WORSHIP – a misty morning

Climbing up past an ancient hill fort on the Malvern Hills, on a bright but slightly misty morning, the view began to shrink. I had intended to walk to an obelisk but soon I entered a whitened out world.
Hill fog closed in. The path ahead was not clear. A Bible verse suddenly came to my mind, “be still and know that I am God”. (Psalm 46 v 10) As I couldn’t see which way to go I sat on a rock and just tried to “be still”.

I would have said, until then, that it was a perfectly calm day but, as I sat for a while, my senses “tuned in” and I could actually hear, in my right ear, a slight breeze. I heard pheasants in the woods far below, and a blackbird singing in the distance.

A wonderful bead work of pearl-like dew drops glistened on the grass in front of me.
I was surprised by 3 birds, sitting on the grass, motionless, no more than 2 metres away. They studied me – and I returned the favour. They had been there all along but I had been unaware of them.

I slowly came to the realisation that my left check was warmer than my right – where the sun was struggling to break through the heavy curtain of mist. (I’m not the sort of person who normally takes much time to consider the relative warmth of my cheeks!)
Over the next few minutes a circle of mist, directly above my head, disappeared – an extraordinary ten pence piece of sky blue – with a line drawn across its diameter where a jet’s trail slowly evaporated.

The initial frustration of not being able to get on with the walk changed gradually to an enjoyment of all that I could hear and feel and see.
None of this, I believe, would I have experienced if there had not been a white out. If I had not been forced to take time to be still and open up my senses.

Traditionally there are said to be 5 senses, (seeing, touching, smelling, tasting, and hearing), but there are more of course. – A sense of balance (equilbroception), a sense of heat, (thermoception), the awareness of where our body parts are (so you can be on all fours and put your leg out straight behind you – called propioception) Then there is our ability to sense pain … not to mention arguments over our sense of morals (conscience) or justice or beauty ….

However many or few there are it is certainly true that, if we build in moments of stillness, we can perceive things that are there all the time but which we had no time to sense.

What is true in the natural is also true in the spiritual realm. God is speaking all the time – through his word, through nature, by His Spirit. We need to open up all our senses and learn to be still enough in our spirit to tune in to anything he might be saying.

I don’t believe we are called to an aesthetic withdrawal from the world. The Bible verse not only tells us to “be still” it goes on to say he will be “exalted in the nations” I do believe, however, that carving out time to know again that He is Lord, to be still and listen to Him, receive and be in his presence, is essential. If we take the time who knows what he may speak to us about!!? – songs to be written, people to make friends with, ministries released, business strategies developed, leaders trained, … Worship is sometimes best expressed by being still and receiving. He is, after all, a giving, speaking God.

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WORSHIP – Values and expressions

When we talk about “worship values” what we mean is “here are the things we feel are are really important … so here goes…

  • The Father seeks worshipers John 4 v 23 – so worshiping God is the highest calling and will continue through eternity. Worship is not a preliminary to the main thing, it IS the main thing!
  • God delights in our worship  – “he will take great delight in you… he will rejoice over you with singing” …”The greatest thing of all, oh Lord I see, – You delight in me”
  • Worship is a response to who God is and what he does and also an encounter with Him – a meeting!
  • We delight ourselves in him Psalm 16v11, Psalm 84 v1-4.
  • There are many ways to express worship – (see below)
  • It is to do with entering his courts and knowing his presence – not just the singing of songs and the saying of prayers …James 4 v 8, Psalm 95
  • We can come with confidence, Heb 10 v 22, as well as awe, Heb 12 v 28-29
  • God wants all believers to be priests and play an active part in worship 1Cor 14 v 26, 1 Peter 2v 9
  • In God’s presence we also expect gifts as he speaks Psalm 95 v 7b-8
  • Bread and wine was a part of NT worship – it focuses us on remembering the object of our faith, what he did, what he  accomplished and his future return
  • Worship is spiritually powerful 2 Chronicles 20v21-22
  • Unbelievers can recognize something of God’s presence when the church body worships. 1 Cor 14 v 25

Expressions of Biblical Worship …

There are many traditions but here are some Biblically valid expressions of worship..

