a monthly devotional journal
Issue No. 59
In this issue:
Perspective 1 - True Words and Quiet Lips
Perspective 2 - The Informed Voice of Praise
Perspective 3 - Not the Giver, But the Lord
Here we have the Benson Street neighborhood tea party, a weekly ritual conducted by little Sally, who resides at 214 Benson, and her friend, Rebecca, who lives just next door at 216.
Every Tuesday afternoon (weather permitting) Sally sets up her little folding table under the spreading branches of the backyard maple tree and sets it with her tea service of plastic plates, cups and saucers. After she places the matching teapot in the center of the table, and everything is perfectly arranged, Sally then retires to her mother's closet, where she pieces together a suitably dressy ensemble befitting the occasion. Properly attired for the occasion, she returns to the site of her impending tea party teetering atop a pair of her mom's old high heels.
Once her friend Rebecca arrives--decked out in her mother's finery and with her dolly, Penelope, in tow--Sally conducts each of them to her seat, then carefully sets her doll, Tabitha, into the third seat, and takes the one remaining for herself.
With great solemnity, she pours. It is of no consequence that the tipping of the teapot over each cup in turn produces no liquid; the "tea," sipped delicately with pinky upraised, would be just as delicious were it truly there. It's perfectly fine that the creamer contains no cream and the sugar bowl no sugar. And it's really all right that the girls' dresses bag at the waist and that their shoes keep falling off their feet, for you see, it's just pretend--it's just play-acting.
What is a nostalgic and heart-warming picture with two little neighborhood friends can be a sadly pitiful display when enacted within the church. Play acting and pretending have no place in our times of worship.
Jesus was having a conversation with a woman. This woman, a Samaritan, came from a different religious background from Jesus, a Jew. The Samaritans worshipped on Mount Gerizim, in Samaria, and the Jews worshipped in Jerusalem.
The Samaritans held to an abbreviated form of the Jewish faith. Their worship was ill-informed, since they held only the first five books of Scripture (the Pentateuch) as valid. They worshipped in spirit, but not in truth.
The Jews, in contrast, included the entirety of what we call the Old Testament. They accepted it, understood it, embraced it, studied it. They embraced every jot and every tittle of God's word, but their worship was empty and meaningless, because it was spiritless. They worshipped in truth, but not spirit.
To this Samaritan woman Jesus said that both were required:
"Believe me, woman, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews. Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth." John 4:21-24
'Going to church' is not worship. Sipping coffee and saying "Hi, how are you?" to someone you haven't seen in seven days is not worship. Attending Sunday School when you would rather have slept in is not worship. Swapping recipes or chatting about the weather while the offertory plays is not worship.
Worship is a deep, rich concept; to define it and describe its practice is almost to cheapen it. Worship can take place just about anywhere, and can involve activities and words that are rarely used on a Sunday morning. But no matter the time or location, true worship must always--always--involve at least this:
"Worship is honor and adoration directed to God." 
Beyond that, however, according to Jesus, real worship must be conducted spiritually and truthfully. If not, it is simply pretend, play-acting--no more than a friendly childhood tea party.
"Without the heart it is no worship; it is a stage play; an acting a part without being that person really which is acted by us: a hypocrite, in the notion of the word, is a stage-player ... We may be truly said to worship God, though we [lack] perfection; but we cannot be said to worship Him, if we [lack] sincerity."
True worship has more to do with intent than action.
Who may ascend the hill of the Lord? Who may stand in his holy place? He who has clean hands and a pure heart, who does not lift up his soul to an idol or swear by what is false. Psalm 24:3-4
The common lament heard in argument against the practice of entering worship in quiet reverence is that, in the body of Christ, our supportive, edifying fellowship-- much of which often takes place during the fifteen to twenty minutes prior to the worship hour--is of equal importance.
Let us assume, for the moment, that the interactions taking place during this time are, indeed, true Christian koinonia fellowship, and not just chatting about the weather or yesterday's football game, or indulging idle gossip. We can then agree that these are certainly important, Biblically-commanded moments for the body.
But fellowship is not more important than worship; it does not take priority. Indeed, after six days of doing battle with the lords of this temporal kingdom, we should approach the sanctuary with a singular intensity, to come face to face with the Lord of the eternal Kingdom. Nothing should stand in the way of our reconnecting with God, the exquisite beauty of His presence, and the restorative power of His touch. Moments spent in the presence of our God, moments of reverent humility met by His outpouring grace, become the sweet outflow of our grace displayed to each other. And that's fellowship.
