Worship Is A Feast
My people…..have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, and hewed out cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns that can hold no water. (Jeremiah 2:13)
The revolt against hedonism has killed the spirit of worship to many churches and many hearts. The widespread notion that high moral acts must be free from self-interest is a great enemy of true worship. Worship is the highest moral act a human can perform, so the only basis for it that many people can conceive is the notion of morality as the disinterested performance of duty. But when worship is reduced to disinterested duty, it ceases to be worship. For worship is a feast.
Neither God nor my wife is honored when I celebrate the high days of our relationship out of a sense of duty. They are honored when I delight in them. Therefore, to honor God in worship, we must not seek Him disinterestedly for fear of gaining some joy in worship and so ruining the moral value of the act. Instead we must seek Him hedonistically, the way a thirsty deer seeks the stream- precisely for the joy of seeing and knowing Him!
Worship is nothing less than obedience to the command of God: “Delight yourself in the Lord”(Psalm 37:4).
Misguided virtue smothers the spirit of worship. The person who has the vague notion that it is virtue to overcome self-interest, and that it is vice to seek pleasure, will scarcely be able to worship, for worship is the most hedonistic affair of life and must not be ruined with the least thought of disinterestedness. The great hindrance to worship is not that we are pleasure-seeking people, but that we are willing to settle for such pitiful pleasures.
The heavens are “appalled” and “shocked” when people give up soon on their quest for pleasure and settle for “broken cisterns”(Jeremiah 2:13).
Do you ever wonder what the angels and heaven’s host think when they see us gather for the purpose of worshiping God and the we remain stoic? What would you think of lovers who never expressed any emotion in their relationship? Wouldn’t you wonder if there was actually a relationship at all?
It seems that we have lost the art of worship as we have become more and more formal in our ritual. There has been an exaggeration of the idea that when we enter the presence of a holy God, we are to be silent. Yes, the presence of God is a thing that produces awe and often that awe is so powerful that we can’t speak. But that is a rare moment.
I can’t imagine that Adam and Eve in the Garden walked silently in awe of God. I believe they worshipped and their worship was expressive.
Far too many believers wish to keep their “dignity” and so make worship a thing of duty and precise ritual. We find the comparison of “dignity” and “expressive” in the story of David bringing the Ark of Covenant.
“Then David danced before the Lord with all his might; and David was wearing a linen ephod. So David and all the house of Israel brought up the ark of the Lord with shouting and with the sound of the trumpet. Now as the ark of the Lord came into the City of David, Michal, Saul’s daughter, looked through a window and saw King David leaping and whirling before the Lord; and she despised him in her heart. Then David returned to bless his household. And Michal the daughter of Saul came out to meet David, and said, “How glorious was the king of Israel today, uncovering himself today in the eyes of the maids of his servants, as one of the base fellows shamelessly uncovers himself!” So David said to Michal, “ It was before the Lord, who chose me instead of your father and all his house, to appoint me ruler over the people of the Lord , over Israel. Therefore I will play music before the Lord . And I will be even more undignified than this, and will be humble in my own sight. But as for the maidservants of whom you have spoken, by them I will be held in honor.” Therefore Michal the daughter of Saul had no children to the day of her death.”
2 Samuel 6:14-16,20-23
It is through worship that we become intimate with God and intimacy is something in which both parties are to enjoy. David gives the reason for worship. He says that it is “before the Lord”. Our worship is personal- the same way when two lovers share an intimate moment. Worship even in the corporate environment of church gatherings is still individual and personal. Worship, David said is our expression of gratitude that God has chosen us. David said that because God chose him, he would “play music before the Lord” and would “ be even more undignified than this and will be more humble in my own sight.” The Bible says that David was a man after God’s heart. Worshippers are those who seek to capture the heart of God much in the same way a lover seeks to capture the heart of the loved. Michal is the picture of those who hold their dignity and live to be seen as princes and princesses. They are held captive by what those around them perceive of them. They are hostage to presenting a dignified, unemotional, prompt and circumstance person and fear losing their position by becoming expressive in worship. The sad story of Michal’s life is that it was barren. Not just that of being childless but the barrenness of mere existence without joy. The Bible tells us that joy is one of the fruit of the Spirit. Ought not our worship bring joy to us. Should not the very idea of God and His presence fill us with such excitement that we become like little children surrounded with a pile of gifts we are getting ready to open and enjoy?
Two final stories concerning what true worship is:
As soon as He was approaching [Jerusalem], near the descent of the Mount of Olives, the entire multitude of the disciples [all those who were or claimed to be His followers] began praising God [adoring Him enthusiastically and] joyfully with loud voices for all the miracles and works of power that they had seen, shouting, “ Blessed (celebrated, praised) is the King who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory (majesty, splendor) in the highest [heaven]!” Some of the Pharisees from the crowd said to Him, “Teacher, rebuke Your disciples [for shouting these Messianic praises].” Jesus replied, “I tell you, if these [people] keep silent, the stones will cry out [in praise]!”
“And the four living creatures, each one of them having six wings, are full of eyes all over and within [underneath their wings]; and day and night they never stop saying, “ Holy, holy, holy [is the] Lord God, the Almighty [the Omnipotent, the Ruler of all], who was and who is and who is to come [the unchanging, eternal God].” Whenever the living creatures give glory and honor and thanksgiving to Him who sits on the throne, to Him who lives forever and ever, the twenty-four elders fall down before Him who sits on the throne, and they worship Him who lives forever and ever; and they throw down their crowns before the throne, saying, “Worthy are You, our Lord and God, to receive the glory and the honor and the power; for You created all things, and because of Your will they exist, and were created and brought into being.”
