Beginning this month, we're going to embark on a new journey. A journey that explores the single most important thing a Christian can learn to do, worship. We'll learn exactly what worship is and what it's not; we'll learn how God wants us to worship; and, finally, we'll learn that worship is the only thing that will bring us the joy of the Lord. Psalm 16:11 confirms this, "[Only] in Your Presence is fulness of joy."
William Welty, the Executive Director of the ISV Foundation, Translators of the International Standard Version of the Bible, had this to say about "worship":
"Sooner or later, all journeys must end. And it's only right in the grand experiment of life that this be so. After all, only the fool travels merely for the sake of traveling. The warm home, late night talks with old and valued friends, the restful bed in familiar surroundings, relaxation in that certain place that seems to have been made just for us-these are the rightful rewards for enduring the dangers of the journey.
"And the journey of life must lead us Home to that certain place that really has been tailor-made just for us, if I read Christ's words in John 14:2 aright. God's "house of many mansions" - to use that old King James term - is ringed with many townhouses, each of them lovingly crafted from before the foundation of the world by a wise and omnipotent Architect.
"These rooms have been custom-designed to house the souls of each one of God's Elect. And our hearts are restless, Christian believers of long ago have reminded us, until they find their rest in Him.
"Now I think the real challenge we Christians face all too often is how to find our way home in this life. Frankly, it's just not possible unless you understand how to find joy on the journey. I am reminded - I always knew it to be true, I just tend to forget it too easily - that the place of worship is the place of rest on that symbolic journey called the Christian life.
"Several principles keep coming to mind. Here are four of them:
1. The first requirement for being effective in your Christian life is to remember that only those who love God will serve him with joy.
2. But only those who know how to worship Him can successfully contain that joy.
3. Jesus Himself warned five of the seven pastors to the churches of Revelation 2-3 that various sins of omission or commission can lead to a flaccid spirituality. But all of these sins can result in a quiet refusal to worship Him. And that leads to uselessness.
4. If heaven is our destined home, worship is our destined pastime. As a result, now is the season of time in which we must learn how to do it effectively.
"So come home to worship. It's the place where you belong. You always have belonged there. And deep inside your heart you know that's true. You belong there. Forever. It's the place of Joy. You were made for it.
"If you've lost your way for a season, maybe because your faith has been tested in the darkness of night, worship is the thing to set you back on the straight and narrow. For worship of our great God truly is the key to joy."
Worship is the single most important thing a Christian can learn to do. A.W. Tozer once wrote, "Why did Christ come? Why was He conceived? Why was He born? Why was He crucified? Why did He rise again? Why is He now at the right hand of the Father?" The answer to all of these questions, Tozer says, is: "...in order that He might make worshipers out of rebels."1
Worship is what distinguishes the Church from the world. When we worship, God's presence ceases to be something we only talk about and, instead, becomes a personal experience out of which we build an intimate relationship.
In other words, worship is an experience by which we touch the unseen. It's a divine encounter that not only brings Him glory, but also unveils His Word a little more clearly to us. Worship not only opens the doorway to God's Love, but also to His revelation and joy.
When do we Worship? How do we Worship?
When God put it on my heart a few years ago to write a book about worship, I questioned my friends, my family and others how and when they worshiped. "Do you worship the Lord on a daily basis, or just on Sundays?"
The answers I received were surprising: One friend said, "Oh, I worship the Lord all the time!" Another commented, "I worship when I'm cleaning the house." Another actually replied, "I worship the Lord when I'm with the children." A gentleman responded, "I worship the Lord when I'm driving in the car." Another commented, "I worship Him when I'm at the office," etc.
In other words, the general response I received was "I worship the Lord all day long, no matter what I'm doing."
Now, I understand what these believers are saying - they have an attitude of worshiping the Lord all day long. And that's fine and that's good, but is that really what God means when He says in John 4:23-24, "The hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshipers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth: for the Father seeketh such to worship Him. God is a Spirit: and they that worship Him must worship Him in spirit and in truth."
In other words, can we really "worship the Lord" while cleaning the house, while being with the children, while driving our cars or being at the office? Is this really what God desires? This is what we want to explore over the next several months.
What is worship? How important is it? Do we worship the Lord only on Sundays in church or are we to worship Him privately at home every day? If the latter, how do we do it? And, most importantly, how does God want us to worship Him?
