Worship

“Now this is the main point of the things we are saying: We have such a High Priest, who is seated at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens, a Minister of the sanctuary and of the true tabernacle which the Lord erected, and not man.”  Heb. 8.1-2

“Therefore by Him let us continually offer the sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of our lips, giving thanks to His name.”   Heb. 13.15

The Sacrifice of Praise

I wish to speak a few words about worship and in doing so pray sincerely for the understanding of a holy and righteous form of worship, because these qualities are the two most fundamental traits and qualities of God: He is holy and He is righteous.  And so we also are encouraged in scripture, “he who is righteous, let him be righteous still; he who is holy, let him be holy still.”  Rev. 22.11   If this is true with regards to our manner of life, it is especially true in our approach to God in worship.

 By holiness in worship I mean a worship that is “set apart” unto God, void of worldly influences and the standards of man, both of which may alter the very core of worship and make it into a mixture of praise and secular entertainment.  And by righteous worship I mean worship that is “pleasing and acceptable to God” rather than pleasing and acceptable to man. Certainly, there is behavior God readily accepts and encourages and is pleasing to Him, as well as behavior displeasing to God and is rejected. 

The Bible well documents that not all forms of sacrifices are acceptable to God.  Consider Cain and Abel as an example: God looked in favor upon Abel’s offering of the best portions of the firstborn of His flock; but He had no regard for Cain’s offering of the fruit of the soil. (Gn. 4.4-5)     God told Cain to do what is right and his offering would be acceptable but be careful because “sin is at the door, and it desires you, but you must master it.”  (Gn. 4.7)  We know in jealousy and envy Cain slew Abel.   The apostle John addressed this specifically when he wrote,

“not as Cain who was of the wicked one and murdered his brother. And why did he murder him? Because his works were evil and his brother’s righteous.” 1 Jn. 3.12

Evil and righteous as noted in this verse relate to a measure of sacrifice and worship, one acceptable, the other rejected as unacceptable.  Good intentions in the eyes of man are of no value in the economy of God.   And so, be not deceived, not all sacrifices, and in particular the sacrifice of praise and worship, are holy and righteous and equally acceptable to God.  We must be diligent and careful for the sin of unholiness and unrighteousness is at the door; and that sin is to take matters into our own hands and decide for ourselves what is good and acceptable to God.   There was a time when God spoke to Israel, Now say to the rebellious, to the house of Israel, ‘Thus says the Lord God: “O house of Israel, let Us have no more of all your abominations.’”  Eze. 44.6 ff   The priesthood desecrated the temple with a form of worship right in their own eyes but was an abomination to God.  What seemed holy to man was a stench in the nostrils of God.

Be Careful of the Fruit of the Soil

Once in a rather solemn time of worship at a conference it seemed as though the spirit of worship suddenly left, and the direction of worship took a turn to a less meaningful way.  To me, the worship seemed to go “flat”, if you know what I mean.  Afterwards, I had a chance to approach the worship leader and to ask what had happened.  He told me that at that moment one of his guitar strings broke and it threw him off.  Being focused on the quality of worship and concern for the situation at hand not only distracted him but effected the whole of the time of worship.  It may well have been better for him to just set his instrument aside, raise his arm, and continue in the adoration of God for true worship is a matter of holiness and righteousness from the heart and not a matter of a solemn musical production.

Another pastor I know was more concerned with the technical quality of the recording of worship than with worship itself.  He insisted on only the best recording equipment and was quite upset when the recorded worship quality did not meet his expectation.  Yet another church I visited had a snack and refreshment break in the midst of their worship time; it seemed the congeniality and mood among the people was more important than the soberness of true worship.

It seems today much worship has become a form of production by man rather than a time of spiritual intimacy with God. In such cases, a supposedly heavenly scene is imitated with noises and props and particular songs in an attempt to touch the inward emotions of the soul. It has become a time of expression of what has been rehearsed and polished to the satisfaction of the artists and served up in a religious venue, in the guise of worship to God.  There is concern over the quality of the music arrangement, of fine tuning and coordination of voices and instruments, and especially of moods and attempts to draw the people into a sensation (emotion) of Godly presence; there is a concern over “feeling” that songs or particular pieces of music cause you to experience; as well as the overall “feel” of how the song track sounds. It has become a time for man to offer his (unacceptable) best, rather than a time of worship in spirit and truth for God.   

It seems that, at a time when all forms of the natural surrounding and distracting influences should be minimized, thereby giving the worshipper an opportunity to approach God in fellowship in a meaningful spiritual way, the natural setting is actually accentuated, thereby drawing the whole of the worship away from what is for God to what is for man.  It has become less a principle of Godly satisfaction and more a matter of man’s satisfaction.

