The speaker started out by telling us of his friend who is fond of praying these words: “Every spirit of witchcraft against my life should fall down and die.” I have always been uncomfortable with such prayers but this was put it in another dimension for me.
First of all, he pointed out that spirits of witches and wizards do not die and asked us if we had ever been to a funeral of a spirit. Rather, the spirits are cast to wherever you cast them. He then asked us who we considered a witch or wizard and that we should be careful of praying such because we could be wishing death unto ourselves.
It is interesting to note that the popular reference of Exodus 22:18 of “suffereth not a witch to live” differs from the earliest English translation of the bible (Dhouay Rheims) which refers to wizard and not witches – “Wizards thou shalt not suffer to live.” Whether it be a witch or wizard, suffice to say that the message is that their life should not be spared.
The speaker explained that witchcraft or sorcery includes the manipulation of someone to give or do something contrary to his or her will. It also includes the disobedience of God’s will. So anyone who manipulates someone in this regard or disobeys God is a witch or wizard and according to the prayers of his friend, should die. Deuteronomy 27 which lists out all the curses against those who disobey God is very sobering, especially Deut 27:26 which says “Cursed be anyone who does not affirm the words of this law by putting them into practice!” By the time, he had finished explaining this, we were all reflective and wondered whether we were indeed witches or wizards and whether those who uttered such prayers knew the possible effect of their words.
I myself started to wonder how we hinder our progress by the words we utter out of ignorance. It was this ignorance of scripture that he started talking about in his discussion with us on the things which hinder worship.
1. IGNORANCE OF SCRIPTURE
We are all familiar with the bible passage that “my people perish for lack of knowledge” in Hosea 4:6. Indeed such reference to knowledge is littered all over the bible as seen also in Job 36:12 – “But if they do not listen, they go to the grave: knowledge would have saved them.” The speaker stressed that if we do not read the Word of God, we cannot know the mind of God which would be a great shame because all God needs to tell you is within the bible. He cautioned us against accepting anything said outside the Word of God by anyone, no matter how anointed the person may appear.
He urged us to go the extra mile to dig deep into the word and referred to Jesus’ words in Matthew 7:7-12 where he assured us to ask, seek and knock. He explained that this invitation was about spiritual hunger and the levels one is prepared to climb to encounter Jesus. I pictured myself as an archaeologist on an exhibition, excavating expectantly in search of some hidden treasure. We must expect to encounter Jesus in the Word as we read it.
The Word of God is this hidden treasure as seen in Matthew 13:44-46 and we are the archaeologists digging deeper into the Word and not simply reading the logos of the Word which would be akin to merely asking. We are to strive to get revelation from the letter of the law and text of the word and this rhema is only achievable if we seek as Jesus urges us to do. I assume that the third level of hunger is in the knocking which is akin to the actual performance of the Word derived from the rhema and the actual daily living in the power of the Word.
The speaker mentioned that this encounter with the Word should be like the encounter of those with Jesus in John 1:35-50 who called Him various names. I was thinking about that today and the various names which Jesus and indeed God is called when it dawned on me that the variety of names is perhaps because of our spiritual levels and the vastness of the nature of God. We are able to pick out a part of His personality and call Him that, depending on the situation in which we find ourselves. For John, Jesus was the “Lamb of God”, for Andrew, Jesus was the “Messiah”, for Philip, Jesus was “son of Joseph from Nazareth” of whom Moses and the prophets wrote and for Nathanael, Jesus was the “Son of God.” Have you encountered Jesus? What do you call Him?
The speaker went further to say that we cannot worship God meaningfully if knowledge of the bible is sparce and scanty and we cannot know God if we don’t read the bible. He cited Luke 24:16 when the disciples on the road to Emmaus could not recognize Jesus. This was because their problems were overwhelming them and they were crowded with the situation of life. He explained that they were disheartened and the road to Emmaus symbolized a road back to their former life and their backsliding into the world.
How many times are we like these disciples where we fail to see Jesus who is right within our midst? We do not know Him. We do not know His voice. We are not used to His words. We are left disheartened and backslide but there is a saving grace – the Eucharist. It was when Jesus broke the bread that they recognized Him and had that encounter.
