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Joe McKeever Christian Blog and Commentary

"We have come to worship Him"
(Matthew 2:2).

The devil’s first plan of attack is to get us to worship him. He tried that with our Lord, as recorded in Luke 4:7. “All these things will be yours if you will worship me.” He soon found the futility of that. Not then and hardly at all since has anyone wanted to bow down and worship this foolish fallen angel.

But such a persistent enemy always has a backup plan. Plan B is to interfere with our worship of the living God. Satan will do anything to throw a wrench into the works and shut down or hinder our daily submission to the Lord Jesus and all that involves (prayer, commitment, study of the Word, service, etc).

Not long ago, while sitting in church listening to a friend preach, I began a list of the lies Satan whispers to God’s people who gather to worship Him….

1. “This isn’t working. You’re wasting your time here.”

It’s true the pragmatic mind–I think of Martha in Luke 10–cannot see the point in our sitting for an hour at the feet of Jesus, doing nothing productive.  Here was her sister Mary, for instance. She was just sitting there on the floor, listening and adoring and thinking.  The Lord said to Martha, “Mary has made the right choice, and it will not be taken away from her” (Luke 10:42).

2. “Nothing they’re doing is inspiring.”

Pity the worship leaders.  They’re in a no-win situation.  They get criticized for putting on a performance and criticized for not performing well enough. They cannot do our worship for us, but we demand that they sing and preach and lead so well, our worship is automatic.

3. "You don’t feel the song you are singing and so it’s pointless.”

Some of them are pointless, I fear.  But whether I “feel” the song I’m singing is beside the point. I do a lot of things that count with the Lord which I may not “feel.”

4. "You don’t understand that scripture.”

Often that’s true. But my heart loves that text and everytime I read it or hear it read, my spirit soars and I know I’m hearing from Heaven. So often, I say with the Psalmist, “Such knowledge is beyond me; It is too high; I cannot attain to it” (Psa. 139:6).  But I read it anyway and draw worship from its inspiration.

5. “That prayer of yours is something you have prayed a hundred times. Vain repetition.”

If the devil only knew! So many of my prayers are the same thing I’ve mentioned to the Lord a hundred times or more.  But that’s all right.  Scripture teaches that the Holy Spirit takes our baby-talk and translates it into the language of Heaven that makes sense (see Romans 8:26,34).  My poor praying does not nullify my prayers or make them ineffective; it just gives the Spirit more room to work!

6. “You are not living up to what the pastor is preaching. You are such a hypocrite.”

The first part is true but not the second. I do not live up to everything my pastor preaches–or that I preach, for that matter. But to be a hypocrite, I would have to claim I did. And that I will not do.

So, once again, the devil is proven to be half-right and totally wrong.

7. “What difference will your little offering make? The worldwide budget for the International Mission Board exceeds $100 million.”

Aw, but that’s the wonderful thing about how the Lord works. He takes the coins from the widow (Mark 12:41ff) and adds them to the gifts of His other faithful children and turns it all into a river of support and provisions for His obedient laborers throughout the world.  By itself, my offering would hardly do any thing. But with yours and his and hers and theirs, we are able to do amazing things!

8. “You‘re just going through the motions. And most of the people around you are, too.”

Maybe so, but isn’t it great that we have all learned to worship by faith. Even when we don’t feel it or see what it accomplishes or know where our offerings go or receive answers to our prayers when we would like, we still gather and sing and pray, we give and love and hear and obey.

Satan is a liar and the father of lies. 

According to our Lord in John 8:44, our enemy specializes in half-truths, near truths, and bald-faced outright lies.

The truth of worship–and this must drive him up the wall!–is simply that…

–it’s not necessary for me to be perfect in order to worship the Lord.

–it’s not necessary for me to understand perfectly what we are saying or what I am doing in order to pray or serve Him.

–it’s not necessary for me to know why in order to obey.

–it’s not necessary for me to know where my offering is going, what it will accomplish, or anything else in order to give..

–it’s not necessary for a worship service to be exciting, new, fast, or loud in order for it to please the Father and be acceptable to Heaven.  (It can be as new as something written last night or so old Charles Wesley borrowed from it, but if given from the heart, the Lord welcomes our worship in Heaven.)

–It’s just necessary that my worship be real, in Spirit and in truth.  That’s John 4:24 and it’s one of the all-time great truths about worship.

