I was in prayer this morning having a lot of thoughts about the difference between prayer and worship. In prayer, we often spend the time petitioning. And we are indeed called to do that. But petition takes us out of the present. It focuses on future desire, “God, please help so-and-so overcome…” But worship has no past or future but only brings you into the present. And a stream of thoughts was filling me on how to present this truth to you. As Jehovah’s Witnesses we were very “thinking” oriented. And even now, as we engage in Bible study we are using our minds. But over and over we see Scriptures encouraging us to live in a place called Spirit.
3 Jesus answered and said to him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God…. unless one is born of water and the Spirit he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. 6 That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. (John 3:3-6)
Look back at that passage. Do you notice what the Spirit allows us to do? To SEE the kingdom of God. We actually ENTER it when born of Spirit. And that which is born of the Spirit is…. ?
We ARE Spirit, though we are still confined to these bodies of flesh. So what do we do? Well, it’s a bit like entering a foreign land. We’ve entered the kingdom but aren’t accustomed to living in it. So we take some baby steps. The problem we often run into is dragging our old selves into it with us. But flesh and blood do not inherit this kingdom. Only our Spirits are there. So here is a reminder:
you were dead in your trespasses and sins, 2 in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience. 3 Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest. 4 But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, 5 even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), 6 and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, (Ephesians 2:1-6)
We were DEAD. We can acknowledge that we FORMERLY walked according to our flesh as Jehovah’s Witnesses. But we died to that at the cross and now we are ALIVE with Christ and seated with Him… where?
We now reside in the heavenly realms or as Jesus promised at John 3, the kingdom of God!!! Like moving to a new country, we encounter a whole new set of customs and language here. The Spirit was sent as a Helper to guide and teach us (John 14:26).
God has given us a thinking mind, but also a Spirit that responds to the things which our thinking mind cannot grasp. Take note of how Paul said it here,
10 For to us God revealed them through the Spirit; for the Spirit searches all things, even the depths of God. 11 For who among men knows the thoughts of a man except the spirit of the man which is in him? Even so the thoughts of God no one knows except the Spirit of God. 12 Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may know the things freely given to us by God, 13 which things we also speak, not in words taught by human wisdom, but in those taught by the Spirit, combining spiritual thoughts with spiritual words.
14 But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised. 15 But he who is spiritual appraises all things, yet he himself is appraised by no one. 16 For who has known the mind of the Lord, that he will instruct Him? But we have the mind of Christ. (1 Corinthians 2:10-16)
By entering the kingdom of God through the Spirit that birthed us, we are privileged to know the thoughts of God. Of course, we must ASK and He has the final decision as to what He distributes and when, but please note that it is not the natural man that accepts these teachings. God’s thoughts cannot be understood with our MINDS. It is the Spirit that appraises all things. Christ resides in us so that we may have His mind. It’s that intimate.
When we enter Bible study, we do so with our thinking, analytical minds. That is not bad in itself, but ultimately, God is seeking to hear back from the Spirit He caused to dwell in us. It even says that at James 4:5 a verse I treasure!
As citizens of God’s kingdom, we are admonished to “walk by the Spirit” (Galatians 5:16) Why is this important? Because “the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things that you please.” (Galatians 5:17) If we are in this new and foreign land called the kingdom of God in which the passport necessary to enter it was the rebirth through His Spirit, doesn’t it make sense that we must learn now to “walk in the Spirit?” And not only walk, but to pray.
14 For if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays, but my mind is unfruitful.15 What is the outcome then? I will pray with the spirit and I will pray with the mind also; I will sing with the spirit and I will sing with the mind also. (1 Corinthians 14:14-15)
There are many ways to “pray in the Spirit” and in this case, Paul brings up praying in tongues. Don’t let that scare you. He also talks about singing and in Romans 8:26 even groaning. So our tears, dancing, artwork, etc. can all be part of praying in the Spirit.
