10 Notes about Worship on a Sunday Morning
I’m preaching on worship today at a church in Southwest Mississippi. A few weeks ago when the pastor asked for my subject, I quickly said “Worship is a verb” for a title of the message. Hardly without a thought. This is a big deal with me, I thought. God is working on this in me. I’ve preached and written on it before. I know some basic texts and have one huge burden on the subject, namely, that most Christians I know have it backward and think worship is all about "me." Then, as often happens, when I began preparing and praying for the message, I realized just how little I actually know on the subject. God help me.
1) God wants His children to worship. In fact, He wants “everything, everywhere” to worship Him.
In Revelation, at the climax of all history, the praise chorus will include “every creature in heaven, on earth, under the earth, on the sea, and everything in them” (Revelation 5:13). No wonder Scripture says “Let everything that hath breath praise the Lord” (Psalm 150:6).
I wouldn’t be surprised if finally “the rocks cry out” (Luke 19:40).
2) The question of “why” God wants us to worship Him nags at a lot of people.
Not me personally, but it clearly does some people.
C. S. Lewis used to struggle with the idea of an infinite God almost begging for worship from His subjects, like a puny potentate who needed the constant reinforcing of his subjects’ loyalty.
Eventually, Lewis came to see that God does not “need” anything from us, and our failure to worship Him takes nothing from Him. He would write, “A man can no more diminish God’s glory by refusing to worship Him than a lunatic can put out the sun by scribbling the word ‘darkness’ on the walls of his cell.”
God does not need our worship any more than the Pacific needs the water in this bottle beside my laptop, or the moon needs another crater. Or Mercury is hurting for a little more sunlight.
3) God does not need anything from me.
Poor God. Sitting up there in Heaven, wanting so desperately to have the adoration of puny earthlings and not getting it.
That is laughable. No wonder people reject that image; it is so skewed as to be ridiculous. God needs nothing from me.
“If I were hungry, I would not ask you. The cattle on a thousand hills is mine” (Psalm 50:10-12).
4) Worship is “unto the Lord.” It’s not all about me.
“Give unto the Lord the glory due His name,” says the Word in I Chronicles 16:29 and Psalm 29:2.
And yet, listen to the average church-goer entering and exiting the house of worship.
“I hope I get something out of this service today.” “I didn’t get anything out of Reverend Buster’s sermon.” “I got a lot out of the Bible lesson.” “We’re going to join because we like this church.” “We will not be back because no one spoke to us.”
As though it were all about us. Pastors have been terminated because church members concluded they were not being “fed.” As though the worship were all about themselves.
God help us.
5) Worship is an active verb and it’s directed Heavenward.
The 16th chapter of I Chronicles contains David’s song of thanksgiving on the return of the Ark of the Covenant to Israel. Notice the active verbs which he associates with worship of God….
Verse 8: Give thanks. Proclaim His deeds.
Verse 9. Sing to Him. Praise. Tell all about His wonderful works.
Verse 12. Remember.
Verse 23. Sing to the Lord. Proclaim His salvation.
Verse 24. Declare His glory.
Verse 28. Ascribe to the Lord glory and strength.
Verse 29. Ascribe to the Lord the glory of His name. Bring an offering. Worship the Lord in the beauty of His holiness.
Verse 34. Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good.
When we enter the Lord’s house for worship, we are not there to sit and listen, to passively dare the preacher to draw us out of our shells and make us worship. We are there to give thanks, proclaim His deeds, sing to Him, praise Him, to remember what He has done. We are there to declare His glory and to “ascribe” to Him glory and strength and every other attribute we can think of. And to bring an offering.
6) Worship benefits us, but it must not be “about” us.
When I worship the living God, I’m the one who benefits.
Worship enlarges my soul. Worship grows me. Expands. Changes my perspective. Makes me a greater person.
Psalm 73 is our illustration of this. The songwriter was struggling with an issue that has perplexed God’s children through the ages: Why do the righteous have it so hard while the wicked seem to prosper? After stewing on this too long, the songwriter was tempted to speak out and share his frustration, vent his anger at God. Then his senses returned. “If I had decided to say these things aloud, I would have betrayed Your people. When I tried to understand all this, it seemed hopeless” (Psalm 73:15-16).
And then, something happened to reverse his thinking. He went to church. “It seemed hopeless–until I entered God’s sanctuary. Then I understood….” (73:16-17).
That’s how worship works. It changes our thinking, reverses our self-centeredness, enlarges our perspective. Throughout the rest of Psalm 73, we see just how worship has changed everything in the hymnwriter’s mind: “Yet, I am always with you…. You guide me with Your counsel….My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart, my portion forever. Those far from you will certainly perish…but as for me, God’s presence is my good….”
Worship puts eternity in my heart. And the more I avoid worship, the more I shrink until finally I become a tiny self-enclosed ball of miserable self.
7) There is however a horizontal element to my worship.
When done right, my worship connects with other people.
–With other believers….
