Have you noticed how every other book in bookshops nowadays is a “How to…” book? One time Ruth was buying a book on “How to make world-record-breaking paper aeroplanes.” The couple before us in the queue were buying books called “Espresso – How to set up a successful coffee shop” and “How to run a bed and breakfast in your own home”. I was reminded of the student who once bought a book entitled “How to Hug” only to be incredibly disappointed when he discovered it was only volume 12 in a 37 volume set of encyclopaedias.
Our theme this week is “How to worship”. Just how do we worship in Spirit and in Truth? We turn to the story of Martha and Mary because I believe it speaks not only about the whole of life but it also applies specifically to our times of worship together.
Martha was busying welcoming Jesus. Mary just sat at Jesus’ feet. And rightly so! When friends visit you, they don’t expect you to spend all your time in the kitchen cooking for them. They just want to sit and talk with you and spend time together. The passage tells us that Martha was distracted but Mary was focussed. Martha was worried and troubled. Mary was contented. Martha was serving but Mary was worshipping. Are you a Martha or a Mary? Are you busy, busy, busy? Or are you sitting at Jesus’ feet?
We live in a busy world! We are made to feel guilty if we aren’t constantly “doing something.” People expect us to be busy, even overworked. It’s almost a status symbol – “if we’re busy, we’re important; if we’re not busy, we’re lazy.” That kind of busyness led Martha to tension and frustration. That’s what happens when we are consumed with the wrong tasks or trying to cram too many of the right activities into too little time. Martha had a priceless opportunity to sit at Jesus’ feet. But she couldn’t spare Jesus the time. She wanted to be with Jesus. But she allowed herself to get distracted. Her preoccupation with offering hospitality distracted her from what was more important. Martha became stressed and worried. So she became critical of Mary for not doing her share.
“Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing.” Martha just got her priorities wrong.
Notice that Jesus didn’t condemn Martha for doing the things that needed to be done. But he did tell her off for presuming that what Mary was doing was wrong. Jesus says that Mary “had chosen what is better.” Mary and Martha each loved Jesus just as much, but Martha didn’t realise that in her desire to serve Jesus, she was actually neglecting him. She was so busy at doing things FOR Him, that she had no time to spend WITH him. There are so many Marthas in the world. If we spend so much time doing things for Jesus, but never spend time getting to know him, then we are making Martha’s mistake.
In contrast, Mary had her priorities right. She did know that Jesus would need to served, but she got things in the right order. She spent time talking to Jesus showing her love for Him. A.W.Tozer was absolutely right. “God created us to be worshippers first and workers second!!!”
This story of Martha and Mary gives us all a vital reminder of the importance of prayer and worship – of making time to be with God and sitting at Jesus’s feet! We need to get the balance of our lives right between work and prayer. The ultimate tragedy of a life which is too busy is the tragedy that Martha faced. Offered the opportunity to sit at Jesus’ feet, busy people can’t spare Jesus any time. It is hard because we live in a Martha world. But we all need times to just stop and be quiet and be still, and rest in the presence of the Lord. It is good for ourselves, good for our relationship with others and good for our relationship with God. Mary had her priorities right!
But this story also has something very important to say about our times of worship. Because the tragic truth is that, even when we are at church, even when we come to worship, we can be distracted like Martha was instead of focussed on Jesus like Mary was. I came across a very challenging piece this week entitled “The Danger of Being AT Church but Not IN Church” The problems of being at a church service but not participating properly in what is happening because your mind or your heart are somewhere else. Has that ever happened to you? Is that happening to you this morning? “The Danger of Being AT Church but Not IN Church”
“How to worship”? Let me offer you the three points found in the second verse of song 579. “So forget about yourself, concentrate on Him and worship Him.”
Forget about yourself
The things Martha was doing were NOT wrong. But they were distracting her. She was missing the opportunity to be in the presence of Jesus.
When we come to worship we need to focus on Jesus. To do that we need to put to one side all the other things in life which occupy our thoughts or worry us. Very deliberately we need to choose to forget those things! To ignore those things. That will require a conscious effort and it may be hard work. But then I believe there is something else we need to work hard to forget about.