The point is, in the kingdom of God, it’s all about the Spirit and less about our minds. However, I am using my mind right now to call upon the language of English I learned as an American citizen to communicate my thoughts that came as a result of praying in the Spirit. Because hearing from God takes a different form. And you’ve probably already experienced this in your life. Have you ever had the experience of suddenly noticing something in front of you that was always there before but now seems to be an answer to prayer? Everyday items can become sermons to our Spirit if God so chooses and we’re open to listening. Do you have a hobby that makes you lose all sense of time? It may be what God designed for you to feed your Spirit. Allow that to be your worship. Notice if your mind is arguing with that. Your upbringing as a Jehovah’s Witness likely put ideas in your head that it’s a waste of time or not worship at all. Worship to a JW is attending meetings. Sadly, some Christians associate worship also with church attendance. Yes, you can worship at church and benefit from those gifted in music to bring you into that atmosphere, but don’t excuse the intimacy of your custom-made worship for which God designed you! Long before I ever read a Bible or understood worship in a corporate setting, I began worshipping as a child whenever I put pen to paper. My form of worship is this: writing and drawing. I feel the Spirit flow when I do this. If you’ve ever been captured by the inspiration of an artist and what they paint or write speaks to your Spirit, consider that it may not have come by any human wisdom, but was taught by the Spirit and then framed into sounds or symbols you were able to receive (1 Corinthians 2:13)
Many experience a release from themselves in the act of creating something, while others experience this as they receive what was created by others under inspiration. In fact, when we hear the voice of God as we read our Bibles, we are responding to those who penned words under inspiration of His Spirit.
So what is this “release from ourselves” that we notice in the creative process? Our bodies carry memories that our consciousness may be oblivious to. We sense the need to “go elsewhere” at times to “get away from it all.” I did that with clowning when I was at the worst point of my life stressing over the Watchtower. I am fond of saying that clowning is like taking a vacation from myself. Now look at that. A vacation from who? How does one escape themselves? It’s’ already been highlighted in the verses I’ve shared. We are mind and we are Spirit. The mind is the ego or the soul. It is separate from the Spirit. The mind is what we think we are. But the Spirit is who we were created by God to be. And we as humans do all kinds of crazy things when we desire a vacation from our mind/ego/soul/selves. We drink, we run after success, we try a new gender, we dress up and act, we dominate others, we play victim, we go on literal vacations. We tire of ourselves basically and NEED a vacation! But in the kingdom of God which we enter by His Spirit, the advice is to get to know this Spirit which is separate from our souls/minds (1 Thessalonians 5:23). In fact, the reason we peer into the word of God is to help us divide soul from Spirit.
For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart. (Hebrews 4:12)
The “rest” we long to enter into is not another vacation or drink, we enter it by “living in the Spirit.”
The mind can only deal with so much. It lives in the past and it forecasts in the future, but it is seldom present if at all. Most of us live stuck in the past or constantly planning the future. When are we fully present? My answer is in WORSHIP which again is separate from the prayers known as petition.
As Jehovah’s Witnesses we were trained to shut down the Spirit and focus on “taking in knowledge” of God yet never allowed to be indwelt by Him to know Him (John 17:3). Bible study was therefore only an act of the intellect and not the Spirit. Time was spent in the past as we disdained ourselves by saying things like “when I was in the world” and then focused on the far off future that never comes called the paradise earth. The present was only the “evil system of things” with Satan always presented as more powerful than Jehovah since a Smurf or candle bought at a rummage sale could fill your house with demons. No power or victory in the present at all. But if you work hard to make it through Armageddon and the thousand year reign, then maybe, just maybe you can rest then? Nope, more meetings, and the ongoing clean up. Our minds fixed on these “facts” because our Spirit’s were never allowed into the kingdom where Light dwells.
Do you know what triggers are? When we’re suddenly thrust into our past without a conscious understanding of it. Our body simply reacts to it so that the problem comes into the present to be dealt with. Light resides in the present to expose the darkness where such secrets hide. How do we stay in the present where Light resides but at the same time travel back into the darkness to untangle the past so that we do not fear the future?
For God, who said, let light shine out of the darkness made His light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. (2 Corinthians 4:6)
The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it. (John 1:5)
It is He who reveals the profound and hidden things; He knows what is in the darkness and the light dwells with Him. (Daniel 2:22)
This is the message we have heard from Him and announce to you, that God is Light, and in Him there is no darkness at all. (1 John 1:5)
Arise, shine for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord rises upon you. See, darkness covers the earth and thick darkness over the peoples but the Lord rises upon you and his glory appears over you. (Isaiah 60:1-2)
And so, we acknowledge there is plenty of Light in the Kingdom of God. Jesus spoke of Himself as the entry way and lovingly sent His Spirit so that we could see it and live in it. But of course, we get stuck at times and run back into our familiar haunts in the darkness. But a simple truth reminds us how to begin our prayers to come back into the gates and see the Light. It’s not with petitions, it’s WORSHIP.
Shout joyfully to the Lord, all the earth.
