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THE UNQUENCHABLE WORSHIPPERComing Back to the Heart of Worship
By matt redman
RegalCopyright © 2001 Matt Redman
All right reserved.
The Unquenchable Worshipper
Enter the unquenchable worshipper. This world is full of fragile loves-love that abandons, love that fades, love that divorces, love that is self-seeking. But the unquenchable worshipper is different. From a heart so amazed by god and his wonders burns a love that will not be extinguished. It survives any situation and lives through any circumstance. It will not allow itself to be quenched, for that would heap insult on the love it lives in response to.
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These worshippers gather beneath the shadow of the Cross, where an undying devotion took the Son of God to His death. Alive now in the power of His resurrection, they respond to such an outpouring with an unquenchable offering of their own.
The Bible is full of unquenchable worshippers-people who refused to be dampened, discouraged or distracted in their quest to glorify God. I love the heart attitude of the prophet Habakkuk, who decided he would choose to respond to God's worth, no matter how bleak a season he Found himself in:
Though the fig-tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no Food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord, Iwill be joyful in God my Savior (Habakkuk 3:17,18).
In Acts 16, Paul and Silas also resolve to overcome less than Favorable conditions and worship God. Sitting in their jail cell, they could be Forgiven For not being in the mood For singing. They had been unjustly arrested, beaten, severely flogged and thrown into the deepest part of the prison, with their Feet in stocks. Yet, somehow, Paul and Silas Found it in themselves to sing out praise to God. Refusing to let their souls be dampened, they worshipped with everything they had left.
Most off us don't own fig trees and haven't been imprisoned For being Christians, but the principle is the same For us as it was for Habakkuk, Paul and Silas: We can always find a reason to praise. Situations change for better and for worse, but God's worth never changes.
I recently heard the story of Fanny Crosby, the American hymn writer who lived during the nineteenth century. She described a life-changing incident that happened to her as a baby:
When about six weeks old I was taken sick and my eyes grew very weak and those who had charge of me poulticed my eyes. Their lack of knowledge and skill destroyed my sight forever. As I grew older they told me I should never see the faces of my friends, the flowers of the field, the blue of the skies, or the golden beauty of the stars.... Soon I learned what other children possessed, but I made up my mind to store away a little jewel in my heart which I called "Content."
In fact, Fanny Crosby was only eight years old when she wrote this song:
O what a happy soul am I! Although I cannot see, I am resolved that in this world Contented I will be. How many blessings I enjoy, That other people don't. To weep and sigh because I'm blind, I cannot, and I won't.
This contented worshipper went on to write around 8,000 hymns of praise. Those thousands of songs were simply the result of a fire that burned in her heart for Jesus and could not be put out. Someone once asked her, "Fanny, do you wish you had not been blinded?" She replied, in typical style, "Well, the good thing about being blind is that the very first face I'll see will be the face of Jesus."
Many people might have chosen the path of bitterness and complaint as their response to God; but she chose the path of contentment and praise. The choice between these two paths faces us each day, with every situation that's thrown our way. Bitterness dampens and eventually destroys love for God. It eats away at the statement "God is love" and tells us He is not faithful. But contentment does the opposite: It fuels the heart with endless reasons to praise God.
And there are endless reasons to praise Him. I once heard Pete Waterman (of the production team Stock, Aitken and Waterman) talking about love songs in the world of pop music. He cynically suggested that you can write only four songs-"I love you," "I hate you," "Go away," and "Come back." I'm thankful, as someone who writes worship songs, that there's a lot more songwriting material to get your heart into than that! I'll never be able to think, Right, that's God pretty much wrapped up ... what shall I write about next? The brightness of His glory and the wonders of His heart will no doubt have us pouring out new songs for all eternity.
At the end of Song of Songs comes a fantastic declaration of unquenchable worship:
Love is as strong as death, its jealousy unyielding as the grave. It burns like blazing fire, like a mighty flame. Many waters cannot quench love; rivers cannot wash it away (Song of Songs 8:6,7).
Too often my worship is tamed by the complications and struggles of this world. But I long to be in a place where my fire for God cannot be quenched or washed away, even by the mightiest rivers of opposition-I long for a worship that can never be extinguished.
Fire extinguishers work by removing one of the three things needed to keep a fire ablaze: heat, oxygen and fuel. So, in other words, there are three main ways to put a fire out: cool the burning material with water (or some other such substance), cut off the oxygen or cut off the supply of Fuel.
And I think there's a parallel here with our hearts of worship. We long to be a people whose hearts burn for God; but if we're not careful, there are ways we can lose something of that fire.
First, just as water can put a fire out, so too the pressures and the trials of this life can dampen our hearts of worship. It's so easy in a time of hardship to cool off a bit and lose that sense of wonder and trust. We ask why God would let such things happen to us and we wind down our worship, kidding ourselves that we'll start up again when things are better. Or maybe we don't Feel like worshipping anymore, so we don't. I've seen many worshippers thrown off course by difficult situations. But I've also seen people who have endured even more difficult situations and emerged with their hearts of worship burning as strongly as ever, if not stronger.
There is a kind of worshipper who "always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres" (1 Corinthians 13:7), and who gets through the storms of life with a heart still blazing. Sometimes it comes down to a simple choice. We may be hard-pressed on every side, weary and not able to sense God. But then a choice faces us-to fix our eyes on the circumstances or to cling to God and choose to worship Him, even when it hurts. The heart of God loves the offerings of a persevering worshipper. Though overwhelmed by many troubles, they are even more overwhelmed by the beauty of God.
