Sunday, July 24, 2016

Why Worship God?

This morning I'm going to once again follow up on a previous sermon. Last week, I spoke to you about Noah. I pointed out that the first thing that he did after leaving the ark was to worship. In that context I said this.

Noah’s worship was not just some vague actions pointed toward God. He had some particular goals for his worship. The details reveal what Noah wanted to accomplish by his worship.

There were things that Noah wanted to accomplish by his worship. We saw what they were when we looked at the significance of burnt offerings in the Scriptures: thanksgiving, petition, atonement.

Here's the point that I want to make this morning. Following Noah's lead, we also should have goals for our worship, things that we want to accomplish.

Now, why would I want to talk about that? Here's what I'm thinking. Getting together for worship but not having a clear idea of what we want to accomplish will, sooner or later, result in big problems. Worship just might become an empty ritual. We show up, do some churchy things and then go home, feeling good that we are able to check the box on our todo list that says 'Go to church'. Or, without thinking, we might put in place goals that aren't really about worshiping God but are about satisfying ourselves.

Now, I'm pretty sure that none of you want anything like this to happen. So, thinking through our goals for worship is important.

A likely question at this point might be, 'What are some good goals when it comes to worshiping God?' And that is a good question. But before we consider it we need to answer a different question. How should we decide what these good goals are?

A couple of weeks back we used the second commandment for our 'Reading of the Law of God'.

You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments. Exodus 20.4-6

And this is how our 'Confession of Sin' for that Sunday began.

Our Father, You are the one who gets to decide how we are to worship You. You have told us in Your Word the kinds of things that we are to do and not to do in worship.

Before we work to answer the question of what are good goals for worship, we need to recognize that it's a question that God has to answer. It's His call and not ours. And He has told us what He wants in the Scriptures. This is not something to be forgotten.

Now, with that in mind, we are ready to ask about good goals. And Scripture gives two basic goals when it comes to worshiping God. Here's the first. We worship God so that we can give to God. Here's one place where that shows up.

Give to the Lord, O heavenly beings, give to the Lord glory and strength. Give to the Lord the glory due his name; worship the Lord in the splendor of holiness. Psalm 29.1-2

Worship is about giving to God. According to that Psalm one thing we give to Him is the glory due His name. And there are other things the Scriptures include. But speaking broadly, first goal of worship: to give some things to God, things that He has told us to give Him.

That explains some basic attitudes when it comes to worship. When you attend your grandmother's birthday party there are some things that are obvious. The focus of your time there is all about your grandmother. You are there to celebrate her. And you do that by having a cake and gifts and singing ‘Happy Birthday’. Now, whether you enjoyed yourself or not is a completely secondary matter. What is of first importance is how she felt. You were there for her sake.

So, the focus of our worship is not us. It's not about how we feel once the service is over. It's not about whether we got anything out of it, or whether we enjoyed it. That's secondary. The focus is God and how He feels once we have finished. We are here to worship Him.

Now, as I mentioned, bringing a gift is one way of celebrating a person's birthday. But that only works if you bring a gift that fits. So, what you want to do is to figure out what kind of gift your grandmother will really like getting. It’s not about what kind of gift you would enjoy giving.

It's no different with God. We should give Him gifts of worship that fit, gifts that He wants. And we don't have to guess what gifts, what acts of worship, He would like. He's given us His wish list. It's all in the Bible. We are to give to God worship gifts that we know that He will like.

So, one goal of coming to worship is to give to God. That is something that we want to accomplish each Sunday.

Here's a second goal of worship. It's to receive from God.

When we enter God's presence in worship there are things that happen to us. God acts to give things to us. Here's one example from the Psalms. This was written by someone who was perplexed about why the wicked prosper so.

But when I thought how to understand this, it seemed to me a wearisome task, until I went into the sanctuary of God; then I discerned their end. Psalm 73.16–17

The psalmist entered God's presence and God gave him something. Being in God's presence resulted in a greater measure of clarity. '… then I discerned their end.'  So, you see, when we come to meet with God in worship, He explains reality to us. That's what all the Scripture readings are for. And that's what a sermon is about. God gives us the ability to understand our lives. He gives us something.

Then, there's this familiar passage from Paul.

Let all things be done for building up. 1 Corinthians 14.26

Here's another gift of God when we worship Him. He builds up our faith. He acts so that we grow stronger in our walk with Him as we worship the God who is present among us.

One more example.

The Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “Speak to Aaron and his sons, saying, Thus you shall bless the people of Israel: you shall say to them, The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you; the Lord lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace. “So shall they put my name upon the people of Israel, and I will bless them.”  Numbers 6.22-27

What's this? It's a benediction. God blessed His people as Aaron pronounced this benediction over them. God does the same when I fulfill Aaron's role at the end of the service. This is another way that God gives something to us. He gives us His blessing.
So, when we come to worship God we come first, to give to God and then, to receive from Him.

Now, for an important question. Does all of this happen automatically? Do we accomplish these goals just by showing up? I'm sure that you know the answer to that. We give nothing to God just by showing up. And God doesn't do us the good He might if we just show up. We need to do something more than that. And I think that it's just as obvious that the 'something more' isn't about singing the hymns with gusto, listening attentively to whomever is speaking or that sort of thing. The 'something more' is a about the attitude of the heart. It's about actually having the goal of coming to worship in order to give to God and, as a result, to receive from Him. It’s about our expectations of what will happen when we gather to worship.

If you were to read a little church history and you'd find that there have been plenty of churches filled with people who sang with gusto and learned a lot from what was said, but where there was no real worship of God. We don't want to fall into that trap. There are things for us to do so that we accomplish good goals for worship.

And that gets us to this. What I've said thus far has been on the level of principles and theory. And that’s important. But now, it's time to mention some things to do. There are things to do before worship, during worship and after worship.

The most important thing before worship has to do with your own walk with God. Working on that is the best preparation for coming on Sunday to give to God. Your ability to worship God well with the group on Sunday is tied to how well you worship God alone during the week. I actually think that that just might be the most important thing that I'm going to say this morning.

When it comes to what happens during worship, what you need to do is clear: be engaged with whatever it is that is going on at the moment. Now, having said that, I realize that doing it can be challenging.  So, there are some things to do to help you in that.

First, be rested. And that's more than being sure that you get enough sleep on Saturday night, though that's a start.

Second, spend some time preparing for what will happen on Sunday. I send out the bulletin each week by Friday. What if you were to read one of the Scripture readings ahead of time or think about the words to one of the hymns we're going to sing? If you would do this you'd be more able to be engaged when we got to that point in the service. The alternative to being engaged is to be doing things thoughtlessly. And that isn't worship that gives something to God.

After worship, reflect on what happened. Was there some aspect of the day's worship that stood out a bit? It would be good to mention that to someone. This could be a good lunchtime discussion for a family. I know that some of you read over the sermon at some point during the week. That can also work. Once we're done here we're not really done.

The key, whether we are talking about before, during or after the service is about expectations. What do you expect to happen? Here's what you can expect to happen. Since we are actually meeting with God we will have the opportunity to give Him our gifts and, in turn, receive gifts from Him. And this giving and receiving makes a difference. I am convinced that there is some change in us every time we worship God. Every time. And over time that makes a difference that can be seen and felt.

For those who do not have these expectations, the Sunday worship service will become a weekly meeting to do some religious things that church people enjoy. But that is not worship.

We were created to worship. And if we do not worship God, really give ourselves to God, then we will worship, really give ourselves to, something else.

Let me close by reminding  you again of that second commandment which is all about worship.

… for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments.

And once again we're back to the question: Who is God and what is He like?

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