“Set my spirit free that I may worship Thee.”
To worship is to experience Reality (actually exist not just idea), to touch Life. It is to know, to feel, to experience the resurrected Christ in the midst of the gathered community. It is breaking into the Shekinah (glory of the presence) of God, or better yet, being invaded by the Shekinah of God.
God is actively seeking worshipers. Jesus declares, “The true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for such the Father seeks to worship him” (John 4:23). It is God who seeks, draws, persuades. Worship is a human response to the divine initiative. In Genesis God walked in the garden, seeking out Adam and Eve. In the crucifixion drew men and women to himself (John 12:32). God is like the father of the prodigal who upon seeing his son a long way off, rushed to welcome him home.
Worship is our response to the overtures of the love from the heart of the Father. It is kindled within us only when the Spirit of God touches our human spirit. Forms and rituals do not produce worship, nor does the disuse of forms and rituals. We can use all different things, but we have not worshiped the Lord until Spirit touches spirit. The word of the chorus, “Set my spirit free that I may worship Thee” (Ps. 142:7).
To say the forms are secondary is not to say that they are irrelevant. As long as we are finite human being we must have forms. But the forms are not the worship. They only lead us into the worship.
I. The Object of our Worship
Jesus answers for all time the question of whom we are to worship. “You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve” (Matt.4:10). The one true God is the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the God whom Jesus Christ revealed. God made clear, “You shall have no other gods before me” (Ex. 20:3). To think rightly about God is to have everything right. To think wrongly about God is to have everything wrong.
We worship the Lord not only because of who he is, but also because of who he has done. Above all, the God of the Bible is the God who acts. His goodness, faithfulness, justice, mercy, all can be seen in his dealing with his people. We praise God for who he is, and thank him for what he has done.
II. The Priority of Worship
If the Lord is be the Lord, worship must have priority in our lives. The first commandment of Jesus is, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength” (Mark 12:30). The divine priority is worship first, service second (Mary and Martha story). Service flow out of worship. Service as a substitute for worship in idolatry. Activity is the enemy of adoration.
Today God is calling the church back to worship, as in high church circles where there is a renewed interest in intimacy with God. It can be seen in low church circles where there is a renewed interest in liturgy (forms and rituals). It can be seen everywhere in between these two. It is as if God is saying, “I want the heart of my people back.” And as we long to go where God is going, and do what God is doing, we will move into deeper, more authentic worship.
III. Preparation for Worship
A striking feature of worship in the Bible is that people gathered in what we could only call a “holy expectancy.” They believe they would actually hear the voice of God. When Moses went into the Tabernacle, he knew he was entering the presence of God. The same was true of the early church. It was not surprising to them that the building in which they met shook after the power of God (Acts 2:2, 4:31).
How do we cultivate this holy expectancy? It begins with us as we enter the dwelling of the heart. While living out the demands of our day, we are filled with inward worship and adoration. We work and play and eat and sleep, yet we are listening, ever listening, to our Teacher. One author says we are living under the shadow of the Almighty. Another says, “I cannot imagine how religious persons can live satisfied without the practice of the Presence of God.” Those who have once tasted the Presence of the Lord in daily experience can never again live satisfied without “the practice of the presence of the Lord.”
IV. Avenues into Worship
One reason worship should be considered a Spiritual Discipline is because it is an ordered way of acting and living that sets us before God so he can transform us. Although we are only responding to the liberating touch of the Holy Spirit, there are divinely appointed avenues into the realm.
1. The first avenue is to still all human initiated activity. The stilling of “creaturely activity” is not something to be confined to formal worship services, but is a life-style. It is to permeate the daily fabric of our lives. It is hard for the present day because as I have mention before that “Superficiality is the curse of this age.”
Illustration: We stop at the gas station and sense a divine urging to get acquainted with attendant, to see her as a person rather than an automation. We drive on, rejoicing in our new insight inti Spirit-initiated activity.
To still activity of the flesh so that the activity of the Holy Spirit dominates the way we live will affect and inform public worship.
2. Praise is another venue into worship. The Psalms are the literature of worship and their most prominent feature is praise. In praise we see how totally the emotions need to be brought into the act of worship. Feelings are a legitimate part of human personality and should be employed in worship.
3. Singing is meant to move us into praise. It provides a medium for the expression of emotion. Through music we express our joy, our thanksgiving.
V. Steps into Worship
Worship is something we do. We learn to worship by worshiping. Here are few simple steps that will help in the experience of worship.
1. Learn to practice the presence of the Lord daily. Punctuate every moment with inward whispering of adoration, praise, and thanksgiving.
2. Worship God when you alone or have home group meeting.
3. Find way to really prepare for the gathered experience of worship. Prepare on Saturday night by going to sleep early, by having inward experience of examination and confession.
4. Have a willingness to gather in the power of the Lord. The language of the gathered fellowship is not “I,” but “We.” There is a submission to one another in the Christian fellowship.
5. Cultivate holy dependency. Holy dependency means that you are utterly and completely dependent upon God for anything significant to happen. You look forward to God acting and moving, and teaching, and winning. The work is God’s and not yours.
6. Absorb distractions with gratitude. If there is a noise or distraction, rather than fussing and fuming about it, learn to take it and conquer it. If little children are running about, bless them. Become willing to relax with distractions, they may be a message from the Lord. When I am preaching I love to have babies and children in the church because sometimes they are the only ones that I can be sure are not sleeping. Learn simply to receive whatever happens in a gathered worship experience, rather than feeling that distractions somehow deter you from worshiping God.
7. Learn to offer a sacrifice of worship. When you have a low sense of worship because of disappointment in life, you need to be with people of God and say, “Lord I don’t feel like worshiping, but I desire to give you this time. It belongs to you. I will waste this time for you.”
VI. The Fruit of Worship
Just as worship begins in holy expectancy, it end with holy obedience. If worship does not propel into greater obedience, it has not been worship. To stand before the Holy One of eternity is to change. Resentments cannot be held with the same tenacity when we enter his gracious light. As Jesus says, “We need to leave our gift at the altar and go set the matter straight” (Matt. 5:23-24).
Worship is a deliberate and disciplined adventure in reality. Worship is not for the timid or comfortable. It involves an opening of ourselves to the adventurous life of the Spirit. It makes all the religious paraphernalia of temples and priests and rites and ceremonies irrelevant. It involves a willingness to “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, as you teach and admonish one another in all wisdom, and as you sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs with thankfulness in your hearts to God” (Col. 3:16).