23 – 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.
24 – God is spirit,and His worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.”
When it comes to worship these days—I would say it comes in all shapes and sizes because there is a very wide spectrum out there. For example: I’ve seen Joel Olsteen’s church on TV which seats 16,000—and they fill it four times every Sunday! And I’ve experienced very meaningful worship with just a half-dozen couples on a marriage enrichment retreat.
I’ve been to churches with amazing projections systems—gigantic multi-million dollar smart screens designed to be visible even in complete sunlight. And I’ve been in worship in a small church on a mountain with no electric power—much less a projection system.
I’ve been in worship with a top notch praise band—drummers and guitars and singers to rival anything the secular world has to offer. I mean it was like going to a concert at the Patriot Center.
And then I read about a church with not a band but a full orchestra like the Boston Philharmonic but the entire orchestra area is on a huge hydraulic lift so it comes up out of the floor. I’ve also been to worship in a church in Mexico where the only accompaniment was a beat up electric piano and the pianist missed more notes than she hit.
I’ve been to worship with churches that had huge choirs of hundreds of voices—and in others where the only singer was the pastor and he obviously wasn’t gifted in that area. Speaking of pastors, there are churches where he only preaches expository—verse by verse sermons—and other churches where he preaches from the Bible topically to address life’s issues. There are other churches where the pastor bases his sermons on the lectionary—texts that are chosen years ahead.
I’ve been to churches where the only congregational music is ancient hymns and others where the only music is praise songs—the newer—and LONGER—the better. I’ve seen churches where congregants clap and raise their hands and even dance in the aisles and others where the people follow a strict order of worship with pre-set standing, sitting, and kneeling indicated in their bulletin. I’ve also heard of churches where worshippers sit at tables in comfy chairs or on couches and just talk as they sip their Starbucks coffee. There’s no sermon or music—just “coffee-house worship.”
I could go on and on because there is a wide variety of worship styles out there—and perhaps because of this it’s been a divisive issue in far too many churches. Sadly over the past decade or so there are tons of churches that have split over disagreements as to the definition of true worship. It’s referred to as “worship wars” thousands of churches across America have had their ministry efforts, their evangelistic efforts, their discipleship and fellowship all greatly weakened—and ironically true worship has come to a grinding halt as Christians have ceased communing with God—and have instead spent their time selfishly fighting about their worship preferences.
So—understanding the Bible’s teaching on worship is vitally important—especially if we want to go the second mile and fully experience its intended benefits. With that in mind let’s organize our study this morning over some of the MISCONCEPTIONS that are prevalent these days when it comes to worship—things that keep true worship—2nd mile worship—from happening.
(1) First, some say that worship is OPTIONAL.
And—nothing could be farther from the truth. Corporate worship is not a luxury. It’s not merely a pleasant experience that we can take or leave. It is an absolute necessity if our faith is to survive.
I was watching the movie CARS with Lydia the other day and in the first race the central character, Lightning McQueen, refused to take pit stops. Do you remember what happens? He’s way ahead of the pack when his tires wear out and instead of winning—the race is a three way tie. By the end of the movie he learns that he needs the help of others to win and that same kind of pride keeps Christians from “winning” the race of life. We need to the “pit stop” of corporate worship. We need time with other disciples to “refuel” —time to nourish and strengthen our individual faith.
So worship is not optional—it is essential. Listen. This fallen world is constantly pulling us away from God—away from things that fan the flames of faith and foster our spiritual growth. The only antidote is CONSTANT RENEWAL of our relationship with God by means of communing with Him through the discipline of both private AND corporate worship.