My favorite picture of worship is found in Luke 7:36-50.

Variations of this account are given in the other gospels, but none can match Luke’s version of the “woman who was a sinner” slipping into the home of the Pharisee where rumor said Jesus had gone to eat.

“She stood behind Him at His feet, weeping, and began to wash His feet with her tears.  She wiped His feet with the hair of her haid, kssing them, and anointing them with the fragrant oil.”

Next time you find yourself in worship, let’s see you do that!  (I cannot read this story without misting up. I want to worship Him like that!)

The enemy, always on the job, had two harsh things to say about this woman’s lovely worship:

–“She is unworthy.”  In Luke 7:39, the Pharisee who was His host dismissed our Lord for welcoming the worship of this fallen woman.  She was so unworthy, he said in his spirit. And he was right, of course.

She was unworthy, and so are you.  Thank God, He “receiveth sinful men (and women)” (Luke 15:2).

–“That is wasted.”  In John 12:4, Judas the betraying disciple watched this woman anointing Jesus and said out loud, “What a waste! That oil would have brought a year’s wages for a working man!  Think of all the poor people it would have fed.”  John–who was present on the scene, remember!–says Judas cared nothing about the poor, but hated to see all that money poured out on the floor and going to waste.  He could think of better uses for money.

The enemy can tell you (ahem) better things to do with your money than to place it in the offering plate.  He will say you are wasting your money, wasting your time, and wasting you life away by following Jesus.

The enemy will remind you that you are not worthy to worship and what is more, neither are all those others sitting around you, singing and praying as though they had good sense.  As you reflect on them–turning the attention away from yourself since that was so uncomfortable–you find yourself growing critical of Christians, angry at churches and suspicious of preachers.  And mad at Jesus, too, if you were honest.

That’s when you know the enemy is in the house today, on the job, and doing a very effective work of sowing tares (Matthew 13:25), of sowing suspicion (“has the Lord said?” Genesis 3:1), and sowing distrust between brethren (in Revelation 12:10 he is “the accuser of the brethren”).

Don’t let it happen, friend.

Keep saying to yourself, “The devil is a liar.  Nothing that comes from his mouth can be trusted.  I will worship poorly if that’s all I can do, but worship I will!”

Go on.  Worship God. Do it in faith.  Do it regardless of how you are feeling today or how much you are understanding, how little you have to give or what difference it will make.

Do it because He commands it in the Word.  “Come and let us worship the Lord; shout triumphantly to the rock of our salvation! Let us enter His presence with thanksgiving; let us shout triumphantly to Him in song!” (Psalm 95:1ff.)

Just do it. Worship by faith.

“When the Son of Man (returns), will He find faith on earth?” (Luke 18:8).

Let’s have your and my answers be a resounding, “You bet.  I’m here in my place, O Lord Jesus, worshiping and serving and obeying!  Praise Your holy name.”

(Post script: I sit here at the computer typing through my tears and it occurs to me that this is the nearest I can get in this lifetime to doing what the woman of Luke 7 did: sitting at the feet of our Lord and bathing His feet in her tears and wiping them dry with her long hair.  I think of the promise “when that which is perfect is come” (I Corinthians 13:10), my worship will be full and complete and lasting. Until then, like Mary in Luke 10, this is momentary because in a few minutes, we have to get up and help Martha in the kitchen. But that’s all right.)

Publication date: November 26, 2014

“I was glad when they said unto me, ‘Let us go into the house of the Lord'” (Psalm 122:1).

(Note: I write as a Southern Baptist with little familiarity with how other denominations do their worship services. Therefore, what follows may be of limited value to some of our readers.)

Some tasks we cannot shunt off to someone else. Some key responsibilities we cannot hire others to perform for us. Leading the worship service is one of the pastoral essentials. The pastor is the leader.

This is not to say the minister will physically lead the hymns. (In some churches, he does, but in most someone else does this.) He will not pray every prayer or be the only one reading the Scripture or promoting upcoming events. But ultimately, it all goes back to him. The pastor is like the stagecoach driver. He does not pull the coach but holds the reins to the six horses that do.

1) Let the pastor give leadership, guidance, and direction to all aspects of the service.

This calls for advance planning, usually in a weekly staff meeting. (The pastor who has no weekly staff planning meeting is setting himself and the church up for great confusion and a multitude of conflicts. A thousand problems can be headed off by regularly sitting down with the other ministers or key leaders to talk out issues, plan special events, synchronize the calendar, and make decisions about ministries.)

