Before we looked a Ruth, I did a 3 week series on the threefold office of Christ, which were the offices of :
- Priest, and
It seems a bit redundant to preach on Jesus coming into Jerusalem as king and what that means again so soon, so I am going to look instead at the crowds. In particular, I will look at worship. What is it? Why should we worship?
Sometimes I think we do worship a disservice by the way we use the word.
If someone were to ask you what the worship is like at any Christian meeting or church you have been to: What are they actually asking? How would you answer? The huge majority of people in our particular branch of Christendom ‘default’ to talking about the hymns, the music. We even call the musicians the ‘worship team’.
This can create and reinforce a belief that worship and music are interchangeable terms. We must, right at the start, understand that whilst singing and music play a role in our worship, worship is primarily a spiritual, not a musical discipline. If it were, people who don’t enjoy music and singing, perhaps because they are tone-deaf or feel they cannot sing and do not engage in the singing, are judged for ‘not worshipping’. It’s happened to me, on occasion when I simply didn’t want to sing, I have even been bashed with ‘you might not want to sing, but worship is a sacrifice—so you should!!’. I’m sure you have as well.
It’s important, then, that we start in the right place – the Scriptures. We need to look at what do the Scriptures say about worship.
Matthew 4:1-11 – the temptation of Jesus:
- Turn these stones into bread and be satisfied – a physical fulfilment (in this case food).
- Fall from the temple and be saved – physical protection.
- Worship me – not physical at all.
Ever wondered why the first two are clearly about physical sustenance/fulfilment, but the third is not – it’s about worship.
Exodus 20:1-3, the 1st commandment, puts worship at the front of all the commandments. It is the bedrock on which all the other commandments are built. Jesus reinforces it as ‘the greatest commandment’. Mark 12:28-30 puts it like this: “One of the teachers of the law came and heard them debating. Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer, he asked him, “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?”
“The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord, is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’”
Worship is vital and fundamental to our faith. When we worship, we are saying to God “You are more important than I am” this has real power – that’s why Satan wants to steal it from us. It’s also why he will use every trick he can to stop us doing it!
What is Worship?
Everybody worships something. Whatever we give our attention, our thoughts, and our ambitions to, whatever captivates our heart’s affection, our mind’s attention and our soul’s ambition, effectively has our worship.
The Oxford English Dictionary tells us that the English word ‘worship’ comes from the Anglo-Saxon ‘weorthscipe’ which literally means to ascribe worth to something, and today we worship anything and everything it seems. From rock stars to Actors, to Social justice warriors and more. But it’s not just people, anything that we value, admire, love and enjoy most is, by definition, an object of our worship.
We could spend hours looking at other definitions of worship, the Greek and Hebrew words and what they mean, and it would be fascinating for a while. But there’s a danger in over analysing: we might be tempted to reduce worship to just another ‘activity’ that we do when we meet together. Yet, worship involves all of your life, not just one part of it.
This morning when we think of the singing on Palm Sunday, the shouts of the crowds, it is not surprising that we are looking at singing, playing music and raising our voices together.
“Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!”
“Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!” (Luke 19)
“Hosanna to the Son of David!”
“Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”
“Hosanna in the highest heaven!” (Matthew 21)
“Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”
“Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David!”
“Hosanna in the highest heaven! (Mark 11)
But we can’t fall into the trap of seeing worship as being just singing or praying, it is SO much more than singing songs – worship is about your lifestyle – we worship in everything we do – it is the total alignment of our heart, soul, mind and strength with the will of God. It is our wholehearted response to God’s extravagant love and mercy.
But, for the context of this morning, when we talk about worship, sung worship is essentially what we are talking about. So I am going to concentrate on that part of the meeting where we stand and sing songs.
I’ve observed over the years that two things more than any others cause conflict in churches – one is the Holy Spirit and matters around baptism in the spirit/spiritual gifts etc (the one thing that should unite us is the Holy Spirit). The other is worship:
- “I don’t like the songs, they’re too old/modern/loud/boring”
- “I can’t stand all these hymn/prayer sandwiches” / “I hate this endless repetition of songs”
Usually when people say “that wasn’t worship” what they really mean is: “I didn’t like the songs”
Characteristics of Worship…
Worship is very trinitarian – by that I mean that our worship is 1) centred around Christ, it is 2) led by the Holy Spirit and it is 3) a response to the father.