  •  laughter and joyful songs Psalm 126 v 2;
  • singing 89 v 1, Psalm 105 v 2;
  • bended knee 95 v 6;
  • the bowed head 2 Chron 29 v3 0, Neh 8 v 6;
  • clapping and shouting, Psalm 47 v 1, 95 v 1, 98 v 4-6;
  • making music to the Lord 98 v 5;
  • lifted hands 28 v 2, 134 v 2;
  • prostration, 1Kings 18 v 39, Rev 11 v 16-17;
  • dancing, Exodus 15 v 20, 2 Sam 6 v 14, Psalm 149 v 3;
  • silence Rev 8 v 1;
  • stillness and waiting psalm 37 v 7, 46 v 10.

WHAT MAKES A GOOD WORSHIP LEADER ?

We live in a day of high profile worship leaders and song writers – but, amazingly, we actually know the names of some of the worship leaders from back in the reign of King David!

In 1 Chron’ 15 v 17 – 22 several key people are mentioned – all gifted and no doubt practised and skilled. All invested their talents to develop the corporate worship of the nation of Israel. I find their names fascinating… perhaps giving us some pointers as to the qualities we should develop as worship leaders or worshippers!

HEMAN (v17) means “one who is faithful”. To lead well requires a certain amount of endurance, determination and consistency on our part. Heman became that sort of leader. It would seem he had not had an easy life – in Psalm 88 we find him overwhelmed, feeling low, without strength or friends – and yet he faithfully and honestly cries out to God for salvation. God greatly values faithfulness! What matters is not whether we are overwhelmed or not, but where we go when we are!!

ETHAN (v17) is derived from the Hebrew words for “permanence and strength”. No one is strong in themselves, but how wonderful to be a person known for consistency, strength and a determination to worship. It is perhaps easy to be switched on for a big occasion, or, on the other hand, to be overwhelmed by our current feelings or circumstances. Our Father God is surely worthy of our taking up a more robust, determined, attitude of giving “permanent praise!”

KENANIAH (v22) is not a name found in baby name books today – but what a great meaning, “One established by Jehovah” If we serve in order to establish ourselves then we are, and always will be, insecure. Is our sense of being firmly established always dependent on what people say? or how the last event went? It is great to know that we are called by God to worship – there is no need to perform for HE already loves us unconditionally. He has established us. Our need for constant affirmation from others will grow weaker the more we bask in his love and enjoy serving without the need for applause.

ASAPH (v17) means “one who gathers together and removes reproach”.  As we gather to worship our congregation will always include folk wrestling with big issues, overwhelmed with sorrows, and with failures on their minds. Ethan drew people together to our God, who replaces those things with a sense of acceptance, faith, forgiveness and adoption. How wonderful to lead people into an awareness of the person, presence and love of God on a Sunday! Much as I appreciate the virtuoso worship, or musical, “performer”, truly gifted worship leading draws people together, reminds us whose we are, who He is,e is,HH and focuses us wonderfully on the object of our worship.

(Incidentally not only did Asaph write some psalms, he also grew in his gifting and developed, so that he is later described as a seer (2Chron 29v30) – A reminder that worship is intimately connected to the presence of God and the flow of his spirit and gifts …)

A last thought – A hundred and twenty-eight singing descendants of Asaph return from exile with Ezra the reformer (Ezra 2:41), and perform during the dedication of the new temple’s foundation (Ezra 3:10). I wonder what values we will pass on our children and grand -children?

WORSHIP – obstacles and benefits

The psalmist says “I will extol the LORD at all times, his praise shall always be on my lips”

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if, when people think of us, they think “He (or she) is really a worshiper!”?

Since God himself desires worshipers we can be pretty sure the “enemy of our souls” is keen to put hindrances between us and worship. “Life is too busy”, “worship is a luxury”, “we do that on Sundays”, I’ll get less done, and I’m busy”, “isn’t this a bit inward looking?”, “I need to answer these emails first” … All these and more need to be identified for what they are – “Worship Obstacles”

The truth is that our first priority is to live our lives for what one writer called “the audience of One” It is not a heavy duty to be before our God but a glorious privilege, our eternal destiny and what we were created to do!

