Engaging With God

Swimmers fear and love the blocks, standing there before a race, waiting to climb that little platform, the brief prelude to the race. There is nervous, expectant anxiety there. And so we all develop little rituals, habitual movements to help calm our nerves—the stretches, arm swinging, and water splashing, performed in the same order, every time. It brings a measure of “known” to the “unknown” of the race about to begin. Engaging with the living God in prayer and personal worship is just as unnerving as a race, even at times more so. What hidden sins will prayerful reflection on God’s word uncover? How will seeing the risen Christ in the Scriptures leave us stunned? What new opportunities to walk in obedience will the Holy Spirit prompt? With these kinds of possibilities facing us every time we come to God in personal devotion (and corporate worship, for that matter) we have the opportunity to develop spiritual, pre-race rituals to prepare us for the blocks of the devotional life. Psalm 25:4-5 provides just such a routine in its five statements.

The first three statements are the same request said three different ways, nuance piling on in each iteration like a snowball that becomes an avalanche. The last two statements are grounding prayers, declarations of fact that provide justification for an answer. And so, Psalm 25:4-5 reads, "Make me to know your ways, O LORD; teach me your paths. Lead me in your truth and teach me, for you are the God of my salvation; for you I wait all the day long."

In our approach to God in worship, we can take David’s first request as our prayer to God, asking that God would reveal his ways to us. This is more than just a request for God to increase our knowledge of Bible facts.  David is asking God to teach him practical wisdom, how the truths of Scripture fit together into the life of a follower of the Lord.

In a second related request, David asks that God would show him his paths, adding an element of journey and trajectory to his first request. The Christian is not static in worship or life. The Christian is an exile, a pilgrim on the journey to final rest, an athlete competing in a race hurtling toward a finish. But we are not left to chart our way, to choose whichever path that fits, or trailblazer on our own. In this journey there is only one way that leads to salvation: the path of the Lord. David is asking that God would teach him that path.

Next, David requests that God would lead him in His truth. The Christian life isn’t wandering in mystical guessing. Nor is the Christian life a scientific discovery of bare facts, shared by different disciplines and religions. The life of the Christian faith is about growth in God’s truth, the unique truth that is God’s personal possession and revealed fully in Christ, truth that he gives specifically and only to his people in the Bible.

Lastly, David closes with two grounding prayers. A grounding prayer is a declaration that follows a prayer request, giving the foundation for an answer, what “grounds” the answer might stand upon. David grounds his three thematically similar prayer requests in a description of God’s posture toward his people and his people’s posture toward him, reciprocal and mutually reinforcing, God the sole and active bestower of salvation, his people, those who expectantly wait on him to act. It is so important to get that right as we start into worship. God initiates in worship, graciously, and because of the finished work of Jesus. We as God’s people are passive and receptive to God’s initiating grace. We don’t perform in personal worship expecting the applause of God. We begin asking that God would act on our behalf, meeting us as we open his word and pray.

In these five prayerful statements, we have a way to approach God in worship. Here is a pre-race, spiritual block routine to calm our worship nerves. If we were to pray these things, paraphrasing on this side of the cross of Christ we might pray:

“Heavenly Father, as I come to you in worship through the finished work of your Son in the power of the Holy Spirit, would you show me your ways in Jesus, that I might walk in step with the Holy Spirit, according to your truth. I’m asking this expectantly as I wait on you because salvation is entirely yours, through Jesus Christ, the only mediator between You and me.”

And then we wait in prayer, in the word of God, for what God does as he engages with his people in worship.

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