“We were created to worship. Worship is the normal employment of spiritual beings. Worship is a moral imperative. Worship is the missing jewel of the evangelical church.”
A.W.Tozer wrote those words half a century ago but they are just as true today. Worship – the missing jewel of the church.
There are lots of things which are important to us Baptists. Sound Biblical teaching. Evangelism and the need for personal faith. Through history Baptists have always been committed to social action, bringing together truth and justice. And we have held to the centrality of the church members meeting. But Baptists are not necessarily very good at worship. Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches are known for the majesty and mystery of their liturgies. The Quakers meet God in simplicity and silence. Worship gatherings in the Big Top at Spring Harvest or at Hillsongs in London are on a scale we rarely experience but these also have their shortcomings. Most Christians have moved a long way away from the powerful symbolism of worship in our Jewish roots. Tozer is right. Worship is the missing jewel of the church.
Jesus did not say very much about worship, but we have a great deal to learn from the little digression in his conversation with the woman at the well in John 4. And the first thing is this.
TRUE WORSHIP IS OUR RESPONSE TO GOD
Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshippers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshippers the Father seeks.
The initiative for worship does not come from human beings, but from God. God seeks our worship.
Worship is the destiny of all human beings. We were created to worship. The Westminster Catechism says, “The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.”
And we are saved in order that we can worship God. 1 Peter 2 says this.
4 As you come to him, the living Stone—rejected by humans but chosen by God and precious to him—5 you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.
So like priests, all Christians are called to offer worship to God. Peter continues,
9 But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. 10 Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.
E.L.Mascall said, “Worship is rendering to God that of which He is worthy.” And God is indeed worthy of all our praise and worship. God is worthy because of who He is. Almighty, All-Knowing, Ever-Present, Eternal, Holy, Loving, Transcendent God.
And God is worthy of all our praise and worship because of everything He has done for us. God is Creator – He has made and He sustains all things. God gave us life. And God is our Saviour and our Redeemer. Through Jesus Christ He has given us new life, life in all its fullness, eternal life in our relationship with Himself, our heavenly Father.
On a human level, we respond with adoration and praise when we see something beautiful, either a great piece of art or a spectacular sunset. We naturally respond when we hear glorious music or powerful poetry – we don’t choose to respond: it just happens. Even more, God draws out of us a response of adoration and awe and wonder.
C.S.Lewis wrote, “God demands to be praised! Adoration is the correct, adequate, appropriate response. If we do not admire we will be stupid, insensible, great losers – we shall have missed something!”
We respond to God for who He is and for what He has done. He draws out of us praise and worship and thanksgiving and obedience and service.
Archbishop William Temple (1881-1944) wrote this
Worship is the submission of all our nature to God;
the sharpening of conscience by God’s holiness;
the feeding of mind with God’s truth;
the purifying of imagination by God’s beauty;
the opening of the heart to God’s love;
the surrender of will to God’s purpose
— and all of this gathered up in adoration,
the most selfless emotion of which our nature is capable and therefore the chief remedy for that self-centeredness which is our original sin and the source of all actual sin.
So worship is our response to God, but not just to who God is and to all He has done for us in the past.
TRUE WORSHIP IS AN ENCOUNTER WITH GOD IN THE PRESENT
John 4 20 Our ancestors worshipped on this mountain, but you Jews claim that the place where we must worship is in Jerusalem.’ 21 ‘Woman,’ Jesus replied, ‘believe me, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. …. 24 God is spirit, and his worshippers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.’
God is Spirit and God is everywhere. And God is especially present in His church when His children gather together.
Matthew 18 19 ‘Again, truly I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything they ask for, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. 20 For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.’
As we are gathered, Jesus is here.
Hebrews 10 19 Therefore, brothers and sisters, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, 20 by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, 21 and since we have a great priest over the house of God, 22 let us draw near to God with a sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith brings,
We meet together to draw near to God together.
Some more wise words from A.W.Tozer
“Worship is to feel in your heart and express in some appropriate manner a humbling but delightful sense of admiring awe and astonished wonder and overpowering love in the presence of that most ancient Mystery … which we call Our Father Who Are in Heaven.”
Worship is an encounter with God. I wonder how much, if anything, you remember of our Family Service last week. Or what you will take home from this morning. Will you remember meeting with God?
If worship seems lifeless and dull that is not because we are singing the wrong hymns or that the prayers were boring and the sermon put you to sleep. Worship is only boring if we leave Jesus out. Some people make the mistake of judging worship by the programme we follow and forget that it is the presence of Jesus Christ which makes it true worship. “God is really among you!” (1 Corinthians 14:25)
The amusing story is told of a time of open prayer in a church when one speaker was full of praise and thanksgiving for all the blessings they had received at the wonderful service the previous week. The prayer went like this. “We had such a wonderful time of blessing last week, Lord. The band were on fire! The worship was heavenly, Lord. We learned so much, Lord. And the fellowship afterwards was the best ever! You really should have been here Lord, it was great!”
