The Discipline Of Worship

Selected highlights from this sermon.

True worship is a matter of the heart. We often fail to intentionally worship God, because we assume that it will just happen. Instead, we must be disciplined and deliberate in our worship, being submissive before God and exalting His character. 

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I would like to tell the story of a woman that I’ve told you about before who one time was reared in a very ancient part of the world and in a small village. Like most women who get married, she thought for sure that marriage might bring happiness, but like many women and men have discovered, marriage sometimes does not do that. And even with the best of intentions, though she was married and had high hopes, those hopes were totally dashed to the ground, and eventually, as the strains of the relationship began to be made very clear, she and her husband divorced.

Those of you who have been through a divorce will know, I’m sure, that divorce always indicates a time of failure, of distress, of emotional turmoil, and undoubtedly she experienced that. But as time went on she married another man and she thought for sure that this second man would bring her the happiness that the first man did not. As time went on it became very clear that once again her hopes would be dashed to the ground and she would not be able to experience the kind of joy that she hoped this relationship would bring, and eventually she was divorced again.

When she was married a third time by then she was angry with God and angry with men. Was there anything that life could possibly bring her? Was there any happiness that could be left in this world with all of its broken relationships, broken promises and brutality? She did not know but she gave it a try. She was married the fourth time and the fifth time, and then she met another man and decided that now marriage was a mockery, so they simply decided to live together without the benefit of even going through a ceremony.

And this woman who was in many respects a failure, who was looked down upon in her small village, and I’m sure, if you had interviewed her she would have said she had no hope, no meaning and not much left after all that mess, was radically transformed by an encounter with Jesus Christ. And as you may have guessed, her story is found for us in the fourth chapter of the Gospel of John. In John 4 is the amazing story of Jesus Christ who is sitting on a well as He goes between Jerusalem and Upper Galilee, and He meets what is known to us as the Woman of Samaria.

We pick up the text in John 4:8. His disciples had gone away into the city to buy food. Verse 9: “The Samaritan woman said to him, ‘How is it that you, a Jew, ask for a drink from me, a woman of Samaria?’ (For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans.)”

I hope you love the Lord Jesus Christ for many reasons, but one of the reasons we should love Him is because of His humility and His willingness to talk to anyone. There were no dealings between the Jews and the Samaritans because the Samaritans were of mixed blood. They were part Assyrian and they were part Jewish. And in the Jewish mind of those days, they were totally unworthy. They were referred to as dogs. And the very fact that Jesus Christ asked this woman for a drink, putting Himself, so to speak, under her authority and asking a favor of her, was a mighty great honor. And she was so shocked, she couldn’t help but blurt out “How is it that you, being a Jew, ask of me a drink because I am a Samaritan?”

And then Jesus says in verse 10: “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.” This woman, bless her heart, misunderstands and she begins to think, “You know that’s a great idea. If I had living water, if I had running water, I wouldn’t have to come to this well.”

“The woman said to him, ‘Sir, you have nothing to draw water with, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water? Are you greater than our father Jacob? He gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did his sons and his livestock.’ Jesus said to her, ‘Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.’ The woman said to him, ‘Sir, give me this water, so that I will not be thirsty or have to come here to draw water.’ Jesus said to her, ‘Go, call your husband, and come here.’ The woman answered him, ‘I have no husband.’ Jesus said to her, ‘You are right in saying, “I have no husband”; for you have had five husbands, and the one you now have is not your husband. What you have said is true.’ The woman said to him, ‘Sir, I perceive that you are a prophet. Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, but you say that in Jerusalem is the place where people ought to worship.’ Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him.’” Just that far in the text!

I want you to notice in passing that to a woman who had blown it in a series of horrendous marital relationships Jesus was saying, “If you believe in Me, you will find within you the resources to go on living. There will be a well of water springing up into you that will eventually lead to eternal life, and you will have the privilege of recognizing that down deep inside that well, which is the gift of the Holy Spirit, will enable you to cope despite your background and despite the messes and the bad choices that you have made.” And then in the middle of this dialog Jesus Christ begins to talk to this woman about worship. The subject of worship comes up and we have one of the most illuminating sections in all the Bible as to what it is to worship God.