2 Serve the Lord with gladness;
Come before Him with joyful singing.
3 Know that the Lord Himself is God;
It is He who has made us, and not we ourselves;
We are His people and the sheep of His pasture.
4 Enter His gates with thanksgiving
And His courts with praise.
Give thanks to Him, bless His name.
5 For the Lord is good;
His lovingkindness is everlasting
And His faithfulness to all generations. (Psalm 100:1-5)
We are created to praise. Praise brings us into the present. We get zapped out of that joy when we spend too much time in the past and the future. Yet, to be present, sometimes we must deal with our past. When we study the Bible, the word of God begins to divide soul and spirit as promised. Memories bring forth confessions of our past. Some avoid opening the Bible for this very reason. Memories cause pain. But if we have not dealt with those hurts, we unwittingly throw ourselves into patterns to relive the same old scenario until we overcome it. Dealing with the past is moving forward and that is the motion in the kingdom of God. We live in the present as the kingdom expands. Until we reconcile the sins of the past with the present, we will find ourselves in patterns much like the Israelites circling around the same ol’ mountain in the desert. The Promised Land was already theirs. The kingdom is already ours too. But how often we circle around in the deserts of our minds never learning to “walk in the Spirit.”
A lesson in patterns. I was sexually assaulted at age 12 and never forgot the experience but never called it what it was either. And I didn’t want to hurt my mother by sharing it with her. So I carried it, but not consciously. I didn’t put myself into other abusive relationships with men as some women do, instead I chose a religion to do that. Because after the elders left my house 2 weeks prior to my hearings, I said to myself “I feel raped.” Immediately my mind questioned my inner being, “when were you ever raped?” Notice that conversation within me. The thinking part of me could not receive what my spirit understood so it retorted, “This did not happen to me.” But God has designed our bodies to remember what our minds may be too young or unwilling to process. When the nightmares ensued at age 40 brought on by the stress of my Watchtower experience, I woke up one morning and asked my husband (who was well aware of my nightmares because they woke him up too!) “if this – that – and the other thing happened to one of our daughters, would that be rape?” And without hesitation he said “well duh, of course!” It was a relief to me. To be able to acknowledge “that was wrong!” I could now move forward. I’m big on forward motion by the way. It’s ok to be angry and acknowledge a past hurt. It’s actually part of the forgiving process. God forgave us all a long time ago, but we don’t LIVE in that place until we acknowledge that we need it which brings it into our present. Not the forgiveness 2,000 years ago and not the rest promised in some future paradise, but right here, right now. We receive the kingdom by admitting we are sinners and that others have also sinned against us. And God’s forgiveness brings us back to the PRESENT where all the delights are. In other words, die to that past, experience the new birth, and enter the kingdom of God. There is suffering in the past and fear of the future, but worship is always in the present. The very thing we were created for!
Jude spoke of those who caused division by being devoid of the Spirit. He called them “worldly-minded.” Again, this is thinking with only our limited fleshly mind fixed on what our physical eyes can see and not focused on the mind of Christ which resides already in us. That is why Jude completes his thought by admonishing “But you, beloved, building yourselves up on your most holy faith, praying in the Holy Spirit, 21 keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting anxiously for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to eternal life.” (Jude 20-21)
Pray, not with your mind, but in the Holy Spirit.
So in conclusion, as former Jehovah’s Witnesses taught to study the Bible only with our minds, I encourage us to continue to search for truth that way but to also know there is so much more! I am praying that God bless you today with more. Jesus said the Father was looking for you to worship Him in more than one way, “in Spirit and in Truth” (John 4:24).
God of my Spirit, you have blessed me to understand things my mind was too limited to know. You have chosen to hide things from man that can only be understood by the grace and gift of your Spirit. It’s from this place that I worship you and have asked for words to be given to explain what the Spirit has granted. I love your word and ask now, through the Spirit of Jesus who has led me to this prayer, that others who have read this and been inspired receive more from you now, a wisdom unexplainable. One that does not come from education in this world but only from the kingdom of God in which we arrive through faith in your invitation. Open up more rooms for us to explore. God I trust that you know the hairs of our heads and what we each can handle and entrust each person to your perfect timing. You know the language our Spirit responds to. I am happy as I pray this Lord because I know you are a good, good Father who always knows how to give good gifts in accordance with what we ask. Thank you for your mercy Lord. I praise you with all delight as I am fully present to hear from you. Through Christ, amen.
Keep yourself in God’s love,