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Don’t Come to Worship Empty Handed

 

    I have an amazing cat named Lizzy Belle Watkins (a name truly fitting for this rascal cat). Every night as I prepare to retire for the day I go into my bathroom to brush my teeth, take medications, etc. As I leave the bathroom there she waits, stationed on our bed, head tilted slightly, patiently watching the bathroom door for any signs of movement. You see, I keep some ‘treats” in the bathroom so I can spoil her one last time as I lay down to sleep, (I know, I know, she’s rotten! I can’t help myself, she’s so cute).

    Too often I’ll forget and walk around the corner and suddenly see her waiting there on the bed. Whoops! I’d better not come out of that bathroom without her “nightcap” in tow or else! I almost never let her down. After all she is the “queen” of the house. She demands her rightful allegiance and regal respect! In her mind, this final offering of the day is deserved by her elevated station and feline royalty status.

    Not too long ago I came across this bible passage warning the men of Israel about not coming before the Lord empty handed. It got me thinking about this silly cat ritual I’m in.  So… after some reflection; here are some insights. Hear now the word of the Lord:

“Three times a year all your males shall appear before the LORD your God in the place which He chooses: at the Feast of Unleavened Bread, at the Feast of Weeks, and at the Feast of Tabernacles; and they shall not appear before the LORD empty-handed. (my emphasis) Deuteronomy 16:16.

     Our God is an “awesome” God I thought, who is fully deserving of our worship, reverence, awe, and tribute. Had I ever considered entering His presence empty handed? Did I intentionally bring my own gifts/offerings and attitudes that are deserving of His greatness, majesty, and authority?

    To be sure this was an important feast for God’s people and not weekly worship, but for my emphasis here, God commanded the men to come before Him and never empty handed. By contrast I was suddenly struck by my own overt casualness in the way I (and possibly many in the CHURCH) have grown accustomed to in approaching our God each Sunday!  “Exactly what “gifts and offerings” did I come before the King with as a gesture of honor and reverence to His authority?”

    After some more reflection, I concluded it was time for a thorough re-examination of my worship attitudes and actions. Consider these observations on the matter with me.         

    To begin with, the thought of coming before the Lord with gifts and treasures isn’t so farfetched. Heck, we’ve even done this in our own families and culture for years. Growing up in the south I remember my parents would plan to go visit a special friend or family member and would often take “something of value” like a tasty homemade dish, or maybe something handmade like a quilt, or knitting, or a trinket, or fruit, etc. As we arrived and quickly got past all the introductions, out would come the gifts presented to “bless and honor our hosts”. This seemed to take the visit to a deeper level of closeness and community. The hosts were always gracious and thankful to receive the gifts. More importantly, by offering these gifts to our hosts we demonstrated our tangible value of them. Our gifts demonstrated qualities of humility, kindness, and respect for our hosts. (BTW I think this is a wonderful tradition and I surely hope it isn’t lost in this new generation of friends and family.)

        Of course, going back further in history we recount that in ancient cultures, it (a gift or present) was expected for anyone coming before a king or royalty. The expectation was to have something valuable “in hand” to present to pay proper respect and to demonstrate humility. No one in those days would dare think of approaching an all-powerful king or monarch emptyhanded. Why? Because the king had ultimate power and could either bless you or in the extreme have your head summarily removed.

     So with this in mind let’s move onto the present state of worship in our churches. Where are we today in our understanding on this matter of coming into His presence “empty handed”? How humbled are we when we think about appearing before His awesome presence? Isn’t our Sovereign God the God of life and death and all things related to His glorious creation? (FYI -The answer is YES) 

    As I thought about this truth I surveyed what things or spiritual essence/reverence do I bring as I present myself before my God and King each Sunday?

Here’s where this revelation has brought me to thus far:

    For some time now I have committed to bring a cash gift (or online gift) as an act of respect and worship. It can be any amount, the difference now being, I bring these gifts even on the weeks when I hadn’t received a paycheck or had any increase/income which is different from my previous norm. The new norm would be to enter each time with an appropriate offering. Upon further consideration of this practice, I was quickened by the Spirit that bringing a monetary gift only was a good start, but for the sake of true biblical worship, what about also bringing other things of a spiritual value or nature?

    Suddenly I realized I needed to bring some other important things as I came before Him. Things like deeds of kindness, especially done for those who couldn’t repay me, a hospital visit, a phone call to a widow for encouragement, clothing to Good Will, etc. And further, how about bringing my fervent prayers for others, my personal worship and praise (outside the church) fasting, and other like things to the One deserving of all our reverence praise. Aren’t these type offerings the kind truly sought by the King of Kings? Isn’t this what “lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven” was saying?

    Ultimately this journey has led me to a more sensitive place in my walk with the Lord. I see Him more clearly now as an All-Powerful King and deserving of true reverence from all people. So now I’ve come to a place in my life where I would not even consider coming before Him empty handed but only with hands and a heart over-flowing with gratitude, and works keeping with genuine repentance and faith.

           Of course, this idea has its own pitfalls. This attitude can too easily become a works based type of worship (like, here’s my 10% aren’t you blessed and impressed Lord?) We might even become pharisaical in our thinking imagining any of our works are “worthy offerings.” It’s too easy to become prideful and works oriented in our worship; just ask the Pharisees. Brethren all our (my) works are filthy rags before His utter holiness so let’s keep a realistic perspective and remain humble. To avoid this prideful attitude, I remain ever thankful and centered on God’s free and undeserved gift of grace in my life. I’m a saint; I was once lost and condemned before God yet save by amazing grace through Jesus Christ! How much of a debtor to His grace am I?

     So how do we approach God in worship? Empty handed? Not me anymore!   So, what about you? No money you say, things are tight? That’s OK too, freely offer to serve in the nursery or somewhere with critical ministry needs, a job no one else wants. Bring Him your heart, and your submissive will, He’ll direct your paths to kingdom service. Try to commit to bring even the smallest amount to worship, like the widow’s mite. Bring your best joined with a heart of faith and let true worship begin.

     What will you and I bring as we step into the presence of the King of Kings and Lord of Lords? Our brokenness, our obedience, our gifts, our prayers, and our works of service and charity? Never forget, when bringing little or much, all true worship is in its essence giving to God. So give to God and honor His great NAME.  It will change your walk, I promise!

 

Richard B. Steele is free-lancing artist, arranger/composer.

He is a full-time Pastor and Minister of Music and has been published in the Church Musician (SBC)

June 15, 2017