Dance With Joy To God
July 15, 2012
I have a confession to make this morning. I am not a very good dancer. While I enjoy music and will tap my feet to the beat and slap my leg to the beat (another confession I might as well make is that I have never learned to snap my fingers), I am not a very good dancer and never have been. John Travolta and Fred Astaire have absolutely no competition from my corner. Don’t look for me on “Dancing With The Stars” or “So You Think You Can Dance” – I know that I can’t! I try to dance but I seem to be very clumsy on my feet and I end up feeling that I look like a complete idiot. Maybe, as the saying goes, “I have 2 left feet”. When I try to do a line dance it turns out to be an “out of line dance” as I am always a step behind everyone else. My version of “The Electric Slide” seems to resemble electric failure and my version of “The Macarena” seems to look more like “the macabre”. If I tried to “break dance” I would probably end up breaking an arm or leg. Nope – for whatever reason, I am not a very good dancer.
But dancing has been something that people have done since the beginning of time. Some dances are fast and lively and others are slow – some dances are done in groups and some by couples and some by individuals. However it’s done, dancing has been a popular pastime since the beginning of time. The popularity of TV shows like “Dancing With The Stars” and “So You Think You Can Dance” show just how popular dancing is – both to do and to watch. Wherever there is music, you’ll probably find people dancing! Even children will add their version of dances to music – as evidenced by the kids who ran around Depot Park the other night when some of us were there for a concert. Apparently that’s how it was in Biblical times also. You find dancing throughout scripture. Our Old Testament and New Testament passages for today have a lot of dancing in them – but the dances are done for different reasons and evoke different responses. I believe that we can look at these passages and see not only two different ways to dance, but also two different ways to live life and even two different ways to relate to God and others.
First we have in 2 Samuel a joyful dance, and in that joyful dance we have a joyful way to relate to God and others. David is bringing the Ark of The Covenant into Jerusalem, and is dancing for joy before God. Last week, you remember, David conquered Jerusalem and built his palace there. Now he is bringing the Ark of the Covenant into the town that is to be his capitol. The Ark, you remember, was built as the Israelites wandered in the desert after God had freed them from the Egyptians, and was the visible and powerful symbol of God’s presence with God’s people. God dwelt in the Ark, and whenever the people had the Ark with them God’s presence was with them. The Israelites even took the Ark into battle with them to help them remember that God was with them, but during one battle God had warned them not to fight the Ark was taken by the Philistines. The Philistines, however, did not keep the Ark long. God sent plagues on them, and they returned the Ark to the Israelites. Now, David is bringing the Ark of the Covenant into Jerusalem so it will be close to his palace. The king and God were going to be in the same place – and David was delighted to have God with him. He was so delighted that he danced before God. He did not dance a waltz or a slow, dignified dance, but his was a dance of joy before his Lord. David loved God, and wanted to live his life as a life of joyful praise to God for everything God was doing for him. David danced for joy before God, and led the people in a dance of joy also. It was a great and festive occasion – a great celebration before God with music and dancing and joy and praise. But not everybody was joyful. David’s wife Michal, who was the daughter of Saul, the former king, thought David was not acting in the dignified manner she thought a king should act, and told him so. David wasted no time in reminding her that he was king now, not her father or anyone else in her family, and he would dance in his joy whether she liked it or not because God had been so good to him. David realized God’s goodness, and wanted to live his life in joyful praise to God.
So that’s the first dance we have in our passages for today.
Second, we have a story in Mark of a much different kind of dance and a much different way to live life and relate to God. King Herod was a powerful man, but not a Godly man. He surrounded himself with the trappings of power and things of the world with very little concern for the things of God. If he wanted something, he would do whatever he needed to get it, even if it was not his or not legal for him to have it. He rose in the ranks of power by ruthlessly taking what he wanted and held on to power by killing anyone who stood in his way. If his life could be described as a “dance” it would not be a dance of joy to God but a dance that would celebrate himself and his power. He even took Herodias, his brother’s wife and married her. I am sure that there were many things John the Baptist could have criticized Herod for, but taking his brother’s wife seemed to be the main point John made when he criticized Herod’s sinful life. As usually happens when someone dares to criticize a king, John is arrested and thrown into Herod’s prison. Herod is intrigued by what John has to say, but not interested enough to change his ways. Herodias, however, plots her revenge against this rabble rouser John who has dared to question her marriage to Herod. She seizes her opportunity at Herod’s birthday party, where her daughter dances for Herod and his guests. She so pleases them that Herod promises to give her anything she desires, and at Herodias’ prompting, she asks for the head of John. Herod does not want to grant her wish, but also does not want to appear weak in front of his guests – so her request is granted and John beheaded.
