Growing as a Worshipper - Pastor Paul Hovey
Growing as a Worshipper
Goal: To encourage and press people to take responsibility and next steps to understand and grow as worshippers. To encourage new believers in their understanding and implementation of a life of worship.
INTRO (1Min): Today we are going to talk about what it means to grow as a worshipper. To begin, we are going to watch a video that I was first introduced to while in seminary. While not commonly known for being a spiritual institution, Sesame Street has a lot to teach us about worship. With that, I would like to introduce you to Sesame Street’s Put Down the Duckie.
VIDEO (4Min): Put Down the Duckie
TRANSITION (1Min): Ernie’s got a problem, and it can’t be cured with more cowbell! Its a squeak! He has this thing he wants to do. He wants to play the saxophone but his beloved duckie keeps getting in the way. But finally, the tension in this epic drama is eased when he puts down his fairest duckie and begins to play that saxophone unhindered.
Even though it’s from a children’s show, the message of this video has a lot of practical implications for us as worshippers of the one true God. But we need to take a little journey before we can realize the implications of being able to put down the duckies in our lives.
God saved us to be a holy people, and I also believe he saved us to be a worshipping people. To declare His excellencies, to praise the glory of the One who created and saved us.
But I believe we can take the concept of worship for granted when we limit it to a specific time and place – namely Sunday morning at a church building – and leave it there. What we don’t often think about is that we spend much of the rest of our week in worship. The questions arise: What are we worshipping the rest of the week? Why is it considered worship? And how do I change my orientation to both God and the world, so as to increase my worship of the triune God, and decrease my worship of everything else?
PART 1: Definitions
Well, first let us be clear about what we are talking about when we discuss this idea of worship. What is worship? Worship can be defined in a couple different ways.
The dictionary defines worship as follows: ‘the feeling of reverence or adoration for a deity. Showing reverence and honor for a deity with religious rites.’ Our cultural definition of worship is that thing you do on Sunday morning when you go to a steepled building and sing some songs and listen to somebody talk about spiritual things. We often call it ‘going to church.’
But these definitions do not get us down to the heart of worship, the worship we practice on a personal level, so I would like to offer this definition of worship to you:
Worship is the act of engaging all the various aspects of our being and lives in elevating certain objects – which we deem worthwhile and deserving – to positions of highest praise and admiration. (Repeat)
Therefore to be a worshipper is to give oneself over to the object of worship by arranging our spiritual, emotional, and intellectual faculties in order to place the thing or things we worship at the center, or in the highest place in our lives. This entails rearranging how we live our external lives so we can both admire and be closer to our object of worship. This also entails the use of our time, money and other resources in order to increase the greatness of this object in our lives.
I like this definition because it starts to land where we live. It comes close to what Jesus said, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Mt6:21). A person’s worship isn’t just what happens on Sunday morning, but also what happens once Sunday morning is over. We need to begin to understand that we offer up worship in various ways every day. Once we understand that we can worship anything, we begin to see where we need help to grow in maturity as Christ-centered worshippers.
I want to first talk about how we arrange our inner lives around our objects of worship, our thoughts and feelings. What is the mindset of the worshipper? What goes on inside a worshipper where no one sees?
First, on our thoughts. How does a worshipper think? A worshipper thinks high thoughts about his object of worship. He thinks thoughts of praise and admiration. Things like:
“This is awesome. I could do that all day. That’s so cool! That’s so money! She’s the GOAT (Greatest Of All Time). I could be with him/her/it forever. I’m definitely going to binge on that. I love this!!”
Now, one may use language that is unique to the item of worship. Still, the basic idea is that we think higher, loftier, and more approving thoughts of that which we hold highest in our lives.
But lets go beyond the language and ask: How is the mind attenuated to worship? How are our minds tuned into our objects of worship?
We occupy our minds with things we worship. We intentionally dwell on these things. We spend our mental time and energy thinking about how we can arrange our days so that we can give priority to – and have more of – these things. When we treasure something, we make mental space for it.
