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Creativity is a big part of who I am. Making music for God, cooking for friends and family, painting or drawing for the enjoyment of others, building a ramp or piece of furniture, or writing on my blog are all things that I love to do. Something that often goes along with a creative mind is a proclivity to try to do too much, and that leads to a lack of focus. In other words, I am easily distracted.
Are you easily distracted?
Maybe you’re having a conversation with someone and suddenly you realize that you are paying more attention to the squirrel that is scampering around behind them than what they are saying. No? just me?
When someone in front of me gets up and leaves in the middle of church, I lose my focus for the next fifteen minutes. I wonder where they went or if the pastor said something that offended them, and I miss a big chunk of the message because my mind is somewhere else.
Maybe it’s my vanity, but it’s even worse when I’m the one preaching. I wonder what I said to upset them and if they are going to come back. Maybe I should just wrap things up and let everyone leave early.
Adjusting Our Focus
Often times, I don’t even remember what I was distracted by.
When I was just starting college, I hung out in front of one of the girls’ dormitories with my guitar. That’s just what you’re supposed to do at a small Christian college. “Ring by spring or your money back” was the motto. Too bad that wasn’t true, or my finances would look a lot different today.
I met a girl that I found myself drawn to. Sometime later I got a call at my apartment. A few minutes into the conversation, I apologized and told her that I had forgotten her name. Very gracefully, she told me it was Elise, and the conversation didn’t last a whole lot longer than that.
My wife reminded me recently that I didn’t remember her name because I was focused on another girl in front of her dorm. I don’t remember it that way, or even who that other girl was, but I believe her. I know that she is right.
Whether you think you are good at multitasking or not, the fact is that when we are focused on one thing, everything else gets out of focus. Think of your mind like the tabs on an internet browser. Only one tab can be open at a time. Sure, you know what’s on the other tabs, but your focus can only be on the tab that is open.
As I was preparing to speak at church this past weekend, I found it difficult to focus. It was a real struggle for me. My other responsibilities at the church pulled my focus away from what I was studying. My schoolwork was often gnawing at my mind and commandeered my attention. TV shows, dinner prep, family time, bills, and vehicle maintenance were all a part of my week, and those things were all good but I knew I needed to focus on preparing the message.
I was even distracted by the message prep. Let me explain what I mean. I was focused on what I wanted to share, instead of listening to what God wanted to say. I wanted to dig into what worship is, and the literal meaning of the words that we translate as praise and worship. That was just a squirrel that distracted me from what God had originally laid on my heart, and He reminded me of that Saturday morning.
Adjusting Our Posture
Our vision as a church this year is to love well and to grow into the likeness of Christ. If we truly want to lean into that vision, it is important for us to understand what the likeness of Christ is. We need something to focus on. There is one character trait of Jesus that the Lord laid on my heart a year ago. Apparently He still wants me to grow in this area because He is still impressing it on my heart. It is one of the great mysteries of the Kingdom of God. It’s found throughout the Old and New Testaments of the Bible and is the major theme of both the posture and action of worship.
It’s interesting to me how posture portrays an attitude towards someone. Sitting back with your arms crossed makes it look like you don’t care or are judging the words or actions of someone. Leaning into a conversation shows that you are attentive and focused. In a wedding, we stand as the bride enters to show respect and honor to her. In the military the enlisted and lower ranking officers stand at attention when a superior officer enters a room as a sign of respect and honor.
Posture in the Presence of God
What kind of posture should we have when we are reading the Word of God? This weekend, I asked everyone to stand as I read from Philippians as an act of honor, respect, and reverence towards God’s Word.
Adopt the same attitude as that of Christ Jesus, who, existing in the form of God, did not consider equality with God as something to be exploited. Instead he emptied himself by assuming the form of a servant, taking on the likeness of humanity. And when he had come as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient
to the point of death—even to death on a cross.
For this reason God highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow—in heaven and on earth and under the earth—and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.Philippians 2:5-11 (CSB)
Jesus Christ emptied himself by taking on the form of a servant. He modeled humility for us in perfect form, exercising obedience to the Father to the point of death on a cross.
