Chapter 17: Joy in Worship

O come, let us worship and bow down; let us kneel before the LORD our maker. Psalm 95:6 (KJV)
Opening Prayer: Heavenly Father, You created everything. You have all power and glory. You have perfect self-esteem. What types of worship do You want from me and why? Help me understand Your plan, I pray. Amen.

The ultimate test of sincerity

Today's vocabulary word is "worship." To quote from Webster's Dictionary, the word comes from "Middle English worshipe: worthiness, respect, reverence paid to a divine being, from Old English weorthscipe: worthiness, respect; derived from weorth: worthy, worth + -scipe -ship."

Worship expresses how we value God. But does our worship measure up to the Bible's patterns? Do you and I really worship God with all of our hearts?

The Gate of Worship

Most of the time, we don't feel like worshipping God, because He seems so far away. We can't see Him or hear Him. It feels like God is on the other side of a solid wall.

Fortunately, the Lord has provided a gate to enable us to enter in to His presence and worship Him. This gate is open 24 hours per day, and admission is almost free. There is a tiny price to pay for admission, as we see in Psalm 100 verse 4:

Enter into His gates with thanksgiving, and into His courts with praise. Be thankful to Him, and bless His name.

A thankful heart gets you inside the gate. Lifting your voice in praise will bring you into His courtyard, to meet Him face to face.

God's eyes are not fooled by appearances. You can't fake gratitude. He isn't deceived when you sing a praise song from memory rather than your heart. He knows when your body is in church and your mind is on Venus or Mars.

When your heart is broken before Him, He knows. When your eyes are filled with tears of repentance, and you are conscious of how short you have fallen, He hears you. When you are truly broken-hearted before Him, He will lift you up, as we see in Psalm 34:

17 The righteous cry, and the LORD heareth, and delivereth them out of all their troubles. 18 The LORD is nigh unto them that are of a broken heart; and saveth such as be of a contrite spirit.

Backwards as it sounds, brokenness and praise are essential to worship. If you truly understand this concept, it will change your life forever.

Just remember that the Christian life is a battle zone. The greatest warfare takes place around worship, especially our morning devotional prayer time.

Early Morning Warfare

Every morning, the Holy Spirit calls us to enter into His presence with thanksgiving and praise. And every morning, the powers of darkness encourage our sleepy flesh to resist the Lord's invitation.

Most mornings, it's a real step of faith to push our tired bodies to the prayer closet. It's crucial that we trust God and consciously prepare for the battles that we will face each day. If we leave our houses without our armor, we are vulnerable to ambush. Our families will be at risk.

Backwards as it sounds, this real-looking world around us is not our permanent home. It's a battle zone, and we're called to stand - in His strength and grace - until the Lord returns to bring us home. Paul writes about his in his letter to the Hebrews, chapter 13:

14 For here we have no continuing city, but we seek one to come. 15 By Him, then, let us offer the sacrifice of praise to God continually, that is, the fruit of our lips, confessing His name. (MKJV)

Before we leave the shelter of our homes, we must strengthen our hearts in preparation for the rest of the day - especially if the day includes worship in a public church service or home fellowship group.

"Worship" Services

A broken, grateful heart is essential to personal worship. In public church services, however, displays of emotion can be a problem for two reasons:

The key is that we believers must prepare our hearts early every morning. We must enter into God's holy presence with thanksgiving and praise every morning, long before we enter the church building. We must continue in that attitude of praise all day as part of the whole armor (panoply) of God, as we saw in Ephesians 6 verse 18:

Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, and watching thereunto with all perseverance and supplication for all saints.

Notice the second part of verse 18. We must extend the realm of our prayer to include our brothers and sisters in Christ. This includes a time of dedicated prayer before every church service so we can pray for: r

Our prayers must continue during the church service or home fellowship group. Many of the brothers and sisters around you are hurting, with problems they might not tell you about. Ask the Lord to help you see your neighbors as He sees them, and to love them as He loves them.

When the service is finished, let the Holy Spirit lead you in conversation with your neighbors. Listen for opportunities to encourage or strengthen, and resist the temptation to feel smug or superior. Pride will immediately disqualify you from ministry. You cannot make the love of Jesus real for anyone that you feel superior to.

So far, we have only touched on a few basic principles. Now let's look to Psalm 95 for deeper insights into worship.