Come and listen, all you who fear God; let me tell you what he has done for me. I cried out to him with my mouth; his praise was on my tongue. If I had cherished sin in my heart, the Lord would not have listened; but God has surely listened and heard my voice in prayer. Praise be to God, who has not rejected my prayer or withheld his love from me! Psalm 66:16-20
We always have before us the inspiring examples of the saints, both ancient and modern. We read and hear of what seem to us lives of extraordinary holiness--of the foreign missionary giving his or her life so that lost souls might be saved; of prayer warriors who regularly spend hours at a time on their knees, lifting up the needs of others to the Lord; of people in possession of a breathtaking holiness and focus upon the things of God.
Our common response, with intimate knowledge of our weakness, is to claim that we are incapable of such intense righteousness. We claim that we cannot pray for five hours at a stretch--but the problem is, we then don't pray at all!
The cloistered monk has given every moment of His life over to the things of God. He has intentionally removed from his life distractions with which the rest of us must contend. But what to the monk may be a way of life, we can still apply to just one hour per week of worship.
"Having found in many books different methods of going to GOD, and divers practices of the spiritual life, I thought this would serve rather to puzzle me, than facilitate what I sought after, which was nothing but how to become wholly GOD's.
"This made me resolve to give the all for the All: so after having given myself wholly to GOD, to make all the satisfaction I could for my sins, I renounced, for the love of Him, everything that was not He; and I began to live as if there was none but He and I in the world. Sometimes I considered myself before Him as a poor criminal at the feet of his judge; at other times I beheld Him in my heart as my FATHER, as my GOD: I worshipped Him the oftenest that I could, keeping my mind in His holy Presence, and recalling it as often as I found it wandered from Him. I found no small pain in this exercise, and yet I continued it, notwithstanding all the difficulties that occurred, without troubling or disquieting myself when my mind had wandered involuntarily. I made this my business, as much all the day long as at the appointed times of prayer; for at all times, every hour, every minute, even in the height of my business, I drove away from my mind everything that was capable of interrupting my thought of GOD."
Into the Word
O God, you are my God, earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you, my body longs for you, in a dry and weary land where there is no water. I have seen you in the sanctuary and beheld your power and your glory. Psalm 63:1-2Genesis 17:1-3 _____________________________ Exodus 3:5 _____________________________ Exodus 19:16-24 _____________________________ Exodus 20:8 _____________________________ Exodus 34:29-35 _____________________________ Leviticus 26:2 _____________________________ 1 Samuel 2:2 _____________________________ 1 Chron. 22:19 _____________________________ Neh. 8:1-6 _____________________________ Psalm 63:1-2 _____________________________ Psalm 134:1-3 _____________________________ Psalm 138:1-5 _____________________________ Isaiah 6:1-5 _____________________________ Isaiah 45:9 _____________________________ Habakkuk 2:18-20 _____________________________ Romans 12:1 _____________________________ Hebrews 10:19-22 _____________________________ Rev. 4:9-11 _____________________________ Rev. 15:1-4 _____________________________
Digging Deeper--Moving Higher
"Do you quietly bow your head in reverence when you step into
the average gospel church?I am not surprised if your answer is
no.There is grief in my spirit when I go into the average
church, for we have become a generation rapidly losing all
sense of divine sacredness in our worship. Many whom we have
raised in our churches no longer think in terms of
reverence--which seems to indicate they doubt that God's
Presence is there."
Making it Personal
Because, in our society, we honor those who 'keep themselves busy,' people with 'many irons in the fire'-- the ones with daybook pages covered with scribblings for every time slot--we generally do not honor those who do the opposite. So we honor the idea of 'busyness' in general.
Unfortunately we have transferred this concept to the church, so that we honor the person who teaches Sunday School, sits on two committees, and coaches the church softball team all at the same time. We hold the one in high regard who shows up on a Sunday morning ready to discuss this important matter with so-and-so, put out this fire over here, have coffee with the visitors, and huddle in a quick pow-wow with the members of one of his committees--all before the Call to Worship.
Is this person ready to worship?