And what I’d like you to do today is to notice that in verse 23 we actually have three characteristics of genuine worship, and this woman, despite her past, is invited to participate to be a worshipper of Almighty God. So all of that by way of introduction, and now let us look at what those characteristics of true worship are.

First of all, He says, “The true worshipers worship in spirit.” Worship is a matter of the heart. It’s a matter of the heart. It’s not a matter of geography. You see, the dialog that was going on dates back historically to the fact that after the time of Solomon you have the kingdom which was divided. You have the northern kingdom, which was Israel. You have the southern kingdom, which was Judah. And there was a king by the name of Jeroboam, who ruled in the north and said, “I don’t like my people going all the way to Jerusalem to worship because if they do that I might lose them. What I want to do is to have them worship here.” And so there was an altar built on Mount Gerizim.

Years ago long before you had a lot of the conflicts in the Middle East that you have now, in 1968, immediately after the ’67 war I happened to have the privilege of studying in Israel, and in those days you could actually go to Jacob’s Well. Today you can’t because it is such a highly volatile area. But when we were sitting there at Jacob’s Well, we could see Mount Gerizim, which in the Old Testament is the mount of blessing, and there were trees and there were bushes on it. And then there was another mountain called the Mountain of Cursing (Mount Ebal, which is close to the village where the woman came from), and it was totally barren. And in between you have this amphitheater because that’s where Israel would sing the blessings and the curses. And those who were singing the blessings were on Mount Gerizim. Those who were singing the curses were on Mount Ebal, and they sang it antiphonally. This is mentioned in the Old Testament, and almost right in between those two mountains there is Jacob’s Well where Jesus sat.

And so I can imagine the woman that was there at the well saying, “Now our fathers worshipped in this mountain, and you say that in Jerusalem is the place where men ought to worship.” And Jesus says to her, “Woman, I want you to understand something. It is not in this mountain, nor in Jerusalem that people worship, but the hour is coming when the true worshippers will worship in spirit and in truth, and they will be able to worship all over the world because God is not limited to Mount Gerizim. God is not limited to Mount Ebal. He is not limited to Jerusalem. God exists everywhere and He has always wanted people’s hearts.”

And that’s what worship really is. It is God capturing our hearts. It is an awareness of God. It is a dependency upon God. It is “adoring wonder” for Almighty God. And we can have that no matter where we are. We can worship God while riding on the CTA, though we should be praying at the same time. We can worship God while going down the Kennedy Expressway. We can worship God in a hospital. You can worship God wherever you may be. You can worship God at your job as long as your heart is filled with adoring wonder. It is that heart that God desperately desires. And the Scripture says, as we’ll notice in a moment, that He is seeking worshippers because He desires those whose hearts are completely His.

And so God wants our hearts. In fact, God has always wanted people’s hearts. You read the Old Testament and you find that David had worshipped God. And it wasn’t simply true that he just worshipped God when he was in the sanctuary in Jerusalem. He was worshipping God while he was taking care of sheep. He was worshipping God when he was running from Saul. He was worshipping God in all the experiences of life because God has always wanted people’s hearts.

Isn’t it interesting how we bypass that? And even the worship at Jerusalem, with all of its rituals, oftentimes was a substitute for the heart, and that’s the thing that bothered Christ so deeply about the religious leaders of His time. And so He said to them, “Well has Isaiah prophesied of you hypocrites. This people honor me with their lips. They sing the right songs. They come to the right sanctuary. They say the right words. They recite the right Scripture but their heart is far from me.”

And isn’t that true also when we come to church, that our hearts can be far from God? We come to God and what we are thinking about is the difficulty that we may have had parking, the argument that we may have had in the car on the way to church, the anxiety because we were late, the circumstances of life that we faced yesterday, the circumstances of life that we face tomorrow. And all of these things are vying for our attention, and they are distracting us from the songs that we are singing, from the Scripture that is being read, from the word that is being preached. And God does not have our hearts. And yet that’s exactly what He wants. Worship, Jesus said, is not a matter of geography. It is a matter of heart. It is a matter of spirit. And worship can take place in a church obviously but sometimes it doesn’t because we are distracted and not focused on God.

There’s a second characteristic of worship. Worship is a matter certainly of sincerity and a matter of heart in spirit, but notice also Jesus says it is a matter of truth. It is a matter of honesty. It’s a matter of being transparent and honest with God. You know, the Scripture says in 1 John, “If we walk in the light as God is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ, God’s Son, cleanses us from all sin.”

