby’s fingers or the complexity of a flower, I can only see a master Creator at work. That such wonders happened by chance is beyond my comprehension. Someone once explained to me that evolution is like putting all the component parts of a wrist watch – bearings, springs, cogs, case and strap – into a bag and then keep shaking it until the watch drops out. Hmmm..

In these verses today, and in the same breath as that used to express worship, we see that God’s creation is involved. It is all part of the whole worship experience. Anything else demeans God and effectively says He is incapable of creating what He wants to create, just because He was pleased to. His master design is so complex, and so interrelated and intertwined. He produced a cohesive universe, and a world that corelates and fits together, and has the ability built in to enable animal, human and plant life to self-propagate along the lines that He originally created. Amazing! And we worship God for all His wonderful works, and because He is worthy, as John wrote down for us to read today.

It is so sad that the evolutionists, who do not believe in a Creator God, have no-One to thank for the wonders of nature they see around them. The beauty of a sunset. The complexities of a human eye. The atomic structures and particles so sought after by physicists. The list is endless. But the saddest thing of all is that many evolutionists perhaps only believe their theory because the alternative is that they would have to believe in a Creator God. And that would mean a seismic shift in their thinking and their way of life. They would have to face into having to deal with their sins, through repentance, and embrace the Son of God, worshipping Him for all He has done, with all “glory and honour and thanks“.

But for a pilgrim today, we have a choice. Some Christians have parked the problem of whether to believe the Bible account of beginnings, or whether to believe the evolutionary arguments. The truth will one day be revealed, of course, but in the meantime we worship God, because He is worthy to receive “glory and honour and praise”. We pray for our eyes to be opened to receive a revelation, as did John, and a Holy Spirit encounter with Him. And we pray for the integrity of the Bible, God’s Word, His only written work, to prevail in our churches and fellowships.

Dear Lord. I pray today that those around me, who have rejected You, will be shown kindness and mercy, and the opportunity to find the truth. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Falling Down

“Whenever the living beings give glory and honour and thanks to the One sitting on the throne (the One who lives forever and ever), the twenty-four elders fall down and worship the One sitting on the throne (the One who lives forever and ever). And they lay their crowns before the throne and say, “You are worthy, O Lord our God, to receive glory and honour and power. For you created all things, and they exist because you created what you pleased.””
Revelation‬ ‭4:9-11‬ NLT

How do we worship God? With our thoughts? Or with an extravagance of gestures or postures? There were no doubts in the minds of the twenty four elders – they fell down before God. And they selflessly handed over their precious crowns, laying them before His throne. 

I often think it a shame that many people like me, who yearn for the ability to be unconsciously uninhibited in their worship of God, find it so hard to break through the conditioning of those early years, when we were taught that emotion, particularly in men and boys, was not to be displayed. The “stiff upper lip” prevailed. Pain and tears must be suppressed. And, sadly, it is very difficult to cast all that aside. In my morning prayer walks through the West Fife woods in Scotland, I would often wish to cry out to God in praise and worship, overcome by the beauty and awesomeness of God’s creation. But what if someone heard me? Happily, one day all the inhibitions will be discarded, because there will be no choice. God has to be worshipped with every fibre of our beings. 

Worship of God can take many forms. We sing and shout. We compose lyrics for songs. We write poems and prose. We raise our hands in times of praising God, as exhorted in Psalm 134:2, “Lift your hands toward the sanctuary, and praise the Lord“. Incidentally, do we do that? The Christian church has adopted the pose of two hands clasped together at chest height. A safe way of raising our hands? Perhaps. But was the psalmist proposing that we stretch out our arms and hands towards Heaven? The unsafe way?

But with a sigh, we pilgrims reach out to God, who understands our difficulties. We thank Him for His encouragement as He walks and talks with us through our lives. Step by step. Day by day. Responding to His grace and love in the way that we can. Looking forward to that day when the worship of God will be as natural as breathing.

Dear Heavenly Father. We praise and worship You today. We’re so deeply grateful for Your presence, Your loving kindness, and graciousness. What else can we do but worship You? Amen.