The Goodness of Heaven (7)
“You are worthy, O Lord,
To receive glory and honor and power;
For You created all things,
And by Your will they exist and were created.” Revelation 4.11
The pronouns are the key
Sometimes it’s the most commonplace things that unlock the greatest mysteries and teachings of faith.
Take for example, pronouns. For most of us, pronouns are grammatical pointers. They point to an antecedent, which, to avoid tediousness, they represent. So “they” in that last sentence is a pronoun pointing back to “pronouns” in the previous sentence. Try reading those two sentences without the pronoun, and they sound ridiculous.
Pronouns thus perform a valuable grammatical purpose by providing alternate ways of referring to the same thing. They help us avoid monotony in writing or speaking.
In the Scriptures, however, pronouns are often used to point beyond an antecedent into the very soul and spiritual condition of a person. For example, quickly scan Ecclesiastes 2.1-10. In these verses Solomon catalogs his achievements, so that readers can understand the measure of his greatness. But the point of Ecclesiastes 2 is to vaunt Solomon’s greatness before he spends the rest of the book showing how empty and vain such priorities are, when they assume the place of ultimate importance in our lives. Solomon’s works became greater and greater, while his soul became meaner and meaner. He emphasized what was happening in him by piling on the use of first-person personal pronouns (“I, me, myself, etc.). In the first 10 verses alone are almost 40 first person pronouns! The Beatles might have been singing about Solomon in their Let it Be albumcut, “I, Me, Mine.” In a chapter in which Solomon is telling us “all about me”, we must not miss the larger point which the pronouns make: What was all about Solomon was about a heart drifting from God.
It’s a good idea to pay attention to how the Bible uses pronouns, especially when, as in Ecclesiastes 2, and the scenes of worship in heaven, the same pronoun – or some form of it – recurs over and over.
It’s not about us
I identify five different worship scenes, or parts of worship scenes, in the book of Revelation. Each of these features a song in which the hosts of heaven unite their voices to worship God.
In these songs more than 25 different pronouns are used. Only three or four of these (by my count) refer to the various worshipers assembled around the heavenly throne. All the others, in one form or another, refer to God. In heaven, it seems, worship is all about “You, You, You.” And the interests and wellbeing of those who worship are always and only properly defined in terms of how these relate to God’s purpose and plans.
As we look in on the worship activities of those in heaven, everything they say and do points us away from them to God and His holiness, eternality, worthiness, glory, honor, power, providence, redemption, exaltation, salvation, blessing, greatness, awesomeness, justice, truth, and judgment.
This, we learn, is what it means to love God – to get beyond yourself, and any sense of your worthiness or wellbeing, by becoming so obsessed with, absorbed by, and devoted to God that He commands all your affections, values, thinking, words, and gestures. When that is the case, your worship will never be about “I, Me, Mine”, but only and always about “You, You, You”.
Learning to love
Since this is the way saints, angels, and all creation express love for God in heaven, we should seek to follow this example in doing good works of love here on earth. We can learn about the kind of love that issues in good works by contemplating carefully and long the worship of our heavenly brethren, and Him Whom they worship so fervently. The strength, selflessness, and creativity we need to love the way Jesus did begins by making sure our love for God is fixed and growing. The more clearly we see God and participate in Him, the more His grace will cause our souls to increase in the righteousness of Jesus, including His love.
In worship – corporate and personal – we both express the love we have for God, and we exercise that love unto greater strength for daily living. Listen to your own prayers and singing. Which pronouns dominate your worship? Is your worship focused only on what you want God to do for you? If so, you love yourself first, and God as a means to enhancing your wellbeing. If you love God truly and deeply, your interests will take a distant back seat to contemplating and exalting the God Who made and keeps and restores all things, and to seeking His Kingdom and righteousness above all else. His being and works, His purpose and will, and His precious and very great promises will fill your worship; and in that context, you will grow in love for Him and in the capacityto express His love and demonstrate His goodness to others.
We are surrounded by saints and angels fervently and continuously busy at the good work they love most of all – worshiping and serving the God Who redeemed and saved them. We will improve in showing the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living as we emulate their example.
1. How much time do you spend contemplating heaven and what’s going on there? Besides the book of Revelation, where else in Scripture would you look to flesh out a fuller vision of heaven? Be specific.
2. What are some ways that a service of worship can turn the focus of worship from God to the worshipers? How can you keep this from happening while you’re worshiping the Lord?
3. Unless we truly and increasingly love God, we will not have the capacity or will to show His goodness to others. Explain.
Next steps – Transformation: What will you do differently from this point forward to help ensure that your worship is all about God?
T. M. Moore
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Except as indicated, Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.