And the fact is we are all wired to worship. Like an essential vitamin for the soul we require it as human beings. And it’s interesting to me how this principle shows up in the secular world—because all people—even non-believers—try to satisfy this need by worshiping something or someone. For example, in his book Fame Attack, Professor Christopher Rojek explores how we’ve turned celebrities into modern day idols—objects of worship. Rojek writes:
“In the early days of Hollywood, the [media] described celebrities as ‘gods’ and ‘goddesses.’ It credited them with ‘magic’ and messianic ‘spellbinding’ power. They were not called ‘stars’ for nothing for they showed people the way to brighter, more pure things. Modern fans covet autographs, letters, check stubs, locks of hair, clothes, combs, glasses, cigarette butts, rings, cars, golf clubs, and other celebrity accessories—with the same fervor as Christians in traditional society sought relics of the saints. Consider the following examples of how much value we place on celebrity items:
- In 2002, the former barber of Elvis Presley sold a clump of Elvis’ hair for $115,000
- Justin Timberlake’s half eaten French toast sold for $3,000.
- A jar containing the “exhaled breath” of Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie was recently bought by a fan for $500.
- A piece of bubble gum chewed by Brittany Spears sold for $160.
- Who doesn’t want a lock of Justin Bieber’s hair? In 2011 the pop star’s hair sold on eBay for $40,668.
- A tissue allegedly used by Scarlett Johansson sold for $5,300 on eBay.
- Even Bernie Madoff, the infamous Ponzi scheme crook, owned a $300 footstool that the U.S. government auctioned for $3,300.
All people do indeed have this in born need to worship someone or something—but as we can see here—unfortunately for many of them the object of their worship is way off. Christians are people who have realized that the only worship that satisfies this inner need is the worship of God. I love the way Dwight Bradley put it. He says: “When a person worships God, it is as a thirsty land, crying out for rain. It is the SOUL searching for its counterpart—MAN listening to the still, small voice of God. It is a VOICE in the night calling for help. It is a HUNGRY heart seeking for love. It is man CLIMBING the altar stairs to God.”
So worship is not optional—we need this activity that deepens our relationship with our Creator—and not only to take away our fears and give us the strength to live—but also so that we can become the individuals that God designed us to be. When ABRAHAM LINCOLN was a little boy, his mother used to say to him, “Be somebody Abe! Be somebody!” In later years when the going was tough and the road seemed uphill all the way, and Abe was tempted to compromise his convictions, he would remember his mother saying, “Be somebody Abe! Be somebody!” At the memory of that voice new courage and determination stiffened his sagging spirit, and Abraham Lincoln would strive on—eventually right into the White House. Well, in a similar way it is in WORSHIP that our Heavenly Father’s voice comes to our hearts as He whispers to us of His Hopes for us. In worship we remember His plan for our lives and we recommit ourselves to it. We pledge to living as He would want us to live. Worship is the best in us striving to be better. It is the man I am YEARNING towards the person God wants me to be.
And—worship is not only an essential for us as INDIVIDUALS. It is also a requirement for and local CONGREGATION as well. Lavonn Brown writes, “Worship is to the church as breathing is to a human organism. It is an absolute necessity. The church must worship to live. Worship provides the inspiration for everything else the church does.”
In his book on the spiritual disciplines Richard Foster reminds us that worship is the most important of ALL the church’s purposes—because we cannot actively love the world around us unless we corporately love and adore God through worship. Jesus taught this in Mark 12 when he said that the most important commandment—the one that must come first is to: “Love the Lord God with all our heart, and with all our soul, and with all our mind, and with all our strength.” (Mark 12:30) Only then can we “love our neighbor” as we should. So according to Jesus, worship is a priority. No ministry for God will succeed if worship is neglected.
Remember—this is the mistake that Martha made that day when Jesus came to her house. She was busy in the kitchen working preparing a meal to serve the others, while her sister Mary was intent on being with Jesus—which is the essence of worship. When Martha complained Jesus rebuked her for misplacing her priorities. So, worship is an essential. It is not optional. It must be a priority in us as individuals and as a church. We can’t do second mile Christianity without it.
Here’s a second misconception that we see these days.
(2) Worship is an OUTWARD expression.
