2016-6-26 What Is Worship?

Cornerstone EPC                                                                              Sunday morning
Franklin, NC 28734                                                                          June 26, 2016

“What Is Worship?”
Text: Psalm 103:1-5

I want to this with me today—at the start of today’s sermon—about some possible answers to the question, “What is worship?”  One possible answer is, “Something someone dragged me to this morning.”  The one answering rather would be elsewhere—preferring other activities such as yardwork or the Sunday morning news shows—but found himself nagged, or shamed, or dragged into a sanctuary of the living God.  Another possible answer is, “A set of activities on Sundays at a church building between eleven and noon.”  The one answering considers the external activities of the hour—such as singing, giving, praying, confessing faith, and attending upon preaching—as Christian worship, even if totally disengaged mentally and emotionally from the activities themselves.

A third possible answer is, “Something to make me feel better.”  Life for the one answering thus, in his estimation, has been difficult, or terrible, or some other negative adjective.  This may well seem true every day of one’s week, every week of one’s year, and every year of one’s life.  Worship, to such a mind, is to be evaluated solely on how much better he feels at its end than at its beginning—and if there be insufficient positive gain, then said party simply stays home or does something else.

All of these answers—answers sometimes devoutly held after considered reflection—miss the heart of worship.  Worship is a celebration of Who God is and what He does.  As we elevate Him in worship—and that by His own aid in the Holy Spirit—He undertakes to bless us far beyond what we imagine.  Let us get the order right, though.  We do not worship primarily to get from God; we worship simply because He is worthy of our worship.  Yet gain we do, and let us see how this unfolds as we hear God’s Word to our souls today.

(HERE READ THE TEXT)

Even if we aim to worship our three-in-one God aright, we often begin with His acts—that is, with what He does.  Better it is for us—and truer to the Scriptures besides—to begin worship with Who God is.  David, led by the Spirit, extols the Name of God as holy.  This indicates, in part, Who God is.  God is not tainted by sin, nor is He the Author of it.  Though God is involved intimately in His created order, God is wholly separate from it.  Neither the tree nor the mountain is God, but each—being what it is, doing what it does—testifies to God’s glory.  Holiness is one attribute of God—to some minds, the fundamental attribute[1]—but there are others as well.

I am no bookseller, but a good devotional work on God’s attributes, as revealed in Scripture, is A. W. Tozer’s classic The Knowledge of the Holy.[2]  There we find a number of God’s attributes—to include omnipotence (He is all-powerful), omniscience (He is all-knowing), and omnipresence (He is everywhere), to name but three.  We shall see that these attributes are to some extent deducible from what God does, but it is important to get the order right: we worship God first for Who He is and then for what He does.  Should we err by reversing the order, we will tend to value God only for what He does for us—or only for what He has done for us lately—and this misses the mark.

What God does, as an expression of Who He is, is considerable—to say the least.  David lists some of God wondrous works in our lives, and we do well to worship the Lord in consideration of these and other works.  God, in Christ Jesus, forgives our sin.  He does this by placing the penalty for our sin upon Jesus—and He clothes us in Christ’s righteousness (cf. 2 Corinthians 5:21).  Thus, Jesus atones for our sin and reconciles us to God.  He forgives our sins.  If the Lord gives you the desire this day for forgiveness of sins, then cry out to Him for it.

The Lord also heals our diseases.  He works often through medical and surgical means to heal us—and He often works through preventative means to keep us well.  Yet at times, when it pleases Him, He works beyond any possibly human ability to heal—and, thus, He glorifies Himself and blesses many.  In any case, when we are made well after sickness or injury, worship the Great Physician, Who heals all our diseases.

He also redeems our lives from the pit.  On our initial acquaintance, He finds us in sin’s quagmire and lifts us from that pit.  He also lifts us from the pit of hopelessness about our eternity—and even about the circumstances of this present life.  At considerable cost to Himself, He repays for the years that the locusts have eaten (Joel 2:25).  Jesus indeed is our Redeemer.  He rescues us from the hand of the ancient foe for His purposes—including eternal fellowship with Him.