With one leader, the minister works on the choice of hymns, with another on other features in the service, whether a video, testimony, promotion, drama, or something else, and with another on preparation for the service. The latter involves the greeters, ushers, displays, and physical attractiveness (yes, this includes making sure the bathrooms are clean, attractive and well-supplied). Some of this is done one-on-one; some of it in the full gathering.

As the “overseer of the church”–Acts 20:28–the minister is the point person, giving direction and oversight to everything.

Note: As the new pastor of a church struggling with financial issues, there being precious little money for “extras,” I began designating money occasionally into a “pastor’s ministry fund.” When the leader of the children’s choirs requested $100 for refreshments, I asked the bookkeeper to take the money from the pastor’s fund. At this, the deacon serving as the unpaid business administrator balked. “The children’s choir is not ‘pastoral ministry.'” I said, “My friend, everything taking place in this church is pastoral ministry. If I use that money to buy bathroom tissue, that too is pastoral ministry.”

2) The minister is the one leading the worship.

Even if you have a staffer who is called “worship leader,” it’s a misnomer. You as the shepherd of the congregation lead them in worship. You do it personally, and you do it indirectly through others, and throughout all of it, you set the example.

You are worshiping the Lord Jesus Christ in this service, and the congregation should know that.

You begin the service (i.e., you are the first one at the pulpit to speak) by giving direction to what will take place here today. When you step away from the platform then, and sit with your family until the next time you rise to speak, you should fully participate. Sing the hymns heartily, and follow everything taking place. Be present, and not distracted.

Note: The time to set this pattern is when the new pastor has his first staff meeting. He makes it clear–without ever saying the actual words–that he is interested in everything taking place and that “we are going for excellence in every detail.” In some churches, the music director has assumed control of the first half of the service and may resent the pastor’s intrusion into “his” area. The new pastor should learn this ahead of time and deal with it personally and privately, rather than springing it on the unsuspecting staffer in the meeting. But absolutely no one is granted their own time in the worship service without being accountable to the minister. Since God and the congregation will hold the pastor accountable, he may as well bite the bullet and take the role.

3) The minister should begin the service clearly and positively.

Let the pastor walk to the pulpit and say loudly, confidently, and from memory, some clear and uplifting verse of Scripture.

“This is the day the Lord hath made! Let us rejoice and be glad in it!”

“I will call upon the Lord who is greatly to be praised! So shall I be saved from my enemies. The Lord liveth! and blessed be the Rock, and let the God of my salvation be exalted!”

“Though the fig tree should not blossom, and there be no fruit on the vines; though the yield of the olive should fail and the fields produce no food; though the flock should be cut off from the fold and there be no cattle in the stalls. Yet, I will exult in the Lord! I will rejoice in the God of my salvation! The Lord God is my Rock, and He has made my feet like hinds’ feet; He causes me to walk on my high places!”

And after calling out that verse, lead in prayer. What kind of prayer? Keep reading.

Note: I’ve been in worship services where someone begins the service by silliness, by making goofball remarks to the choir, by referencing last night’s football game, or by teasing some member of the church. But perhaps nothing irks me more than the leader who asks for a response from the congregation–“Isn’t this a beautiful day?” or “Are you glad to be in the Lord’s house today?”–and then fusses at the people for their weak answer. Oh great, I think. We’re starting our worship service by fussing at the Lord’s people.

We can do better than this, people!

4) Let your prayers be well-thought out ahead of time. 

Not written, of course, but know what you want to say and plan the best way to express it.

Whether the invocation at the beginning or a pastoral prayer inside the service, the minister should not do this off the cuff, making it up as he goes. If he does, it will almost always be shallow, superficial, and heavily dependent on clichés.

I have a strong suggestion along that line: Pray the way they did in Scriptures. And, since this is more involved than the rest of these suggestions, we’ll add it on at the end of the article. Some will want to print out that portion and look more deeply into the scriptures cited.

Note: We recall how the Lord’s disciples pointed out that John (the Baptist) taught his disciples how to pray, and they would like Him to show them how. I do not wonder that most church members never ask their pastors to “teach us to pray.” The scattered, shallow, superficial and impromptu things we pastors display under the heading of prayer do not inspire anyone to ask us for direction. That should be treated as an indictment against us pastors and should be remedied post-haste. See the addendum.

