Expectations As We Come to Worship Wonder and Awe 2
Annie Dillard in Expedition to the North Pole: A Reflection on Christian Worship:
Does anybody have the foggiest idea what sort of power we so casually invoke? Churches are children playing on the floor with their chemistry sets, mixing up a batch of TNT. It is madness to wear ladies straw hats and velvet hats to church; we should all be wearing crash helmets. Ushers should issue life jackets and signal flares and lash us to our pews.”
I said last week that David never said, “(Yawn) Ho-hum… nothing else to do… let’s go to worship.” No, David full-heartedly said, “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!” If we can get our attitude right, our worship experience will be wonderful every time. I can’t say how God will do it… song? Prayer? Sermon thought? Scripture? Communion? Giving? A friendly word? A memory triggered of some great way or time God blessed our lives?
We shouldn’t confuse “worship” with assembling together, “orders” of worship, “items” of worship, or the hour we’re together between 10:00-11:00am on Sunday morning. “Orders” are the inclusions and sequences, when to have Lord’s Supper, sermon, and Offering, what and how many songs, prayers, Scripture readings, and where they all best enhance each other. Our most often referenced “items of worship” (not a Bible term) are singing, praying, Bible reading / exposition, Communion, and Offering. I add fellowship.
Real worship in the Bible is to see God and sense/experience His presence… see His nature and character and think about His almighty deeds… see who we are to Him: sense our unworthiness and brokenness… and bow our hearts before Him, LOST IN WONDER, PRAISE, THANKSGIVING, AND JOY!
When we worship, sometimes our bodies might also bow, knees might bend, and holy hands might reach up for God the Father, Jesus the Son and our Savior, and the Comforter Spirit thanking Them for or seeking the wonderful blessings They can give. Our souls might be touched to dance and our bodies might join in. And our reluctant tongues might get loosed to shout, “Amen! Hallelujah, praise God, praise Jehovah, praise Jesus, thank You, Spirit!”
Worship, understood in this way, can happen in pew or parlor, alone or with thousands, at altar or arbor, work or home, country or city, mountaintops or dark closets, at births of babies, weddings of Godly people, or deaths of saints. But, among God’s people, it should be ever, always, constant and ongoing!
I also mentioned this indisputable truth about worship last week: Ho-hum Sun-days lead to ho-hum Mondays, Tuesdays, and Wednesdays. A fresh, renewed vision of God and grace has power to carry us through any week’s wobbles, whether they come in the form of life’s toils and troubles or Satan’s temptations.
Jayneen loves to decorate and is a master at it. So I illustrate for you with this lovely fall centerpiece… Centerpieces can’t be missed when one walks into a room. Worship is the beautiful Christian centerpiece when we walk into the room that is the Christian life, or the Christian assembly.
So what’s so often wrong with our worship assemblies? Some would judge it at some places to be sterile, lifeless, and boring. Some would say it is at other places too emotional, maybe even rowdy and irreverent. Thinking back… there was no bigger laugh with me and my Freed-Hardeman buds than when we snickered about the “holy rollers” around hootin’, hollerin’, and jabberin’. I mention them as an illustration most in this room will relate to. Please know this is something I regret and have repented of, and I hope you have, too. We didn’t think of it then, but I am fairly certain now that some among them made just as much fun of our stiff, firmly sitting-on-our-hineys-and-hands properness and solemnity.
Don’t think I’m suggesting that God gave no “rules” for worship. Oh no, God has rules and gave ‘em. Note, though… the most important ones may not be exactly the ones we’ve thought. Those Sunday-morning-go-to-meeting “items” of worship we talk about, as I noted, known to some as the “elements of worship” have on many a Sunday morning and in many a church become more important to us than the “hearts and souls” from whence they arise.
This is not a new worship failing. Through the mouths of OT prophets God railed at worshippers coming time and again with right ritual, right song, right words, right offering, but without loving, grateful, willing, obedient hearts (remember opening reading). Ah, there’s God’s rule: “Bring me your heart and a changed life that flows out of seeing Me and knowing who I am!”—“God is a Spirit and those who worship him must worship in spirit and in truth” (John 4:24 NIV). Hear this verse from TPT: “From here on, worshiping the Father will not be a matter of the right place but with the right heart. For God is a Spirit, and he longs to have sincere worshipers who worship and adore him in the realm of the Spirit and in truth.” Listen to it from MSG: “Those who worship him must do it out of their very being, their spirits, their true selves, in adoration.”
