I’ll begin this message by simply saying, “God invites us to be worshipers.”
No doubt you’ve heard of the congregation that decided to have four worship services each Sunday. There was one for those new to the faith. Another for those who liked traditional worship. One for those who had lost their faith and would like to get it back. And another for those who had a bad experience with church and were complaining about it. They named each of the services: FINDERS, KEEPERS, LOSERS, WEEPERS. When our worship is based on our likes or preferences we cease to be worshipers, and we become takers who show up to worship. Showing up to worship and being a worshiper are two different things.
A couple of times, in Isaiah and in Amos, God says flat out that he’s tired of worship. Listen to what God says in Isaiah 1:13-14 in the Message paraphrase: “Quit your worship charades. I can’t stand your trivial religious games: Monthly conferences, weekly Sabbaths, special meetings-meetings, meetings, meetings-I can’t stand one more! Meetings for this, meetings for that. I hate them! You’ve worn me out!
I’m sick of your religion, religion, religion.”
Jesus even said the same to some of the people in his day who spent most of their lives trying to worship God. He said of them, “They worship me in vain” (Matthew 15:9). Perhaps, in all of the discussions about drums or no drums, organs or guitars, hymns or choruses, high church or low church, pews or moveable seating, we’ve made a serious error. We’ve focused so much on worship that we’ve missed the point. God doesn’t want worship.
God doesn’t want worship. God wants worshipers. God isn’t lacking people who are willing to sing songs, to attend religious services, to bow their heads to pray, or to do all the things that we think of as worship. God isn’t looking for more of that. But, according to Jesus, God is looking for something entirely different. He isn’t looking for more worship. Instead, he’s looking for more worshipers.
Jesus said in John 4:23, “But the time is coming and is already here when true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth. The Father is looking for anyone who will worship him that way.” The Father is looking for worshipers, for those who seek to worship him in spirit and the truth.
We in the Church of God have long been called “The Singing Church” because from our infancy, we sang about our experience in Christ. What a wonderful thing to be able to testify in song! However if we never move beyond testimony to true worship, we’re focused solely on what God has done for us rather than being worshipers who lavish our praise on Him just because of who He is. I long for the day when the Church of God moves from being the singing church to the worshiping church filled with people who are radical about being in the presence of God for the purpose of adoring Him.
If we were made to worship, the question begs to be answered, “If we are not worshiping are we missing our purpose?” “If we are not worshiping are we missing the mark?” “If we who are in Christ are not worshipers who are actually worshiping, are we perhaps though unconsciously disobeying the job description we have been handed by God himself?” Many people have attempted to define what it means to be a worshiper. My husband can go on a hike in the mountains and come back feeling he has worshiped God. I can go on a hike and come back sweaty. Some people can sit in silence and in that stillness they “know that God is God” and they worship Him in the quietness of their minds. Others have to move or weep to express their worship to God.
It is difficult to pin down exactly what it means to be a worshiper because the demonstration of worship varies from person to person. No two people worship alike, and yet, the Bible gives us some understanding of what is involved in biblical worship and these principles apply to us all. Worship is mainly preoccupied with God’s WORTHSHIP. We respond to God because he is worthy of honor, glory, praise, and adoration. Listen, many people may be worthy of admiration, but only Christ is worthy of adoration. Many people may be worthy of applause for a job well done, but only Christ is worthy of applause just because of who He is.
Being a worshiper is more than being respectful. I can respect you and disagree with you. I can respect you on the outside but grit my teeth and mumble about you on the inside. Worshiping is far more than showing respect. It’s a genuine response of love and adoration that comes from an understanding and acceptance of the majesty, power, and love of God. It’s not an “I have to” thing, but an “I can’t help but express my love and devotion to Him thing.” And as we grow in our Christian walk, it’s an “I must” thing because we know that there is no substitute for a face to face encounter with Jesus. We want to be where He is and sit at His feet and acknowledge His wisdom so that we can receive it. We want to honor His presence so that His presence saturates everything we do. We want to stay yielded to the One who can make the difference in every circumstance. Worship brings the reality of “God with us” into a dimension that we can experience, feel, and engage with. Eugene Peterson said, “Worship does not satisfy our hunger for God—it whets our appetite. Our need for God is not taken care of by engaging in worship—it deepens. It overflows the hour and permeates the week.”
