I have a confession to make. Last week as I sat here I was not very impressed with our worship service. Maybe it's this building that's warm in the afternoon. Maybe it's the fact that we are 60-70 in a place that sits three hundred. Perhaps it could be that the songs, and communion were becoming repetitive (after all I've been doing the same thing every Sunday for 30 years).
I thought that as a public presentation our little service was not very dynamic compared to what I see on T.V. or even what I've seen in other churches I've visited. I wondered if some of you felt the same way but were just not saying anything. Like I said at the beginning, I'm not happy to feel this way, this is a confession not an announcement.
As I thought about these things I asked myself, "What can be done to make our worship better?"..a question that is very human in its nature. Men see things that are broken or weak and they want to "change" them or "fix" them.
The more I thought however, the more I realized that it isn't what we do in worship that gives it its spiritual power - it's what worshipping or praising God does for us that is important. You see, my first impulse as a sinful man is to "improve worship" in order to give it more power. For example:
- Better microphones
- Train song leaders
- Learn new songs
- Teach men how to pray better; be more organized to distribute communion, etc.
This is what the "flesh" does - it tries to improve the external things in order to improve the spiritual things. If we try harder, we'll be more spiritual, worship better, more satisfied with our adoration of God. Of course there's nothing wrong with doing all things in worship in a "decent and orderly way" as Paul mentions in I Corinthians 14:40.
However it's not the "order" in worship that edifies us - it's the worship itself that has the power to bless us and edify us in Christ.
So this morning I'd like to explain what worship (whether it's a group of 600 professional singers singing beautifully in a magnificent building with all the latest technology led by prof. ministers or 60 people in a hot building doing the best they can with songs that not everyone knows, using volunteer worship leaders.
I want to explain what worship / praise does for you, no matter who you are or how many have gathered in the name of the Lord.
Praise Focuses our Spirit on God
There is so much distraction in this world. Making a living. Dealing with the problems of sin and illness and death. The allurements of the world. The many changes we are going through as we grow from child to teen to the various phases of adulthood and old age.
There is more clamoring for our time, attention and involvement than ever before in the history of man. 4,000 books published every day. N.Y. Times Sunday edition contains more information than the average person encountered in a lifetime in the 17th century.
In 1976 there were only 300 on-line databases, today there are 8000 with billions of hits of info. The result of this is that it is difficult to actually experience God's primary command to love Him with our whole heart, soul and body.
We are frazzled, burned out, distracted, spaced and disoriented by the constant pounding and shouting for our attention each and every day. When we offer praise, it is the one exercise that draws in the mind, the heart, the spirit and the body in one total action focused completely on God.
In Ephesians 5:18-19 Paul says,
...be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another in psalms and hymns, and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord.
Offering praise is a kind of "re-set", "refresh" button that refocuses your attention on this priority and re-orders your mind, body and spirit in such a way that the Spirit fills you and not the world. So praise focuses us on God in a way that nothing else can.
Praise Provides A Witness
When the first evangelists came to Montreal back in the 50s there most powerful evangelistic tool was singing. They had a chorus that met at a public square and they sang and then handed out invitations to a gospel meeting. French people couldn't understand the words, but the sheer power of the pure voices singing out praise for God drew their attention and their respect.
While Paul and Silas were in prison, in their darkest moment, it wasn't a healing or a sermon that preceded the earthquake that threw open their prison gates - it was the sound of their voices that filled the prison with songs of praise and thanksgiving. Praise to God in the name of Christ is one of the most recognized marks of a Christian by those who do not believe. They may not know the doctrine. They may not distinguish between groups. But they know that disciples of Jesus Christ are people who praise Him and honor Him in song, prayer, regular worship.
It's interesting to note that outsiders do not consider us faithful Christians if we don't regularly worship and praise God. It's not the only sign but praise is a significant witness that we are sincere Christians to the outside world. Praise focuses the spirit. Praise provides a witness.
Praise Creates Unity
You can't argue with someone you're singing with. You have a hard time hating a person whose voice is lifted up in songs of love and devotion to the Lord. In mission fields, one of the best ways to break down social barriers with people who would not normally associate with each other (black and whites / different tribes) is to get them to sing together. While praising God there is, as Paul says:
...neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, neither male or female - all are one in Christ Jesus.
- Galatians 3:28
As a matter of fact praise is the one action we do that connects us to the angels and spirits who surround God's throne and who are praising Him always - (Rev. 5:11).
When we praise we unite with all the believers in the world and the angels and spirits in heaven who are continually worshipping God into eternity - and all of us become one. Remember as you lead prayers, song, etc - the angels are watching.
So what we are doing here today is not just singing some songs and enjoying fellowship - we are engaging in one of the most powerful spiritual exercises that God has designed for man:
- Praise has the power to re-align our spirit with God's Spirit. (the bumps of life put our spirit out of alignment)
- Praise is a powerful way to confess our faith to the world and guarantee that Christ is confessing our name to the Heavenly Father.
- Praise has the power to overcome the boundaries of race, class, even the barrier that divides the spiritual world from the physical world is erased when all those who bow to the lamb offer their praise in song and prayer.
And so, I repent of my feelings of discouragement concerning our worship as I realize that all these things are happening as we gather to worship God today. Our voices may be weak but our spirits are strengthened. You may be here with the ability to sing but not the ability to belong because you are not a Christian or not a faithful Christian.