Revelation 5:6 – John’s vision centred on Christ – and so must our worship
Colossians 3:15-17 – we worship “in” Christ
Holy Spirit Led
Philippians 3:3 says we worship by the Spirit of God
John 4:23,24 says we will worship in Spirit and Truth – worship is a Spiritual response to a Spiritual God
Response to the Father
God is our Father – this comes out so very strongly in the Gospels – read them and notice how regularly Jesus refers to God as “Father” and Paul uses the most intimate of terms for father, telling us that it is in the Spirit we can call God “abba” (Daddy). We are sons and daughters of the living God! He really IS your and my father!
What Does Worship DO?
Worship does so many things:
- It brings us into the presence of God.
We know this so well in our experience, that so often in the worship we feel closer to God. James 4:8 says “Come near to God and he will come near to you”.
- It plays a role in prophecy.
1 Chronicles 25:1 tells us that David set aside some men for the role of prophesying along with harps, lyres and cymbals – noting the inclusion of instruments of worship playing a role in prophecy.
- It edifies us—and others.
When we worship we edify ourselves (Psalm 103:1,22 ‘praise the Lord O MY soul’ ) and others (Ephesians 5:19 says ‘speak to ONE ANOTHER with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs’).
- It is a weapon of warfare.
I don’t believe it is a mistake that musicians and praisers always led the army of God into battle. In Joshua 6, we read that the priests and the ark went BEFORE the people when they marched around Jericho. In 2 Chronicles 20:21-23 we read that (📖):
‘Jehoshaphat appointed men to sing to the LORD and to praise him for the splendour of his holiness as they went out at the head of the army, saying:
“Give thanks to the LORD,
for his love endures forever.”
As they began to sing and praise, the LORD set ambushes against the men of Ammon and Moab and Mount Seir who were invading Judah, and they were defeated.
If ever you feel you are under spiritual attack, put some worship on. If your experience is anything like mine, when you worship, something totally transforms for you.
- It is a witness.
Acts 16 describes Paul’s experiences in Philippi, he is imprisoned there and in Acts 16:25, we read that he and Silas IN CHAINS were Acts 16:25 ‘praying and singing hymns to God’ the other prisoners were ‘listening to them’. His letter to the Philippians (which is written from prison in Rome) also describes that ‘it has become clear to the whole palace guard that I am in chains for Christ’ (Philippians 1:13). Was it that in Rome, like in Philippi, Paul was worshipping God? We can’t say for sure, because the Bible is silent about HOW they knew, but I think it’s likely.
- It strengthens the church.
1 Corinthians 14:26 : ‘What then shall we say, brothers and sisters? When you come together, each of you has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation. Everything must be done so that the church may be built up’.
- Finally, if all that’s not enough, God commands it!
Exodus 20:3,4 : ‘“You shall have no other gods before me. “You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me,’. It is ONLY God we should worship! Note the responses we read in Revelation 22:8,9; 19:10; Acts 10:25, Acts 14:8ff, which are all descriptions of worship being directed to something other than God. I won’t read them all, but in every case, the response is ‘don’t worship me—worship God!’.
What does God want in our worship?
Psalm 24 – clean hands and a pure heart – talks about both our actions and our attitudes. // with 1 Samuel 16:7 the contrast between outward appearance and the heart. Contrast with:
Isaiah 29:13 – a definition of false worship hinges on the lips not being “synced” with the heart
So, worship is so much more about our hearts and our attitudes than it is our voices. I’ve heard people saying ridiculous things like, “I can’t sing, therefore I can’t worship” God’s not interested in our singing for its own sake, he is interested in our hearts.
Amos says exactly that: in a time when the people were denying justice to the poor and taking bribes (Read Amos 5:10-13), Amos 5:23-24 says of their worship: “Away with the noise of your songs! I will not listen to the music of your harps. But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream!”
How we treat one another here is far more important to God than how well we sing songs on a Sunday morning (or any other time of the week for that matter).
So, how do we worship? – i.e what forms can worship take?
At the moment, the guitar led band style we see being used at Bethel or Hillsong, Spring Harvest or New Wine seems to be in vogue. But that’s not true in all churches nor has it always been the case
Tell of my mum and her reaction towards the singing we led at St Mary’s, Olveston, a few years ago.
Looking at the following texts and note the very large variation in the instruments and actions that happen in worship in the Bible …
Psalm 150 notes: Trumpet; Harp; Lyre; Tambourine; Strings; Flute; Cymbals. (not an exhaustive list!)
