Saturday, December 10, 2011

How Does God Want Us to Worship Him?

"If you turn back your foot from the Sabbath, from doing your pleasure on my holy day, and call the Sabbath a delight and the holy day of the LORD honorable; if you honor it, not going your own ways, or seeking your own pleasure, or talking idly; then you shall take delight in the LORD, and I will make you ride on the heights of the earth; I will feed you with the heritage of Jacob your father, for the mouth of the LORD has spoken." (Isaiah 58:13-14)

[There is much debate about the application of the Sabbath to the present day church. I will not address that issue here, but instead will incorporate the principles of Isaiah 58:13-14 to our worship of Christ. There are striking similarities (and I believe promises) attached to the proper worship of our Lord.]

God Almighty is not approached easily, nor does He readily accept anyone into His presence. The reason for this is because He is holy, an attribute which means "set apart." Therefore, to come into the presence of God for worship, one must be holy themselves. Thanks be to God that He prepared us for this by His word, His power, His Spirit and His blood to do just that.

"Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality,nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God." (1 Corinthians 6:9-11)

He washed us, He sanctified us and justified us, making us meet to bow down before Him. All the words in the world cannot adequately express the greatness of these acts upon sinners such as we are.

As God is holy, His subjects must be holy as well, not only in our position (which is sufficiently described above) but our behavior also. Coming into the presence of Christ to worship Him is a holy act. And as the God who is to be worshiped is set apart, so too the people who worship Him.

Enter now Isaiah 58:13-14, which admittedly has a wider application than what I propose here, but certainly includes it. All of the behaviors and promises spoken of in these two verses apply to the time when the Church of Christ gathers to honor Him. Let us now see how this is so.

First, let us see the proper behaviors of those who desire to worship Christ. What does He desire of us? What are His instructions to us? We find the answer in Isaiah 58:13 as follows:

"If you turn back your foot from the Sabbath, from doing your pleasure on my holy day, and call the Sabbath a delight and the holy day of the LORD honorable; if you honor it, not going your own ways, or seeking your own pleasure, or talking idly"

One, "we turn back our foot," which may refer to the trampling upon it by doing that which is unrelated or unnecessary. The wider application may have referred to unnecessary travel. But I believe that Matthew Henry sums it up nicely by saying that we must avoid "trampling upon it as some vain atheistic people do." (Matthew Henry's Commentaries). Nevertheless, the sense is to spend our energy and effort engaged in the worship of God, particularly when we are gathered together with His people.

Two, we are to turn back from "doing your (or our) pleasure." The pleasure we are to derive from worshiping Christ is to be from Christ and nowhere else. We are to take delight in Him and Him alone in worship. There is plenty of time during the week to enjoy the many things God has graciously given us, but this isn't one of them. Let us delight in our Savior alone as we gather together. Let Him be our pleasure.

Three, we are to call it a delight, which is not confined to some nickname we may place upon it, but is instead to be a true expression of what is found in our hearts. We call the worship of Christ a delight because it is to us a delight in truth. If we find that offering up sacrifices of praise and thanksgiving and hearing the words of our Lord are not delightful to us, then we need look no further than the wickedness of our own hearts. Understanding the great salvation we have in Christ and the gracious nature of it should be impetus enough to find joy. Let us then find it in God, our savior and redeemer, delighting in Him alone.

Four, we are to honor our time together. The word "honor" which is used in this passage, speaks to a something being heavy or weighty, especially in importance. An analogy might be like a king who has now entered into our presence. We would treat him with honor because of the importance of his person and position. So too the worship of Christ. We are to show honor to the time by giving it the greatest of importance. It is not meant to be casually attended or participated in, but rather should be done so with great seriousness and priority.

Five, our actions, attitudes and words should be set apart, or be holy, just as the God we worship is holy. We set the time apart, we delight in it and we honor it by reserving our ways, pleasure and words for Christ. We do not go in the path of our "own ways, or seeking (our) own pleasure, or talking idly" While we bow down before Him, we keep our hearts and minds upon Him. Even our words should be confined to Christ, the reason for our gathering. This is what it means to be holy practically. We set apart all that we are for Him, the author and finisher of our faith.

Now these holy attitudes and behaviors should not be burdensome to us, nor were they or are they meant to be harsh laws laid down to rob us of our joy. In fact, they are graciously given to us and are the prescription for acceptable and joyful worship of Christ. This is evident in the verse that follows.

