Thursday, February 5, 2015

Becoming Like God...In His Presence (1 of 2)

What is the most important thing we can do as Christians? Worship! In previous posts of this series, I have mentioned our need for Bible intake and prayer. So why are these before worship if worship is more important? Because Bible intake and prayer can lead us to know God better, which, in turn, should make us desire to worship Him more. And worship can be done in all things. Colossians 3.17 says to do everything as to the Lord. A centuries old book written by a monk named Brother Lawrence, Practicing the Presence of God, says that he learned that whatever he was doing – cleaning the kitchen, mopping the floors, or in his time with the Word – could be a time spent with, and for, God. This kind of lifestyle epitomizes our title today – Becoming Like His Presence. As Paul wrote in Ephesians 5, we are to imitate God. How can we imitate someone if we never spend time with them or watch them personally? Thus, our worship is one way to intimately spend time with God – praising Him for what He has done, but also learning from Him what He wants us to do.

And much of what we do in a church service are elements of worship. But that doesn't mean that every one of us is worshiping at that moment. In fact, it is possible that no one is at worship in any given moment. Why? Because our focus is elsewhere – on lunch, plans for the day or week, a relationship problem, etc. So, if being at worship is not about being in worship, how can we better understand worship so that we can better engage with God in worship? Let me share three pairs of truths about worship.*

First, worship is focusing on and responding to God.

Worship is to truly be preoccupied with God. This is why we can be at a worship service and not in worship. It is why you can worship, and not be at a church building. It is about the focus of your mind and being. As many have said, “I can be with God while I am...(fishing, golfing, hunting, etc.)”. And that is very true. But to be in worship, means our focus must be on God WHILE we are doing these activities. Again, there is nothing wrong with these activities, but we can't deceive ourselves into thinking we are worshiping God when our attention is more likely elsewhere. And again, golfing, fishing, whatever, CAN be done for the glory of God. It's just that it does take intentionality. Worship does not just happen. Notice it is a response. It is a response to the God who:
  • created us. Revelation 4.8,11
  • died for us. Revelation 5.12
  • lives for us. John 20.28
  • reigns over us. Revelation 5.13

The more we realize His worth, the more we will choose to worship. Consider the scene from Revelation 4 and 5. Those that are with Him, can't stop worshiping. They can't help but worship Him. (See esp. Revelation 4.8-11, 5.12-14.)

So, consider the elements of our worship service for a minute. proclaiming His Word – bringing focus to His Word so we might respond properly.

Singing...about Him (focus) by offering praise is our declaration of His majesty (response). about expressing our gratitude to Him (focus) because of what He has given us (response).

Prayer...shows our devotion to God (focus) and reveals our dependence on God (response).

Baptism/Lord's about remembering His life (focus) by following His commands (response – do this...baptizing).

(Like most, I have little idea where announcements fit into a worship service. To me, it reveals a part of the difference between a worship service and a church service.)

Secondly, worship is done in Spirit and in truth. Read John 4.23-24.

Let me give you one very practical reality from this statement. To fully worship God, one must be a Christian. Now, at first glance, you may think that may not be true, or is an arrogant statement. But remember, we are talking about spiritual disciplines. And spiritual disciplines are made possible by the Spirit of God. And the only people to have the Spirit of God IN them are people who belong to God. Thus, to worship in Spirit, means the Spirit must be within you.

Others of you may agree in principle, but perhaps have witnessed strange proceedings which have been labeled as worship. Well, again, let me be clear, I am talking about the Worship of God. But let me also be clear that what you may understand to be perfectly acceptable as worship, and what I believe to be acceptable may be different. And what someone of a different denomination may find acceptable, may be different yet. And on and on. If, as point 1 said, worship is the focusing on and responding to God – in a positive way, I might add – then it is God who is the judge of proper worship. Romans 14 can give us some guidelines here – we should not force our understanding of faith on others, and we should not take liberties with our faith that cause others in our fellowship to stumble, but unity with diversity is how the church is to be comprised.

Now, understand, just because the Spirit is within us does not mean that we WILL worship – or that we might not go through certain actions of worship and not be worshiping. Consider this, have you sung a song and even though you still sang the words, your mind was on something else? Sure, we all have. Then, again, that is not worship. And that is why we must be IN THE SPIRIT, and not just HAVE THE SPIRIT. Read Revelation 1.9-10. John was in the Spirit. His Words. What does that mean to Him exactly? I don't know. But because He was in the Spirit the unexpected happened. When you worship, do you expect God to show up? If you don't expect God to show up when you come to worship Him, then why worship? That doesn't mean that if you don't encounter Him, or if He doesn't do something amazing that He wasn't here, but the reality is that our expectations of worship (and a worship service) is a little low sometimes.

So, what about the truth part? Well, what does God look like? Often, we are able to put an image to what we worship. Many people worship the Cross. But while the cross is an important symbol for our faith, so is the empty tomb, and one rarely sees images of the tomb in a church or anywhere else. But even the tomb is not to be worshiped. God is! In the previous paragraph, I referenced Revelation 1.9-10 and John being in the Spirit. Now, let me ask you to read from the last chapter of Revelation (22.8-9) where John bows down before an angel. Many people today worship angels, but this is nothing new (see the book of Colossians). But the angel essentially said, “Not me, bud. Worship God.”

We know this because of God's Word. He has revealed Himself in Creation (Romans 1.20). He has revealed Him by His Incarnate Word (John 1.1, 14; Hebrews 1.1-2). John 1.18 – says He made Himself known. But even these matters we know because He made Himself known in His written Word – 2 Timothy 3.16, 2 Peter, 1.20-21. Again, that doesn't mean we are to worship the Bible, but most of what we know about God comes from the Bible. It is not all the truth of God, but it is all of the truth we need to know about God to properly worship Him.

Many will say, you need to simply, “Let the Spirit lead you.” My response: Absolutely. But we must understand the God's Spirit will not lead you apart from God's truth. In fact, the Spirit leads us to better understand God's truth (John 15.15-17). Unfortunately, many spirits lead us astray – so be careful to be balanced in spirit and truth. Remember, even John was in the Spirit, but even then, He found occasion to bow at the feet of an angel.

In part 2, I will look at the third pair of truths for worship and then reveal four options for application using the 4L Method of discipleship.

*This series of posts is adapted from Donald Whitney's book, Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life.

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