MESSAGE DELIVERED: JANUARY 22, 2017
I have told you many times about how important PRAYER is, in the life of a local church. But that is not the ONLY thing that is important. Next week, right after the morning service, we will all walk over to the fellowship hall for a potluck lunch; a time of fellowship, of breaking bread. And speaking of that, on the FIRST Sunday of each month, we will observe the Lord’s Supper, and remember His agonizing Death, for our sins. And the passage that I just read to you from John’s Gospel, involves doctrinal teaching.
Those four items: prayer, doctrinal teaching, fellowship and the breaking of bread COMBINED, form a single spiritual entity: WORSHIP!
The second chapter of Acts describes the worship of the early church. It reads: “And they continued steadfastly in the Apostles doctrine, and fellowship, and the breaking of bread, and prayer.” Again, those four elements: doctrine, fellowship, prayer and breaking of bread, all comprise a worship service.
So with all that in mind, I want to look at the topic of worship, and ask you three questions…1…What IS worship?…2…HOW do we do it?…3…and WHY? Of those three questions, “WHY?” will be the easiest to answer, so I want to save it for last.
I really believe that, for the most part, we have FORGOTTEN how to worship God. And I can put some emphasis on that by making another statement…”WORSHIP IS NOT A SPECTATOR SPORT!”
Let me tell you what I mean. We came to Arizona in the first place because I have some arthritis in my spine and doctors thought the climate would be good for me. So I did some checking and found a church in Fountain Hills that was looking for a pastor. They asked me to candidate. We got here in August. Sweetie got out of the car, got right back in saying she won’t stay ANYWHERE that was that HOT!
Well, I wandered around outside for a few minutes, and got back inside and said that I agreed with her. So I called the church and told them we’d had a change of plans, and we continued heading south until we got to Tucson.
I don’t know if it was an unusual day or what, but when we got here, it seemed pretty nice, so we decided to stay for a while.
So one of the first things we did was to look around for a good church to attend while we were here. Well, we went to just about every evangelical church in Tucson, but ONE really stands out in my memory. We kept running into people that kept telling us “Oh, you’ve just GOT to try (this one particular church)”. So, we did.
We went in, sat down in very comfortable chairs, in a HUGE auditorium, and one of the first things I noticed was, there’s no hymn books. As it turned out, we didn’t need ‘em. They had a professional choir to do the singing FOR us, with a professional orchestra to back them up. They projected the words on an overhead screen in case we wanted to join in, but that choir was doing a FINE job…no sense in ME messin’ ‘em up!
After the singing, a very eloquent young man took to the pulpit, and PRAYED for us, and HE was followed by an even MORE eloquent man, who used several large video screens to make a high tech presentation on why I should give more of my money to that particular church, and then the professional choir sang again, and it was all over and I was back outside.
And I had not done a SINGLE THING! Now, THAT was worship, reduced to a spectator sport! And THAT is an EVOLUTION in WORSHIP! Hiring PROFESSIONALS to do EVERYTHING, so WE don’t have to do ANYTHING!
And there has even been ANOTHER step taken BEYOND THAT! One day I ran into a guy who was telling me about a DIFFERENT church here in town, and he said the MUSIC was so HIP, it didn’t sound ANYTHING like CHURCH music! And the PREACHER was so COOL, he wore blue jeans and a t-shirt. He said, “MAN, it was like a PARTY! It doesn’t even FEEL like being in CHURCH!” My thought to that was “So why BOTHER?”
Maybe SOME people NEED that kind of atmosphere. But personally, I WANT to know that I’m in CHURCH! When I walk out those doors, I want to KNOW that I have been in the presence of Almighty God…AND THAT HE LOVES ME!
So, to answer the FIRST question “What is worship?”…the very SIMPLIST answer is that it’s an act of paying HONOR, REVERENCE and HOMAGE to Jehovah God. It involves our acknowledgment of God’s Devine Perfection, and can be expressed through ADORATION, THANKSGIVING or SERVICE. Worship PRE-SUPPOSES that God IS, and that He can be KNOWN by man and that His PERFECTION places Him far ABOVE man.
The Hebrew word for ‘worship’ is “SHA-DAH”, and means to ‘bow down’, to ‘PROSTRATE ONESELF’. THAT is NOT something that someone ELSE can do FOR you!
In the verses that we read today, Jesus and His disciples are traveling through Samaria on their way to Galilee, when the disciples left Jesus at Jacob’s Well, while they went to buy food. It was while the disciples were gone that this amazing dialogue took place.
You see, the Samaritans practiced a PERVERTED form of worship that included IDOLS, as WELL as Jehovah. The JEWS HATED them for that, and the Samaritans RETURNED that hatred.
So it was very unusual for Jesus to even SPEAK to the Samaritan women, let alone ask her for a FAVOR! So she brought UP the divisive way the two groups worshipped and Jesus told her in verse 21 “The hour is coming, when you will neither on THIS mountain nor in Jerusalem, worship the Father”.
What He was saying was that the METHOD of worship was about to CHANGE! And THAT brings up the next question. “HOW DO WE WORSHIP?”
