Dwelling in God’s Heart – The Exercise Room

Dwelling in God’s Heart – The Exercise Room

Dwelling in God’s Heart – The Exercise Room.   

“Draw near to God, and He will draw near to you.”  (James 4:8).

“I am inside My Father, and you are inside Me, and I am inside you.” (John 14:20).

Even though the phrase “accept Jesus into our heart” is not in Scripture, we get the picture. Accepting Jesus into our hearts means we receive Him into the very core of our being, into the centerpiece of who we are, affecting everything about us. When we receive Jesus into our heart-home, our identity becomes His, the essence of our personhood is intimately wrapped into the essence of Christ’s Personhood. When we make our home in His home, He miraculously become a resident inside each of us as well. And when we experience that Double Union with Jesus Christ, we discover that our spiritual location is inside of the very heart of God. In other words, if the Son is inside the Father, and we are inside the Son, then logically we are inside the Father! By dwelling in the Son’s heart, we dwell in the Father’s heart as well. By living inside the “Person after God’s own heart,” we find ourselves inside God’s heart! As Paul claims in Colossians 3:3, believers are “hidden within Christ, inside of God.”

Way back in 1954 there was a creative little evangelistic tract produced by Inter-Varsity Press, written by a pastor named Robert Boyd Munger. He entitled his brief tract, “My Heart – God’s Home.” I recommend it if you find it. Following up on Revelation 3:20, Pastor Munger imagined a believer opening his door and escorting Jesus through the home of his heart, now that Jesus has taken up residence in him. Now that Jesus dwells in him, and He has moved into his heart, what will Jesus see there? So the believer in the tract proceeds to give a tour of his heart-home with Jesus as he welcomes Christ into his heart. Together they tour the person’s study, dining room, living room, workroom, recreation room, bedroom and hall closet. I thought this was an engaging idea, but now I would like to give the other side of the story. Jesus lives within us, to be sure. But we also live within Jesus, hence inside the very heart of God. So if the Father was to give us a guided tour of His heart, what would we find? What will be waiting for us to discover in the many rooms of God’s heart? We could easily entitle this, “God’s Heart -My Home.

Like anyone’s home, God’s heart will reflect His attitudes, motivations, personality, character traits, His heavenly “tastes” in interior décor. God’s deeply held convictions will be revealed in His heart-home, as they are in our own hearts. Using Scripture as our guide, we will explore God’s heart as we make ourselves at home and abide in Him. We will explore everything from the front porch to the front door, the living room to the dining room, from the kitchen to the study to the chapel. And many more rooms as well, like the bedroom, the bathroom, and the nursery. There may even be a sneak peek at the family room, the children’s playroom, and the school room.

THE EXERCISE ROOM. This space allows us to be comfortable as we become physical with our worship. The spiritual and the physical belong together, and are in fact inseparable. We were created as whole beings with a mysterious fusion of body and spirit and soul and body and everything else that constitutes our personhood. Not only that, the Incarnation reveals how important the body is to Creator God. In a sense, the idea, the reality, of God taking on a physical body was actually a spiritual act. We need to make sure we incarnate our worship. So worship of our Creator needs to include the body if we want to worship with our whole selves. Physical acts of worship become meaningless if it is done thoughtlessly, without its intention of worshipping God. But worship is not limited to the nonphysical, the so-called spiritual either, or one is not truly involved fully in the act of worship. As Rev. Josef Ratzinger once wrote in his excellent article, The Theology of Kneeling, “The bodily gesture itself is the bearer of the spiritual meaning, which is worship. Without the heart of worship, the bodily gesture would be meaningless, while the spiritual act itself must of its very nature express itself in the bodily gestures.” 

So physical gestures are invaluable in the act of worship. They can point to spiritual truths, they can stimulate worshipful acts, and they can enable a fuller expression of awe, lament, adoration and worship. Using the body helps us to put the Gospel message into motion. The movement of one’s body can be a sign that communicates a message… Do you want to signal to God that you submit to Him, that you want to confess to Him, that you adore Him, that you intend to follow Him in trust? There are gestures and postures and movements that can express what is on your heart without any use of words. Body language is vital to spiritual life and expression. This is important: Physical postures and actions during worship reflect the attitudes of the heart, but they can also help produce the attitudes of the heart. Physical gestures can point to spiritual truth, or it could stimulate spiritual truth. The posture of one’s body can be a sign that communicates a message. Physical movement can also stimulate an emotion or thought, and the muscle memory used is often a spiritual muscle. Do you want to signal to God that you submit to Him, that you adore Him, that you want to give your whole life to Him? There are gestures that can communicate these positions of the heart that don’t need words. Down through Judeo-Christian history, body language is vital to spiritual life and expression. The body can speak clearly without words.