I apologize if this seems offensive but I am too old to mince words or to speak in a gentler manner.  Worship is most critical and central to the core of the believer. It is intended to elevate the soul, but not into some emotional high, but into a heightened spiritual sensitivity, which is in the presence and fellowship of God.  Therefore, I must speak not from my own initiative but by prompting of the Spirit for this only do I wish.

Hebrews 8   

Look around you, where you are at present, or maybe consider yourself in a church setting.  What do you see and hear and smell and touch? Things, objects, people, incense, icons, instruments, candles, all that can be determined by our senses and processed by our minds. If all of this is combined in a pleasant way, we are stirred and we “feel” and act in a certain way: perhaps we can call it a religious mood.  Now, close your eyes, muffle your hearing, sever in whatever way you can the influx of the natural.  Now ask yourself, “Where am I spiritually?  Where am I in the realm of the ‘unseen’ and ‘intangible?’ What is the mood of the spirit?”  By the spirit I mean where are you by faith—in the realm of spiritual reality not in natural reality?  For you see, faith makes real the intangible and invisible Kingdom of God, and of course, God Himself who is invisible and unapproachable in the natural. Returning to our opening scripture,

“Now this is the main point of the things we are saying: We have such a High Priest, who is seated at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens, a Minister of the sanctuary and of the true tabernacle which the Lord erected, and not man.”  Heb. 8.1-2

This opening scripture of Hebrews 8 make a clear distinction between an earthly place and form of worship and a heavenly environment with spiritual worship—the first is religious and is formed and erected by man for God;  the second place, the true tabernacle, is one “that is, and was, and ever will be,”  it is without beginning or ending.  It is not fabricated or built in a special way, but is spiritual and of heaven.  This second tabernacle is the environment of the throne of God.  Man has no part in the forming of this tabernacle, nor is he not called upon, or expected to fabricate or build anything, or to formulate activity of any sort. 

There is, however, a clear and distinct call of God to come, draw near, to gather about this heavenly throne.  There is absolutely nothing you can do to prepare yourself for such a presence, the cost is too high and requirements beyond anything man can do of his own accord.  The only requirement is that to enter the tabernacle is by one way, and one way only.  This entrance is through a very narrow gate, and that is only through the blood of the Lamb.  There is no other way, no other sacrifice, none of the best man has to offer, qualifies man to draw near to God. So, be at rest, be at peace, “the way” has been made; it is by faith in the Lamb of God. 

 Hebrews 8 continues on to more vividly describe the old earthly tabernacle and the service therein by a special order of priests, the Levites. This earthly tabernacle is, in all reality, a physical copy, a foreshadowing, of the true heavenly tabernacle and spiritual service (worship) to come… in Christ.

One may clutch a copy of a photo of a deceased love one and hold it close to the heart, but that photo is not reality but a copy of that reality, a reminder. The actual reality is intangible and invisible, a love held deep within.   A blueprint is not the reality of a building but is a figure of the building yet to come.  The shadow you cast on the ground is not you but only an image of who you really are—the sun brightens and the shadow disappears but you remain the same.  Even so, this Old Testament religion of the past is but a copy, a shadow formed in physical reality but prefigures the spiritual reality to come.  Extreme care must be taken not to emulate the former, which is quite often the case, in lieu of new spiritual reality created in Christ Jesus.

The Focus

The focus of worship is the end goal, the only true objective.  When I was a small boy raised in a Catholic family we would drive 20 miles through a snow storm to get to a church where mass was being said, sometimes having to stand in the church lobby and only able listen to what was being said because of an overcrowded church.  But, we proudly met our Sunday obligation and were at peace with it all. May I say that this, and all other such forms of worship, though with noble and good intentions, is not worship at all, but is only a religious façade designed to at least temporarily pacify the soul.  It largely mimicked that older form of worship.  We were led to think that this was the highest form of worship when in fact it fell miserably short.  It only fed our egos but was far from holy and righteous worship.   The believer is beckoned to a higher worship.  Note, in all sobriety and faith, the following:

“If then you were raised with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God. Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth. For you died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.“  Col. 3.1-3

But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, to an innumerable company of angels, to the general assembly and church of the firstborn who are registered in heaven, to God the Judge of all, to the spirits of just men made perfect, to Jesus the Mediator of the new covenant, and to the blood of sprinkling that speaks better things than that of Abel.”  Heb. 12.22-24

“For where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there in the midst of them.”  Mt. 18.20 

“even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved),and raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus,”  Eph. 2.5-6