We said two weeks ago that our worship is meant to be joyful! Full of joy! Our worship is not just allowed to be joyful. Our worship is supposed to be joyful! In the Bible worship is vibrant and vigorous and exuberant and expressive and exhilarating! No chorus or hymn is too loud, no band or orchestra too large, for praising Almighty God! In the Bible, worship and praise are expressed in many different ways: bowing down; clapping; dancing; kneeling; leaping; lifting hands; playing musical instruments; shouting; silence; singing; standing; not to mention bringing offerings and making sacrifices. We only use a small fraction of this vast repertoire. Sometimes our worship is not joyful because we don’t have much joy in our hearts. But perhaps the biggest reason why many of us are inhibited in our worship is that we feel held back by the people around us. What will they think? What will they say? We don’t dare express the joy we feel because we are self-conscious. That’s why many people find it much easier to worship in the Big Top at Spring Harvest or at Leading Edge or at Soul Survivor where we are surrounded by strangers (and incidentally it’s often quite dark as well!)
That’s why our first point in “How to Worship” needs to be Forget about yourself which also means – forget about the people around you. Forget about your inhibitions. As we worship we must learn to shut out the other people around us and focus on God alone. Give God the whole of our attention. Forget about being self-conscious!
Forget about ourselves. Forget about each other. When we can do that we will be set free from worrying about what people around us think about what we are saying or doing. What God thinks is all that matters. Forget about yourself –
Concentrate on Him
“She has chosen what is better” Mary got it right. She was giving Jesus her sole attention, even if it meant that other things were neglected for a while. Mary wasn’t even going to be put off by Martha’s complaints!
In the New Living Translation, Jesus says, “There is really only one thing worth being concerned about. Mary has discovered it – and I wont take it away from her.” That’s what true worship is like! That’s what is it like to be in presence of the Lord Like Mary. You forget everything else that is around you!
Remember the old chorus? “Turn your eyes upon Jesus. Look full in His wonderful face.
And the things of earth will grow strangely dim in the light of Hs glory and grace.”
So we need to concentrate on Him.
The atmosphere a big football match or rugby match is tremendous. The crowds shouting and singing and cheering on the team, every person completely oblivious to what the other people around them might think of them – and that’s great! So are concerts, pop or classical! People sometimes compare worship to a big sports match or a concert. But they sometimes make the wrong comparison. Because when we worship we aren’t the cheering crowds getting carried away! We are not the spectators. We are the performers. We are the players on the pitch. We are the orchestra. We are the band. We are the choir.
Worship is an ACTIVE verb. It is not something done TO us or FOR us, but BY us.
Whether you are playing a match or singing in a choir you have to learn to shut out the spectators and be totally focussed on what you are doing, the shot you are taking, the notes you are playing or singing. You have to concentrate!
Church worship is a performance – but as Mike Pilavachi’s Soul Survivor guide to worship reminds us, worship must be a performance FOR THE AUDIENCE OF ONE.
Worship is for God’s benefit! Not for ours! We are “Created to worship, called to praise – playing to an audience of one.” Our true audience is God and no one else. And the whole congregation is part of the worship team – not just spectators! God is OUR audience of One, and we are all part of the band. Leaders and musicians and congregation join together to offer worship for the audience of One. We are not here to entertain or impress people, but to worship God. So we need to concentrate on Him. Nothing must be allowed to become more important than God when the church gathers for worship.
There are some things in life worth giving your best for! Our Olympic athletes have been training for years in the hope that next year they will win a medal as they give their best. The more important the competition, the harder you try. We encourage our teenagers and students to give their best in exams and conscience demands that we give our best in our jobs. Musicians aim to give the best performance they possibly can. We preachers all aim to give our best! Worship should be no different! Our capacity for worship is not determined by natural talent, or skills, or training or experience. Every single one of us can worship God well or badly simply by whether we give our best or not! And in worship God deserves our best! Not second best. Not a half-hearted effort! But our very best!! So forget about yourself, concentrate on Him, and just
In our story we see Mary sitting at Jesus’s feet, being in His presence. This is the start of worship. That was not a burden for Mary – it was a delight! It was a joy!
