Etched on the grand arch above where we worship together as a church family here at HTR are the following words from Psalm 96:-
“O worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness”
Since arriving at Holy Trinity two months ago with my beautiful wife, Mairi, we have talked about these words together several times. They seem to watch over the church like an angelic reminder, like a prophetic banner as we sing and pray, a sense of the beauty of the presence of the King just a few feet above our heads, covering all we do in unspeakable grace.
But there is more than grace here – there is an invitation for the people of God to worship in a specific way and, ultimately, in a specific state of heart.
A few of us have recently come back from the Worship Central conference in Central Hall near Westminster where there was a whole lot of worship going on, a whole load of loud music and beautiful arrangements, chiseled songs and a desirous cries to know more of God. And I think what happened over the conference pleased Jesus a lot as folk from many Nations joined arms to draw closer to Him.
But Jesus sees through all the PA equipment, the twitter addresses and general bling as He effortlessly knows every single heart in the 1000-strong gathering. (I love the ‘bling’ by the way because it honours God as we do and give our best). But it’s not really what He’s after. He is really after our holiness. He is after our seeing the magnificent beauty of what it means to be holy forerunners of a different Kingdom.
As I consider these words again hanging above where we sit in church, I see more and more this beautiful invitation to delve deeper into a worshipful exploration of what it means to pursue holiness in our lives and to walk across the bridge from our (simultaneously) complete and progressing holiness, in Christ, to the state of awe-struck wonder in His presence so all we can hope to articulate is a heart-felt ‘O’. O! Where words fail us. O! Where our points of previous reference in Him are undone. O! Where our hearts burn to know this holy God-Man, Jesus, in the way where every unholiness in us is thwarted.
There is an enemy to Psalm 96:9 and that enemy is unrighteousness. The enemy of our souls does all he can to distract us and persuade us away from the beauty of holiness into mud-pie slum experiences of Him that are spoilt by compromise and wrong ways of thinking of Him.
In his most-famous essay The Weight of Glory, C.S.Lewis (in one of my favourite quotes) says,
“We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea.”
And it is true. To some extent we are all like this – messing around with mud and grit and grime when we could be handling the gold and precious stones and costly fabrics of His word. We all mess around in rubbish dumps when we could be swimming in the sparkling oceans with sun-kissed faces.
Knowing the desire for the beauty of holiness arise in us is surely a mark of the Spirit of God, but we must pour our hearts out before Him, emptying ourselves as we feel the longing for it emerge. No longer can the church of Jesus Christ be satisfied with the longing for holiness alone, we must say no to other forms of worship in which compromise and half-heartedness endure and shake off the tendency we all have to go our own way. He wants us to soar in worship not limp.
Most ultimately, he won’t relent until He has it all, sings Misty Edwards, and He wont – He wants you to experience the beauty of holiness more than we all do put together and He loves you to the extent that He will take you there eventually even with half-heartedness and ignorance. He will complete the work He started in you (Phil. 1:6). But why wait…? I for one am hungry for the pleasures and experiences, obsessions and ecstasies of a different world, a different Kingdom. And so I say “Yes, Jesus – please let me see the beauty of Your holiness and make me more like You as I worship”.
Jesus promised, ‘Blessed are those hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be filled“. Matthew 5:6
Let us hunger and thirst and let us yearn together in our worship those yearnings that can not be expressed with words. Let us move beyond what has always been into the holiness of how everything will inevitably be.