(more) Thoughts on Worship

Several years ago I was asked to lead a lay-pastor training course on Worship in the Reformed Tradition. In the preparation for the class, I took copious amounts of notes from books that I was reading and recommending to the class. I find that I still turn to those quotes quite often, so I thought I’d share some of them here. Enjoy.

From: Hughes Oliphant Old, “Guides to the Reformed Tradition” (Worship.  Atlanta: John Knox Press, 1984):

“We worship God because God created us to worship him.  Worship is at the center of our existence; at the heart for our reason for being.  God created us to be his image – an image that would reflect his glory.”

“When those who worship the holy God become through that worship holy themselves, they show forth the praises of him who has called us out of the darkness into his marvelous light… Holiness is the fruit of worship.  By purifying the worshipers the worship is made pure.  When we worship, having our minds enlightened by the Spirit, our lives cleansed by the Spirit, our wills moved by the Spirit, and our hearts warmed by the Spirit, then our worship is transformed from being a mere human work into being a divine work.”

From John MacArthur, “Pastoral Ministry: How to Shepherd Biblically.” (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2005):

“Worship is ascribing to God His worth, or stating and affirming His supreme value.So to talk about worship is to talk about something we give to God.  Modern Christianity seems committed, instead, to the idea that God should be giving to us.  God does give to us abudnatly, but we need to understand the balance of that truth.  We are to render ceaseless honor and adoration to God.  That consuming, selfless desire to give to God is the essence and the heart of worship.  It begins with giving first of ourselves, and then of our attitudes, and then of our possessions, until worship is a way of life.”

From D.A. Carson, “Worship by the Book,” (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2005):

“We  cannot imagine that the church gathers for worship on Sunday morning if by this we mean that we then engage in something that we have not been engaging in the rest of the week.”

“Worship is the proper response of the creature to the Creator.”

“You cannot find excellent corporate worship until you stop trying to find excellent corporate worship and pursue God himself.”

“If you wish to deepen the worship of the people of God, above all deepen their grasp of his ineffable majesty in his person and in all his works.”

“Worship, properly understood, shapes who we are.  We become like whatever is our god.”

“To say that we come together “to worship” implies that we are not worshiping God the rest of the time.  And that is so out of touch with the New Testament emphases that we ought to abandon such a notion absolutely…  The people of God should worship him in their individual lives and in their family lives and then, when they come together, worship him corporately.”

From David Wells, “God in the Whirlwind: How the Holy-love of God Reorients Our World,”(Crossway. Kindle Edition):

“We come to the Lord, not because it is our idea to do so, or because we need to do so, or even because we like to do so, but because he first came to us. Worship is our response to what he has done. Worship undoubtedly can have its benefits. However, it is not primarily about our finding comfort, inspiration, or social connections, or being entertained. It is primarily about adoration and praise being directed to God simply for who he is and what he has done. Worship loses its authenticity when it becomes more about the worshiper than about the God who is worshiped.”

“A congregation is a fellowship of sinners, those who know their own waywardness, their own willfulness, and how much they need to be redeemed. It is precisely those who know such things who are in churches or, at least, ought to be. For it is here, in the company of others, that we learn of God’s goodness and of his grace. It is here that we think together about life and its meaning. We are enriched through the gifts that God has given in the church.”

Victory in Jesus

“Take heart; I have overcome the world.”
(John 16:33)

Last Sunday, the elder leading worship began the service with a quote from David Wells’ book, God in the Whirlwind.  Here is a portion of that quote:

Worship, then, is all about refocusing our lives. It is about confessing our sin together, for God is holy, and once again hearing the words of assurance that Christ has borne sin’s penalty. It is about remembering the resurrection of Christ, his grace, his holy-love, and his reign that will one day sweep away all that has broken life and defied God. There is no other reason to be in worship than to remember and celebrate these truths. They will endure for all eternity because they all correspond to what happened in the cross and to what is there in God’s character. They will be celebrated in eternity. They will be our eternal song.