Of course, God does not need our worship, He is entirely self sufficient and complete in his self. Although he is glorified by us reveling in him the truth is that worship brings many benefits to us!

  • We magnify the LORD. We cannot enlarge a perfect God but as when we look through a telescope at the moon we change our perspective of what we are looking at. God is already huge and magnificent and all powerful. When we worship him we enlarge our view of Him, and gain perspective on things we have made too big in our lives. Alternatively, if we fail to worship him we tend to diminish our view of who he is and magnify the wrong things.
  • We experience his presence. Grace gives us access to the Father at all times. If we learn to worship as a lifestyle then we can know the reality of him being with us all the time … in our work, family life and so on… what former Christians called “practicing the presence of God”
  • We receive fresh hope. I’m not sure “my problems disappear” as the song says … but I do know I see them in better perspective when I have an eye full of who he is and what he can do. I gain faith and the weight of burdens are lifted as I see God
  • We revel in the truth. The words of our worship songs are so important as truth fuels worship, as does the word of God… sing, read, pray and the truths of God will seep into your soul!
  • We receive fresh life and joy. We all get tired and weary but “those who wait on the LORD renew their strength” Someone once said to me “if you are tired, go to bed but if you are weary go to the Lord”. Good advice! I am grateful I have a wife who will spot the signs and tell me “you need a prayer walk!”

“Rejoice in the Lord… draw water from the well of salvation … the joy of the Lord is your strength”

Life gets cluttered and complex and confusing so let’s remember our number one priority, fight to overcome worship obstacles, and make the One who is THE first thing first in our lives!

WORSHIP IS POWERFUL!

I’ve just been reading 2 Chronicles 20 v 13 – 22. Responding to prophetic direction, from Jahaziel, the King organises a battle formation with a big difference – it has a worship band at the front!

Those he appoints then advance toward the enemy praising God for “the splendour of his holiness” and giving thanks to Him. As they advance “The LORD set ambushes for the enemy” – I’ve no idea what that looked like!! – But they defeated the enemy, and have gone down in history!

When in trouble we often do anything but worship, and turn to anyone but God! – Here, then , is an alternative response and also a great example of the power of corporate worship.

We can, one day, ask Paul and Silas for a similar New Testament testimony of the in-breaking of God’s power as they praised God. (See Acts 16 v 16… esp’ v 25ff)

Paul says “the weapons we fight with are not weapons of this world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds” (1Cor10v4) I believe truth filled worship, in the Holy Spirit, is a powerful weapon.

Worshipping in spirit and truth has God’s power to break down strongholds of wrong thinking, which the enemy uses to hold individuals back.

The truth about God – who he is and what he has done is a great weapon to set people free, remind them they are adopted, beloved sons of a heavenly Father. This brings new life and engenders faith.

The name of Jesus and his wonderful character has power since God has given him “the name above every name” – every knee must bow! The blood of Jesus cleanses us from our sin, guilt and shame, and as we sing about it we are enabled to resist accusation and know we are righteous by his grace.

Knowing the wonderful presence of the Holy Spirit, as we enter into adoration and experience the wonder of him actually being with us, strengthens us for life and defeats an enemy who wants us to believe we are on our own…..

The content of our songs is important since worshipping in truth powerfully reminds us of who He is and who we are.

Leaders, like Jehosaphat, can set the example of being those who first “bow down and worship before the Lord” (v18) It is a wonderful relationship, not a method or a formality!

God loves to then come – to save, to heal, to set free, to set ambushes, to break folk out of prison … Honouring and enjoying the person and presence of God is the destination of worshippers. Worship is powerful, because God is!

THE HEART OF A WORSHIPER

“I am of the opinion that we should not be concerned about working for God until we have learned the meaning and delight of worshiping him”      A.W. Tozer.

In AW Tozer’s book “Whatever happened to worship”  the writer says that, like an amnesiac, the human race experienced a dramatic fall and, as a result, we have forgotten that we were made to walk with our God and worship him. Even as Christians we can forget this and take our place in Sunday worship out of habit, duty, love of music, enjoyment of the people or atmosphere.

We must therefore learn, or re-learn, “the meaning and delight of worshiping Him”

A heart to give thanks.