The second way to extinguish a fire is to cut off the oxygen. In worship terms this means to quench the Holy Spirit. It's plain from the Bible that we worship by the Holy Spirit (see Philippians 3:3); but it's also clear that the Holy Spirit can be grieved. Ephesians 4:30 urges us: "Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God." Then it tells us some of the ways not to grieve Him: "Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger" (v. 31). The implications of this are huge.
Take our church services, for example. We talk a lot about Spirit-led worship, but if we truly want to be led by the Holy Spirit, we need to make sure we're keeping in step with Him in our everyday lives. As a worship leader this is a challenging and even scary thought. I need to make sure that I'm making my life an appropriate dwelling place for Him. An unquenchable, burning worshipper needs to be full of the Holy Spirit.
The third way of stopping a fire is to cut off the fuel it thrives on. If you've ever watched TV footage of a forest fire, you may have noticed the firefighters burn or chop away a whole section of forest so that when the fire reaches that place it cannot spread any further.
The revelation of God is the fuel for the fire of our worship. And there is always more fuel for the fire. When we open the eyes of our hearts, God's revelation comes flying at us from so many different angles. He has revealed Himself to us in creation, throughout the history of His people and overwhelmingly at the Cross. And to this day, every breath we breathe is a reminder of our maker, and every hour holds the possibility of living in His presence. We simply need to keep putting ourselves in a place where we're likely to receive this revelation. The heart of worship is fueled by essential things, such as reading God's Word, praying to Him and going to church to share Fellowship together. There are other ways too, such as getting out into nature-the ocean, mountains or just a field-to soak our souls in the wonder of our creator.
Romans 1:20 tells us there's no excuse for those who don't believe, as God has revealed who He is to everyone through all that He has created.
My wife, Beth, and I have just had our first child-a beautiful little daughter called Maisey. I wonder how people could ever deny the existence of God after having witnessed the birth of a baby. The nine months leading up to Maisey's birth were a fascinating time and spoke volumes to us of the wonder of God and His creation. Ultrasound scans gave fantastic insight into her growth and development. How could it be that this tiny baby was living and kicking with its little heart beating inside the body of my wife? How could it be so well formed, with miniature fingernails, at such an early stage? I was amazed at the goodness of God to us, and with the wonder of what He had made. Every little movement and kick I felt when I placed my hand on Beth's stomach was the revelation of God to me.
So often when my worship has dried up, it's because I haven't been fueling the fire. I haven't set aside any time to soak myself under the showers of God's revelation. Often, time is the key factor. But if we can find space to soak ourselves in God's Word, His presence, His creation and spend time with other believers, then we'll find that the revelation floods back into our lives; and our hearts will respond with a blaze of worship once more.
Earlier in this chapter I mentioned worshipping God even in our darkest hour. But that doesn't mean we're to be shiny, happy Christians, living in unreality and not admitting when there are things wrong in our lives. There's definitely a place for brokenness and weeping in worship; but there's a right way and a wrong way to express this.
When we pour out our heart-cries to God, they must not ever become a criticism of who He is. Apparently, about 70 percent of the psalms are laments-in other words, songs of sorrow and crying out. A true lament never challenges or questions the worth of God. Instead, it reveals that His goodness and greatness are the only hope for a bleak situation. Even at our lowest ebb, there should be an underlying trust and, therefore, worship. It's a precious song of praise that can overcome any obstacle and rise from the heart of the troubled believer to the very heart of God. Such songs cry out, "Even in my darkest hour I can still glimpse the brightness of Your worth, and the goodness of Your heart. I am in a desperate state, but no circumstance or trial could ever overshadow You." It is praise that costs, even hurts. But sacrifices often hurt.
The psalms have in fact been described as "praise in the presence and absence of God." In other words, a worship that survives every situation, whether God seems close or nowhere to be found. These laments are deep cries to God from a place of despair. But is that really worship, or is it simply complaining? In one sense, yes, they are complaints. These petitions to God are the worship songs of a broken people. But almost without exception they also display an underlying confidence and trust in God, and so are truly worship. As B. W. Anderson explains, "The laments are really expressions of praise-praise offered in a minor key in the confidence that Yahweh is faithful."
I love Psalm 89 for that reason. At first glance it doesn't look like a lament at all. Starting with the optimistic lyric, "I will sing of the Lord's great love forever" (v. 1), it seems to be the worship song of an untroubled heart. But that isn't the case. When we get to verse 49, we discover the struggle going on in the psalmist's soul: "O Lord, where is your former great love, which in your faithfulness you swore to David?"
Hasn't he just contradicted himself?. Does he seem to thank God for His great love and then wonder where it is? Exactly! At present he cannot see or feel the measure of God's love, yet he knows it to be as real and strong as it ever was. He's a man who has looked over God's track record and found it to be perfect. And so he rises up with an unquenchable song of faith and trust.
Jesus Himself used the words from the psalms of lament as He suffered the cruelty of the cross. In agony of heart, mind, body and spirit, He cried out, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" from Psalm 22:1. It is a cry of torment, yet of strangely submissive devotion. The Son of God then breathes His last with a verse from Psalm 31-another lament psalm: "Into your hands I commit my spirit" (v. 5). Amazingly, at this point of utter torment, Jesus is offering up one of the common worship songs of His day. And in so doing He becomes an inspiration to us. Whatever trials lie ahead in this life, unquenchable worshippers are found with a song of undying worship on their lips.
The Undone Worshipper
In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lifted up, and the train of His robe filled the temple. Above it stood seraphim.... And one cried to another and said, "Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of His glory!" And the posts of the door were shaken by the voice of him who cried out, and the house was filled with smoke. So I said: "Woe is me, for I am undone! Because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King; the Lord of hosts."
Isaiah 6: 1-5, NKJV
Excerpted from THE UNQUENCHABLE WORSHIPPER by matt redman Copyright © 2001 by Matt Redman
Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.