God Cares How We Worship Him
All of life is worship. There's not a corner of our life where worship does not touch. I think if we would look at our lives as a whole, we would admit that when we live as God says we should live, life goes better. Not easier, but better. Victoria and I have tried to teach this to Carson, Nora and Harper. And one thing we've done... And I don't think it was original to us was that explaining... explaining to them that disobedience leads to sadness, and obeying leads to happiness. They get that. They get happiness; they get sadness. So, Victoria has this video of Nora. She's in her car seat, munching on pretzels. And she's got a really high-pitched voice, which I won't try to imitate her and embarrass myself, but she goes, "Nora's way is a sad face, and God's way is a happy face." They're little; they get these concepts.
Obeying God leads to his blessing. One area, the American church, and individual Christians are not scrupulous enough in is our corporate worship of God. We rarely, if ever, stop to ask if what we are doing together on Sunday mornings, is what God wants us to do. We never pause and ask if we are worshiping God in a way that he commands and in a way that pleases Him. Worship must be done according to God's word. We were created by God to worship Him. And as our Creator, he decides and he determines how we worship Him. We're not free to decide how we worship God. In God's wisdom, grace, mercy and love, he has outlined for us in His Word how we can worship Him in a way that most glorifies him and is to our greatest benefit. God's glory and our good are never at odds. So as a reminder, worship is a Spirit-empowered response to the greatness of God in Christ, as revealed in and according to God's word for His glory. Worship begins and ends with God. So, last week, we looked at responding to the greatness of God in Christ. This week, we're going to turn our attention to learn from Scripture that worship must be done according to God's Word. Worship must be done according to God's Word. If you think about the last three words of our definition of worship for His glory, we saw in Isaiah 42:8 last week that God gives His glory to no one. God's glory is so closely tied to our worship, that we would be foolish to think we can glorify God in our worship in any way that we please.
God cares about how we worship Him, and in His grace, he has outlined proper worship in Him Word. One author wrote, "Just as God must reveal to man how he must be saved, he also clearly tells man how to worship Him." How does God want to be worshiped? This is what the Preacher... Preacher of Ecclesiastes begins to answer for us. And he gives us four exhortations this morning, that reveal how God wants us to worship Him, that reveal that God cares about how we worship Him. And I will admit on the front-end, we're just going to scratch the surface. There is much, much, much more that could be said, but Lord willing, you will at least see from Scripture by the end of our time together, that God cares about how we worship Him. God cares. It is important to God.
So exhortation one: God wants us to prepare to worship Him. God wants us to prepare to worship Him, the Preacher's focus, you'll notice he says, "Guard your steps when you go to the house of God" (Ecc 5:1a). We'd call this "corporate worship". What we're doing right now, Sunday morning. The Preacher's focus is not on Monday through Saturday, if we want to put it in those terms, but it's when God's people are gathered together to worship. I think I am on safe ground by saying, most Christians would agree that to worship God on Monday through Saturday, we must do it in a way he commands. For example, I've not met a Christian husband, yet, who would agree that committing adultery on his wife is a legitimate way to worship God. Or to cheat on their taxes, or to be lazy at work. Right? But, I have met many Christians who would disagree that God has outlined or cares about how we worship together on Sundays.
So, the Preacher is telling us what needs to be done when we go to and while we are at the house of God. One commentator writes, "The Preacher is speaking to just about everyone who goes to church. His exhortations are for people who do go to church but, sometimes, find it hard to pay attention, whose thoughts wander when they pray, and who are full of good intentions about serving God, but have trouble following through". In other words, if you are here this morning, this passage is for you. It's for me. So, we see first, God wants us to prepare to worship Him. We are to guard our steps. We are to approach God's presence... presence, reverently and carefully. Each Sunday morning we come together to hear God's Word proclaimed. God is speaking through His Word. And we must be prepared when we are drawing near to listen to God's Word. If we're not prepared to listen, the Preacher says, "...we offer the sacrifice of fools, and they do not know that they are doing evil" (Ecc 5:1b). And in Scripture, God in His grace has given us examples of the consequences of not preparing, of not guarding our steps when we come to worship God. We think of Leviticus 10 with Nadab and Abihu. They came, woke up one morning unprepared, went to the tabernacle, and offered fire that God had not authorized. They weren't prepared, and God took their life. Or we think of Ananias and Sapphira (Act 5). They are examples of bad preparation. They prepared to lie. They said, "Well, we sold the land for this much, but we're going to tell the church we sold it for this much, and keep back a little bit for ourselves." And they lied to God. What happened? [Clap]. That killed him. Now, we should be grateful, as one preacher said, that God was proving a point, and he was not setting a precedent. We must prepare to worship because God cares that we do.