What does it mean to walk in the light? It means that we are exposed to God, that we are open and that we are honest before Him. And that’s the one thing we do not want to be. It is difficult to be honest with God. And when we are dishonest with God, we are dishonest with ourselves, we are dishonest with our mates, we are dishonest with our families, and we are dishonest with our friends all because you and I are basically fundamentally dishonest. We are always desiring to hide who we really are, and the struggles of the soul, and sometimes we even hide those struggles from God, and they become the seat of all of our problems. It is what we hide from the Almighty that causes us the distress. That’s why at the end of this message I’m going to give you a little program by which you can ask God to search your heart because all of us live to some extent in denial. We really don’t want to see who we are.

I remember a story of the woman living in a primitive culture who would take her wash to the local river where everybody was washing his or her clothes. And they would stand in the river and they would open their clothes – the bundle that they had brought. And then cloth by cloth and dress by dress they would wash them. But this woman was so embarrassed because her clothes were so smelly, and they were so dirty that she just took the whole bundle and dipped it into the river and pulled it out again without opening it. And isn’t that the way we sometimes are with God? We say, “Oh God, I know that I have sinned. Forgive my sins.” And what we are unwilling to do is to face each of those sins that the Holy Spirit of God brings to our attention individually, and say sin by sin, “I want to be cleansed so that I have a pure conscience so that I can stand before you and finally be honest.”

I feel sorry for all of you marriage partners, and that statement is not yet finished. I feel sorry for all of you marriage partners who live with somebody who is fundamentally unwilling to face himself or herself, the person who is always right, the person who never asks for forgiveness because he is never wrong, the person who needs to prove a point, the person who is super critical because he does not want to see himself. He therefore finds faults in other people, living in a sense of denial, living with dishonesty simply because he cannot face himself in the presence of God and others.

Now I want you to notice that Jesus Christ is saying that true worship always is a matter of truth, transparency, honesty, being who we are in the presence of Almighty God and knowing who we are and therefore also knowing who God is. One of the characteristics of openness and honesty is what we call brokenness. Brokenness before God is a sense of submission. It is a sense of resignation to the will of God. It is the person who, in the right sense of the word, has given up all fight. He has laid down the weapons of a rebel. He says, “God, I will not take You on anymore. I submit to everything that You bring to my attention and I accept the circumstances of life as coming from your loving hand, and therefore I will not fight you anymore.”

Interestingly I was praying with someone recently, and this person said, “I cannot give myself to God wholly.” And I said, “Why?” And this individual said, “Because I want to retain the power of choice. I want to be able to choose and to make my own decisions. Even though my decisions are destroying me I prefer my own decisions.” Isn’t that the way in which all of us are? We prefer our own decisions and therefore we still struggle with God.

Job said in the Old Testament, “Why do you strive with the Almighty?” Why do we keep arguing with God? Why do we keep putting off what we know He wants us to do? Worship brings us back to honesty. Worship also, by the way, is a matter of priority. Notice the text says, “For the Father seeks such to be His worshippers.” And He is willing to take a woman who in her own eyes I am sure was scum. That didn’t matter. He could forgive her sins. He could put her on a new footing. He could give her new dignity. He was willing to accept the worship of anyone who finally had given up on themselves and trusted wholly in God and sought Him passionately. And Jesus Christ is saying to this woman who blew it so badly, “I am giving you an invitation to become one of the Father’s special people, to become a worshipper of the Almighty.” The Father is seeking such to worship Him.

Why does God want worship? Well, let me say it candidly and openly, and I hope that you can accept this without any difficulty to your theology. God is passionate about Himself. He’s passionate about Himself. And that’s perfectly right for God to be. We can’t be because everything that we have is derived. There is nothing that we have except that it has been given to us of God, so whatever credit or praise comes to us, we always have to pass it on to God. But God has no one else to pass it on to. He can accept all adoration, all worship, all praise and do so legitimately, fairly and decently, and He can see the fulfillment of His purposes in the world as being the driving force of creation, and He has every right to do that. And that’s why the bottom line of the Scripture from Genesis to Revelation is always the glory and the honor of God. May I say it humbly but truthfully that to God nothing else matters? Nothing else matters!

