Five Thoughts on Worship
Last week your elders and deacons traveled up to Park City for our officer’s retreat. We had a great time of fellowship with each other. Our theme on the retreat was worship. We looked at various aspects of worship and why it matters. The time together reminded me of why worship is so important for the church! I want to share with you five insights from our time together.
1. Everyone worships
When we think of worship we tend to think of something religious people do. Christians worship on Sundays. Jews observe the Sabbath on Saturday. Muslims gather for worship on Friday. But does that mean worship is restricted to only religious people? Not at all. In fact, everyone worships. Webster’s Dictionary says that worship is “extravagant respect or admiration for or devotion to an object of esteem.” Using that definition we can certainly see how worship takes place at a sports event, but even at concerts, movies, and more. Scripture teaches this same thing in Roman 1:25. It says that instead of worshiping God, “we worship and serve created things rather than the Creator.” The question for us as Christians is: “Why do I find it so easy to get excited about _______ (a movie, sports game, video game, etc.), yet find it so hard to worship God?
2. We worship what captures our attention
Though we may find ourselves discouraged with our imperfect worship on this earth, one day we will see Jesus, and then we will worship in perfection. In Revelation 7 we see worship in heaven. We all agreed this was ideal worship. In verse 11 it says, “They fell down on their faces before the throne and worshiped God.” This is where the citizens of heaven behold God and almost reflexively fall on their faces and worship. Pastor Bryan asked, “If this is ideal worship, why don’t we do this now?” My initial reaction was, “Because we're Presbyterian and we do everything decently and in order!” More seriously though, there are reasons why our worship doesn’t look like this. We might be hindered because we are self-conscious about what others might think of us. We might feel like it’s forced and not truly heartfelt. We might be at a worship service, but we don’t feel worshipful. The common denominator in all these is that our eyes are not fixed upon Christ. We have not beheld our God in his glory. When the elders and saints see Christ in Revelation, falling down and worshiping is an impulse. If we are reluctant to worship now, it is often because we don’t see God as that glorious. Our eyes aren’t fixed upon him; we are looking at other things that have captured our attention. Worship is a reflex. When we encounter God, we worship. Have you encountered God?
3. God cares how we worship
If we need to behold our God in order to worship, how can we do this? How do we encounter God in a way that leads to genuine worship? If God has created us, and created us as people who naturally worship, wouldn’t God know best how to do this? Scripture is full of people trying to worship God in various ways, but God makes clear he wants to be worshiped in accordance with how he states. Why? Because if God is like the master engineer, his instructions for how we worship are the wiring schematics for how to plug in and encounter God. The theological term for this is the regulative principle of worship. It simply means that we should worship by only doing what God has told us to do. A helpful summary based on the book Gather God’s People is that we should read the word, preach the word, sing the word, pray the word, and see the word (sacraments). These are God’s schematics for how we can encounter God now. We don’t need new ideas or ways to worship; we simply need to trust and seek what God has already given us.
4. True worship is both horizontal and vertical
Worship is directional. God should be the object of our worship, but Scripture also teaches that gathering for worship serves another purpose: we encourage one another. Colossians 3:16 says, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.” God wants to hear all our voices! While you might not think you are good at singing, our voices blend into a beautiful harmony before God. But also, when we sing, we sing not only to God, but as Colossians 3:16 says, we are admonishing one another. Hebrews 10:25 says we should encourage each other in love and good works, “not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” This means when we miss public worship we actually hurt those who are present because we cannot be there to encourage them. We all need each other in worship.
5. Worship gives us a taste of heaven
Read the incredible description of worship in Hebrews 12:18-29. Hebrews is like a written sermon to a Christian congregation. It says that when we gather for worship, we might physically be in a particular location, but spiritually we are present with God. The passage says that when we worship we are joined with the angels, all the perfected saints, God, and Jesus as our redeemer. As simple or small as a worship service may seem, this passage says that in our worship, a portal is formed between us and heaven. In our worship we are specially united with all God’s people before God’s throne. We are in the heavenly realms, right now, in our worship! Perhaps we don’t feel this; perhaps we come to worship distracted. But that does not change the reality of what happens. When God sees us worship he sees us with all his heavenly hosts. Why wouldn’t we want to participate in such a glorious scene?