In the same way that people confuse the church with merely a building—something visible and OUTWARD—many think that worship must be something that is visible from the OUTSIDE. But this is not true because genuine worship is something that happens INSIDE. It is a matter of the HEART. When King David discovered this he wrote Psalm 51 and said, “Oh Lord, 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.” I like how The Message paraphrases this verse: “Going through the motions doesn’t please You, God. A flawless performance is nothing to You. I learned true worship when my pride was shattered. Heart-shattered lives ready for love don’t escape God’s notice for a moment.”
Dan and Chip Heath, the team of brothers who wrote the best-selling book Made to Stick, tell the following story about a doctor who was trying to get his colleagues to practice proper hand-washing techniques. Here’s a quote from their book:
“[Dr.] Leon Bender became frustrated when he took a South Seas cruise and observed that the crew was more diligent about hand-washing than the staff at his own hospital. Frequent hand-washing by doctors and nurses is one of the best ways to prevent patient infections—and studies estimate that thousands of patients die every year from preventable bacterial infections. Bender and his colleagues tried a variety of techniques to encourage hand-washing, but the staff’s compliance with regulations was stuck around 80 percent. Medical standards required a minimum of 90 percent and [his hospital] was due for an inspection from the accrediting board. They had to do better. One day, a committee of 20 doctors and administrators were taken by surprise when, after lunch—the hospital’s epidemiologist asked them to press their hands into an agar plate, a sterile Petri dish containing a growth medium. The agar plates were sent to the lab to be cultured and photographed. These photos revealed what wasn’t visible to the naked eye: The doctor’s hands were covered with gobs of bacteria. Imagine being one of those doctors and realizing that your own hands—the same hands that would examine a patient later in the day, not to mention the same hands that you just used to eat a turkey wrap—were harboring an army of microorganisms. It was revolting. One of the filthiest images in the portfolio was made into a screensaver for the hospital’s network of computers ensuring that everyone on staff could share in the horror. Suddenly, hand-hygiene compliance rose to nearly 100 percent and stayed there.”
The Heath brothers conclude that we usually won’t change our behavior until we see and even feel how we contribute to the problems in our world and in our relationships. I share this because it illustrates that worship won’t happen until we are honest with God when it comes to not what is on our HANDS but what is IN our HEARTS—until like King David we humble ourselves before Him. You see, authentic worship is not an OUTER, visible thing—it’s an INNER—often INVISBLE thing.
I love to read the novels of John Grisham. I’ve read every single one he’s written. Some are better than others but one of my favorites is one of his earlier novels: The Testament. In it Grisham paints a portrait of one man’s surrender to God’s will—a worship experience in which he is absolutely honest with God. The man is Nate O’Reilly and he is a disgraced corporate attorney plagued by alcoholism and drug abuse. After two marriages, four detox programs, and a serious bout with dengue fever, Nate acknowledges his need for God. Grisham describes the transformation: “With both hands, he clenched the back of the pew in front of him. He repeated the list, mumbling softly every weakness and flaw and affliction and evil that plagued him. He confessed them all. In one long glorious acknowledgment of failure, he laid himself bare before God. He held nothing back. He unloaded enough burdens to crush any three men, and when he finally finished Nate had tears in his eyes. ‘I’m sorry,’ he whispered to God. ‘Please, help me.’ As quickly as the fever had left his body, he felt the baggage leave his soul. With one gentle brush of the hand, his slate had been wiped clean. He breathed a massive sigh of relief, but his pulse was racing.”
In this excerpt Grisham gives us a picture of true worship because it is an INNER thing—a HEART thing. As Darlene Zschech puts it, “True worship is not about the songs, the vocals, the band or the choir. All of those things contribute toward a great expression of worship but the essence of worship is when your heart and soul, the core of your being, connects with the Spirit of God.” Understand—this means you can LOOK like you are worshiping but not actually BE worshiping. You can lift your hands higher than anyone else in praise. You can sing the great hymns of the church with perfect pitch—but still not be worshiping God because true worship is not an outward expression. It is an inward attitude. Here’s a third misconception that many embrace. They believe…
(3) The MODE of worship doesn’t matter.
