We began our articles on worship three months ago by saying that "we become like what we worship." Consequently, if we want to become more Christ-like - more conformed into His image - we must learn to worship more.
We said that worship is a two-way communication: we come into His presence by exalting, loving and adoring Him; He, then, makes Himself known by communicating His Love back to us through revelation, insight, joy and peace. The key to worship, however, is that it must be done "in the spirit" and not "in the flesh." John 4:24 tells us that "God is a Spirit; and those that worship Him must worship Him in spirit and in truth."
Thus, in order to enter God's presence and worship, we not only must be believers, we must also be pure and clean (even if it's only for those few minutes we are with Him) so that His Spirit can flow. In other words, we cannot simply walk into God's presence any time we feel like it. God is holy and will commune only with those who are holy. He cannot abide where there is corruption, sin or self. Therefore, in order to worship Him as He desires, we must first "put off" our sin and self, and "put on" Christ (the beauty of His holiness). Last month we explored the four practical steps of how we do this: 1) recognizing our negative thoughts and emotions; 2) confessing and repenting of them; 3) giving them over to Christ; and finally, 4) reading His Word (and putting the truth back in where the lies have been).
These four steps are patterned after the procedure that the priests of Solomon's Temple took in the Inner Court in order to deal with their sin and be reconciled with God. Just like those priests (after they had washed their hands and feet in the Lavers, sacrificed their offerings on the Brazen Altar and immersed totally in the Molten Sea in the Inner Court) could boldly enter into the Holy Place and worship the Lord at the Incense Altar, we too, after we have confessed and repented, given ourselves over to the Lord and been cleansed by His Word, can have the boldness to enter the Holy Place of our hearts and offer our love as a sweet smelling incense offering to the Lord.
Total surrender on the first altar (Brazen Altar in the Inner Court) is what makes the entrance to the second altar (Golden Altar of Incense in the Holy Place) possible.
Worship begins when we present our bodies to the Lord as a living sacrifice, but is not consummated until we worship Him in spirit and truth at the altar of our hearts. Presenting our bodies as a living sacrifice is an act of obedience, whereas worshiping Him in the spirit is an act of adoration.
In Romans 12:1-2, God calls us to be "a living sacrifice." In the Hebrew, the word sacrifice has an unusual meaning. It means "to become closely involved in a relationship." In other words, it means a giving up of something for another, like a gift. This, of course, is exactly what Jesus Christ did for us - He gave up His Life so that we could live. He was both the supreme sacrifice and also the ultimate gift. His death on that cross 2000 years ago is what reconciles us to God today. Consequently, there is nothing more that we need do in order to be saved, except to receive His gift of Life.
Because of Christ's sacrifice for us, Scripture tells us that the veil between the Holy Place and the Holy of Holies has now been rent (Mark 15:38), meaning we can boldly enter and present ourselves before the Lord. Because of Jesus' death, we can have direct access to the throne room of heaven; nothing prevents or hinders us from communing or fellowshipping with Him (except, of course, our heart condition).
"And having an high priest over the house of God; Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience, and our bodies washed with pure water." (Hebrews 10:21-22)
Where Are the Changed Hearts?
True worship, then, is contingent upon our offering ourselves as a living sacrifice and God cleansing our flesh and spirit. In other words, our heart condition matters more in worship than our voice, our good intentions or our actions. Without a cleansed heart, we simply cannot enter His presence or worship.
It's interesting to note that today worship music sales have absolutely skyrocketed, but statistics show us that there are more problems now in the Christian body than ever before. Why? If people are buying worship music, why aren't our lives reflecting this?
The answer is simple: we are becoming like what we worship! (Psalm 135:18)
We are praising God, but not truly worshiping Him. We are singing unto Him, making melody in our heart, but not allowing Him to cleanse our hearts and truly change us into His image. Much of it goes back to the fact that many Christians don't really know what it means to love God. They don't know how to daily surrender and relinquish themselves to Him. Without this knowledge, not only will there be no changed lives, there also will be no worshipers. Worship comes from love. We worship that which we love. In other words, the more we love Him, the more we will be able to worship Him.
