What is Biblical Worship and why is it essential to both the believer and the Church? While there are many different perspectives and opinions on true Biblical Worship, Scripture lays out a key precedent for this form of praise. In this message on Deuteronomy 6, Pastor Mike Kelsey walks through Biblical Worship as one of the 12 traits of a Biblical Church. The essence of true Biblical Worship is simply love. Yet, how do we begin to approach such a broad concept of worship? Pastor Mike Kelsey guides believers into true Biblical Worship derived from love.
- The Essence of Worship
- Faults and Corrections for Modern-day Worship
- Corporate worship
- Spirit-Led Worship
You Need Biblical Worship
It’s good to be together, gathered around God. We’re here at our Tysons location and I also want to give a shout-out to those of you watching from our different locations here in the DC metro area and wherever you’re watching from online. We are going to dive into Deuteronomy 6 today. So if you got a Bible, go ahead and make your way there. But I want to start with a question, and I don’t want you to answer it out loud. Although you can give some verbal feedback during the sermon. That is A-okay with me. But this is a rhetorical question. Amen. This is a rhetorical question for you to really reflect on, and I want you to answer it honestly in your own heart. It’s a question you may have never really thought about, and here it is. Do you enjoy worshiping God?
All right. Some of y’all broke the rules already. I see how this is going to go today. Do you enjoy worshiping God? That’s the question. Now, I get that some of you here, some of you watching, you may not even believe in God at this point, much less the God of the Bible, and I hope you’ll reconsider that as you listen today. But for those of us who do believe in God, and specifically those of us who are followers of Jesus, do you enjoy worshiping God? And maybe you don’t even really know how to answer that question, and that’s okay, but I hope you’ll see today and maybe even experience in some way the joy of worshiping God.
If you’re new to our church, we’ve been in a sermon series called Why You Need a Biblical Church. And we’re walking through 12 traits that summarize, at least to the best of our ability, that summarize what a healthy biblical church looks like. And today we’re looking at biblical worship. And I’m not exaggerating when I say this, but passionately worshiping God with other believers is by far one of my favorite things to do. And I’m not talking about just coming to church and going through the motions. All of us do that from time to time, and I get it. But I’m talking about gathering with people who are aware that we’re in the presence of God and giving him the worship that he’s worthy of. And that’s one of the reasons why I love our prayer gatherings.
In fact, we have a late-night prayer gathering this coming Friday night would love for you to join us. We’re going to have folks from all of our different locations gathered right here in our Tysons auditorium this Friday from 8:00 PM to midnight. And we’re going to just create some space for us to seek God together, to pray and to worship him. And I’d love for you to come out and join us. Now when it comes to worship, there’s several different words throughout the Old and New Testament that’ll either translate it worship or express some aspect or function of worship. And we don’t have the time to study all of those today, but the essence of all of them really boils down to one very simple word. And here it is, the essence of worship is love.
The Essence of Worship Is Love
The essence of worship is love. And we see that. And what Jesus said is one of the most foundational passages in the entire Bible, Deuteronomy 6:4–5. And I want to read those verses for you and pray, and then we’ll unpack what God has to say to us through these verses. Deuteronomy 6. This is Moses speaking to the people of Israel, and he says this, verse four, he says, “Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God. The Lord is one.” Verse five, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and with all your might.” Verse four, revelation of who God is. Verse five, the response, our love for God. That’s what we’re going to talk about. Let’s pray together.
Father, as we give you our attention, Lord, I pray that you would also stir our affection for you, God, that as we dive into your word, that you would not only speak to our hearts, but by the power of the Holy Spirit, you would work in our hearts, increase our love for you. We pray this in Jesus name. Amen. Amen.
So as I mentioned, Deuteronomy 6: 4–5 is one of the most foundational passages in the entire Bible. In Jewish tradition, this passage is called the Shema. Everybody say the Shema with me, the Shema. Come on, let’s say it. Y’all were like, “Shema. What? Huh?” The Shema. Say that with me. The Shema. All right. You learn a little bit of Hebrew, right? This is called the Shema because in Hebrew, which is the original language of the Old Testament, the first word in verse four here is the Hebrew word Shema. It means to hear. It means more than that though. It means to hear with the intent to actually do something about it, to listen and obey. And Jesus referenced this Shema in his own teaching in Mark 12, when one of the Jewish teachers came up to him and asked him, Mark 12:28, asked him which commandment is the most important of all?
