Reflecting God’s Character In Worship
Along with a job description as a disciple of Jesus, there is also a response that should emanate from us as His followers. That response is called worship.
There has been a lot of discussion over the years seeking to define true worship. Recently it has provoked in the church what has been called “worship wars”. Younger people think worship must be more free and creative, with the use of more contemporary instruments, compositions and worship songs. Older and more traditional people think that worship should utilize the forms to which they were accustomed, such as old and well known hymns, organ, piano, choir and solemn assembly.
But just what is worship really?
Worship is not the slow song that the choir sings. Worship is not the amount you place in the offering basket. Worship is not volunteering in children's church. Yes, these may be acts or expressions of worship, but they do not define what true worship really is.
There are numerous definitions of the word worship. Yet, one in particular encapsulates the priority we should give to worship as a spiritual discipline:
Worship is to honor with extravagant love and extreme submission (Webster's Dictionary,1828).
True worship, in other words, is defined by the priority we place on who God is in our lives and where God is on our list of priorities. True worship is a matter of the heart expressed through a lifestyle of holiness. That lifestyle comes from the reflection of God.
If Christ is in us, then God is in us. If God is in us as His new creation, then we should be reflecting, not the physical image of Jesus, but the character of Jesus, the character of God.
I want to take you to the Old Testament today, to the 58th Chapter of Isaiah.
In this chapter, God exposed the emptiness of two religious rituals that were faithfully practiced in Isaiah's day: fasting and Sabbath keeping. Both of these rituals of worship are expressions of not doing things. In fasting, you don't eat. In Sabbath keeping, you don't work. If we are truly worshiping God, what we don't do isn't enough to make us right before God. Our walk with God shouldn't only be defined by what we don't do. But what is more important and carries over to us as disciples of Christ, as CBC, is what we must do if true worship is to happen. Our worship comes as we reflect God’s character in a lifestyle of worship.
I. God Is Not Honored When Worship Is Shallow.
Israel was worshiping, but her worship was shallow.
Cry aloud, spare not; lift up your voice like a trumpet; tell My people their transgression, and the house of Jacob their sins. Yet they seek Me daily, and delight to know My ways, as a nation that did righteousness, and did not forsake the ordinance of their God. They ask of Me the ordinances of justice; they take delight in approaching God. "Why have we fasted," they say, "and You have not seen? Why have we afflicted our souls, and You take no notice?"
God commanded Isaiah to preach against His people. They thought they were worshiping God appropriately, but they needed to hear their transgression.
First, God describes the appearance of worship:
- · On the surface, it seemed that God's people loved Him and were devoted to Him.
- · They had the reputation of a nation that did righteousness, and the looked like people who would take delight in approaching God.
- · They fasted with regularity and passion.
With this spiritual veneer, they felt God was unfair to them. "LORD, we have fasted, but You still don't answer our prayer. Don't you know that we seek you daily, delight to know Your ways, do righteousness, and take delight in approaching You? Yet You do not answer our prayers!"
Second, God exposes the selfish motive of shallow worship.
In fact, in the day of your fast you find pleasure, and exploit all your laborers. Indeed you fast for strife and debate, and to strike with the fist of wickedness. You will not fast as you do this day, to make your voice heard on high. Is it a fast that I have chosen, a day for a man to afflict his soul? Is it to bow down his head like a bulrush, and to spread out sackcloth and ashes? Would you call this a fast, and an acceptable day to the LORD?
Enough with the image...now God exposes the reality. The reality was that His people didn't fast with the right heart nor the right motive, and did it only as an empty ritual. The reality was that even on a day when they fasted, they still exploited their employees. God didn't accept their fasting when it wasn't connected with a sincere heart of obedience.
They fasted for needs, certainly; but selfish needs like "LORD, help me win this argument." "LORD, help me defeat this person." Though their prayer was accompanied with fasting, it was still a selfish, even wicked prayer - so God did not answer. The purpose of their fasting was to glorify themselves, to make their voice heard on high.
God said, "No more. You will not fast as you do this day." Is it a fast that I have chosen? The kind of fasting is a hollow, empty, show, without the spiritual substance behind it. This isn't the kind of fast God has chosen. Even though they do all the right things in fasting God does not even call this a fast.
The people of Isaiah's day had the same problem as the Pharisees of Jesus' day. They trusted in empty ritual, apart from the spiritual reality. God sees through the hypocrisy of empty religious ritual.
The elements of worship are not at issue: fasting, Sabbath-keeping, music, prayer, etc.. At issue then and now...for Chatham Baptist Church...is worship activity with a true love and devotion to God. God is not honored when worship is shallow.
One of the constant issues Marcia and I have to battle in our marriage is quality time. She has a very busy life and I have a very busy life. When we say goodbye in the morning, we always say “I love you”. We buy one another gifts for our birthdays, our anniversary and Christmas. We get one another cards for Valentine’s Day. We sit together when we can in church. However, if that was all we did, it would be shallow. We want to be with one another. We miss one another when we are apart. We want more than token elements of affection. We want quality time...to be with one another...to share a oneness with one another.
II. God’s Character Will Be Reflected In True Worship.
Is this not the fast that I have chosen: to loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the heavy burdens, to let the oppressed go free, and that you break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and that you bring to your house the poor who are cast out; when you see the naked, that you cover him, and not hide yourself from your own flesh?