Worship Lesson

The first verse of Psalm 95 sounds very peculiar to us Americans:

Oh come, let us sing unto the LORD: let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation.

The singing part sounds reasonable, but what about the shouting? These days, it's not considered polite to shout about anything except a sporting event or a rock concert.

So let's turn the thought around. People shout at football games because they're excited and emotionally involved. Shouldn't Christians be excited and emotionally involved with their relationship to God? Certainly!

Christians should be the most-animated and most-excited people on the planet. Just in the pages of this lesson series we've already discovered plenty to shout about:

Now let's consider the military implications of Psalm 95, verse one. The second part of verse one says: Let us shout joyfully to the Rock of our salvation.

The very word "salvation" implies that we need to be saved from something dangerous. In both the Hebrew and Greek, "salvation" includes deliverance from all types of evil: physical, spiritual and emotional. Jehovah God is our Rock - our immovable fortress, our place of refuge above the flood waters and out of our enemy's reach.

We cannot take God's protection for granted. We must maintain our sense of gratitude, as we see in Psalm 95 verse 2:

Let us come before His presence with thanksgiving, and make a joyful noise unto Him with psalms.

If we really understand what God has provided for us, we will be thankful and joyful. His love for us is amazing, in view of verses 3-5:

3 For Jehovah is a great God, and a great King above all gods. 4 In His hand are the deep places of the earth; the strength of the hills is also His. 5 The sea is His, and He made it, and His hands formed the dry land. (MKJV)

We must never become casual in our prayers to God. He has all power and authority in His hands. No man or beast can draw breath without His permission. Even our problems are part of His plan, as He restrains the powers of darkness from completely destroying us.

Verse 6 tells us the appropriate response to encountering Jehovah God:

O come, let us worship and bow down: let us kneel before the LORD our maker.

It isn't easy for Americans to physically bow to anybody. But verse 6 above uses three Hebrew action verbs to reinforce the concept:

Equals do not bow like this to each other. God is not just an evolved human being. Humans are not gods in training. He is God, and we are not. We must swallow our pride and worship Him.

Pride has no place in worship. We created nothing. We deserve nothing. We have no rights. We have nothing of value to God except our love and trust. God will not bow Himself to you.

The last five verses of Psalm 95 help to put His power and authority in context:

7 For He is our God; and we are the people of His pasture, and the sheep of His hand. To day if ye will hear His voice, 8 Harden not your heart, as in the provocation, and as in the day of temptation in the wilderness: 9 When your fathers tempted Me, proved Me, and saw My work. 10 For forty years I was grieved with this generation, and said, It is a people who go astray in their hearts, and they have not known My ways; 11 to whom I swore in My wrath that they should not enter into My rest. (MKJV)

As verse 7 points out, God leads us like a patient shepherd. But we must love and obey our Shepherd. Some of the Israelites exhausted God's patience and never entered the Promised Land. We must learn from their mistakes.

Heart worship is the necessary first step. When our hearts are right, they will overflow with thankfulness. We sense a need to worship God with more than just our words. Someday we must learn to open our wallets as well as our mouths.

Worship in Giving

Giving to God really sounds backwards to me. After all, He created everything and has the power to create more of anything. It seems even crazier to give to God through churches. Many of them appear big and prosperous already, without any help from us.

So why does God devote so many pages in the Bible to the offerings He wants us to give Him?

The difficult truth is that you and I need to give regularly, in order to be healthy. Stranger yet, we get healthier and more prosperous when we learn to give generously, according to the patterns in the Bible.

The Checkbook Offering

For some reason, many American Christians feel intimidated by the thought of giving a tithe, a tenth of one's income, to the Church. It seems like a huge sacrifice to some of us -- more difficult, even, than bowing down before God.

Actually, the tithe is not prominently discussed in the Old Testament, mentioned fewer than a dozen times in the Law. Furthermore, the tithe was just the starting point. Israelites were expected to give a tithe as a minimum, and then give a variety of other offerings.