But we also become pre-occupied with what we worship. We unintentionally find ourselves constantly drawn back to it. We cannot turn our mind’s focus away from it for too long. It might occupy more space in our minds than we’d like, but it is always there.
Lets talk now about the heart of a worshipper. How does the worshipper feel about the thing it worships? The heart of the worshipper yearns for its greatest loves. We light up with eager anticipation. There is longing when its object of worship is absent. The worshipping heart holds contempt and frustration toward things which block it from access to its object of worship.
The worshipper is satisfied when it gets to experience it. There is, simply put, an unmitigated happiness for the heart that is at home with its object of worship.
An interesting thing about our mind and heart dispositions concerning our objects of worship is that they can remain carefully concealed. If we love that which is forbidden, or think we’ll be disapproved of by our social groups, we may simply omit it from our public life. The community’s awareness of our object of worship may threaten our access to it. So we worship in private, and our devotion to it is strained precisely because we cannot worship it openly.
But, what happens when we do get to worship in public?
Well, to start, we find communities that align themselves around our objects of worship. From disc golf buddies to March Madness Brackets Pools and Netflix binge marathons with friends, conventions about everything (comic-con), and online forums, we find others who similarly exalt the things we worship. That’s why my pastor from our Colorado church said of his plans to go to a Broncos game, ‘I’m going to go and worship with 30,000 of my closest friends!’ We just naturally congregate around that which we love and enjoy.
We also take up the language and rituals surrounding our objects of worship. We’ll find a group of guys who will paint their bodies with letters on them to spell things out. We will learn all the team chants and insider lingo. Only Cubs fans get to ‘fly the W’ and sing ‘Go Cubs Go.’
We also start to look like that which we worship. Only in the worship center called Lambeau Field in Green Bay, Wisconsin, is it acceptable to wear a hunk of cheese on your head. How many Crossfit t-shirts do you see when you’re out and about. We let people to know what our allegiances are by what we wear!
We also protect and defend our object of worship. We know how animosity between competing gods works! You put a Trekkie in the same room as a Jedi padawan wannabe, and an argument over which sci-fi universe is greater will ensue! Which is greater: Game of Thrones or Lord of the Rings or Harry Potter? Lets not mention the heckling that the fans of opposing sports teams give one another, or what kind of man you are judged to be if you choose Chevy instead of Ford. We construct our modern altars and rituals around these things, hedge in the community and protect it against outside forces that seek to tear down our gods! What a full-orbed culture of worship we have created for ourselves!!
Now, admittedly, many of these examples may seem comical. And no, I don’t think less of anyone for liking Game of Thrones or the Cubs or Chevy. Some of these communities and rituals I’ve listed I have freely engaged in, or hope to in the future.
So, what’s the problem? The problem is that for many of us, these types of things have moved from hobby to obsession. For many of us these things go from leisure activities to necessities of existence. And, if we’re honest, we worship, adore, and fawn over these things to the point where we begin to push God out of our lives. We may not say it outright, but we have constructed altars to these things in our souls, and turned our lives into sanctuaries and temples of worship before these things.
We can worship our man caves, or in them. We can worship our flower beds, or morning tv or radio shows, politics and even America itself. We can worship our families, our spouses. We can worship our ‘bro time’ to the neglect of our families.
And it doesn’t have to be cultural things. We can worship ourselves on our own altars, can’t we? Sometimes we just love to listen to ourselves talk about whatever because we think we’re so amazing. Or be vain about our looks. Sometimes we roll over people in anger and frustration because they’ve crossed this unseen social boundary called ‘ego.’ We worship ourselves through the constant control of our time. We grudgingly give God an hour or two out of a whole week and tell Him that the rest is ours to do with as we please.
We can even worship ourselves through holding onto things like fear, anxiety, bitterness, and brokenness. How can we be worshipping ourselves through these things? Consider the first line of the song Grace So Glorious: “Beneath the cross of Jesus Christ no shadow remains for shame to hide.” The cross is able to take care of things like shame, fear, regret and anger.
