Who can worship? Some would say that only those who have a sincere faith in Jesus Christ can worship. Others would say anyone who wants to worship can worship the god of their choice. When we look at scripture we see an even larger idea. “Everyone worships . . . something.” Everyone desires something more than all else. Everyone trusts something more than anything else. Everyone has a first love above anyone else. Everyone worships something.
In the scriptures we are taught that if we value or treasure anything else more than God we are guilty of idol worship or worshipping a false god. There is nothing in this world or even this universe that is worthy of ultimate worship except for Yahweh, our Creator and Sovereign God, who is over all things. To give ultimate worship to anything or anyone else is worshipping a false god. Now some Christians would argue that because we Christians do not bow down to statues or take part in pagan religious rituals, that we do not worship idols or false gods like the pagan people in Bible times, but are we really that much different?
Let’s consider some of the Greek and Roman gods. Aphrodite, also known by the Romans as Venus, was the goddess of love, beauty, sensuality, pleasure and procreation. Ares or Mars was the chaotic God of war. Dionysus, also known as Bacchus was the god of wine and pleasure. Eros, also known as Cupid, was the god of love, procreation and sexual desire. Hebe, also known as Juventas was known as the goddess of youth. Hermes, also known as Mercury, was the god of commerce and travel. Hypnos, also known as Somnus, and Morpheus were gods of sleep. Kratos was the god of strength and power. Nemesis, also known as Invidia was the goddess of retribution and vengeance. Nike was the god of victory. Pheme, also known as Fama was the goddess of fame and gossip. Ploutus, was the god of wealth. Tyche, also known as Fortuna was the goddess of luck, fortune and prosperity. Zelus, also known as Agon, was the god of zeal, rivalry and jealousy.
We may try to distance ourselves from the worship of pagan gods, but at the level of our desires are we really that much different. Jesus said, “Worship the lord your God and serve Him only” Matthew 4:10. We may claim to not be idol worshippers or worshippers of false gods because we do not bow to a statue or give sacrifices to a false god, but do you see how their worship lines up with our “idolatrous” sinful desires as well. Look back over the list. They worshipped love, beauty, sensuality, pleasure, war, wine, youth, sexual desire, travel, commerce, sleep, strength, power, retribution, vengeance, victory, fame, gossip, wealth, luck, fortune, rivalry and jealousy. That sounds like our world and at times it even sounds like us. They worshipped all these things, but are we not tempted by the same? The fact of the matter is, that every person worships something. We all are guilty of idol worship at one time or another.
Many times, we think of music as worship when, in reality, it is only an expression of worship. We see examples of a misguided “worship” often in the western church. We are drawn to the sound and the emotion and tempted to worship the experience. We sing of what God can do for us, while not thinking of what it will demand of us. We sing with fervor but then walk out of the church still wanting to be the lord of our own lives. We refuse to sing a song because it is too old, or to new, or too “last year”, or too theological, too repetitious, or not my style. But all of this is showing a tendency to self-centered worship, which is not really worship at all. I, like you, have my preferred style of musical worship which seems most natural for me, but ultimately it is not about me. . . or you. We must remember that we are not the audience, God is. Worship through music is not for us, it is for Him.
At a deeper level we must understand that, our songs and sermons are only as worshipful as the lives that we live during the week. If our lives have not worshipped Christ during the week, our songs have no spiritual value on Sunday.
It would be similar to an unrepentant husband who has been unfaithful to his wife. His roses and box of chocolates mean nothing to her. That is true of our music on Sunday as well. Our worship on Sunday is confirmed or denied by our “life of worship” during the week. That does not mean that if we have sinned this week that our worship is meaningless, but it could if we enter into a time of worship with hardened and unrepentant hearts. Let me show you what I mean from several stories in the Bible.
In the Old Testament we find a story in 1 Samuel 15 about the nation of Israel and their first king. King Saul, along with a prophet of God named Samuel, are the two main characters in this story.
In 1 Samuel 15 God instructs the Israelites to attack and destroy a people known as the Amalekites. As one looks back through the Old Testament they will see that the Amalekites had abused and attacked the Israelites numerous times. God commands King Saul and the Israelites to attack and destroy them. To kill even their animals. To bring nothing back as rewards from battle and no one back as prisoners of war.
King Saul does attack and defeat the Amalekites, but then brings back the best animals and the king of the Amalekites. God then sends the prophet Samuel to confront King Saul about his disobedience.