And it should be said that like every obedience to God, these are graciously given to us by God Himself. We can no more do these things in the flesh than we can jump to the moon. We must seek His grace that He enable us to do that which He has called us to do.

Second, let us see the great promises affixed to the proper and holy worship of Christ. What rewards of our gracious God are provided when we honor Him with holy and acceptable worship? If we do the above, what will be the promised result?

"...then you shall take delight in the LORD, and I will make you ride on the heights of the earth; I will feed you with the heritage of Jacob your father, for the mouth of the LORD has spoken." (Isaiah 58:14)

One, we will take delight in the Lord. The equation is this. Delight in God and we will find delight in God. Now this will not occur if our minds are flooded with the things of the world. To accomplish this, we must be in the practice of delighting in Him during the week. If we fill ourselves with the world all week long, never resting to drink the refreshing water of the word, never meditating upon Him and His works, then we will not find delight on the Lord's Day when we assemble for an hour or so. Neither will we find delight if when we are gathered, our minds wander to those things in the world that we love so much. Set apart the time for Christ in your minds and desires. Delight in God during the week and you will delight in Him on Sunday. And when you delight in Him alone on Sunday, the worship of Him will be delightful to you.

Two, if we set the time apart, if we behave in a holy manner, he will "make us to ride on the heights of the earth." This speaks to the providential care and lifting up of God's people by God Himself. The sense of it is seen in Deuteronomy 32 as follows:

"Like an eagle that stirs up its nest, that flutters over its young, spreading out its wings, catching them, bearing them on its pinions, the LORD alone guided him, no foreign god was with him. He made him ride on the high places of the land, and he ate the produce of the field, and he suckled him with honey out of the rock, and oil out of the flinty rock." (Deuteronomy 32:12-13)

Many of us come each Sunday filled with many cares and concerns of this world, desiring some relief or help from God. Here He is telling us in no uncertain terms that He will lift us up and put us in a safe and honorable position. Do we want security? Do we want to know we are valued? Honor the Lord on the Lord's Day and He will honor you. For what did He tell Samuel?

"Therefore the LORD, the God of Israel, declares: 'I promised that your house and the house of your father should go in and out before me forever,' but now the LORD declares: 'Far be it from me, for those who honor me I will honor, and those who despise me shall be lightly esteemed." (1 Samuel 2:30)

Take joy in the Lord, rejoice in Him, be holy in your worship of Him and He will lift you up and honor you.

Three, He will "feed (us) with the heritage of Jacob." What an abundant and glorious promise this is from our Lord. The many blessings and benefits of God, which are supernaturally given to us from above, the wisdom of His word, the blessed fruits of the Spirit, the foretaste of heaven will be ours when we delight in Him on the Lord's Day in worship. The vast treasure of God's word will be available to us, the sweet honeycomb of the heavenly bread will be ours. We will have these things because we will want these things and give great value to these things.

When we hear the preaching of God's word, we will see it for what it is, a gracious gift of God for His people. And we will experience what it is in increased godly wisdom and knowledge, in repentance, in increased love for God and others, in holy desires and in holy behavior. The value of these gracious gifts cannot be measured in their worth to us. But God will feed them to us when our worship of Him is holy as He is holy.

Finally, we have the very promise of God upon these gifts. "For the mouth of the LORD has spoken." These are His words, His commands, His promises. They are given by Him to His people, graciously and lovingly. They are a certainty because the very nature of God in holiness is dependent upon it. If God were to fail in a single instance of carrying out what He promised to us, then He would no longer be holy and no longer be worthy of our praise.

But He is a holy God and He keeps His promises. Let us then worship Him in a manner consistent with His nature. Let us prepare for it ahead of time by dwelling upon Him, meditating on Him and His word, praying and praising Him through the week, that our hearts would be sufficiently prepared to enter His gates with thanksgiving (Psalm 95) walk in obedience to His word and be set apart ourselves for worship.

Let us seek His grace that our time together would be honorable to Him, delightful to Him, offering up sacrifices of praise and thanksgiving, singing and telling of the excellencies of His nature and works and rejoicing in Him alone.

We serve an awesome God, who is perfectly set apart from everyone and everything. Let our worship of Him be in like kind.