So, are we ready to hear from God through His Word? Do we come with the ears that are open? When we come into the presence of God each Sunday morning, we're coming as a family? And Jesus is leading us into God's presence to hear from God's Holy Word? We've got to prepare; we've got to be ready. And as a parent, with three kids under six, I know that Sunday morning is difficult. Sometimes, awful. This shouldn't surprise us because the world, the flesh, and the devil, they don't want us here. And sometimes, it seems our kids don't want us here either. There is a spiritual battle raging each other Sunday morning. Do you know that? Why do you think we have so much interference in the speakers? Is it because the guys in the sound room have no idea what's going on? No. They're really good at what they do. It's spiritual warfare. So we must prepare.
But how can we prepare to worship each Sunday morning? I believe one way we can do it is throughout the week. We're wearing the armor of God. We are being strong in the Lord and the strength of his might. Preparation does not start on Sunday morning. If you wake up at 7:30 on Sunday morning, like "Alright, I'm going to get ready, I'm going to go to church." You're already behind the eight ball. So, preparing starts throughout the week, but then, also, intentionally trying to prepare on Saturday night. Get clothes together. Right? Get the kids’ clothes out, if that makes sense. I always try to at least have in my mind what I'm going to wear, so I'm not scrambling around. "Ah, I can't find the pants. I knew they were here somewhere." Right? Spend time in the Word and in prayer on Saturday evening. Talk to your kids about why Sunday morning is important. Here's an important one: Get a good night's sleep on Saturday night, as much as your kids will allow. Decide what you eat for breakfast. Maybe, make breakfast Saturday night, and warm it up Sunday morning. Be ready. Be prepared. On Sunday morning, read your Bible. Spend time in prayer. Read the sermon text for that morning. Throughout the week, we can be in constant communion with God. I think we forget sometimes that Monday through Saturday can have either a negative or positive effect on Sunday. And then likewise, Sunday will have an effect on Monday through Saturday. It's reciprocal. You can listen to the music for that Sunday. We try to put out the YouTube playlist through the app. Listen to it. Sing together as a family.
Sunday morning, as a church, we try to provide two ways to help you to prepare for worship. The 10:30 prayer meeting, that's a time of preparation. We pray each week about the service, among other things. Five minutes before the service starts, we try to quiet down and prepare our hearts to worship God. And this list is not extensive. You have to find what works for you and your family. What works for me will not work for you. What may work for my family will not work for you, but you have to have a plan. If you don't have a plan, you won't prepare. And God cares that you prepare that your hearts and your minds are ready to worship Him. And if we're not prepared, heeding the exhortations of the Preacher that follow, will be harder. It is hard to rush into church and worship if you're not prepared if you're not prepared. So, God cares. God wants us to prepare to worship Him.
And second, God wants us to watch what we say when we worship Him. Verses two and three. "Be not rash with your mouth, nor let your heart be hasty to utter a word before God, for God is in heaven, and you are on Earth. Therefore, let your words be few" (Ecc 5:2). We should not be rash. We should not be hasty to utter a word before God. Now, the preacher is not calling for silence. He's not trying to scare us. Say, "Hey, you better not say... it's better to not say a thing. You just keep quiet. Zip it." Right? No, he wants us to say things that honor God, things that are true about God. We learned a few weeks ago about how we should not rush into prayer. We should take our time. We should calm our hearts. We should calm our minds. When we rush into prayer, we can say the same old thing about the same old things.
And our words should be few because they should be guided by who God is. The Preacher says, "A fool is known by the abundance of his word". So we must keep a close watch on what we say about God when we worship Him. And the reason we do this is because God is in heaven, and we are on Earth. God is God, and we are the creatures. He made us. God is the sovereign and authoritative one. So when we pray and sing together, we need to be careful about what we say. That's why as elders we are very meticulous, I think about the songs that we sing. We need to say true things about God when we pray, which means our minds need to be engaged. More heresy is uttered during prayer. "Father, thank you for dying on the cross." Wait a minute. Jesus died on the cross. We need to pray according to God's will. Our songs need to make much of God, and we need to make sure we believe what we are singing about, so we're not to sing like we mean it, we are to sing because we mean it. Preachers need to do the same thing. We need to be careful with our words. We need to make sure we're preaching Christ and not ourselves. We need to prepare to make sure we preach the truth each Sunday morning. God cares about what we say when we worship Him. But can you see why preparation is so important? If you're not thinking right and true thoughts about God throughout the week, you're setting yourself up for potential failure on Sunday when we try to proclaim right and true things about God.