Now, in contrast, how do we consider the person who has been preparing to meet God since rising that morning? The person who shows up intent on worship may not think to say "Good morning" to everyone he meets; the person who steps through the door with a heart and soul bursting with praise for the Lord may not want to stop and discuss the weather. This person has a tight focus on the throne, on the altar upon which he is eager to lay his sacrifice. The people are secondary (not unimportant, just secondary) to God; the object of his adoration is his heavenly Father, not his pewmate.
Do you recognize yourself in either of these illustrations? You may be an usher, a deacon, the Pastor, or just an anonymous parishioner sitting in the last pew, but no matter your responsibilities, are you ready to worship?If you have not done it before, I encourage you--no, I dare you--to begin preparing for Sunday morning worship on Saturday night. I challenge you to show up Sunday morning with a song already in your heart, and with eyes only for the God of heaven, and His Son, Jesus Christ.
"God wants worshippers before workers; indeed, the only acceptable workers are those who have learned the art of worship."
I once was participating in a Sunday morning service of worship when, at the direction of the leader on the platform, the singing of the chorus "I Love You, Lord" was interrupted to 'turn and greet our neighbors.'
My heart broke over the ignorance. I was left dumbfounded that anyone would purposely break into upwardly directed worship--worship so crystalline pure and direct as I love you, Lord--so that we might have a time of horizontal socializing. My wife and I were left struggling to reconnect with our God, while all around us rose a roaring cacophony of jabbering and laughter.
Therefore let us keep the Festival, not with the old yeast, the yeast of malice and wickedness, but with bread without yeast, the bread of sincerity and truth. 1 Cor. 5:8
How did we become so casual with God? Where did we pick up the idea that He really doesn't mind that our worship services are filled with insincerity, inaccuracies, glaring omissions, and a disorderliness better suited to the cheap seats at a baseball game?
The Lord asks little of us; it's really not difficult to worship Him properly. All He asks is honesty, sincerity, truth. All He asks is that we mean what we say and sing.
Our first calling, according to Christ Himself, is to
Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. Matthew 22:37This command would not seem to be a comfortable companion with uninformed, lazy worship.
Worship and praise, these days, is often associated with music. That connection is not necessary, but it is helpful. Anything that smooths the way for heart-felt adoration of God--anything that facilitates our expression of holy love--is a welcome component to the service.
Yet nowhere do we see more flagrant examples of insincerity in worship than in the singing of our hymns and choruses.
From my days years ago, when every Sunday morning found me smack in the middle of the front row of the choir loft, I recall easily to mind the menu of faces arranged before me.
As the congregation would stand to sing the hymn introduced by eight bars from the organist, there would be
- the older gentleman glowering with lips snapped shut, vise-like, irritated that "we never sing the old songs anymore";
- the woman sluggishly mouthing the words almost a beat behind the rest, eyes glazed over, as if in a state of utter catatonia;
- the teenage girl trying to keep her attention on the singing, while next to her, her visiting boyfriend keeps his attention on her;
- the studious gentleman in the front row, carefully weighing every word printed in the stanzas arranged before him;
- the young mother in the back row not even trying to sing, while struggling with the unruly child at her side;
- the venerable saint, face uplifted and nodding in rhythm, singing at full volume in a key two steps lower than the one being played.
All God's saints, but only some being truthful in their worship.
It is the responsibility of the song leader to choose songs Biblically sound; but it is the responsibility of each member of the congregation to agree with the song chosen.
Every word spoken and every word sung during a worship service should be uttered as if the person were standing in a court of law with one hand resting atop the Bible. In a worship service, God is the audience, and what good does it do to lie to God?
When the line being sung is "I give my all to Him," is it true? Have you really turned it all over to Him?
When the line is "Jesus is Lord!" is He? Is Jesus really the Lord of your life?
"Whatever we are in our religion, let us resolve never to wear a cloak. Let us by all means be honest and real."Into the Word ------------- Joshua 24:14 _____________________________ Psalm 5:1-12 _____________________________ Psalm 50:16-17 _____________________________ Psalm 78:34-37 _____________________________ Proverbs 12:22 _____________________________ Isaiah 1:11-20 _____________________________ Isaiah 29:13 _____________________________ Isaiah 33:15-16 _____________________________ Jeremiah 7:3-11 _____________________________ Amos 5:21-24 _____________________________ Malachi 1:6-14 _____________________________ Luke 12:1-2 _____________________________ 1 Cor. 10:31 _____________________________ 1 Cor. 13:1 _____________________________ 2 Cor. 1:12 _____________________________ 2 Cor. 4:2 _____________________________ James 4:8 _____________________________ Rev. 3:14-16 _____________________________
Digging Deeper--Moving Higher
Our personal goal should always be one of honesty before the Lord. When, in a worship service, we sing to Him our worship and praise, or as we stand and testify in song to His goodness and grace, we should make every effort to mean, to understand, and to check against the authority of Scripture every word sung or spoken.