And when He had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb (Christ), each one holding a harp and golden bowls full of fragrant incense, which are the prayers of the saints (God’s people). And they sang a new song [of glorious redemption], saying, “Worthy and deserving are You to take the scroll and to break its seals; for You were slain (sacrificed), and with Your blood You purchased people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation. “You have made them to be a kingdom [of royal subjects] and priests to our God; and they will reign on the earth.” Then I looked, and I heard the voice of many angels around the throne and [the voice] of the living creatures and the elders; and they numbered myriads of myriads, and thousands of thousands (innumerable), saying in a loud voice, “Worthy and deserving is the Lamb that was sacrificed to receive power and riches and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing.” blessing and honor and glory and dominion forever and ever.” And the four living creatures kept saying, “Amen.” And the elders fell down and worshiped [Him who lives forever and ever].
After these things I looked, and this is what I saw: a vast multitude which no one could count, [gathered] from every nation and from all the tribes and peoples and languages [of the earth], standing before the throne and before the Lamb (Christ), dressed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands; and in a loud voice they cried out, saying, “Salvation [belongs] to our God who is seated on the throne, and to the Lamb [our salvation is the Trinity’s to give, and to God the Trinity we owe our deliverance].” And all the angels were standing around the throne and around the [twenty-four] elders and the four living creatures; and they fell to their faces before the throne and worshiped God, saying, “Amen! Blessing and glory and majesty and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might belong to our God forever and ever. Amen.”
Then I saw something like a sea or large expanse of glass mixed with fire, and those who were victorious over the beast and over his image and over the number corresponding to his name were standing on the sea or large expanse of glass, holding harps of God [worshiping Him]. And they sang the song of Moses, the bond-servant of God, and the song of the Lamb, saying, “Great and wonderful and awe-inspiring are Your works [in judgment], O Lord God, the Almighty [the Omnipotent, the Ruler of all]; Righteous and true are Your ways, O King of the nations! “Who will not fear [reverently] and glorify Your name, O Lord [giving You honor and praise in worship]? For You alone are holy; For all the nations shall come and worship before You, For Your righteous acts [Your just decrees and judgments] have been revealed and displayed .”
Then I heard something like the shout of a vast multitude, and like the boom of many pounding waves, and like the roar of mighty peals of thunder, saying, “Hallelujah! For the Lord our God, the Almighty, [the Omnipotent, the Ruler of all] reigns. Let us rejoice and shout for joy! Let us give Him glory and honor, for the marriage of the Lamb has come [at last] and His bride (the redeemed) has prepared herself.” She has been permitted to dress in fine linen, dazzling white and clean—for the fine linen signifies the righteous acts of the saints [the ethical conduct, personal integrity, moral courage, and godly character of believers].
We see in the triumphal entry of Jesus, the people expressively worshipping. When the religious leaders became upset and demanded Jesus silence the people, Jesus responds by saying that if they were silent, the rocks would cry out in praise. The idea of silent worship is certainly found here.
The second set of scriptures from Revelation depicts the scenes in heaven. You will notice that in each passage expressive worship is the norm. Listen to the descriptive words: “they never stop saying, ‘Holy, holy, holy’….the twenty four elders fall down before Him….they throw down their crowns. …The four living creatures and the twenty four elders fall down before the Lamb….and they sang a new song…..myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands saying with a loud voice, ‘Worthy and deserving is the Lamb…and the elders fell down and worshipped.
You get the idea. Go back and read again the verses of Revelation. This is the picture of heaven’s response to the Lamb.
Now we know that the angels were not redeemed. We know that when Lucifer rebelled that these angels chose obedience and loyalty to God. They must look in wonder at humanity and the privilege it has to be redeemed from its fallen state. They must stand amazed by the incredible display of the love of God. They must also be shocked when the redeemed take for granted the great salvation offered by God to them. These angels and heaven’s host are constantly and continuously worshipping God and that worship is expressive. They “fall down”, “cast their crowns”, “sing”, “shout with loud voices”, their worship sounds like “the boom of waves and the peal of thunder” and it never ceases. What an amazing picture of worship.
Now I know I’m going against years of tradition; tradition that has been influenced by Victorian Europe thought especially when it comes to religious conduct. Many of the children of God are living a cold, duty/ obligatory life where they go through the rituals and ordinances of church without experiencing much joy and satisfaction. For many it just a habit, something required, something to appease God so they might gain entrance into heaven.
O how my heart aches for those whose relationship with God holds no joy, no delight, no moments of overwhelming gratitude that causes them to “dance in the streets” or to “fall down in worship” or to “shout with a loud voice for joy.” O that our hindrances would be removed and we would get beside ourselves in the sheer joy and excitement of worship. O yes, there will always be those who accuse us of “putting on a show” or bringing attention to ourselves and to some degree they are correct. We are putting on a show, a show of our affection and feeling for the Lamb who took our place and gave Himself for us. We are bringing attention to ourselves, not in what we are but in whose we are. Why wouldn’t the adopted child of the great King wish everyone to know about the love and grace that made him a full-fledged child of the Most High God? Why wouldn’t that child wish to publicly honor and glorify his Heavenly Father by having those around him see how God took nothing and is making it something.
May the spirit of David capture our feet so that we dance with all our might. May the spirit of the twenty four elders grab our hearts so that we fall down and cast our crowns before the Lamb and may the spirit of the rocks seize our voices so we will lift them in praise and adoration unto the King of Kings and Lord of Lords as we worship.
May the joy and enthusiasm of worship so capture our spirits that like the little child who has created a gift for their mom or dad, we wait, almost impatiently for the moment when we can display our pent up worship and our expression of gratefulness and overwhelming love for this God who so loved us that He was unashamed to express it openly and publicly before all of creation.
Let us choose as a New Year resolution that we will worship as we never have before in the year before us.
Dr. John Thompson