So, God wants us to prepare to worship Him. He wants us to watch what we say when we worship Him. And the preachers’ third exhortation is that God wants us to keep what we promise him when we worship Him. "When you vow a vow to God," verse four, "do not delay in paying it, for he has no pleasure in fools. Pay what you vow" (Ecc 5:4). God cares that we keep our promises we make to him when we worship Him. Hannah, in the book of First Samuel, is a good example. In chapter one, verse eleven, we have recorded for us that she vowed a vow to God, that if God would give her a son, she would give the son, which ended up being Samuel, to the Lord. Well, what happened? She prayed that prayer. God answered that prayer. She kept her vow, and Samuel went to serve at the house of the Lord. She's an example for us. So when we make a vow or a promise to God, we should not delay in paying it. Because if we delay in paying it or we don't pay it, we're foolish. We're foolish. And the Preacher says, "God takes no pleasure in fools" (Ecc 5:4). So, if we could pause here for a minute, we learn something very important in this passage. Verse four is the third time the word "fool" is mentioned.
So, we learn there is a wise way to worship God, and there is a foolish way to worship God. The foolish way is to do it as we desire and we see fit. Foolish worship never glorifies God. Foolish worship is never a response to the greatness of God in Christ. If you go home and read Romans 1:18 through 32, you'd see this even clearer. Wise worship is worshiping according to God's word. Worshiping God how he wants to be worshiped. Wise worship always glorifies God and is always a response to the greatness of God in Christ. So, ask yourself, "Am I a wise worshiper? Or am I, a foolish worshiper?"
When we think about vows, we don't vow or promise in the same way today is we see in the Old Testament. So how do we apply this to our corporate worship? I could think of three things and there could be... I'm sure there are more. First, we don't play games with God in corporate worship. Don't say, "God, I will do this... I will never do that sin again if you do this." How many promises have we kept like that? That's playing games with God. Don't mess with God. Second, think about what you are singing. Think about what you are singing. When we sing "Jesus, Thank You" and we get to the bridge that says, "Lover of my soul, I want to live for you." Do you want to live for Him? If we sing "I Surrender All," do you surrender all? It would be best to not sing if you have no intention of following through. The Preacher says in verse six, we risk bringing the anger of God on ourselves if we do so (Ecc 5:6). Third, I think we can be an active participant in the service. Many of us may make promises to God and not keep them because we're on autopilot. We're just here. We're going through the motions. We know that we're going to read a Scripture to open. Then, we're going to sing one or two songs after the Scripture reading. Then, we're going to pray, we're going to have an offering. Then, we might sing a couple more songs, and someone's going to pray again. Then, we're going to hear a sermon. Then, a benediction, where we're going to go home. Just going through the order, just going through the motions. It is much harder to make promises we have no intention of keeping if we're engaged if we're engaged.
So, God wants us to be prepared to worship Him. God wants us to watch what we say when we worship Him. God wants us to keep our promises we make to him when we worship Him. And the Preacher's final exhortation is that God wants us to fear Him in our worship. Verse seven, "For when dreams increase and words grow many, there is vanity, but God is the one you must fear" (Ecc 5:7). When we fear God, we will care about how we worship Him. "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge" (Pro 1:7a). When we fear God, we will be a wise worshiper. Well, what does it mean to fear God? That sounds like a negative word. "Fear God, I thought He's a God of love, a God of mercy and grace?" He is, but He's also a God of holiness which means we need to be in awe of him. Reverential awe. Philip Ryken says, "To fear God is to recognize his might and majesty, to acknowledge that he is God." And our fear is tied to awe. We are in awe of who God is. We honor Him for who he is. We attempt with the help of the Holy Spirit and Scripture to align our lives with what pleases Him. Philip Ryken writes again, "When we fear God in this way, we will come to worship him with expectancy and awe."