Standing. Standing was favored in the early Church when in prayer or worship. According to the Orthodox priest Patrick Reardon, standing was symbolic of “dignity, attentiveness, readiness, obedience and vigilance.” In the Temple everyone stood and worshiped, whether a priest or a common worshiper. To this day, one would have a difficult time finding a chair in an Easter Orthodox church when in prayer and during the worship service. Everyone remains standing. Comfortably sitting while worshiping would be unthinkable, considered a sign of disrespect. The Orthodox churches have an important reason for retaining the standing position during worship services. They have maintained a fervent belief that worship here on earth is a participation in heavenly worship. Attending a worship service in church here is with the consciousness that we are joining with the multitudes of angels and the cloud of witnesses as they worship around the throne. When one enters an Orthodox service, one is entering another world in a sense, the Kingdom of God, a slice of heaven on earth. And with those domes that are traditional in Orthodox churches, the worshippers are reminded that they are open to heaven, that they are experiencing a oneness with all the citizens of heaven in worship. And mirroring the angels in heaven, they stand.

Lifting Up. The physical movement of lifting up is a dominant theme of worship in the Scripture. We may be earthbound at this point in history, but of course God has never been. So we lift up everything about who we are to worship God in Heaven, where He dwells in glory and majesty. So we naturally lift our hearts to Him because we accept the fact that the Lord is the uppermost Sovereign, the King of Kings. We lift up our hands to God in worship because He is the Royal Majesty on His heavenly throne, and we are His loyal subjects. We lift up our voices to Yahweh because we intend to express our love for Him who lives in a high and holy place and yet reaches down to us. We lift up our eyes to God, because we want to focus completely on the Lord, who from the highest height offers us hope and healing. We lift up our very souls to God because He is the Holy One who is the high and lofty One, who lives in a high and lofty place. We lift up our heads to the Father because we joyfully and gratefully realize we are children of the Most High.

Walking. Whether one is literally walking on a prayerful pilgrimage, or figuratively walking with Jesus as we follow Him on our life’s journey, when we trust in Christ we better put on our waling shoes.  For centuries, believers have prayed as they walked, and they have walked as they prayed. When Rabbi Heschel walked with MLK on the Selma march, he said he felt like his “legs were praying.” When Jesus asked his disciples to follow Him, he meant it literally like any other rabbi. They were expected to drop everything and walk closely after Him. A hundred years before Jesus a learned rabbi gave a word of advice to some disciples, “Cover yourself in the dust of the rabbi’s feet.” Rabbi Yoezer meant that the true disciple would walk so closely behind their rabbi while they were walking along the road that at the end of the day, the disciple would be covered in the rabbi’s dust. Pilgrimage. A good friend of mine is an experienced pilgrim, because he has walked many times on the sacred Camino Trail in western Europe. In describing his experiences there, he uses the wonderful term “embodied spirituality.” A walking pilgrimage is a spiritual experience, because throughout the journey he walks prayerfully, careful to listen to the Spirit of God as he uses his legs. In fact, the Spirit of God is speaking to him through the use of his legs, just like Rabbi Heschel in the opening quote. A walking pilgrim does so because he wants to enjoy a life-changing experience. A pilgrim wants to be spiritual with his body. When St. Peter calls believers pilgrims and sojourners in his letter 1 Peter 2:11, the Greek term used for pilgrims is “parepidemous,” referring to a passing stranger traveling in a place that is not his home. A pilgrim is one who is a temporary resident, a passing traveler. The term pilgrim has taken on the significant meaning now of one who is engaging in spiritual growth in a physical way in the course of a journey. What better way to understand our being pilgrims on this earth, strangers in a strange land, than walking with all our spiritual senses activated on a journey? We are citizens of heaven, this is not our home, so walking where we are not a citizen is good for the soul. One fruitful way of growing in our inner spiritual journey is to engage in a literal walking journey in the way of a pilgrim. It’s no wonder Jesus called Himself the Way, and that the early believers in Jesus called themselves “people of the Way.” Pilgrims, all of us, on the Way to the Kingdom of God.

