Assembly Doesn’t Equal Worship Wonder and Awe 1 – Introduction
“Ho-hum, we’ve got nothing else to do… let’s go to worship.” David didn’t say half-heartedly, “I was glad when they said to me, ‘Let us go into the house of the Lord’.” (A Song of Ascents. Of David, Psalm 122:1). The Message says, “When they said, ‘Let’s go to the house of God,’ my heart leaped for joy. And now we’re here, O Jerusalem, inside Jerusalem’s walls!”
We should not confuse “worship” with “assembling together,” “orders of worship,” or “items of worship.” Real worship in the Bible is to see God and sense/experience His presence… we will see His nature and character and consider His almighty deeds… we will see who we are to Him: sense our unworthiness and brokenness… and our hearts will bow before Him, lost in wonder, praise, thanksgiving, and joy!
Sometimes our bodies might bow, too, and holy hands might reach up for Him and the wonderful blessings He gives. Our souls might dance and our bodies might join in. And our tongues might get loosed to say, “Hallelujah, praise God, praise Jehovah, praise Jesus, thank You, Holy Spirit!”
Worship, when understood in this way, can happen in pew or parlor, alone or with thousands, at altar or arbor, at work or at home, in country or city, on mountaintops or in dark closets, at the birth of a baby, the weddings of Godly people, or the death of a saint. But, among God’s people, it should be ever, always, constantly and ongoing!
Here’s an indisputable truth about worship: Ho-hum Sundays lead to ho-hum Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays….
Worship is the beautiful Christian centerpiece.
What’s wrong with modern worship? Some would judge it at some places to be too sterile… Some would observe it at other places and say too emotional, maybe even rowdy. There was no bigger laugh with me and my Freed-Hardeman bids that when we thought about the “holy rollers” hootin’ and hollerin’ and jabber-in’… you should know I bring that up because it’s an illustration most in this room won’t miss, and you should know that it is one of many things I regret and have repented of. I am absolutely certain some of them laughed at our stiff, sitting on our hineys and our hands supposed God-pleasing solemnity.
You might think I’m suggesting that there are no “rules” for worship. Nope; God gave rules. However, the most important ones may not be exactly as we’ve thought. Our Sunday-morning-go-to-meeting “items” of worship, known to some as the “elements” of worship – sing, listen to the Word, pray, commune, give, fellowship –have on many a Sunday morning and in many a church become more important to us than our “hearts” of worship.
This is not a new thing. Through the OT prophets God rails at worshippers coming again and again with the right ritual, the right song, the right words, the right offering, but no loving, grateful, willing, obedient heart. And there is God’s rule: “Bring me your heart and a changed life that always comes with knowing who I am.
In passing, let me note that wonderful worship can occur when just one of these actions occurs, and often has. We know this. We “worshipped” (or tried to) on Sunday nights and Wednesday nights forever without the Lord’s Supper and the Offering. I’d venture to say that there have been assemblies God loved that had no singing and no formal prayers (sometimes the heart is too heavy to sing and pray). We haven’t always given the Word the place it deserves… I know you’ve heard sermons that didn’t have much Word in them… Jesus noted a “vain worship” where the actions are there, but the right emphasis isn’t – in that case, a focus on “the commandments of men.” Paul notes for the Corinthians a possibility of singing and praying “without the Spirit.”
Unprepared worshippers – take note of the “Songs of Ascent” in the Psalms (121-134) the Jews sang as they journeyed upward (topographically) to worship in Jerusalem at the Temple. The first one (121) says, “I will lift up my eyes to the hills… where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth. He will not allow my foot to be moved; He who keeps me never slumbers… will shade me from the sun and keep my soul from every evil and sin… and will guard and perpetuate my going out and coming in… forevermore.”
I wonder what our worship would be like if we read one or two, or all 14 of those psalms every Sunday morning before we came. It might mean getting up 30 minutes earlier. But the lost sleep God would surely repay with blessing!
Poor planning, dull, predictable sameness
We are repetitive; we are liturgical; we “surprise” no one with wonder. We leave no room for spontaneity. Our leaders are unprepared – often pulled from the crowd. Our prayers are generalized when they could be focused with preparation. Opening prayers should be about worship. We have resisted things done by religious friends for fear that we’d slide down the “slippery slope” to perdition, but the truth is folks around us have had some wonderful ideas and discovered some wonderful things about worship. Most have a “call to worship” – something that loudly calls everyone to leave the world outside and look up to God the Father and at the cross and empty tomb of Jesus Christ, because when we look there, worship occurs.
I mentioned spontaneity, but neither should we be always “spontaneous.” That can be wonderful, but there needs to be some “plan” that fosters it. Our planning should be filled with “opportunities” in what is done to lift all worshippers up into the throne room of God.
I grant here that no matter how well planned and carried out, some will not be moved to worship. And I grant that in the most poorly planned, repetitive atmosphere, people on their own will take themselves to the throne
Dull atmosphere – when God designed His own building… Solomon’s temple… WOW! WOW! WOW!
We should not equate banners and other visual images with idolatry. A dear, dedicated Christian lady who believed our auditoriums should be completely austere once told me that even floral arrangements and plants on the stage constituted idolatry. Bless her heart; idolatry is the worship of those things. But what if those things are recognized for their beauty and intricate design and take our minds and hearts every time to the one who made them? Worship!
Sermon-centered – I have been many a place where Sunday morning worship was called the “preaching service.”
There were no “local” preachers, supported by their churches, until 300-400 years after the church began.
Too much reservation (solemn high church)
· disciples in boat with Jesus when He calmed the storm “filled with awe (TLB)” (Mark 4:41).
· You say, “Well, God can’t keep on surprising us.” Really?
· Once during a circus parade in Milan, Italy, an elephant broke loose, ran through the open doors of a nearby cathedral, pranced down the aisle to the elaborate altar, trumpeted, swung its trunk around, and waddled back out to rejoin the parade. At times, that’s a good representation of us – we break loose from our life’s parade for a minute, hit the church, sip a bit of juice and snip a bit of bread, sing a song or two, hear a prayer or two, hear someone emphasize a scripture or two, and we zip back out to our parade.
· Spectator mindset (oops! God is our audience!)
“…if these are silent, the stones will cry out,” (Luke 19:35-40);
“the morning stars singing together” (Job 38:7),
“For you will go out with joy, and be led out with peace; the mountains and the hills will break into singing before you, and all the trees of the field will clap their hands” (Isaiah 55:12).
Paul tells us that “every knee will be bowing and every tongue confessing that Jesus Christ is Lord.” All our knees will bow. Question is, will we bow them NOW, or THEN (too late)?