I explained that to one of my daughters one time, and she said, “Isn’t God egotistical?” I don’t know if you have children, but you know that they keep you theologically honest. I said, “The word egotistical can be defined in two different ways. Looked from our standpoint, to be egotistical is wrong because we have no right to be egotistical. But looked at in the right way, yes, God is egotistical, but He has a right to be because to Him everything funnels into His glory and into His plan.”

Did you know that the purpose of the church is not missions for missions’ sake? The purpose of this church or any church should always be worship. And the reason that we are interested in missions is that we might get more people to worship Christ. That’s the whole motivation.

Why is it that we give money? “Well,” you say, “we give money to the church to keep the church going, to keep its ministries puttering along.” No, that isn’t why we give money to the church. Paul says in the book of Philippians in chapter 4, verse 8, “You gave gifts that these gifts might be a sweet smelling savor to God.” We give to honor God. We give to glorify Him. Why does God save people? The Scripture says He saves us that we should be to the praise of His glory. And why do you pray, may I ask? Is it not because Jesus taught us that the Father might be glorified in the Son? And why is it that God leaves so many prayers unanswered? He does it that we might be weaned from the things of this world. And unanswered prayer, far from driving us away from God, should be the fuel to motivate us to get closer to God because we know now that really we do not need the answer to our prayer nearly as much as we need God. So unanswered prayer should be pushing us beyond simply asking for requests and finally coming and saying, “Oh God, let me be satisfied with Thee.” That’s the whole point, and that’s what worship is really all about.

How is it that we worship God? There are different aspects to worship. One is obedience. One day God came to Abraham and said, “Abraham, take your son and go to Mount Moriah and offer him there as a burnt offering on a mountain that I shall tell you of.” Do you remember when Abraham left the donkey and his servant, and he and his son went up the hill? He said to the servant that he and this lad (namely his son) would go yonder and worship and come again to him. He said to the servant, “We will worship,” and that worship involved incredible obedience, being willing to kill his own son if necessary. That’s one way that we honor God.

God is honored through our obedience. God is honored when we are willing to say yes to anything that He brings to our attention. God is honored when we praise Him. The Bible is very clear that “whoso offers praise glorifies me,” so when we begin to thank God, and when we begin to recognize that because He is God He is deserving of all thanksgiving, and read the Psalms, then you begin to understand that God’s attributes are being praised and admired. God loves it when we admire Him.

And of course we also obey Him through dependent prayer. We can also honor Him through faith in Christ. Jesus said, “Whoever honors Me, honors the Father. If you don’t honor Me you don’t honor the Father,” and that’s why the Scriptures tells us that we should honor the Son.

Can you imagine what would happen in your life and mine if we were to have what was known as a Copernican revolution? Copernicus was an astronomer who came to the conclusion that actually it was not the sun that was going around the earth, but the earth going around the sun. The belief was that the earth was stationary. That was the ancient belief, and now the belief was that it is the sun, if anything, that was stationary. Of course, nobody knows if it is completely stationary. Everything may be all moving together. But nevertheless, from our standpoint, it is now the sun that becomes the center of the solar system, and the earth is twirling around it.

Imagine what would happen if God’s beloved Son would suddenly be brought from the circumference into the very center of our lives and everything that we did would revolve around Him. And the only sincere question that we would have is, “Is He thereby glorified?” What a transformation that would be in our lives and in our church if the only thing that really mattered, because the only thing that really matters to God, is that He be glorified!

Why should you and I be fruit bearing Christians? It says it’s that the Father might be glorified.” It says, “Let your light so shine upon this earth that other people may see your good works (and what?) and glorify your Father which is in heaven.” There is no other purpose to life!

Can you see how short-minded it is to say to yourself, “The real purpose of life is to get a good job and earn as much money as you can, and then retire in a very nice place and do whatever you want to do for the rest of your life”? That is not the Christian life. The Christian life says, “I am here to glorify God whether by life or by death, whether by health or illness, whether by an easy life or a difficult life. I exist purely to glorify God in all that I do, including my retirement (which is something that you can indeed enjoy). But even there the real issue is do I glorify God? What will Thou have me to do? There is no other question.