Yet there are probably at least a few of us in this room who have been doing church for months or even years and yet are still full of shame and regret because we refuse to let God do a redeeming work in our lives. We put ourselves beyond God’s ability to heal and redeem by telling Him either: 1) I can handle it on my own; 2) I don’t want to give it up, or 3) the cross can’t really redeem my situation, my hurt, my pain and shame. And these things ruin our lives. People look on and say, ‘Man, he’s in church every Sunday… why is his life look a constant wreckage?’ In a strange sort of pride we’ve told God, ‘you don’t get this part of my life; I’m in charge here.’ Even in pain and stress and uncertainty we pridefully maintain control.
If you want to know where these ideas are at in Scripture, let me share a few with you.
Look at John 3:19-21, for example:
And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. 20 For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. 21 But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God.”
People love the darkness of their lives. We choose to love darkness when we hold onto bitterness, rage, pain, shame and anxiety. But when we choose to worship the LORD through these things, we come into His light so that He can work, and others can see that it is God who is working in us to make us, to His glory.
There are scriptures involving the worship of creation, too. Look at Romans 1:21-25
For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking… 23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things.
24 Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, 25 because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen.
You can hear the language of worship in there, as they refuse to honor and glorify God as Creator and Sustainer of the universe. However, they are more than willing to give glory to everything He created. Think about the number of things in the natural world people obsess over – sunsets and low humidity days and cute fuzzy animals – without taking time to give glory, or even thanks, back to God for these things.
And, yes, there are scriptures that pertain to the works of our hands, too. Consider this rather apt description of idolatry from Isaiah 44:
12 The ironsmith takes a cutting tool and works it over the coals. He fashions it with hammers and works it with his strong arm… The carpenter stretches a line; he marks it out with a pencil... He shapes it with planes and marks it with a compass. He shapes it into the figure of a man, with the beauty of a man, to dwell in a house… he makes a god and worships it; he makes it an idol and falls down before it… He prays to it and says, “Deliver me, for you are my god!”…
“Half of [the wood] I burned in the fire; I also baked bread on its coals; I roasted meat and have eaten. And shall I make the rest of it an abomination? Shall I fall down before a block of wood?” 20 He feeds on ashes; a deluded heart has led him astray, and he cannot deliver himself or say, “Is there not a lie in my right hand?” (Is44:12-20)
In our culture, and in our own lives, how much energy, and how many resources, do we put into creating things we obsess over? Think about this: the idol in this passage is the image of a man; how much time do we spend with all our advanced technology looking at the pictures and lives of other people. We love our celebrities, our athletes… and ourselves through social media. All the while God is wanting us to say, ‘is there not a lie in my right hand?’
I don’t know about you, but when I step back and think about my life this way, in total honesty I just can’t believe that I would do some of these things… yet I do. I get lost for hours in man-made fiction books and have a hard time coming back to reality. I can post something on social media, and find myself wondering how many likes I’m going to get because I want to know that people notice me. I can get upset at a football game just like the next guy because my idol stinks and I really want them to win and be at the top!
In the face of this, how do we grow as worshippers? We need to grow as worshippers, not just in our attendance to church on Sunday mornings, but in how we are devoted to the living God the rest of the week! How do we move from being consciously or unconsciously stuck on ourselves or the created world to true worship of the living God?
Before we tackle the ‘how,’ we must tackle the ‘why.’ Why does it matter? We love this stuff, we enjoy it, why would it be worth giving up or minimizing in our lives? For some of us, if we were to get serious about making God the highest priority of worship in our lives, it would really mess us up! Biblical worship is a serious matter because it demands our all. Let me give a few reasons why it is worth it:
- We ought to give our worship to that which is greatest. Why settle for smaller gods?