What did you expect God to do this morning? If you're having trouble finding an answer, or if you expected very little, it would be prudent and wise to ask, "Am I fearing God?" Am I acknowledging that God is who He is, that He is holy. He's glorious. Sinclair Ferguson made the observation that much modern worship is juvenile. He called it "the juvenile... juvenilization of worship." Easy for me to say, I'm not gonna say it again. In our anything-goes attitude when it comes to corporate worship, it's childish. And it reveals that we don't fear God. Worship for many churches is about how to attract people, rather than please God. So, therefore, some guy who calls himself "a pastor" thinks it's okay to zip-line from the balcony to the pulpit. He's lucky he's alive. The music leader, try to "whip up" the congregation. "I can't hear you, can't hear you!" Well, maybe, you're too loud. Maybe, you should give them better songs to sing. Maybe, you should... give them a bigger God to sing about. You should teach them how to fear God and you'll... you'll hear them. You'll hear them. We don't fear God, so we never bothered to ask if God cares how we worship Him. He does. He does. And far from restricting our worship, this really frees us in our worship. We don't have to tiptoe, be like "Umm, maybe God's okay with this?" No, we can come to Scripture and say, "Yeah, God's okay with this." Do it for His glory. And, we can only offer worship that pleases God when we are prepared when we watch what we say when we keep our promises, and when we fear him.
It would be tempting at this point to hear everything that we've talked about so far and think, "Man, God's just kind of coming to us as a judge, and He's just waiting for us to slip-up." But, the reality is God comes to us as our Father. And He says, "I have redeemed you to worship me. And because I love you, I have given you this book. My Word tells you how you can worship me."
Harper, a few weeks ago, was playing with one of the Potato Heads, I don't know which one. And saw her running with her one arm swinging like she does, and she had Mr. Potato Head's nose about to go in the electric outlet. And I stopped her, was... because I'm a judge? Like, "Harper. What are you thinking? How dare you? [Clap] Come on." No, I'm a daddy. I love her. I know that if she sticks Mr. Potato Head's nose in the socket, electric outlet, it... the potential for something bad happening increases. So, I got her, we... and we went to Mr. Potato Head and said, "Look. Here's how you play with this toy rightly. Here's how you do this the right way."
That's what God does with us in worship. He says, "Look, I love you. I'm your Father. Here's how you can worship me in a way that brings me the most glory and will be to your greatest benefit." And we see this in John 4. Jesus is talking to the woman at the well, and Jesus says, in verses 23 and 24, "But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for..." Notice this, "...the Father is seeking such people to worship Him. God is spirit and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth" (Jn 4:23-24). So, who is seeking people to worship Him? The Father. We've been adopted by, by God through Christ. We have been placed in His family. God has redeemed us, and He has taught us how to worship Him in a way that pleases Him. So, when we come together each Sunday, don't think that the same old things that we do every week is boring. This is what God wants for us. He wants us to read His Word. He wants us to pray His Word. He wants us to sing His Word. He wants us to preach His Word. And when we do communion, he wants us to see His Word. Leon Morris writes, "He is a God of love. A God who seeks the best for His people, and therefore, a God who actively seeks them out." God loves us, and He wants what's best for us. And, He determines what is best for us.
So, the past two weeks have been foundational for our understanding of worship. We respond to God as He has revealed himself in His Word. He is great. He is holy. He is perfect. He is worthy of worship, and we see that best and most clearly in Christ. We would not know how to worship God if he had not told us. Worship that pleases God is according to His Word. Because God revealed how we are to worship Him, we can respond to His greatness in Christ. I feel safe in saying, we have all attempted to worship God in a way that does not please Him. There have been times when we've worshiped when we weren't prepared. There have been times when we said things about God that maybe, we really didn't believe. There were times we made promises to God, and we didn't keep them. We went through the motions during worship. We didn't fear God in our worship. None of us can say we have been perfect in our worship. We must repent of that.
But, here's the good news. There is one person who was always perfect in their worship. Jesus. Jesus sang perfectly. The Psalmist spoke of him in Psalm 22. When he says, "I will tell him of your name to my brothers; in the midst of your congregation, I will praise you" (Ps 22:22). Jesus always kept His promises when He worshiped. Jesus was always prepared when He worshiped. He always watched what he said when He prayed and He preached. Where we worshiped improperly, Jesus worshiped properly for us. I don't think we think about that. Sinclair Ferguson said, "Jesus died on the cross so that God might be rightly worshiped again."
So, if you see, as I see, as I've seen all week, I've not consistently worshiped God as He wants, just admit it. God knows. You will not take God by surprise. Take it to your Father. Ask Him for forgiveness. And remember, Jesus, redeemed your worship. True worship is possible because Jesus worshiped for us. And He paid the penalty, that the sin of our false worship, our improper worship deserved. Because of Jesus, we can worship in a way that pleases God. And we should thank God for His abundant mercy in Christ. So, worship is a Spirit-empowered response to the greatness of God in Christ, as revealed in and according to God's Word, for His glory alone.