So, we started this parish seminar today at the Catholic Church of Divine Mercy, Lekki Phase 1 about worship and hearing the voice of God. As anticipated, most of us were more interested on the seminar about hearing the voice of God but we were in for a pleasant surprise.
Our priest started off with an introduction before the speaker who was invited took over. The passage was from Nehemiah 8:1-10. I wasn’t surprised he had taken such a passage. Our parish priest is fond of taking us on a journey for us to realize our weaknesses in order for us to spiritually grow. I mean, how many times does someone read Nehemiah? Most of us even had problems finding where it was in the bible. Why couldn’t he pick the Psalms or a book on King David who is synonymous with worship and praise of God? Well, some escaped this task of locating the passage in our bibles by using their electronic bibles while the rest of us were made to scurry through until we located it.
WORSHIP & THE LAW
Nehemiah 8 on the surface was simply about Ezra reading the law to the Israelites but on further reflection, several aspects of worship were identified:
- Worship is a way of life which has no time restriction. Most of us are guilty of monitoring how long has passed when we come to church or attend a gathering to worship God. Why? Nh 8:3 says that Ezra read the law to them “from early morning until midday.”
- When you worship God, you must be attentive. Your body, mind and soul must be in tune with the object of worship. Verse 3 says that inspite of the duration “all who heard were attentive to the Book of the Law.”
- There are physical gestures and signs akin to worshiping God such as proclaiming “Amen” and blessing the Lord or lifting up your hands, kneeling or bowing heads to the ground. This is what the Israelites did as a sign of worshiping God. What do you do?
- Worship is only possible when the word of God penetrates you as seen in Nh 8:9 when the Israelites wept upon the law being read to them by the Levites and Ezra.
- Worship is something of joy so we must hold unto verse 10 which stresses that the “joy of Yahweh is our strength.”
Our parish priest stressed that worship goes beyond what one does in church since it is a way of life. Furthermore, one should focus on what one is bringing to the worship and not on how good the choir sings or how fantastic the sermon is. Worship is about what WE OFFER God. He then made us consider whether we could feel God at mass when the bell rings at consecration and when Jesus’ words uttered, transform the body into the flesh of Jesus. Can we actually feel God when the mass readings are being proclaimed or during the Gospel Acclamation or when the Alleluiah is being sung? Most of us could not answer definitively, as we had to search ourselves critically.
DO YOU KNOW WHO YOU WORSHIP
The Unknown God
The speaker, Bro Ambrose, started the first seminar by referring to John 4:19-26 stressing verse 22 wherein Jesus said to the Samaritan woman, “You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know.” Now, I had read this passage severally, but never delved into this aspect of knowing God. St Paul in Acts 17:23 talks about the shrines in Athenian cities having an altar dedicated to an “unknown God.” Paul reveals that his purpose was to make known to them what they considered as this unknown God. The speaker then asked us whether we were like the Athenians or the Samaritan woman. Do we know the God who we worship?
Worship God BEFORE Serving God
In stressing the need to know whom we worship, he stated that we cannot work for God since heaven and earth and all that is in it belongs to Him. He pointed out that God is more interested in relationship and in us working WITH Him rather than working FOR Him. The example of Uzzah in 2 Samuel 6:7 was given where God struck him down in his effort to save the Ark of the Covenant which was about to fall to the ground. Now this sudden death of a man who simply wanted to save the Ark of the Covenant has always been a shocker to me. I mean, why would God be so harsh? Indeed it seemed strange to me that this same Ark which brought doom to Uzzah brought blessings to Obededom whose house flourished whilst the Ark was with him.
I was glad to identify this concern in the mind of the speaker who shed light on the possible explanation to this grave infliction on Uzzah. He explained that David had got the foundation wrong since he had consulted man and not God over the logistics of returning the Ark to Jerusalem. 1 Chronicles 15:13 saw David note the error of his ways when he said to the Levites “Yahweh our God punished us for not consulting him as we should have done.” After consulting Yahweh, the Levites who were the only ones allowed to carry the Ark, purified themselves and the Ark was carried with poles on their shoulders, instead of oxen as done before, and was restored to Jerusalem.
So here’s the thing David got it wrong and Uzzah got it wrong!! You cannot work FOR God. God requires you to work WITH Him first. The first thing is worship, then comes service. Philippians 2:13 summarizes this when Paul says “It is God who makes you not only wish, but also carry out what pleases him.”
You must know God if you want to serve Him. You must know what He wills of you. You must know who you are worshiping before you worship. You can have a choirmaster who does not know God or a prophet who does not know God as seen in John 1:31 wherein the very person who was baptized by the Holy Spirit from his mother’s womb confessed that he did not know Jesus. “I myself did not know Him but came baptizing to prepare for Him so that He might be revealed in Israel.” How can the very person who identified Jesus as the Lamb of God not know Jesus? Well, he confessed he didn’t so we should all check ourselves. Do you know the God you worship? Have you had that personal encounter like Thomas who proclaimed ‘My Lord and my God!” It was after John the Baptist had seen the dove and had his own personal encounter that he too could proclaim in John 1:34 – “Yes, I have seen! And I declare that this is the Chosen One of God!”
The speaker stressed that apart from John the Baptist, even Jesus’ disciples did not know who Jesus was. This was a man they had been following and serving for years and who had performed miracles before their very eyes but when asked in Matthew 16:16 who he was, they could not give a specific reply. It was only through the revelation of the Holy Spirit that Peter was able to proclaim that Jesus is “the Messiah, the Son of the Living God.”
Then the speaker said something quite profound which struck me – that God will reveal Himself to you through something with which you are familiar. It made me wonder first whether God had revealed Himself to me and secondly, how God had chosen to do so. Did I know the God whom I proclaimed to worship? Was I doing God’s Will because as the speaker pointed out – if you are not useful to God, you become useful in the hands of satan whose aim is to steal, kill and destroy.
IMAGE OF GOD
The speaker concluded by referring us to Genesis 1:26 and being made in the image of God. He stressed that this meant that we are the nature and likeness of God. He told a story of when he found himself on admission before his upcoming exams in school. He had high blood pressure and his blood count was low but when he looked at the mirror, he was reminded that the image he saw of a frail person was not the image in which he was made, but a deception. His true image was the image and likeness of God. He started to proclaim it, demanded that he be discharged and when the doctor was forced to recheck his vitals, he saw a miraculous change and discharged him as he had insisted they do.
I guess this is just another example of whether you know the God whom you worship and whether you remember who God says you are. In order to get such an encounter, you must surrender your life totally to Him in order for Him to guide you into the truth of who He really is and who you really are.
Our priest concluded by urging us to reflect on two things. We were to think about what our spiritual turning point was and whether we had experienced such a spiritual encounter which has led to us to personally testify to the God we worship. He also encouraged us to remember that worship is a lifestyle and so we must teach others who God is and lead them to also worship Him. We must not keep this experience to ourselves.
Tomorrow we continue day 2 and I am sure we cannot wait to delve deeper into how to worship God. Most of us have forgotten that we were more interested in learning how to hear the voice of God. We have realized that worship is key. Let us learn to worship first as a lifestyle beyond the four walls of a church or religious gathering. Let us start by knowing this God whom we worship.
May the good Lord enlighten our inner minds to know Him and to truly worship Him in spirit and in truth as we are called to do. In Jesus name we pray. Amen.