The fall of mankind was characterised by a lack of worshipful gratitude – “though they knew God … they neither glorified him as God, nor gave thanks to him” (Rom 1 v 21) A  prime characteristic of those restored to relationship with God, therefore, is the cultivation of a renewed attitude of gratitude

When people think of you do they think of a worshiper?Remember, the Father himself is seeking worshipers.  (See John 4 v 23-4)

 A heart to give our whole self.

The “first” or greatest, command is “love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind”. (Luke 10v27) Our God requires, and deserves, nothing less than wholehearted worship.

In Romans 12 v 1 Paul takes up the notion of totally giving ourselves and gives us a picture of placing our whole selves on a sacrificial altar of worship – This in a willing and joyful response to the magnificent mercy of God in choosing us and saving us by Jesus’ work on the cross.

 A heart to seek Him.

In Psalm 42 v 1-2 the writer compares his hunger for God to the physical longing of a deer for water. He “pants” for God and knows that nothing less, or other, than the Lord himself can meet his thirst.

“Where can I go and meet with God?” is the great question of the worshipping heart. God has hidden things for us not from us; and he promises to be found by those who seek him wholeheartedly.

 A heart to delight in Him.

What a great command – “go on, indulge yourself!” – “delight yourself in the Lord” Psalm 37 v 4

The psalmist encourages us to exalt, boast and revel in our Lord – His attributes and actions. To delight ourselves is to glorify him!

A wonderful cook is most glorified in the licking of lips, the mopping of gravy, the longing for seconds, and the salivating expectation of more!! The very enjoyment glorifies the provider all the more as the consumer delights in the feast!

In the same way we are encouraged to “delight” in the Lord – to be enraptured, delighted; to honour and esteem, applaud and shout, relish and indulge ourselves! To luxuriate and be captivated and fascinated with all He is and has done. What a privilege!

 A heart to know Him

 David’s primary request was to “gaze on the beauty of the Lord” Psalm 27v4

It has been fashionable to say “I do not want to know any more about the Lord ; I just want to know Him”  Why settle for “either/ or” when it is the Lord’s will for you to have “both/ and”? We can cultivate our love Him with all our minds as well as all our strength and soul!

If I had said, to my future wife, “I don’t want to know anything about you I just want to experience you”, I would have been told to get lost, – and rightly so! If you love someone you want to find out their opinions, taste, family background, ambitions, gifts, character and desires.

Further earthly discovery sometimes leads to discovering areas of disappointment in one another. – BUT there is no disappointment in our God, for He is perfect and complete and His beauties are endless.

Let’s gaze on his beauty in ways that involves both learning more about him and experiencing his wonderful closeness – there will always be more to know!

 OUR PERSONAL PRIORITY

Matt Redman wisely says “The private place always needs to outweigh the public place”  Wherever your time and place is – do whatever it takes for you to meet with God. Developing the heart of a worshipper is the best thing you can do to glorify God and enrich the worship of your church.

Thank Him, give yourself to Him, seek Him, delight in Him, know Him!

 “If we give ourselves to God’s call to worship, everyone will do more than he or she is doing now. It will have the quality of eternity in it. It will be gold, silver and precious stones, not wood hay or stubble” A.W. Tozer.

Worship – Our highest calling

“Desiring God” is a great title for a book! – In that book John Piper argues that to be preoccupied with anything less than God is to rob ourselves of our greatest joy and privilege. God tells us to praise him above all else because He knows that’s the place of our highest fulfilment and satisfaction. We are made for Him – to worship Him is our destiny! To not worship Him is to miss out on what we are on earth for.

Let’s focus on aspects of corporate worship …

THANKSGIVING

To “enter His gates with thanksgiving ” is much more than “let’s wake everyone up with a fast one”! The first step away from God is that we don’t thank Him (See Rom 1v21) In the midst of all sorts of life distractions, therefore, it is so good to simply thank God and remind ourselves of his mercy, his kindness and wonderful nature. Such appreciation is our “gateway” into God’s presence.