5) Plan your ending of the service, pastor.

So many pastors let the service fizzle to a conclusion, with him standing there trying to remember additional announcements to be made, afternoon meetings someone needs to be reminded of, or worse, rehashing the sermon. We can do better than this.

The service should end as positively and strongly as it began, preferably on the same theme or even using the identical scripture which was quoted at the top.

6) Early in the next staff meeting, ask for a discussion on the worship service.

What worked best, and what was least effective? What can we do better? Did you hear any comments, positive or negative?

Note: The pastor should praise those who did well. A public compliment before one’s peers carries great weight, and usually ranks higher on the appreciation-scale than a private note. However, private handwritten notes are always in order.

7) Staying within your basic order of worship, some variety is almost always appreciated.

Insert a testimony or a brief video. Have the choir enter down the aisle singing the opening call to worship. Interview a member with an interesting story to tell. Put variety into your sermon.

Go on-line and watch other church’s services, looking for ideas that work.

Note: Do not overdo variety. People get disoriented if they are unable to follow the service and have no idea what you are trying to accomplish or the nature of the theme.

Addendum: How the minister can lead public prayers as Scripture demonstrates

Every imaginable kind of prayer is prayed in Scripture, everything from one-sentence prayers to one word pleas (“Help!”) to lengthy, unforgettable, one-of-a-kind intercessions.

It’s the special, public prayers that we have in mind here.

Look at Acts 4:23-31. Peter and John had been arrested, held overnight, and warned against preaching in the name of Jesus. They returned to the congregation–presumably meeting in someone’s house–and reported all of this. Then, they prayed.

In their prayer, they began by REMINDING THE LORD (that’s a biggie; so stay with us here) of 5 things– Who the Lord is, What He has done, What He has said (promised), Our present situation, and Our requests.

1. Who He is. “O Lord, it is You who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and all that is in them….”

2. What He has done. (above)

3. What He has said (promised). “Who, by the Holy Spirit, through the mouth of our father David Your servant, said, ‘Why did the Gentiles rage….?'”

4. What our situation is. “For truly in this city there were gathered together against Your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do whatever Your hand and Your purpose predestined to occur….” 

5. And finally, what we are requesting today.  “And now, take note of their threats, and grant that your servants may speak your word with all confidence….”

The business of “reminding the Lord” is based on Isaiah 62:6-7. “You who remind the Lord, take no rest for yourselves, and give Him no rest until He make Jerusalem a praise in all the earth.” The Hebrew word is MAZKIR, built on “ZAKAR,” meaning “remember.” The M (meme) in front of the word makes it “to cause to remember.”

Mazkir was the title of an official in the court of David and Solomon and presumably other Israeli rulers (see 2 Samuel 8:16 and I Kings 4:3). Usually translated “recorders,” these officials functioned like court reporters of our day. They kept notes on the king’s doings, rulings, court orders, summit conferences, and the like. As the need arose, the king would call in the Mazkir. “What did I promise King Ben-hadad the last time we met in Ammon?” Or, “Has this defendant ever been before me? If so, what was my verdict at that time?”

The Mazkir’s good notes enabled the king to make wise decisions.

“Your Heavenly Father knows what things you have need of before you ask Him,” said our Lord in Matthew 6:8.

So there we have it. The Father already knows, but we are to remind Him.

Why should we be asked to remind God of anything? You’ll think of fifty answers to this, but most will come down to the simple fact that God wants us to have faith, to believe in Him, and to “bring our burdens to the Lord,” as the old hymn puts it.

I am suggesting–urging is more like it–that in your most important prayer in the worship service, pastor, you will have given thought to planning your prayer based on this little formula used by God’s people to one degree or the other all through Scripture: Reminding the Lord of Who He is, what He has done, what He has promised, and then, what our present situation is, and finally, what we are requesting today. 

I am not saying all prayers in Scripture were this way. There were all kinds of prayers prayed by the Lord’s faithful. But the big ones–like David’s dedication of the temple material in I Chronicles 29:10ff, Solomon’s dedication of the temple itself in I Kings 8:22ff, Jehoshaphat’s prayer in 2 Chronicles 20:5ff, and the one in Acts 4–all followed this plan.

Quick short prayers are always in order. The great literacy pioneer Frank Laubach called these “prayer arrows.” But nothing inspires a people to pray, and lifts their standards of what takes place in prayer, like a well-thought out prayer that follows this pattern.