Really then, wonderful worship can occur when just one of our usual worship “items” or “elements” occurs. And it often has. To see it, all we need do is think of our own history: we “worshipped” (or tried to) on Sunday nights and Wednesday nights forever without the Lord’s Supper and the Offering included. I’d say we have had assemblies God loved that had no singing and/or formal prayers (sometimes the heart is too heavy to sing and pray). We’ve certainly worshipped without giving the Word the place it deserves… I’ve worshipped where Scripture was never read; it was in the sermon, more or less, but not read publicly, and the Spirit places great value on that (cf. Revelation 1:3). I know you’ve heard sermons that had very little Word in them at all, or the same Word again and again, leaving unexplored God’s other treasures that show us His heart. Jesus took note of some and mentioned their “hypocrisy and vain worship” (Matthew 15:9) – actions were there, but the right emphasis wasn’t. The focus was on “the commandments of men” instead of what God wanted. Paul mentioned to the Corinthians the possibility of singing and praying “without the Spirit” and no one being built up or encouraged (1 Corinthians 14:15-17).
So now, let’s think together a few minutes about one of several troubling and limiting issues that handicap us as we gather for worship, and ones we need to act in urgency to correct. I think as I cover these five or six things over the next few weeks that we will be found all guilty in some respects. You may be thinking of some that particularly bother you… I may not get to yours today, but hang with me – yours will probably appear somewhere in our discussions.
Today’s hindrance is “WE COME UNPREPARED.”
Let me ask you… Don’t we come, mostly, with a consumer mentality, with the expectation that God will be there to give us something through the agency of the church and the service? Dare I say it… that there will be a show that holds our interest? And of course, it has to compete with all the other possible opportunities we have for Sunday morning entertainment. I have expressed to you before the great pressure I feel on my preaching… to deliver something that will both bless you and bring you back.
Let me take you to the Old Testament’s songbook’s “Songs of Ascent” – Psalms 121-134. These are 14 songs the Jews sang as they took the uphill roads to worship in Jerusalem, first at a Tabernacle that housed the Ark of the Covenant at the “threshing floor of Arunah” and then at Solomon’s Temple which was built in that same place. Look at the first one:
Unto the hills around do I lift up my longing eyes / O whence for me shall my salvation come, from whence arise / From God the Lord doth come my certain aid / From God the Lord, Whom heav’n and earth hath made.
He will not suffer that thy foot be moved: safe shalt thou be / No careless slumber shall His eyelids close,
Who keepeth thee / Behold, He sleepeth not, He slumbereth ne’er / Who keepeth Israel in His holy care.
Jehovah is Himself thy keeper true, thy changeless shade / Jehovah evermore on thy right hand Himself hath made / And thee no sun by day shall ever smite / No moon shall harm the in the silent night.
From every evil shall He keep thy soul, from every sin / Jehovah shall preserve thy going out, thy coming in /
Above thee watching, He Whom we adore / Shall keep thee henceforth, yea, forevermore!
(1877 by John Campbell)
Consider some familiar phrases from some others that appear in some of our songs and have etched themselves into our minds:
1 I rejoiced with those who said to me, “Let us go to the house of the Lord.” 2 Our feet are standing in your gates, Jerusalem. (Psalm 122)
1 I lift up my eyes to you, to you who sit enthroned in heaven. 2 As the eyes of slaves look to the hand of their master, as the eyes of a female slave look to the hand of her mistress, so our eyes look to the Lord our God, till he shows us his mercy. (Psalm 123)
1 If the Lord had not been on our side—let Israel say—2 if the Lord had not been on our side when people attacked us, 3 they would have swallowed us alive when their anger flared against us; 4 the flood would have engulfed us, the torrent would have swept over us, 5 the raging waters would have swept us away. (Psalm 124)
1 Those who trust in the Lord are like Mount Zion, which cannot be shaken but endures forever. 2 As the mountains surround Jerusalem, so the Lord surrounds his people both now and forevermore. (Psalm 125)
Wonder what our worship would be like if we read and meditated a bit on these phrases, or one of these psalms every Sunday morning before we came? It might mean getting up 30 minutes earlier. But would God not surely repay the lost sleep with blessings we couldn’t begin to define or number?
We all will worship God and Jesus: “…every knee will be bowing and every tongue confessing that Jesus Christ is Lord.” “Every knee…”! Question is, NOW, or THEN?