The poets worshiped you through verse and rhyme, Turned their imaginations to the task Of translating eternity to time That image bearers might be brought to bask In light refracted through a humble lens, Refracted so to share a diff’rent view Of beauty. Souls in wonder took up pens And wrote to cultivate their love of you. One wonders if the words will ever cease, If all might soon be said, each rhyme fulfilled. But throes of life persist, and words bring peace, So movement of the quills will not be stilled. Rise up, you poets, scribes of humble soul, To teach and train us better to extol.
God gave Moses specific instructions regarding sacrifices, priests, relationships, rest, and a number of other subjects, and his instructions are recorded in the book of Leviticus. As you read through the book, you begin to realize something: the Lord requires the best, not merely the comfortable or the convenient.
Take sacrifices, for example. Only specific types of animals are accepted, and acceptable animals often must be without blemish and of a certain age. The people couldn’t simply give God the wounded or small of the flock, the weak or the unwanted; they had to give their best. The same goes for the priesthood. The holiness of the role of priest seems to be illustrated in the high standards God set forth for those who could hold such a role. God’s servants couldn’t behave any way they chose; they were to be, in a way, the best of the people, the model of obedience and holiness.
God’s standards haven’t changed. He still requires the best of us. “You therefore must be perfect,” Jesus said, “as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48). He wills our sanctification (1 Thessalonians 4:3), and he remains “the LORD who sanctifies you” (Leviticus 22:32).
Such sanctification is not always convenient or comfortable. Paul chose his words well when he called us to be living sacrifices (Romans 12:1-2). We heed the call to deny ourselves, take up our crosses daily, and follow him (Luke 9:23), a worthy yet difficult calling. Discipline and correction factor regularly into the process (Hebrews 12), as does grace for our failures (1 John 2:1-2). He refines us, molds us, and purifies us, and the process is often painful. He requires the fullness of our hearts, minds, and spirits. He requires the best of us.
It’s encouraging, then, to remember that God not only requires the best from us, but he also does what is best for us. He causes all things to work together for good, holding us in his unfailing love (Romans 8). He knows us intimately (Psalm 139), cares for us deeply (1 Peter 5:7), and gives wisdom for the journey (James 1:5-8). He doesn’t merely do what is convenient or comfortable in our lives. Indeed, his work may feel at times like a wound (consider Paul’s wrestling with the thorn in his flesh in 2 Corinthians 12). But because the Lord is good, we can trust him in all circumstances, all seasons, all stations of life. He will always do what is best. Indeed, he has already done what is best for us by giving us the perfect, spotless lamb to save us, meeting our greatest need and ensuring he will not fail us in our lesser needs (Romans 8, James 1).
So let us offer our best to the Lord, withholding nothing as we learn to love and serve him better. Let us understand that he is worthy of our best, worthy of our very lives. And let us rest in the truth that God loves us and will always do what is best, trusting that “no good thing does he withhold from those who walk uprightly” (Psalm 84:11).
Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths. Be not wise in your own eyes; fear the LORD, and turn away from evil. It will be healing to your flesh and refreshment to your bones.
Who are you? Majestic Maker of all That moves and all that remains still. You fill With fullness all spaces, unperceived, call Dead things to life, direct with perfect will Without removing our ability To truly love and to be loved by you. You are the true source of tranquility, The good shepherd, trustworthy, steadfast through Every scene of the story. You are The center and the circumference, all- Encompassing and all-surpassing, far Beyond, nearer still. Somehow you still call Our small souls into fellowship and free Our idol eyes to readjust and see.
Death’s shadow looms o’er us, but we fear not,
For with us walks the life, the light, of men,
Sov’reign o’er ev’ry plague, problem, and plot,
Perfect in power, faithful yet again.
You have been with us, will be with us still,
Though days be long and lonely in the land.
We feel the curse. So many are so ill.
God, this is not the future we had planned.
But you are e’er at work, and so we wait.
And we believe (but help our unbelief).
Let faith grow more than worry for our fate.
Let worship be our joy and our relief.
O Lord, you give. O Lord, you take away.
O let your name be blessed by us this day.
I know I ought to be in awe of you,
To walk in holy fear,
For you are far and you are near,
Both present and surpassing all I know.
But as I go,
I often show
Ambivalence or apathy and throw
My heart to fleeting treasures here.
Reform my faith this year
And fill my soul with love for what is true.
Most writing, if not all writing, points to something. A writer works to communicate information, to tell a story, to convey an emotion, or to evoke a response. And while some words stand out as magnificent or beautiful in and of themselves, words possess meanings and point beyond the symbols on a page to ideas, to reality, to truth. Even grammar, the dread of many, serves that end, enhancing and clarifying a writer’s work. Writing, then, acts as an arrow that points beyond itself to something else. We who write don’t want our readers to stop at the wording or formatting on the page; we want them to be led onward to something further up and further in, as Lewis might say.
Christians who write face a challenge, however. The great subject of our writing, even with the reality of his revelation in view, remains ultimately ineffable. His mighty acts in creation are as outskirts and whispers of his power (Job 26:14), and his thoughts and ways are far higher than our own (Isaiah 55:8-9). Our greatest efforts at description fall far short of the fullness of his beauty and holiness and love. We can speak truthfully about God, yet we can never exhaust the words that could be written of him. Scripture thus aptly speaks of the fear of the LORD, the natural response to a proper view of God in his glory. And while God has revealed himself perfectly in Christ, he invites us into an inexhaustible pursuit of knowing him better. God is higher, greater, holier, more lovely, more beautiful, and more glorious than the heights of our understanding can perceive or describe.
Writing, then, becomes an act of worship, done for the glory of God in the name of Christ (1 Corinthians 10:31; Colossians 3:17). We who know God in Christ have tasted and seen the goodness of the LORD and have been changed. We are new creations, ambassadors pursuing the reconciliation of sinners and the Savior (2 Corinthians 5:16-21). We are living sacrifices seeking deeper intimacy with the LORD. And while we may never be able to fully capture the beauty or the glory of God with our writing, we nevertheless point to God with our words, working in such a way that whether we produce poetry or prose, fantasy or nonfiction, our writing reflects life in the LORD and invites readers to look to him. We point to him who is beyond us and yet with us, for he offers life and love and peace for needy souls.
True, our writing may fall short of this goal. We can speak coldly of the all-consuming fire, waxing eloquent about his ways or arguing passionately for right doctrine without love for the Word we’re describing. We can articulate the ways he is transcendent and immanent without considering the implications of those truths for our lives. We can write about him in ways that draw more attention to ourselves than to him. And we can assume mastery of theology, presumptuously writing of God as if we have him fully understood. In short, we can write arrogantly rather than humbly, forgetting our place and forgetting our fear.
While I struggle to live this out, I want every aspect of the writing process to be an act of worship. I want to strive for excellence in my writing because I work as unto the Lord. I want to testify to Christ in my writing because he is the way, the truth, and the life we all desperately need. I want to be attentive to the Spirit in my writing because he knows my heart as well as the hearts of my readers best. I want to glorify the Father in my writing because he is worthy of all I have to offer. Above all, I want to be faithful to the LORD in my writing, pointing to him with every word and mark on the page.
But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.
In spirit and truth.
In response to a question about places of worship, Jesus tells a Samaritan woman of a coming shift in perspective. Soon (indeed, sooner than many of the day realized), true worship would no longer be identified with a specific location, neither at Jerusalem (where the Jews worshiped) nor Mount Gerizim (where the Samaritans worshiped). True worshipers would worship in spirit and truth.
But what does it mean to worship in spirit and truth?