And of course this is not true because—as I have said in past sermons on this topic—in order for worship to be healthy and productive the elements of worship must be balanced so that they appeal to BOTH the heart and the mind. Unfortunately many churches these days make the mistake of trying to appeal to only one or the other.
(a) For example—some churches specialize in generating EMOTION in their worship.
Platform people in these churches are expert at moving attenders to laughter or tears. Prayers are offered in a very dramatic style and are often even bathed in moving background music. Attenders evaluate or rate this kind of service according to how it makes them FEEL. Unfortunately after a while the law of diminishing returns sets in. And when this happens stories have to get more dramatic, songs more sentimental, preaching more rousing to keep people having intense emotional experiences. But—worship that is imbalanced in this way is often shallow, sometimes artificial—and rarely reflective—because little or no attention is given to worshiping with the mind. This kind of worship tends to produce disciples who have little depth or rooted-ness. They are like the people Paul mentions in Romans 10:2 in that, “they have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge.”
People who embrace this form of worship usually become worship junkies and are constantly changing churches, searching for whatever worship can supply the best rush. John Ortberg refers to this as “Scarecrow worship” and says that it would be better if only it had a BRAIN.
(b) And then at the other end of the spectrum are those churches that focus only on the MIND.
They recite great creeds, their pastors give out tons of exegetical information in their study of the Scriptures. They carefully follow the lexicon in planning each Sunday’s service. And yet the heart and spirit are not seized with the wonder and passion that characterizes those in the Bible who fell on their faces when they encountered the living God. In worship that is unbalanced in THIS way worshipers are rarely so moved that they actually move. Those who attend such services may be competent to spot theological error, but the unspoken truth is that they are a little bored. Their worship is dry. It does not connect with their deepest hurts and desires. Ortberg refers to this as “Tin Man worship” saying it would be better if it only had a HEART.
Understand—both of these extremes are wrong—because true worship—COMPLETE worship—is worship that appeals to both mind and emotion. I agree with Ortberg when he says that, “We must pursue worship that links well-ordered minds with overflowing hearts.” And he’s right. We must have powerful testimonies AND well-thought out prayers. We must learn from the great wisdom found in traditional hymns and be moved by simple but often profound truth of today’s praise choruses. Our sermons must inspire and inform. I don’t know about you but I don’t want HALF of the benefits of worship. I want it all. I want to be moved in my spirit—and challenged in my mind.
So, contrary to popular opinion, the mode of worship DOES matter because to experience worship in all its fullness it must be structured in a balanced way—so that it appeals to both heart and mind. I’m so thankful that we have a mature Christ-following Music Minister like Bill Archer who structures our worship according to this principle.
By the way this is the kind of worship we see practiced in the early church. Listen to Colossians 3:16 and note the “spirit and truth” there. It says, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom (MIND)—and as you sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs—with gratitude in your HEARTS to God.”
So as we go through each part of a worship service, we must always ask ourselves two questions:
- What does God want me to UNDERSTAND?
- What does He want me to FEEL?
Here’s another sad misconception that abounds. Many Christians believe that…
(4) …they are the AUDIENCE.
Sadly, these days more and more people have the tendency to approach worship as CONSUMERS. They focus on sitting back with arms folded and saying to those leading worship, “Wow me. Do something that will grab my attention and catch my interest.” They assume worship to be like watching a movie—it’s something they critique afterwards. They come to worship each week to be entertained and tend to view worship as something done TO them or FOR them, rather than BY them.
