ENGAGING GOD IN WORSHIP
When I come across the word “engage”, my mind turns to movies such as “Top Gun” where you would see an air force fighter narrowing in on his enemy ready to push the trigger to blast the target or to a “Star Wars” movie where Luke Skywalker or other forces of light would pursue Dark Vader and the other agents of darkness across the galaxies to engage them in conflict or perhaps a “Kung Fu” movie where the referee would shout out “Fight” just before the two opponents are let loose.
To engage…so what does this word really mean? How do we engage God? Do we dare? Is it possible?
The speaker explained that to engage does not necessarily involve conflict but involves being connected to someone. We are called to connect with God beyond the norm and in an EXTRAordinary way. We are to engage God in order to set God in motion. Well, this sounded strange as I never conceived God as one who simply stood by in an idle manner, but then a verse sprung to mind – Rev 3:20 “Look, I STAND at the door and knock. If you hear my call and open the door, I will come in to you and have supper with you and you with me.” Standing is a passive position which often entails a great deal of patience and waiting for someone else to react. This is why we need to react. God waits for us to react. We need to engage God because without doing so, we do not get the real experience of Him that our soul has always longed for us to encounter.
He explained that most of us have the wrong notion that God is far away from us and so we are hesitant to even conceive the idea of engaging such a supreme being. As Christians we should rest assured that He is very close to us as assured throughout scripture such as in Psalm 145:18 – “He is near those who call on Him , who call trustfully upon His name.” So, all we need do is call on Him and realize His presence because He also promises that He will never leave us in Deut 31:6 – “your God is with you; He will not leave you or abandon you” which is also echoed in Hebrew 13:5.
He also warned against the wrong notion some of us have that God selectively answers prayers of a select few and even at that, He does not answer all prayers. He encouraged us to have a deep hunger to go beyond our comfort zone and beyond the norm in our engagement with God in order to dispel these erroneous notions.
1. ISAIAH ENGAGED
The speaker then took us through persons in the bible who engaged God and as a result had an amazing experience of Him. Isaiah 6:1-4 mentions the encounter Isaiah had in the year King Uzziah died when he sought God perhaps in consolation over the loss of Uzziah who may have been dear to Him. Although Isaiah served as a priest in the temple and had prophetic utterances, it was only when he sought the Lord after King Uzziah’s death that he saw God – “In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord seated on a throne, high and exalted, the train of his robe filled the temple.”
This encounter with God and the seraphs made Isaiah see how he truly was in his uncleanliness. We have heard of hardened sinners who break down and cry uncontrollably or repeatedly ask for mercy when they encounter God. We have also heard of those who are deemed righteous, who also cry out as they realize their unworthiness before God in their engagement of Him. The speaker advised us to drop our reputation when we come before God because He works with the real you and cannot be deceived.
Upon encountering God, Isaiah had to open himself and it is at this point that we fail to take advantage of the opportunity given to us to engage God. He explained that the devil uses shame to convince us not to open up but we must dig deeper to engage God so He can sanctify us in spite of the expected shame we might face. As Catholics, we are fortunate to have recourse to the Sacrament of Reconciliation where we can confess our sins and be restored with God. It is unfortunate, however, that even at this opportunity, some people even lie or just go through the motions, thereby missing the essence of truly engaging God. Isaiah 1:18 says “Come, let us reason together. Though your sins be like scarlet, they will be white as snow…”
It is no wonder that the devil is trying to undermine this sacrament and dissuade many from resorting to it. Can you believe that in Australia, the Church has been subjected to laws which force priests to break the seal of secrecy and removes priest-penitent privilege? The priests there, however, have vowed that they would rather go to jail than reveal what is said to them in confession.
When you engage God in worship like Isaiah did, you find yourself submitting everything to God. The speaker pointed out that everyone has a skeleton but a singular encounter changes everything, as we do not consider as important, the shame that may ensue from revealing it or we do not feel as attached to it. This led me to wonder whether I had a skeleton in my closet and whether I still do. Do you? He continued that if we do not have this encounter with God, we should not go ahead with what we think must be done because it is this encounter which strengthens us.
When we engage God, we have a personal encounter and when we have this, we find that our will becomes subject to God’s will. God has said in Isaiah 55, “my ways are not your ways,“ so our will naturally runs parallel to the will of God. The speaker mentioned that what most of us try to do is to bribe God and negotiate with Him to bend to our will. However, we see in Isaiah that his will collapsed when he had that encounter and let go of his will leading him to say “Here I am. Send me!”
The speaker went on to explain that God is the master strategist and he is able to catch your attention to engage you. Think of the relationship between a man who is toasting a lady from across a room. He orders her a drink and send over some food to her via the waiter and perhaps even send a note. He makes the move and waits, the lady looks at him and then looks away again and then does some more yanga. What happens next? Who is to make the next move? Most men would say it is the lady’s move because they have prepared the ground.