One final thought. Over the years, I have sometimes heard unthinking preachers berate longer formal prayers that begin with something like “O God, Thou who didst make the heavens and the earth, who spoke the worlds into being….” and so forth. I can hear one now saying, “Why do we do such silliness? God knows Who He is! He doesn’t need us padding our prayers this way!”

The well-intentioned preacher (we assume) was dead wrong. While we may want to update our references to something like “Lord, you raised up men and women to found this church. You put it in the hearts of your people to bring the gospel to our city. And now, the baton has been handed to us. We want to be faithful in this our hour.”

But let us have done with prayers that bore the congregation and insult the Father. It’s a safe bet that if our prayers are boring us, they could use some attention.

"Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by this some have entertained angels without knowing it" (Hebrews 13:2).

"The stranger who resides with you shall be to you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself; for you were aliens in the land of Egypt; I am the Lord your God" (Leviticus 19:34).

I had been reading in our local paper that the New Orleans Museum of Art’s display of artifacts from the Louisiana Purchase of 1803 would be closing its run soon, and I wanted to see this.  My wife was out of town, so this would be a good time.

So, that Tuesday afternoon, after finishing my hospital rounds, I drove to the museum in City Park, arriving around 4 pm.  I made my way around the barricades that obstructed the newly completed entrance and prepared to buy a ticket.  Signs said the museum closed at 5 pm.  And yet, something was wrong.

The entrance was closed and the ticket booth was shut down.

I stood there a moment wondering if I’d been mistaken about the time.

Just then, a couple of young adults stepped out of the ticket booth. I said, “Are you closed?”

One of the men said, “The exhibit takes two hours to see, so we stop selling tickets at 4 o’clock since you could not complete it before the museum closes.”  I was stunned.

For this I drove 40 minutes across town?

Feeling like an idiot, I said, “You’re closed? But the sign says you close at 5, and it’s 4 o’clock now." When he repeated himself, I saw I was getting nowhere and not wanting to be confrontational, I walked away. I muttered, “Great!” but meant anything but that.

I have never spent more than 30 minutes on any exhibit, even including the Claude Monet water lilies a few years back. But the museum will not sell me a ticket unless I agree to spend two full hours inside?

Walking back toward the parking lot, I spotted several people getting out of cars.  “Folks,” I said, "They won't sell you a ticket. They say it takes two hours to see it and the museum closes at five, so they’re shutting down the entrance now.” They looked as puzzled as I felt.  A woman emerging from an outside booth overheard this and picking up on my frustration, called out, “Come on. I’ll sell you a ticket.”

I said, “No, ma’am. Thank you.”  She said something to the effect that she would make an exception for us.

I felt like saying this is not about us–although my blood pressure said otherwise–but was about a publicly funded institution that has forgotten why it exists: to serve the public. Now, if this were a government agency, we would understand. We're all familiar with the kind of legalistic, bureaucratic redtape these things can produce.

Driving away, I said to myself over and over, "All right. Don't let it spoil your day."

So, I pulled into a nearby book store and spent an enjoyable half-hour browsing, then visited a favorite restaurant near the lake and had a good meal.  An hour later, I led a home Bible study in our neighborhood and arrived home in good spirits around 9 pm.

That evening, thinking back on that little episode, I asked myself, "Will I go back to see the museum exhibit? Not Likely.  I’ve sort of lost my enthusiasm for it at the moment."

That was perhaps 10 years ago and I've not been in the museum since. (But not, I hasten to add, for any reason other than they’ve not had an attraction in which I was interested.)

Do churches do this, I wonder.

Do churches restrict their hours and their offerings for their own convenience and to satisfy their own constituents with no thought to those who might like to get in on what they offer?

I think I know the answer to that, and it’s not good.

Do churches make it hard to find out what time they have services? (One church refused to erect a sign with the times of services because some said it would spoil the decor of the lawn.)

Do churches leave you wondering which door to enter or where to park?  (I can show you some here in my city.)

Do churches ever freeze you out, giving the strong impression that they like their membership just as it is and would prefer that a loser like you would find another house of worship?

Help us, Lord.

It pains me no end to realize that people look at Christians and at churches and make decisions about Jesus. We represent Him so poorly.

Help us to get this right, Father.  Help us to be servants and not hirelings.