Sunday, July 22, 2012


Get a Grip on God's Grace, Part 3: Worship

Location: Bagram Airfield, Bagram, Afghanistan
Previous installment:  Part 2:  The Word of God
So all the service of the LORD was prepared that day, to keep the Passover and to offer burnt offerings on the altar of the LORD, according to the command of King Josiah. And the people of Israel who were present kept the Passover at that time, and the Feast of Unleavened Bread seven days. No Passover like it had been kept in Israel since the days of Samuel the prophet. None of the kings of Israel had kept such a Passover as was kept by Josiah, and the priests and the Levites, and all Judah and Israel who were present, and the inhabitants of Jerusalem. In the eighteenth year of the reign of Josiah this Passover was kept. (2 Chronicles 35:16-19)
King Josiah's zeal for reform and restoration of Israel as God's people culminated in worship. He recognized that, at its core, Israel's most basic sin was rooted in its failure to keep the First and Second Commandments.  They no longer truly followed or worshiped the God they claimed to serve, having placed other, false gods (and their graven images) before Him.  Cleansing the temple and the land of this garbage was absolutely necessary, so that there might be single-minded exaltation of the only true God. Israel needed to be clean so that it could truly "worship the LORD in the splendor of His holiness."

Worship is crucial to maintain our "grip", because it is at the very core of our purpose.  The so-called Christian who does not worship Christ is a contradiction in terms.  He is like a pen with no ink.  It may look like a pen, but it is useless.  You may as well throw it away, because it fails in its reason for existence.  We are made to glorify our Creator, King and Savior.  Worship lies at the center of our very reason for being.

It's not just that worship must occur, but that the God whom we worship must be clearly recognized as God when we do so.  We worship the King--infinite, eternal and almighty.  He is the very same King before whom David danced before with all his strength; before whom Isaiah despaired of his life; before whom Ezekiel fell on his face.  We should clearly discern His holy attributes in our worship.
Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire. (Hebrews 12:28-29)
Much of what passes for corporate worship defies this description.  It is irreverent and profane, and is therefore unacceptable.  "Worship" services often resemble concerts:  those on stage (the preacher and the musicians) are viewed as the performers, while the congregation behaves as the audience.  God Himself is treated like a mere stage hand, while we act as though He's present primarily for our benefit--to deepen our "worship experience."

This is upside-down and backwards!  As I have said before:  What if our worship works great for us, but God hates it, because when he scratches down below the surface, he recognizes it's all about us?

True corporate worship takes place only when the members of the congregation recognize that it is they who are the performers before God, the only audience who truly matters!  It is the dual task of those in front to be both performers and stage hands--that is, to engage in worship themselves, as well as to guide and assist the congregation.  Authentic corporate worship does not happen because the "praise team" puts on a good show, or because the preacher artfully weaves together funny, clever illustrations that "keep it real" so that the congregation goes home feeling "fed".  Authentic worship occurs when the people of God gather together with a singularity of focus:  God's glory.

To again shamelessly quote myself:
Worship has intrinsic value, which is often lost in the context of our methods.  For example, [worship is lost when]:
  • Music is chosen with a mind to entertain. 
  • Sermons are constructed with a mind to provide tips for "victorious Christian living."
  • Services are geared primarily to bring people forward at the altar call.
  • Events are planned for maximum turnout.
  • ... and prayer is structured around requests.
The theme is that there is nothing intrinsically wrong with being entertained, or living successful lives, or (of course) making public decisions, or having great turnout.  There is certainly nothing intrinsically wrong with praying for our needs or those of others.  The issue is identifying how corporate worship can get lost in the noise. By the time we're done, what's left of our "worship" is that activity that occurs between the first and last praise song during the "worship time" of the weekly service ... and even that may be undercut by the temptation to entertain or be entertained.
Moreover, true worship must be both public and private.  Jesus clearly recognized that a fake, preening public religiosity is proved when our private prayer lives are lacking:
And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. (Matthew 6:5-6).
God clearly intends us to worship Him daily, in the solitude of our quiet prayers before Him, as well as regularly in the company of other believers, as they did during Josiah's Passover.  He intends us to worship Him sincerely and appropriately, as befits His holy character and marvelous works.

These are the elements of a healthy life of worship, and absolutely required to maintain a firm grip on God's grace.

Next:  Part 4, The Works of Service

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