And Jesus answered and said, “The most important is, and then he quotes Deuteronomy 6, “Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God. The Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.”
Now, the reason it’s the most important command is because the rest of the Mosaic Law flows from this one command. In other words, obedience to God flows from, or should flow from, love for God.
And the same is true about worship. Worship is ultimately an expression of our deepest love. And so in Deuteronomy, let me give you context, Moses is addressing the new generation of Israel as they prepare to enter the promised land, and it’s almost like a renewal of their covenant with God. And he’s urging this new generation to not repeat the mistakes of their parents’ generation who constantly wavered between worshiping God and worshiping the idols that were popular in their culture.
Now, we tend to only think about worship and idolatry as religious activity, but the biblical concept of worship is much broader than that. Worship, in a general sense, is ascribing ultimate value to something in a way that drives your entire life. It’s saying, “This is what’s ultimately valuable in my life, and so that’s going to dictate and drive the way I live my life.” And in that sense, all of us are worshipers, whether you’re religious or not. In fact, our hearts, the human heart, is hardwired for worship. So it’s not a matter of whether we worship, it’s only a matter of what we worship.
GK Chesterton famously put it this way, he said, “When we cease to worship God, we do not worship nothing, we worship anything.” We worship whatever we ultimately rely on to give us identity, purpose, and joy. That’s what’s going to drive our life. And the problem is that we were made to worship our creator, but in our sin, we choose instead to worship the gifts that he gives us in creation.
And those things will not only let us down, but they will ultimately leave us empty.
David Foster Wallace was one of the most influential novelists in recent American history. He wasn’t a devout Christian. In fact, his father was an devout atheist, was a professor of moral philosophy at University of Illinois. But listen to what he said in what literally, this is one of the most famous commencement speeches ever given in American history. He gave it at Kenyon College in 2005. This is what he said to these college students or graduates. He said, “In the day-to-day trenches of adult life, there is no such thing as atheism. There’s no such thing as not worshiping. Everybody worships. The only choice we get is what to worship.”
And listen to what he says. He says, “An outstanding reason for choosing some sort of God or spiritual type thing to worship is that pretty much anything else you worship will eat you alive. If you worship money and things,” he says, “if they’re where you tap real meaning in life, then you will never have enough. You’ll never feel you have enough.” He says, “Worship your own body and beauty and sexual allure and you will always feel ugly. And when time and age starts showing you,” listen to what he says, he says, “You will die a million deaths before they finally plant you.”
He says, “Worship power and you will feel weak and afraid and you will need ever more power over others to keep the fear at bay. Worship your intellect, being seen as smart and you will end up feeling stupid, a fraud, always on the verge of being found out.” You see what he says? He’s saying, you don’t just worship nothing. All of us worship something. And the problem is if we don’t worship God, we’ll worship anything and we’ll worship the things that this world, and those things were never designed to bear the weight of our worship. They won’t only let us down, but they will ultimately leave us empty and they will crush our souls because we were not designed to live that way.
And what’s happened is we’ve developed this kind of Stockholm syndrome where we’ve fallen in love with and given ourselves to things that ultimately enslave us. And the call of the Bible is a call to renounce false gods and to redirect our worship back to the one true God. And that’s what’s happening in verse four. Moses says, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, he says, “Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God. The Lord is one.”
God Is the Only One Worthy of Worship
And this doesn’t contradict what will later become the doctrine of the Trinity. God is God, one God in three persons, father, son, and Holy Spirit. And when Moses says the Lord is one, he’s not even commenting on the essence of God. He’s declaring the exclusivity of God. In other words, he’s saying the one who has revealed himself to us, he is the Lord. He’s the sovereign creator. He’s the only true God. He’s the only one worthy of worship.
I love how Tim Mackie of The Bible Project puts it. He says, “The Shema is a pledge of allegiance to the Lord God of Israel that excludes allegiance to any other gods.” And so I gave a general definition of worship before, something that all of us do, but let me give you a more specific Christian definition of worship. And there’s a lot of technical theological definitions of worship, but this is one of the definitions that I think is most helpful. This is Warren Wiersbe. He says, “Worship is the believer’s response of all that he or she is, mind, emotion, will and body, to all that God is and says and does.”
