Well, I got up early deliberately, to see Jupiter pass in front of Venus, or was it the other way round? I can’t remember now, nor did I see it. It is not that the sky was not clear but it was that I got distracted by the wonderful teaching of Angus Buchan on TBN. At some point as I listened I realised that what I was hearing actually interested me, thrilled me more than the prospect of seeing a planetary happening, and so I stayed put and listened on.
There was so much about the sermon that I was listening to that was speaking powerfully to me. Hardly surprising, in that it was peppered with direct references to Scripture. The seed of God’s Word fits the soil of the human situation so perfectly – which of course is not the same thing as saying it will always be received. This week has been a week of more than customary weakness for me physically. For reasons I don’t fully understand I have been struggling more than usual with the medical condition I live with at the moment, both its symptoms and the whole raft of medication is has led to, including medication for medication! Activity of any sort has been more limited than I would have liked and to be honest may be so again today. Angus Buchan’s style and personality and drive is not something I would have expected to come to my aid as he is so forthright and so “demanding” in many ways. If you know of him you will know what I mean. Yet, I was helped by what he was saying.
However, it is not what he was saying that I want to share on this occasion. Rather it is what he did at the end of his speaking that I want to share. He was standing on his own farm land as he preached, out in the open air. When he stopped teaching, he simply took off his hat and bared his bowed head, before he prayed. That is what got to me more than anything. That mark of respect for his Heavenly Father. There is so much talk of “Abba Father,” these days. Sometimes much of that talk reduces the status of our Father to the status of being nothing more than our “chum.” I found it refreshing to see in Angus, a child of God secure in the joy of His Heavenly Father’s love showing the Father an outward sign of a deep inner respect. In fact it stunned me into a fresh awareness of the greatness of God.
“If I am a Father… where is the respect due to me?” (Malachi 1 verse 6.)
What I felt as I saw that simple taking off of a hat reminded me of another preacher not long ago, the epitome of up to date fashion in dress and presentation who said that he liked using the words “Thee and Thou’” when praying to His Heavenly Father in private. Now there is no linguistic rationalisation nowadays for claiming such words are more respectful than using the word “You.” For that preacher however, “Thee” and “Thou” was one way of showing His Heavenly Father due honour and respect. I am not mentioning his name as I think his teaching is fundamentally not sound. Despite my opinion and belief on that score, I have no difficulty in believing in the humility of his heart before his heavenly Father.
As I write I remember a mistake I made in the culture of another country. I was speaking to a group of pastors there and thought nothing of putting my bible on the floor beneath my seat when I first came in to the gathering and say down. The gracious and kind but courageous bishop in charge of the gathering, picked it up and put it on my lap explaining that in his culture to put a bible on the floor was to show it huge disrespect. You live and learn. For myself, in the church culture I mix with most, i would still think nothing of putting my bible down on the floor in a meeting as it would not trouble anyone, but I love the idea of not putting the bible on the floor as a sign of respect as well.
Oh I know that obedience is a much more important way of honouring and respecting God our Father than any of these outer things and yet, I felt strangely drawn to ask you this question. In an age when a casual sort of approach to God seems to be the essential mark of security with the Father, are there any outward signs of humble respect and honour towards Him that are important to you? It might be a physical sign, a verbal sign, or some other sort of sign. They may not be a law you would impose on anyone else but for you they are meaningful. Don’t throw them away under the growing tyranny of demand that we be “cool” and “casual.” Yes, we can pray and chew gum at the same time, but we don’t have to if we don’t want to, or if it does not sit comfortably with us. Don’t alter “ signs of respect” that are meaningful to you, unless it is to replace them with another outward sign of respect that seems to fulfil that purpose better for you.
On holiday in Fife not long ago, I found myself bowing my head and simply praying after the benediction. I felt a sudden pang of pain and joy as I did so, asI realised that was a habit I had lost somewhere along the way: perhaps in the rush for the “ministry time” or the obligatory cup of tea or coffee that seems to be increasingly all pervasive at the end of every Christian meeting.
In the face of the increasing use of a not fully biblical soundbite, “Christianity is not a religion it is a relationship,” there is a place for meaningful ritual, whether personal or corporate, private or public. Appearing cool and casual may not always be a sign we are secure with the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. It may be a sign we have neither seen Him nor known Him, but are worshipping a projection of the spirit of the age.
Remember, it is not a law… but maybe today at the end of Morning or Evening worship with your church family you could bow your head and pray briefly before the rush for the coffee. That silent moment may be meaningful for you and indeed for others who might happen to notice.