Worship is our response to God. We saw two weeks ago that we should sing a new song to the Lord – a fresh response to a fresh experience of God! As we worship we are adding our voices to the saints around the world and the angels in heaven and the whole of creation praising God.
100:1 Shout for joy to the LORD, all the earth. Worship the LORD with gladness; come before him with joyful songs.
One way to worship is to move through a progression. We begin with THANKSGIVING, rejoicing in all God’s blessings to us. We move on to PRAISING God for His mighty acts of Salvation. Finally we come to ADORATION, rejoicing in Who God is in Himself.
We can start with THANKSGIVING – for all God’s blessings to us.
Psalm 103 1 Praise the LORD, O my soul; all my inmost being, praise his holy name. 2 Praise the LORD, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits – 3 who forgives all your sins and heals all your diseases, 4 who redeems your life from the pit and crowns you with love and compassion, 5 who satisfies your desires with good things so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.
We should give thanks for God’s blessings given to everyone, and we also should give thanks for God’s blessings to ME individually. Thank God for food and drink and family and friends. for answered prayers. for the hope of heaven. for the Bible and the fellowship of the church. for His peace and protection. for the wonderful joy He gives us. for His guidance and strengthening.
92:4 .. you make me glad by your deeds, O LORD; I sing for joy at the work of your hands.
We give thanks. Then we can move on to PRAISE – for God’s mighty acts of salvation. Looking beyond ourselves to what God has done for others. The Psalms speak of praise 233 times – the rest of the Bible as many times again! Since we are going to spend eternity praising God we may as well start practising now! Great is the Lord and most worthy of praise! (Psa 48:1)
We give God our praise for all he Has done for us
Psalms 117:1 Praise the LORD, all you nations; extol him, all you peoples. 2 For great is his love towards us, and the faithfulness of the LORD endures for ever. Praise the LORD.
Praise God for the BIRTH of Jesus; for the TEACHING of Jesus; for the MIRACLES of Jesus; for Jesus’s SUFFERING and TRIALS; for Jesus’s DEATH on the CROSS; for Jesus’s glorious RESURRECTION ; for the gift of the HOLY SPIRIT;
Psalm 96: 2 Sing to the LORD, praise his name; proclaim his salvation day after day.
Our THANKSGIVING AND PRAISE finally lead us on to ADORATION – of God for who He is within Himself The focus is on God alone! Richard Forster says, “When I give thanks my thoughts still circle around myself to some extent. But then my soul ascends to self-forgetting adoration, seeing and praising only the majesty and power of God, His grace and redemption.” So rejoice in Who God is within Himself – the beauty of the Blessed Holy Trinity.
God is worthy of our adoration for His LOVE; for His FAITHFULNESS; for His ALMIGHTY POWER; for His COMPLETE KNOWLEDGE; for His HOLINESS; for His GRACE and FORGIVENESS; for His PRESENCE everywhere. Praise God because He is our CREATOR Praise God our LIBERATOR Praise God our LORD Praise God our REDEEMER Praise God the JUDGE Praise God our FATHER!
Psa 145:3 Great is the LORD and most worthy of praise; his greatness no-one can fathom.
As C.S. Lewis says, “We praise what we enjoy because the praise not merely expresses but completes the enjoyment. It is not out of compliment that lovers keep on telling one another how beautiful they are; the delight is incomplete till it is expressed.”
Psa 96:6 Splendour and majesty are before him; strength and glory are in his sanctuary.
9 Worship the LORD in the splendour of his holiness;
145:7 They will celebrate your abundant goodness and joyfully sing of your righteousness.
Thanksgiving, praise and adoration. A.W.Tozer said “We are called to an everlasting preoccupation with God.” In our worship on earth now we are preparing ourselves for heaven where we will be eternally preoccupied with God. But in worship we can so easily be distracted by other things. “There is really only one thing worth being concerned about. Mary has discovered it – and I wont take it away from her.” Martha got her priorities wrong. Mary chose what was better. At least for this hour of worship we need to choose what is better, the only thing worth being concerned about! So forget about yourself, concentrate on Him, and worship Him.