THE IMPORTANCE OF PERSONAL WORSHIP
[Begin with an exercise. In groups, list down your current favourite pop song and write down the chorus of the song. Read out the lyrics.]
What is the consistent theme of songs. Love. Sure, nowadays, we mistake sex for love, but at the end of the day, we sing about love. More precisely, we sing to or for the one whom we love. It’s the most natural thing in the world. We don’t have to teach it. Whether we are tone deaf, we sing off-key, off-pitch… doesn’t matter. We sing out of love.
So let me ask you a very simple question, “Do you believe that God loves you?” It’s not a trick question. I’m not asking, “Do you believe that God loves us?” but “Do you believe God loves you, individually, personally?” Deep down inside, “Do you believe that God loves you?” Recently, a seminary professor asked 120 of her students this very same question. Out of these 120 students preparing for ministry, how many do you think said, “Yes”? Two.
Many of them said something like, “I know I’m supposed to say yes… but I don’t really feel it” or “I’m not sure I can really say I believe it”. Do we identify with them? If you were honest with yourself, I think you can say, along with me, we don’t really, truly, deeply know that God loves us. We may say it. We may cognitively acknowledge it as a fact. But we may not be experiencing God’s love as THE most fundamental reality in our lives.
This morning, if there is ONE thing I desire to achieve by the grace of God, is that we may experience, in some way, the awesome love of God. Not our love for God. But His love for us. So that we may respond to Him in love and thereby worship Him. 1 John 4:19 “We love, because He first loved us.”
1. The worshipper is filled with God’s love
The defining characteristic of the Christian is a heart of love. A heart that knows God loves him/her. And a heart of love for God, that expresses itself in love for people. It is not therefore, how much bible knowledge we have (although that’s a good thing). It is not how much we give to the Lord (although that’s a good thing). It is not even how much we sacrifice for God and serving God, going on mission trips, entering full-time ministry (although these are good things). At the end of the day, the heart of a worshipper is a heart filled with God’s love.
Living in today’s society, particularly in Singapore (with its education system) presents particular challenges in cultivating the heart of a worshipper. I’m going to talk about 3.
i. Cognitive vs. Experiential knowledge (“I know God loves me” vs. “I know God loves me”)
The Singaporean education system is by and large a good system. It has enabled us to move from 3rd world to 1st in a relatively short time. But it’s not without its flaws. One of which is the eminence of paper qualifications. You have the certificate and people think you’re the expert. That’s not necessarily true, and in the spiritual realm, it works the same way.
We may have gone through baptism courses. We may have attended CE classes. We may have even gone through Serve Program, seminary etc. And we think we’re the experts. We pat ourselves on the shoulders. We think we know God. We think we love God. But we may not have experienced first-hand God’s love for us. (“I know God loves me” vs. “I know God loves me”).
John Wesley is one of the giants of the Christian faith, one of the founding fathers of Methodism (the Methodist Church). He was a pastor and had preached on two continents – England and Georgia. But something happened to him on Aldersgate Street in London on 24 May 1738. As he sat listening to the reading of the preface to Martin Luther’s work on the epistle of Romans, John Wesley described what happened in his heart…
“About a quarter before nine, while he was describing the change which God works in the heart through faith in Christ, I felt my heart strangely warmed. I felt I did trust in Christ alone for salvation, and an assurance was given to me that he had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death.”
Amazingly, Wesley had been preaching in church for years, but now he tasted the love of God. He had a new sense of its sweetness. His life and ministry were transformed. We have to move from cognitive knowing to experiential knowing. We must experience for ourselves, the love of God.
ii. Emotionalism vs. Emotions
One extreme we talked about in being a worshipper of God is that we only know God cognitively. The other extreme is emotionalism. The idea is that our faith swings with our emotions. We attend a Hillsong conference, for example. And we get pumped up. We have an emotional high. But then after the conference, we go back to ‘normal, daily life’ and we just go through the motions, waiting for the next spiritual high. It’s not supposed to be like this. Now notice what I’m not saying.
I’m not saying attending camps, conferences, seminars, retreats etc are bad. We need these. These can be markers in our spiritual walk. Setting special time apart to encounter God. But experiencing God’s love is NOT confined to these events. We can experience God’s love in the course of daily life. Eating our meals. Studying. Waiting for the bus/train. Exercising. Sleeping. Our emotions do not determine the state of our spiritual walk.
