Worship is at the Center

// July 29th, 2020 // Sermons

This entry is part 3 of 4 in the series Christian Hedonism

This is now Sermon #3 in this series… You can listen online or download it and listen later…Worship is at the Center  Use this link to watch the whole service on YouTube: https://youtu.be/O7INdcS_Wpo?t=71

– next week is Communion Sunday, so I will continue with that short series of Communion Messages – I intend to continue trying to answer the question, “Why We Celebrate Communion?”

We have heard the reading of Ps. 63:1-8 this morning…I will read v. 5-6 again, in a few moments.  I believe there are some strong words for Christians today, coming from that passage.

As I said last week, I’m not particularly fond of tying the word “hedonism” together with the word “Christian”, but I have not found anything that communicates what God has impressed on my heart.

We are dealing with the Christian’s practice of Worship in this sermon today.  There are Christians today that would view worship and attending a Church Worship Service as a Christian duty, not as a response to God for all that He has done for us, all that He is to us, and all that we have received as a gift of His mercy and grace.

When worship is reduced to being simply a duty we as Christians need to do, then true worship has ceased to exist. 

One of the great enemies of worship in the church today is our own wrong thinking.  It feels sometimes like many people see worship as being all about us – which is hedonism at the core.

As Christians, we come to believe that to do things for the purpose of seeking our own pleasure – doing something just for me – is wrong.  But, think about it – what is worship if it is not an expression of our great joy and pleasure in knowing and enjoying the glory of our God?

Years ago, Warren Wiersbe wrote that “Worship is coming to realize the Worth-ship of our God!”  Piper had a similar thought when he wrote, “Worship is an inward feeling and outward action that reflects the worth of God.”  The inward feeling is the essence of worship – where it comes from.

In Matt. 15:8, Jesus quoted from Is. 29:13, “This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me.”

Worship is useless, empty, a mere void, where the heart is unmoved!  Your emotions better be impacted or you have not really worshiped.  There are three ways that the heart can respond in worship to God.

  1. We can delightin the richness of God’s glory.
  2. 5-6 of our text read, “My soul will be satisfied as with fat and rich food, and my mouth will praise you with joyful lips, when I remember you upon my bed, and meditate on you in the watches of the night…”

Eugene Petersen’s The Message reads, “I eat my fill of prime rib and gravy; I smack my lips. It’s time to shout praises!  If I’m sleepless at midnight, I spend the hours in grateful reflection.”  There should never be a shortage of things to praise God for…that is part of worship!

  1. We can longfor delight to be deeper, stronger and lasting.

In Ps. 42:1-2 we find the familiar verses:  “As a deer pants for flowing streams, so pants my soul for you, O God.  My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When shall I come and appear before God?”

O, what motivation to come and meet with brothers and sisters in a place of worship – I come because nothing is able to keep me away…I long for my God!  That is essential in worship – it is an action that goes way beyond mere duty…I want to be here!

  1. When delight and longing are missing, I feel the need to repent.

Another Psalm, 73:21-22 reads, “Then I realized that my heart was bitter, and I was all torn up inside.  I was so foolish and ignorant— I must have seemed like a senseless animal to you.”  Have we been there?  Maybe because of sin, or because I have allowed other things or people to take His place in my life…I have come to the place where worship is a “take-it-or-leave-it” kind of activity.  O that there would be alarm bells going off inside of us causing us to want to repent – get right with God!

And so, if you no longer delight in the richness of God’s glory or long for your relationship to grow deeper and stronger or feel the need to repent when that delight is missing, then you are not worshiping God anymore.

You have to know that one of the greatest hindrances to worship is simply selfish pleasure-seeking in worship…for selfish benefit…I do it because it makes me feel good!  Listen to Jer. 2:11-13: “Has any nation ever traded its gods for new ones, even though they are not gods at all? Yet my people have exchanged their glorious God for worthless idols!  The heavens are shocked at such a thing and shrink back in horror and dismay,” says the LORD.  “For my people have done two evil things: They have abandoned me— the fountain of living water. And they have dug for themselves cracked cisterns that can hold no water at all!”

Remember what I said earlier, “Worship is useless, empty, a mere void, where the heart is unmoved!”

I would suggest, this morning, that our greatest hindrance to worship is not that we are always seeking our own satisfaction.  That is one of the great hindrances for entering into a deep enough relationship with God, through Christ, so that He becomes our reason for everything.  As C.S. Lewis said in his sermon, The Weight of Glory, our problem is that our seeking is so weak and half-hearted that we settle for little sips at broken cisterns when the fountain of life is just over the next hill.