I went to a large church in Virginia a few years back during a sabbatical and it was structured according to this principle. Attenders sat in theater seats and watched as the praise band put on a great show with cameras projecting close up intense looks on band member’s faces on huge screens. There was a sermon—but no call to decision—no offering was taken—no greeting of guests—no invitation to join in a mission work of any kind. We just went in, sat in our seats, and then left with no interaction. It was not unlike going to a movie at the RIO. All that was missing was popcorn.
George Barna says that his research in this area has shown that unfortunately this kind of worship is popular because MOST Americans expect worship to satisfy or please them—not to honor or please God. He writes, “Amazingly, few worship-service regulars argue that worship is something they do primarily for God. A substantially larger percentage of attenders claim that attending worship services is something they do for personal benefit and pleasure.”
Well, people who look at worship this way have it all backwards. It is not for US. It is for GOD! He is the audience—not you and me. The word worship literally means, “worth-ship” which means that we worship that which is worthy. And the Bible of course teaches that ONLY God is worthy of our worship. As it says in Revelation 4:11, “You are worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honor and power.” So when we worship God rightly, we are declaring HIS worth—not our own—which is what we do when we selfishly demand our own worship style. Psalm 25:14 says, “Friendship with God is reserved for those who REVERENCE HIM. With them alone He shares the secrets of His promises.” I love the way William temple, the Archbishop of Canterbury, described worship. He said, “Worship is the submission of all our nature to God. It is the quickening of the CONSCIENCE by His HOLINESS: the nourishment of the MIND with His TRUTH, the purifying of the IMAGINATION by His BEAUTY—the opening of the HEART to His Love; the surrender of the WILL to His PURPOSE.”
In these phrases Temple reminds us that worship is the response of all that MAN is to all that GOD is and does. Worship happens whenever human inadequacy is met by and embraces the grace of God. Worship is the intersection of our lives with God’s presence and power. In worship we experience the truth of James 4:8 as we “draw near to God and He draws near to us.”
As most of you know on the way home from our trip to the Holy Land we spent two days in Paris and one of the places we toured was the Grand Ballroom that was built by Napoleon III. Here’s some pictures—to help you see how amazingly beautiful it was—breath-taking. During our tour we learned that the people who came to this ballroom didn’t come to see the shows but rather to BE SEEN by the rest of the audience. And this is reflected in the ballroom’s design. For example there was this huge lobby—for use during intermissions and before and after shows to mingle—to be seen. The most expensive seats were the box seats right over the stage—which were horrible for seeing the show because you’d be looking at the back of the actors—but it was perfect for being seen by everyone else. In other words when it came to the Grand Ballroom in Paris—it was all about you—the spectator. Well, as I said, many people think of worship the same way. In their minds it’s all about them but they have it all wrong. True worship—second mile worship—is all about God. He is the audience. He is the one we should be pleasing. Listen. How do you think God feels then when Christians complain about the types of songs they sing or about their favorite preacher or about how comfortable the seats are?
When we look at worship as something to please or entertain us—we insult God. I think this misconception of worship that God was talking about in Malachi 1:10 when He angrily said, “Oh, that one of you would shut the temple doors, so that you would not light useless fires on My altar. I am not pleased!” So remember—in worship God is the audience. Our worship is our offering to Him. It is a time to focus on pleasing Him and not ourselves. And then one other misconception that I have noticed floating around these days is that—
(5) Worship only takes place in a CHURCH.