Having said that, I’m also not saying that emotions are bad. In fact, emotions are essential in any love relationship, let alone our relationship with God. Jonathan Edwards is one of the finest theologians America has produced. His preaching and ministry was instrumental in the first “Great Awakening” in America, a period of great religious revival in the 1700s. He wrote about the relationship between emotions and our walk with God in this way, “True religion, in great part, consists in holy affections”.
I want you to imagine it’s Valentine’s Day and I’m presenting my wife with a bouquet of roses. I tell her, “Happy Valentine’s honey. I didn’t really feel like getting you these flowers but what to do, it’s my duty. Even though I don’t get any joy in this, but can’t be helped lar. I’m your husband.” What should I expect from my wife? *Slap on the face* But why? Didn’t I do my duty? Didn’t I sacrifice a lot (roses cost crazy money for Valentine’s right)?
But this was mere duty. The heart wasn’t in it. This act did not honour my wife. And the same goes with God. Mere duty does not honour Him. The act without the heart doesn’t mean much to God. True love for God consists in holy affections.
We who grew up in Singapore know this very well. We are told from young, “You must study hard. If not, you cannot get a good job. And when you get a good job, you must work hard. If not, you cannot get promoted. Cannot earn a decent living. Cannot afford a house. Cannot afford to get married etc.” All through our schooling years into our adulthood, the measure of our worth depends on how hard we work. And unconsciously or subconsciously, we transfer that attitude to our relationship with God.
We think, “God will love us if (fill in the blank). If we serve more. If we live a more holy life. If we tithe more. God will love us if…” This causes us to feel guilty or depressed because we feel like we never do enough. Or we’re never good enough. And so we give up. God can’t possibly love me.
Or we may think another way, “God will love us because (fill in the blank). Because I already serve. Because I already give. Because.” This causes us to be arrogant because we feel we deserve God’s love. We deserve God’s blessings. After all, we know more, give more, serve more than others. And when we think God doesn’t come through for us, we turn our backs against the faith. And again, we give up. God doesn’t love me.
But the truth of Christianity is this; God loves us in spite of… Romans 5:8 “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” This is the gospel. Good news. We need to return to this God who loves us in spite of… who we are or what we do. This is the foundation of our faith. This is the only thing that can sustain our faith. The Never-Stopping, Never-Giving-Up, Un-breaking, Always and Forever Love of God in Christ Jesus. Question then is, how do we grow in experiencing the love of God?
2. The worshipper prays
Two passages of Scripture:
2 Thessalonians 3:5 “May the Lord direct your hearts into the love of God…”
This is a prayer by the Apostle Paul for believers, Christians… that God would direct our hearts into His love. Short prayer. I want to read a longer one.
Ephesians 3:14-21 “For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, 15 from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name, 16 that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with power through His Spirit in the inner man, 17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; and that you, being rooted and grounded in love, 18 may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, 19 and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled up to all the fullness of God.
Eph. 3:20 Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us, 21 to Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations forever and ever. Amen.”
This passage contains elements of worship as it pertains to personal worship as well as corporate worship. For now, I want to focus on what is needed for us to grow as worshippers personally… mainly, that we would know the love of Christ.
A couple of points:
- We need to pray for ourselves. What the Apostle Paul prayed for believers, we can pray for ourselves. (v. 14)
- We need to be strengthened by the power of the Holy Spirit (v.16) Why?
- We need Christ to dwell in our hearts through faith (v. 17) Question. Doesn’t Christ already dwell in our hearts? Yes. But there’s the idea of Christ not merely taking up residency, but Christ coming in to do a full home make-over!
- We need to know ‘the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge’ (v. 18, 19) Sounds like a contradiction! Can we know the love of Christ or not? The idea is that we can’t know the love of Christ fully, but we can know in increasing measure. The love of Christ is inexhaustible. His wonders never cease. It is a love that encompasses all humanity in its breath. It spans for all eternity in its length. It brings us to heaven in its height, yet reaches to the lowest of sinners in its depth. This is, my brothers and sisters, the love of Christ. This is His love for you and I. And we will spend all eternity exploring the riches and fullness of His love.