Teaching Along the Way
There is a section in the Gospel written by Mark where Jesus prophesies his own suffering and death three times, but his disciples don’t catch on to what he is trying to teach them. One commentary puts it this way:
Jesus does not explain his mission to his disciples simply to predict future events but to verify for his disciples that what is about to happen fulfills God’s plan. The disciples can understand it only after the fact because this plan runs counter to everything they were conditioned to expect. Lofty visions of majesty fill up their eyes and the noise of cheering crowds plugs up their hearing so that Jesus’ teaching about suffering and death flies in one ear and out the other.1David E. Garland
Each time that Jesus spoke about his death and resurrection to his disciples, He did so in plain language. He didn’t hide it in a parable, but it just didn’t make sense to them. Jesus described to them the ultimate act of his humility, but in their lack of humility, they couldn’t pick up what Jesus was laying down.
Louie Giglio defines humility as “seeing God as he is.”2 That’s the problem that the disciples had that we are looking at today. They had a hard time looking past themselves to see Jesus as he is.
The Context of Mark
Before looking at the three times that Jesus predicts his death and resurrection in Mark, let’s put this section of Mark into context. Mark is the shortest Gospel account. It is written in a fast-paced manner. Jesus is always on the go from one place to another, back and forth across the lake, moving from town to town. The word “immediately” is used liberally throughout the book, but only 4 times across nearly 3 chapters. Three of those instances happen in the account of a single miracle story.
Mark 8:22-10:52 is bookended by two miracles of blind men being healed by Jesus, and in this section the story intentionally slows down. Jesus models The Way for his disciples as they are on their way to Jerusalem. He spells out what it means for him to be the Messiah, but they are blinded by their expectations. And so between these two miracles of Jesus giving sight to the blind are three lessons meant to give sight to his spiritually blind disciples.3
Jesus Says He’s Going to Die
Then he began to teach them that it was necessary for the Son of Man to suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, chief priests, and scribes, be killed, and rise after three days. He spoke openly about this. Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. But turning around and looking at his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan! You are not thinking about God’s concerns but human concerns.”
Calling the crowd along with his disciples, he said to them, “If anyone wants to follow after me, let him deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life because of me and the gospel will save it. For what does it benefit someone to gain the whole world and yet lose his life? What can anyone give in exchange for his life? For whoever is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will also be ashamed of him when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.”Mark 8:31-38 (CSB)
This is the first of three times that Jesus predicts his own death and resurrection in Mark. Just before this interaction, Jesus asked his disciples who do people say he is. Then he asked them who do they say he is. Peter confessed, “You are the Messiah.” This declaration of Peter seems to show that he has a grasp of who Jesus is, but he doesn’t see the full picture yet. He knows that Jesus is the Messiah, but it is evident in his actions that he didn’t understand what it meant to be the Messiah.
Open Mouth, Insert Foot
Peter thought that the Messiah had come to overthrow their oppressors and usher in a new earthly kingdom. He wasn’t the only one who thought this, but he was the only one bold enough to take Jesus aside and tell him that he was wrong.
I did that once. The direction that one of my leaders was taking us frustrated me, so I asked to meet with him. I just had to tell him that he was wrong. Even though I used more tact, that’s basically what I was saying. He didn’t call me Satan or rebuke me in public, but he did use it as a teaching moment to help me grow.
Peter doesn’t see Jesus as He is. Jesus addresses a lack of humility in Peter’s actions with his disciples. Doesn’t it seem a bit strong for Jesus to call Peter “Satan” in that moment? If we dig a little deeper here, His reasoning comes into focus.
Peter’s understanding of Jesus as Messiah was only a partial understanding. The Messiah is a conquering king, destined for honor and glory. He’s not supposed to suffer and die at the hands of men. In rebuking Jesus, Peter was trying to hold Jesus back from the whole reason He came in the first place. Satan tried to tempt Jesus in the wilderness, and was at it again through Peter. In that moment, Peter was more inline with Satan than with the will of God.
So, Jesus rebukes Peter and proceeds to teach a lesson on the cost of discipleship.
Jesus Predicts His Death Again
Then they left that place and made their way through Galilee, but he did not want anyone to know it. For he was teaching his disciples and telling them, “The Son of Man is going to be betrayed into the hands of men. They will kill him, and after he is killed, he will rise three days later.” But they did not understand this statement, and they were afraid to ask him.
