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If I took a microphone into the foyer of your church and asked people why they had come, what do you think I would hear? I suspect I'd hear reasons like these:
To obtain some new thought from the Word
To hear Pastor speak-he's an outstanding preacher
To be built up
To fellowship with other believers
To really feel and be moved by the music and worship
I think you'll agree that these are fairly typical responses. Maybe you too would say you worship for one or another of these reasons. As good as these reasons are, though, some critical reasons are missing from the list.
Why do we worship? Why do you and your church worship? And more important, what is the real purpose of worship? What does the Bible have to say about it?
We will start out by looking at three Old Testament principles of worship in this chapter.
PRINCIPLE 1: COME INTO HIS PRESENCE AND SING TO HIM
In worship we draw near to God, the One who has called us to worship. That's what is missing from the response of these worshipers: the expectation that they assemble to meet with God. When we lose sight of that central purpose of worship, we begin to misdirect our efforts. We start to think in terms of getting something out of worship-good feelings or good teaching-or we make worship into a means to some other end. Feelings are valid and play an important role in worship. Children, who cannot comprehend what is going on intellectually, learn about worship from the feelings present in the worship environment. Warm feelings benefit all, but the major emphasis should not be on generating good feelings; we shouldn't think that we have not worshiped if on a particular Sunday we "feel nothing." Instead, the experience of healthy emotions will come from focusing on a God who, by His very character, loves to bless His people. We come to Him; He graciously comes to us.
Many church leaders believe that worship is for teaching. Scripture choruses, they point out, can help people memorize the Bible; hymns and Bible readings can reinforce church doctrines. Alternatively, pastors may view worship as a preparation for the sermon-when the real teaching takes place. True worship will stimulate in us a desire to be changed, and as we draw close to the Lord in worship and see His person more clearly we will be changed. But even edification-certainly a worthy purpose-is only a minor part of what worship is all about.
Other leaders want "good" worship because they think it promotes church growth. In southern California many of the growing churches are actively involved in worship as an experience that attracts nonmembers. Others see a connection between worship and evangelism; they believe that corporate worship can be used to prepare the unsaved for the gospel "like nothing else." These and many other benefits derive from worship, including a cleansed conscience, inner peace, and tranquillity.
Yet all these reasons for worship fall short of the real purpose. We should worship God because He is deserving and worthy of our praise. We should worship because we want God.
And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord's glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit (2 Cor. 3:18).
Graham Kendrick calls this "transformation through adoration." Change comes inevitably. When Moses came down from Mount Sinai, he glowed because he had met with God. In that meeting, God's character and presence visibly transformed him.
Change for us, as for Moses, will come by being in God's presence and by directing our worship to Him. Ministering, serving, and performing "to the Lord" is a core idea of Christian worship. The preposition to here is everything. There is an enormous difference between singing to the Lord and merely singing about him. There is an enormous difference between praying to each other about God and actually entering into His presence. In more than one hundred references in the Psalms, worshipers sing to the Lord. More than twenty passages speak of worshipers "ministering" to the Lord. Offerings ascend to make a soothing aroma "to the Lord" (Lev. 1:9).
Similarly, when you consult a concordance, you discover an overwhelming consistency in the Bible's language from Genesis to Revelation. The people come before God-they come before His presence to praise Him. Over one hundred passages describe the worshiper as "approaching" or appearing before the Lord. As Bruce Leafblad has observed, we have forgotten in our churches that we perform our worship-our singing, our praying, and our offering-before the Lord.
God's real and visible presence in the tabernacle lay at the heart of the covenant. The tabernacle stood in the center of the camp. It was erected so that God's presence could become a permanent, living reality. God told Moses:
"There I will meet you and speak to you; there also I will meet with the Israelites.... I will dwell among the Israelites and be their God" (Exod. 29:42-45).
The tabernacle, or "tent of meeting," literally means "tent of appointment" or "rendezvous tent."
Yet, not only was God to be present in corporate worship, but the whole of life was to be lived out in the presence of God. The thundering refrain often repeated in the Old Testament-"I am the Lord your God" (Lev. 18:2)-encompassed all of life. The Gospel of John, moreover, alludes to the life of Christ in terms of the tabernacle image: "The Word became flesh and made his dwelling ['tabernacled'] among us" (1:14).
PRINCIPLE 2: OFFER WORSHIP THAT COSTS YOU SOMETHING
If I could, I would teach every congregation to offer up costly worship. Cheap worship is a contradiction in terms. In the tabernacle, worshipers always brought an offering. The most frequent offering, the burnt offering, was also the most costly. Only unblemished animals were to be presented, and they had to be burned whole; no meat remained for the priest or offerer. Moreover, Pentateuchal ceremonies invariably elevated the importance of the shedding of blood. Only the priests were allowed to officiate during that part of the ceremony. Blood was daubed on the altars, the veil, the mercy seat, and even the priests and their vestments. During the ceremony in the desert when the Israelites publicly assented to the Sinai covenant, Moses took the blood, threw it over the people, and said, "This is the blood of the covenant that the Lord has made with you" (Exod. 24:8).
With even greater poignancy, Jesus at the Last Supper told His disciples to drink (symbolically) His blood: "Drink from it, all of you. This is my blood of the covenant which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins" (Matt. 26:27-28). True worship costs everyone concerned, both God and man. When Jesus and the disciples sat and watched the crowds put their money into the temple treasury, it was the widow putting in two small copper coins who attracted His attention: "They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything-all she had to live on" (Mark 12:44). Similarly, David, with great perception in acquiring the site for the temple, refused to accept the land as an outright gift. "I will not sacrifice to the Lord my God," he insisted, things "that cost me nothing" (2 Sam. 24:24).
Throughout the Scriptures true worship costs. The primary word for worship in the Old Testament is abodah, which is translated "service." The Greek equivalent in the New Testament, latreia, has the same meaning. Both words are used in the sense of rendering a "service" of costly worship. Abodah is used in reference to Old Testament priests who dedicated their lives to serve the Lord in the temple.
Latreia is also closely related to our word liturgy. Accordingly, when students of worship talk about the liturgy of worship, they are speaking about the "work" or "service" of worship directed to God by both leaders and congregation. This "work" may involve any of the following in liturgically oriented churches: liturgical movement, action, drama, symbolism, dance, texts, lectionaries, creeds, furniture, and vestments. When the word liturgical is used in this book, it will often be in reference to one of the above.
Liturgical churches often have a fixed order to their worship with fixed prayers, multiple Scripture readings, and extensive symbolism (altar, cross, candles, incense). They also tend to offer Communion each Sunday and adhere to the liturgical year. Nonliturgical churches may have a less formal pattern to their worship, characterized by more spontaneity or greater simplicity.
Whatever your church is like, the important question is this: what can you do to make your worship more costly? The Book of Romans urges worshipers to offer their bodies in an entire lifestyle of worship.
Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God-this is your spiritual act of worship (Rom. 12:1).
The Book of Hebrews also suggests that praise and good works should be natural expressions of worship.
Excerpted from People in the Presence of God by Barry Liesch Copyright © 1988 by Zondervan. Excerpted by permission.
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