How then do we grow in God’s love? Before I talk about what we can do, I want to talk about the attitude we should have.
i. Be dissatisfied with your present spiritual state
Cultivate a holy discontent, where we pray, “More of You Lord, more of You.” We cannot have a ‘been-there, done-that’ form of Christianity. I know a lot. I have a lot of experiences. I have attained a certain spiritual standing. There’s no such thing. That’s why Jesus says unless we become like little children, we can never enter the kingdom of God. It’s because children don’t think they know it all. They’re always fascinated and therefore open to learn new things.
ii. Gaze into the love of God in Jesus Christ
Do you ever notice dating couples? Do you ever notice how they look at one another? Lovey-dovey eyes. Lingering looks. Strangers don’t take time to notice one another. People who don’t like each other will take pains to avoid looking at one another. People who like each other will look lots at one another. People in love will gaze at each other.
Psalm 27:4 “One thing I have asked from the LORD, that I shall seek: That I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, To behold the beauty of the LORD And to meditate in His temple.”
So that’s what we’re going to do right now. Let’s not just talk about it, let’s actually do it. To gaze into the love of God in Jesus Christ, and we do this in prayer (5-10 minutes). Let me give you some directions (some of you may not know what to do).
- Prayer is not merely talking to God. It’s also taking time to allow God to speak. Take time to hear from God. Don’t be afraid of silence. Just ask God to show you His love, to touch your heart, to minister to you.
- Think upon and meditate upon the Cross. Because the Cross is the most visible expression of God’s love for you, take time to ponder God’s love demonstrated on the Cross.
- Take time to think about God’s goodness and blessing in your life. We don’t do this often enough. We tend to forget how God has already been good to us.
(Listen to ‘Third Day’s’ song)
3. The worshipper is saturated with the Bible
Colossians 3:16 “Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God.”
God’s Word is central in our faith. God’s Word keeps us from error and deception. God’s Word is spiritual food to our souls. Imagine you are in an office pantry one day during lunch break and a colleague comes in and he opens his lunch box. “Aw man. That’s all I have for lunch? A plain slice of bread?” Since he had nothing else to eat, he proceeds to eat it.
The next day. Same thing happens. He opens his lunch box. “Not again. Only a plain slice of bread?” But he’s hungry, so he eats it. The third day comes and as you watch him go through this same ritual of complaining, you decide enough is enough. You speak up and say, “Well, why don’t you ask your wife to pack you something more substantial to eat?”
He replies, “I’m not married. I pack my own lunch.” Friends, we pack our own lunch. God’s Word is a feast for our spiritual bodies. But so often, we go on crumbs. Our spiritual health is dependent on how we feed ourselves. Don’t just go through the motions and just read a verse here and there. Take time to slow down. Read God’s Word. Meditate upon God’s Word. Pray through God’s Word.
We need to make prayer and Bible reading a major part of our daily routine. Spiritual health is not birthed out of busyness for God but by creating space in the soul to hear from God and talk to God. Health comes from eating a healthy meal in the physical realm and ALSO in the spiritual realm. “Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you…”
I want you to turn to the person next to you on the left and right and say to him or her, “Stop doing your quiet time.” What? Heresy! I’m serious. And I assure you I’m not crazy. Stop doing your quiet time. Stop doing it as a ritual. Stop seeing it as something you need to mark off your check list. Rather, make a date with God. Spend time in His presence. Listen to what He has to say. Pour out your heart to Him. Stop doing your quiet time. Rather encounter God.
When you discover the God of Scriptures (His greatness, His power, His majesty), when you remember His mercy and grace to you (what He has done for you in sending Jesus on the Cross for your sin), when God becomes our soul’s delight and joy, our natural response is to sing. Worship. Praise.
4. The worshipper sings to God
Colossians 3:16 “Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God.”
And the reason why we don’t sing is because God’s not precious to us; we haven’t tasted the goodness of God, we haven’t experienced the love of God. The way to become a worshipper of God is by experiencing His love. We sing best when the gospel is dwelling richly within us. God is not looking at the quality of the tone of our voice or the perfection of our pitch. He is looking at our heart. Tone and pitch do matter (that’s why we practise as a worship team member), but when you stand with the congregation and sing to the Lord, it is your heart that is far more significant. You can be utterly tone deaf and sing beautiful music in the ear of God when the gospel is dwelling richly within and when you are singing to praise Jesus.