Kneeling. Bending the knee is no light matter, even though it is relatively easy to do, depending on one’s physical status. Kneeling is a vivid picture of honoring your Superior and submitting to your Sovereign. Kneeling is a symbol of humility, because if one is serious when doing it, it requires a swallowing of one’s pride. Hebrew tradition has long considered one’s knees to be a symbol of strength, so bending the knee to honor Someone means one has accepted one’s weakness, acknowledged one’s insufficiency. Bending the knee is submitting in faith to an almighty God who is all-sufficient and worthy of worship. The Hebrew word for bless is “barak,” which is literally translated as to kneel down, to bless and adore God on bended knees. One kneels when taking the lower place in the presence of a higher authority. Before the King of kings, we can add awe, reverence and worship. We kneel low to raise God high, to honor His glory and holiness. When we kneel, we are physically demonstrating that we desire to yield to the Sovereign King of the universe. The New Testament includes a Greek word for “adoration on one’s knees,” which is “proskynein.” In the gospel era, kneeling in adoration was inseparable from the worship experience. The other Greek word for kneel in the New Testament is “gonypetein,” and it literally means to fall on both knees with the head bowed, which is actually a lesser form of the full prostration. Perhaps the most powerful scene of kneeling is in John 13, when Jesus, during the Last Supper, wanted to demonstrate something important before things got out of hand with His coming Passion. At the end of their Passover meal, Jesus “got up from supper, took off His outer garments, and taking a servant’s towel, He fastened it around His   waist. Then He poured water into the washbasin and began to wash the disciple’s feet and to wipe them with the towel.” (John 13:4-5). Of course, Jesus had to kneel throughout all this foot-washing, and then when completed He “sat down again.” (John 13:12).

Prostration. Pipto is the root Greek word meaning to fall down, used over 90 times in the New Testament; is the starter word for dozens of terms involving falling downward from a higher place to a lower place; pitpo is the biblical term for prostration, falling onto one’s face on the ground, to collapse to the ground; to fall flat down in worship, reverence, allegiance, or submission; to drop down to the earth as if dead. In the Christian tradition, to fully prostrate oneself often includes confession and gratitude, as well as to pray from a low place before God’s greatness and awesome mystery. To prostrate oneself before the Lord is to assume a humble, servile position before our Master, the almighty God.

Literally volunteering to perform a face plant on the ground is unusual to say the least. It takes a lot of pride-swallowing and ego-relinquishment to stretch flat on the ground. But “pipto” was fairly commonplace in the biblical era, as well as in other parts of the world right now. The West does not like to be humbled, evidently. The lesser form of pipto is when one would kneel with both knees on the ground and the forehead touching the ground as well. The full prostration would be lowering oneself to the ground and assuming a position in which the entire body was flat on the ground, from the head to the toes to all the limbs. Often the phrase “throw oneself to the ground” would indicate a full prostration, with the word pipto more times than not referring to the full prostration.  Prostration is a rather radical, visual way to signal one’s submission and respect to God. It would be interesting to try this posture in private prayer, no less in community worship.

