Rebuilding Our Faith Series #17
EXPERIENCING TRUE WORSHIP
Did you ever notice that our worship service begins with a confessional prayer? I have lately wondered whether this is the most proper way to start. It is right in one sense for we are sinners. We do not come quickly before God but humbly. How much of our worship is acceptable if we sit down having unforgiven sin in our lives? But as I look at different passages whether in the Psalms or in passages such as these in Nehemiah, I realize that there might be a more appropriate way to start such as with a time of praise and worship. The reasoning behind this is that maybe we are not humbled. Maybe we are rushing into church late. Maybe coming late is just a portrayal of our lives where we rush into Gods presence. And if we rush into Gods presence without a prepared heart, we falsely worship. Confession might not then be genuine confession. Preparation for Sunday worship rightly begins on Saturday night. It continues as we get up early meeting God on by ourselves. When we come together, we are continuing what we already began at home. You don't do this? I try, but you know how hard it is. Perhaps we cannot even see our sins let alone confess them.
Maybe instead we need to start with a time of praise and exaltation. After a simple welcome we just begin to honor God by stating how great He is and what He has done in our past. After our souls have awakened to the glory and presence of God, then we might be more ready to confess our waywardness. We then can see our dark sins much more easily in contrast to His holy light. I am still praying and searching what is on the Lords heart for this worship service.
As we look at chapter 9, we will be able to observe a genuine time of worship. There they confessed and worshiped Jehovah as their God. It stands as a past event encouraging us to join in genuine worship and putting aside many of the problems that have encumbered us in the past. Things were not perfect for these Israelites, but God was willing to meet them on their own turf in the city of Jerusalem where they rebuilt the walls.
In order to restore pure worship we need to take three steps.
Firstly we need to honestly look at our present worship for what it is.
What is our present worship like? Do we dare ask if God is pleased? I suppose this is not the question most people ask. They ask if they themselves are pleased. I am not saying that a worship time pleasing God is not pleasing to us, but that when we focus on our worship time as primarily something for us rather than Him, we have made a major blunder. But how do we go about evaluating our worship times? Do we go back with what pleases us or what pleases God? We must go back to what pleases God but this can prove very difficult since we are not God and that we have a blind spot of arrogance in many things that we do. Before we go on, let us first go back to these Israelites in Jerusalem and try to learn from their own worship time.
Remember three out of seven God-ordained Israelite feasts occurred in the seventh month. The Feast of Trumpets is on day 1 of the seventh month. This coincided with what happened in verse 1. God gathered them together for what they later discovered to be the Feast of Trumpets. Day 10 started the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur). Later in chapter 8 we see them being convicted about their neglect of holding the Feast of Tabernacles or the Feast of Booths on the 15-21 of the seventh month. Right after Yom Kippur, they had a few days to finish gathering in of the harvest. After this they would celebrate the Feast of Tabernacles. I would like to make some frank comments about their worship and the significance about these things.
#1 Special meeting
I honestly do not know why they held this special meeting referred to on the 24th rather than the 21rst as the scripture dictated.
Maybe they did have that final rest on the 21rst. This was an additional assembly.
We read where they could have made many excuses for not having the Feast that year. The enemy, no preparations, haven't finished building their houses, etc., but instead we find that the feast kept going on and on. I am waiting expectantly for those days where we finally are able to really sense Gods glory in such a way that time and pressures of our earthly schedules are not felt.
#2 Baggy clothes
They wore things that they were not used to. This was not easy to do. I don't know where the habit of getting dressed nice on Sundays came about, but we should notice that sometimes our disheveled clothing is much more appropriate. Maybe that is why we don't dress up - except we don't realize it! Our clothes should symbolize, and I believe, do portray our hearts. They fasted. They went without food. Then they wore sackcloth. I don't know if you have ever seen a burlap bag that things used to be stored in, but this is probably exactly what it was like. Scratchy and very unappealing. Maybe this is the origin of baggy clothes. They are made from bags or sacks. It got even worse. They didn't take showers. They actually put dirt on themselves. I must say this goes much against the way we do things today. Yes it was a special time. But God was so real that they put their preferences and conveniences aside and got serious with the Lord. I know you might say it was just outward. But the next verse shows it was more than this.
