Saturday, February 14, 2009

Love and Self-Denial

I haven't been able to write the follow-up for the previous post on bitterness...in fact, I haven't been able to write much of anything at all. Writer’s block happens. But I couldn’t let Valentine’s Day go by without posting something with a God-centered love theme. As usual, I found good stuff to chew on from G. H. Morrison this morning, and I wanted to share it with you. (All emphasis added by me. Some content edited out because of length.)

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Bring an offering, and come into his courts. Ps. 96:8

Heart Cross by ba1969

During worship there are certain demands made of every worshipper. There are certain elements which must be present if the worship is to be in spirit and in truth. There is, for instance, the attitude of thanksgiving for the goodness of God to us from day to day. There is the sense of spiritual need and the knowledge that none but God can meet that need. There is the sense of indebtedness to Christ who loved us and gave Himself for us, in whose death is our only hope and in whose Spirit is our only strength. All these attitudes must meet and mingle if our worship is to be really worship. Without them, a man may come to church and go away no better than he came.

But there is another attitude, not less important yet which is very frequently ignored, and that is the attitude of self-sacrifice. We all know that worship calls for praise, but we must remember it also calls for self-denial.

Love Offerings

To begin with, that element of sacrifice is seen in the matter of the money offerings. "Bring an offering, and come into his courts." No Jew came to his worship empty-handed. To give of his means was part of his devotions. Of the thirteen boxes in the Temple treasury, four were for the free-will offerings of the people. And this fine spirit of ancient worship passed over into the worship of the Church and was enormously deepened and intensified by the new thought of the sacrifice of Christ. "Thanks be unto God for His unspeakable gift"—that was the mainspring of Christian liberality. It was the glowing thought of all that Christ had given which motivated the poorest to be givers too.

Now while all such offerings were acceptable to God and while all brought a blessing to the giver, yet from earliest times it was felt by spiritual men that the true offertory must touch on self-denial. You remember the abhorrence of King David against offering to God that which had cost him nothing. And we have read of Jesus Christ and of His opinion of the widow's mite and of all the riches that He found in that because there was self-denial in her giving. Brethren, that is the mark of Christian giving. It reaches over into self-denial. I do not think we give in the spirit of Jesus until like Him we touch on self-denial, until His love constrains us to some sacrifice as it constrained Him to the sacrifice of all.

Let us then seriously ask ourselves—have we been giving to the point of sacrifice? Have we ever denied ourselves of anything that we might bring an offering and come into His courts? It is only thus that giving is a joy, only thus it brings us nearer Christ, only thus is it a means of grace as spiritual and as strengthening as prayer.

The Truest Offering Is in the Heart

Think in the first place of the case of David, a man who had been trained in ritual worship. You may be sure that from his earliest years he had never worshipped with that which cost him nothing. He had brought his offering, and he had paid for it, and he had denied himself that he might pay for it. The God whom he had found when he was shepherding was not a God to be worshipped cheaply. And then there came his kingship and his fall and the terrible havoc of his kingly character, and David found that all the blood of goats could not make him a true worshipper again. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit—a broken and a contrite heart. Let him give his kingdom for an offering, and he would not be an acceptable worshipper. He must give himself—he must deny his lusts—he must lay aside his pride and be repentant, or all his worship would be mockery and the sanctuary a barren place for him.

Christ's Teaching on Sacrifice

Now turn to David's greater Son, and listen to the words of Christ Himself. He is speaking in the Sermon on the Mount about bringing the offering to the altar: "Therefore, if thou bring thy gift to the altar and there rememberest that thy brother hath aught against thee, leave there thy gift before the altar and go thy way. First be reconciled to thy brother and then come and offer thy gift." Now note that Jesus is talking about worship. His theme is not the patching up of quarrels. He is teaching us what attitudes are needed if we are to worship God in spirit and in truth. And not only does He insist on giving—He takes that, we may say, for granted—but He insists that at the back of every gift there should be the self-denial of the heart. It is far easier to give up a coin than it is to give up a quarrel. It is easier to lay down a generous offering than to lay down a long-continued grudge. And Jesus Christ insists that if worship is to be acceptable to God, the worshipper must lay aside his pride and humble himself as a little child. That is not easy—it never can be easy. That is far from natural to man. It is hard to do and bitter and opposed to natural inclination. And it calls for patience and interior sacrifice and prayerful, if secret, self-denial; and only thus, according to the Master, can one hope to be an acceptable worshipper.

Who, then, is sufficient for these things? That is just what I want to impress upon you, that worship is not easy; it is hard. It is not just a comfortable hour on Sunday with beautiful music and a fluent preacher; it is an attitude of heart and soul that is impossible without self-denial. I thank God that in the purest worship there is little demand upon the intellect. The humblest saint who cannot write a word may experience all the blessings of the service. But there is a demand upon the soul; there is a call to sacrifice and cross-bearing, for the road to church is like the road to heaven—it lies past the shadow of the cross.

