Before Advent and our journey to Christmas, we asked the question: What do I believe? We took a look at 10 things which that Christians believe. Now we are going to take another 10 week journey answering the question “What should I do?” Now that we have these 10 beliefs — how do we put them into practice?
Just as we started with God when answering the first question, we are going to start with God answering the second as well. Today we are going to look at Worship and what does it mean to become a true worshipper of God.
Well, if our 10 week question is “what should I do” our key question for worship is simply this:
How do I honor God in the way he deserves?
It’s a great question because it puts God at the center of it. Worship is about God with us. That is an important statement and you since I’m only going to make three of these today, it would be good if we took some time to remember that idea: worship is about God with us. Let me break that down a bit.
First, worship is about God. The very words used in both Hebrew and Greek speak to bowing before someone with your face to the ground. The idea was making oneself low in the presence of someone great. While this could apply originally to a servant before a master or a subject before a king — it became a technical term to describe our disposition before God. We make ourselves low to demonstrate his greatness. While originally this was a literal action, it because a metaphor sense for our worship of God. I only say this because it is important for us to see that build right into the vocabulary of worship is the idea that God is at the center — not us. Even in Psalm 95 we have the words: “Come let us worship and bow down”. The two ideas are inseparable. That’s why our big idea today is: “True Worship Bows Down”. If we are to worship God, we need to acknowledge that he is God and we are his people. He calls the shots. Our job is to bow down — to do what he says, to follow his instructions. If he says be kind, we work up a sweat being kind. We take God’s word and ways seriously because true worship bows down.
I think this may come as a surprise for a non-christian witnessing our discussions about worship. Often the only thing missing from our conversation is that it centers on making God great among us. That it is primarily about demonstrating clearly how much we think of God. How great we believe He is. It is so easy in our consumer society to just buy into the idea that it is about me and my preferences and what I want to consume — but when it becomes that it is not longer worship — at least not in a biblical sense.
When Dave and started on our outline we wanted to say as our point “it’s all about God” but then we realized that was only half true. When we look at worship in the OT, it happens in specific places. Whether it is Abraham or Jacob building an altar and worshipping because of something God did in a particular location or whether it was in the Temple, where God’s special presence existed in the holy of holies — the heart of the reasoning for worship was that God was in that place. The Hebrew people believed that God is everywhere, but they also believed that God showed up in power at times and places. The altars and memorials were a way of declaring: God showed up here — His special presence or Shekinah as it was called in Hebrew manifested in this place. It was all about God, but also it was about God with us. The intersection of the Shekinah and human life.
For Christians this is especially important because the Bible tells us in Matthew’s Christmas story that Jesus will be called Emmanuel, which is translated: “God with us” (Mt 1:23). In other words, we see Jesus as the perfect representation of God in human form.
Hebrews 1:3 (NIV)
The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being…
Over our Christmas series we looked at how the Word became flesh and came to live among us. Eugene Peterson said: He moved into our neighbourhood. This is the amazing truth of Christmas — God is with us. We can see what God would do by looking at what Jesus did — Jesus, the one who is the exact representation of God’s being. The one who said: “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father.” (Jn 14.9).
Jesus had a conversation one time with a Samaritan woman at a well. For us this seems pretty “ho-hum” but for the 1st Century it would be like Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton getting together post-election for some brunch & conversation. That just is not going to happen — they don’t like each other – to put it mildly. Samaritans and Jews were just as likely to get together for polite conversation — they were bitter religious opponents. They did not like each other. They would use each other as an insult in their own community. Jesus – God incarnate – crossed that human division and redefined worship and in doing so redefined what a true worshipper is. The words were simple but they changed everything:
John 4:23 (NIV)
Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks.