I had read this passage in Wells’ book, highlighted it, and flagged it for use as an introductory statement as our worship begins.  Still, when the Elder read that quote this week – it got me thinking, and I quickly had to write down some notes while the congregation started singing the opening hymn.

We need worship to refocus our lives.  While I may not be very consistent at vehicle maintenance (how’s that for a leap in thought – trust me, I will come back around), I know that having your alignment checked and the tires balanced regularly is a good thing.  When your wheels are out of alignment, and the tires are out of balance, your tires will wear unevenly, deteriorating faster than they ought, and the general handling and performance of your vehicle diminishes.  If you’ve driven through the streets of Cherokee, IA for a couple of years, crossing the train tracks on Willow, Cedar, or Bluff streets on a regular basis, chances are your alignment is out of whack, and it’s time to have it checked.

Each week, as we gather for worship, we come to get our life back in alignment.  Each day is filled with bumps and pot-holes that make a wreck of our faith.  We face obstacles that seem overwhelming: the bills are more than the paycheck; a friend turns her back on you; the doctor said it’s cancer; your marriage is falling apart.  We struggle daily with sin: we do the things we know we shouldn’t (and often we enjoy it), and we neglect the good that we ought to do; the careless word that cuts someone down, the bitter attitude that can’t let go of old wounds; the arrogance and selfishness that disregard God’s word for what we think is right and best in our own eyes.  We wrestle with doubt: can God really love me; could one man on a cross truly pay for all my sins; if God makes all things work for good, why am I facing this?

This is just one reason why we desperately need to worship.  We may put on a good front when we come in and find our pew on a Sunday morning, but if we could see with the eyes of Christ, what a different picture that would be.  Each one of us comes into the house of prayer beaten, weary, worn, tired, frustrated, confused, broken, wounded.  Our lives are so out of alignment, so out of whack, it’s only by the grace of God that we made it back to worship.  We come, not to show off how right and good we are, but because each of us is sick and we need healing.

There is a balm in Gilead, that makes the wounded whole
There is a balm in Gilead, that saves the sin sick soul.

We come to worship confessing our sins, not so that we can wallow in the mire, but so that, having confessed them, we may find healing in the assurance of pardon.  That’s why, at least in our serve, there is no “Amen” after the Prayer of Confession – that prayer is not done until you hear the assurance of you salvation.  “In Christ, your sins have been forgiven.”  That is the proclamation of the Gospel!  That’s what we need to hear, before anything else.  You are at peace with God, you are forgiven your of your sins, the wrath has been born by the Lamb, you are a new creation!

What obstacles do you face this week?  What hardship do you bear?  What sin has beset your soul?  What grief is too much to carry?  What doubts and fears overwhelm you?  Does it seem like God has let go and things are beyond His reach?

Do not lose heart.  Christ has overcome all things.  He has overcome all sin.  He has overcome all doubts.  He has overcome the grief, the fear, the shame.  When we come back to Christ as our foundation, He brings our lives back into alignment.  We find assurance when assailed by temptation, peace in the eye of the storm, hope in the midst of despair.  We will still face suffering and loss, but we know that even these things draw us closer to Christ, in whom we have ultimate victory.

Return to this foundation in the worship and praise of God through Jesus our Savior.  Know that “everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world.  And this is the victory that has overcome the world – our faith.  Who is it that overcomes the world except the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?” (1 John 5:4-5).  Come back to the message of the Gospel, the truth that will endure for all eternity, the truth that will be our eternal song.

Have you not known? Have you not heard?
The LORD is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He does not faint or grow weary; his understanding is unsearchable.
He gives power to the faint, and to him who has no might he increases strength.
Even youths shall faint and be weary, and young men shall fall exhausted;
but they who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength;
they shall mount up with wings like eagles;
they shall run and not be weary;
they shall walk and not faint.
Isaiah 40:28–31 (ESV)