Saturday, November 15, 2008

My Thoughts on Worship

Part III

For many years I have maintained that heartfelt worship begins within the believer and has far more to do with the condition of the heart than the style and order of the worship service. In Worship: Rediscovering the Missing Jewel, the authors make a strong plea that worship is not based on the state of the art but rather the condition of the heart.[1] The state of the art refers to the outward demonstration of worship as experienced through music and other forms of artistic expression. Beyond the artistic expression, there is a direct correlation between the desire to worship and the spiritual prowess of the worshipper. In order not to address only the form of worship and to encourage parishioners to recognize their role in worship, I began to formulate a comprehensive plan that would allow our congregation to understand their need to worship God privately and their responsibility in corporate worship.

As I examine all the different styles of worship and plans for implementing the newest and greatest gadgets for worship, I am left wondering why must we draw the congregation into worship through entertainment. How can we teach them about the transforming power of the Holy Spirit? When will the words of the Psalmist, “Shout joyfully to God all the earth,” motivate us to worship God? As I look to scripture to find a biblical and theological foundation for worship, I see many passages that encompass a variety of elements for worship. Specifically we can see from Paul’s words to the people of Rome a clear picture of worship that can be applied to both personal and corporate worship. I also want to delve into the unabated worship seen in the life of King David as he danced before the Lord.

We find in Paul’s letter to the church at Rome a comprehensive theology and clear instructions as to a life committed to following Christ. I would like to focus on Romans 12:1: “Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God-this is your spiritual act of worship.”[2] In this passage, based on Paul’s exhortation, I have outlined what each one of us must do in order to encounter the Lord in worship.

We see in the first eleven chapters a clear indoctrination into the teachings of the early church and the role of sanctification within the believer. There is a dividing line drawn at the beginning of Chapter 12 in which we are able to see a transition. He uses the word “therefore” to say, based on everything I have shared about how we believe and what we believe, now let me share with you what actions are required based on what you have understood in the first eleven chapters. In essence he is saying now that you believe, you need to make a commitment.

So as Paul begins chapter twelve we hear him pleading with the Jews and Gentiles to take full consideration of “God’s mercies.” The particular mercy, to which the apostle here refers, is shown to those whom he was addressing. He had proven in the first eleven chapters that all were by nature under sin; that they had no claim on God; and that God had showed great compassion in giving his Son to die for them, and in doing so, forgiving their sins. This was a ground or reason why they should devote themselves to God.[3] As we embrace the tender mercies of a compassionate and loving Father, the sequential pattern Paul suggests leads us to “offer our bodies.”

Paul begins to speak metaphorically in the next section as he addresses the need to offer our bodies as living sacrifices. For those hearing his words and for us today, we are exhorted to give ourselves up in the spirit of sacrifice; to be as entirely the Lord's property as the whole burnt offering was, no part being devoted to any other use.[4] I am suggesting this process not occur only three times per year, as was the Jewish custom for sacrifice, but daily as we consecrate our lives before the Lord. This results in lives of worship, seeking to give God glory in all we do.

Once we sacrifice ourselves on the altar of His mercies, then we are made holy and fully pleasing to God. This process of sanctification allows us to be set apart for the purposes of God and in turn live lives of worship unto God. This progression of recognizing God’s mercies, offering our lives as living sacrifices and being found holy and pleasing, is worship.

As I examine Paul’s teaching further, I find him urging believers to be found holy and pleasing to God. The word holy in this context refers to the type of sacrifice they would offer in Old Testament worship. The animal would be without blemish or defect. No other sacrifice could be made to God. The Jews were expressly prohibited from offering what was lame, or blind, or in anyway deformed.[5]

The process of holiness is not something we can do. It is only through the Holy Spirit working within us. We can never know holiness apart from Christ. Any evidence of holiness in us is a clear demonstration of the power of God working in us through the Holy Spirit.