This is the focus!  This is the grand objective of worship. This is the place of thanksgiving, of adoration, and prayer.  This is the highest attitude of worship.  We must never allow the beauty of architecture and the symbolism in an earthly setting, and of man-centered service and worship, cloud the view of this upward calling, for in doing so we are falling short of the heavenly call to worship.  We must lay hold of it by faith, even as it is written,

Therefore, brethren, having boldness to enter the Holiest by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way which He consecrated for us, through the veil, that is, His flesh, and having a High Priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.”  Heb. 10.19-22

This alone must be our attitude, and nothing short of it.  Yes, in full assurance of faith, in confidence, to draw near to God. There is no wall of separation, no impassable measure of space between God and the believer. The Way has been made.   Shun, if you will, formal worship, in structure and routine for in true worship there is life—NOT an emotional high, or warm fuzzy feelings which are temporary emotions but life that abides and stays abiding.  It is like what is written in Jeremiah,

“For My people have committed two evils: They have forsaken Me, the fountain of living waters, And hewn themselves cisterns—broken cisterns that can hold no water.”  Jer. 2.13

 Please believe me when I write that the broken cisterns that can hold no water are all the religions of the world, even Christianity as a religious practice.  They can be filled after a rain storm, but they are all cracked and leak out all its water. It all diminishes over time.  But true worship is as a fountain of living water, a spring that continually issues forth refreshing water whether the season is hot or cold, wet or dry, in brightness of day or the gloom of night.  The heavenly presence is present, and eternal.

The focus thus must be higher and become personal.  It must be spiritual, even as Jesus told the woman at the well,  “God is Spirit, and His worshipers must worship Him in spirit and in truth.” Jn. 4.24   Formal worship is objective filled with rituals and routine, with customs and of the familiar.  When worship is personal it becomes subjective worship seeking the communion of fellowship with another. Of this, John wrote:

“We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And this fellowship of ours is with the Father and with His Son, Jesus Christ. We write these things so that our joy may be complete.”  1 Jn. 1.3-4

Fellowship, communion, intimate interaction: that the Father would know the fellowship of His children, the Son would have communion with His betrothed bride, and the Holy Spirit would know His habitation in the Church.  This worship goes beyond the simple offering of praise; it is an entering in to the person, and nature, and interaction of God.  It is a sharing in the Godly attributes, such as His joy and His life—both of which are promised by our Lord when He said,

“I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly.”  Jn. 10.10  and “These things I have spoken to you, that My joy may remain in you, and that your joy may be full.” Jn. 15.11

These two items alone, joy and life, might already have been experienced in our natural man, but are in limited supply.  Both are fleeting experiences.  These promises speak of an endless supply, of taking these vital life experiences, of joy and life beyond expectations, exceeding expectations, to bring to fullness and timelessness. True worship, in spirit and truth, connects us with God in this intimacy of His person(s).

The Approach

Over the years I have learned a few things about spiritual worship from my wife, who has a heart for such worship.  I believe she has been called as a psalmist before the Lord, in a sense of leading others into the presence of God in worship.  Such an anointing brings an understanding of an approach to God, of entering His fellowship the way He determines, and not according to our needs, our emotions, talents, logic, or even our expectations.   I wish to share a few of those matters with you.

Words.   First of all, the words used in worship are extremely important, and should be meditated upon, while yet being spoken, thereby not allowing the mind to drift hither and yon.  Think intensely and precisely upon what you are saying.  Phrases like “the Lamb of God” conjures up thoughts such as Christ, sitting at the right had of the Father, and the piercing holes in His hands, side, and feet still noticeable; or phrases like “we bow down” bring a vivid image of prostrating oneself before the glory of the throne in total submission to the reign of God upon our lives.  There must be singleness, a complete package if you wish, of what we think in our minds, what we say with our lips, and what we do in action with our bodies.  God deserves no less from us, and anything less dishonors Him.

I must confess that at times I have looked straight into the eyes of someone talking to me, pretending to listen to what is being said, but not consider it important enough for my full attention.  My mind slowly drifts to other things. How selfish and self-centered of me; disrespectful.  To do so before God Almighty is unacceptable by God and should be by me as well; considering we come into His presence—Biblically, we come before His face, that is, face to face.

Addressing God.   Let’s imagine the two of us are having a conversation, and, while looking at you, I say, he (or she) are looking good today. You might be confused and wonder just to whom I am talking.  The same principle applies to our approach to God.  There are so many songs sung about “Him” or “He”which disassociates ourselves with Him and actually connects ourselves to another person. If I sing, “He is Lord…” I am not singing to the Lord but to another about Him being the Lord. 