#3 Painful separation
Verse 2 states that the real descendants of Israel separated themselves from the other nationalities that they had mingled with. By mingled they mean at least married to and possibly include those they had made friends with and business associates. Remember Israel was the new name for Jacob from whom all the 12 tribes descended making up all the Israelites. They didn't make excuses for their sins such as I really love this girl, or There was just no one else, etc.. They made a powerful statement by separating themselves from these foreigners. This would allow them to take a real honest look at where they were. As long as you are hiding your sin, you cannot confess it. Confession means the open recognition that what you have done is wrong. They confessed not only their sins but the sins of their fathers. We must understand that most of our sins are also the sins of our fathers and fathers fathers. We think of ourselves too much as individuals and cannot properly understand how we live under the world that our parents have made. As much as we do not like what sins are happening in the high places, we cannot easily say that we have no part in it. We live in America; many of us are Americans. What is it that is unholy that God asks you to separate from?
#4 Intense listening to Gods Word
In verse 3 they stood in their place as they read from the book of the law of the LORD their God for one fourth of the day. The Word of God was indeed what God was speaking. A number of young people asked me last Sunday, How does God speak to us? We forget that God has already spoken so clearly in His Word. We just don't really pay attention. Do you take notes? Do you have a spiritual journal?
#5 Confessed and Worshiped
Next still in verse 3 we find them confessing and worshiping the Lord their God. Confession and worship was combined together. Worship is not just singing songs or coming to church. Worship is an act of recognizing and responding to Gods glorious person. Confession is an act of worship because we can only come so close before He reveals more of our sin and worldliness. We confess our sins and then go closer to the Lord. It is hard to worship and not confess because we often find incomplete qualities about ourselves.
I am not saying we are to imitate them here, but we are to sense, appreciate and duplicate what they were in fact doing. They were stepping closer to God. We must refuse the shabby worship where we are thinking about the work I need to do when I get home or what I will be doing with my friends after church or what computer game or television show you will watch when you get home. These all show that you are an hypocrite. You are not really worshiping God but focusing on your desires. You are more important to God.
It would probably do us a lot of good to tear our nice jeans, wear some boxes or garbage bags over our ripped clothes with some dirt smudged in our hair and over our lipstick and on our hands. Get nice and grimy and gritty. God might much prefer the later if your mind was on why you are here instead of where else you could be! But how are we going to really get honest with ourselves? It is obvious that we must penetrate imitation of others or compliance with others and touch upon our own motivations. Changes are good sometimes because it doesn't allow us to come up with such cozy false statements about how good we are. We need to get honest about how we listen or don't listen to God. In confession tell Him all about it. It is then you will feel His holiness and presence.
Secondly, we need to the Israelites past to see an example of true worship. Verse 4 continues the description of spontaneous worship. Through these next series of verses we will see that music in song is not just a singspiration where you feel happy. Worship through music is singing in the Spirit. I suppose this is the root of the word singspiration, except this is not what we usually mean. We need an experience with God to worship Him. It might be real difficult or very joyful, but they are times we praise God. They are times that we find God interacting with us during happy or sad times. I am more sure of Gods mercy now that I have a broken briefcase then when my briefcase was whole and not broken. Why? Because God saw my desperate situation (stolen keys, etc.) and heard me. Furthermore I got a clearer perspective of my association with things. I had the chance to refute any real affection for those things. Instead of moaning and despairing, I praised God because I could live without these things. But I never could live without Him. I want you now to join me by reviewing your life as we join the Hebrews in their worship.
5 Praising His greatness
This time of confession and worship can not be separated. We find that the greatest points of any godly person or nation is when they understand their spiritual needs. In other words, they can plainly see their sins. They are able to recognize their defaulting the standards of their Creator. At the same time we find another principle operating. When they did not see their sins and faults, it did not mean that they did not have them. Instead because they did not recognize them, they fell into depraved times of sadness. This day for the Jews was a glad day because they were confessing their sins. They could enter into time of worship because true worship occurs only when we are able to see God interacting with our lives. Many of us became Christians when we were sad or lonely. God stepped into our barren life and brought fullness. Worship is when we remember these special times of acquaintance with God. Hope, faith and love combine into a glorious flow of praise to God.
If someone has asked you what has God done in your lives, what would you say? It is true that we might mention something from the past. This is okay if it impresses you. But if you are stretching to find something to speak about, then you can be sure worship is going to be very lacking because thankfulness is not locked up with different events in your life. God was never associated with those events.