I quoted a short part of this in my first sermon…listen to how Lewis started his sermon:  “If you asked twenty good men today what they thought the highest of the virtues, nineteen of them would reply, Unselfishness. But if you asked almost any of the great Christians of old he would have replied, Love. You see what has happened? A negative term has been substituted for a positive. – He goes on to say:  The New Testament has lots to say about self-denial, but not about self-denial as an end in itself. We are told to deny ourselves and to take up our crosses in order that we may follow Christ; and nearly every description of what we shall ultimately find if we do so contains an appeal to desire…Indeed, if we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that our Lord finds our desires, not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”

What C.S. Lewis and John Piper were saying is that our desire for happiness is too weak.  We have settled for a comfortable home, a family, a few friends, a job, basic entertainments toys, smart phones, an occasional night out and a yearly vacation.  We have become so accustomed to small, unexciting, short-lived, inadequate pleasures that our capacity for joy has almost dried-up.  And, along with that, our worship has dried-up, as well.

I have hopes and dreams for Garrington of what a worship service could be if everyone attending the service would be an all-in Christian Hedonist – where our desire for happiness would be totally centered on God.

I desire to have our time in worship each week to be above and beyond any other hour you might have each week.  Literally, a weekly corporate appointment with the living God!  A time each week when this room would be filled with people who from the bottom of their heart honestly can proclaim Ps. 63:1 – “O God, you are my God; earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you; my flesh faints for you, as in a dry and weary land where there is no water.”

  • I hope for a gathering of people who love the fellowship of fellow Christians but who willingly give up that fellowship for an hour to worship God.
  • I hope for worshippers who, just before the service starts are willing to bow in prayer asking that God’s Holy Spirit might descend on our worship and shake this place with His power.
  • I hope for a gathered family of believers on Sunday mornings who are as genuinely excited in God as families as they are on the first day of their vacation, or at family Thanksgiving Dinner, or around the Christmas tree when the gifts are given out.
  • I long for hearts that are so free to worship with unrestrained worship like a stadium full of cheering fans as their favorite team enters the playing surface.
  • I hope for hearts so full of joy in worship that they are free to say, “Amen!” when a song, testimony, prayer or sermon brings us to God.
  • I hope for an hour together where all grudges would permanently melt away, and old festering wounds are healed in the delightful presence of the joy of the Lord.
  • I hope for an hour with God, where saints who have become battle-scarred throughout their week, are able to nurtured and healed through the strength and power of the Lord so that each one is equipped to re-enter their work revived and strong on Monday morning.
  • I hope for a people who when they gather, are hungry to hear the word of God, and to make a joyful noise to the God of their salvation with songs of worship and praise.
  • I hope for one hour a week with you as my brothers and sisters in Christ – where we encounter God together in such a real and unmistakable way that strangers could enter and say, “God is surely in this place!”

O, may we never become so contented with little pleasures that we lose our capacity for unfettered joy! 

All of this is not merely a hope, like one who buys a lottery ticket hopes they win….no, I believe this is God’s will for us.  And, in part, I see it is happening.

It’s not about liturgy or non-liturgy.  By the way, we are referred to as a non-liturgical church – but, don’t be fooled – we have a liturgy.  I don’t know if you notice, but we follow a similar order most Sundays.  It could be because I have OCD, but I think we use a fairly standard form to keep us all going in the same direction.  The question is not whether you should use a form in your worship or not; but rather, are we so enamored with our God that we will not allow anything to interfere with our genuine expression of worship.

In order for these hopes and longings for Garrington come to fruition, we will need to be convinced that the objections to Christian Hedonism are not valid, and we will have to stir up strong emotions in our hearts for God.  There are 4 things relating to worship that I want us to consider:

  1. God is never a means to worldly pleasures.

He is not “the Christian’s great Santa Claus” – standing at our beck-and-call to give us whatever toys we think we need/want.  Our pleasure – as those who delight in the Lord – is not in things, our pleasure is in God Himself.  God must be our ultimate target in our search for joy – that means God cannot be the means to another target.

In Ps. 43:4 the psalmist wrote, “I will go to the altar of God, to God my exceeding joy”.  He is our exceeding joy – our highest anticipation of heaven is being where God is…this is way more than the streets of gold, and much more than being reunited with relatives who have gone to heaven before us.  Our greatest reward for being born again/for receiving salvation/for becoming a follower of Jesus is fellowship with God Himself.  He is the One we worship – the only One!  He is not a means to get to someone higher up in rank…God is the highest and greatest object for man to worship.  Secondly…

  1. Focusing on Ourselves Destroys our Worship

As you turn your eyes to yourself and become conscious of how great your joy and satisfaction are, you lose what you had gained.

It’s like humility – as soon as you recognize your humility you know longer possess humility.

A necessary part of finding ultimate satisfaction and contentment in our relationship with God through Christ is what John the Baptist said as he approached the encounter with Jesus.  Do you remember what John said – John 3:30, “He must increase but I must decrease.”  I like the NLT rendering of that verse, “He must become greater and greater, and I must become less and less.”

That is what needs to happen in worship – I must lose sight of myself.  Worship is all about God being exalted for who He is…we don’t increase Him through our worship…as we see Him for who He is, worship should be our response.  A.W. Tozer wrote, “Worship is no longer worship when it reflects the culture around us more than the Christ within us.”