Remember, songs we sing may be legally copyrighted by their writers, but we are not bound to sing them exactly as written; but we have the privilege to form the words to fit the worship and not the sheet music.  In other words, should we sing as written, “He is worthy to be praised”, or, recalling the focus of worship, should we sing, YOU are worthy to be praised.”   The question is, have we gathered to sing about the Lord, as to one another, or to sing songs of worship to the Lord, as we are standing before Him.  I (we) not just prefer the latter, but in all cases change all wordings to the Lord.

As in the Revelation Song, “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, holy, holy is He,” may be more subjectively sung, as “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, holy, holy are You.” And, the song,” He is exalted the King is exalted on High,” may or should be altered to, “You are exalted the King is exalted on High.”

The Pattern of the Tabernacle.

The LORD God instructed Moses precisely, in minute detail on how to build the earthly tabernacle.  He said,

“According to all that I show you, that is, the pattern of the tabernacle and the pattern of all its furnishings, just so you shall make it.”  Ex. 25.9

Of particular note is the word, pattern.   We read of the true tabernacle in Hebrews 8, that this earthly tabernacle was but a physical model, a blueprint, for the heavenly reality yet to come through Christ. The basic layout of Moses’ tabernacle was as such:

The tabernacle was located at the center of the encampment, with all the tribes of Israel encamped around it.  There was a fence of sort surrounding the tabernacle isolating it from the encampment. This space was called the “Outer Court” which housed to altar of burnt offering where the sacrifices were made, and also the laver of water where the priests would wash before entering the tabernacle proper.  A curtain hung over the doorway into the tabernacle.

The first room of the tabernacle was called the “Holy Place” which contained a table of showbread having 12 loaves, one loaf for each tribe of Israel.  It also contained, according to the pattern showed Moses, the lampstand containing seven lamps that burned olive oil to light the place.  In front of the next veil was a table of incense where prayers were offered.

Through the next veil was the “Most Holy Place.”  This room contained the ark of the Covenant (having within the Ten Commandments, the rod of Aaron’s that budded, and a bowl of manna.)  The mercy seat sat atop the ark where the high priest would apply the blood of atonement.  Cherubim angels with outstretched wings sat on either side of the mercy seat.  God’s presence was to be found above the mercy seat and between the cherubim.

This is an abbreviated description of Moses’ tabernacle serving only as a basis for this message on worship.  Each of the four compartments: the Encampment, the Outer court, Holy Place, and the Most Holy Place, represent increasing higher levels of drawing nearer to God—each rising to a higher spiritual plane, with the Most Holy Place being the highest.  Songs and psalms of a particular nature are sung at the various levels.  For instance, (please consider with some flexibility):

Songs of the Encampment.  Songs designed as a call to one another to go up to the house of God, or a song of testimony as encouragements to other believers.  These are songs like: Come and let us go up to the mountain of the Lord; There’s a light shining bright…;

Songs of the Outer Court.  Songs of testimony acknowledging the sacrifice, the cross, the blood offering, redemption, salvation.  These song are like: I’ve been redeemed by the blood of the Lamb;

Songs and testimonies fill the place.  Petitions are made to open our eyes, to draw us nearer, like the song Draw me nearer; we want to worship You Lord…; Not my will but Thine be done

Songs of the Holy Place.  Once the tabernacle proper is entered, all focus is centered upon God, God the Father, and God the Son by way of the presence and power of God the Holy Spirit. The “I”, me, the individual, has no focus here, as attention is placed wholly upon thanksgiving, praise, and adoration of God.  It begins here, in the Holy Place, that the magnificence of Christ is seen in all His glory.  Praise to Christ, who is the Bread of Life and the Light of the World, is made in song and proclamations.  These songs are like:  Worthy the Lamb that was slain;  Jesus You’re the Lamb of God…; King of kings and Lord of lords..; You are Lord You are Lord…;  Your Name is Wonderful;   Emmanuel, Emmanuel…;  All heaven declares the glory of the risen Lord; All hail the power of Jesus name…;

Songs of the Most Holy Place.  Songs of worship and adoration, before the presence of the One who sits on the throne and the Lamb who sits to His right hand.  These are songs like: We worship you Almighty God; Here in Your presence; Majesty, we worship Your majesty; Holy Lord Most Holy Lord.

I believe you have a good sense of this message of spiritual worship and worshipping in spirit and truth.  You must become sensitive to worship and quickly identify the proper place and modes of worship, and that worship in the highest is found in the expression of thanksgiving and exaltation of God, our Father, and Lord Jesus Christ. To Him be glory and honor forever and ever.  Amen

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