What follows is a random collection of verses from popular hymns. Read each one through carefully (most will be familiar to you) and ask yourself the following questions:
- Do I understand what this text is saying?
- Do I agree with the text? Does the text square with Scripture?
- Can I sing these words in good conscience? Am I being sincere and honest in singing these words, or would I be more honest with God to not sing them?
(Does the typical use of this song usually match what the first two lines are saying? Do the words of the last two lines accurately represent what is happening?)
It's possible that the most misunderstood moment in the Sunday morning worship service is the time of the offering. After the times of direct worship or praise--whether by the spoken word, or the singing of hymns or choruses--the offering is the most important time for the individual or the family group to demonstrate adoration for God. This is the time when we are given the privilege to say, "You, my heavenly Father, have been generous toward me, so out of my bounty I happily, eagerly, give back to you as a sacrifice of praise."
You see, our worship is not to be just words. The words are only there to describe our actions. Words without action is hypocrisy. Our offering is to be one more act of worship directed toward our God. We are given a beautiful pattern for our offerings in the story of the wise men paying homage to Christ in Bethlehem.
After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, "Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star in the east and have come to worship him."
These distinguished gentlemen traveled no small distance to worship the child. The rigors of this journey were part of their sacrifice for Him.
Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. He sent them to Bethlehem and said, "Go and make a careful search for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him." After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen in the east went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they were overjoyed.
Implicit in this story is the impression that they weren't paying any attention to Herod at all. His words to them sound like a royal command, but as soon as they leave his presence, their focus is back on track. And they are overjoyed that the star has finally come to rest. Now they can worship the real King!
On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshipped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold and of incense and of myrrh. Matthew 2:1-2,7-11
Here is a perfect picture of real worship. The magi first offer their words of honor and devotion by bowing down and worshipping the Christ child. But then they add to this the more tangible gift of their riches: a human way of saying, "You are worthy!"
Now, at the risk of great discomfort, let's compare the Bethlehem scene to a rather typical contemporary worship service. The bulletin informs us that since we just sang hymn #249, it is now time to collect the offering.
The ushers or deacons troop down to the front of the sanctuary and stand in a line, hands folded over their belts, faces intently serious, while one of them or the Pastor offers the prayer ("... bless the gift and the giver.").
After the "Amen," there starts up an immediate buzz over the room, as the congregation takes the opening strains of the organ's offertory as signal to finish the conversations that had been so rudely abbreviated by the earlier Call to Worship.
Plates distributed to them, the men fan out down the aisles, passing the plates back and forth, up and down the pews. In turn, each parishioner turns from speaking with his neighbor to slip a check or bill into the filling plate, passes it down the line, then returns to the topic at hand.
Three or four minutes later the organ crescendoes and ritards the ending of the offertory, signalling the congregation that it is now time to put away those conversations so that the Pastor's sermon can be heard.
There are, of course, variations on this scene. Some churches experience nothing like this--some are worse. But probably you could pick out more than one thing observed in your church body.
The point is this: Whether you remain seated in the pew, or carry your offering to the altar and fall prostrate in worship before the Lord, the offering is to be an act of personal and corporate worship; whether your offering-worship is silent or verbal, it is to be a time during which we individually, and collectively as the body, offer up a sacrifice of our earthly goods to say, "You, O Lord, are worthy!"Into the Word ------------- 1 Samuel 15:22 _____________________________ Jeremiah 33:10-11 _____________________________ Amos 5:21-24 _____________________________ Micah 6:6-8 _____________________________ Matthew 6:1-4 _____________________________ Romans 12:1 _____________________________ 1 Cor. 16:2 _____________________________ 2 Cor. 8:11-12 _____________________________ 2 Cor. 8:14 _____________________________ 2 Cor. 9:6-7 _____________________________ Philip. 4:18 _____________________________ Hebrews 13:15 _____________________________
Digging Deeper--Moving Higher
"True worship seeks union with its beloved, and an active effort to close the gap between the heart and the God it adores is worship at its best!"
