They don’t write ’em like they used to

Any song that begins with the line “Blessed is the man whose bowels move” is going to struggle to be a classic. However, once my somewhat childish first impression of this hymn eased enough for me to read further I found it quite a poignant piece. See what you think.

Blest is the man whose bowels move
And melt with pity to the poor;
Whose soul, by sympathizing love,
Feels what his fellow saints endure.

His heart contrives for their relief
More good than his own hands can do;
He, in the time of general grief,
Shall find the Lord has bowels, too.

His soul shall live secure on earth,
With secret blessings on his head,
When drought, and pestilence and dearth
Around him multiply their dead.

Or if he languish on his couch,
God will pronounce his sins forgiv’n;
Will save him with a healing touch,
Or take his willing soul to Heav’n.

Isaac Watts 1719

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The Mind of Worship: Part 4. A Disciplined Mind

Every Christmas, our friends, the Muppets, remind us so succinctly that any way of life is a discipline. “If being mean’s a way of life you practice and rehearse, then all that work is paying off ‘cos Scrooge is getting worse!”

Again, every Christmas we are reminded that, in Jesus – the Word of God made flesh – we see an equally disciplined way of life, a life of worship, modelled perfectly; practiced and rehearsed. Whether you choose to be like Jesus or like Scrooge, it takes more than just that fuzzy feeling when you’re in the right frame of mind; it takes discipline.

Learn the disciplines of loving God with all your heart and soul and mind and strength, and loving your neighbour as you love yourself; practice and rehearse. Learn, practice and rehearse on your own – think about why we worship and how we worship. Learn, practice and rehearse together – think missionally and inclusively and horizontally.

Exercise your mind of worship, and may God bless us… every one.

Merry Christmas.

Jimmy

The Mind of Worship: Part 3. A Nourishing Mind

Nutritionists will tell you “we are what we eat.” We’re told in order to stay fit and healthy we should eat a balanced diet consisting of a range of different foods in moderation and to take regular exercise. What if we applied the same dietary needs to our spirituality.

What is your current worship diet?

Is it nourishing your spiritual self; giving your soul the healthy nutritious food it requires in the same way you give your physical body the nutrients it needs?

Are you exercising? Is there an output to your worship life or are you a worshipping coach potato.

Are you preparing your own food, using locally grown produce or regularly serving up mass produced processed instant meals, because there’s too much else going on and we feel we just don’t have time to ‘cook something properly’.

There are countless TV shows and magazine articles examining the content of our food; the battle between fresh produce and processed instant meals. What if we take a deeper look at the contents of our worship diet – would we find traces of ‘horse-meat’ in our favourite song? Or significantly less than our RDA of spiritual nourishment?

What if it we discovered most of the worship food we regularly consumed turned out to be cheaply made, quickly produced, neatly packaged, instant meals that for a while left us feeling full but was actually high in additives and low in nutrients? There might be some flavour and nutrition there but for the most part it’s padded out with artificial flavours and preservatives and is dangerously close to it’s use-by-date by the time it reaches you.

If worship is a lifestyle then the material we use to convey and sustain our worship is the food that fuels it. There is so much choice in the worship ‘market place’ we can, with a bit of imagination, easily create for ourselves and our congregations a balance diet (even indulging in the odd treat here and there). But it can be often seem too easy to just buy and serve up ready-made instant meals. As with any diet, the odd processed meal won’t hurt and the occasional takeaway can be a nice change. But, in my humble opinion, there is nothing better than a home cooked meal.

My wife, following her father’s example, likes to grow her own vegetables and I can honestly say that homegrown veg is so much more flavoursome than the supermarket equivalent. And I may be so bold as to say that homegrown worship material is so much more enjoyable to partake in than the ‘supermarket equivalent’. Spend time nurturing your homegrown producers – yes there will be seasons of growth and seasons of waiting for the harvest, but the results will be so much more nourishing than purchasing ready meals in the hope they’ll be just as good.

The Mind of Worship: Part 2. An Inclusive Mind

There’s an ancient proverb that says “as iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.” I think there should’ve have been an additional piece of advice written that stipulates “and when people and iron are in the sharpening process, things very often get heated and sparks will fly”.