All through John’s gospel we see that Jesus is the truth and way, that the words of Jesus are truth and life, that Jesus himself is the giver of grace and truth. He tells Nicodemus that to enter God’s kingdom a person must be born again from the Spirit. We must become a spiritual people quite literally — the Spirit of God must live in us. Something the Bible tells us only happens when we put our faith in Jesus Christ. So according to the Bible, true worshippers are those who believe in Jesus and accept his word and example as truth. It is no longer about worshipping on a mountain like the Samaritans or worshipping in a Temple like the Jews. Worship is all about God with us.
Now, true worship starts as we personally believe in Jesus and accept his word and his ways — but it doesn’t end there. Christianity is all about community. We may be required to believe and commit to Jesus in a deeply personal way, but if we are to experience the fullness of Christian worship, we must do that together. This isn’t an introvert/extrovert argument — this is just the way it is. Worship is all together.
Worship celebrates who God is and all he has done for us. While our key statement today reinforces this individually:
I worship God for who he is and what he has done for me.
We worship God together. I remember when I was a child how we would have what we called our “Sunday best” that we would wear to Church. Our best shirt, pants, & shoes. We would get dressed up as best as we could to go to church. It wasn’t until I became an adult that I realized that wearing our best clothes to church was actually in the bible. In Colossians 3 Paul says:
Colossians 3:12 (NIV)
Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.
Now, I must admit that my understanding of “best clothes” and God’s understanding of “best clothes” were a tad different and I realized that perhaps complaining all the way to church because my shoes were too stiff or my shirt didn’t feel right may have revealed that I really didn’t get it as a kid — but the fact is, most of us don’t get as adults either. If we are to be true worshippers — a spiritual people who follow the word and ways of Jesus — sometimes we don’t clothe ourselves with our Sunday best.
- Instead of clothing ourselves with compassion we clothe ourselves with criticism.
- Instead of clothing ourselves with humility we clothe ourselves with hostility.
- Instead of clothing ourselves with patience we clothe ourselves with pettiness
- Paul tells us we must clothe ourselves in these things because worship happens together and there is never an authentic “together” when we do not love each other in an authentic Christian way.
We say we want to become a church that loves like Jesus. Very practically it means that we must commit to certain behaviours. Each one of us must decide:
- To be compassionate not cruel.
- To be kind not critical.
- To be humble not harsh
- To be gentle not grating
- To be patient not prickly
- To bear with each other not be a bear with each other
- To forgive each other just as Jesus has forgiven us
- To let the peace of Christ rule in our hearts
Paul’s words in Colossians are just a summary of what we see in Jesus. There is nothing surprising here for the true worshipper — one who is born of the Spirit and follows the word and ways of Jesus. What is interesting in Colossians 3 is that all of this relational stuff — how we interact with each other — moves seamlessly into talk about worshipping together — about challenging and encouraging each other with Psalms, hymns, spiritual songs, and gratitude in our hearts as we give thanks to God through Jesus. True worship is all together and it flows out of Christ-Inspired interactions with each other and because it is rooted in following Jesus in our how we treat other people, we take this worship mindset everywhere we go. It is all encompassing.
Paul says in Romans 12 that our entire lives are to be a living sacrifice. Let’s just listen to what he says:
Romans 12:1 (NIV)
Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship.
Surrendering ourselves completely to God as an act of worship is a 24/7 experience.
As Paul would say in another letter to the early church. So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God. (1 Cor 10:31) If God is the center – If God has accepted me because of his grace in Jesus – than all of my life needs to express my heart desire to show that I love Him. Every day becomes a place to practise the presence of Jesus. Every day becomes a sanctuary of praise where I can express my trust and obedience to God and my reliance on His grace.
I like this little story by Barbara Adam –
For 37 years I’ve taught piano, rewarding my students not only for mastery but effort. Points are earned for memory work, amount of practice, written work, and improvements, as well as actual performance.
After finishing his lesson one day, I asked my first grade student, Tyler, if he’d performed for anyone that week. He thought for a long time, finally saying with all seriousness, “God was listening!”
God is always our audience!
So let us finish the phrase that helps us grasp what true worship is all about –
True Worship Bows Down, before God, in the Spirit and truth of Jesus; which we do all together and is all encompassing.