The Fullness of Joy

Private Worship

How Is Worship Connected to Joy?

We began our exploration of worship a couple of months ago by defining worship as "the means by which we come into the Lord's presence and adore, praise and love Him in the same nature as He - in the spirit." The definition of worship that I really like, however, is that worship means "catching fire with the Love of the Lord." When something catches fire, it's absolutely consumed by it. This is a perfect analogy, because that's exactly what happens when we truly worship the Lord.

Now, how is worship connected to "joy"?

The word joy actually means, "to brighten up, to rejoice or to be happy." But the definition I find absolutely fascinating is from the root of the word joy, which means "to join." In other words, joy is the result of coming into God's presence, worshiping Him and being joined in spirit. This is simply saying that joy is the result of the union and the communion of our spirits.

"...I foresaw the Lord always before my face, for He is on my right hand, that I should not be moved: Therefore did my heart rejoice, and my tongue was glad; moreover also my flesh shall rest in hope": ... "Thou hast made known to me the ways of life; Thou shalt make me full of joy with thy countenance." (Acts 2:25-26, 28)

Nehemiah 8:10 goes on to tell us that this joy is our strength. In other words, when we come into His presence and are joined in spirit, He then fills us with the joy of His countenance and this is what gives us our strength. Proverbs 17:22 validates this when it says that "a merry [or joyful] heart makes us strong, but a broken spirit saps our strength."

If you search the Scriptures, you'll find that the word "joy" is most always associated with the Lord's presence and with the offering of incense. Remember Psalm 16:11 which tells us, "Only in His presence is fulness of joy," and other Scriptures like Psalm 51: 11-12: "Cast me not away from Thy presence...restore unto me the joy of Thy salvation." (See also Psalm 21:1; 43:4; Matthew 25:21; John 15:11; Jude 24.) In other words, the kind of joy that we are talking about here is a gift that comes directly from God and comes only as a result of our being before Him in worship.

What Keeps Us From Worshiping?

Worship, then, is not something we do just on Sundays and in church, but something we must learn to do every day. Look at the lives of Moses, Elijah, Samuel, Jeremiah, Daniel, Isaiah, John and Paul. These men didn't constrict their worship to just one day a week. They worshiped and loved the Lord continually, every day, all day long. And, as a result, Moses came to know the Lord "face to face" and was given incredible revelation (Exodus 33:11, 18); Isaiah was rewarded with fantastic dreams and visions (Isaiah 25); and the glory of the Lord was certainly seen in the lives of Daniel, Elijah and Samuel.

The same can be true of us.

What, then, is it that keeps us from worshiping? Why wouldn't every believer want to experience the presence of the Lord like this?

The first thing that comes to mind is that worship not only allows us to experience the Lord's revelation, joy and Love, but it also is the vehicle that God uses to expose more sin and self in us. Obviously, many Christians do not want to see this. Most of us know that more sin and self exists, but we think if we don't see it, then we don't have to deal with it. Those of us willing to risk exposure of these things, however, will enter His holy place and experience indescribable blessings in our lives.

Another reason we don't worship as we should is because of our misplaced priorities. Things like work, parenthood, ministry, busyness, etc., have become more important in our lives than simply sitting at the feet of Jesus. The Lord, of course, knows our hearts and the real truth. We can fool each other with our excuses, but the Lord knows everything as it really is.

The Key 

The bottom line is that there's a proper order or procedure that we must follow in order to enter God's presence and worship Him. In other words, we cannot simply walk into His presence with unconfessed sin in our lives. He will not hear us.

God is holy and, thus, we can worship Him only when we, ourselves, are holy. Psalm 24:3-4 perfectly describes God's procedure for entering His presence: "Who shall ascend into the hill of the Lord? Or who shall stand in His holy place? He who hath clean hands [or soul] and a pure heart [or spirit]...." (See also Psalm 32:6)

The Lord is telling us here that the only ones permitted to worship Him are those with a cleansed soul and a purified spirit. Again, John 4:24, "God is a Spirit: and they that worship Him must worship Him in spirit and in truth." Worship is not some sort of ritual that we do externally, but a bowing down and a surrendering of ourselves internally.

The story of Korah in the Old Testament dramatically portrays the importance God puts on properly entering His presence. (Numbers 16) Korah and 250 princes rose up against Moses and accused him of pride and of taking too much upon himself. Moses went to the Lord, sought His counsel and then powerfully spoke back to them, saying that God would show them the proper, required procedure for approaching Him: "Tomorrow the Lord will show who are His and who is holy..." He told them to take their censers, put fire and incense in them, and then put them before the Lord. The Lord, then, would make it very apparent who was clean and who was not. Korah and his men did as Moses said. But Korah's incense was "strange incense" and "strange fire," meaning that it was not prepared as God ordained. The Lord then appeared unto Moses and told him to "separate yourselves" from Korah and his congregation because He was going to "consume them." And it came to pass that the Lord did just as He said! The ground under Korah gave way, opened up, and swallowed him. Not only did he perish, but all his men and their houses also. The consequences of disobedience can be huge.

God means what He says and says what He means.