Hebrews 13:15 – notes praise (noting also the “not forgetting to go good and share with others” element of worship).
Then a cursory look through the Psalms shows the following being used in worship:
- Psalm 47:1 – clapping.
- Psalm 33:3 – shouting.
- Psalm 149:3 – dancing.
- Psalm 134 – lifting up hands.
- And into Chronicles
- 2 Chronicles 29:28 – Bowing Heads
- 1 Chronicles 29:20 – Prostrating
It seems to me that we cannot, in fact, we should not dictate to anyone that this type of music or that type of musical instrument is somehow more “worshipful” than another.
The Michal Factor
Found in 2 places – 1 Chronicles 15:25-29 and repeated and expanded on in 2 Samuel 6:12b-23 (read 2 Samuel passage)
If we become “superior” or “judgemental” in our worship (either personally judging the people around us – or even corporately as a church – “we do it better than them”), it may result in barrenness. I have heard all sorts of comments about various aspects of worship over the years, they have come from individuals about other individuals, whether it is about flag waving, dancing, shouting, blowing the trumpet (personal comments about people), but I have also seen and heard churches being superior about other churches way of doing things…
“The way this or that church worships isn’t really worship” – one of the factors which influences our decision to come to a specific church is often the style of the worship – and we can find ourselves, if we are not careful, looking down on other denominations or churches saying that they don’t worship, simply because they are not singing the newest and the greatest songs that are out there. BEWARE.
I have been challenged to consider this ….
Could we be experiencing barrenness in our lives, either personally, or corporately (or both) because we have / are standing in judgment over another Christian or another church’s way of worshipping God? Perhaps we laugh (or groan) when they start to sing / dance / blow the trumpet.
Or we stand in judgment over them, thinking, “who do they think they are?” when they are really going for it in worship.
If you know you are the kind of person who is distracted by other’s worship, why not consciously choose to sit somewhere you will be less distracted.
Worshipping in front of others is a big deal for lots of people. We all hate to look stupid, and feel sometimes that we do. We know in our heads that it is God we should be interested in, but the huge majority of us (if we are honest) allow our perceptions of how others will view us to affect how we worship.
David got to the place where he was able to worship God regardless of what others might think of (or say to) him – How do we get there?
We must break down the barriers to worship ..
So many things can get in the way of our worshipping:
- I’ve Had a row with my wife/husband/children etc
- Distracted by other people – singing, dancing, blowing horns, shouting, clapping etc
- I feel guilt/shame about something
- I’m angry about something
- I’m in pain / ill
- Something unexpected has happened and caught me off guard
- I feel self consciousness
- Someone’s upset me
- The music is too loud/don’t like the song/style of worship
- I’m angry with God about something
The bottom line is this – whatever it is, DEAL WITH IT!
- If there’s sin in your heart – deal with it! The cross of Christ is the best place to do that anyway.
- If it’s a relationship problem – deal with it (leave your offering at the altar and be reconciled to your brother)
- If you’re self-consciousness about others, get to the place like David where we can say – I don’t care what you think – I’m worshipping God anyway EVEN IF I look undignified.
- If you’re being distracted by others in some way, sit in a place where you’re not! Sit at the front where you can’t see people doing stuff, or sit away from that person who can’t hold a tune! As long as you’re not being sinful by (for example) sitting in judgment over someone or something, do whatever it takes physically to concentrate on God. (for me, that’s what closing my eyes is all about – removing visual distractions)
- If it’s something in our circumstances, remember it is so much easier to worship God when life is hunky-dory, and so much more difficult when it’s not (how can we worship the Lord in a strange land – Psalm 137:4)
Lastly, we must remember that Worship is an act of WILL
Psalm 13 – note the circumstances and feelings expressed throughout the Psalm, but at the end we read “but …”
But I trust in your unfailing love;
my heart rejoices in your salvation.
I will sing the LORD’S praise,
for he has been good to me. (Psalm 13:5-6)
Habakkuk 3:17,18 is a key passage in helping us to understand that worshipping God does not depend on our outward circumstances.
Though the fig tree does not bud
and there are no grapes on the vines,
though the olive crop fails
and the fields produce no food,
though there are no sheep in the pen
and no cattle in the stalls,
yet I will rejoice in the LORD,
I will be joyful in God my Saviour.
We cannot blame our lack of worship on something else. Whether it’s our current circumstances, problems in our relationships or whatever else it may be, we can choose to worship God.
What choice will you make this week?