Paul’s next directive is for us to be found pleasing to God or as one translation says “acceptable to God.” When we come to the place of laying our lives before the Lord in complete surrender and complete sacrifice, it really pleases the Lord because it indicates the condition of the heart. Hear the words of the Psalmist:
You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it; you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit;
a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.[6] (Ps 51:16-17)

The final section to analyze is the “spiritual act of worship.” Paul is saying that worship, in the context of this verse, does not refer to a gathering of people, but to an experience where we realize God’s benevolent mercy and we commit our lives unto Him. The offering of our lives in worship is a voluntary act and no other expression of worship can be a true offering, and none other can be acceptable. We are to offer our entire selves, all that we have and are, to God. The character of God is that of mercy; of long-continued and patient forbearance, and it should persuade us to devote ourselves to him. God is as worthy of such service, or spiritual act, now as he ever will or can be. He has every possible claim on our affections and our hearts.[7]

Because of Christ, we no longer need to bring material sacrifices -- we bring ourselves. We no longer have to limit our sacrifices to three times a year; it has become a part of our daily lives as believers. We no longer use the blood of an animal to cover our sins; we have the all-cleansing power of the blood of Jesus Christ, which takes away the sins of the world. God is calling us to be living sacrifices, daily dying to ourselves in order that we can live our lives in service for Him. This sacrifice comes at a high cost. King David responded by saying, “I will not sacrifice that which cost me nothing.”[1] It is not a sacrifice unless there is some value to what is being offered.

Learning to Worship...


[1] The Holy Bible, New International Version.

[1] Ronald Allen and Gordon Borror, Worship: Rediscovering the Missing Jewel (Eugene: Wipf and Stock Publishers, 1982), 23.
[2] The Holy Bible, New International Version, ed. International Bible Society (Zondervan Bible Publishers, 1984).
[3] Jim Gilbertson, Pc Study Bible Ver. 4.1 (Seattle: Biblesoft).
[4] Ibid.
[5] Ibid.
[6] The Holy Bible, New International Version.
[7] Gilbertson.

1 comment:

John London said...

Good words Mark! 'Speaking mainly for myself' - I fear that the reason we stuggle so with our corporate worship is because we don't realize our need to fight, the natural tendancy/desire/need of the flesh to pay the price ourselves rather than to be a "living" sacrifice. Too often when I think of the word sacrifice I automatically think of physical and material things - "What can I do" rather than "What can I be". When we read the words "faith without works is dead" do we jump straight into the "works" as if to somehow convince ourselves of our faithfulness rather than jumping into our faith with both feet and allowing the works to be the 'result'? And when David said he would sacrifice nothing that wasn't costly, do we again automatically think of physical/material sacrafice rather than that which is actually neither physically inconvenient nor financially costly - but is actually that thng which we 'covet' the most - CONTROL?
There's a bumper sticker that's popular among Christians that I find incredibly ironic. It reads: "God is my co-pilot". It's saying: "I (the driver) am in charge and God is plan B". I'm thinking of the popular and wonderful song titled "Jesus Take The Wheel". Isn't it so typical that the the words of the title don't come within the song until a wreck is in progress. Only then is the concept of giving up control and being a "living" sacrifice introduced. Not to suggest that we physically close our eyes and take our hands off the wheel when we drive, but one of my fondest childhood memories (before the days of seatbelts and yet more of man's protective laws) was when my mother or step-father would sit me in their lap while driving and let me put my hands on the wheel. Even then I knew I wasn't really driving and I would freak when they would take their hand off the wheel for just a second. I didn't want to "really" drive myself, but what a thrill it was just to be in the lap of someone I loved - and trusted (faith) - with complete confidence in their ability to handle the situation while I experienced a glimpse of life, at that given moment, from their perspective. This is EXACTLY what I believe Jesus meant when he said we are to be as little children and this is what I believe defines the core of our "personal worship". Just "be" in the Spirit before the throne of God while you're washing dishes or on the pot. Do this and those other things will be done by God with your little hands on the wheel.
I think this is where our "personal" worship has to begin - and then when it comes into line, our corporate worship will also.
Happy Thanksgiving and thank God soooo much for all you do!