The Lord crowning our lives with steadfast love and mercy (compassion).  God’s steadfast love is stubborn and flinty—the stuff, as late missionary Jim Elliot wrote, of which [His] Son is made.[3]  It is the love, as blind hymn-writer George Matheson wrote, which will not let us go.[4]  Additionally, the Lord gives to us His mercy—His incredible compassion for us, as we saw poignantly last week in the parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32).

Moreover, the Lord satisfies us with good things.  Too often Christ’s people—particularly in the Presbyterian and Reformed camp, I have found—have resigned themselves to the notion that God has no good (or very little good) for them in this life.  We have that notion refuted to his face in today’s text.  We are not to be devoted to earthly pleasures, but God in His goodness gives us good things—supplies to use, materials to enjoy, people and events that gladden our souls, and other such things.  Our God is good, and He dispenses good lavishly.

The Lord also renews our youthful vigor.  We live in a culture that worships youthful people, appearances, and ideas—and that also denigrates older people, older ways, and old things.  Even if we attain unto many years, the Lord by His Spirit gives to us a vigor in Him greater that many—perhaps even we—would expect.  Remember that Moses was one hundred twenty years old at his Home-going, yet his strength was not dimmed.  Joshua still went strong near his earthly end at age one hundred ten.  Caleb, at age eighty-five, still has sufficient strength to obey the divine command to possess his portion of Canaan.  No matter our health, energy level, or the like, God can revive our souls—and, often, our bodies—through His amazing work.

Truly we celebrate today Who God is and what He does.  Let’s apply this now in various spheres.  First, let’s think of place.  Where do we worship God?  We worship Him publicly here in His holy sanctuary—or another one like it if we be away from town.  We worship Him privately in the usual place where we each observe our personal devotions.  In a sense, we worship the Lord everywhere in our conduct of life.  Hence, public worship of God with Christ’s people is essential to healthy discipleship, but it is not exhaustive.  We worship Him in other places as well.

Second, let’s think of time.  When do we worship God?  We worship Him every Sunday at eleven here, unless providentially hindered—but this is not the only time we worship Him.  We worship the Lord in our devotions at both stated and occasional times throughout the week.  There, we sing His praises (or play them instrumentally), we pray unto Him, and we read or hear His Word.  We worship God publicly at stated times, to be sure, but we worship Him in smaller groups and individually at other times too.

Third, let’s think of focus.  We worship properly with our triune God at the center of our worship.  We do not worship properly if we make ourselves the center of worship.  The phrase man-centered worship, once so-common in evangelical circles, is actually a misnomer; we do not worship aright if God be not the center of it.  As much concern as we may have for other folks or the pressing concerns of this world, if they be the center of our attempt at worship, then we have not worshipped truly.  May the Lord help us to keep Him the center of our focus in worship.

Fourth, let us think of effort.  We worship the Lord well when we expend appropriate supernatural ardor before Him.  I desire for me—and for you—that we long to be in His house with His people, or with Him alone, and that when we must necessarily be absent, we grieve a little bit.  Many of the Psalms the Lord led David to write (see, e. g., Psalm 84) convey this sentiment.  We cannot make ourselves feel ardor toward the Lord, and we cannot display the same before Him in our own power.  May the Holy Spirit give us this feeling and happy effort before Him in worship.

Therefore, dearly beloved in Christ Jesus, with all we are, and with all we have, let us worship Him.

AMEN.

[1] For example, R. C. Sproul, in his landmark work The Holiness of God (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House, 1985).

 

[2] A. W. Tozer, The Knowledge of the Holy: The Attributes of God: Their Meaning in the Christian Life (Harrisburg, PA: Christian Publications, 1961).

[3] Jim Elliot, as quoted in Elisabeth Elliot, Passion and Purity (Old Tappan, NJ: Revell, 1984).

 

[4] George Matheson, “O Love That Wilt Not Let Me Go” (1882).  A fuller treatment of the circumstance of this hymn’s composition occurs in Kenneth W. Osbeck, Amazing Grace: 366 Inspiring Hymn Stories for Daily Devotions (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel, 1990).

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