The proper test of time spent in worship will always be this. Did we really meet with God?
And when God is among his people, He is not merely a spectator. God is not simply watching and listening as we worship Him. He is here to speak to us, in the Bible reading and the prayers and the songs and the sermon and in the still small voice of calm speaking to every heart.
D.H.Tripp wrote, “Worship is an encounter with the Living God who BOTH speaks and hears us. Worship is a grateful conversation with Christ.”
True worship when God is in our midst with always be a dialogue – God speaking to and us responding to Him as He reveals Himself to us.
In his “Soul Survivor guide to worship” Mike Pilavachi puts it like this. Worship must be a performance FOR THE AUDIENCE OF ONE. We are “Created to worship, called to praise – playing to an audience of one.”
Worship focussed on God is not for our pleasure or blessing. Worship is not something we offer to each other for our benefit or glory. Worship is offered to Almighty God. So when we meet together as the church the whole congregation is part of the worship team. NONE are spectators. We are all participants. God is OUR audience of One, and we are all part of the band and part of the choir. We are not here to entertain or impress people, but to worship God. That seemingly self-defeating line in a song we sometimes sing actually points us to where we want to be in worship.
“So let’s forget about ourselves, and concentrate on Him and worship Him”
While we are worshipping God we should indeed focus our minds on Him – not on ourselves.
TRUE WORSHIP IS “WORSHIP IN THE SPIRIT AND IN TRUTH”
Worship in TRUTH. Our worship will always be based on God’s truth, as revealed in God written word the Scriptures and revealed in God’s Living Word the Lord Jesus Christ. Christian worship will always be rooted in Bible truth.
Paul’s letter to the Colossians gives us an idea of what worship used to be like in the Early Church.
Colossians 3 15 Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. 16 Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts. 17 And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.
Note the variety of ingredients in worship here: teaching, admonishing, singing psalms AND hymns AND spiritual songs, all expressing thanksgiving to God. And all these things as the Word of Christ dwells in us richly. If there is one big difference between worship in Baptist Churches like ours and worship in the Church of England, or indeed like Baptist Churches were when I first became a minister 30 years ago, it is how little we read the Bible in our services. We always start with a Bible verse, so that the first voice we hear is God’s voice from Scripture calling us to worship and everything which follows is our response to God’s call.
We do always have our Bible Reading, although I know there are many churches who do not have even one Bible Reading in their services any more. And my sermons will always be based on the Bible and usually quote a number of verses. But Anglicans will always have one reading from the Old Testament, one from the Letters and one from the Gospels, and often a Psalm as well. Perhaps we should read more from the Bible in our services too? Worship in truth.
But we also need WORSHIP IN THE SPIRIT
This means worship inspired and indwelt by God the Holy Spirit, who comes to make Jesus real to each one of us as we gather as His church. Worship in the Holy Spirit will involve the whole of our beings – not just our minds but also our hearts and our wills, our emotions and our feelings, our bodies and our spirits responding to God and inspired by the Holy Spirit. So our inward thoughts and our attitudes matter just as much as the things we say and do. If our hearts and our minds are not fixed on God then we are trapped in empty words and meaningless ritual.
That’s why it’s important to prepare ourselves for worship by prayer and repentance and by being reconciled to our brothers and sisters. The Spirit of God is the HOLY Spirit. Only those with clean hands and a pure heart can ascend the hill of the Lord to meet with God. So true worship in the Spirit will proceed from inner attitudes of humility and penitence and sincerity and faith and self-giving. Only then can we properly forget about ourselves and concentrate on Him and worship God alone. When we open ourselves up to the Holy Spirit there is no limit to what God can do when we meet with Him.
God is spirit, and his worshippers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.’ (John 4:24)
We need both the truth of God’s Word and the movement of God the Holy Spirit. The great evangelist David Watson was one of the leaders of the Charismatic Movement in 1970s and 1980s. David Watson said that we need both the word of truth and the Spirit of God.
“Word without Spirit and we DRY up. Spirit without Word and we BLOW up. Word AND SPIRIT we GROW up.” We need both!
In the words of his song, Matt Redman got it right.
WHEN THE MUSIC FADES, all is stripped away, And I simply come;
Longing just to bring something that’s of worth That will bless Your heart.
I’ll bring You more than a song, for a song in itself Is not what You have required.
You search much deeper within Through the way things appear; You’re looking into my heart.
I’m coming back to the heart of worship,
And it’s all about You, All about You, Jesus.
I’m sorry, Lord, for the thing I’ve made it,
When it’s all about You, All about You, Jesus.
True worship will always be our response to God and at the same time an encounter with God. True worship will always be focussed on the presence of God based on the TRUTH of the Bible and inspired by the Holy Spirit.
A time is coming and has now come when the true worshippers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshippers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshippers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.’
May the precious jewel of worship never be missing from our lives or from our church!