Lastly, we need to see the steps of cultivating this worship in our own lives. Your worship is contingent on your own honest perspective of your life. Unless you have seen Gods goodness and your sin, then there will be no worship. It is hard for those brought in the church to worship God because it is not real life. The things around them are not seen as Gods being good to them. Nor are there sins seen as sins or as something important. They never connect the picture between their sufferings and their waywardness. They never see that the Lord brings those refining fires to purify and restore.
How are we going to restore our worship service? You need to encounter God. (Experiencing God by Blackaby). We can change the worship service around, make it shorter, make it longer, but is this the real change we are looking for. You might be more pleased because it suits you or a bit upset because it is not the way that you want it. But this is irrelevant in what really needs to be done in our worship times.
A revival is when God cuts through the excuses and dreams of our false lives with the real facts of life. The truth comes as a sword in our lives. God plunders what is stolen and replaces it with what is good and kind. A real meeting of God always requires us to deal with our personal relationship with God. This is why we must refuse to sing songs that just have a good tune or make us feel happy. We must not have excited warm ups with empty words and tunes. We need to have the truth of Gods glory brought before our eyes, whether in song, prayer, testimony, scripture reading or preaching.
I am afraid that our Christian culture distorts real worship by distorting the facts. Even though again and again in scripture that our sorrows in life are said to be related to God and His dealings with us, we are quite happy to think it is because I did not get my cheerios or see my psychiatrist. We refuse to get wise but live in foolishness.
What is the difference between a wise boy and foolish one? We should not think the wise one is the one that does not do wrong. This is unrealistic. God says children are naturally foolish. The real difference is not that one is naturally good and the other naturally foolish. All are foolish. Then what is the difference? The wise ones get something that the foolish ones do not consistently get. What is that? Love through discipline. The foolish child never is able to put the troubles in life together with wrong mistakes. So he continues to make foolish decisions. He never can get control of his desires. What happens when the foolish boy gets caught? It says in Proverbs that either he will curse you or laugh at you! A foolish person has not been able to put together consequences with wrong behavior.
The wise person started off the same. Foolish. But because of constant discipline, he became wise. What is wisdom? Wisdom is the ability to see the consequences of wrong behavior ahead of time and so this insight or wisdom becomes a force in his life to not to wrong. Is he tempted? Of course. But he sees through the scam.
Let me get personal with you big and small. Are you foolish or wise? If you are foolish, then you cannot worship God. This is the reason Jacobs brother was given over to ungodliness. Sooner or later it would come out that he did not fear God but delight in what pleased him and his senses. He judged everything not by God but by what he could get away with. Foolish people cannot worship God. They gab in service. They need a coke can in their hand to get them to sit still. They have not seen the connection with the trouble they face in life and Gods loving purpose. If this foolish person is Christian, God is going to make it hurt so hard at one point that he wakes up. His life might be in pieces, but at least he begins to get God in perspective. He learns worship the hard way. David got overconfident at a certain stage, sinned, played the fool of denial, but when later exposed, his worship of God deepened. If you are not a Christian, God will let you go. It is like going down one slide after another always ending on a lower platform. Only before the judgment seat will you wake up to what you have done wrong. Only then will you see and feel the smoke of hell that you will always regret and never be able to turn from.
The truly wise person is the one who not only the one who has been able to see the consequences to bad decisions, but he has also been able to see that God is the one orienting the experiences of life not just to avoid evil but to come closer to God. He finds his mistakes are God treating him mercifully and graciously. He welcomes Gods chase of him through his wrong decisions in life. Because these are combined with Gods great wisdom and mercy, these difficult times become instructive times. All the ways he is enlightened of how God had wonderfully has treated him even in his sin become his living testimony. Salvation is not a historical event of the past but a record that you are still in a living relationship with God forever.
The question is obvious. Do we have true or false worship? There are many things we just don't understand. But God is greater than these things. He purposely sets you up so that you might believe in Him. Sometimes He just simply does not carry on the way he should so that we have a new experience trusting Him. And so a Christians relationship goes on and on. We must no longer tolerate sin and worldliness. Let us get serious with God and find His great and wonderful testimony.
Book of Nehemiah Index: Rebuilding Your Faith
Biblical Foundations for Freedom