Worship. It’s not about you, is it?

This is the outline of the thoughts I presented at Evangelism University this weekend in Savannah,TN. I began the class with the “Weekly Worship Critique” skit from the Skit Guys. We then used gift-giving as a framework to discuss worship.

Good & Bad Gifts

What is the WORST gift you’ve ever received? What made that gift so terrible?

A gift is good when there’s thought and meaning behind it. A gift is terrible when those things are missing. A thoughtless gift can be worse than no gift at all.

A bad gift…

  • Isn’t something the recipient would enjoy. It might be something the recipient hates! (Ever give an Alabama hat to an Auburn fan?)
  • Didn’t have much thought or meaning to it
  • Was shoddy, cheap, or second-best quality (Does your girlfriend want a bouquet of dead roses?)
  • Is impersonal or focused on the giver rather than the receiver (You don’t want a signed picture of me for your birthday, do you?)

Gift-giving can help us think wisely about worship.

Worship is our gift to God. God has told us what he likes and what he doesn’t like. If we are going to understand how to worship in “spirit and truth” (John 4:24) and please God, we must focus on God’s desires and not just ours. Thinking about ourselves instead of God is a recipe for “vain worship” (see Mark 7:6-13 and Isaiah 29:13-14).

“Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire.” (Hebrews 12:28-29 ESV)

Worship Words

What is the first word that comes to your mind when you think about “worship”?

There are two main words that the New Testament when it describes God-pleasing worship:

LATREUO means to serve or work for. It’s used in Matthew 4:10, Luke 2:37, 4:8, Acts 7:7, 26:7, 27:23, Romans 1:9, 1:25, Hebrews 12:28 and more.

PROSKYNEO means to “express in attitude or gesture one’s complete dependence on or submission to a high authority figure.” It’s a word picture of blowing a kiss, bowing down, and obeying someone that is mighty and loved. It’s used in Matthew 2:2, 4:9, 28:17, John 4:20-24,9:28, Acts 10:25, 24:11, 1 Corinthians 14:25 and more.

Both of these words remind us that the focus of worship must always be on the object of our worship—God.

Worship Gone Wrong

We’re always going to have trouble grasping the beauty and significance of worship if we’re focusing on ourselves instead of God. Remember that when we pray, we enter the throne room of Almighty God! How can we not be moved by such an experience?

Too often we focus on ourselves in worship. The way we talk about worship is important. The audience is not the group of people in the pews. The audience of worship is Father God. The preacher and song leader are not “performing” for the “crowd.” We all have our hearts are on display before God. The fruit of our lips is an offering to God (Hebrews 13:15).

Do any of these sound familiar?

“I didn’t get much out of worship today.”

It wasn’t for you. It was for God. And what did you put into it to begin with?

“I really want to worship like ______ do. I just like it better when…”

Are we worshipping you and your desires or God and his? My preferences can’t be the starting point for evaluating worship.

“I get so bored in church.”

This preacher will admit that not every sermon is exciting or even perfectly helpful, but the prospect of opening your heart to God is something that should always get our attention. When God’s word is read, God is speaking. Are you listening to Him, or the guy behind the pulpit?

“I don’t think God would mind if we did ____ in worship.”

If you’re sure about that, check with scripture. It will tell you what he wants!

Can you think of any examples from scripture where God is displeased with worship? (Amos 5, Exodus 20:3, Jeremiah 12:2, Genesis 4:3-5, Hebrews 11:4).

Suggestions for Worship

God is not unaware of our emotions, needs, and feelings. Worship that pleases God will encourage his people, too. So here are a few practical suggestions for making the most out of our times of corporate worship.

FIRST: Prepare for worship.
If you go to bed at 4am, it’s probably not the preacher’s fault you can’t stay awake at 10am. Get a good night’s rest. Make worship a priority. Consider the awesome task of coming before God—and anticipate it! Leave on time and get there early.

Does your preacher announce a scripture and topic in advance? Make sure you read it. Does your Sunday School teacher assign readings? Don’t neglect them. Do you sing a song with words that you don’t understand? Google “ebon pinion” or “Ebenezer” and help yourself be ready. (Paul said he was ready to sing with the spirit and with understanding in 1 Corinthians 14:15).

SECOND: Evaluate worship using God’s criteria.
It’s easy for me to use the wrong criteria to judge the quality of worship. I can get discouraged if the lady behind me sings off-key.  I can get distracted if a prayer goes long.

Evaluating worship based on these things puts me at the center of worship. Instead, I ought to remember that beautiful and obedient hearts mean more to God than perfect pitch and excitement. Some of us do well to make a “joyful noise” before the Lord! (Psalm 100)

THIRD: Remember to sacrifice.
Good gifts are sacrificial. When David was making preparations for the temple, a man offered to give him his land for the project. David wisely responded, “No, but I will buy them for the full price. I will not take for the LORD what is yours, nor offer burnt offerings that cost me nothing.” (1 Chronicles 21:24)

I find this especially helpful if it is a service that has a lot of songs or topics that aren’t my favorites. I remind myself that it’s not about me—it’s about God! By the way, don’t forget that teens can give financially, too!

FOURTH: Take personal responsibility for worshipping.
It’s easy to blame someone else if we don’t have our hearts in the right place during worship, but a good gift-giver won’t make excuses. He will take personal responsibility for his own heart.

Final Thoughts

A famous and popular preacher was scheduled to speak for a particular church one Sunday. A huge audience had come from long distances to hear him. When the services began, the regular minister approached the pulpit and announced that something had interfered and the famous guest was unable to be there. Several began to get up and leave, disappointed that they wouldn’t be hearing the guest. The minister stood and said, “All who have come here today to worship our guest preacher may now be dismissed. All who have come to worship Almighty God, please remain seated.” Not one person left.

Don’t forget that it is a worship service, not a worship “serve-us”.

For further study, consider…

  • John 4, Romans 12, and 1 Corinthians 14. You might also study the passages in the Old Testament that describe the Tabernacle and the Temple and their quality and significance. The Psalms are also the hymnbook of Israel and give you some ideas for your worship.
  • More Than a Feeling: Worship that Pleases God by Jimmy Jividen.
  • The Church of Christ: A Biblical Ecclesiology for Today by Everett Ferguson.

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