Seven Words of Worship: Response

Text: 2 Chronicles 20:1-23

How is your trust meter these days? Things are not looking too bright through the lenses of news sources. Eight days ago, the US suffered its largest single loss of life in Afghanistan since the war there began at the end of 2001. Thirty of our nation’s warriors from three branches of our services were killed in one helicopter attack. Seventeen of those were of the elite Navy SEALs, and fifteen of those SEALs belonged to the same unit that killed Osama bin Laden.

Economically, the news is nearly as terrible. After months of bickering back and forth, our legislature finally passed a meager compromise to raise the nation’s debt ceiling and avoid a potentially catastrophic default on our obligations. However, one agency that rates those kinds of things for investors found the action uncompelling and proceeded to lower the ratings on the nation’s bonds by one notch, with promises for further reductions if more changes and corrections are not made. Following that, this past week has seen dramatic fluctuations in the value of the Dow Jones Industrial Average, from Monday’s drop of 635 points to intervening rises. Back and forth it went throughout the week, first erasing and then reclaiming wealth values that measured in trillions of dollars at a time.

On Friday, the United States Postal Service joined a growing litany of companies seeking to shrink their workforce. The USPS hopes to garner congressional approval to dismiss one out of every five of its employees, over 120,000 in total. Across the ocean, the death of a man at the hands of police has led to a week’s worth of rioting in the city that plans to host the Summer Olympic Games just next year. The mood in the rest of Europe remains tense as economic problems in Greece, Italy, Spain, Portugal, and Ireland threaten livelihoods across the continent and around the world. While we clamor for rain for our gardens, Texas is suffering its worst drought on record, with whole lakes drying up. And in the Horn of Africa, in Somalia in particular, people – many of them children – are dying every day of starvation in a famine that shows no signs of letting up.

And that’s just the news this week. So, I ask again, how is your trust meter? Some periods and times make trusting easier than others. As the United States edges ever nearer to a double dip recession, virtually everyone agrees that we face the worst hardship we have known since the Great Depression of the 1930s, which only the gear up for World War II finally ended. One story I read in passing this week said that people in general are coming to firmly believe that fundamental life in the United States is permanently altered, such that we can no longer continue to expect the same level and kind of prosperity and growth that have allowed us to dominate the world as its Superpower. Some are even beginning to suggest that the next generation will be the first in our country’s history whose longevity and prosperity will be worse than its predecessors.

Before September 2008, trust – especially financially – was a lot easier. September 2008 was when Lehmen Brothers collapsed, unveiling the worst of America’s mortgage and other financial problems. Before September 2001, trust was nearly nonchalant and assumed. The events of 9/11 permanently altered much about our way of life. Trust was easy in the 1990s when our gravest problems involved whether or not the president lied about his personal life. Life was good, and we were enjoying everything that a great boom and bull market bring. Not so for the last three or four years. There has been a grave shift in an unappetizing direction.

It’s hard to keep your money in a market that can’t decide whether it wants to go up – and way up – or down – and way down. It’s hard to send children to school when stories of lone gunmen on the rampage come across the headlines so frequently. It’s hard to pursue passions and dreams when jobs and paychecks are so scarce. Again I ask, how is your trust meter? When so much would cause us to shake in our boots, what is there to keep us grounded, persevering, trusting, even thriving?

Things certainly looked dire for King Jehoshaphat and the people of the southern Kingdom of Judah. Jehoshaphat was the fourth king of the southern Kingdom, the great-great-great-grandson of King David. Jehoshaphat and his father, Asa, both stand out as some of the good kings that Chronicles is able to recount. Neither was perfect, but they both sought to bring the people away from the Asherah poles, Baals, and high places of worship that were rampant in the northern kingdom of Israel and direct them instead to the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and David, who had so carefully cared for the people and brought them into the Promised Land.

In 2 Chronicles 19:4, Scripture tells how Jehoshaphat went all through the kingdom, seeking to bring his people back to God. And in 2 Chronicles 20, that desire to follow God was severely tested. A great multitude from the region of Edom was coming to fight against Judah and Jehoshaphat. So great was the multitude that Jehoshaphat was afraid. Fear can either embolden or paralyze. While we don’t face a huge army looming to fight against us, we certainly have plenty of things going on in our world today that can cause us to be afraid. What do we do with it? Do we become emboldened to do more, better, and greater? Or do we stand, paralyzed in our fear? What does our fear lead us to do? How does it affect our Trust Meter?

Jehoshaphat makes a surprising choice in the midst of his fear. The Chronicler says that “he set his face to seek the LORD…and Judah assembled to seek help from the LORD.” An army was marching against them, and the first thing that the people dis was to seek the face of the LORD. Was this response surprising to you as it was to me? Like Jehoshaphat, seeking the Lord’s face is precisely what any believer needs to do when confronting desperate circumstances. It is too easy to strike out on our own, forge our own alliances, and attempt to fight our own way out. Jehoshaphat knew better. Earlier, he had made an alliance with Ahab, the king of Israel, and Jehoshaphat had seen Ahab killed in battle because he did not abide by the Lord’s counsel.