Well, it is up to us whether we want to be engaged. When we decide to engage God, we should submit our will and we will realize how everything of God’s has a plan and purpose, including us. He mentioned that most Catholics do not have personal conviction because they do not have a personal encounter and they are simply riding on the conviction of their parents as cradle Catholics, without having their own foundation. He cited the example of Catholics during NYSC year going into oblivion, only to resurface and resume church activities when they return home.
2. MOSES ENGAGED
The pursuit to engage God can also be seen in the life of Moses who had been taught about the true God by his Hebrew parents before he became a royal in the palace of Pharaoh. As Prince of Egypt, however, he knew that there was something different about him but was not aware what to do about this feeling he had. The speaker asked us whether we have felt like Moses in the sense of knowing that there was something that you needed to do but not knowing how to bring it to reality? It is as if God has planted something within you but you are at a crossroad not knowing how it is to come to fruition.
The time for Moses to engage God was in Exodus 3 when God caught his attention using something he would be familiar with – something which seemed like magic – a burning bush which was not being consumed by the fire in Exodus 3:2-3. As a prince of Egypt, he was familiar with acts of sorcery by the Egyptians and God used such a sight to lure him. The speaker stated that God always uses what we are familiar with to catch our attention for us to engage him – “Moses saw that although the bush was on fire, it did not burn up, Moses thought ‘I will go and see this amazing sight, why is the bush not burning up’?“.
This reminds me of a discussion I had with fellow committee members of one of our parish programs when I was arguing against the need to always provide food for church events due to additional costs it entailed which I considered unnecessary. However, one member pointed out that our parishioners are lured with food and that most would not come to hear spiritual talks unless food would be served at such. I was saddened by this reality and hope that a time would come where we will hunger so deeply for the Word of God and to be around those who eagerly yearn for same, that the availability or otherwise of food to be served or not, would be a secondary concern.
He pointed out that Moses ran away from Pharaoh after he realized his murder of the Egyptian was public because he knew that Pharaoh was vindictive and without mercy. Moses became a wanted man and a fugitive until God caught his attention and Moses responded by engaging God. Isn’t it amazing how God called Moses personally and Moses gave the same reply as Isaiah – “Here I am.” Moreover, God introduced Himself immediately to Moses, thus showing His longing desire and eagerness to make Himself known to us, if only we would engage Him. In this introduction, Moses received revelation on who he was which confirmed why he had always felt different. Now, what he was supposed to do with this new information as to his identity, was what God would guide him into, by further engagement.
Before God would reveal this, however, he had to instruct Moses to let God of his past and surrender himself to God. This is seen in Exodus 3:5 where God advises thus: “Do not come near; take off your sandals because the place where you are standing is holy ground.” The speaker explained that Moses was told to remove his sandals which he had retained as a sign of his royalty and past life. He asked us what we were still holding on to which God has instructed us to get rid off from our lives?
It was not until Moses had gotten rid of the last remnant of his former life as a prince of Egypt, that he was able to get a new encounter with God where God revealed Himself to Moses not only as the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob, but also as “I am who I am” Perhaps WE are the obstacle to having a personal encounter with God. We seek to engage God but we are still holding on to our past and unwilling to come out of our comfort zone. We are unwilling to surrender to Him and engage Him in true worship. We may need assurance and God is aware of this so he gives Moses miraculous powers and signs in Exodus 4:2-9 assuring him that He will be with him.
The speaker stressed that Moses engaged God because he deliberately sought clarification by asking three times. First he asked God who he should say sent him and God replied by giving him a new revelation of Himself. Then he asked God what would happen if they did not believe him and God replied by giving him miraculous powers, Then finally he asked God how he would speak since he was not eloquent and God replied that he would inspire Moses on what to say. We must be very certain when we engage God to ascertain what our mission and purpose in life is in order to distinguish it from a mere passion which we might have. This intense engagement led Moses to inform his father-in-law of his resolve to return to Egypt to free the Israelites.
Upon analyzing the lives of Isaiah and Moses we see how their lives were interrupted and transformed as they engaged God. This interruption is necessary in order for you to have an encounter with God. This is also seen in the lives of the disciples such as Peter who was going about his daily living fishing but when he was called, he abandoned his livelihood and family and followed Jesus. The interruption of Peter eventually led God to use him to convert over 3000 souls in Acts 2:14-41. This same Peter is the key stone upon which the Catholic church was built and through which it spoke and continues to speak by virtue of the apostolic succession and tradition.
Are you prepared to be interrupted? Are you prepared to engage God? I was meditating upon this and came across Isaiah 55:6 which says “Seek Yahweh while he may be found.” This struck me because it suggests that there will come a time when some of us who haven’t already, will finally decide to seek and engage God BUT He will be concealed from us!! There will come a time when we will seek God but we will not be able to find Him. Similar to when you decide to switch on your bluetooth device and indicate whether you want it to be discoverable by all devices. God has always been discoverable and has made and is still making Himself discoverable for us to tune into His frequency. However, can you imagine if you delay to engage Him and when you eventually do by switching on that device to connect, you find that there is nothing there?!!
May we be ever conscious of our need to engage God in worship, to bring us into a personal encounter with Him which our souls yearn to do each day. In Jesus name we pray. Amen.