Meaning / Worship
Praise the LORD. Sing to the LORD a new song, his praise in the assembly of his faithful people. Let Israel rejoice in their Maker; let the people of Zion be glad in their King. Let them praise his name with dancing and make music to him with timbrel and harp. For the LORD takes delight in his people; he crowns the humble with victory. Let his faithful people rejoice in this honor and sing for joy on their beds.
That’s Psalm 149:1-5, and its theme is praise and worship—which just so happens to be the theme of the entire Bible, from Genesis to Revelation.
The Word tells the story of God and the story of people encountering God. Sometimes we honor God, and sometimes we dishonor God. It’s not God who is changing across those thousands of years—it’s us! Throughout every change, God continually and lovingly calls his children back to worship him.
Why? Because God deserves it, and because it is through worship we discover ourselves. In the Ten Commandments, the first thing God tells us is that we should not worship anything other than God. Because he created us, God knows how prone we are to do exactly that.
We’re not just tempted to worship bad stuff either. Like, it’s obviously wrong to exploit the poor because we worship profit. But we even worship good stuff! We have a tendency to take good things and make them the most important things . . . which makes them bad things. Not bad because they’re inherently bad, but because they take the place of God.
And worshiping anything that takes the place of God ruins our quest for meaning.
Connection / Prayer
This might sound counterintuitive, but our need for connection in general is truly satisfied only when we are connected specifically to God. And that requires prayer.
Because of how we’ve been designed, a private relationship is what meets our longing to be connected. Because the longing inside our longing is actually a need for spiritual connection. That need is part of what makes us human. And it’s more than just a natural need: It’s a God-given need.
There are two reasons for that. One, God knows our lives will be more fulfilling, more filled with love, more exciting and challenging, if we live them alongside other people. And two, God knows that living alongside other people, in community, is the best way to point us to our need for spiritual connection.
Remember, as we look at the art of living, what we’re trying to do is find the way to live that’s hiding beneath the way we’re living.
We live upward, we live inward, and we live outward—simultaneously. We get that from Jesus’ greatest commandment. And while it’s tempting to focus inward (on ourselves) or outward (on what everyone else needs), we must begin upward. That’s the foundation. That’s what drives everything else.
Honesty / Reflection
When we know who we really are, and who we’re really following, and why, God’s judgment holds no terror. God is working in us, growing us, changing us, and loving us without limit. If we follow him, we can’t be afraid to come before him because we know we’re safe in his love, all because of Jesus.
God isn’t surprised about or scared of you right now because he already knows you and loves you. God will never leave you or forsake you. Anything—anything—you’re suffering isn’t worthy of comparison with the eternal joy set before you.
That’s why we can be honest. That’s why we can practice reflection. No matter how bad your batting average is as a Christian, it’s never too late. If you’ve struck out over and over, and you can’t even foul off a single pitch, come to God right now and say, “Jesus, do a work in me. I want to follow you. I want honesty, and I need grace.”
if you say that to God, with all your heart, you’re going to hit it out of the park, and Jesus is going to be high-fiving you as you come around third, okay? When we see ourselves reflected in Jesus, honestly, we’re exactly where God wants us. Completely vulnerable. Filled to the brim with hope.
Self-control / Fasting
It’s easy to see how the food part of that works. The less we eat, the more there is for others. A person can fast from lunch every day for a month and keep that food in their pantry, right? But that person can also share that food with people who are hungry! The connection is just as strong with nonfood fasting. The less we use our words to cause bitterness and strife, the more grace and forgiveness can enter broken lives. The less we watch reruns of Seinfeld late at night, the more we can pray and intercede for others.
You’ve been put into this world in the name of Jesus so that the world may be changed by the presence of Jesus in you. Good old-fashioned willpower has a decent chance of getting you the American dream or at least a taste of it. God’s dream for us is infinitely bigger than the American dream. It takes much more than willpower. It takes Spirit power.
If we want to have maximum impact, we can’t be content to “use some willpower” every so often when we need to get things done. Instead, we need to tell God we want to learn the self-control that’s waiting for us. Let’s not allow our religion to get in the way of what God wants to do inside us, through fasting. And whatever God wants to do, it will benefit us, and those around us, in amazing ways.
Fasting is stepping off the moment and stepping into eternity. What would happen if, through fasting, you stepped into the plans and purposes that God has for you?
Justice / Service
The main reason people don’t follow Jesus is because they don’t see the people of Jesus serving the way Jesus served. They see us worried about haircuts and dancing instead of healing sick people and creating meaningful jobs. Empowered by God’s Spirit, let’s dare to start serving. We’ll make mistakes, yes, but we’ll be asking questions along the way—and we’ll be avoiding the worse mistake of keeping to ourselves, in isolation.
The reason the world isn’t more livable and just is that God’s people go to church instead of being the church. Matthew 20:26-28 says, “Whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave—just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
If you want to be great, be a servant. That’s the way of Jesus. Jesus didn’t come to be served, but to serve others. It fits right in with the movement of the greatest commandment. Upward, inward, outward. We start with God’s creative and proactive love. Then we see ourselves rightly—not as superheroes, but as people changed by Jesus.
And then, empowered by the Spirit, we go into the world, in the name of Jesus. Let’s be motivated by what the Lord requires: that we do justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with God. And let’s be inspired, because when we do those things, we find that a life of service is the life we’ve been longing for.
Compassion / Generosity
We are an extension of God in the world. We are the church, the family of God. The generous community of God. Yes, we fail. Yes, we sin. But that does not define us. We are defined by the abundant, amazing, surprising blessing of God. God has blessed us so that we can bless others. Upward, inward, and now outward. God’s Word tells us that all the nations of earth will be blessed because the church declares that God is the King of kings and walks in the way of Jesus. It’s not just proclamation but also demonstration.
The upside-down reality of Jesus spirituality is that the more we give in God’s name, the more we’re filled by God’s grace. We can’t out-give God. We can always choose to give generously. And when God continually refills and replenishes us with his grace, we don’t need to hoard or cling to anything.
The absolute last thing we want is to live lives devoid of impact, of purpose, of difference making. There is zero point, Jesus reminds us, if we get everything we want in this life, only to lose our souls. And the way to save our souls—to find ourselves—is to act as the hands and feet and mouth of Jesus in the world. All through God’s provision.
That’s a legacy of generous grace and goodness we will never regret.