Tag Archives: Thomas Kelly

Dead Worship or Vibrant Life?

Worship created a controversy for the prophets of the Old Testament. The Lord God had instituted temple worship during the reign of King Solomon. The temple in Jerusalem had various rituals like animal sacrifices and pray incense which had roots from the time of Moses and the Exodus. The Israelites were expected to worship God in the temple on a regular basis and many did.

However the prophets spotted a major problem in worship. It had become empty rituals that did not transform the lives of the worshippers. The prophet Isaiah spoke against such abuses,

What to me is the multitude of your sacrifices? says the Lord;
I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams
and the fat of fed beasts.
Trample my courts no more; bringing offerings is futile;
your appointed festivals my soul hates;
they have become a burden to me,
even though you make many prayers, I will not listen;
your hands are full of blood. (Isaiah 1:11-15 abridged)

Worship had not transformed God’s people into agents of God’s peace and healing for the world. The prophet’s words can be a critique of us today. Has our worship service turned us into servants of God? Do we expect to encounter the living God at worship and be changed?

I have been using Thomas Kelly’s book, A Testament of Devotion, in my personal devotions. He speaks to the transforming power of prayer, but sees it as not our work, but God’s great work within us.

We may suppose these depths of prayer are our achievement. But this humanistic account misses the autonomy of the life of prayer. This inner life has a life of its own, invigorated not by us but by a divine Source. . . . Our prayers are mingled with a vaster Word, a Word that at one time was made flesh. We pray, and yet it not we who pray, but a Greater who prays in us. In a holy hush we bow in Eternity, and know the Divine Concern tenderly enwrapping us and all things within His persuading love. Here all human initiative has passed into acquiescence, and He works and prayer and seeks His own through us in exquisite, energizing life. (p. 45, abridged)

Now that is a description of the Vibrant Life of Faith in Christ.

Lord Jesus, turn my tired, routine prayers and worship into a joyous dance with your Spirit.

Sanctuary Light

On Sunday, our Biblical focus will be King Solomon’s building and dedicating the temple in Jerusalem. His father, King David, had wanted to build a temple, but through the prophet Nathan, God instructed him to wait.

Thus says the Lord: Are you the one to build me a house to live in?  I have not lived in a house since the day I brought up the people of Israel from Egypt to this day, but I have been moving about in a tent and a tabernacle.  Wherever I have moved about among all the people of Israel, did I ever speak a word  saying, “Why have you not built me a house of cedar?” (2 Samuel 7:5-7)

The temple was a mixed blessing to Israel. Like many beautiful cathedrals it provided a place for the worship of God to flourish. Awe and wonder could be expressed in multiple ways within its walls. The book of Psalms captures some of the beauty of that magnificent structure.

One thing I asked of the Lord, that will I seek after: to live in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the Lord, and to inquire in his temple. Psalm 27:4

But as I mentioned in yesterday’s post, the danger of a fixed structure is that we compartmentalize God’s activity and restrict God’s presence to the “box on the hill.” A temple, church or cathedral should draw us into the wondrous presence of God yet also send us out renewed and refreshed to be God’s people in the world. The light of Christ is to shine both inside and outside the sanctuary.

I have been rereading Thomas Kelly’s A Testament of Devotion.  A Quaker, Kelly testifies to how the light of prayer is to be transformative wherever we are:

A practicing Christian must above all be one who practices the perpetual return of the soul into it inner sanctuary, who brings the world into its Light and rejudges it, who brings the Light into the world with all its turmoil and it fitfulness and recreates it (p. 35).

Having worshipped in a simple Friend’s Meeting House, I know that it was not the magnificent space that inspired Kelly’s deep conviction, but rather the Light in the people who gathered to listen and be in the Light. The Light calls us together where we amplify its wavelength in community but then the Light directs us back into the world. Our meeting places are to be launch pads.

Lord Jesus, let your light shine in me.