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Sunday, January 20, 2008

What Worship Is

It happened again today. I got to church on time, and was surprised to see so many people missing. There were lots of great parking spaces near the door.

Dropping my son off at his Sunday school class, I noticed that very few children were there yet. In fact, some of the classrooms were empty, with just a lone volunteer waiting for the eager children to show up. And it was 9:15; time for the church service to start.

In the worship center, there were lots of great seats. It wasn't even half full. The band started and the singers started and there was great music. "Lord, You are good and your mercy endureth forever!" It's one of my favorite songs. (I used to be in a band that sang it often.) But there was something missing. Where were the people? About ten or fifteen minutes later, they started streaming in. Some had their Starbucks coffee in hand. Steaming hot. Many of them arrived after the worship portion of the service was complete. They’d missed worship entirely!

I watched a movie this weekend with my family. It's called Duma. It's the story of a boy who adopted a big cat in Africa. When it was grown he was trying to return it to the wild. He had taken a motorcycle with a side car into the desert, where it ran out of gas. Pushing the vehicle along, the big cat jumped on board and was sitting comfortably looking out the dash window. It was a hilarious moment as the boy stopped and said to the cat, "Do you even know what wild is?"

If I were the worship leader in our church, I believe I'd be very tempted to interrupt the worship time and turn to these people strolling in late with their lattes. I'd stop the music short, and turn my attention directly to them so they'd know whom I was addressing. And I would probably say something like, "People, do you even know what worship is?" That I am so bold may be the reason why they have never asked me to lead worship in our church! Seriously though, it is a question that deserves an answer.

Do we even know what worship is? I suspect not. The Bible is chock full of instructions about worship. Mostly they center around two things though. First, do it. Second, make it genuine. Seems simple enough, doesn't it? Why then can we not seem to accomplish that?

I know, I know. You're saying, "But my church does do worship and it's awesome!" But I beg to differ with you. Your church may have talented musicians and singers, high tech graphics and videos, a superb sound system and play wonderful music. But if you are not there physically, mentally and spiritually, it is NOT worship. God does not tell us to go and watch genuine worship --- or stroll in at the end of genuine worship. He tells us to be genuine in our worship.

King David was perhaps one of the most memorable worshippers in the Bible. He broke all the rules, including dancing like a fool. God called him "a man after my own heart." (Oh that God would refer to me like that!) David wrote much of the Psalms. Let's look at some of what’s said in the Psalms about worship.

Psalm 29:2 Ascribe to the LORD the glory due his name; worship the LORD in the splendor of his holiness. Psalm 33:3 Sing to him a new song; play skillfully, and shout for joy. Psalm 95:6 Come, let us bow down in worship, let us kneel before the LORD our Maker; Psalm 96:1 Sing to the LORD a new song; ... Psalm 96:9 Worship the LORD in the splendor of his holiness; tremble before him, all the earth. Psalm 98:1 Sing to the LORD a new song, ... Psalm 100:2 Worship the LORD with gladness; come before him with joyful songs. Psalm 149:1 Praise the LORD. Sing to the LORD a new song, his praise in the assembly of the saints.

Do you see the message here? Where does it say watch the worship? Is there any place where it says applaud the worship? How about strolling in with your non-fat, double cream, grande latte in your most comfortable flip flops and jeans? Not finding this there? Me neither!

Folks, it’s all about recognizing who God is. It’s about being so taken … so impressed with God that we rise to the occasion to honor Him. When I lived in England, I remember seeing Queen Elizabeth on the street one day. When she passed by, people stopped and saluted. They genuinely loved her, revered her and wanted to show her honor. Shouldn’t it be the same way with God?

I’m not one to just simply sit and whine about things I don’t like. No, I like to look for truth. And the truth is that God has some pretty strong feelings about worship. He wants us to worship Him. He created us to worship Him. He intends to meet us in our worship … connecting His heart with ours as we worship Him. Simply put, this is terribly important to God.

On the flip side of this, God is not enamored with this sham that many of today’s Christians call worship. Let’s not be deceived about that. He wants genuine worship from people who are genuinely His. Anything less repulses God. Yes, it repulses Him!

The Lord says: "These people come near to me with their mouth to honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. Their worship of me is made up only of rules taught by men. … You turn things upside down, as if the potter were thought to be like the clay!” (Isaiah 29:13-16)

He’s saying that our hearts are not sincere. He’s saying that we simply go through the motions. He wonders if we know what worship is. And it turns out that God has some strong words of repentance for people like us.

Hear this word, … this lament I take up concerning you: This is what the Lord says to the house of Israel: "Seek me and live; … Seek the LORD and live, … You trample on the poor …. you have built stone mansions, … you have planted lush vineyards, … (but) I know how many are your offenses and how great your sins. … I hate, I despise your religious celebrations; I cannot stand your assemblies. Even though you bring me … offerings, I will not accept them. …. I will have no regard for them. Away with the noise of your songs! I will not listen to the music of your harps.” (Amos 5:1-23)

He’s saying that we need to get a clue. We need to learn what worship is. We need to do it now. He’s saying He’s fed up with our empty, shallow excuse for genuine worship. We are sinners and He knows it. We need to be giving Him honor and respect --- not just because of who He is, but because of who we are as well. He’s saying He doesn’t give a rip how talented the musicians or how fine the instruments. If our hearts aren’t in it, then God is not interested in our noise.

So I wonder if anyone’s heart could be in the worship at their church --- if they are not there when it occurs. We cannot outsource our worship to the professionals. We can’t assume that if everyone else is worshipping we've got it covered. Nor can we assume that “getting fed” in the sermon is all God cares about. He did not create us to be fed. He created us to worship Him.

Worship is supposed to be a true celebration, coming from the heart (not the head or the stage). It praises the Lord for who He is. It recognizes what God has done in our lives and in the lives of others. It is a show of humility and respect. We worship to praise God, to fill our hearts with His Holy Spirit, to grow spiritually as individuals and as a church, and to be obedient to God. More than anything, God wants our respect in worship. It disappoints Him when we are rude, disruptive or inattentive to the worship that is intended to grow us spiritually in Him.

Finally, worship appears to be a learned lifestyle and not a once-a-week act or performance. I may have to be the guy to tell you that you can’t be a genuine Christian if you can’t take worship more seriously. If you think you can learn that lifestyle and get what worship is though, then I’ll see you at church … on time!

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