God invites us to be worshipers. How do we do that? I want to look at the worship service described in Genesis 22nd and quickly highlight four worship principles that can help us deepen our understanding of what pleases God regardless of your individual expression.
Genesis 22:1-18 “1 Sometime later God tested Abraham. He said to him, “Abraham!” “Here I am,” he replied. 2 And God said, “Take your son, your only son, Isaac, whom you love, and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains I will tell you about.”
3 Early the next morning Abraham got up and saddled his donkey. He took with him two of his servants and his son Isaac. When he had cut enough wood for the burnt offering, he set out for the place God had told him about. 4 On the third day Abraham looked up and saw the place in the distance. 5 He said to his servants, “Stay here with the donkey while I and the boy go over there. We will WORSHIP and then we will come back to you.”
6 Abraham took the wood for the burnt offering and placed it on his son Isaac, and he himself carried the fire and the knife. As the two of them went on together, 7 Isaac spoke up and said to his father Abraham, “Father?” “Yes, my son?” Abraham replied. “The fire and wood are here,” Isaac said, “but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?” 8 Abraham answered, “God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son.” And the two of them went on together. 9 When they reached the place God had told him about, Abraham built an altar there and arranged the wood on it. He bound his son Isaac and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. 10 Then he reached out his hand and took the knife to slay his son. 11 But the angel of the LORD called out to him from heaven, “Abraham! Abraham!” “Here I am,” he replied.
12 “Do not lay a hand on the boy,” he said. “Do not do anything to him. Now I know that you fear God, because you have not withheld from me your son, your only son.”
13 Abraham looked up and there in a thicket he saw a ram caught by its horns. He went over and took the ram and sacrificed it as a burnt offering instead of his son. 14 So Abraham called that place The LORD Will Provide. And to this day it is said, “On the mountain of the LORD it will be provided.” 15 The angel of the LORD called to Abraham from heaven a second time 16 and said, “I swear by myself, declares the LORD, that because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son, 17 I will surely bless you and make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as the sand on the seashore. Your descendants will take possession of the cities of their enemies, 18 and through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed, because you have obeyed me.”
Principle Number One-Worshipers respond in faith to a revelation from God. See verses one and two again: 1 Some time later God tested Abraham. He said to him, “Abraham!” “Here I am,” he replied. 2 And God said, (Here comes the revelation from God) “Take your son, your only son, Isaac, whom you love, and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there (Here is the faith response being called for) as a burnt offering on one of the mountains I will tell you about.” And God said. These are three very powerful words. This whole act of consecration and submission wasn’t Abraham’s idea. It wasn’t something he thought up himself. He didn’t wake up thinking, “You know, if I sacrifice my son today, it will really please the heart of God.” No, it was a response to a Divine revelation. It involved faith. For if God called Him to do it, he could do it and if God called him to do it there was a good reason for him to do it whether he understood it or not.
You can imagine how Abraham must have felt. Isaac was Abraham’s only son, and the future of the covenant rested in him. Isaac was a miracle child, the gift of God to Abraham and Sarah in response to their faith. Abraham and Sarah loved Isaac very much and had built their whole future around him. When God asked Abraham to offer his son, He was testing Abraham’s faith, and it looked like God was wiping out everything Abraham and Sarah had lived for.
That’s where Abraham’s faith came into this worship experience. Abraham knew that God’s will, would never contradict God’s promise, so he held on to the promise that “through Isaac your offspring will be reckoned” (Gen. 21:12). Abraham believed that even if God allowed him to slay his son, He could raise Isaac from the dead (Heb. 11:17-19) Listen, “Faith does not demand explanations; faith rests on promises.”