Worship is a Response
If you’re taking notes, let me say that again. Worship is the believer’s response of all that he or she is, to all that God is and says and does. And that’s ultimately why we come to church on Sundays. Hopefully, we come to respond to who God is and what God says and what God has done. But listen, if we’re honest, something has happened in much of modern-day worship.
And I can only speak from the American context because that’s all I know, but something particularly in the American context has happened when it comes to modern-day worship. In many of our churches, corporate worship has been reduced to a consumer experience, where we come once or twice a month to get a spiritual pick-me-up or some biblical life hacks. And listen, if that’s you, don’t get me wrong, I’m glad you’re here and I hope our Sunday worship gatherings. I hope the sermon is encouraging to you. I hope it’s uplifting to you. I hope you get wisdom from the sermon. But listen, if that’s all that this is about, then we’re missing out on what God really says to us and has for us in corporate worship.
And so I want to offer five correctives for modern-day worship that we see here in Deuteronomy 6. You ready? Tysons ain’t ready. Y’all ready? Come on. I know I can hear you, Prince William. Y’all are ready. All right. Here we go. Here’s corrective number one. Worship should be individual and corporate. Individual and corporate. When most people think about Christian worship, they think about the Sunday worship service, and that makes sense. The gathering of the church on Sundays is one of the most important practices in the life of any church. And so you should come on Sunday ready to offer your own individual worship to God, ready.
But we also have to remember that corporate worship isn’t just about me and God. It’s also about us and God as brothers and sisters in Christ, as the body of Christ in the presence of God. You notice in the Shema verse four, it says, “Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God.”
And that kind of corporate language is used all over the Bible, Old and New Testament, and yet the primary question that should drive our worship gatherings isn’t what do we want or even what do we need, even though that’s important. The primary question that should drive our worship gatherings is what does God want? How can we offer him what’s most pleasing and enjoyable and honoring to him? And listen, we don’t have to guess or try to make that up.
Listen, my wife wants flowers and a card for every single special occasion, period. There’s no extenuating circumstances, there’s no need for questions or confusion. Flowers and a card, period. And here’s the other thing, and those don’t count as gifts. Those are just like appetizers.
Those are just previews of something better to come. But listen, in 15, or almost 15, years of marriage, I’ve learned, listen, this is taking notes, okay? Take notes dating guys, people who are married. Listen, I’ve learned to figure out what she wants and then give it to her. It’s not a sermon on marriage, but that would be my biblical definition of marriage. It’s not. It’s way more involved than that. I’m just trying to save marriages and lives. Okay?
God Desires Corporate Worship
Listen, God has been clear in his word about the things he desires in corporate worship. Here’s a quick list. We don’t have time to unpack all of them. Let me just give you a list. Praise and thanksgiving, Hebrews 13:5–15. Singing. You know what God’s favorite instrument is according to the Bible? Your voice. Not just talking about the people that sound good up on stage, even though y’all all sound good to God, but singing.
It’s what he desires from us to sing loudly. Prayer, 1 Timothy 2:1. Confessing of sin, Matthew 6:12. The ordinances, like baptism and the Lord’s supper, 1 Corinthians 11 and Matthew 28. Scripture reading and teaching, 1 Timothy 4. Serving, that we so up to church on Sundays available and ready to serve other brothers and sisters in Christ, 1 Peter 4. Giving, 2 Corinthians 9. Even greeting each other, Romans 16:16. Not necessarily always as a formal greeting time, but the way we welcome and greet and honor each other is a way of honoring God.
Worship Is Not Limited to Sunday
These are different ways we worship God when we gather together on Sundays, and yet our worship shouldn’t be limited to church on Sunday. So that’s corrective number two. Worship should be Sunday and every day. We’ve already seen that corporate worship is important to God and important for our own spiritual health, but worship isn’t just an event on Sundays. We worship should be the way we relate to God every single day. And I don’t just mean walking around singing to God all day. Man, that’s great. Sing in the shower, sing in the car. You know what I mean? Don’t sing in your staff meeting unless you work at a church, whatever. I’m just trying to help you out.