PRAISE

An illustration – When we first married my wife was unmoved by the delights of, say, tennis,  (along with most others sports!), however watching together, learning about scoring, tactics, angles and spins has gradually led to appreciation and even outburst of “WOW that was fantastic!” Praise grows with understanding! – (I have also learned, from her, to appreciate our rich history and legacy of historic buildings)

We praise what impresses us – and the more we learn of who God is and what He has done the more we will be impressed with that understanding and praise him. That’s why songs full of truth about Who God is and What He has done are so helpful!

IT’S PERSONAL

We are not just praising a God but our God and Saviour. Our praise engages our emotions, as well as our minds, when we realise that We have a personal interest since “the Son of God loved me and gave himself for me” (Gal 2 v 20)

IT’S HAS TO BE EXPRESSED!

Thinking warm thoughts toward my wife is not enough – Praise has to be expressed to really be praise. In all sorts of worldly settings praise is expressed through clapping, shouting, dancing, drumming, dancing … Wholehearted enthusiasm; maybe not very traditionally British but very Biblical. Watching Olympic fervour, or F.A. cup craziness could maybe help us learn to better express our praise to the One who is, above all else, amazing and genuinely wonderful!

ADORATION

We enter into worship to honour him but also to encounter Him. “Knowing you Jesus – there is no greater thing”! (Graham Kendrick) We are pursuing moments of love and adoration, encountering God’s presence and delighting in Him. “How lovely is your  dwelling place, … my soul yearns, even faints … my heart and flesh cry out for the living God”. “Better is one day in your courts than a a thousand elsewhere” (Psalm 84)

“In the end the heart longs not for any of God’s good gifts but for God Himself. To see Him and be in His presence is the soul’s final feast”. (J Piper)

WORSHIP – The boasting instinct

WORSHIP – The Boasting Instinct.
David was in fear for his life! Hounded by King Saul he had fled for refuge to King Abimelech. Abimilech was minded to kill him and he had escaped only by pretending to be insane.  What would we have left like? – depressed?, lonely?, angry?
When he wrote his psalm about it we find instead that he says “I will praise the LORD at all times; his praise shall continually be on my lips. My soul will boast in the LORD; let the afflicted hear and rejoice” (psalms 34 v 2-3)
David models and encourages praise in the midst of difficulties He makes a “soul decision” that we would do well to copy –“my soul will boast in the LORD”
Both individually and corporately the people of God need to make the same decision to praise God. – “In God we make our boast all day long, and we will praise your name forever” (Psalm 44v8) In this parallel statement the psalmist gives us a good, and non religious, definition of praise – to boast in our God.
If we are honest there is a part of us that likes to boast! It starts early, with a primary school star for good spelling, or art, and can grow to epidemic proportions as we boast of what we, or later our children, have done or achieved. Fastest, tallest, brightest, strongest, prettiest, richest, highest… you name it and we can boast about it!
The truth is, of course, that we would have nothing to boast about except through the goodness of God – who deserves all the praise, since every good gift comes from him. What do we have that God hasn’t given us? Jeremiah speaks to us when he says “This is what the LORD says, “let not the wise man boast of his wisdom, nor the strong man his strength, or the rich man boast of his riches – but let him who boasts boast about this; that he understands and knows me”
I think the LORD wants to restore and re-use our capacity for boasting!
Firstly, the Holy Spirit can help us live in humility so that we are actually able to boast in our weakness . This is very counter cultural but allows us to be real and God to be glorified. Paul models this for us “If I must boast I will boast of the things that show my weaknesses” (2 Cor 11 v 30) – there is something very attractive about a people who are real with each other. Boasting in weakness also allows more opportunity for God to show his power; “my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Cor 11 v 30 and 12 v 9-10) Paul’s conclusion was that he would “therefore boast all the more about his weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me” Let’s be real and expect an increase in his power among us.

Secondly, let’s use this boasting instinct to praise God. “No one may boast before Him … so, as it is written, “let him who boasts boast in the LORD” (1Cor 1 v28-31)
When we boast of ourselves it is inappropriate – the bits that are great are the work of God! But when we boast of the LORD it is entirely appropriate – He is bigger, stronger, larger and longer, wiser, richer, kinder and better than anyone!!
So … the next time you are not sure what to do in a praise time – make a “soul decision” to try some boasting!! – My soul will boast in the LORD!

P.S. (Who knows, “boasting” could even change our definition of evangelism!)