Crossing. When genuine, the act of crossing ourselves is truly making a statement, it is setting us apart. Ever since the 2nd century the traditional hand motion in the shape of a cross , starting at the forehead, then the heart, then both shoulders, then back to the heart again, has been a distinctive symbol of the Christian faith. There have been variations on these movements through time and tradition. And it should be remembered that many believers privately choose to sign the cross over themselves even if not a tradition in their particular church. Down through the centuries, the sign of the cross has represented many truths: (1.) It reveals our chosen identity as a Christ-follower; (2.) It marks us as disciples of Jesus; (3.) It announces that we belong to God, that we are His possession, owned by Him; (4.) It tells others that we believe in the Bible and the truth contained in Scripture; (5.) It is a clear confession of faith in the Holy Trinity, since the sign is accompanied by the prayer, “In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit;” (6.) It is a tangible reminder to us of our baptismal vows and our new life in Christ; (7.) It is a physical action that reminds us of God’s spiritual presence; (8.) It echoes the command of Christ to pick up our crosses daily; (9.) It renews our commitment to crucifying the desires of the flesh; (10.) It is a picture of Christ’s suffering and our acceptance of suffering in His Name;(11.) It announces our side in the warfare against the powers of darkness, alerting the enemy that we are on the side of Christ against the demonic kingdom; (12.) It reminds us of our protection in Christ if we feel spiritually attacked or harassed; (13.) It is an act of submission to God’s will and His purpose in our lives; (14.) It is a sign of blessing when we put the sign of the cross over others, asking the Lord to show them favor and mercy; (15.) When crossing ourselves, it is a way of asking God to help us love Him with all our mind (forehead), our heart, and our strength (shoulders); (16.) It is an expression of our heartfelt piety and deepest devotion; (17.) As one traditional church puts it, “The Sign of the Cross disposes us to cooperate with God’s grace if invoking the Name of Christ.” (18.) “Little” signs of the Cross are also used during Christian worship, in which our thumb is used to mark a small cross on one’s own forehead, mouth, and heart, asking God to sanctify our thoughts, our speech, and our affections for God’s use; (19.) A little sign of the Cross may also be prayerfully marked with the thumb on someone else ‘s forehead when blessing them, preparing them for a healing prayer, or for many of the sacraments.

Jumping. There are two words for rejoice that involve jumping. Who would have thought? Rejoice #1 – Greek word, “agalliao” – literally means jump for joy; excessive gladness; skipping with delight; joy multiplied; great exultation; leaping with exuberance; often expressed verbally as well (as in Acts 2:26, “My tongue was very glad!“); the joy is usually based on God, His character, and His benefits. Rejoice #2 – Hebrew word in the Hebrew Bible, “giyl” or “yagel” – literally means to spin around in joy; to greatly rejoice; to be exceedingly glad. It is used about 45 times in the Old Testament, and is the usual word for “rejoice.”

There are four passages in particular that use the term “agalliao” in the New Testament. To know that this word means jump for joy adds a lot of personality and delight to these passages: (1.)  Jesus Jumped for Joy. (Luke 10:21); (2.)  Mother Mary Jumped for Joy. (Luke 1:46-47); (3.)  Unborn Baby John the Baptist Jumps for Joy in His Mother’s Womb. (Luke 1:42-44); (4.)  The Healed Man Jumped for Joy in the Temple. In the Temple, no less! (Acts 3:7-8).

In the Hebrew Bible, the term “giyl” is much the same as the New Testament’s sense of a delightful physical expression of joy. One can easily imagine David swirling and spinning like a top in front of the Ark. (1 Chronicles 15); (1.)  David Overcome with Joy.  (Psalm 13:5-6); (2.)  A Psalmist Exults in Joy before God. (Psalm 2:11); (3.)  Creation Itself is Overcome with Joy. (1 Chronicles 16:30-33); (4.)  God Rejoices Over Each of Us. (Zephaniah 3:17).

Sitting. The physical act of sitting down isn’t necessarily the first thing we think of when it comes to a meaningful act. But when Jesus sat at table with the tax collectors, prostitutes, and other outcasts at Matthew’s house, it signified acceptance and solidarity with all those with Him at the table enjoying a meal together. Surely that was significant, at least it was to Jesus, to those rejected ones sitting around the table, and the miffed Pharisees outside the door (Mark 2:15). Sitting at the feet of a rabbi during Jesus’ time was all that and more. Sitting at His feet while Jesus taught was not merely an educational act, it was also an act of honor and adoration, of worship even. The typical disciple of a rabbi sat closely at the rabbi’s feet in order to learn what the rabbi knows, so the disciple could be a learned rabbi just like him. In Jesus’ case, His followers hung on His every word because they knew Jesus speaks the words of life, and that they are being trained to spread the knowledge and life of Jesus like good rabbi’s should. Perhaps we don’t literally sit at the feet of Jesus these days, though we will amazingly have all the time in the world to do that in the Kingdom. But for now this physical act of sitting down can become a metaphor. We can sit down at Jesus’ feet in our hearts. Sitting down can be a posture of the mind and heart as we seek to grow and learn from the Spirit of Jesus. May we all sit down at His feet in this way as we hear Scripture being read, as we read it for ourselves, as we listen to a wise and learned teacher of the Word. In this way, we are hallowing His name, we are honoring His presence, we are worshipping Him.