#3. Pleasure must not be our god

The bottom line is this:  Whatever you and I find the most pleasure in – that is what we have already made as our god.  And, if our greatest pleasure is not in God our Father, then we have become idol-worshippers.  Take a moment and reflect on that….based on that premise, what or who is god in your life?  Where in your list of priorities does your drive for pleasure fall?  And, #4…

  1. We should not seek God for personal gain

Last Friday was Ruth and my 44th Anniversary – now, Ruthie has allergies so, a dozen roses are just too much for her, so I tend to do one rose at a time.  But, suppose on last Friday I gave her a dozen roses to celebrate our special day.  And Ruth responds with, “O, they’re beautiful, thank you.”  And I quickly respond, “Don’t mention it.  Giving you roses is my duty.”  With the use of the word duty all moral and romantic value in the gift is suddenly gone.

I mean, all things considered, yes, it is my duty to give her things and make her feel loved, but it should happen because of my affection for her as a person, because doing it as my duty undermines her commitment and our relationship.

“True worship means that I have consciously decided that for my life, God is at the center, not me!”

I believe that this is what has to change in much of our worship today.  In our minds, we have brought God down to a size that we can manage as we go through the outward motions of worship and fail to find any real pleasure in God Himself.

How would Ruth feel if I called her during the day and said:  “Honey, the reason I would like to take you out to dinner tonight is because I’m hungry and I don’t want to eat alone”?  That probably wouldn’t get me many brownie points.

In contrast, how would it make her fell if I called and said:  “Honey, the reason I would like to take you out to dinner tonight is because I get so much pleasure in being with you.”

According to the Westminster Shorter Catechism, The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy him forever.  But, the reality is our primary purpose is not just to glorify God and enjoy Him forever – I believe Piper got it right when he said, the chief end of man is to glorify God by enjoying Him forever.

And, technically, if we don’t enjoy him, we don’t glorify him.  For that reason, it is my hope for Garrington that we become so God-centered in our worship that the team that is leading us and all the other worshippers in the room with us, almost disappear from sight so that God becomes the main object of my worship.

Much of the worship that happens in many evangelical churches today is a worship of worship, a worship of musical ability, a worship of music itself, a worship of charismatic people who are able to draw me in, and a prideful worship that focuses on me and not God.

To become a worshipping people, new and powerful emotions for God have to be stirred-up within us.  Unless we cultivate our God-given emotions and imaginations to center them on God our worship will shrivel up and die.  Don’t let your Christianity simply be the grinding out of doctrinal laws that you have gleaned from your study of the Bible.

Remember the letter to the Church at Ephesus in Rev. 2 – Don’t lose your first love, or let your first love grow cold.  I found this list of 12 Symptoms that we have lost our First Love:

  • When my Delight in the Lord is no longer as Great as my Delight in someone/something else “I HAVE LOST MY FIRST LOVE“ – Mk. 12:30
  • When my soul does not long for times of Rich Fellowship in God’s word and Prayer “I HAVE LOST MY FIRST LOVE” – Ps. 63:1-4; 42:1-2
  • When my thoughts do not reflect on God during my quiet moments “I HAVE LOST MY FIRST LOVE” – Ps. 10:4
  • When I claim I’m only human and give in to those things that displease God. “I HAVE LOST MY FIRST LOVE” – John 15:10
  • When I do not cheerfully and willingly Give to God and to the needs of others I have “I HAVE LOST MY FIRST LOVE” – 1 John 3 :17
  • When I cease to treat every Christian Brother as the Lord would require me “I HAVE LOST MY FIRST LOVE” – John 13:34-35
  • When I look at God’s commands as restrictions to my Happiness rather than an expression of His Love. “I HAVE LOST MY FIRST LOVE” – John 14:21
  • When I inwardly strive for my own Glory rather than pleasing God. “I HAVE LOST MY FIRST LOVE” – 1 John 2:15-17, John 15:19
  • When I fail to make Christ or His word known because of Fear of Rejection “I HAVE LOST MY FIRST LOVE” – John 15:20
  • When I refuse to give up an activity which I know is offending a weaker brother. “I HAVE LOST MY FIRST LOVE – Rom 14:15
  • When I have become complacent to sinful conditions around me. “I HAVE LOST MY FIRST LOVE” – Matt 24:12
  • When I am unable to Forgive another person for Offending me. “I HAVE LOST MY FIRST LOVE” – 1 John 4:20

You and I, as born-again believers, members of God’s family, join-heirs with Jesus…we have a capacity for joy that we have never yet experienced.  Little glimpses here and there…but the fullness is yet to come.  O that we would learn to open our eyes to see God’s glory.

His glory is all around us…Ps. 19:1 tells us – “The heavens declare the glory of God and the firmament proclaims his handiwork”.

Know this:  God will open your eyes and awaken your heart if you ask Him and if you seek for Him as passionately as you would seek for hidden treasure.  Can we seek Him together?

Let’s pray…

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