Together with all the people, Jehoshaphat prayed to God, seeking His face as the army of their enemies marched ever closer. In the prayer, the king reminded God of the things He had done to bring the people into the land. The king reminded God of the people who had lived there previously that were driven out to make room for Abraham’s descendants. He reminded God of the people’s work to provide and build a temple for God during the reigns of David and Solomon. He reminded God that the people were standing at that temple that very day in order to cry out to Him in their affliction that He might hear them praying and save them. And in the end the king made this most startling confession: “We do not know what to do, but our eyes are on you.”

In the midst of crisis, the thing we most certainly do not want to do is to admit that we don’t know what to do. We like to have control. We like to be in charge. We like to have a plan and execute it. At the very least, we like to look composed and in control of our lives. Here, Jehoshaphat abandons those pretenses. He knows that there is nothing that he or his people can do in face of such an onslaught of enemies. God must act. That is Judah’s only hope.

God immediately responded to Jehoshaphat and his people through the voice of a prophet, Jahaziel. God promised that He would indeed guard and protect His people. He promised them in verse 17, “Stand firm, hold your position, and see the salvation of the LORD on your behalf.” That’s the boost for their Trust Meter. That same promise is the boost for our Trust Meters, too.

With this promise of salvation from their troubles comes the great response of the king and his people, a response we can all learn from. Verse 18, “Then Jehoshaphat bowed his head with his face to the ground, and all Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem fell down before the LORD, worshiping the LORD.” The great musicians of the Levites, from the clans of the Kohathites and the Korahites, stood up and praised God “with a very loud voice.”

God’s mere promise of salvation elicited this response: worship. Just the promise of it was enough to bring the king to prostrate himself on the ground. God promises us that He will never leave us or forsake us. Never. What kind of response does the promise of God’s continued presence elicit from us? Jehoshaphat and his people understood something that I fear we have lost. Seeking and worshiping God are always primary responses, never secondary. They are our go-to weapons of first defense. Not the last resort that we often make them. “Seek me and you will find me when you seek me with all your heart,” so God promised through Jeremiah. Ask and you will receive, seek and you will find, knock and the door will be opened, so Jesus taught us.

In these troubling times, in your darkest nights, how often have you prostrated yourself, like Jehoshaphat, flat on the floor? How often have you turned on your favorite songs of worship and sung along with them? How many times have you flipped through the 150 Psalms we have in Scripture to find the one that best expresses your fears and hopes and praise?

When the army of Judah set out to meet their enemies from Ammon and Moab and other places, they were led out first with those hand chosen, arrayed in holy attire, picked especially “to sing to the Lord and praise Him” with the words, “Give thanks to the LORD, for His steadfast love endures forever.” The primary weapon of Jehoshaphat and the army of Judah? It was worship. They were to let God fight their battle. And as those chosen people were singing those words, God fought for Judah without one of their arrows spent or one of their swords lifted. The people of Judah would go on for three days collecting all of the spoil of the battle they won by worshiping their God.

We have spoken in recent weeks, as we consider this task of worship, of God’s passion for us evidenced through His very act of creating the world and all that it contains – us included. We have talked about the great grace that He shows us in forgiving our sins and allowing us to exchange our filthy rags for clean white robes at a cross of the shed blood of God’s own son. We have talked about the great love of God on display in that act of sending the Son of God, whom we know as Jesus the Christ, to come down from heaven to earth, humbling himself beyond anything we can imagine or understand, and dying as one of us in place of all of us.

Today I ask the question: what do we do when we get up each day? What do we do with each breath that we take – easy or labored as it may be? How do we react when we have good news or bad news? What is our response to anything we face in life? How is our Trust Meter? Our response to any and every situation, whether good or bad, should be the same as the response of Jehoshaphat to the news of the approach of an overwhelming horde of enemies. We should worship. And in our worship, we should surrender ourselves completely to God and whatever it is that He has for us.

For the people of Judah and King Jehoshaphat, God brought deliverance from their enemies and the riches of their spoil. Deliverance from our pain and troubles may be what God has for us. Worship and find out!

But … there is always a “but” … deliverance and salvation from our circumstances may not be what God has for us. Worship and find out! Cling to Romans 8:28: “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” All things work for good. All things go to His purposes. They will not, they cannot, be thwarted. All things that come our way will work together for good. Not necessarily OUR personal good – just read the story of the many Christians who are persecuted today, or the many who have been martyred through the centuries. It may not be our own good, but all things will work for the good of the purposes of God. All things.

Worship is the key to reminding ourselves of this truth. God is always present. God is always in control. God is always working all things for good. Can I tell you a secret? {Whispered} God wins in the end. Good triumphs. Salvation rings forth. A new creation will be forged for those who believe, for those who are called, for those who respond.

Whatever you are facing, whether pleasant or unpleasant, surrender to God today and worship Him, as did the armies of Jehoshaphat. I don’t promise you that you will be healthy, wealthy, and wise if you do. But I do promise that God is working great good. Trust Him. Let your Trust Meter register full dependence on God today and all days. Worship Him. In all things. Let your eyes always and ever turn to Him for guidance, truth, and obedience.

Let’s pray.

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