They came to Capernaum. When he was in the house, he asked them, “What were you arguing about on the way?” But they were silent, because on the way they had been arguing with one another about who was the greatest. Sitting down, he called the Twelve and said to them, “If anyone wants to be first, he must be last and servant of all.”Mark 9:30-35 (CSB)
This time, Jesus added a detail that he didn’t mention before. He said that he would be betrayed into the hands of the men who would kill him. The disciples didn’t pick up on that though. It says that they didn’t understand and were afraid to ask him about it. Instead of recognizing that Jesus basically just told them that one of them would become a traitor, the disciples were focused on figuring out which one of them was the best.
Anything You Can Do, I Can Do Better
It turns out that the 12 disciples were a competitive bunch of one-uppers. They seem to always be arguing with each other or acting from a prideful attitude. In Mark 8:16, they argued with each other about who had forgotten to bring bread on their trip. Mark 9:14 tells us that they were arguing with the scribes about not being able to cast out a demon. In Mark 9:38 they argued with someone else who had successfully cast out a demon because they thought they were an exclusive club. In Mark 14:4-5, they got annoyed when a woman “wasted” an entire jar of perfume on Jesus’ head. And in Mark 14:29, Peter boasts that he is better than all the others because he won’t fall away even if they do.
Even though they didn’t respond to Jesus’ question, he knew that they were trying to one up each other. Anything you can do; I can do better. Jesus takes this opportunity to teach them another lesson in humility through one of the great mysteries of the Kingdom of God.
”If anyone wants to be first, he must be last and servant of all.”Jesus
To serve someone is an act of humility.
Still Not Getting It
In the following chapter, we see Jesus predict his death and resurrection a third time. Even after the third prediction, the competitive streak among the disciples continued to linger.
Taking the Twelve aside again, he began to tell them the things that would happen to him. “See, we are going up to Jerusalem. The Son of Man will be handed over to the chief priests and the scribes, and they will condemn him to death. Then they will hand him over to the Gentiles, and they will mock him, spit on him, flog him, and kill him, and he will rise after three days.”
James and John, the sons of Zebedee, approached him and said, “Teacher, we want you to do whatever we ask you... Allow us to sit at your right and at your left in your glory.”
Jesus said to them, “You don’t know what you’re asking…”
When the ten disciples heard this, they began to be indignant with James and John. Jesus called them over and said to them, “You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and those in high positions act as tyrants over them. But it is not so among you. On the contrary, whoever wants to become great among you will be your servant, and whoever wants to be first among you will be a slave to all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”Mark 10:32b-45 (CSB)
Third Time is a Charm?
Again, Jesus adds more details to what is going to happen to him. And again, his disciples don’t really listen. They’re more concerned with themselves and they still don’t understand what it truly means to be the Messiah. They don’t see Jesus as He is.
They are jostling for position in the kingdom that they think Jesus is preparing to usher in. Two of them want special privileges as friends of the new king, and so they broach the subject with Jesus. [side-note] How prideful do you have to be to ask Jesus to do whatever you want? Don’t be so quick to judge them though. Selfishness can get the best of anyone. [/side-note] The other 10 disciples get mad at James and John, but not because they understand any better. They were upset because they didn’t think to ask Jesus first and so in their minds, James and John now have an upper hand.
Jesus responds again by teaching humility, and points to himself as the example this time. He didn’t come here to rule as an earthly king and have everyone serve him. He came to serve everyone and die to become the ransom that frees sinners from their bondage.
This is the only time in Mark that Jesus tells his disciples why he must die. That term “ransom” is an interesting choice of words here. Ransom portrays the idea of cost, substitution, and atonement. This cost ties us back to the beginning of this section of Mark.4
What can anyone give in exchange for his life?Mark 8:37 (CSB)
There is nothing that we can give to save ourselves. There is nothing we can do to earn salvation. Only Christ, who lived a perfect life, could be our ransom. And so He humbled himself to the point of death on a cross. And like Philippians 2:10 says
…at the name of Jesus every knee will bow…Philippians 2:10 (CSB)
What an incredible picture of humility. Every knee will bow. Everyone will assume a posture of humility before Jesus Christ. This posture of humility is also the most common posture of worship found in the entire Bible.
Posture of Worship
I’ve been learning Hebrew over the past 7 weeks, and learning how to do word studies in scripture. I looked into the Greek and Hebrew words that are often translated as “worship.”