Many people erroneously believe that worship only happens in this room or one like it on Sunday mornings for about an hour or so. But in reality, for the Christian, worship is a 24-7 thing. We worship God every moment of every day of our lives. True worship is going the extra-mile to please God all the time. This is because when Jesus came He revolutionized the concept of worship by freeing it from the restraints of time and geographical location. You see, before Christ, people were taught to go to the temple to be in God’s presence; now WE are the temple of the Holy Spirit. Where we go, the Spirit of Jesus goes; and where Jesus goes, worship goes. As Russell Shedd says, “The New Testament projects a vision of worship that infuses ALL OF LIFE with the presence and glory of God.” So—for the growing Christian worship is never really supposed to stop. It should go on wherever they are. Hebrews 13:15 says, “Through Jesus, therefore, let us CONTINUALLY offer to God a sacrifice of praise, the fruit of lips that confess His name.” Worship isn’t supposed to end when this service ends. No, in fact often the greatest acts of worship take place when we leave this room—and act on what we learn as we obey God every day of the week. As J. C. Ryle says, “The best PUBLIC worship is that which produces the best PRIVATE Christianity.” I do about two or three weddings every year and I enjoy being a part of wedding ceremonies involving men and women who love the Lord. But I tell all couples in premarital counseling that weddings are easy—whereas staying married can be extremely difficult at times.
Couples understandably want to plan a wedding SERVICE; I want to help them plan a MARRIAGE. They want to know where the bridesmaids are going to stand. I want to help them learn where to stand when their relationship is undergoes the inevitable stress that comes when two sinful humans share their lives. I pretty much know the vows by heart and can do a wedding in about twenty minutes with my eyes closed. But a marriage takes year after year of wide-eyed attention. Now weddings are important. They are beautiful, impressive, emotional, and often expensive. We are careful to be at the right place at the right time and to say the right words. Every detail of the service is important, but all the same, weddings are easy. Marriage on the other hand, is complex and difficult. It’s in marriage that we work out every detail of the words, the promises, and the commitments that we speak at the wedding. In marriage we develop the long, rich life of faithful love that the wedding promises and announces. The event of the wedding without the life of marriage doesn’t amount to very much. If there is no daily love shared—no continuing tenderness—no forgiveness asked and received—no attentive listening—no creative giving—no lifestyle of blessing each other as husband and wife—then the wedding service is a sham and the marriage is an empty charade.
In the same way if worship does not translate into a changed life, it is a sham. You see, God is not as much interested in the activities of WORSHIP as He is in the actions of LIFE. In Isaiah 1:12-17 He expresses this when He says, “I have more than enough burnt offerings. I have no pleasure in the blood of bulls and lambs and goats. Stop bringing your meaningless offerings! Your incense is detestable to Me. I cannot bear your evil assemblies. They have become a burden to me; I am weary of bearing them. When you spread out your hands in prayer, I will hide My eyes from you; even if you offer many prayers, I will not listen. Your hands are full of blood; wash and make yourselves clean. Take your evil deeds out of my sight! Stop doing wrong, learn to do right! Seek justice, encourage the oppressed. Defend the cause of the fatherless. Plead the case of the widow.”
In God’s eye worship is much more than what happens Sunday mornings. It is what happens the rest of the week. It is truly a 2nd mile thing. Christians who want to experience genuine worship respond on Sundays as did Isaiah by saying, “God, Here am I send me.”“Take my life and accept it as an offering to You. Use it as You see fit.”
This leads us now to the most important part of this service of worship—the time we set aside for the purpose of publicly responding to God by giving Him our lives. As we sing ask yourself if there is any part of your life that you need to offer to God this morning—part of your day-to-day existence that has not been worship. Perhaps you are not a Christian and our focus on the holiness of God has made you aware of your need to as for God’s forgiveness through Jesus Christ. If this applies to you I hope you will walk forward and give your life to Him today. If you are a Christian you may hear God calling you to dedicate your marriage to Him as an offering of worship—or your parenting—or your career—or your relationships with neighbors.
He may be leading you to join this church, giving Him your life to use in helping us fulfill our purpose as a church. There’s an old chorus I like that is designed to be sung at the end of worship. It’s lyrics go like this, “Now the worship begins. Now that our lives have been re-united. Let us go out showing the world God really cares. Now the service begins so let us love as God has loved us.” The words to that chorus are right because now—as we sing—preparing to leave this building—worship truly begins. So take your hymnals and let the service begin.