Friday, January 25, 2008

True Worship

God challenged me this week - again - to consider the notion of true worship. I was reading in Isaiah and Hebrews, finishing the study I began over Christmas break on Christ, and He forced me to grapple once more with His holiness and His glory, and the corresponding demands on our worship.
Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire. (Hebrews 12:28-29)

This is part of an incredible passage I strongly encourage you to read through in its entirety: calling us to remember and be thankful for the glorious reality of Christ's kingdom: a kingdom with foundations, one that cannot be shaken, will never be removed, and is far greater than the covenant that was given to Moses.

The author of Hebrews contrasts this new covenant with the Mosaic covenant repeatedly, both with direct comparisons and with literary references. In these final two verses of the chapter, he makes a reference back to Deuteronomy:
Take care, lest you forget the covenant of the LORD your God, which he made with you, and make a carved image, the form of anything that the LORD your God has forbidden you. For the LORD your God is a consuming fire, a jealous God. (Deuteronomy 4:23-24)

The entire passage is a call by Moses for the people of Israel, about to enter the land of Canaan, to remember God, His law, and His works - to remain true to Him and not to turn to other gods. Both Deuteronomy and Hebrews are making reference to Exodus 24, where Moses ascends the mountain to have the law given to him, when "the appearance of the glory of the Lord was like a devouring fire on the top of the mountain in the sight of the people of Israel" (see Exodus 24:16-19). The Hebrews knew exactly what was being referenced in this letter: the glory of God - the Shekinah - that was a destroying fire to all that was impure.

We read in Isaiah, in the context of God's vengeance on those who have turned to idolatry:
"For behold, the LORD will come in fire,
and his chariots like the whirlwind,
to render his anger in fury,
and his rebuke with flames of fire.
For by fire will the LORD enter into judgment,
and by his sword, with all flesh;
and those slain by the LORD shall be many." (Isaiah 66:15-16)

These verses in Hebrews are not just a "cool passage" about God's glory being like fire - though certainly the picture of God's glory as an incomparably brilliant fire is one that should awe us and draw us to a place of worship. Rather, the passage is one of warning: that our worship, as we thank God for all He has done for us in the new covenant, must be reverent and filled with awe. Why? Because our God is a consuming fire: the Holy One who destroys false worshippers.

One could spend much time discussing our modern practices of worship, and in particular on "worship music" (a misnomer that is a discussion all its own), but there is an issue raised by these passages that is of utmost importance in our daily walk with God. It is that appropriate sense of awe which we are missing: the reality of our great need and the depth of God's greatness, mingling and conjoining to humble us - deeply and truly filling us with reverence. I'm not sure we even know what reverence is anymore, though.

When we come to our "worship services" and sing songs that are largely centered on us, we are in a very dangerous position... indeed, one might argue we are in a position drawing very near to idolatry. When we look at the earlier sections of Isaiah 66, we see a God who takes no delight in the sacrifices of man divorced from a heart that truly worships Him. He loves those who are contrite and humble, who tremble at His word (see Isaiah 66:2).

We are called to approach the throne of grace with confidence (Hebrews 4:16), but we must also approach reverently, awefully (if you will).

There is a place for a holy fear of God, and I wonder if in our emphasis of God's love we have not under-esteemed His wrath against those who bring a false worship before Him. We must come before Him with love, adoration, and holy fear. This is not a fear of His hellish wrath, for we are saved, but rather of bringing Him a praise which is no sacrifice to us, which is costless, easy, or - worst of all - designed more to benefit us than to glorify Him.

We must be careful in the songs we sing. Some may sound very good, but when we examine their words, we find them empty of anything that glorifies God and filled instead with much that emphasizes ourselves. Even in those songs that do point more toward God, I believe we must exercise caution in the extent to which we exult in our salvation and freedom (as opposed to thanks to Him for that salvation and the work He has done). If our God is a consuming fire to those who bring Him a worship that is not reverent and awe-filled.

I challenge you to worship Him as He has called us to worship - not as is comfortable, emotionally attractive, or easy - but in a true exaltation of God and a worship holy and right.

- Chris

1 comment:

Tyler said...

Amen! God reveals the extent of His righteousness more to me every day...and of course He will never show me all of it while I live here in this world...but even the little glimpses I am jars me...because the magnitude of His righteousness is equivalent to how much my salvation cost Him...what can I do but shake with loving fear? And I agree that that is what the lyrics and attitude of our musical worship should reflect. Thanks for the post Chris!

-Tyler C