Public Worship: These Times
Still, Strong, and Brave (Part I)
What These Times Demand
Stillness. Strength. Courage. These times demand these things. We are the people of God. We are simultaneously citizens of heaven and of earth. We live in this world by the principles of another. The pressures of life from outside of us are matched and over-matched by strength from the life inside of us, where the Creator, Himself, lives. We move through this earth as a mighty, healing stream winding our way to the sea enriching the land through which we pass.
- Where we find an abundance of sin, we bring an abundance of grace.
- Where we find war, we make peace.
- Where we discover fracture and division, we heal and unite.
- Darkness retreats before us for we are the army of the light.
- The gates of hell may strategize or lay siege or rush at us headlong, but they will never prevail, for we are the Church Christ Jesus is building.
Before Him we are still. In Him we are strong. With Him we are brave.
Psalm 46:10 NIV
“Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations,
I will be exalted in the earth.”
Matthew 11:28-30 NIV
“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.
Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
The Command of the King.
It may be that the command to be still is an odd one. One does not think of the brave Civil War cavalry commander, a restless steed beneath him, holding his saber aloft and shouting, “Be still, men!” We want to hear the command to charge. We want to release our mount to gallop toward the enemy lines at full speed with full strength and catch them by surprise. But King Jesus, even with his shining, doubled edged sword drawn, ready to the lead the attack says this, “Come to me and rest. Be still and know that I am God. I will be exalted in all the earth, not just on today’s battlefield.”
In all our training for life and ministry, have we forgotten how to be still before the battle? In stillness we know things that are not perceived in haste. In the stillness of our souls, we can hear the still, small voice of God.
- In the desert place, Moses saw the burning bush and heard God’s call.
- Elijah heard His voice not in the earthquake or the storm or the fire but in still and small tones.
- Jesus Himself, when He walked this earth, sought the early morning stillness and the desert’s solitude to be with His Father.
This is no passive stillness. This is a deliberate action, prioritized above our “to do” list for the day.
- In stillness we possess our souls.
- In stillness we command our hearts to listen for its Maker’s voice.
- With silence we tune our minds to hear the Master’s morning song.
The day before us will demand that we know the orders of the day. The battle before us will require us to be in our place in the line of march.
This is no easy task. Everything, from our restless hearts within us to the relentless world outside us, calls for action, not repose; to go, not to wait; to move out, not to be still. We are seldom randomly still. As the Psalmist says, He makes us to lie down. Sometimes illness or defeat or confusion makes us finally be still. But in this forced stillness, when we look around, we see green pastures and still waters. We find a table set for us in the face of our enemies. And if death’s shadow falls across us in this stillness, we will fear no evil, for the One who tasted death for all of us is with us even then. Stillness is true strength.
Be Still and Know.
Somehow, in troubled times, the people of God must learn to be still. It is the only way we can know what we need to know when we go into action: God is God! He will be exalted in all the earth! Nothing can or will stop Him. The impressive enemy before us doesn’t have a chance at ultimate victory. The battle reports have already been written, submitted and recorded. The only uncertainty is our knowing.
- When we know at the level of the stillness of our spirit before His Spirit, we know we are indeed His children.
- We know we have heard His voice and not our own or someone else’s voice.
- We know that what He said is true.
- We know that the same God who spoke in various ways and at sundry times to prophets and poets and kings and apostles has also spoken to us.
- We know the sun will stand still for us if we need it to.
- We know the walls of the city before us will eventually fall if we keep marching around it–a sort of circular stillness–and if we blow our trumpets on His cue.
- We know that any river before will have to roll back, and any sea in our God-directed path must split open before us.
- We have spoken to the Rock and have filled our souls with Living Water.
- We have sung with angels before the Throne of God, “Holy! Holy! Holy! Lord God Almighty!” and the tune still rings in our hearts. We know because we have been still before Him.
In Hebrew “Be Still” means to “slacken;” in our world, it means this—slow down! (Strong)
- This is worth going to bed an hour or half an hour earlier so we can rise an hour or half an hour sooner just to be still before Him.
- This is worth turning off the TV and putting down the remote.
- This is worth going offline for a while.
- This is worth replacing our game controller with our Bible and prayer book.
Jesus loves stillness. Where He is, there is peace. He is not impressed with our list of goals or dreams or visions. He wants to see our hearts, to look deep into them and to impart a treasure to us there. He has a Word for us every day. How often do we hurry past Him and rush into the day leaving Him standing there with a gift unopened in His nail-scarred hand? How can we hurt Him so and do it in the name of serving Him?
Stillness in Public Worship
The Psalmist asks two related but contrasting questions:
Psalm 24:3 NKJV
Who may ascend into the hill of the Lord? Or who may stand in His holy place?
Ascending and standing are not the same. So much of a public worship service is action—ascending the hill of the Lord. It seems the purpose of every song, prayer, or event is to get to the next song, prayer, or event. This sense of momentum can rob of us the strengthening power of being still before the Lord, of standing in His holy Place, and of contemplating His glory. It is in the stillness of His presence, the power of this Spirit-guided contemplation, that the church is made strong and true change can happen in our lives and in our fellowship with each other and with the Lord.
2 Corinthians 3:16-18 ESV
Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.
May we all learn how to wait in the presence of the Lord! May we never rush past a moment of revelation for in so doing we may trade lasting strength for momentary momentum.
 “Behold” can also be translated, “Contemplate.” BEHOLD anatheoreo (NT:333), ana, “up” (intensive), and No. 6, “to view with interest, consider contemplatively,” is translated “beheld,” in Acts 17:23, RV, “observed”; “considering” in Heb 13:7. See CONSIDER. (from Vine’s Expository Dictionary of Biblical Words, Copyright © 1985, Thomas Nelson Publishers.)
Pray without Ceasing.
It is time for us to learn to be still. No wonder the apostle tells us to “pray without ceasing.” (1 Thess 5:16-18) This has been the challenge in every age of Christianity. How does one pray without ceasing? One of the solutions to this dilemma has been to frame the day in prayer. Instead of attempting to pray one hour at one time during the day, we could pray for smaller intervals of time at several times during the day. Morning and Evening Prayer have always been considered the minimum, the starting place.
I know it is a challenge for us. But it always has been a challenge for believers. So we shouldn’t even try, right? It is too hard for us today. We have finally reached an age in Christianity (actually morning and evening prayer are rooted in Judaism) when the faith just can’t be practiced properly.
The trouble is not in the times, the trouble is us. Even secular sources will insist that one must be still before the day’s activities begin. It may be a quiet time or a time at the gym or on a bike path or on a trail meant for jogging or walking but some form of stillness of the mind is required for life at its fullest. Artists who are experiencing a creative block are told to write a morning page of free association, stream of consciousness words before trying to create. These morning pages are the first step toward continuing creativity. These are all forms of secular prayer. They are the human exercises that have “some value,” in the Apostles’ words. (1 Tim 4:8 NIV) But of how much greater value are the spiritual exercises of prayer, scripture reading and Christian service!
© 2016 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved
To continue reading, follow the links below to parts two and three.