When I visited a museum in Chicago, I saw one of the original Striding Lions of Babylon. It was a large mural-type image of a winged lion with a ferocious expression. Symbolizing Ishtar, the Babylonian goddess of love and war, the lion I saw was an example of 120 similar lions that would have lined a Babylonian pathway during the years of 604-562
Historians say that after the Babylonians defeated Jerusalem, the Hebrew captives would have seen these lions during their time in Nebuchadnezzar’s kingdom. Historians also say it’s likely that some of the Israelites would have believed Ishtar had defeated the God of Israel.
Daniel, one of the Hebrew captives, did not share the doubts that might have troubled some of his fellow Israelites. His view of God and his commitment to God stayed steady. He prayed three times a day—with his windows open—even when he knew it would mean entering a den of lions. After God rescued Daniel from the hungry animals, King Darius said, “[Daniel’s God] is the living God and He endures forever . . . He rescues and He saves…” (Dan. 6:26–27). Daniel’s faithfulness allowed him to influence Babylonian leaders.
Staying faithful to God despite pressure and discouragement can inspire other people to give Him glory.
When my husband and I go for nature walks, we bring our cameras and take close-ups of the plants at our feet, which are like microcosms of the world. What amazing variety and beauty we see, even in the fungi that spring up overnight and dot the woods with splashes of bright orange, red, and yellow!
The snapshots of life…
Even though my friend Mickey was losing his eyesight, he told me, “I’m going to keep praising God every day, because He’s done so much for me.”
Jesus gave Mickey, and us, the ultimate reason for such never-ending praise. The twenty-sixth chapter of Matthew tells us about how Jesus shared the Passover meal with His disciples the night before He went to the cross. Verse 30 shows us how they concluded the meal: “When they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives.”
It wasn’t just any hymn they sang that night—it was a hymn of praise. For millennia, Jews have sung a group of Psalms called “The Hallel” at Passover (“hallel” is the Hebrew word for “praise”). The last of these prayers and songs of praise, found in Psalms 113–118, honors the God who has become our salvation (118:21). It refers to a rejected stone that became a cornerstone (v. 22) and one who comes in the name of the Lord (v. 26). With mystery, we can now understand, they sang, “This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it” (v. 24).
As Jesus sang with His disciples on this Passover night, He was giving us the ultimate reason to lift our eyes above our immediate circumstances. He was leading us in praise of the never-ending love and faithfulness of our God.
Shortly before Jesus was crucified, a woman named Mary poured a bottle of expensive perfume on His feet. Then, in what may have been an even more daring act, she wiped His feet with her hair (John 12:3). Not only did Mary sacrifice what may have been her life’s savings, she also sacrificed her reputation. In first-century Middle Eastern culture, respectable women never let down their hair in public. But true worship is not concerned about what others think of us (2 Sam. 6:21-22). To worship Jesus, Mary was willing to be thought of as immodest, perhaps even immoral.
Some of us may feel pressured to be perfect when we go to church so that people will think well of us. Metaphorically speaking, we work hard to make sure we have every hair in place. But a healthy church is a place where we can let down our hair and not hide our flaws behind a façade of perfection. In church, we should be able to reveal our weaknesses to find strength rather than conceal our faults to appear strong.
Worship doesn’t involve behaving as if nothing is wrong; it’s making sure everything is right—right with God and with one another. When our greatest fear is letting down our hair, perhaps our greatest sin is keeping it up.
As he awaited his baptism in Togo’s Mono River, Kossi stooped to pick up a worn wooden carving. His family had worshiped the object for generations. Now they watched as he tossed the grotesque figure into a fire prepared for the occasion. No longer would their choicest chickens be sacrificed to this god.
In the West, most Christians think of idols as metaphors for what they put in place of God. In Togo, West Africa, idols represent literal gods that must be appeased with sacrifice. Idol burning and baptism make a courageous statement about a new believer’s allegiance to the one true God.
As an eight-year-old, King Josiah came to power in an idol-worshiping, sex-obsessed culture. His father and grandfather had been two of the worst kings in all of Judah’s sordid history. Then the high priest discovered the book of the law. When the young king heard its words, he took them to heart (2 Kings 22:8–13). Josiah destroyed the pagan altars, burned the vile items dedicated to the goddess Asherah, and stopped the ritual prostitution (ch. 23). In place of these practices, he celebrated the Passover (23:21–23).