The book of Leviticus is primarily about offerings, but tithes aren't mentioned until the last paragraph of the last chapter. Leviticus 27 tells us:

30 "All the tithe of the land, whether of the seed of the land or of the fruit of the trees, is the LORD's; it is holy to the LORD. 31 "If a man wishes to redeem any of his tithe, he shall add a fifth to it. 32 "And all the tithe of herds and flocks, every tenth animal of all that pass under the herdsman's staff, shall be holy to the LORD. 33 "A man shall not inquire whether it is good or bad, neither shall he exchange it; and if he exchanges it, then both it and that for which it is exchanged shall be holy; it shall not be redeemed." (RSV)

In one respect, the tithe was the foundation for giving. Giving the tithe was a constant reminder that all we have comes from Him, and that we trust Him to meet our needs. But God didn't spend much time describing tithes.

By comparison, God spent more time telling Moses about all the other types of offerings He wanted. The peculiar aspect of the Old Testament offerings is that each presents a different picture of Jesus, depicting His sacrificial death on the cross and other aspects of His relationship with His Father. In addition, each has a specific relevance to our walk with the Lord.

For your homework, spend a couple of evenings reading through and taking notes on the book of Leviticus. Write down each type of offering, its purpose, and its relevance to your walk with the Lord.

Pay particular attention to the burnt offerings, sometimes called the sweet savor offerings. Unlike other offerings, these were entirely consumed on the altar. No part was held back by the priests as their portion or returned to the giver like a fellowship offering. The entire thing was consumed before the Lord.

These burnt offerings are God's favorites. A modern equivalent might be putting cash in the offering plate and not asking for a receipt for your tax-deductible donation. Another might be a truly anonymous gift to a needy family in your community.

The burnt offering is the exact opposite of a designated offering, where a wealthy donor contributes a large sum toward construction of a new building or establishing scholarships in his or her name. Just remember what Jesus said about giving in Matthew 6:

1 When you do good deeds, don't try to show off. If you do, you won't get a reward from your Father in Heaven. 2 When you give to the poor, don't blow a loud horn. That's what show-offs do in the meeting places and on the street corners, because they are always looking for praise. I can assure you that they already have their reward. 3 When you give to the poor, don't let anyone know about it. 4 Then your gift will be given in secret. Your Father knows what is done in secret, and He will reward you. (CEV)

We will talk more about rewards in the next chapter, "Bema Rewards."

Healthy vs. Dangerous Worship

We must never allow worship to become a comfortable tradition. Each day, we must seek God afresh, like the Israelites harvesting manna each morning. Yesterday's thanksgiving won't help us find the gate today. We must encounter our Lord as our first priority every morning, and maintain the attitude of worship throughout the day.

The most dangerous form of worship is that which doesn't require any effort or faith on your part. If you've come to enjoy church services because of the singing and the chance to chat with your friends, be careful. Remember the words of Hebrews 11 verse 6:

But without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him. (MKJV)

Another dangerous practice is giving God less than your best. Hear the words of the prophet Malachi, chapter 1:

6 A son honors his father, and a servant his master. If then I am a father, where is My honor? And if I am a master, where is My fear? says Jehovah of Hosts to you, O priests who despise My name. And you say, In what way have we despised Your name? 7 You offer defiled bread upon My altar; and you say, In what way have we defiled You? In your saying, The table of Jehovah, it is a thing to be despised. 8 And if you offer the blind for sacrifice, is it not evil? And if you offer the lame and the sick, is it not evil? Bring it now to your governor. Will he accept you, or lift up your face, says Jehovah of Hosts? (MKJV)

These days, we don't bring any type of sheep to church, lame or otherwise. But we might donate a worn-out sofa or refrigerator to the church. Such a donation might be helpful to a needy family if your church has this type of ministry. But don't confuse this donation with an offering to the Lord. God deserves your best, not your trash.

Malachi had more to say about offerings in chapter 3:

8 Will a man rob God? Yet you have robbed Me. But you say, In what have we robbed You? In the tithe and the offering! 9 You are cursed with a curse; for you are robbing Me, the nation, all of it. 10 Bring all the tithe into the storehouse, so that there may be food in My house. And test Me now with this, says Jehovah of Hosts, to see if I will not open the windows of Heaven for you, and pour out a blessing for you, until there is not enough room. 11 And I will rebuke your devourer, and he shall not decay the fruit of your ground against you; nor shall your vine miscarry against you in the field, says Jehovah of Hosts. (MKJV)

God doesn't say "test Me" very often, so pay attention. God is not interested in what percentage of your income you give Him. God is interested in your heart attitude.