Yes, singing is an expression of worship to God, but God wants all of our life to be an expression of worship to him. And that’s primarily what this command in Deuteronomy 6 is about. Moses wasn’t just talking about their formal worship times. He’s calling the people of Israel to to a lifestyle that is driven by love and loyalty to God. It’s why he says love God with all, all, all. He repeats that. And we see the same thing in the New Testament.
This is what the Apostle Paul meant when he wrote Romans 12:1 he said, “I appeal to you therefore brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies.” That’s shorthand for, present your entire self, your whole life as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. And in 1 Corinthians 10:31, Paul writes, “So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.”
Listen, worship isn’t just a Sunday routine. Worship is an everyday lifestyle, the everyday expression of gratitude, love, and surrender to God. And this is why throughout the Bible, God goes so hard against religious people who worship him with their lips, but dishonor him and others with their lives.
Here’s one example. Listen to what God says through his prophet Amos to his people who have been embracing immorality and injustice. Listen to what he says. He says, “I hate, I despise your feasts and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies. Even though you offer me your burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them. And the peace offerings of your fatten animals, I will not even look upon them. Take away from me the noise of your songs, the melody of your harps. I will not listen, but let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.”
You see the logic in there? How can we honor God while dishonoring people that God made in his image? Listen, we can fool others on Sunday, but we can’t fool God. He sees our real lives and he knows whether our hearts are sincerely surrendered to him. Worship should be Sunday when we’re gathered with the church, but worship should also be an everyday expression of our love and our gratitude and our surrender to God.
Here’s number three. Worship should be contemporary and ancient. Let me explain what I mean because there’s some elderly saints in the room that are already like, “Yes, sir.” All right, let me explain what I mean here. And I won’t spend too much time on this, but I think it’s important to point out. Worship will in some ways look different in every generation, and it should. There’s new songs, new styles, new technology, new instruments, a new context that should be reflected in modern-day corporate worship.
But listen, if we cut ourselves off from the wisdom and time-tested traditions of previous generations, then we’ll miss out on the riches that they have to offer us. And that’s the context of Deuteronomy 6. God commands the Israelites to let go of the sinful and unhelpful patterns of previous generations. But as you read further in chapter six, God also commands them to remember and pass down the essential truths and helpful traditions received from previous generations. And I think there’s wisdom in that for us too.
I remember visiting a friend of mine’s Anglican church, and I remember us praying a written prayer that has been prayed in the Nigerian Anglican Church for over 500 years. And here’s the thing that threw me off. I remember us together reading this prayer out loud that was written over 500 years ago and being struck by how much it was articulating what I feel and go through today. And it was this reminder to me that God is a God who’s faithful across generations.
And so this is my mom’s hymn book, The New National Baptist Hymnal. Remember growing up with her in church, and this is one of the reasons parents, this is one of the reasons why we say, “Listen, praise God for kids questions, the [inaudible 00:23:28] ministry and access and all that. But it’s good sometimes to have your kids and your teenagers in worship with you here at our different locations. It’s why we do family worship, because I grew up singing songs out of this book that I didn’t like and didn’t completely understand, and I stole this from her piano when I really started following Jesus. Don’t tell her I’m the one. I have it. Okay? She has like 20 of them all over the house. And I look through this thing, man. It’s so much just cool stuff.
Like this hymnal is presented to … And it’s a whole lot of stuff in here, a church covenant in here, which is a whole nother story and all kind of stuff in here. There’s coffee stains in here. First hymn is Holy, Holy, Holy. Anybody know that? And you flip through some of these hymns, Praise to the Lord, the Almighty. Like let me just read some of these verses.
Listen to verse one, “Praise to the Lord, the Almighty, the king of creation. Oh my soul praise him for he is thy health and salvation. All ye who hear, now to his temple, draw near. Praise him in glad adoration.” And you skip down to verse four because I don’t know why, but in the Black church, we only sing verse one and four of any hymn. I’ve never sang an entire hymn ever in my life. Verse four, “Praise to the Lord. Oh, let all that is in me adore him. All that have life and breath, come now with praises before him. Let the amen sound from his people again, gladly for aye we adore him.”
