Of all the aspects of the Christian experience perhaps the act of corporate worship is the most misunderstood, misappropriated and most divisive of them all. In our arrogance we actually seek out the church that offers US the best worship experience, the one that WE can get the most out of. We will actually change churches when we leave feeling like we didn’t get anything out of the worship service. How much more puffed up and ass backwards can we be? This post will be using excerpts from a sermon or mine some years ago addressing the heart of Worship as I understand it. It’s not about us or what we “get” out of it-it’s always about Christ and our sacrifice of praise to Him.
Consider this definition of worship as given by William Temple, one of the great Anglican Theologians. He said, “Worship is the submission of all our nature to God. It is the quickening of conscience by His holiness; the nourishment of mind with his truth; the purifying of imagination by His beauty; the opening of our heart to His love; the surrender of will to his purpose”.
While we do come to church to worship, we should not feel that worship starts when we arrive. As Christians, we should always be in a state of worship. We do not come to church on Sunday to worship-we come to church already worshiping. We are merely joining other believers in a spirit of communion to join our worship together as one united. It’s like singing-you come to church as a soloist and join others at church to form a choir. If you’re coming to church, hoping that a good worship service will suddenly break out, you probably aren’t worshiping when you come, and a worship experience will not happen for you. “I was glad when they said unto me, let us go unto the house of the Lord”
Corporate worship is not about you, nor is it for you. It is all about the acknowledgement of our smallness compared to God’s bigness and the resulting epiphany of His never ending love and mercy for us in lieu of what our sinfulness rightly deserves. We bow as if pardoned from a death sentence and humbly surrender our whole and unworthy being to His sovereignty and goodness. We sing the song Heart of Worship-consider the lyrics.
When the music fades, and all is stripped away, and I simply come, wanting just to bring something that’s of worth that will bless your heart-I’ll bring you more than a song, for a song in itself is not what you have required. And the 2nd verse, King of endless worth, no one can express how much you deserve-though I’m weak and poor, all I have is yours-every single breath-I’m coming to the heart of worship because it’s all about you.
Worship is not an option for the Christian. The Lord demands our worship.
1 Samuel 12:24 says “You must obey the Lord-you must worship Him with all your heart and remember the great things He has done for you”. And again in Deut. 11:13, it says
“The Lord your God commands you to love him and to serve him with all your heart and soul”.
These are not suggestions or strong recommendations, nor should they be subject to your current frame of mind or emotional state. As humans we tend to worship or ascribe worth to those we love-our kids, our parents, and our spouses. In addition to showing our love, we speak it over them. We say things like I love you, or I adore you, or you are special or precious to me. These are natural expressions of love and worship. How much more is our Heavenly Father deserving of even more adoration and worship, just for who He is and what He has already done for us! Our worship of a loving God should be automatic and second nature-He doesn’t owe it to us-we owe it to Him!
There is a renewing strength in worship.
David is a man who had many issues in his life; he was guilty of everything from adultery to murder, but he had an intimate relationship with God, and he knew where grace and forgiveness came from, and he knew what total worship was. David knew that even in the worst of times when he was alone in a wilderness, he had power over his enemies because he had God on his side. The more he was pursued, the more he worshipped and praised God for deliverance.
Another great example of the strength in worship is Paul and Silas. They were ministering in Philippi and being harassed by a fortune teller who made lots of money for her employer. Finally Paul and Silas rebuked the spirit that was in her so she would leave them alone. This enraged her owners and they had Paul and Silas put in prison for disturbing the peace. The story picks up in Acts 16, starting in Verse 22.
“A mob quickly formed against Paul and Silas and the city officials ordered them stripped and beaten with wooden rods. They were severely beaten and then thrown into prison. The jailer was ordered to make sure they didn’t escape. So he took no chances but put them into the inner dungeon and clamped their feet into stocks. Around midnight, Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and all the other prisoners were listening. Suddenly there was a great earthquake and the prison was shaken to its foundations. All the doors flew open, and the chains of every prisoner fell off! The jailer woke up to see the prison doors wide open. He assumed the prisoners had escaped, so he drew his sword to kill himself. But Paul shouted to him, “Don’t do it-we are all here”.
When you praise and worship the Lord, He hears and responds. Scripture says the God inhabits, or takes His residence within the praises of His people. When Paul and Silas were praising God, they weren’t trying to bring God down to their level and circumstances; they were elevating themselves through worship to the Heavenly realms where God dwells. Worship is an uplifting event. Worshipping the Lord takes you far above sickness, doubt, problems with your family, problems with your marriage, problems with your finances, problems with the events of the day.
THERE IS HEALING AND COMFORT IN GENUINE WORSHIP
Some of the greatest love songs ever written were inspired by tragic events in someone’s life. There is something about tragedy that begets inspiration. Just listen to the lyrics of any country song. But for the Christian, tragedy turns our focus on God, which is the essence of worship. Consider Job-he was one of the wealthiest men of his time. Yet in a matter of hours, Job lost all his wealth and fortune, and eventually even his children. As recorded in Job 1, “While he was still speaking, another also came and said, “Your sons and daughters were eating and drinking wine in their oldest brother’s house, and suddenly a great wind came from across the desert and struck the four corners of the house and it fell on the young people, and they are all dead, and I alone have escaped to tell you”. Then Job arose, tore his robe and shaved his head, and he fell to the ground and worshiped”.