So – we have two dances – two ways to dance – which I believe symbolize for us two ways to live life and two different ways to relate to God and others. We have David’s dance of joy and praise to God and his commitment to live a life that joyfully serves God and others, and we have Herodias’s daughter’s dance of self – centered living and a life focused on herself, not focused on God or others.
Friends – which dance best describes your life?
Can your life be described as a joyful dance of praise to God? Most of his life David was committed to living a life of joyful praise to God and a life where he joyfully served God and others. This is not to say that David lived a perfect life – he had his sins, most notably when he acted somewhat like Herod and had Uriah killed and took Bathsheba to be his wife – but most of the time David tried to follow God and live in joyful praise to God for all the things he knew God had done for him. This attitude of praise affected everything David did. He was joyful and excited about his life and wanted to do things that would please God and serve others. His life was indeed a dance of praise to God.
Is that how your life can be described?
Or – is your life more like a dance of self – centered living and not caring about God or others? That’s how Herod’s life – Herod’s “dance” can be described. Herod didn’t care about others, he didn’t care about God, he only cared about himself. His step daughter’s dance seemed to symbolize his life of self – centered living. His life was a dance about himself and whatever pleased him.
Which dance describes you – and how you live your life?
If you live your life as if it were a dance of joy to God, you will be focused on God and God’s will for your life. You will be focused on what you can do for God and others. You will find the joy for living that God wants to give you. That’s the joyful life David lived when he was focused on living in God’s ways. That’s the joyful life God wants to bless you with. But – if you live your life as if it were a self – centered dance that is only focused on you and what you want with little concern for God or others, you will never learn the true meaning of life or how to be truly happy.
Herod and his family may have been rich and powerful, but they were not happy. For all his money and power, Herod was riddled with doubts about what he did. Mark relates the death of John as Jesus’ ministry is gaining momentum and people are beginning talk about Him and wonder who He really was. One of the opinions people gave was that Jesus was John, returned from the dead. Mark relates the details of John’s death in a way that has Herod musing over if it were really possible for John to come back to life – and remembering with angst how John had died. Herod may have been powerful and may have gotten what he wanted and may have seemed to not care how he got it, but Mark helps us see that Herod was not happy at all but was really riddled with anxiety over how he was living his life.
When your life is a dance of self – centeredness you might accumulate money or power or fame, but you will never accumulate true happiness. True and lasting happiness only comes through a life of focusing on God and His will for your life, a life that can be described as a “dance of joyous praise” to God.
Which dance describes you – and how you live your life? The dance of joyful praise to God or the dance of self – centered living?
Maybe you feel stuck in a dance that is more self – centered than God – centered. Maybe you can see the benefits of the God centered life – the life that is the dance of joyful praise to God – but you are not sure how to get that kind of life. I don’t want to over simplify the situation, but I want to suggest four things you can do to live a more joyous, God-centered life. Since we are talking a lot about dancing today, you might want to think of these as “four dance steps in the life that is a joyful dance to God”.
The first step in the life that is a joyful dance to God is to repent of your sins and believe in God. That was John the Baptist’s message to anyone who would listen. Earlier in his gospel – in Mark 1:4 — Mark writes:
And so John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.
That’s the first step in the dance of a joyful life in God.
King David knew that step. When he sinned, he confessed it to God and repented. He also knew that God forgave him. If you want to a great example of what it means to repent of your sins and believe in God, read Psalm 51. David knew that he was a sinner, but he repented of his sins and believed in God. King Herod may have known that something was not right in the way he was living, but he never repented and believed in God and never found the joyful life God gives. He certainly knew about God – he listened to John and I am sure he heard John say that he needed to repent and turn to God – but he never acted on what John told him. He may have thought he would do it later, that he could put it off. But he never did it.