To act in risky or sacrificial ways without Divine authority, without the leading of God, is self presumption and will lead to destruction. If you take faith away from Abraham’s response, it just becomes premeditated murder. Listen. The worship of the Lord must be guided by the word of the Lord. My authority in worship. . . Listen, my authority in worship is not based on the traditions of men, no matter how many years they have been perpetuated, but it is based on the clear revelation of God’s word. In other words, it doesn’t matter that three generations ago, Uncle so and so worshiped this particular way or the church of that time in that culture worshiped a certain way, if my worship isn’t a faith response to the revelation of God on my life now, I’m not a worshiper, I’m just attending a service that is based on traditions devised by men.
Many times during worship, God has spoken to me and given me a Divine revelation about something I should do or someone I should talk to. Without Divine revelation and Holy Spirit prompting, I’d just be inviting myself into people’s lives and offering them my opinion, but when I have acted in faith based on the revelation of God people have been helped, healed, and delivered. Acting upon Divine revelation is accepting God’s call to be a worshiper. Romans 10:17 “Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the WORD OF GOD.” God starts it by speaking. We add faith to that revelation. Abraham believed something.
Are you hearing God speak in these worship events? Have you ever come asking God to speak personally to you, or have you come listening for His voice? Has he revealed something to you? What have you done about it? We are to be worshipers who respond in faith to a revelation of God.
Worship Principle Number Two-Worshipers respond in obedience to that revelation. We have worked in our parenting to communicate with our children that delayed obedience is disobedience. I could argue that Jonah eventually went to Nineveh, but that wasn’t accomplished without some severe redirection done by Father God and repentance on Jonah’s part for not going the first time. We must obey God immediately and fully. Abraham’s response in this worship event was just that. He didn’t hesitate to obey God’s command. He set his clock early, saddled the donkey, cut the wood, got two helpers, woke up his son, and set out in the direction God had indicated. Hebrews 11:17 says it this way, “By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac.” In other words, Abraham DID something in response to God’s Word.
The fact that Abraham obeyed without questioning speaks of the fact that His desire was simply for the will of God. We cannot worship and want our own way. We cannot worship and do something part way. We cannot worship and delay our response. If God speaks, our desire must be for His will alone. Nothing else and nothing less. A desire to know and do the will of God is an essential worship element. He who knows what to do and does it not, sins against God.
If God prompts you to leave your seat during a worship service and go pray with someone and you refuse to do it, you may be sitting in a worship service, but you are not worshiping. God may move you to speak, sing, pray, lift your hands, weep, tithe, or kneel and if you refuse to do it, you’ve been in a sanctuary where worship was taking place, but you weren’t a worshiper. It is engaging with, participating in and obeying the voice of God that marks you as a worshiper.
Has God asked for something from you? Some time, perhaps? Some of your talents? Some of the monetary resources you have that He has given you in the first place? Perhaps you haven’t yielded your will, your soul, your life. Don’t delay obedience. It will only cost you more than you would have sacrificed in the first place.
Worship Principle Three-Worshipers bring a costly sacrifice to God.
In Abraham’s case, this costly sacrifice meant the death of his son, the darling of his heart, his dearest possession, and the one in whom all his hopes of future posterity were centered. God was so careful to emphasize this phase of worship, for He said, “Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love and offer him for a burnt offering.” God was asking for something pricey, something precious and something sacrificial from Abraham. Worship. . . Listen, worship is not a cheap thing. It’s not something we do thoughtlessly or carelessly and it certainly isn’t without self-sacrifice.
David realized the cost of worship when he said “I will not sacrifice to the LORD my God burnt offerings that cost me nothing.” II Sam. 24:24 You see when Abraham set out that day, he didn’t know exactly what to expect, but he knew one thing: He had set out to worship God. He understood when he said that “The boy and I are going over there to worship,” that he was talking about and was prepared to make a great sacrifice. His heart was wrapped up in his son, but we see evidence that he was willing to give his heart’s greatest treasure to God when asked to do so.
Hebrews 13:15 talks about worship as a “sacrifice of praise.” True worship is costly. It involves our whole being, heart, soul, mind and strength. It requires preparation. Abraham surely had to get his heart settled in order to fully worship. You can’t sacrifice your child if your heart isn’t surrendered. He had to wrestle with this Divine Revelation where he concluded that if God has asked him to do it, it must necessary and it will somehow be a good thing in the end. Just getting to the place of worship involved so much for Abraham mentally, emotionally and physically.