He referred to the attitude of Catholics towards scripture when they receive Holy Communion and stated that one cannot be sick and receive Jesus in communion and yet remain the same because light and darkness cannot abide thereafter as they do not mix. This made me frown a bit as I was trying to reconcile how those who were sick were still suffering from the same infirmity in spite of their daily reception of Holy Communion. However, that would lead us into the realm of why God allows people to suffer which was not the focus of the speaker who simply wished to highlight that a fundamental obstacle to worship is ignorance of scripture which is key to recognizing and knowing the mind of God and God Himself.
2. MARITAL DISHARMONY
Now this second obstacle to true worship of God struck home for me. All marriages have their fair (and unfair) share of disharmony and the speaker held nothing back as he chastised both husband and wife in maintaining discord. He urged spouses to kill whatever discord may exist between them before they enter into the presence of God as echoed in Matthew 5:24 – “leave your gift there in front of the altar, go at once and make peace with your brother and then come back and offer your gift to God.”
The same then can apply to non-marital relationships. Indeed, how can we worship God truly if we harness bitterness and there is discord with another person, be it your spouse or not? He stated that we should not try and deceive ourselves when shortly after we have an argument with our spouse, we take up the bible and start to read or start singing worship songs. What kind of worship do we think we are offering to God at that point truly? Personally, I can testify to being miserable, as in truly miserable, when this happens to me. I struggle with connecting with God and my worship is far from what I know it should be.
God instituted marriage and wants everyone to live in peace so we should not allow discord to come in between our worship of Him. This would entail not only dying to self, but also being the fool to actually mean and say “I am sorry” first even though it is not your fault. This made me cringe as I am sure it made others, because this self-giving may need grace for some…a whole lotta grace!
The speaker then put a whole new spin on Ephesians 5:25 which made me smile not necessarily because it favored me but because this interpretation of the verse came from a man. He pointed out that when Paul said “husbands should love your wives as Christ loved the church,” it meant that if your wife cooked soup and put too much salt therein, the husband should simply eat the soup and take the blame for its over saltiness. He explained that this is how Christ loved the church. He took the church’s blame seen as sin and placed it upon Himself so husbands must do the same. Can you imagine your husband saying “Thanks for the soup. It had too much salt in it but it’s probably because of something I did or didn’t do so it’s ok. Thank you nevertheless!” I think I would just pass out there and then!
He then addressed the part of submission by wives and urged the wives to continue in this self giving since it takes extraordinary love for a woman to submit. Not only does a woman decide to abandon her own agenda and way of doing things, but she abandons her name, goes through the travails of childbirth and after that too, the children she bears do not take her name, but that of the man also. This was the first time I had heard a man actually empathize with what wives have to go through. Indeed it takes EXTRAordinary love to submit and this is why wives must always tap into the grace of God and seek to know His Word in scripture to worship him fully.
3. HIDDEN & UNCONFESSED SIN
Another barrier to true worship is when you don’t confess your sins immediately the Holy Spirit convicts you. So what happens to those who are not moved or not aware of the Holy Spirit’s conviction I wondered? Well, I guess that is another situation altogether. Those who are fortunate to have this spiritual barometer, however, must not allow their conscience to be dulled if they are to engage in true worship. The speaker mentioned that we all have sin as Paul mentions in Romans 3:23, but we should go to confession as soon as we are aware of this dent to our spirituality in order to obtain peace:
“… all have sinned and all fall short of the glory of God; and all are graciously forgiven and made righteous, through the redemption effected in Christ Jesus.”
The speaker then gave a short story of how the devil can tempt us in subtle ways to rationalize sin away and keep such hidden and unconfessed. He gave an instance of a contract given to him to purchase some musical equipment which involved the client giving him some money for hotel, feeding and transport as well as the maximum cost of the equipment. He had not stayed at a hotel as provided and had not eaten out since he had lodged with a friend and he had found a cheaper way to transport himself and also found a way to make great savings on the equipment he was to buy. As a result, he had stayed within the budget given and had made significant savings. The dilemma he faced, however, was whether these savings were to his advantage or whether he would have to reveal the savings made to the client.