Saul first responds by arguing that he had obeyed God’s instructions. He next blames the soldiers for bringing home the best of the animals. He then seeks to justify their actions by saying that the animals were brought back for the sole purpose of being sacrificed to God. In 1 Samuel 15:22, Samuel then responds with these words, “Does the Lord delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as much as in obeying the voice of the Lord? To obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed is better than the fat of rams.”
It is better to obey than sacrifice. That was God’s message to Saul. Obedience is worth more in the eyes of God than spiritual rituals.
In this verse we are confronted by the fact that God is more concerned about our lives than our ritualistic worship. That does not mean that our songs, prayers, offerings, sermons, and worship services are not important to God, but it does show us that worship is something more than rituals.
Matthew 5:23 supports this same truth. “Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift.”
These verses guide us to the idea that worship is a way of life. It is a life that time and again declares the worth of our God through our decisions, actions, thoughts, and behaviors.
Isaiah 58:2-12 paints a very clear picture of what is demanded if worship is to be accepted by God.
“They seek me daily and delight to know my ways, as if they were a nation that did righteousness and did not forsake the judgment of their God; they ask of me righteous judgments; they delight to draw near to God.
The people then ask:
3 ‘Why have we fasted, and you see it not? Why have we humbled ourselves, and you take no knowledge of it?’
Then God responded:
“Behold, in the day of your fast you seek your own pleasure, and oppress all your workers.
4 Behold, you fast only to quarrel and to fight and to hit with a wicked fist.
Fasting like yours this day will not make your voice to be heard on high.
5 Is such the fast that I choose, a day for a person to humble himself?
Is it to bow down his head like a reed, and to spread sackcloth and ashes under him?
Will you call this a fast, and a day acceptable to the Lord?
6 “Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the straps of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke?
7 Is it not to share your bread with the hungry and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover him, and not to hide yourself from your own flesh?
8 Then shall your light break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up speedily; your righteousness shall go before you; the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard.
9 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,
10 if you pour yourself out for the hungry and satisfy the desire of the afflicted, then shall your light rise in the darkness and your gloom be as the noonday.
11 And the Lord will guide you continually and satisfy your desire in scorched places and make your bones strong; and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters do not fail.
12 And your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt; you shall raise up the foundations of many generations; you shall be called the repairer of the breach, the restorer of streets to dwell in.”
God desires and demands a life of worship from His children. Only to God is all glory due. And in return we will walk in the shadow of our God. Our needs will be met. Our lives will be blessed. And as we draw near to Him, He will draw near to us. (James 4:8)
Romans 12:1 holds this same standard when it says, “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present yourselves as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual act of worship.” Once we choose to follow Jesus our life is not our own. We now lay down our own dreams, desires, agenda and lives on the altar of God and pick up and take upon ourselves the will of Christ.
This opportunity of life worship is happening in our lives many times a day. The words that we say. The friends we choose. The way we spend our money. The way we treat the people with whom we live. All of this reveals what we worship and what desires rule our hearts. Let me explain.
First let’s look at a list of common desires: security, freedom, hope, love, joy, and peace. Now which of these would you say are sinful? None of them are sinful . . . unless we desire them more than Christ. At this point they become a false god or idol and we become idol worshippers. To worship Christ means that He sits on the throne of our hearts. He is to be our King, our chief desire, our first love.
Christ, security, freedom, hope, love, joy, and peace.
When a common desire becomes our chief desire, it then becomes idolatrous.
security, freedom, Christ, hope, love, joy, and peace.
We then have forsaken the Provider for the provision. We have longed for the creation instead of the Creator. We have ceased to worship God and now are worshipping an idol of the heart.
These types of desires are often not seen as evil or sinful at all. Unrestrained common desires many times seem innocent, but if anything besides Christ rules our hearts, then our lives will be led in a sinful, self-centered direction. We see this key role of the heart often in Scripture. Proverbs 4:23 says, “Guard your heart for it is the wellspring of life.”
In Luke 6:44-45 Christ explains it this way.
“The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For out of the overflow of his heart his mouth speaks.”
To sum it up we could say, “Whatever desires rule your heart will drive your behavior.”
Paul David Tripp in his book Instrument in the Redeemer’s Hands describes it this way:
You and I are always desiring. Desires precede, determine, and characterize everything you do. Desires get you up in the morning and put you to bed at night. Desire makes you work with discipline to get one thing done and run as hard as you can to avoid another. Desires sculpt every relationship in your life. They are the lenses through which you examine every situation. At the foundation of all worship, whether true or false, is a heart full of desire.