There was a modern day Job-you probably won’t know the name of Horatio Spafford. Horatio was an active and faithful member of the Presbyterian Church, and a successful attorney in Chicago in the late 1800s. He was also a good friend and supporter of evangelist D.L. Moody. Like Job, Horatio was quite wealthy, investing in commercial real estate in Chicago. Horatio’s first tragedy came when he and his wife lost their only son at the young age of 4. Not long after, the Great fire of Chicago occurred, and Horatio lost all his real estate holdings, and most of his wealth to that fire. When Moody and his associate planned a series of church meetings in Great Britain, Horatio thought it might be a good opportunity to help Moody with the services, and at the same time lift the spirits of his family by taking them on vacation to Europe. In November if 1873, Horatio was detained on business, but sent his wife and four daughters on ahead to Europe on the SS Ville du Havre. Horatio would catch up to them after they arrived in Europe. Halfway across the Atlantic, their ship was struck by an English iron vessel, and in 12 minutes, the ship sank to the bottom of the ocean, killing 226 people, including all Horatio’s remaining children, his 4 precious daughters, just like Job. Horatio’s wife survived, and when she arrived in Wales, she sent Horatio a telegram saying the girls were lost at sea and she alone survived. Immediately a grieving Horatio boarded ship to meet his wife in Wales. When the captain told him they were crossing over the coordinates of where the ship sank, Horatio, filled with both sorrow and inspiration, observing the rolling waves of the sea, penned these words, which we’re all probably familiar with:
When peace like a river attendeth my way-when sorrows like sea billows roll
Whatever my lot, thou hast taught me to say, it is well, it is well with my soul.
Only through inspired worship could Horatio truly be comforted at his tragic loss. There is healing and comfort found in God when you open your hearts and worship him in your vulnerability. It’s tremendously easy to worship and give thanks when you have a hefty bank account, your job’s going well, your kids aren’t in jail, your health is good and you still love your wife. It’s much tougher to worship in the midst of chaos, confusion and doubt. But raising yourself out of your despair to a higher level of awareness of God through worship, placing yourself in that Heavenly realm, brings a comfort and healing that nothing and no one on earth can offer.
Psalm 147:1 & 3 Praise the Lord. How good it is to sing praises to our God; how pleasant and fitting to praise him…. He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.
There is community in worship
Webster’s defines community as a unified body of individuals.
Another definition describes community as a kinship. If you put these two together, I think you have the perfect definition of the body of Christ-a group of people of one mind with family ties-bound in blood by Christ.
Galatians 3:26-“So you are all children of God through faith in Christ Jesus. And all who have been united with Christ in baptism have been made like him. There is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male or female, for you are all Christians-you are one in Christ Jesus”.
I would imagine most of you have been to a concert sometime in your life. But no matter how good a concert may be, there is no comparison to being in the midst of thousands of people gathered together for one purpose-to lift up the name of Jesus in praise and worship. I’ll never forget witnessing 10,000 teens in Las Vegas experiencing something they can’t get from MTV, as they listened to Michael W. Smith and Third Day and Max Lucado speak and sing of God’s love and how it could change their life. When you get a large number of people together and they begin to sing praises and worship, community happens-everyone seems to know everyone else because they are bound by love in Christ and by purpose to lift up His name. And when you get people of faith truly worshiping together, it’s electrifying and highly contagious.
When community happens, it doesn’t matter what race you are, what religion you were brought up in, how big your house is, what kind of car you drive, whether you have a Masters degree or you dropped out of high school, single, married, divorced, clean record or police record-we are all God’s children, and co-heirs with Christ-we are kin. Our past is covered, our present is hopeful and our future is guaranteed! If through worship we could develop that kind of atmosphere, we would never again have to worry about empty seats or church budget deficits! We would not be able to contain those who wanted to come and experience what it’s like to be unified in God’s presence.
There’s a day coming when we will join literal millions of believers in a Heavenly place around God’s throne in an everlasting worship. When John had his vision on the island of Patmos, he described his futuristic vision in Revelation. In Chapter 7, starting in verse 9, John describes a scene hard to fathom.
“After this, I saw a vast crowd too great to count, from every nation and tribe and people and language, standing in front of the throne and before The Lamb. They were clothed in white and held palm branches in their hands. And they were shouting with a mighty shout, “Salvation comes from our God on the throne and from the lamb!” And all the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living beings. And they fell face down before the throne and worshiped God.
Wow-I can only imagine. I guess the whole point of this message is this-if we really love our Lord even remotely the way he loves us, we shouldn’t have to wait until we are literally around His throne to worship him-we should be on our spiritual faces before him every time we have the opportunity. There’s been a lot of preaching and books about blessings and prosperity and receiving all the good things from God-living your best life, keys to the kingdom and so forth-all benefits of being Christian. For the most part, these are all well and good, and certainly popular teachings. But, it’s high time we remember who God is and what he’s already done for us, and acknowledge his holiness, and turn our hearts and our focus for a change on what we can offer him-and the only thing he wants is our worship and devotion-that’s why he made us-that’s why we’re here!