There was truths in these songs that I sang and heard over and over again, and it didn’t make any sense to me until later in life as a follower of Jesus when I grew in my understanding of God and his word. And now all of a sudden, those truths embedded in these songs that have been planted in the soil of my heart, those are the truths that bear fruit in my life now. Worship should be fresh and creative and contemporary, but we shouldn’t disconnect ourselves from the time-tested legacy that’s been passed on to us from previous generations. I said I wasn’t going to spend much time on that. All right, let’s keep moving.
Let’s look at verse five again because I want us to really think about what God is saying here. Look at it. It says, “You shall love the Lord your God.” How? “With all your hearts and with all your soul and with all your mights,” or your strength. Now, you may have already picked up on this when we read Jesus’ words in Mark 12, but throughout the Gospels, when Jesus refers to this passage, he often remixes the list.
Worship is All-Encompassing
So sometimes he includes mind in the list. Other times he leaves off strength. And so a lot of biblical scholars will get into the nitty-gritty details and differences between heart and soul and mind and strength. But I don’t think the point is to dissect the differences. In fact, in ancient Hebrew thought, a human being is an indivisible whole. That’s why throughout the Bible, there’s no separation between faith and works, or what you believe and how you live.
From a biblical perspective, how you live is what you really believe. And so the point here in verse five is to emphasize the fact that worship is holistic. True worship is all-encompassing. It requires us to surrender all of who we are and everything we have to God. And it’s a warning against compartmentalizing our lives in a way that says, “God, I’ll worship you over here, but I’ll live however I want over here.”
It’s like when you’re dating or married and you ask your significant other if you can borrow their phone real quick and they just tense up and they act like you asked them for your social security number and date of birth and birth certificate and everything. And you like, “Chill, bro. I was just trying to look up a video on YouTube. I wasn’t trying to steal your identity.” Right? Somebody responds that way, it makes you wonder like, “What’s going on there?”
But the same thing is true in our relationship with God, where sometimes we come to church and we’ll say, “God, this is your domain. I’ll sing these songs and I’ll come to church once or twice a month. But God, there are some areas of my life where I will not give you access to it. There’s some areas of my life, God, where I won’t allow you to speak into my identity or speak into how I spend my money or speak into my relationship.” And this is a warning about compartmentalizing our lives in that way. If God is the one we love and he is our Lord and our king, then we should willingly and gladly offer him every area of our lives. Which leads us to corrective number three, that worship should be internal and external.
Now, if you read church history, one of the things you’ll see is a constant pendulum swing when it comes to worship. I think you see that in the Protestant Reformation, which was a protest movement against some of the heresy in the Roman Catholic Church. And I think you even see it in very recent history over the past 50 to 60 years. So there’s been a strong reaction against the kind of empty religious routine that you sometimes see, and I say sometimes see, in more traditional churches and denominations. And so there’s a focus on, even a hyper-focus on, internal personal intimacy with God. And you see this in a lot of Christian circles, particularly in a lot of non-denominational circles.
But listen, in Deuteronomy 6 and all over the Bible, we see that worship should engage our heart and soul internally, but also our physical bodies, our strength externally. And this is where we can learn from some of our brothers and sisters in more liturgical churches, because often the liturgy is designed not just to rehearse the truths of the gospel in our minds and in our hearts, but it’s designed to also engage and train our bodies to participate in and respond to what God has revealed.
Worship is Doctrinal and Emotional
And then here’s the last corrective, number five, worship should be doctrinal and emotional. And I know this is where some of us start to get a little nervous, but just stick with me. Because of our personalities or the way we were raised, we tend to lean toward one end or the other. And because of that, whole churches and denominations, even ethnic cultures, can tend to lean toward one end or the other. So let me just give you two examples. Let me pick on some traditions outside of ours, right? Let me pick on my Presbyterian brothers and sisters, right?
There’s a reason why Presbyterians often jokingly refer to themselves as the frozen chosen. Have you ever heard that before? This is in their words. And the reason is because they tend to emphasize, in a good way, they tend to emphasize intellectual and theological knowledge, but sometimes to the point of downplaying or even demonizing emotional expressions of worship. Let me pick on my Pentecostal brothers and sisters. Pentecostals, on the other hand, tend to be known for their enthusiasm and their emotional expressive engagement with God in worship. And sometimes they can get criticized for being caught up in emotion at the expense of biblical truth.
