Saturday, June 20, 2009

Worship

Please read the linked scripture passages to understand this post, or, even better read all of 2 Chronicles 31-32:


Background:
2 Chronicles 31:20-21

2 Chronicles 32:1

2 Chronicles 32:7-8

Focus:
2 Chronicles 32:10-15

This may seem like a strange passage from which to glean a devotional thought, but please hang with me for a few minutes.

I love to read Old Testament history, and it never ceases to amaze me the new things I learn or am encouraged to ponder every time I read through it. While reading about the kings of Israel in 2 Chronicles recently, I came once again to the story of Hezekiah king of Judah. Hezekiah’s father Ahaz did not do what was right in the sight of the LORD and during his reign Judah again slid into greater and greater apostasy. The history of Judah was a sad one with some kings who followed the LORD and others who, sadly did not, and it seems that as the leader went, so went the nation. When the king repented and was faithful, the people would follow, at least somewhat. However, when the king was not faithful, the people would also sink into idolatry and sin. Hezekiah was a light among the dark examples in that when he began to reign he cleansed the temple and restored true worship of Yahweh, kept the Passover, and even went so far in his reforms that he oversaw the breaking down of the sacred pillars and cutting down of the wooden images and throwing down the high places and altars, utterly destroying them, where the people of Israel had compromised and ultimately apostatized from the worship of the LORD God. In so doing, he restored proper worship and sought God in the way God had said He was to be sought.

So, how is it that when Sennacherib king of Assyria came against them, he would be of the mistaken notion that by tearing down the high places that Hezekiah had somehow done something to offend the God of Israel? Those high places and those altars were not where the people should have been worshiping, so to tear them down was an act of faithfulness to God, not unfaithfulness. It is because for so very many years, so very long, Israel had not been distinct from the pagan nations around them. Their worship had looked just like the pagan worship of the neighboring societies. Their compromise and refusal to worship God in a wholly different way to be completely free of compromise with the worldly systems of worship had served to undermine their witness to the watching world. Because for so long their worship had looked and been pagan, he did not recognize that the God of Israel was completely different from the pagan idols he knew. Their compromise and apostasy had prevented them from proclaiming the glory of their God in such a way that this pagan king would know that there was something very different about God and His people.

Israel was a covenant nation, they were to be different from the pagan nations around them. Their worship was to look different, they were to live differently, they were, in fact, to be a light to the world. When they neglected to take down the altars on the high places, they compromised that differentness. And all too often, their compromise led to outright spiritual rebellion in the form of forsaking their God, the one true God, for pagan idols and the rituals associated with them. Rather than being a visibly distinct people, they looked just like the nations around them. In so doing, they weakened their witness to the pagan world.

So, what is the application for today that I gleaned from this? When we use worldly wisdom to try to reach worldly people, aren’t we making the same kind of flawed error that Israel made in utilizing the high places - compromising on spiritual things? When our worship services are more focused on what we feel and want and like than they are focused on God and His glory, aren’t we guilty of the same thing? When people come in to our church services, are they encouraged to focus on themselves or on Christ? Are we making much of us, or are we making much of Jesus? Are man’s felt needs more important than God’s holy attributes? What is our reason for doing what we do? When we choose our music, is it all about the style and what we like, or do the words and doctrine taught in the songs matter? Do we sprinkle some Christian language and some mention of Jesus over worldly behavior and wisdom, or do we truly seek to be true to His word and be different from the world? Is it all about how much I enjoy the service, or is it about turning our attention to our Lord and Savior? Is it all about having ‘fun’ or is it about worshiping the God of all, the Creator, the One who has redeemed us from our sin?

I am becoming more and more convicted and convinced that the more we focus on us, the more we look and sound like the world, the more we lose our distinctiveness and our witness for Christ. The times I am encouraged most to worship are not the times my emotion and fleshly desires are fed. The times I am most undone in worship and most encouraged to truly worship are the times when it isn’t me I’m encouraged to think about at all, but Him. When Jesus is lifted up, He will draw all men to Himself. The more He is glorified, the more we ought to be seeing where we have things that need to be pruned as we are conformed to His image. Yes, He loves us. But He loves us, not because we are so wonderful. He loves us because He is so wonderful. We love Him because He first loved us, yes. But when He has called us, we are never the same. We are from that moment on being conformed to His image.

I recently started reading God is the Gospel by John Piper. In the introduction he makes the argument that when we shift our focus from God Himself being proclaimed as the greatest gift of the gospel, then “….we have turned the love of God and the gospel of Christ into a divine endorsement of our delight in many lesser things, especially the delight in our being made much of.” (Page 11, God is the Gospel, by John Piper) What he says here really got me thinking about how I think about God: “The acid test of biblical God-centeredness – and faithfulness to the gospel – is this: Do you feel more loved because God makes much of you, or because, at the cost of His Son, he enables you to enjoy making much of him forever? Does your happiness hang on seeing the cross of Christ as a witness to your worth, or as a way to enjoy God’s worth forever? Is God’s glory in Christ the foundation of your gladness?” (Page 11-12, God is the Gospel, by John Piper.

There is a lot to think about there as I think about how I worship. When we sing, when we listen to God’s word, is my focus more on my emotional response or on how much I’m enjoying the atmosphere or on other people, or is it on turning my attention to enjoying God Himself? I’m looking forward to reading more.

I wonder when the world sees us and how we worship God, what do they see us saying about God? Do they see us worshiping at the high places where we exalt the idols of our felt needs and our enjoyment of lesser things and bloating ourselves on entertaining our fleshly desires, or do they see us proclaiming that God is great, that Christ is worthy of all praise and that He is being high and lifted up. As long as we are focusing on being entertained and not on truly, biblically worshiping and enjoying Jesus and lifting Him up that all men may be drawn to Him, then I fear we are giving a wrong message to the world.

May I be truly satisfied in God, and not settling for much lesser things. May my heart sing to Him, not seek my own fleshly entertainment. When we sing, when we hear the word, may our hearts be drawn to Jesus, for He alone is worthy of our praise. How I long for this be true of me:

“One thing I have desired of the LORD,
That will I 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 inquire in His temple.” - Psalm 27:4

3 comments:

Laura said...

I love OT history too, but had never thought of this passage in that light. Far too often I'm afraid I spend more time in "worship" thinking about myself than about the God who is worthy. Thanks for the challenge!

Elle said...

Just recently heard a sermon on Psalm 103 and the psalmist's emphasis on praising the Lord, not self focus. The pastor commented that whenever he hears someone say,"I didn't get anything out of worship today," that he responds, "Good, worship isn't about you. It's about God."

Definitely the focus more worship services should take--focus on God, not on selves.

Great post.

Lisa writes... said...

"the more we focus on us, the more we look and sound like the world, the more we lose our distinctiveness and our witness for Christ."

Ouch and amen.

Great post.