Worship and Fellowship

In public worship we are not simply hearers; we are a fellowship of Christian people. You may go to a lecture just to hear the lecturer or to the theater just to see a play. It doesn't matter who is there beside you. Not one of them would do a hand's turn for you or seek to help you if you were in difficulty or visit you if you were sick. At the theater there is an audience, but not so in the church. In any sanctuary that is blessed by the presence of the Lord, it is a fellowship of men and women bound together by their common faith and loving one another in Christ Jesus.

Now, in every fellowship must not there be a certain element of sacrifice? Isn't it so in the home, if home is to be more than a mockery? And it must also be so in the fellowship of worship… a constant willingness to forgo a little for the sake of others for whom Christ has died. The young have their rights, but they should not insist on them when they know it would vex and irritate the old. The old have their claims, but for the sake of the young, they will accept what may not appeal to them. And when a hymn is sung or the word is preached which seems to have no message for one worshipper, that worshipper will always bear in mind that for someone else that is the word in season. All that is of the essence of true worship and calls for a little sacrifice. A happy home is impossible without it, and so also a happy congregation. A tender regard for others by our side, with the denial that is involved in that, is an integral part of public worship.

Our Approach to God

The same truth is still more evident when we think of worship as our approach to God by the new and living way of Jesus Christ. Now it is true that we were made for God and that in Him we live and move and have our being. Yet such is the immersion in the world even of the most prayerful and most watchful that the approach to God with the whole heart demands a concentrated effort. Of course, we may come to church and be in church and never know the reality of worship. We may think our thoughts and dream our dreams and in spirit be a thousand miles away. But to quietly reject intruding thoughts and give ourselves to prayer and praise and reading is not always easy, and for some it is incredibly hard. If there were anything to rivet our attention, that would make all the difference in the world. In a theater we can forget ourselves, absorbed in the excitement of the play. But the church of the living God is not a theater, and in the day when it becomes theatrical, in that day its worship will be gone. If we want to wander, we can always wander. There is nothing here to rivet our attention. There are only a few hymns and a quiet prayer and the simple reading and expounding of Scripture. And it is for each one of us to make the needed effort and shut the gates and withdraw ourselves, and through that very effort comes the blessedness of the public worship of God in Jesus Christ. It is thus that worship becomes a heavenly feast—when we discipline our will to it. It is thus that worship becomes a means of grace in a hard-driven and hectic week. If it is to be a blessing, we must deny ourselves and take up our cross; we must bring an offering of sacrifice and come into His courts.

G.H. Morrison

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On this day when we celebrate love, let’s remember to love our Lord as He deserves. Then love for others will naturally overflow.

7 comments:

Sherri Ward said...

Thanks for sharing this Betsy. I am blessed and enriched by it. What helps me most is knowing that if I worship God through the week, finding Him at church is not so very hard to do.

conarnold said...

Thank you for this! Loving the Lord first through giving thanks and worshipping helps us to love ourselves and others too.

elaine @ peace for the journey said...

This comes on a good day for reflecting. I struggled going in to church this morning. My pride for having things being done my way got in the way...again. But there was a shift that occurred somewhere in the 3rd song or so. I closed my eyes and began to focus on the cross. I'm too easily distracted by my surroundings. Before the song had finsihed, tears were flowing from my eyes, and I felt that I was truly worshipping God.

Thinking on Him...pondering Him. That's the real deal about worship. Not seeing what I can "get" from him, but rather brining all that I can give to him. I think, in the end, what he's after is my attention...my heart.

Wonderful thoughts, Betsy, per usual.

peace~elaine

LauraLee Shaw said...

Oh, wow, powerful. We don't come to worship, we come worshipping. Amen.

Jennifer Hudson Taylor said...

Great post and some wonderful insights.

Esthermay said...

Never let it be heard that a *pastor's wife* said this, but as your post so thoroughly points out, worship entails SO much!
. . . The personal time in God's Word and the personal time in worship is by FAR more important than corporate worship (If you call what many churches do today "worship.")
When you get together a bunch of "Christians" with no substance in their own lives, can you truly call it fellowship?? (It's just socializing . . . we all know it. It's what churches do anymore.)
Fellowship and true worship must start with private worship-- then the corporate church experience is GLORIOUSLY more worthwhile. I would never negate corporate worship, but you need a base on which to worship. Ya' gotta' understand what your doing!!!
Good Post - writer's block or not.
:-)

Carmen said...

Betsy,
Thank you for your kind comment @ the cafe! I pray your day is filled with His richest blessings.

shalom aleichem!

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