Now why is it that we don’t live that way? Why is it that God is oftentimes not the center of our lives? It’s because the Scripture tells us that we have spoiled our appetite on the world. And the more we are in the world, the more our appetite gets spoiled for really finding fulfillment in God and worshiping Him. And I’ll tell you there’s nothing like the world to just drain away all your passion for God. You can watch television, and when you turn on the television as I did last night for a few moments (trying to catch some specials regarding the past year, but beginning to see all that is involved on that TV screen), I was reminded again that watching television takes the passion and the love that you have for God and it can just quickly sap it all away and drain it away. And that’s actually what the devil wants to do. He wants to separate us from our Father. That’s his goal.

And so the more we feast on the things of this world, it spoils our appetite for God. “My people have committed two evils,” said Jeremiah. “They have hewn for themselves cisterns, broken cisterns, which can hold no water, and they are drinking from polluted fountains that taste good, and they are bypassing the living stream.”

Here’s what I’d like you to do this coming week. You say, “What is there that I may do?” I’d like you to spend ten minutes at least in worshipping God, not only in the coming week but also in the coming year. Can you take out ten minutes and say, “These ten minutes are for God, totally undistracted?” Is God worth that much? I hope that He is worth a whole lot more than that, but this is perhaps something that will be new for many of you.

Number one, spend some of that time in searching. And what do I mean? “Oh Lord, search my heart.” That’s what you do. You pray the prayer of the Psalmist. “Oh Lord, search me and see if there be any wicked way in me and lead me in the way everlasting.” One of the great things that I have learned is silence before God. God reveals to me the things that I need to deal with. He begins to show me through His Word the areas of my life that are not under His control and authority. And I look back upon my prayer life and I wonder how in the world I ever did without it. Silence or searching – part of that time needs to be spent in that absolute quietness before God, saying, “Here I am, Lord. What is it You want to show me?” You may be quoting a verse of Scripture or perhaps meditating on a text, but your heart is open to God.

First of all searching! Then surrendering, and that’s going to be the difficult part because you and I fight tooth and nail on this point of submitting to God. And then what you want is singing, or a Psalm. One of the best ways that you can worship God is to take the words of a hymn, and even if you are not very good at singing, aren’t you glad that God doesn’t care as long as it’s done in a closet somewhere where no one else had to listen? But He sees it, and He knows it, and He knows your heart, and you sing to God a hymn of praise, or you read a Psalm of praise to God. God loves to hear His Word read back to Him. He says, “I have magnified My Word even above My Name.” And therefore, as we read God’s Word back to Him, we are giving Him praise, and we are giving Him honor. Will you remember that? Searching, surrendering, singing or Psalms (one of those two) for at least ten minutes in which you are not asking! That’s the thing! We are going to get to the subject of prayer, but as you notice, we are talking about the disciplines of the spiritual life. Why do I say disciplines? It’s because worship doesn’t just happen. People think it’s going to happen, but it doesn’t happen unless you plan that it’s going to happen. And so it happens by a sense of searching, surrendering, singing and giving praise and honor and glory to God without any requests, but saying, “Lord, I am here to magnify You, to give You glory, and to give You honor.”

And where does the whole business of worship begin? In the Old Testament it says, “Kiss the son, lest he be angry and he perish in the way lest his wrath be quickly kindled.” What does it mean to kiss the son? It means do homage. I mentioned a moment ago that the way in which we worship God is by honoring the Son in order to honor the Father. Christ said, “You must begin by honoring Me.”

Some of you need to believe in Jesus Christ even today. You’ve never savingly come to faith in Him. I urge you to do that because only Christ can bring you to God the Father so that you can become a worshipper. Today Jesus Christ says that the Father seeks those who worship Him in Spirit and in truth. He is searching. He is on a hunt. Will He find you and will He find me? That is the question.

Let us pray together.

Our Father, we do want to thank You today for this wonderful story, the reminder of the fact that You said to a distraught woman, “Be My worshipper. You can have eternal life within your soul.” And Father, we thank You for her witness, how she went and told her friends that she had met the Messiah, and therefore there were more worshippers because Your Word says that many believed because of her word, and because of Christ who went there to that village. And we thank You, Father, for that privilege. This year we pray that we might not only worship but that we might be able to find many other worshippers who are not worshipping You now as we share the good news of the Gospel of Christ. And we pray that all those who have listened today, every single one of us, may become better worshippers of the Lord, our God. We pray in His name, Amen.

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