Dancing. Despite the resurgence of dance worship in a variety of churches, the history of dancing with the Christians is a bit spotty. The joy of dancing in worship has never had resistance in Judaism, however. The Israelites have enjoyed dancing in their worship seemingly forever, according to the Hebrew Bible. Holy dance has always been embraced in Hebrew worship as a physical expression of joy and celebration and even reverence.  The Hebrew word for dance in these passage is “hul” which means a highly active whirling and twirling. Here are a few highlights of holy dancing as recorded in Scripture: (1.)  Miriam dancing at the Red Sea. (Acts 15:20-21, Exodus 15).  (2.)  David dancing before the Ark.David danced before the LORD, whirling about with all his might, wearing a priestly loincloth.” “leaping and dancing before the Lord.”I was dancing before Yahweh, making merry out of pure enjoyment… (2 Samuel 6). (3.)  Torch Dancing at the Feast of the TabernaclesDuring the Fire Ceremony, there would be four gigantic lampstands (menorahs) set up in the Temple court, each about 75 feet high! Each lampstand had four branches with huge wicks soaked in oil and were constantly burning through the night. There was so much light in the Temple that it was reported that every home in Jerusalem was lit with the Temple lights. Around the giant lampstands a group of elders with lit torches danced around the Temple courtyard, dancing and waving the torches, throwing them into the air and catching them again. (4.) The Jewish Wedding Dances. The Jewish wedding was an important time to celebrate with dancing, not only for the blessing of enjoying another marriage, but also because every wedding ceremony was in memory of the spiritual wedding covenant on Mr. Sinai between Yahweh and His Chosen People. Thus, there was intense celebration at every wedding! Jesus did nothing to discourage dancing during His ministry on earth. He undoubtedly continued participating in religious dances, since He was so fully Jewish in all His ways. I like to imagine our Lord twirling and whirling and jumping for joy. The first five centuries of Christian worship more or less followed in their Judaic roots. There was dancing during worship and in festive processionals. They made distinctions between holy dancing in church and pagan dancing during their profane worship. In the mid-fourth century a church leader wrote this to his church members on Palm Sunday, “Rejoice in the highest, daughters of Zion! Rejoice and be glad! Leap boisterously! For behold, once again the King approaches. Once again perform choral dances, leap wildly, ye Heavens; sing hymns, ye Angels, and all you who dwell in Zion, and dance the ring dances.”  The sainted Gregory of Nyssa (4th C.) even went so far as to describe Jesus as “the One and Only Choreographer, the leader of dances on earth and in heaven.”

Kissing. The Kiss of Peace… Peace and harmony between believers, and unity in the church body, reflects the Kingdom of God, and has been God’s priority since Day One. Reconciliation between Christ-followers is even more important than celebrating Eucharist in church, which is why the Kiss of Peace has been a vital part of Christian worship services since the apostolic era in church history. This sacred Kiss, short and sincere, on the cheek between united believers who are in full fellowship is a symbol of complete reconciliation, with nothing to forgive, a clean slate between them. This holy Kiss is a physical symbol of the spiritual truth of unity between believers. Some have even called it a sacrament. However, if a Christian walks into church and realizes he needs to settle accounts with someone else in the church, he should seek him out, whether he offended the other person or the other person offended him (Matthew 5:23). This is why the Kiss of love is always placed before the Eucharist in the worship service. There needs to be union between people before there is Communion with God. There needs to be a feast of peace before there is the Lord’s Supper.

WORSHIP AS EXERCISE. HALAL (verb, Halel) – Hebrew word, literally means, someone with raised arms exclaiming something wonderful towards another; Halal was used 165 times int the Hebrew Bible, and means to praise mightily; to celebrate wildly; to sing loudly with jubilation; to laud and praise almost to the point of foolishness; to use full expression in worship. One scholar claimed that halal was an invitation to a more uninhibited style of worship. It is the root word for Hallelujah: Praise the Lord! In Psalm 150 below, every time one sees “Praise” the Hebrew word is Halel.