I can see as he was chopping the wood for the sacrifice, the tears coming down his face, and the questions slipping from his lips, “God are you sure?” “God, is there another way?” “God, this doesn’t make sense.” “God, can you help me?” And the Spirit of God brought him the reassurance and comfort he needed to collect that wood and strap it to the donkey. There was heart preparation involved. There was physical labor involved. He couldn’t worship until he prepared the wood.
Listen, our Holy, Majestic God deserves our very best. We should prepare every offering we bring to Him. Getting to church, thumbing through the hymnal and picking three of our favorite songs or songs we just haven’t done in a while, isn’t the kind of preparation our God deserves.
I’m all for letting the Spirit lead, but I believe too many churches across America “Let the Spirit lead,” because they don’t want to take time to practice their music, to seek God in prayer and spend the time preparing the sermons that ought to be offered as a costly sacrifice of worship to God. Church of God, I say, “Winging it is for birds!” Somebody’s got to get the wood ready so that the Spirit of God can kindle it aflame when it’s presented as a sacrifice of praise! You don’t get the wood ready on Sunday morning ten minutes before the service starts. You get the wood ready Monday through Saturday as you pray, practice, and prepare your heart to offer it.
Whether you are singing a solo, preaching, leading in prayer, taking up the offering or shaking hands at the door-whether your name is listed in the bulletin or not, each of us has a responsibility to be prepared to offer God our very best. You need to help get the wood ready for the sacrifice. You need to pray for your pastor to hear from heaven and to be disciplined to carve out the time to be prepared so as to make the most of the time he or she has on Sunday. You need to get to sleep early on Saturday night and pray your heart will be right to enable you to offer your personal best to God. You need to come with a spirit of anticipation and a resolve to encounter the Living God.
True worship is costly because it requires something of each one of us. Perhaps too often we are content to watch others be worshipers. In many churches or denominations, it’s taught that it’s enough to watch the professional clergy or the worship team perform the service or sing the songs. Worship isn’t something we watch. It’s something each of us who are in Christ is invited to do. It involves individual sacrifices of praise!
A sacrifice of praise might mean that we tune our voices, focus our minds, and fix our hearts on the King of kings whether we feel like it or not. We might be tired. We might be stressed. We might have had a flat tire or an argument with a family member on the way to church and we just might not feel like worshiping. The sacrifice of worship means we do it anyway out of obedience and a heart of submission.
About this sacrificing of our wills, true worship demands a complete separation from ourselves and the things of the world and a complete consecration unto God. Notice what Abraham said to his servants in verse five, “You stay here and Isaac and I will go and worship.” You wonder if Abraham was concerned that the two servants would try to stop him from offering Isaac as a sacrifice or try to talk him out of obedience to God. I believe Abraham was so consecrated to God that he asked the two servants to stay behind so that nothing could hinder his worship service, his sacrifice unto the Lord.
We need to come to this house of worship after we have had a conversation with the cares of life. “Anxiety, you stay home.” “Financial pressure, you stay home.” “Relational frustration, you stay behind.” We need to come with a focus and a resolve that we will let nothing hinder our worship of God. No doubt many a recipe has been mulled over in someone’s mind during the worship hour. Many a business deal has been thought through while you thought someone was in deep spiritual meditation in the pew in front of you. Many a text message has been sent during the sacred worship hour. Listen, we cannot compromise our thoughts or attention when we have resolved to worship the Lord.
Hebrews 10:21 and 22 says, “21 and since we have a great priest over the house of God, 22 let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith. . .What a privilege. We have a great high priest. What a responsibility! We are to draw near to Him with sincere hearts. In order to do that, we must focus and leave every distraction behind.
I find it so hard to focus when I’m on the phone or even when I am face to face with someone in conversation when our children are misbehaving or talking loudly or trying to interrupt me. I can’t really hear what the person is trying to say because I am distracted by the clamor and the noise around me. I believe that to be in the presence of God, we need to shut out those distractions that compete for our mind’s attention. In order to “get to God” in a sense, we must leave the temporal surroundings to attain to connect with Him on a spiritual plain.