Neither of these are always true, but there are these caricatures, right? And in some instances, legitimate critiques. And you see these differences even play out in worship songs. So the more intellectual crowd … Like y’all were going crazy when I was reading from this. Y’all like, “It’s about time.” Right? Next, you could start wearing a suit when you preach. Right? But the more intellectual crowd, y’all love hymns with 37 stanzas that take you from creation all the way to when Jesus returns. And the more emotional crowd will just sing the same line over and over and over again. And it don’t stop there because y’all will just get louder and louder and louder the more you sing those same lines over and over and over.
The intellectual crowd loves songs filled with objective theological truth about God. The emotional crowd loves songs that express our subjective personal affection for God. But listen, when I read my Bible, when I read God’s word, I think we’ve divided some things that God never intended to be divided. It shouldn’t be either or, it should be both and. It should be doctrinal and emotional. It should be doctrine that inflames our hearts and our emotions to respond to God. And it’s right here in Deuteronomy 6 and all over the Bible.
Verse six is doctrinal. Hear, pay attention. “Learn, O Israel. The Lord our God, the Lord is one.” That’s a doctrinal statement, and that truth evokes our emotion. In verse five, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.” And yes, love here is talking about our obedience to God, but I think it’s also talking about our affection for God.
It starts with God’s revelation in his word of who he is and what he’s done, and then we experience and enjoy the reality of that as we learn to respond to him in wholehearted worship. And when you read biblical passages about worship, I think that’s why you see such passionate, emotional, expressive language. Just read through the Bible. I don’t have time to show you all the references, but let me just … This is how worship is described, clapping. Now, whether it should be on the one and three or the two and four is a whole nother debate. We can have that debate. It’s the two and four, clapping, lifting our hands, lifting hands as a way of saying, “God, I agree with your truth. And God, I’m surrendered to you and to what you have revealed,” crying out to God and just plain old crying, weeping in the presence of God.
Shouts of joy. That’s not figurative in the Bible, shouts of joy, hallelujah, and amen and agreement. And thank you, God. Reverent silence. Just humbling ourselves in the presence of God under his authority, standing, kneeling, bowing, and laying prostrate before God. And listen, doesn’t all of this make perfect sense when you think about the context of Deuteronomy and all that God has done for the people of Israel? Deuteronomy 6:5 wasn’t just cold abstract theology. Think about the context of Deuteronomy 6. Verse four says, “The Lord our God.” Well, you got to ask yourself, how did the Lord become their God? And how did they even know who the real true God was?
It wasn’t because they were so impressive that God said to the angels, “We got to get them on our team.” It wasn’t because they were so holy and righteous that somehow they deserve this intimate covenant relationship with God. It wasn’t because they were so philosophically superior to everybody else, that of all the different false gods being worshiped by different nations and religions, they were the ones able to deduce who the one true God was. No. All of their worship, all of their obedience, all of their devotion to God was in response to what God had already done for them. It was a response to God’s divine initiative that he is the one that saw them in their helpless condition and he pursued them. And that’s why when you flip back just one chapter in Deuteronomy 5:6, this restatement of the Ten Commandments, you know what the headline is? “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.”
You see, the logic of worship is, “You could not do this on your own. You were helpless. You didn’t even know who I was, and I revealed myself to you, and I redeemed you out of slavery.” And listen, the same thing is true for us, and this gets to the heart of worship. This gets to the heart of worship because just like God revealed himself to Abraham and to Moses, God has revealed himself to us perfectly through his son, Jesus, God in human flesh, who came and dwelt among us. And in him, we beheld the glory of God.
Just like God redeemed the Israelites from slavery in Egypt, God rescues and redeems us from slavery to sin. Listen to me. When you read the Shema, one of your first reactions to be discouragement, Because none of us has or can perfectly love God with all of our heart and our soul and our strength. None of us have done it because in our sin, we’ve done the exact opposite. We have rejected the love of our creator and our heavenly Father, and instead we have pursued other lovers. We’ve replaced God with the things that God gives us as gifts, and there’s nothing we can do to get out of that on our own. So what does God do? He doesn’t just leave us in our sin. How does he respond to the fact that we’ve willingly embrace sexual immorality and pornography again?
