In the Brain, Out the Mouth
Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
Matt. 17:4a (Holman) Then Peter said to Jesus, . . .
Overwhelmed by the momentous Transfiguration unfolding before him, Peter felt compelled to say something. Peter never had the spiritual gift of silence. “In the brain, out the mouth” was his life motto. He could not resist an opportunity to say something, even when he had nothing significant to say.
I share Peter’s malady. I can’t do silence. I hate it. My Associate, Ed Meyer, and I have discussed this trait we share in common. We both find quiet to be cumbersome. When conversation lags, we want to say, “Somebody say something. Now.” If no one is obliging, Ed and I will fulfill our own wish. We always feel compelled to say something to relieve the tension of the moment.
This trait can land people in trouble. I’ve never heard Ed say anything untoward, but I cannot say the same of myself. Two Bible verses come to mind.
“When there are many words, sin is unavoidable, but the one who controls his lips is wise” (Proverbs 10:19). “Lord, set up a guard for my mouth; keep watch at the door of my lips” (Psalms 141:3).
Peter spoke rashly, without thinking his words through. The result was two sentences, one good, one not good. We examine his good words first.
Matt. 17:4b “. . . Lord, it’s good for us to be here!”
An admirable premise. It truly is good to experience our Savior in an overwhelming way. The Transfiguration was frightening, but Peter also found it delightful. Anyone who loves Jesus wants to be in His manifest presence.
Experiences like these cannot be manufactured. We cannot prompt the Glory, nor retain it once granted, but can cherish the moments when they come.
I’ve experienced God’s blazing glory in revival twice: the bus ministry revival at Gosnell 32 years ago, the missions revival at Second. Once you taste the Glory, you spend the rest of your life longing for it to be repeated, but its recurrence is 100% God’s prerogative. He’s not big on repeat performances. Encores are not His forte. As Supreme Ruler of human affairs, He sovereignly chooses on His own how, when, and where He will manifest Himself.
Since these remarkable manifestations of God’s glory are rare, we must focus most or our attention in life on experiencing God in the commonplace occurrences of our existence. Our Teaching Pastor Shane Segars and I were discussing a recent Second Eleven service that focused on the topic of worship.
While speaking with Shane, it dawned on me he and I were often having to stop and clarify what kind of worship experience we were describing. Out of that discussion, I concluded there are at least three different distinct types of worship expression: public worship, private worship, presence worship.
We speak often about public and private worship. We talk of weekly public worship as a wave cresting, its intensity determined by how effective we were in daily building the wave through the week in private worship. In turn, the public worship helps inspire us to begin building toward another wave crest.
Let me speak here about the third and most neglected form of worship: presence worship. It’s a phrase I’ve coined to describe what Brother Lawrence described in “Practicing the Presence of God.” The book’s premise is, we’re to live every moment mindful of His presence. All of life is to be a worship celebration of His presence. It is unfortunate that others and I talk about this form of worship least often, because it is the one we can actually do most often.
Let me illustrate from my life. I spend about 6 hours a week in public worship, and a similar amount of time weekly in private devotions. If each week I invest 12 hours in public and private worship, and sleep 56 hours, that leaves me 100 waking hours each week in which to practice God’s presence.
The sheer numbers draw a logical, undeniable conclusion, public and private worship are not ends in and of themselves. They are rather means to a larger end time-wise. They help inspire us and keep our walk consecrated, and should remind us what the ultimate prize is, being mindful of Jesus always.
Our old man tries to trip us here. We have to counter it with proactive responses. We need to build markers, reminders, into the ordinary routines of our day. Meditate often. Have a reminder-place. One of our members daily takes time to sit in a recliner, repeating over and over, “Be still and know I am God” (PS 46:10). He says it till he senses and knows God’s manifest presence.
Our religion is not to be confined to public worship in a church building or to private worship in a prayer closet. Worship is meant to be expressed by us in each moment of life. This priceless enjoyment of presence worship was the great happening Peter experienced at the Transfiguration. He was not in public worship at the temple with a throng, nor was he alone in private devotions.
In the ordinary course of Peter’s life, he suddenly encountered God. The poet William Cowper expressed it well,
“Sometimes a light surprises
The Christian while he sings;
It is the Lord who rises
With healing in his wings.”
Let me expand Cowper’s words. Sometimes a light surprises us while we do dishes, handle errands, sit at our desk at work, attend school. This is what life is meant to be, a constant conscious interaction with the Lord. Our experiences may not be as dramatic as the Transfiguration, but can be as real.
Presence worship is what happened to Peter here. Relishing the moment, He quickly spoke good words, “Lord, it’s good for us to be here.” Now we look at His not good words. Words amiss followed his words of bliss.
Matt. 17:4c “If you want, I will make three tabernacles here: . . .”
Peter offered to build three shrines on the spot. He wanted to fossilize the moment, to institutionalize it, if you will. We often try to artificially freeze moments of God in time, but God doesn’t do static well. He prefers being kinetic. He will not let us stay where we are spiritually. He is ever pushing us forward so that we can enjoy ever better manifestations of Himself.
Being on the Mount with Jesus brought Peter, James, and John gladness. Staying on the mount would have been a neglect of duty. It is faulty reasoning to conclude it is always good to stay where it is currently good to be.
Being on the Mount expanded the three’s spirituality. Staying there would have shriveled it. Our worship pilgrimage necessitates movement and practical activity as much as it requires Bible study and prayer. Rest stations line our way, but forward progress is required. To seek God’s anointing for a given task is no more an act of worship than is doing the task once anointed.
In living the Christian life, too many want the mountaintop without the valleys, the crown without the cross. Jesus had warned the disciples of the trials and troubles coming soon for Him and them. Peter wanted something else. He focused his eyes on Heaven here and now. He desired the prize before having fought the fight. Our aim is wrong if we seek Heaven on Earth. Christians are often upended by unreal expectations. On a scale of 1 to 10, we want life to be a 10. This occurred in Eden, but ever since, life has been at best maybe a 5 or 6.
Life has a way of becoming lify, as Ed Meyer’s mom would say. David moaned, “If only I had wings like a dove! I would fly away and find rest. How far away I would flee; I would stay in the wilderness” (PS 55:6-7). Jeremiah wanted to run away and hide. Life is filled with unwelcome details. This is what Peter wanted to avoid. He and the other disciples knew what awaited them in the valley. Real life. Stuff to do. People to deal with. Hurts to feel.
Peter, James, and John had to learn, as we do, true worship is lived out in the throes of raucous life. We all want Heaven; few want the rough path that leads to it. It is possible to let public and private worship substitute for presence worship. Selfish mysticism can be a stand-in for true faith. Sweet communion with Jesus can be used to excuse not dealing with the realities of life around us.
Do not misunderstand. In daily living, before we face the pending battle and penetrate a world of darkness, we do need to spend time on our knees in private worship, and lift up holy hands in public worship. The way we know these two have succeeded is when we successfully move outward on our feet.