“Speaking to one another in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, singing and making music in your heart, giving thanks always….submitting to one another in the fear of Christ” (Ephesians 5:19-21).
“Where two or three are gathered together in My Name, there am I in their midst” (Matthew 18:20).
Away with the idea that worship is a solitary business, that, as people are wont to say, “I can worship just as well on a creekbank with a fishing pole in my hand.”
Some churchgoers who get a thousand things right about worship, miss this point. They speak against the performance aspect of singer’s Sunday offering and resent the applause that almost inevitably follows. “She should be singing to God, not to man. And yet, Ephesians 5:19 acknowledges there is another dimension to this. When we worship with our songs, we “speak to one another.” And–let us not miss this–we “submit to one another.”
The Lord is present when “two or three” gather in His name. “In His name” clearly means they are either worshiping or working for Him. And we should count on His presence. I do not claim to understand how He could be “more present” than when I am here in this kitchen typing on a laptop with no one else in the house. But it seems to be the case. In what we call “corporate worship”–meaning, with the full body of believers–something special happens.
–And with outsiders.
“About midnight, Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God. And the other prisoners were listening.” (Acts 16:25)
They are always listening, checking to see what we are doing and what it means; what it says about us and about our God.
Let them see something of eternity in us, something divine, something of the living God.
David said, “I waited patiently for the Lord and He inclined unto me and heard my cry. He brought me up out of the miry clay and set my feet on the solid rock, and made my footsteps firm. He put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to our God. Many will see and fear and put their trust in the Lord” (Psalm 40:1-3).
We do not worship God to put on a show for those who “see and fear and put their trust in God.” But they are watching, make no mistake.
We owe it to them to make sure that what they see is a true child of God worshiping in Spirit and in truth.
8) Worship is permanent. An hour in His presence does something lasting.
I’m not quite sure how this works, but I believe it.
When in the house of Mary, Martha, and Lazarus in Bethany, our Lord sat and rested and began speaking, Mary stopped whatever she was doing and sat at His feet. She was worshiping. When Martha interrupted this little “service of worship” to call Mary to get up and come help, and accused the Lord of not caring, Jesus said, “You are full of cares and worried about many things. But only one thing is needful. And Mary has chosen that one good thing, which shall not be taken away from her.” (Luke 10:38-42).
Notice that: Shall not be taken away from her.
Everything Martha was doing would have to be repeated the next day. All the cleaning and cooking and household chores never end. But an hour spent at the feet of Jesus is eternal. We are forever different. And that time can never be repeated, duplicated, or removed.
9) In worship, we begin by giving the Lord ourselves.
“I beseech you therefore brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, wholly and acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service” (Romans 12:1).
When Paul praised the churches of Macedonia for their generosity in giving to help the starving Christians of Judea–see the early verses of 2 Corinthians 8–he adds this line: “They didn’t do it the way we expected. First, they gave themselves especially to the Lord, and then to us by God’s will” (8:5).
First, to the Lord.
That’s how it’s done. The rest of it–worshiping, bringing an offering, praising and remembering and giving thanks and praying–flow from that initial gift of oneself.
And, as in the rest of worship, we do it unto the Lord but the blessings all flow toward us.
If we do it for the personal payoff, it will not pay off. But if we do it unto the Lord, we are blessed.
This is why Paul told the Corinthian church, “I will not burden you; for I am not seeking what is yours, but you” (2 Corinthians 12:14).
Does the Lord have you? Nothing else matters until you can answer in the affirmative.
10) There are 999 other dimensions to worship. I wish I knew what they were.
“There’s more. So much more,” says a wonderful gospel song from years back.
A radio commercial yesterday said, “And now, here’s a special message to the canines in the audience.” Dead air. Then, “The dogs heard that!”
Animals have more acute hearing than we humans. And their olfactory senses are hundreds of times sharper. The eagle has vision that puts ours to shame.
I’m thinking that when we get to heaven, we will find that the music we have heard and enjoyed on earth is just a sliver of all that is on the Heavenly spectrum. That the colors we know in our rainbow are only from, let’s say, 49 to 51 on God’s scale of 1 to 100. The senses will not be just five or six, but ten thousand.
“Eyes have not seen; ears have not heard; neither has it entered into the heart of man the things that God has prepared for those who love Him” (I Corinthians 2:9).
We shall worship God the way we have always wanted to.
I have stood underneath a maple tree in all its autumnal radiance, and tried to take in the golds and reds and oranges, and have almost wept because I could not do it. I was on the outside of all this beauty, and wanted to take it in.
I have listened to choirs and orchestras and great soloists and ensembles who lifted my spirits heavenward, and I wanted to take it inside and keep it with me forever. Alas, the notes died away and the music was gone and I wanted to weep.
But one day.
One day we shall know as we are known. We see be like Him for we shall see Him as He is. And then we shall worship God the way we’ve always wanted to.
Even so, come Lord Jesus!
Publication date: July 15, 2015