As we consider the Mind of Worship, I am struck again by just how personal worship can be. One important element of worship is a genuine and intimate connection between the worshipper and their God. Intimacy is deeply personal and immensely vulnerable; be it between friends, lovers, spouses or worshippers. Consequently, one’s personal worship is a complex arrangement of preferences, values, interpretations, nuances and understandings. Things get even messier when we begin to add other people into the mix!

But add others we must. Jesus, the extraordinary Rabbi that he was, managed to sum up everything that he stood for in two simple statements: ‘Love God. And love your neighbour as you love yourself.’

That element of personal worship, with its vulnerable complexity and intimacy and individual expression takes care of the first statement. It is the embodying of Loving God, with all our individual heart and mind and soul and strength. However, you can’t have one without the other. The Mind of Worship must include loving other. This is the inclusive mind.

To be inclusive is to welcome others, and their otherness, and invite them to be involved. It’s about thinking horizontally. And so the messiness begins. The deeply complexed personal offering we bring is mashed and meshed together with the offerings of other people. It could become horribly entangled as people battle to fit their oddly shaped puzzle pieces into the overall picture, and believe me, I’ve seen such chaos ensue… but remember the opening verse of this post:

“As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.” Things will often get heated, and undoubtedly sparks will fly. The inclusive mindset of Worship insists that grace is the soothing, cooling water or oil essential to the sharpening process and we refuse to allow our preferences to become prejudices, as we lay aside our priorities to serve others and sometimes allow others to express their worship by serving us.

Ultimately, we all want to be sharpened; we are all striving for something more, to be the best we can be and live the best we can. Not one of us can achieve that on our own. We need one another. Things will get heated. Sparks will fly. But an Inclusive Mind of Worship is one that loves its different neighbour throughout the sharpening process.

The Mind of Worship: Part 1. A Missional Mind

“When they saw the courage of Peter and John and realized that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished and they took note that these men had been with Jesus. (Acts 4:13 NIV)”

When we talk about worship we often refer to encountering God; engaging with him, drawing near to him, being caught up in his presence. A quick flick through the Bible will rapidly reveal one consistent and inescapable truth – people who encounter God are seldom left unchanged. They are left blinded, trembling, silenced, their characters are transformed, they’re humbled, awestruck, their faces glow… And it is the same today, even it situations where, by mistake, the worship leader prays about the forthcoming message “…and Father we pray that not one person will be left changed by this word” (I confess, it was me and thankfully God knew what I actually meant!). An encounter with God leaves it’s mark.

Romans 12 captures something of the Mind of worship – the state and use of our thoughts and attitudes as an act of worship – when it speaks of the ‘renewing of our minds’; a new way of thinking, processing information, making decisions.

So what does it have to do with the verse opening this post?

John’s gospel records an episode when some of Jesus’ followers begin to find the call too challenging and so they walk away. Jesus, probably downhearted at their decision turns to the twelve and asks “are you going to leave me too?” To which Peter replies “Where else would we go? You have the words of eternal life!” Peter recognised who Jesus was and was prepared to realigned and re calibrate his entire life accordingly – his though processes, his decision making, his attitudes… His worship. This process over time began to transform Peter from the inside out, changing the Mindset of his worship, so much so that by the time he stood before the religious leaders it was totally obvious that, though this man had no formal training, no qualifications to be saying the things he was proclaiming, he had been with Jesus; he had been changed by an encounter with Jesus that affected those around him.

Like the smell of smoke on your clothes from standing close to a bonfire, the traces of Jesus on Peter was instantly noticeable and wasn’t easy to shift.

We can do evangelism. We can do events. We can do God-slots and thoughts for the day. But if we hold to a theology of worship that states Worship is a Lifestyle, then perhaps the best form of mission is to allow the Mind of Worship to affect our thoughts. Thoughts become actions. Actions become habits and habits become our character. If and encounter with God, an act of worship, fuels our thoughts and changes and renews our minds, that mindset diffuses into our actions, into our habits and into our character, affecting those around us who can only comment “these are everyday, ordinary people, but they’ve been with Jesus.