The Lord makes the rules and our responsibility is not only to understand them, but also to apply them. 1 Chronicles 16:29 validates God's proper procedure for worshiping: "Give unto the Lord the glory due His Name; bring an offering and come before Him; worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness." (Psalm 29:2) This Scripture tells us that in order to worship the Lord, we must first attain "the beauty of holiness."

The Beauty of Holiness

Worshiping "in the beauty of holiness" simply means sin has been dealt with and self has, for the moment, been set aside, so that Jesus' Life can come forth. In other words, it's Jesus' holiness that the Lord and others see, not our own. Just as God's Agape Love is not our own love and His Power, not our own power, so this kind of holiness is also not our own holiness. Jesus is the only One who is holy and, thus, He is the only One who makes holiness beautiful.

Consequently, when we are clean and purified, the Lord is able to shine forth His holiness through us. In other words, we become "partakers of His holiness." (Hebrews 12:10) We don't have to work at being holy, but simply relinquish ourselves and allow Him to be holy through us. Holiness is the result of our repentance and continuous sanctification.

"According as He hath chosen us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love." (Ephesians 1:4)

This does not mean to say that we will always stay in the beauty of holiness, even though "positionally" this is an accomplished fact. The reality is that none of us are able to do this on a permanent basis! Romans 3:10 confirms this, "There is none righteous, no not one." Only Jesus was consistently holy. However, we can moment by moment go before the Lord, confessing and surrendering the things in our lives that are not of faith, and, then, be filled with the beauty of His holiness.

Worshiping Is Different Than Praising

Dr. R.A. Torrey, the great author and evangelist, testified that "transformation only came into [my] experience when [I] learned not only to give thanks [praise] to the Lord, but [also] to worship Him, asking nothing from Him, occupied and satisfied with Him alone."1

You see, worshiping the Lord is very different from simply praising Him. We praise God all day long-in our car, at the office, at home, etc. However, we worship God only when we can truly enter His holy place, His presence. And, as we have seen, this only occurs when we are clean and holy. In other words, praise can be soulish (it can be done when we are in the "flesh"), whereas, worship can only be done in the "spirit." Another difference is that praise is often seen, whereas worship is secret - only God knows who the true worshipers are. Also, praise is one-way, whereas worship can be two-way (i.e., it often evokes a response from both parties). Next, praise is often horizontal in purpose, whereas worship is solely vertical. And finally, praise can sometimes be distant, whereas worship is always intimate.

A graphic example of the difference between praise and worship can be seen in the religious ceremonies that the priests of Solomon's Temple performed in the Old Testament. The priests praised the Lord when they first entered the Outer Courts of the Temple. There they raised their arms and hands straight up towards heaven, singing and praising the Lord as they proceeded through the outer gates. Worshiping the Lord, however, was something totally different. The priests worshiped God last and only in the Holy Place. In other words, they worshiped Him only after they were cleansed, only after they brought their incense offerings to the Golden Altar, and only after they had prostrated themselves before the Incense Altar in the Holy Place.

This validates that as far as the priests were concerned, worship was contingent upon their cleansing. They could not go from the blood covering to communion without first going through cleansing and consecration. And the same thing holds true for us: we can only worship the Lord after we have given ourselves totally over to Him; and after we have received not only cleansed hands but also the purification of our spirit.

Remember Psalm 24:3-4, "Who shall ascend into the hill of the Lord? Or who shall stand in His Holy Place? He who hath clean hands [or soul] and a pure heart [or spirit]..."

Thus, if we adhere to the priestly pattern, the very first thing we are to do when we begin our prayer time with the Lord is to praise and thank Him. Scripture tells us that God "inhabits our praises" and this is exactly what we are imploring Him to do. The final thing we are to do is to worship the Lord from our hearts. In other words, worship comes after we praise and after we are cleansed!

The bottom line is: we can only worship the Lord-we can only "catch fire"-when we have already gone through the steps of cleansing and we are already in the "beauty of His holiness." This is the point at which we can truly enter His presence, become united as one in spirit and be able to worship Him as He desires.

How About Us?

The question becomes, "How about us?"

How many of us fall down on our faces and worship the Lord daily in our prayer closets? How many of us have caught fire with the Love of God and are being absolutely consumed by it? How many of us are walking around exceedingly joyful (regardless of our circumstances) simply because we are in the presence of the Lord?

Of course, we all pray, we all sing praises and on Sunday many of us raise our hands when we hear a moving song. But how many of us really come into His presence on a daily basis, prostrate ourselves (if not physically, then, at least our hearts), and truly worship Him?

Jesus wants us to become so lost in our love for Him that we're able to experience His presence even in the midst of our difficult circumstances. Experiencing His presence is what will bring us unfathomable joy and what will restore the thrill of our salvation. The Lord wants us to be so consumed in the fire of His Love that we are able to withstand anything that He allows in our lives.

Remember Mary in the New Testament? She is a perfect example of one who truly worshiped the Lord. In Matthew 26:6-13, it says that she was so consumed in her love for Him that she didn't cease to kiss His feet, wash them with her tears and wipe them with her hair. Because of her display of love, Scripture tells us that she will be remembered throughout eternity. She set an example for all of us to follow - she single-mindedly worshiped the Lord in spirit and in truth .

How many of us worship the Lord like this?

To be continued next month: "The Pathway to Worship." This article has been excerpted, in part, from Nan's new book Private Worship: The Key to Joy.