Let me start at the beginning:
A couple of years ago, I was experiencing so many disappointments in my life (those "little foxes" that Song of Songs 2:15 talks about) that I just shut down emotionally. I simply disengaged. It was as if the life in me just drained out. I think our physical body instinctively knows how to defend itself from more emotional attacks, and it does so by simply shutting down and closing off. And that's exactly what happened to me.
Maybe some of you can relate.
The problem is that when we shut down like this, we also quench God's Life (in our hearts) as well. I felt as if His Life in me wasn't just quenched or blocked, it was gone completely. The joy of my salvation had completely evaporated. I continued going about my daily business-Bible studies, prayer, fellowship-but it was almost by rote, mechanical at best.
The scary part to me was that I was daily making all the right "faith" choices: I was confessing my sin and self, repenting of those things, giving myself totally over to the Lord and choosing to walk by faith. (I've been teaching these principles and doing them personally for over twenty years.) But this time, something was really very wrong because my feelings were not aligning with my faith choices, (as they always have in the past), and the really frightening part was that the joy of my salvation wasn't returning!
No matter how much I prayed, confessed, repented and gave things to God, I remained shut down, with absolutely no joy. I so identified with Proverbs 17:22 which says, "...a broken spirit drieth the bones." In the Living Translation the words are, a crushed spirit saps our strength.
It's so true: when we are really spiritually depressed, everything in our life is affected. It's almost as if our blood supply is dried up. It frightened me: how can I teach these cleansing and renewing principles to others if they're not working in my own life?
Those who know me well saw right through my forced outward smile and were very concerned. Others saw my grin and were oblivious to my hidden struggle.
But I knew something was terribly wrong. Either God wasn't who He said He was, and walking by faith doesn't really work (which I knew in my heart wasn't true), or, He was again "cornering me" to teach me something new.
(All of my previous books have come about through personal experiences that the Lord has allowed in my life to teach me His ways. My books are simply a chronology of my walk with Him over the last 25 years.) So I began praying that this might be the case here also.
It was interesting because the very week that all of this was going on, two different people - unexpectedly and out of the blue - prayed that God would give me "new revelation" for the next book that He would call me to write. That became my prayer also.
There's that Word, "Worship"
During the second week that I was in this horrible state of mind, I picked up an article that actually was intended for Chuck but had mistakenly come across my desk. I casually began reading it over when one word in the first paragraph absolutely leaped out at me: worship! The article was entitled, Tired of a Tired Pastor, by Francis Frangipane. This is what I read:
"In the early 1970s, during the beginning of my ministry, the Lord called me to consecrate to Him the time from dawn until noon. I spent these hours in prayer, worship and the study of His Word. I would often worship God for hours, writing songs of Him that came from this wonderful sanctuary of love. The presence of the Lord was my delight, and I know my time with Him was not only well-spent, but well-pleasing to us both.
"However, as my life began to bear the fruit of Christ's influence, the Holy Spirit would bring people to me for ministry. In time, as more people would come, I found myself cutting off forty-five minutes from the end of my devotional time. On occasion, ministry to people would extend into the night, and I stopped rising as early as I had.
"Church growth problems began to eat at the quality of my remaining time; ministerial expansion, training younger ministries and more counseling crowded the already limited time I had left. Of course, these changes did not happen overnight, but the months and years of increasing success were steadily eroding my devotional life. In time I found myself in a growing ministry but with a shrinking anointing to sustain it.
"One day an intercessor called who prayed regularly for me. He told me that during the night the Lord had spoken to him in a dream concerning me. I was eager to hear what the Lord had revealed to my friend, thinking perhaps He was going to increase our outreach or maybe supply some needed finances. I asked him to tell me the dream.
"What the Lord said had nothing directly to do with the projects and the priorities that were consuming my time. He simply said, 'Tell Francis I miss him."'
The author went on to say that he had become so tired and so dry from doing the Lord's work that he needed to get back to reading the Word more, praying more and worshiping the Lord more.
"Worshiping the Lord more"? I thought for a moment. Do I really worship the Lord? I know I pray, I know I praise and I know I read the Word, but do I really worship Him? My mind continued to race, "How is worshiping God any different from praising Him or from blessing Him? In fact, what does it really mean to worship?
The rest of the evening, I continued this line of personal questioning: Is worship something we do just in church on Sundays, something we do all day long (at the office, in the car, etc.), or are we to personally worship the Lord in some special way daily at home? And, if that's the case, how exactly do we do that? These questions plagued my mind.
How would you answer them?
To be continued next month: Searching for Joy. This article has been excerpted, in part, from Nan's new book Private Worship: The Key to Joy.