Worship is a way of life and is constantly on display. If Christ is the most important desire in one’s life, then everything else will respond accordingly. One’s allegiance to Christ will be apparent in one’s speech, actions, thoughts and even emotions.
Let’s consider the following opportunities of worship.
A Christian mother waits to pick up her children after school. While she waits, all the mothers are talking badly about one of the mothers who is not present. The mothers then turn to this Christian mother to hear her opinion of this absent mother. Her desire for approval and belonging will now compete with her desire for God’s commandments to love your neighbor, to not gossip, and to speak honorably. How she responds will be an expression of worship. It will show what is ruling her heart at that moment.
You go to a coffee shop for your morning cup of coffee. You pay with a 10 dollar bill but are then given $16.50 in change. The waiter mistakenly thought that you gave him $20. What will you do? Will you put the money in your pocket or will you notify the waiter of their mistake and return the money? Your desire for money and your desire for Christ and his commands for honesty and a pure heart will come against each other. Which will win? Your decision will be an expression of worship.
Christian teenage siblings continue to argue and fight with their parents and with each other on an ongoing basis. Their desire to win, to gain the upper hand, and to get their way has become stronger than their desire for Christ and His commands of obeying their parents and putting others before themselves. Their fighting is an expression of what they truly worship.
Let me ask you a question. Is buying a phone an act of worship? It depends. Imagine that you are buying a phone that you don’t need, and the the name brand that you cannot afford, to impress the people around you. In that moment your actions are not seeking Christ, but the approval of others instead. Buying a phone has become an expression of what worship.
Or imagine driving down the freeway and someone cuts you off. What do you do next? When life squeezes you, what comes out? That bad driver does not determine your response. The chief desires of your heart will determine your response. It is worship.
Every situation with a moral dynamic to it is an occasion to worship. We express our worship by what kind of material we post on Facebook. We express worship as we decide whether to let our coworkers know that we are followers of Christ or not. We express worship in how we spend our money, how we prioritize our time, in how we discipline our children, if we keep our minds pure, how we choose our career, how we choose our words and how we choose our friends.
Every tempting situation becomes an opportunity to worship. It also becomes an opportunity to make a statement concerning God’s ultimate worth. It is an opportunity of worship where we can reaffirm to ourselves and show to the world that God is more precious than anything else this world has to offer.
In summary let’s review several important truths.
- Everyone worships something.
- To obey is better than to sacrifice.
- The sincerity of our worship on Sunday is confirmed or denied by our “life of worship” during the week.
- One’s allegiance to Christ will be apparent in one’s speech, actions, thoughts and even emotions.
- Whatever desire rules your heart will control your behavior.
- Every situation with a moral dynamic to it is an occasion to worship.
Now that we have been introduced to the role of desires in our lives of worship, let us join with the psalmist as we pray Psalm 139:23, “Search me, O God, and know my heart. Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous way in me and lead me in the way everlasting!” Allow God to bring conviction and a newness of heart that we each will be empowered to live a life of worship.
Worship Is A Way of Life
I would like to circle back to music for a moment. Today’s sermon was not intended to belittle the importance of music as an expression of worship, it was given to help us understand that music is only the tip of the iceberg when considering worship.
With this in mind I would like to offer an invitation to each of you. Every Sunday, as we sing, please join us. Lift your voices. The most important instrument in worship are the voices of the congregation. One of the most beautiful sounds is to be surrounded by a body of believers who are lifting their voices in worship.
We are thankful for Beth and the worship team, but they are only here to usher us in to worship. They are only here to get us started and point us in the right direction. In reality we are not the audience, He is the audience. May we never come to spectate and “watch the show.” May we each know our place as worshippers.
So, whether you consider yourself musical or not. . . whether it is your preferred style or not. . . whether you feel like worshiping today or not. . . may we lift our voices together confessing truth about God, to God, and to one another, in song, because it is true and He deserves our worship. Whether we are singing How Great Thou Art, or How Great Is Our God, may we make the most of the opportunity.
Maybe you don’t like to sing, so will you at least participate with us by humming or mouthing the words. Maybe you are older and your voice can’t sing like you used to, feel free to whistle. Maybe you are insecure with what you sound like, set that aside and make a joyful noise. The more we sing the more individual voices become unrecognizable and we all are gathered into worship.
May we be a church that sings. When a visitor comes for the first time may they somehow hear and sense that they are amongst a worshiping people who worship in spirit and in truth, in life and in song.
Every time we look at the platform and see the painting on the front wall may we be reminded to lift our hearts and our voices and join the eternal choir from every nation, tribe and tongue who will worship around the throne of God for an eternity.