THAT has changed SEVERAL times over the centuries. FIRST, in the times of the PATRIARCHS, worship was pretty much a PRIVATE thing, or at most, a FAMILY thing.
All of the Patriarchs, from Adam through Noah, from Abraham, Isaac and Jacob…worship was a PRIVATE thing that they DID, pretty much wherever they WERE. God would DO something spectacular, and they would build an altar right there, and maybe sacrifice an animal OR God would APPEAR before them, and they would PROSTRATE themselves on the ground…stretch themselves out flat in the dust!
About the time of the EXODUS, that CHANGED. There was the building of the TABERNACLE and later of the TEMPLE, and the setting aside of a certain group of men to make the sacrifices for the entire NATION!
With THIS came the notion that God was CONFINED to ONE spot and instead of worshipping wherever you WERE, you NOW had to go to where GOD was…or at least to where everyone THOUGHT He was.
That continued until the time of the Babylonian captivity, when the TEMPLE was DESTROYED. So from the CAPTIVITY arose the notion of the SYNAGOGUE, where instead of being centered around the TEMPLE and BLOOD SACRIFICE, worship was NOW held where the Jews were GATHERED, and consisted MAINLY of INSTRUCTION!
AFTER the captivity, when the Temple was rebuilt, these two forms MERGED, and worship THEN included INSTRUCTION at the SYNAGOGUE, and SACRIFICE at the TEMPLE.
For the CHRISTIANS, the ceremonial sacrifice system ENDED with the Death and Resurrection of Jesus. The EARLY church PATTERNED their meeting after the Synagogues, but NOW met in the HOMES of Believers, and on the FIRST day of the week; the day Christ AROSE, INSTEAD of the LAST day of the week, the Hebrew Sabbath.
Christian public worship consisted of PREACHING, SCRIPTURE READING, PRAYER, SINGING, BAPTISM, THE LORD’S SUPPER and ALMS GIVING. And in case you’re paying attention, that’s SEVEN elements, and SEVEN is the number of PERFECTION!
That’s pretty much the way we have continued for the last 1900 years or so. We now USUALLY have a BUILDING where we meet, and we usually have ONE person appointed to DIRECT the service. And we don’t always include all SEVEN of those elements at the same time. But basically, not much has changed, since Paul and Silas and Barnabas went around the country, starting churches.
UNTIL NOW! NOW we have churches that DO everything FOR you, and relegate the CONGREGATION to the role of OBSERVER! But that TROUBLES me! That verges on ENTERTAINMENT. And, ENTERTAINMENT is NOT “WORSHIP”!
For WORSHIP to take place requires a PERSONAL relationship between GOD and the INDIVIDUAL. NO one can DO that FOR you! WORSHIP is the response of the BELIEVER, to the SELF-REVELATION of GOD! You can SHARE this experience with other people, and we DO every WEEK. But worship is PRIMARILY between YOU and GOD, NOT between YOU and OTHER people.
Now, THAT brings up the UMPTEENTH GAZILLION times I’ve heard someone tell me “I don’t NEED to go to church to worship God”! And they’ll go on to say something like, “When I get out on the trout stream early Sunday morning, and the SUN is just peeking out behind the trees, and there’s a little MIST coming off the water…MAN, that’s so BEAUTIFUL that I can worship God right THERE”!
Well, that’s absolutely TRUE! You CAN worship right there, but you WON’T! You’ll be thinking, “Should I be using a sinking tip or a weight-forward…dry fly or a nymph? What’s the water temperature…what’s the hatch”? You’ll have a HUNDRED thoughts, but NONE of them will be about worshipping GOD. You’ll be concentrating on what you’re DOING!
That’s why it’s important for us to gather TOGETHER with OTHER Christians, for the EXPRESS PURPOSE of worship, and NOT try just to LUMP it together with some OTHER activity.
Kierkegaard, the Danish theologian, had a GREAT perspective on public worship, by comparing it to a PLAY, presented on a stage. In a PLAY, there are three main points to the presentation. There’s the people in the audience, the actors on the stage and the PROMPTERS working BACKstage.
In a WORSHIP service, he saw a reversal of roles, and GOD becomes the AUDIENCE, the WORSHIPPERS become the ACTORS on stage and the worship LEADERS become the backstage PROMPTERS who HELP the ACTORS reach the AUDIENCE.
Kierkegaard felt that worship was NOT something that the PREACHER does FOR the congregation, but that it was something that the WORSHIPPER does, out of REVERENCE for GOD!
WHEN we worship, there are at least FOUR stages we should observe. The FIRST is ADORATION. That all by itself shows how much we have forgotten. God LOVES us! Not because of anything we have done, not because we are so loveable…Heaven knows we’re not all that loveable!
God loves us because He has CHOSEN to love us! And BECAUSE He has chosen to love us, He has sent His Own Son to DIE, in order to SAVE us! “God demonstrated His Own love towards us in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us”. That’s Romans 5:8.
With that kind of love directed at us; with the price of our Salvation, a price that WE could never hope to pay!…paid FOR us!…how can you NOT open your heart, and let your adoration flow from you to GOD?