God tells His people, "If you want to fast the way that pleases Me, begin with getting right with your brothers and sisters. Stop oppressing others, and reach out to help others."
- · They had to stop acting wickedly towards others (loose the bonds of wickedness … undo the heavy burdens … let the oppressed go free … break every yoke). Getting right with God begins by stopping the evil we do towards others.
- · They had to start acting lovingly towards others (share your bread with the hungry … cover those without clothing, and to not hide yourself from your own flesh). Getting right with God continues by doing loving things for other people.
A rather pompous deacon was endeavoring to impress upon a class of junior high boys the importance of living the Christian life, using his own life as an example. "Why do people call me a Christian?" the man asked. After a moment's pause, one youngster said, "Maybe it's because they don't know you."
The worship God seeks from us at CBC is not a better or particular type of music, nor a more technically advanced production, nor a larger attendance, nor more open displays of emotion. The worship that God seeks is redeemed lives that reflect back to Him and to others the presence of God within them. He seeks a worship that exposes our need for Him and exudes our desire for His love.
III. God Will Bless When There Is True Worship.
Then your light shall break forth like the morning, your healing shall spring forth speedily, and your righteousness shall go before you; the glory of the LORD shall be your rear guard. Then you shall call, and the LORD will answer; you shall cry, and He will say, "Here I am." If you take away the yoke from your midst, the pointing of the finger, and speaking wickedness, if you extend your soul to the hungry and satisfy the afflicted soul, then your light shall dawn in the darkness, and your darkness shall be as the noonday. The LORD will guide you continually, and satisfy your soul in drought, and strengthen your bones; you shall be like a watered garden, and like a spring of water, whose waters do not fail. Those from among you shall build the old waste places; You shall raise up the foundations of many generations; and you shall be called the Repairer of the Breach, the Restorer of Streets to Dwell In.
If God's people would couple their rituals with lives of righteousness and love, then they would see their prayers answered. They would have lives full of light, full of healing, full of righteousness, full of the glory of the LORD. When they called out to God, then the LORD will answer.
The LORD gave them three things to stop doing.
- 1. Stop oppressing others, treating them as animals bound with a yoke.
- 2. Stop pointing the finger at others and take responsibility for their own sin.
- 3. Stop speaking wickedness.
These are sins of commission. They are sins that we go out and do against the LORD and against others. If we will walk right with God, we must stop and guard against sins of commission.
Then the LORD gives them two things to start doing.
- 1. Minister to the hungry with more than food; they had to extend their soul to the hungry.
- 2. Look for the afflicted soul and seek to satisfy it.
Failing to do these are sins of omission. They are things that we should have done, yet we have not. If we will walk right with God, we must open our eyes and do what is our loving duty before Him.
This prayer, "A General Confession of Sin," from the Book of Common Prayer (1559 edition), expresses repentance for both sins of commission and omission:
Almighty and most merciful Father, we have erred and strayed from thy ways, like lost sheep. We have followed too much the devices and desires of our own hearts. We have offended against thy holy laws. We have left undone those things which we ought to have done, and we have done those things which we ought not to have done, and there is no health in us. But thou, O Lord, have mercy upon us miserable offenders. Spare thou them, O God, which confess their faults. Restore thou them that be penitent, according to thy promises declared unto mankind, in Christ Jesus our Lord. And grant, O most merciful Father, for his sake, that we may hereafter live a godly, righteous, and sober life, to the glory of thy holy name.
To the repentant, God promises blessing. Not only will they have light, but even their darkness shall be as the noonday!
The LORD will guide you continually: This is a promise for those who do more than just empty religious rituals. To have the guidance of the LORD, empty religious ritual isn't enough. We need to seek God with both sincere hearts and sincere actions.
Those who serve God with sincere hearts and actions enjoy a health and life of the soul that is impossible for the superficial follower of God to know.
Those who serve God with sincere hearts and actions also accomplish things for God's kingdom. They build, and are called the Repairer of the Breach, the Restorer of Streets to Dwell in. You can't build anything for God's kingdom on the foundation of a superficial walk with God.
Alan Redpath, British evangelist, pastor and author, wrote "We live in a broken world. In every direction there are breaches which are wide and deep. There are broken hearts and broken homes, and that which once was sacred is but a waste place. Whereas once there was a carefully guarded fence around the sanctity of family life, sex life, and the right to personal privacy, now there is just a waste place. The wall of protection is in ruins, and life has lost all its meaning."
Chatham Baptist Church, if we will see God bless us as His body, then we must reflect His characteristics is our lives. This must be our primary worship.
Romans 12:1-2 (NASB)
1 I urge you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship.
2 And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.
So, what is worship really? True worship is defined by the priority we place on who God is in our lives and where God is on our list of priorities. True worship is a matter of the heart expressed through a lifestyle of holiness. That lifestyle comes from the reflection of God.
As Webster defined it: Worship is to honor with extravagant love and extreme submission.
I would like you to take a simple three-fold test regarding your worship..
- 1. Does my character glorify God?
- 2. Does my character build up the body of Christ?
- 3. Does my character help me be what God wants me to be in the world? (Does my character produce practical results?)