Making it Personal
Personally, I would encourage you to make the offering time of every worship service a time of private worship and thanksgiving--a time during which you focus your thoughts upon the God who has given you life.
But if this is something difficult for you, for whatever reason, I would at least encourage you to use this time productively--and quietly. If you will not use this time for worship, perhaps your neighbor will; don't become a stumbling block to his or her time with the Lord.
What are some productive things you can do with the offering time? Chuck Swindoll offers the following suggestions.
1. Use the time to write down a list of things for which you are most grateful. Ponder each ... and thank your heavenly Father for them one by one.
2. Turn to the Scripture that will be used in the sermon. Read it over slowly. Think only about that passage throughout the offering time. Ask God to speak to you as though you were all alone in the worship service.
3. Pick out two or three people whom you know (perhaps some sitting with or near you) and pray specifically for them. Ask God to encourage them and lift their spirits that day.
4. Find the hymn the organist is playing, if it is familiar to you. Read the words over slowly. Allow yourself to picture the scene in the hymn and [let yourself be] thrilled with the message it communicates.
5. Close your eyes. Refuse every outside thought that knocks for entrance. Think back over the week that's passed. Praise God for His assistance. Confess to Him the dirt you've swept under your life's rug.
6. Pray for the one who will bring the message. Ask God to give him liberty, clarity, boldness, sensitivity, insight on his feet, freedom from distractions and petty worries.
Issue No. 59
[1.] John MacArthur, Jr., The Ultimate Priority (Moody Press, 1983), p14. (return to footnote 1)
[2.] Stephen Charnock, Discourses Upon the Existence and Attributes of God (Ketcham, n.d.), p225-226, as cited in The Ultimate Priority (Moody Press, 1983). (return to footnote 2)
[3.] Brother Lawrence, 17th Century monk, from THE PRACTICE OF THE PRESENCE OF GOD THE BEST RULE OF A HOLY LIFE: being Conversations and Letters of Brother Lawrence. (return to footnote 3)
[4.] Reginald Heber (1783 - 1826). (return to footnote 4)
[5.] A.W. Tozer, Whatever Happened to Worship? (Christian Publications, 1985), p117. (return to footnote 5)
[6.] Oliver W. Holmes (1809-1894). (return to footnote 6)
[7.] A.W. Tozer. (return to footnote 7)
[8.] J.C. Ryle. (return to footnote 8)
[9.] "Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing," verse 3, Robert Robinson. (return to footnote 9)
[10.] "I'd Rather Have Jesus," verses 1 & 2, Rhea F. Miller. (return to footnote 10)
[11.] "Redeemed," verse 3, Fanny J. Crosby. (return to footnote 11)
[12.] "All That Thrills My Soul," verse 4, Thoro Harris. (return to footnote 12)
[13.] "Battle Hymn of the Republic," verse 1, Julia Ward Howe. (return to footnote 13)
[14.] "Brethren, We Have Met To Worship," verse 1, George Atkins. (return to footnote 14)
[15.] "Jesus, Thy Blood and Righteousness," verses 1 & 2, Nicolaus L. von Zinzendorf; translated by John Wesley. (return to footnote 15)
[16.] "I Am Thine, O Lord," verse 2, Fanny J. Crosby. (return to footnote 16)
[17.] "Sweet, Sweet Spirit," Doris Akers. (return to footnote 17)
[18.] "Wherever He Leads I'll Go," verse 4, B.B. McKinney. (return to footnote 18)
[19.] minchah, min-khaw', Hebrew Stg 4503; from an unused root meaning to apportion, i.e. bestow; a donation; euphemism tribute; specifically a sacrificial offering (usually bloodless and voluntary) :- gift, oblation, (meat) offering, present, sacrifice. doron, do'-ron, Greek Stg 1435; a present; specially a sacrifice :- gift, offering. (return to footnote 19)
[20.] Edwin P. Parker (1836-1925). (return to footnote 20)
[21.] A.W. Tozer (return to footnote 21)
[22.] William W. How (1823-1897). (return to footnote 22)
[23.] J. S. Mohler (19th Century). (return to footnote 23)
[24.] William & Gloria Gaither, Greg Nelson. (return to footnote 24)
[25.] Charles R. Swindoll, Come Before Winter ... And Share My Hope, (Multnomah Press, 1985), p39f. (return to footnote 25)
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