The SECOND stage is CONFESSION. We must continually confess our sins.
If we try to ‘stockpile’ them, or IGNORE them, they will get in the way of our fellowship with God. We will begin to LOSE, NOT our Salvation, but the JOY of our Salvation. Confession begins the process of RENEWAL.
Do you think you don’t HAVE any sins to confess? The Jews have a legend: if a man, ANY man, can live ONE DAY…24 hours without sin, then MESSIAH will come. But NO man has ever managed it!
Of course, we know that Messiah DID come anyway. But He came because the TIME was right, GOD’S time was right, not because of anything MAN has ever done. But the Jews are still trying to do it THEIR way.
“If we confess our sin, God is faithful and Just to FORGIVE us our sins, and to cleanse us from ALL unrighteousness.” That’s 1st John 1:9. When all your sins are forgiven, your life will EXPLODE with Joy!
Okay, the THIRD stage of worship is “LISTEN”. We all say we don’t know what God wants us to do, but we never take the time to just BE STILL, and LISTEN! Let Him speak to us. We make our prayers, tell Him all the things we want, then we jump up and take off…got lots of stuff to do! And we don’t take the time to just LISTEN, and let God speak…to listen for that “still, small voice” calling inside us.
Now, I’m not saying that in order for you to be spiritual, you have to hear VOICES IN YOUR HEAD, like Joan of Ark claimed. But I know that God WILL speak to you, in His Own way, if only you’ll WAIT and LISTEN long enough and often enough…you WILL hear Him, eventually…in HIS time.
And the FOURTH stage is “DEDICATION”. And that’s where we are right now. Worship, without COMMITMENT, is EMPTY! We need to consciously and repeatedly, DEDICATE our LIVES, and our TALENTS, and our TIME, to God. We need to say, like Isaiah did…”Here I am, Lord”…and “What do You want me to do”? And then, LISTEN!
Maybe it’s a SOUTHERN thing, I don’t know, but you could say I cut my ‘Gospel teeth’ in the South. That’s where I was first called into the Gospel ministry, was first licensed, and then ordained. But down there it was a fairly regular thing, during the invitation, or the Altar call, whichever you want to call it…when the call to make DECISIONS was made, it was not unusual to have someone come forward to RE-DEDICATE their lives to serving the Lord.
Folks would come under conviction…Saved people…and maybe realize they had let their devotion slip a bit, and they would make that PUBLIC profession that they were gonna make themselves available, and do things God’s way.
You all know how long I’ve been with you, and giving that invitation after every service…and you know, during all that time, how many folks have made that re-dedication? You can count them on the fingers of one elbow!
Like I said, maybe it’s just a southern thing, but I always thought it was a GOOD thing!
Let me direct your attention back to that passage in John’s Gospel…chapter 4, verses 23 and 24…let me read them to you again…Jesus said, “But the hour is coming and now is, when true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for the Father is seeking such to worship Him. God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth”.
Worship was never intended to be a spectator sport, and worship is not something that someone else can do for you. It is a PERSONAL thing, and it must involve ADORATION, CONFESSION, LISTENING and DEDICATION.
In verse 21 of that passage we are looking at, Jesus told the woman at the well, and told us, through His Word, that worship is NOT to be confined to any particular PLACE. Instead, true worship takes place when a saved sinner understands that, because God loves us…and not for WHO we are or WHAT we may have done…but because HE had CHOSEN to love us, and has sent His SON to Die for OUR sins.
When the SINNER, Saved by GRACE, contemplates in his heart that kind of love, and falls on his face before that loving God…(either literally or figuratively; I know that some of us can’t physically DO that, but you CAN do it IN YOUR HEART! You CAN humble yourself before the God Who loves you!)
…when you contemplate in your heart the LOVE that sent Jesus to the Cross…as the song says…”when I stood condemned to death, He took my place”!…when you can FEEL that much love…then your ADORATION will flow, from YOUR heart to His!…and WORSHIP will take place!
And NOW I can tell you that HERE, in the CHURCH, is where that is most likely to happen, because when you come here, you KNOW, on SOME level, that you are coming into GOD’S HOUSE!…into a place that is DEDICATED to His worship…and when you understand that worship is what YOU do for GOD, and not what some PREACHER does for YOU…
…that’s when TRUE worship takes place! Adoration, confession, listening and dedication…God is SEEKING such, to worship Him. Is that going to be you?
So let’s go INTO that time of invitation…that time of decision and dedication…and let me ask you if maybe you have never made the 1st step, and accepted the gift of salvation that God is offering you…the gift of FORGIVENESS, and ACCEPTANCE…of SALVATION…then will you meet me down here in front of this Altar Table, and let me pray with you, and make sure you belong to Him?
Or are you maybe ready to worship the Lord, the LORD’S way?…ready to humble yourself before Him, DEDICATE yourself before Him, and LOVE Him, because HE loves YOU?
Hymn number 282…says “I’m so glad I’m a part of the Family of God”…let that be, not only your invitation this morning; let it be your eternal truth!