What does he do about the fact that we’ve dishonored and disrespected our spouse and we’ve hurt and wounded our children and our anger and our neglect? What does he do about our materialism and our greed? What does he do about our selfishness? What does he do about our sin? God doesn’t just leave us in our sin. Out of his love and his mercy and his grace, he makes a way through Jesus.
Jesus came and his life was an example of perfect love for his heavenly Father, and he did that in our place so that we could have his righteousness, and then he went to the cross to die for our sins. Because our sin doesn’t just create distance between us and God, like we just got a little breakdown. No, our sin means that we deserve God’s eternal judgment and his wrath, and Jesus takes that in our place. Not because he sees anything in us that is worthy of his love, but because he created and designed us out of his own goodness and grace for us to be able to experience his love. And then Jesus rose from the grave and invites us into this relationship. But then even then, even if he know what God has done through Jesus intellectually, something still has to change in your heart in order for you to love God like we’re talking about.
The Holy Spirit Transforms Us
Your heart doesn’t just start beating for God with passionate zeal and devotion just because you know it intellectually. You need something outside of you to change something in inside of you. And this is what Moses points to in Deuteronomy 30:6. God does something that the Old Testament believers could only long for. He says, “The Lord your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your offspring so that you will love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul that you may live.” And this points us to the work of the Holy Spirit, the new covenant promise that God would send his spirit to permanently indwell us and will change and transform us from the inside out.
The Spirit is the one that produces love in our hearts for God, zeal and passion in our hearts and in our lives and in our worship for the God who created us and redeemed us and desires to be in relationship with us. And so then worship becomes the overflow of hearts that are not only fully surrendered to God, but of hearts that are deeply satisfied and captivated and overwhelmed by God.
Let me ask you a question, and I don’t ask this question to judge or condemn you or anything. I just ask it for you to reflect on, because I’m praying the Holy Spirit would just produce in you more desire. Do you know what it feels like to be overwhelmed by the goodness and glory of God? To bask in his presence, to linger in his presence, aware that he is in our midst, that he’s not just an abstract idea, but he’s a person. He’s the one who is seated on the throne and the one who left to come down and redeem us, the one who testifies with our spirit, by the Holy Spirit, that we are children of God so that we can know the height and the depth and the width and the breadth of his love. Do you know what it feels like to be overwhelmed in the presence of God by the reality of who he is and what he’s done?
See, this is what Peter talks about in 1 Peter 1:8. This is the essence of worship, y’all. He says, “Though you have not seen him, you love him, and though you do not now see him, you believe in him.” And here it is, “And rejoice with joy.” And it could stop there, but it says, “And rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory.” In other words, when you really get a revelation and realization of God’s love for you and who he is, you can’t even fully express the joy that is welling up in your soul and in your heart. And it overflows into your worship when you’re gathering with other believers and it overflows into your worship when you’re just living everyday life.
And we’re all going to have different comfort zones when it comes to how we worship God. And so listen, for those of you who are more reserved, it’s good to stretch yourself to be more expressive in different ways, but I don’t want you to feel pressured to be more expressive. Hear me. God loves when you worship him from a sincere heart, even when it’s not as emotional as other people. But I would encourage you to stretch yourself, literally just one time. Just lift your hands as we’re singing and just see what it feels like. If you’re not comfortable, just lift one. Just give him half a praise. Just lift one hand. You can even look really holy and give him an open-handed praise. Just give him this right here. Just see what it feels like to allow your body to express reverence and honor and joy in the Lord.
For those of you who are more expressive in your worship style, you should always consider others around you when you’re in corporate worship. Nervous laughter. You don’t want to draw attention to yourself. You don’t want to be a distraction to others. But listen, hear me, but I also don’t want you to feel repressed because others are more reserved.
It’s not your job to try to make everybody else as expressive as you are or enthusiastic as you are, but often your enthusiasm can encourage and invite others of us to grow in our enthusiasm. So don’t just mute that. Offer that to God in community with brothers and sisters in Christ. And so no matter where we are personality-wise or cultural-wise or whatever, all of us who’ve been redeemed by the God that we’ve been talking about, God deserves our praise. He deserves our worship. He deserves hearts and lives that are on fire for him.