I personally have been faced with such a dilemma and it is even more difficult when you have been given money by a company which has already entered it into their books as being already expensed. However, the speaker stressed what we all know deep down – that God is interested in accountability. After much struggle on whether to confess the savings to the client or to use it for his much needed rent which was due, he sought the counsel of his wife who advised him to declare the savings. He eventually did and surprisingly, the client collected the money saved and turned around, only to return it to him saying “God has blessed you.”
Wow! What a risk! Sometimes, God simply wants to test you to see how faithful a child you are and how sensitive you are to the spiritual barometer He has placed within you which others call your conscience. How alive you are to your conscience truly depends on how often and promptly you confess your sins. As a devotee to Mary, we are encouraged to go to confession at least once a week and not less than twice a month in order to keep our conscience alive and I guess render true worship to God. Indeed in the Litany of the Holy Spirit, we ask the Holy Spirit to inspire us of the horror of sin. When the thought of committing any sin at all horrifies us, we are guaranteed to give God the type of worship He truly deserves as we would seek to avoid sinning at whatever the cost.
4. PRETENCE OF BEING SOMEONE ELSE
The speaker mentioned that he was discussing with a priest in Lekki who had stated that he had observed that everyone in Lekki is living in pretence. At first, I took offence to that statement. After all, I lived in Lekki and I was not pretentious but then he later explained that most people were living above their means. I found myself asking myself whether I was such person and starting reviewing my children’s school fees, housing, cars and the like. My review had to be kept on hold as I listened further to the speaker who delved deeper to point out that some people would do whatever it takes to meet up and thus be someone who they are not.
He invited us to examine ourselves to see if we really are who we are when we come into the presence of God. He urged us to be sincere with ourselves and score ourselves since the worst person to lie to is actually ourselves. This pretence reminds me of the hypocrisy which Jesus rebuked amongst the pharisees and scribes and the countless woes he levied on them in Matthew 23:13-37 – very intense and very scary stuff which should put us in check and guide us on how to truly worship God.
The aspect of unbelief is a distinct hurdle for me. I sometimes find myself questioning whether I have enough faith and trust in God or whether I am just being realistic. But what is realism really? The speaker stated that the fear to stand on God’s promises for Him to provide all things in your daily life is unbelief and greatly hinders worship. How much really do you trust God? Now, that does not mean that you simply fold your hands and do nothing but rather, you do your best and leave the rest to God. This is why I admire the Opus Dei philosophy of St Josemaria Escriva– whatever you find yourself doing in life must be done to the best of your ability because in doing such, you are worshiping God and serving Him.
The speaker went on to explain that what most of us do is we try to help God when we cannot see the results of what we have asked of Him. He gave an example of corn which is yet to sprout but under the surface, it is growing by spreading its roots and being entrenched. This subsurface work is often not seen by us so we devise a plan B when our plan A which is God, does not appear to yielding much.
Then he said this which hit home – “it is an insult!” Huh? How was having a plan B an insult? After all, aren’t we always advised to be ready and to make alternative plans? Yes we are, but this is different I realized. This was us having the audacity to assume that what we had placed in the hands of the Almighty God was not working!! This was us saying after we have given our problems to God that we would still help Him carry it just in case. Yes, it was an insult to God indeed and not only that, but an abuse to His invitation given to us in Matthew 11:28-30 – “Come to me all you who are weary and burdened and I will give you rest…”
He then referred to worrying which plagues many of us and led us to Philippians 4:8. He advised us to fill our minds with what the bible said we should and that anything short of this would be a barrier to true worship and constitute unbelief: “…fill your minds with whatever is truthful, holy, just, pure, lovely and noble…”
6. LACK OF ORDER IN TIME & SPACE
Order has always been my thing. Perhaps that is why Catholicism appealed to me even in the racy environment of university where anything seems to be allowed. There is a splendid order, discipline and black and whiteness to Catholicism which seems to mirror how the universe was created and God’s preference on how things should operate. The speaker touched on the need for order to truly worship God. Since “God is not a God of confusion” as said in 1 Cor 14:33-40, I guess it only makes sense that He would appreciate such.
Have you ever gone to a monastery and participated in the liturgy of hours or heard the chants being sung? The synergy of the voices and the harmony of it all elevates you in worship. The speaker stated that harmony must exist in music and this is oh so true!! Music without harmony is simply noise since music is an organized sound. Sometimes the unsynchronized clapping and shouting can introduce some elements of erraticism better appreciated in another environment. Do not get me wrong, I am an ardent clapper but it must blend with the time and the environment and this is what the speaker meant when he said that lack of order in time and space can hinder worship.