Whenever we look for answers apart from God—consciously or subconsciously—we pursue a false god. We do well to ask ourselves: What idols, literal or figurative, do we need to throw on the fire?
Young Isaac Watts found the music in his church sadly lacking, and his father challenged him to create something better. Isaac did. His hymn “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross” has been called the greatest in the English language and has been translated into many other languages.
Watts’s worshipful third verse ushers us into the presence of Christ at the crucifixion.
See from His head, His hands, His feet,
Sorrow and love flow mingled down.
Did e’er such love and sorrow meet
Or thorns compose so rich a crown?
The crucifixion Watts describes so elegantly stands as history’s most awful moment. We do well to pause and stand with those around the cross. The Son of God strains for breath, held by crude spikes driven through His flesh. After tortured hours, a supernatural darkness descends. Finally, mercifully, the Lord of the universe dismisses His anguished spirit. An earthquake rattles the landscape. Back in the city the thick Temple curtain rips in half. Graves open,and dead bodies resurrect, walking about the city (Matthew 27:51–53). These events compel the centurion who crucified Jesus to say, “Surely he was the Son of God” (v. 54).
“The Cross reorders all values and cancels all vanities,” says the Poetry Foundation in commenting on Watts’s poem. The song could only conclude: “Love so amazing, so divine demands my soul, my life, my all.”
I came across a solitary flower growing in a meadow today—a tiny purple blossom “wasting its sweetness in the desert air,” to borrow from the poet Thomas Gray’s wonderful line. I’m sure no one had seen this particular flower before, and perhaps no one will see it again. Why this beauty in this place? I thought.
Nature is never wasted. It daily displays the truth, goodness, and beauty of the One who brought it into being. Every day, nature offers a new and fresh declaration of God’s glory. Do I see Him through that beauty, or do I merely glance at it and shrug it off in indifference?
All nature declares the beauty of the One who made it. Our response can be worship, adoration, and thanksgiving—for the radiance of a cornflower, the splendor of a morning sunrise, the symmetry of one particular tree.
Author C. S. Lewis describes a walk in the forest on a hot summer day. He had just asked his friend how best to cultivate a heart thankful toward God. His hiking companion turned to a nearby brook, splashed his face and hands in a little waterfall, and asked, “Why not begin with this?” Lewis said he learned a great principle in that moment: “Begin where you are.”
A trickling waterfall, the wind in the willows, a baby robin, a tiny flower. Why not begin your thankfulness with this?
Many manger scenes depict the wise men, or magi, visiting Jesus in Bethlehem at the same time as the shepherds. But according to the gospel of Matthew, the only place in Scripture where their story is found, the magi showed up later. Jesus was no longer in the manger in a stable at the inn, but in a house. Matthew 2:11 tells us, “On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.”
Realizing that the magi’s visit happened later than we may think provides a helpful reminder as we begin a new year. Jesus is always worthy of worship. When the holidays are past and we head back to life’s everyday routines, we still have Someone to celebrate.
Jesus Christ is Immanuel, “God with us” (Matt. 1:23), in every season. He has promised to be with us “always” (28:20). Because He is always with us, we can worship Him in our hearts every day and trust that He will show Himself faithful in the years to come. Just as the magi sought Him, may we seek Him too and worship Him wherever we are.
Walt Disney Studios was the first to introduce a new concept in listening to movies. It was called “stereophonic sound” or surround sound, and it was developed because producers wanted the movie-going audience to hear the music in a new way.
But this wasn’t the first use of “surround sound.” Thousands of years earlier, Nehemiah introduced the idea at the dedication of the rebuilt wall of Jerusalem. “I had the leaders of Judah go up on top of the wall,” he explained. “I also assigned two large choirs to give thanks” (Neh. 12:31). The two choirs began at the southern part of the wall, at the Dung Gate. One went to the left, one went to the right, and they surrounded the city of Jerusalem in praise as they marched toward the temple (vv. 31, 37–40).
The choirs led the people in rejoicing because “God had given them great joy” (v. 43). In fact, their rejoicing “could be heard far away” (v. 43).
Their praise resulted from God’s help as the people overcame the opposition of enemies like Sanballat and rebuilt the wall. What has God given us that causes our joy to overflow into praise? God’s clear direction in our lives? The comfort He alone can provide in times of trouble? Or our ultimate gift: salvation?
Perhaps we can’t create “surround sound” with our praise, but we can rejoice in the “great joy” God has given us. Then others can hear us praise God and see how He works in our lives.