I’ll end with this. There was a moment during worship. This was earlier this year. Worship team was leading … Actually my wife was leading worship. And man, I don’t know what happened. I don’t even know what songs she was originally singing, but somehow she did a musical pivot into Great is Thy Faithfulness. And she just starts singing about the faithfulness of God. Some of you remember those verses. And here’s the thing, everybody else didn’t know, but I knew where she was worshiping from. I knew the pain, I knew the anxiety. I knew the questions in the unanswered prayer, and I knew that she’s leading us in worship, declaring the faithfulness of God. And all of a sudden as she’s leading worship, I start to see tears coming down her eyes. And how many of y’all know? Really, it’s hard to sing when you’re crying. You don’t really sound great. You know what I’m saying?
But she’s just trying to press through it. But her heart is being overwhelmed as the spirit is taking the truth she’s singing about and ministering it to her heart. And then all of a sudden I see another dude on stage with her, he starts crying. And there’s a woman who’s supposed to come on stage after that song to pray, she’s standing in the wing, I can see her. She’s gone. She’s weeping. This song is about to be over. So now I get on stage just to give us permission to pause for a minute and let the truth of God’s word just wash over us, to just linger and enjoy the reality that God has been faithful, is being faithful, and he will continue to prove himself faithful.
And it was just one of those moments, sweet moments, where the Holy Spirit just does something.
And that doesn’t happen every single time we sing a song, but that’s what happens when the Spirit sets doctrine on fire in our hearts, and it ignites something in our souls, and we just can’t help but respond to who God is and what God has done. And listen, I get it. There’s some seasons where you’re just gutted with grief or just exhausted, spiritually dry, and you come to church like you don’t have anything to give, but you just come anyway because you know need to. I’ve had those dry and weary seasons too as a pastor, even as a pastor. But listen, something is happening when we gather to worship God. Something is happening when we join with the angels that are in the throne room of God and join with the cloud of witnesses that are worshiping God. Something happens when we join that eternal chorus of praise and worship to God, and it has to do with our love.
I’ll end with this. James K.A. Smith put it this way. Listen to what he says. He says, “Worship is the arena in which God recalibrates our hearts, reforms our desires, and habituates our loves. Worship isn’t just something we do, it is where God does something to us.”
This is one of the reasons why corporate worship, gathering regularly with believers, is so important, not only because God is worthy of our worship, but because worship helps to reset and to reignite our love for God and to redirect our hearts from that which was never designed to have our hearts to begin with. It’s not just an expression of our love, but it’s the way that the Holy Spirit retrains our love and strengthens that love.
I want to pray for us here for people watching, people at all of our different locations. And as I was preparing this, I was just so struck by the reality that there are some of us, man, who have never understood or experienced worship this way or are just in such a dry and weary season. And there’s others of you who you don’t know what it means to worship God because you don’t actually have a relationship with him. You haven’t truly trusted Jesus for the forgiveness of your sin, and I want to pray for you as well. Let me pray for us.
A Prayer Praising God
Father, we thank you so much for your word. God, where would we be if you had not revealed yourself to us in your word? We wouldn’t know who you are. We wouldn’t know what you’re like. We wouldn’t know how we can have a relationship with you. But you have revealed yourself and done even more. You’ve made it possible through Jesus for us to be redeemed, to be saved, to be adopted into your family.
And God, we can never, ever, ever thank you and praise you enough. There’s no way we could worship you in a way that fully reflects how worthy you are. But God, by your Holy Spirit, would you ignite our hearts to love and to worship you when we gather and in our everyday lives, when we scatter?
And Lord, I pray for those who are listening or watching who are gathered with us today. I pray for those who don’t yet have a relationship with you and have a trust that you. God, would today be the moment for them? Would you draw them to a place of humility and repentance where they don’t want to live in sin anymore and where they want to enjoy and experience your love? And God, would you lead them to put their trust in Jesus and would you save them?
Father, we love you, but only because you first loved us, and we want to give the rest of our eternal lives to expressing that love back to you. And we pray this in Jesus’ name. Amen. Amen.