He also urged us to grow from setting aside time of solitude each day with God to setting aside a particular time of the day each day to meet with God. This growth from general quiet time to covenant time would mean that God would wait for you at the specific time set aside to be with Him each day. Since God deals with His people based on covenants, the speaker stressed that we be orderly and coordinated since this would greatly assist our worship of God.
7. STARTING WORSHIP SERVICE LATE
Coming to mass or religious programs late was also mentioned as a hindrance to worship. This can also be extended to when you agree to meet with God at a set time but end up keeping God waiting or we decide to attend a church program but come late. Some of us try to explain our lateness away by saying “better late than never” or make ourselves feel better by logically saying that “at least we came.” Do you think God needs you to keep the appointment you made with Him? It is as if you wish to see the President of Nigeria and you waltz in late after securing the time and place. What do you think would happen then? Would you keep him waiting or worse yet, will you even keep your boss at the office waiting? However, it suits you fine to keep the King of Kings and of all creation waiting for you?
Our parish priest has said time without number that coming to mass late is not acceptable especially when we consider that the priest is already at the altar when you stroll into the church and that everything in mass from the entrance hymn to the liturgy of the Word and Eucharist is ordered to introduce and ease you into worship. He also pointed out that not only do you hinder yourself from worshiping from the start, but you also hinder others from worshiping who may actually have come early, but you distract them by constituting a distraction as you wander around or try to find a place to sit among the pews.
He referred to some who actually go late due to the need to ensure that they look their best for church and jokingly mentioned that the mirror was an obstacle to worship. Although he was referring to ladies and their obsession with beauty and makeup or making their hair look just right, I know of men also who dote over themselves to ensure that they look their best and are wearing the right outfit and shoes before they leave the house and they too may change countless times as the minutes tick closer to the start of mass. He cautioned against this form of idol worship which would obviously hinder true worship of God.
7. NOT EATING AT THE BANQUET
When the speaker mentioned this obstacle to worship, I initially thought he was talking about eating food at church but he was referring to something much more serious. He was talking about going to mass and being called into God’s presence, only to refuse to eat when He invites you to join Him in His banquet. It was then that I cast my mind to etiquette class and the rule that you accept whatever is being placed before you gracefully. So here you are, invited to eat by the God of creation and you refuse to eat. What an insult! He asked what could possibly excuse us from not partaking in the banquet?
Well, as a Catholic, we have always been cautioned that we should not take communion unworthily or if we are not prepared, right? In fact, the speaker even referred to the elaborate preparation that needed to be done by the Levites as seen in Leviticus 16. So, why was he bashing us on not partaking in the banquet? He explained that not partaking in communion at mass is a sin in itself since we have no reason at all not to be prepared. He stressed the availability of confession and the need to come early before mass to contemplate and confess your sins.
I once had a discussion with someone who had not taken communion for years and his excuse was that he didn’t want to take communion unworthily but I couldn’t get my head around it. I mean, you would go to mass and stay on your seat simply watching as others would go and receive Jesus at the altar. Do we not know that communion is our spiritual food and it is from there that we derive our strength and are refreshed? Every day without it, makes us weaker and weaker, makes our consciences duller and duller and makes us more exposed to the whims of the devil. Paul exclaims in Rom 8:38-39 that nothing can separate us from the love of God so we have no excuse not to be prepared to receive Communion as confession is readily available. If we only knew what we were denying our spirit, we would feel the excruciating pain as it longs to unite with Jesus and we would not go a day without receiving the body and blood of Christ.
The speaker ended by saying that the things he had mentioned were not exhaustive and prompted us to identify other things which prevented us from engaging in true worship. He stated that God teaches us by using everything around us which may include our children, animals, nature, those engaged by us and the like and it was up to us to avoid any obstacle which denies us from making worship meaningful.
Almighty God, we worship You for who You are and the mercies You have shown and continue to show to us. Help us to pull down all obstacles which hinder our true worship of You and teach us how better to worship You as You truly deserve in Jesus name we pray. Amen.