Therefore, we sing. We sing of His greatness and goodness. We sing about who we are in Christ. We sing about what God has done for us. We sing to remind ourselves of His great promises. We sing.
Young people, we have to get this right. It is no point serving in the worship team if we are not even walking with God. That’s placing the cart before the horse. The order must be right. Our priorities must be right. Don’t focus first on becoming a better worship leader, vocalist, guitarist, drummer, pianist, sound crew, etc. Focus first on developing intimacy with Jesus. The rest will follow.
5. The worshipper is single-hearted
Single-hearted (my own invention). Oxide Pang. Liddy Li. Angelica Lee. I don’t really know who these people are except that I recently just happened to glance at an online news report of an affair. Oxide is married to Angelica, but was caught on camera on a date with Liddy (holding hands, kissing). When it comes to our relationship with God, He tolerates no affairs either.
When we read the Ten Commandments, we realise that God takes single-heartedness very seriously. Exodus 20:1-6 Then God spoke all these words, saying, Ex. 20:2 “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. Ex. 20:3 “You shall have no other gods before Me. Ex. 20:4 “You shall not make for yourself an idol, or any likeness of what is in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the water under the earth. 5 “You shall not worship them or serve them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children, on the third and the fourth generations of those who hate Me, 6 but showing lovingkindness to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments.
I am your God. You shall have no other gods. You shall not make an idol. You shall not worship them. I am your God, a jealous God. Now, being jealous doesn’t sound very loving, right? But true love demands jealousy. For example, if you were in the shoes of Angelica Lee and your husband was having an affair, of course you’d feel jealous. Why? Because your husband belongs to you alone.
We belong to God alone. And any other thing or person we set up as an idol causes God to be jealous, precisely because He loves us so. He knows nothing and no one can satisfy our souls apart from Him. How do you tell if you have an idol in your heart? Ask yourself the following questions:
- What brings me the greatest joy?
- What causes me the deepest sadness?
- What excites me?
- What do I spend my time and money on?
If we have idols in our lives, we have to deal with them. We have to surrender them and by God’s grace eliminate them from our lives. That sounds rather severe. Again, back to the affair… Angelica got to know about her husband’s adultery. What do you think her response would be if Oxide came to her and said, “Honey, I love you. But I also love her. Can’t we all just get along?” Tight slap across the face. The only acceptable response would be, “I’m sorry. I did wrong. I will no longer do it.”
In the same way, in order for our relationship with God to flourish, we need to deal with the idols of our heart. Now, does that mean we cannot love other people? Of course not right? The 1st Commandment & 2nd Commandment. The way we love people is that we love them with the love of God.
[Share if led: Deal with money, sex, power. You may say, I don’t have any of that. And that’s a problem. No, it’s not a problem if you don’t have any of those things. It’s a problem when you don’t have any of these things, but you desire them more than you desire God. If you find yourself coveting what your friends have (possessions)… ‘I would be happy if I had…’ then you’re placing those things above God. As if God isn’t enough for you. If you are single and you find yourself desiring a b/f or g/f and you think to yourself, ‘I wish I was attached, then I’ll be happy’ then you’re placing people above God. As if God’s love isn’t enough for you. If you find yourself wanting positions of leadership and when you are not chosen, you want to stop serving, or for those who are already in leadership positions, you operate more like a boss rather than a servant-leader that Jesus modelled, then power is your idol. What idols do you have to deal with today?]
As I close, I want to sum up God’s call for us today. He wants us to experience His love. In deeper ways each day. So that we might truly become worshippers of God. One last point. The essence of worshipping God is to glorify Him: that is, we are living for His glory. There are only two ways to live: to glorify God or to glorify self. What is the aim of your life? What is the passion of your life? What is the pursuit of your life? That when people look at your life, they will praise you? Or that when people look at your life, they will praise God? Which one is it? Because God does not share His glory. Today, young people, choose whom you shall live for. Live for God. Live for His glory.