I was scheduled to teach a series about worship at a camp-meeting. A friend asked, “What are you teaching?” When I told him, he responded, “Worship!? Don’t waste your time on worship. We need teaching about holiness!” He assumed that worship is something that only big – probably liberal – churches think about. But, “we holiness people need to focus on holy living.”
Other people insist that our focus should be on evangelism. During a class discussion about worship, a student said, “We are just straightening the pictures on the walls of a burning house. Our world is in trouble. It is time to focus on evangelism and quit worrying about worship.” In this student’s view, worship is a minor issue in a world that is headed for destruction.
I agree that we must give attention to holy living. I agree that our world is in trouble; we do need a new passion for evangelism. However, the Bible shows that worship is vital to the church. I believe that true worship will inspire us to holy living and to evangelism and mission. Isaiah 6 shows three reasons why worship matters.
In worship, we see God. Isaiah wrote, “I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up.” The seraphim worshiped as they sang, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!”
A.W. Tozer wrote that worship was the missing jewel of the evangelical church. In Tozer’s view, even though the church does many things well (evangelism, Bible teaching, and personal devotion to God), we often fail in worship.
The loss of true worship is dangerous because in worship we see who God is. As Tozer put it, “The first step down for any church is taken when it surrenders its high opinion of God.” Our “opinion of God” is shaped by worship.
In worship we see who God is. Revelation 4:10-11 shows us a picture of worship in heaven. When these worshipers saw the glory, honor, and power of God, they fell down in worship. They cast their crowns before the throne, saying, “Worthy are you, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created.”
When we truly worship, we see God. As holiness people, this is vital! Holiness is showing the character of God in our own lives. Jesus said, “You therefore must be perfect.” How do we know what this perfection looks like? Jesus pointed to the model for us: “…as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matt 5:48). As we see Him, we see what it means to be holy. And as we see Him, we are transformed into His image. We become like the One we worship.
Pastors, here is a good test for your worship service next Sunday: “Did my people see God?” If our people leave service without knowing what we think about some news topic of the day, they have lost little. If they leave without seeing God, we have failed to accomplish God’s purpose for worship. One of our biggest goals for a worship service should be to bring people into God’s presence. We should pray that no one leaves our worship without a greater view of God. What a tragedy if they laugh at our stories and nod agreement at our opinions – but leave without seeing God!
In worship, we see ourselves. After seeing God, Isaiah saw himself through God’s eyes: “And I said, ‘Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!'”
John Calvin wrote that true wisdom consists of two things: knowing God and knowing ourselves. Worship enables us to see God as He really is; worship enables us to see ourselves as we really are. When we worship, we get a true picture of our need.
God rejected the worship of Israel because their life did not reflect their worship: “I hate, I despise your feasts, and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies. Even though you offer me your burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them; and the peace offerings of your fattened animals, I will not look upon them” (Amos 5:21-22).
God rejected Israel’s worship because they did not truly know Him. They thought that God could be “bought off” with sacrifices. God rejected Israel’s worship because they did not understand their own heart condition. They went through the rituals of worship, but they do not live lives pleasing to God. In true worship, we see ourselves and our need for God.
This is important for us as holiness people. Because our doctrine emphasizes the possibility of living a life of victory over sin and because we use the language of “Christian perfection,” we are sometimes prone to forgetting that every Christian, no matter how deep our walk with God, stands in need of continual grace.
When I hear a preacher say, “I don’t pray the Lord’s Prayer. I don’t need to pray for forgiveness; I am entirely sanctified,” I fear we do not truly see God and see ourselves. When we see ourselves in light of God’s divine purity, we will always pray with the disciples, “I stand in need of God’s continuing grace.”
This was brought home to me when I received a note from one of the godliest people I have known. We had met the day before to discuss a staffing need. She had said nothing that struck me as unkind or inappropriate. But the next day, I received a note that read in part, “As I had devotions this morning, God convicted me that part of what I said regarding this situation did not need to be said. Please forgive me for failing to reflect fully God’s standard for a holy tongue.” This was not a sinner. This was a godly woman! But as she spent time in God’s presence, she was convicted of her need to be more careful in her speech.
When we worship, we see God. As a result, we will pray in humility, “I need God’s continuing purifying grace today.” Christian perfection is not a “Holy Shot” that immunizes us once and for all against sin. No – we are holy only as we walk daily in God’s grace. Worship reminds us that none of us have reached the point that we can say, “I am entirely sanctified. I can face this temptation on my own.” In worship, we see ourselves and our continuing need of God’s grace.
Seeing the World
In worship, we see our world. After seeing God and seeing himself, Isaiah was prepared to see the need of the world around him. When God asked for a messenger, Isaiah responded, “Here am I. Send me.”
True worship does not detract from evangelism or mission. Instead, if we truly worship, we will evangelize. If we truly worship, we will have a passion to take God to those who have never had the privilege of worshiping Him. To quote a teacher from a different theological persuasion, John Piper insists that “Missions exist because worship doesn’t.” We evangelize in order to create worshipers!
We cannot see God without offering ourselves as His servants. We cannot see ourselves and be transformed by Him without yielding ourselves to His purposes. We cannot see the need of our world without understanding that God calls us to accomplish His mission in the world.
The Jewish Temple complex included the court of the Gentiles, a place where Gentiles could share in Temple worship. Gentiles could not enter the Temple proper, but they could participate in worship through prayers in the court of the Gentiles. Worship in Israel was a means of evangelism. One of the ways we evangelize our world and accomplish God’s mission for the church today is through worship. Worship draws people to God.
Again, this aspect of worship is important for holiness people. If we are not going to disappear into the pages of church history, we must regain a vision for reaching our world. A mark of the Wesley revival was evangelism. A mark of the nineteenth century holiness camp meeting movement was evangelism. The Methodists had a passion for holiness and a passion for reaching the lost. Thousands of Christians were brought to the experience of a pure heart and thousands of unbelievers were brought into the Kingdom. Both holiness and evangelism were important. Why? Holiness people had seen God and they had seen the need of their world. True worship led to evangelism.
Worship is not straightening the pictures on the walls of a burning house. Worship empowers us to extinguish the fire. Worship enables us to accomplish God’s mission in the world. Worship is central to everything we do as a church. Mission outreach creates new bodies of worshipers. Christian education raises up a generation of young people who know and worship God. Evangelism brings others into the family of worshipers. Everything we do is inspired by worship. Worship matters to holiness people.