If there is no exchange of life where we moment-by-moment surrender our life to God and receive His in return (that "beauty of His holiness" we just spoke of), then no matter what we do, we'll never be able to enter His presence and worship. The Holy Spirit is not interested in simply giving us a revelation of Christ, He wants to make us a reproduction of Christ. (Romans 8:29)
Worship, therefore, is not something that is practiced externally, but something that is accomplished internally. Richard Foster writes, "Today the heart of God is an open wound of Love. He aches over our distance and preoccupation. He mourns that we do not draw near to Him. He grieves that we have forgotten Him. He weeps over our obsession with muchness and manyness. He longs for our presence."1
This reminds me of an article I read not too long ago, and then quoted in the Introduction to Private Worship: The Key to Joy. 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.
Sunday Worship Only
This leads to the question of: When is it appropriate to worship? Do we worship the Lord only on Sundays and only in public or are we to worship Him daily and privately? And, if so, how do we do it? What's the practical application?
How sad it is to say that we "worship God" Sunday mornings at 9:30 A.M. If we truly love God, what happens the other six days of the week? How can we expect to instantly worship God on Sunday mornings at 9:30 A.M. when most of us have just spent the last hour and a half yelling at our kids to get ready on time and arguing with our spouses as to what we are going to do after church. Additionally, once we arrive at church, we're usually not given enough time to go before the Lord and get cleaned up - to get from the Brazen Altar (sacrifice) to the Incense Altar (worship)! (Matthew 23:25-26)
Let me read you a letter I received about this very thing. It expresses some very interesting viewpoints. Before reading it, keep in mind the definition of worship which is "to prostrate ourselves, to bow down and to kiss the Lord." Here's the letter:
"If we think that Sunday morning is the time we worship, we couldn't be further from the truth. Now, I am not saying that we don't worship in our hearts at that particular point in time. But merely that Sunday mornings are not truly representative of what it means to worship. Do we meet together because it's Sunday and it's the one day of the week where God is asking for a kiss so we must give it? Worse yet, do we give it halfheartedly because we feel "I have to be at church today because I haven't been for weeks." Sunday morning should be the physical expression of what is happening in our hearts the entire rest of the week. It's a time when we can all get together corporately and reflect the true state of our hearts.
"I'll use my daughter as an example of the kind of worship that, I believe, God desires. Nothing gives me more pleasure than to receive a kiss from her without asking for one. I love it when she takes me by the hand and wants me to be involved in whatever she is doing. This is how we should view our relationship with our Father in heaven. We should adore Him. We should always be mindful of Him. We should constantly want to interact with Him. Ask Him things. Tell Him our thoughts. Cry our heart out to Him and set Him above everything else in our lives..."
Worship is simply the act of expressing to the Lord the gift of our Love. It's our time not only to initiate, but also to maintain an open communion with Him. So, when and how are we to do this?
Well, the priests of Solomon's Temple set aside two times a day, everyday, to worship the Lord. Since God calls us a priesthood of believers, shouldn't we try to do the same? Can't we spare a half an hour each day worshiping our Lord. "Ye are...a royal priesthood...that should show forth the praises of Him who hath called you out of darkness into His marvelous light." (1 Peter 2:9) "...Ye also, ...a holy priesthood, [should] offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ." (1 Peter 2:5) And finally, "Jesus Christ hath made us kings and priests unto God..." (Revelation 1:6)
The Lord has given us a model or an example of not only how we are to worship, but also when we are to worship. Please bear in mind, since we are not under the Law, we can, in fact, worship the Lord as little or as much as we like. It doesn't change our salvation.
What isaffected by our lack of daily encounters with the living God, is our personal relationship with Him - the intimacy we might enjoy, the joy we might experience as a result of His touch, the insights and revelations He might extend, the godly strength we might receive enabling us to get through our trials quicker and finally, the ability we might have in order to reflect His image, His Love, and not our own for the rest of the day. Truly, worship is the most important thing a Christian can learn to do!
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To be continued next month: "Personal Application." This article has been excerpted, in part, from Nan's book Private Worship: The Key to Joy . See the here for details and other products from The King's High Way .