Do you trust God to provide all your needs? Do you trust God to protect your assets and your family through difficult times? If you love and trust God, your giving will reflect it. And He will multiply your joy and blessings beyond measure.

Worship in Giving Your Time

In Leviticus 23 God describes different feast days that are connected to different types of offerings. The first comes as a surprise to us:

1 And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying, 2 "Speak unto the children of Israel, and say unto them concerning the feasts of the LORD, which ye shall proclaim to be holy convocations, even these are My feasts. 3 "Six days shall work be done: but the seventh day is the Sabbath of rest, an holy convocation; ye shall do no work therein: it is the Sabbath of the LORD in all your dwellings."

We don't normally expect to see the Sabbath day included in a list of religious holidays, but it leads the parade. Actually the Sabbath day is a profound offering - setting aside one day per week as holy to the Lord. In addition to money, we should give our time and attention to the Lord.

Those of you who own farms or small retail businesses understand the issue. It's hard to take a Sabbath rest from the demands of the business. It takes real faith to dedicate one day per week to serving the Lord when there is always urgent work to do.

On the other hand, some of you city dwellers don't see the problem. You ask, "What's the big deal about taking a one-day break from the job? I get two days off every weekend!" True, most of us work five days (or less) per week. But do we really dedicate one of our two weekend days completely to serving the Lord?

Jesus gives us an interesting perspective in the gospel of Mark, chapter 2, verse 27:

And He said unto them, "The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath."

God did not ordain the Sabbath so we could act religious once per week. God ordained the Sabbath because we need the rest. Our minds and hearts and bodies can't run continuously like the planets in their orbits. We need periodic rest, because God designed us that way. We need to spend at least one day per week focused on Him and the Holy Scriptures.

Psalm 23 verse 3 gives us another insight into proper use of the Sabbath:

He restoreth my soul. He leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for His name's sake.

Like a carpenter restoring a worn cabinet or a mechanic restoring an older car, God can touch and mend a wounded soul. If we give the Sabbath day to God as a day to rest and abide in Him, we give Him permission to restore our battered hearts. As we meditate on God's Scripture and abide in Him, we can follow Jesus in the way of righteousness.

The Sabbath day of rest helps restore our souls. It encourages us to follow Jesus down the narrow path, following the clear tracks He and the disciples left for us in the Scriptures. Abiding in Jesus enables us to leave clear tracks for our family and friends to follow.

Whether you dedicate Saturday, Sunday or Wednesday to the Lord, resolve to make at least one day per week a holy offering of time to the Lord.

The Sabbath Year

God knows human nature pretty well. He knows we can get comfortable taking one day of rest per week. So He determined a different type of Sabbath to be a true test of character. In Leviticus 25 we read:

1 And the Lord spoke to Moses on Mount Sinai, saying, 2 “Speak to the children of Israel, and say to them: ‘When you come into the land which I give you, then the land shall keep a sabbath to the Lord. 3 Six years you shall sow your field, and six years you shall prune your vineyard, and gather its fruit; 4 but in the seventh year there shall be a sabbath of solemn rest for the land, a sabbath to the Lord. You shall neither sow your field nor prune your vineyard. 5 What grows of its own accord of your harvest you shall not reap, nor gather the grapes of your untended vine, for it is a year of rest for the land. 6 And the sabbath produce of the land shall be food for you: for you, your male and female servants, your hired man, and the stranger who dwells with you, 7 for your livestock and the beasts that are in your land—all its produce shall be for food. (NKJV)

God was making a specific promise to Israelites entering the Promised Land. In essence, He promised that if the Israelites would give the land a rest every seventh year, He would ensure a sufficient harvest in the sixth year to carry them through.

How long has it been since you voluntarily took a year off work to rest and worship the Lord? Except for some in the academic community, almost nobody takes a sabbatical year off work anymore. We should. It would do us good. I'm praying for the Lord's guidance in how my wife and I can do this.

In the very next chapter, Leviticus 26, God warned the Israelites what would happen if they did not obey God's Law, including His Sabbath rests:

27 And if ye will not for all this hearken unto Me, but walk contrary unto Me; 28 Then I will walk contrary unto you also in fury; and I, even I, will chastise you seven times for your sins… 33 And I will scatter you among the heathen, and will draw out a sword after you: and your land shall be desolate, and your cities waste. 34 Then shall the land enjoy her sabbaths, as long as it lieth desolate, and ye be in your enemies' land; even then shall the land rest, and enjoy her sabbaths. 35 As long as it lieth desolate it shall rest; because it did not rest in your sabbaths, when ye dwelt upon it.

