Published by Michael Bigg on Tue, 6 Mar 2018 14:30

The text of Mike's talk on the spiritual discipline of Worship at Evening Worship on 4th March 2018.

There are lots of ways of defining worship but at the heart of all of them is the idea of coming into contact with the Divine Reality of God (or, better, letting that Divine Reality come into contact with us) and being changed by it.

In both Old and New Testament the love and worship of God are primary commandments. At the beginning of John’s Gospel, Jesus asks those following him: “What are you seeking?” they don’t really know how to answer. Later, in Chapter 4, Jesus tells the woman at the well what God is seeking: people who will worship in spirit and truth. There is no higher calling on human beings than the worship and adoration of God and being overcome by the glory of God.

Let’s be absolutely clear on this. The worship of God for God’s own sake is primary. We can do all sorts of good and noble things, but without the worship of God such things are baseless. We can serve God and love our neighbour and these can be acts of worship, but we must be careful not to substitute them for worship itself.

We worship God alone and anything else is idolatry. Our service and love for others are set aflame by true worship and can become worshipful, but they must not be allowed to take the place of worship.

So let’s talk about worship.

(At this point the congregation were invited to share "forms of worship" that were found to be helpful ways of entering God's presence - the following were mentioned)


There’s quite a big list from a relatively small group of people. I would hope that everyone here can look at that list and identifying something that helps them to come into contact with God in adoration. I am also sure that most of us will see things on that list that leave us spiritually cold.

Two observations about worship come out of this list. Firstly, the “forms” of worship don’t matter at all. And yet at the same time they matter greatly. God seeks people who will worship in spirit and truth; not people who will worship in a particular way. No way of worshipping is innately better or worse than another. If you find yourself drawn into adoration and worship through rising before dawn and swimming in an ice-cold lake then good for you! But to suggest that all should observe this practice as a way into worship would be absurd.

Perhaps you find contemporary worship music a helpful way of being transported into God’s presence. Great! Worship in that way! But it is not worship, merely a form of worship, a structure for worship. A particular form of worship is not worship itself in the same way that a guitar is not music and a paper and pen is not a letter. God knows our diversity and has given us many ways of entering into his worship as a result. Let’s celebrate these many forms of worship but not mistake them for the worship itself. The forms of worship don’t matter.

And yet the forms of worship matter greatly! Just because the forms of worship are not worship doesn’t mean we can do without them. They are gifts given by God to help us to worship in spirit and truth! A guitar is not music; but it doesn’t follow that the guitarist can dispense with the guitar and still make such sweet music.

I think that one marker of a mature worshipper is a person who knows well which forms of worship best help her into the presence of God. A mature worshipper will be able to accept and recognise that not all forms of worship are as effective in helping her set aside distractions in order to adore.

To extend the analogy further, a mature worshipper knows which instruments she is best at playing.

If you’re not sure which forms of worship are best for you then take time to try them out. Reflect on how easily they helped you into God’s reality. You may find that different forms help you at different times. Some might be better when you’re alone. Others might be better in groups. Find out!

 

While it’s mature and wise to know your own forms of worship, it’s also the mark of a mature worshipper that you can celebrate and rejoice at the worship of others even when the form of worship doesn’t suit you personally. As the body of Christ we commit to corporate worship and that means there will inevitably be times when the form of corporate worship will not naturally usher us into God’s throne room. A mature worshipper can acknowledge this and yet come into worship anyway.

 

So how do we do this? Practice! That’s why worship is a discipline like the others. It’s not something we either do or not, it’s something we learn and something that takes times to grow into. It’s a daily habit, not a Sunday thing. Our ambition should be to find God’s presence in all circumstances, praise in all circumstances, to adore God in all circumstances. Don’t be satisfied with a spiritual top-up on Sunday – let our gathered worship be the climax to a whole week of worship that sets into motion another worship week.

Here’s a tip. When you wake up in the morning pray: “God, help me to worship you today”. When you go to work: “God, may I worship you in my work today”. When you sit down to eat: “God, may this food draw me closer to you”. When you wash up: “God, help me to know your presence in the washing of the dishes”. When you get it the car: “God, may this time be to your praise and worship”. You get the idea. When trouble strikes: “God, help me to praise you in this”. Seek out opportunities for worship throughout the day! Expect God to respond!

You’ll go for hours, days, weeks without remembering to worship God in daily life. But keep going. As you practice you’ll become better at responding and finding opportunities for worship. You’ll become like a musician who, through practice, can turn her hand to a variety of instruments and improvise with new kinds of music. It’s precisely this that enables us to worship in ways that don’t come naturally to us and yet still know true worship in it.

 

So what happens when we worship together? I believe that when we are gathered in the expectation of encountering God our worship can be fully and richer. We can accompany each other into God’s presence and those more mature in worship can, through their worship, enable the worship of others. If we are the body of Christ then I believe we can worship most effectively when gathered as a body under the headship of Christ himself. I asked a few people if they’d come to the service a little early this evening to pray for a fullness of worship this evening. People have been praying for you as you entered this place. People have been praying for me, for Jason, for the music group. People have been expecting the Holy Spirit to be made manifest. I wonder if you are noticing the difference as we worship this evening.

If you want to get serious about worship I’d encourage you to get into the habit of arriving at services early to pray in holy expectancy. We don’t always come with an attitude ready for worship, so to have others here praying that this space may be a fruitful environment for worship is essential. Try it out over the coming weeks. See how it changes our corporate worship. See how it changes your own life of worship!

 

I really hope that everyone here had a genuine feeling of God’s presence as we have worshipped this evening. The experience of worship in Spirit and truth is profound and enriching. But if you find that you enjoy the euphoric highs of worship and then leave entirely unchanged then beware. One of the great risks of contemporary worship is the presence of wonderful feelings without being led into greater obedience and commitment to God. Many forms of worship are quite capable of generating these feelings without changing our hearts and if that is the case then I fear that we have not really worshipped at all.

Earlier I suggested that you test out various forms of worship to see what works for you. You might have wondered how to do that. The test is always this: does this experience of worship direct my heart to God and change me in the process? If, over a period of time, that change doesn’t happen then we may have wonderful experiences but we haven’t worshipped.

This has been one of the great learning experiences for me over recent years. I used to feel deficient as a Christian because I’m not particularly charismatic in my style of worship. I generally don’t find myself swept up in ecstasy as the music washes over me. I quite enjoy it, but it didn’t leave me changed or growing in holiness. I used to be quite dismissive of such worship as a result.

What I do find is that daily times of prayer and Bible reading and fellowship help. The discipline of liturgy helps. Over time I find myself changed and challenged to be more obedient. It’s a sign for me that this is true worship (and quite went against what I traditionally thought of as “worship”). And the irony is that as a result I can appreciate more charismatic worship much more. I can worship in the choruses that I used to dismiss. God is good!

And so may God bless you all as you seek to learn the ways in which God will draw you to himself and change you. As you worship may you be transformed into the likeness of Christ. And as you are transformed may you invite others on that journey of transformation to the glory of God. Amen.


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