How much does your worship cost you? How do you prepare the wood for the sacrifice? What time have you spend getting your heart and mind ready before you get to the House of God?
Worship Principle Number Four-Worshipers receive a blessing. You might be thinking, “I thought worship was all about God. Now you’re saying we get something out of it?” Of course. God doesn’t ask us to do anything that won’t also be good for us. In verses sixteen through eighteen we see that something about Abraham’s offering pleased God and we see these words of appreciation being expressed by God to Abraham. God says, “”I swear by myself, declares the LORD, that because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son, 17 I will surely bless you and make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as the sand on the seashore. Your descendants will take possession of the cities of their enemies, 18 and through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed, because you have obeyed me.”
You see, a byproduct of being a worshiper is blessing for the believer. God grants Abraham an amazing blessing. The first blessing was that God gave Abraham back his son. What he thought he would sacrifice was now restored to him. What he laid down, God gave back to him. What a blessing! He ascended that mountain with a heavy heart, and I’ll bet he ran down that mountain or rolled down that mountain with a song of joy in his heart. All who honor God will be honored. He will pour multiplied blessings into your life. Isn’t that the way it is for us? We enter sometimes with heavy hearts, but if we have truly been worshipers, we leave lighter, we leave changed, and we leave with conviction and confidence that were just the byproduct of being sacrificial worshipers. That is truly how “God is with us” in worship. As we are “for Him,” He is “with us!”
Notice that Abraham’s blessing came after faith had been exercised. It came after obedience had been displayed. It came after preparation had taken place and the sacrifice had been made.
I know there is a mysterious power in seeking the presence of God. I know there is a supernatural encounter that can be our real experience and God doesn’t want you to miss it. I don’t want you to miss it.
Lowell Ogden tells the story of a little boy who lived out in the country around the turn of the century. He had never seen a traveling circus, and one was coming to his town on Saturday. When he asked his father for permission to go, his dad said he could providing his chores were done early. Saturday morning came. Chores finished, the little boy asked his father for some money to go to the circus. His dad reached down in his overalls and pulled out a dollar bill, the most money the boy had ever seen at one time. Off the little wide-eyed fellow went. As he approached the town, he saw people lining the streets. Peering through the line at one point, he got his first glimpse of the parade. There were animals in cages and marching bands. Finally, a clown was seen bringing up the rear of the parade. The little boy was so excited that when the clown passed, he reached in his pocket and handed him the precious dollar bill. Thinking he had seen the circus when he had only seen the parade, the little boy turned around and went home.
Isn’t it sad that some people come to church like this little boy who went to the circus? They may come with the intent to see God, but all they see is the parade – the parade of scripture readings, the parade of special music, the parade of hymns and choruses sung, prayers prayed, and sermons preached. They peer through their pews at all the activity and then turn to go home thinking they have been to God’s house, but yet they missed the main event – a personal encounter with Jesus Christ!
Calvin Coolidge said that “It is only when men begin to worship that they begin to grow.” Once we are converted, I believe it is in the place of worship where we learn submission and freedom in Christ. Do you want to grow? God invites you to worship Him. Don’t miss out on what God wants to show and teach you. Seek to know God more in the place of worship. Come prepared to hear His voice. He will speak to those who will listen. Come ready to say “Yes” to whatever He asks. Bring your whole self as a costly offering unto Him. Offer Him your whole being with abandon that He might be delighted and glorified and know that you will be blessed because you do. Abraham was willing to lay everything he held dear at the feet of the Lord. What are you willing to bring?
God doesn’t want worship. He wants worshipers. He wants you to be his worshiper. You talk about a strategy for church growth! Jesus said, “When I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw all men unto myself,” in reference to his crucifixion, but we know that worshiping churches that is, churches that are lifting up Christ through praise and worship are often growing churches because when the wood has been prepared, the world will come and try to get close to the fire in an attempt to warm their hearts. They want to be where people are experiencing God.