In Hebrew, חוה (ḥavah) and one of its derivatives, שׁחה (shaḥah), are literally translated as “to be prostrate before” or “to bow down.”5 In Biblical Greek, the word προσκυνέω (proskuneo) literally means “to express in attitude or gesture one’s complete dependence on or submission to a high authority figure, (fall down and) worship, prostrate oneself before, [or] do reverence to.”6
Do you know what it looks like to prostrate oneself before someone?
It is a humbling position to be in. Completely vulnerable.
How often do we respond to God’s presence with this kind of humility? How often does an encounter with him cause us to fall on our faces before him, or even bring us to our knees?
These words are translated as worship more than any other word in scripture. A posture of humility is an important aspect of worship. Whether it’s the attitude of our hearts or physically getting down on the floor before God, worship comes from a posture of humility.
What is Worship?
I think a lot of people have a misconception about what worship is. Have you ever heard these things, or even said or thought them yourself?
- “Worship makes me feel so good.”
- “I really connected with the songs we sang this week.”
- “Worship just didn’t do it for me today.”
- “I wish we’d sing more of the songs I want to sing.”
I posed this question on social media: “What is worship?” Here are a few of the responses:
- “Worship is anything I do as a response to who God is and what He has done.”
- “Worship is what I do to express my love and adoration to God.”
- “Honoring God in all that I do.”
- “True worship is our physical, emotional, and spiritual humble response to the presence of Almighty God, giving Him the reverence and honor He is due. Misplaced worship is when we put anything else before or above Him.”
The first group of statements lean heavily towards self-centeredness and what God can do for me in the moment. They sound more like the worship of self than worship directed towards God. The responses I got on social media reflect humility in the presence of Almighty God.
Worship is More Than Something We Do
It is good to sing of what God has done for us and praise him for what he continues to do in our lives. It is good to sing about the character of God. These things help us to recognize his place high above us and our place at his feet. But sometimes our motives can get skewed and we engage him because we are expecting something from him. To sing for the sake of a good feeling is a misdirected version worship.
Harold Best describes worship as a continuous outpouring. He says that we are not created to worship God. That implies that God is somehow incomplete and needs our worship in order to be complete. Neither are we created for worship, because that would suggest that we can choose to worship or not. Instead, we are created as worshippers.7 Mark Driscoll and Gerry Breshears build on that to say, “…we are continually giving ourselves away or pouring ourselves out for a person, cause, experience, achievement, or status.”8
If we are not pouring ourselves out to God from a place of humility, what are we worshipping? Whatever we value most and give our attention and focus to is that which we worship. Who or what has been the object of your worship this week? Where has your focus been?
A Humble Response
In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord seated on a high and lofty throne, and the hem of his robe filled the temple. Seraphim were standing above him; they each had six wings: with two they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they flew. And one called to another:
Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of Armies; his glory fills the whole earth.
The foundations of the doorways shook at the sound of their voices, and the temple was filled with smoke.
Then I said: Woe is me for I am ruined because I am a man of unclean lips and live among a people of unclean lips, and because my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of Armies.Isaiah 6:1-5 (CSB)
When faced with the presence of the Lord, Isaiah immediately recognized the holiness of God and confessed his sin.
Tim Keller describes sin as the “refusal to find your deepest identity in your relationship and service to God… Most people think of sin primarily as ‘breaking divine rules,’ but… the very first of the Ten Commandments is to ‘have no other gods before me.’ So according to the Bible, the primary way to define sin is not just the doing of bad things, but the making of good things into ultimate things. It is seeking to establish a sense of self by making something else more central to your significance, purpose, and happiness than your relationship to God.”9
Eventually, anything that we put in place of God will crumble under the weight of being god to us.10
Are you in the midst of that today? Turn to Jesus and put him first in your life today. Adjust your focus and adjust your posture.
1 David E. Garland, The NIV Application Commentary: Mark (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996), 325.
2 Louie Giglio, I am not, but I Know I AM (Sisters, OR: Multnomah, 2005), 129.
3 Garland, Mark, 321.
4 Ibid., 413.
5 HALOT, s.v., שׁחה and חוה.
6 BGAD, s.v., προσκυνέω.
7 Harold M. Best, Unceasing Worship: Biblical Perspectives on Worship and the Arts (Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity, 2003), 23.
8 Mark Driscoll and Gerry Breshears, Doctrine: What Christians Should BelieveM (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2010), 339.
9 Timothy Keller, The Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism (New York: Penguin, 2008), 162, emphasis in original.
10 Driscoll, Doctrine, 348.
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