Apostasy lurks within the church. Trusted spiritual leadership is betraying the faith. Others are playing political power games. Some want to sleep when they should pray.
Confronted with that time of trouble such as never was, what was Christ's reaction en route to Gethsemane? "His voice was heard, not in the strains of some mournful lament, but in the joyful notes of the Passover Hallel: 'O praise the Lord, all ye nations: praise him, all ye people. For his merciful kindness is great toward us: and the truth of the Lord endureth for ever. Praise ye the Lord' (Ps. 117, KJV)." 1
I'm wondering whether we can learn from the example of Jesus about praising God in joyful worship during times of trouble. Yes, the Adventist Church has its problems. Though millions of members remain faithful, liberalism and legalism have made inroads. Many live in lukewarm Laodicea. Political games are played. In such a time as this, what should be the spirit of our worship? Notice what Jesus said shortly before going into the garden of Gethsemane: "In the world you will have tribulation [worldliness, apostasy, heresy, persecution]; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world" (John 16:33).*
Let me quickly clarify that we ought to be concerned and we must speak out about doctrinal compromise and any lowering of lifestyle standards. We should also confront racism, gossip, in tolerance, and any other sin that destroys the loving unity through which Christ will someday reveal Himself to the world. Meanwhile, though we "sigh and cry" (Eze. 9:4) about these abominations, must we let them suffocate our joy in the Lord? No, our witness for Christ should not become primarily an angry testimony against sin. To my own shame, I confess it has taken me a long time to learn this lesson. Now I rejoice that where sin abounds, grace much more abounds (see Rom. 5:20).
Our church has its shortcomings, being comprised of imperfect people like me and like you. But God still reigns on His sovereign throne. Christ has won the victory! So let us rejoice in the Lord. When we get together for worship, let us glory in the God of our salvation! Not just during Sabbath services, but all week long we should be praising Him: "From the rising of the sun to its going down the Lord's name is to be praised" (Ps. 113:3). So we can put down that dismal, critical gossip sheet. We also can turn off that meaningless sportscast. Instead, let's turn up the stereo with some praise music. Some songs express quiet admiration, while others have a heartbeat of joyous exultation. The Bible says: "Oh, clap your hands, all you peoples! Shout to God with the voice of triumph!" (Ps. 47:1).
How much of that rejoicing goes on in your heart, your home, your church? Of course, anything good can go to extremes. Fire needed in a furnace can destroy the house unless it's contained. So with worship; it must stay within the bounds of order, but let it also be kindled with praise to God.
The day of atonement
I confess that I used to be reluctant to really, truly, praise the Lord. I reasoned, There is a judgment going on in this antitypical day of atonement. How dare we delight in the Lord in such a time as this? I pictured myself among the old covenant worshippers as they waited in silence while their high priest ventured into the Holy of Holies. I respected God's law, as we all must, but I failed to rejoice that "grace and truth came through Jesus Christ" (John 1:17).
Then the light of the gospel dawned on me. Under the new covenant, God does not keep us waiting outside the sanctuary. Through Christ He has brought us within the veil, which was torn open at the cross. Now, with the mystery of the gospel fully revealed, we worship joyfully at the throne of grace. In former times, at any moment the Levitical priest could be struck dead, so the faithful had to listen quietly for the pomegranate bells. But our Priest is the living Saviour who triumphed over sin, death, and hell! And something wonderful is happening in heaven since the 1844 pre-Advent judgment began. As the enemy raises accusations against us, we triumph over them through the blood of the Lamb and our joyful testimony (see Rev. 12:11).
Are your members still listening for the pomegranate bells? Does your music reflect medieval uncertainty masked under the guise of reverence? Then lead your people out of the shadows to bask in the sunshine of the cross. Boldly take them into heaven's Most Holy Place so they can rejoice at the celestial mercy seat. Let the word go forth in sermon and in song: Worthy is the Lamb!
Long ago King Jehoshaphat faced a time of trouble. His first reaction was fear. Then, realizing that God was fighting his battle, he inspired the people to celebrate God's salvation: '"Praise the Lord, for His mercy endures forever.' Now when they began to sing and to praise, the Lord set ambushes against the people of Ammon, Moab, and Mount Seir, . . . and they were defeated" (2 Chron. 20:21, 22).
The lesson is clear: Get that praise choir going! Dispense with melancholy purgatory music and burst forth with joy in the Lord. It's high time we quit fret ting about the time of trouble and started trusting God's salvation. No more Waconian images of doomsday the most glorious days of the church are ahead. We can lift up our heads and our hearts our redemption is drawing near!
"Blessed are those who dwell in Your house; they will still be praising You" (Ps. 84:4). An economic boycott? Yes, but we will still be praising Him. A death decree? Yes, and we will still be praising Him. Next comes a small black cloud in the eastern sky. We will still be praising Him. The cloud will get brighter and brighter until the loving face of Jesus appears! We will still be praising Him. The trumpet will sound and the dead in Christ will rise. We will still be praising Him. We who are alive will be changed and caught up in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. We will still be praising Him. Evermore we will be with the Lord, evermore still praising Him!
My friend, since we will be praising God throughout the ages of eternity, why not enjoy some praise music here and now? 2