If you want to live your life as a joyful dance to God, the first step is to repent of your sins and believe in God. You need to be more like David and repent of your sins and receive God’s forgiveness and less like Herod and never repent. Maybe you’ve heard the message to repent and be forgiven a lot of times but have never actually acted on it. Maybe you think you can put it off and do it later. If that’s your attitude, you need to change it. You need to confess your sins, repent, and find God’s forgiveness. If you don’t do that, you will never be able to have the life that can be compared to the joyful dance to God.
So – the first step in the dance of a life that is lived in joyful praise to God to repent and believe in God.
The second step is to trust God.
Proverbs 3:5-6 says:
Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.
David knew what it meant to trust God with his life and know that God was in control of his life. He trusted God when facing Goliath and was victorious. He trusted God when Saul was trying to kill him and God protected him. Most of his life he trusted God, and God never steered him wrong when he trusted Him. If you want to read a great statement on trusting God, read Psalm 25. David knew what it meant to trust God. Herod never learned how to trust God. He trusted in himself, his riches, his army, and all the other things he gathered around him. In the end, though, all of Herod the things Herod trusted betrayed him and he died a horrible death.
If you want to live your life as a joyful dance to God, you need to trust God. All the other things you can trust will fade away, but God never will. Trusting in things of the world is never the answer to the happiness you might be looking for in life, but trusting in God is the answer. Trusting in God instead of the things of the world is another step in living the life that can be compared to a joyful dance to God.
Repenting and believing God and trusting God are the first two steps to the life that is a joyful dance to God.
The third step is to live for God.
Paul – in Romans 12:1 – urges us to give our lives to God:
Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship.
David knew what it meant to live for God. He did not do it perfectly, but he knew how to come to God and seek His help when he realized that he was not living for God. Psalm 26 is a wonderful testimony to David’s commitment living for God. Herod, on the other hand, lived for himself. He only wanted to please himself, and in the end did not find pleasure at all, because true pleasure only comes from living for God.
How about your life? Do you live for God and to do His will – or do you put living for God “on the back burner” while you live for yourself? God needs to be who you live for. You need to live your life serving God and doing God’s will. There were times David did not know exactly what God wanted him to do, but he prayed and God showed him how to live for him. God will do the same for you if you let him. Pray God will show you His will for your life, and live for God. That’s the only way you can live a life that is a dance of joyful praise to God.
So – three steps to the life that is a joyful dance of praise to God are repenting of your sins and believing in God, trusting God, and living for God. The fourth step is to let God give you joy. Nehemiah told the people of Israel:
the joy of the Lord is your strength (Nehemiah 8:10)
David knew what it was like to let God give him joy. He knew that letting God give him joy and living his life in the joy of God was what gave him strength for what God called him to do in his life. If you want to read a Psalm that expresses exuberant joy to God read Psalm 150. I like to think that it was Psalm 150 David and the people of Israel were singing as they brought the Ark into Jerusalem. Herod, however, never learned the secret to true joy. He had everything he wanted, but was miserable. He never learned that true joy only comes from God and from serving God.
How about you? Do you try to get joy in life from the things you can accumulate and surround yourself with in life – or do you know that true joy only comes from God? As much as he tried, Herod never learned where to find true joy in life, and there are a lot of people who continue to not learn where to find joy. You can look in many places and try to find joy in a lot of things, but until you find the one thing – God – you will never be truly happy. Trying to find happiness and joy in the things of the world only leads to a life of endlessly searching for the next thing that will make you happy. The problem is you always think the next thing you want or “need” will be the thing to make you happy—and it never does. The search for worldly things that will make you truly happy only ends up making you frustrated. You will only be truly happy when you quit looking for happiness in worldly things and begin looking for happiness in God – because the joy God can give you is the only true joy you can have. If you will turn to God for your joy He will bless you with a joy that can sustain you through the hard times of your life and give you a life that is a joyful dance to God as you joyfully find meaning in serving God and others.
So – we have four steps to the life is that is a joyful dance of praise to God:
repenting of your sins and believing in God, trusting God, living for God, and letting God give you joy
Are you like David – following these steps and living a life that may not be perfect but that leads to joyfully serving God and others – or are you like Herod – living a life that is only concerned about yourself and has no regard for God or others? Can your life be described as a joyful dance of praise to God – or is it more like a dance that is centered on yourself? Friends – I pray you will follow the steps that lead to a life that is a joyful dance to God. I pray that you will repent of your sins and believe in God, trust God, live for God and let God give you joy.
I pray for you to discover how to live a life that is a joyful dance to God. Amen.