Unfortunately, the Israelites did not have enough faith to claim this promise. Therefore God allowed them to be carried captive so the land could enjoy sabbaths in their absence, as we see in 2 Chronicles chapter 36:

11 Zedekiah was twenty-one years old when he began to reign, and he reigned eleven years in Jerusalem. 12 And he did the evil in the sight of Jehovah his God. He was not humbled before Jeremiah the prophet, from the mouth of Jehovah. 13 And he also rebelled against King Nebuchadnezzar, who had made him swear by God. But he stiffened his neck and hardened his heart from turning to Jehovah, the God of Israel. 14 Also all the chief of the priests, and the people, transgressed very much after all the abominations of the nations. And they polluted the house of Jehovah which He had made holy in Jerusalem. 15 And Jehovah, the God of their fathers sent to them by His messengers, rising up early and sending, for He had pity on His people and on His dwelling-place. 16 But they mocked the messengers of God and despised His words, and ill-treated His prophets until the wrath of Jehovah arose against His people, until there was no healing. 17 And He caused the king of the Chaldeans to go up against them. And he killed their choice ones by the sword in the house of their holy place, and had no pity on the young man and the virgin, the old man and the very aged; He gave all into his hand. 18 And all the vessels of the house of God, great and small, and the treasures of the house of Jehovah, and the treasures of the king, and of his rulers, he brought all these to Babylon. 19 And they burned the house of God, and broke down the wall of Jerusalem, and burned all the palaces of it with fire, and destroyed all its beautiful vessels. 20 And the ones who had escaped from the sword he carried away to Babylon, where they were servants to him and his sons until the reign of the kingdom of Persia, 21 to fulfill the Word of Jehovah in the mouth of Jeremiah, until the land had enjoyed its sabbaths. All the days of the desolation it kept the sabbath, to the full measure of seventy years. (MKJV)

What amazes me is that God continued to love the people of Israel, despite their disobedience. Even after they were carried away to exile, He continued to send His word to them through His prophets. Of particular interest to us in the 21st century is the message recorded in Jeremiah 29:

4 So says the Lord of Hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I caused to be exiled from Jerusalem to Babylon: 5 Build houses and live in them; and plant gardens and eat their fruit. 6 Take wives and father sons and daughters. And take wives for your sons, and give your daughters to husbands, so that they may bear sons and daughters, that you may be multiplied there and not become few. 7 And seek the peace of the city where I have caused you to be exiled, and pray to Jehovah for it. For in its peace you shall have peace. 8 For so says Jehovah of Hosts, the God of Israel: Do not let your prophets and your fortune-tellers in your midst deceive you, nor listen to your dreams which you dream. 9 For they prophesy falsely to you in My name; I have not sent them, says Jehovah. 10 For so says Jehovah, When according to My Word seventy years have been fulfilled for Babylon, I will visit you and confirm My good Word to you, to bring you back to this place. 11 For I know the purposes which I am purposing for you, says Jehovah; purposes of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope. 12 Then you shall call on Me, and you shall go and pray to Me, and I will listen to you. 13 And you shall seek Me and find Me, when you search for Me with all your heart. (MKJV)

We must pay special heed to this message, because our nation has become as evil as pre-exile Judah. Because of our sins, God has allowed the present-day Babylonians (fanatical Muslim terrorists) to attack the United States and Israel, to cause us to turn back to Him.

Without a widespread repentance and revival, the United States is at risk of being destroyed in the holocaust described in Ezekiel Chapters 38 and 39. If you are not familiar with this upcoming battle, click that link to read about the next World War.

Despite our sins, God calls us to turn to Him, as we see in verses 12 and 13 above: "Then you shall call on Me, and you shall go and pray to Me, and I will listen to you. And you shall seek Me and find Me, when you search for Me with all your heart."

Closing Prayer: Lord, my worship often comes short of Your standards, and my love for you has not been consistent. I repent of my lukewarm personal devotions and my selfish prayers. Please open my eyes to see Your plan, and open my ears to hear Your Holy Spirit's gentle leading, I pray in Jesus' name. Amen.
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