- We ought to give our worship to that which will last. As Jesus said, “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal.” As missionary Jim Elliot said, “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose.” When we worship at the altar of earthly things, we worship things that we know we can’t take with us.
- We ought to give our all to God because He gave His all to us (the Gospel). Paul said Jesus was rich and became poor for our sakes. Jesus emptied and lowered himself to the form of a servant. He gave his very life for us. How can we not do the same in return?
- Because we actually believe what God says – Do we believe He is as awesome and rewarding as he says he is? Do we believe that at his right hand are pleasures forever more? Do we believe that to live is Christ and die is gain? If we do, then the worshipping orientation of our hearts, minds and walks ought to reflect that every day.
- Put your money where your mouth is – walk your talk! We want our lives to reflect what we claim we believe.
- Because knowing God and walking closely with Him should be the highest joy of our lives. As Paul said, “I count it all rubbish in order that I may gain Christ.” (Ph3:8) That’s the heartbeat of a Christ-worshipper right there.
So, if those “why’s” are enough for you, let us talk honestly about how we can increase our worship of the One that matters in our lives. These suggestions will fall into two categories: 1) Put down the duckie; 2) Pick up your saxophone.
Now, lets talk about those duckies, these things that intrude upon our practice of God-honoring worship. Who out there thinks that rubber duckies are insidiously, intrinsically evil? Obviously not. This is why true, unhindered worship for modern Americans can be so tough, because our duckies (AKA idols) can be camouflaged and easily hidden. Our smart phones aren’t intrinsically evil. Watching any particular sporting event isn’t evil. Putting down your duckie means you need to put aside certain things in your life for the sake of your devotion to God. But, putting aside things that aren’t explicitly evil isn’t easy. Its not easy because they’re easy to justify. Let me say that again: The reason putting aside things that aren’t explicitly evil is so difficult for us is that they are so easy to justify. Its just a game. Just checking my feed. Easy.
However, even the innocent things of this world can rob you of your joy in worshipping God. Even the best things of the world rob you of the best things God has for you. The blessings of this world aren’t meant to be the end, but a means of our being pointed back to the Blesser.
Now, for some of us the things we do need to put down are serious in nature, even evil. Like bad, improper relationships that need to be cut off or redefined – this could be relationships that threaten a marriage, or just be bad influences. This could be drug or alcohol problems, or any number of addicting substances (and yes, technology and video games count as addictive substances). This could be gambling or other out-of-control money habits that are wreaking havoc on your personal and family life. You need to deal with these things. Don’t leave today without talking to me or someone else about them. Man up and deal with it.
Let me give you some ways of assessing what your ‘rubber duckies’ (aka ‘idols’) are that need to be put aside. Everyone probably has a different one or two things. But these are some ways you might now if you have something you need to put down.
- Put aside things that are addictive time wasters and bad habits.
- Put aside things you feel you need to constantly justify to yourself or others.
- Maybe you have an obsession with stuff, or a category of things that you’re abnormally crazy about.
- You can’t stay away from the digital world. Games, social media, Netflix, etc. Turn off your need to be constantly amused. An addiction to constant entertainment is death to the soul.
- Who are the people, or what are the situations, that just cause your stomach to turn? Give up grudges, past hurts, current anxieties, anything that you know is creating a spiritual barrier to freely worshipping Christ. Take them to the Lord and let Him deal with them.
If something comes to mind that fits one of those categories, then you may have something you need to lay down in order to free yourself up to worship.
And then, pick up your saxophone. Pick up true, spiritual, God-honoring worship in your life. If this is what you really want to do with your life, then stop playing games with God and get serious about ordering your world around that which you know is greatest.
This can be just as hard as the putting down of things. Both require discipline, a long-term commitment to change, and grace for along the way. But increasing your worship of God will not happen without both.
- Don’t do devotions anymore. Do personal worship instead. What do I mean by that? I’ve come to a place when I can tell whether or not I’ve actually worshipped God in my quiet times. Sometimes I come away saying, ‘I’ve done my Bible reading.’ But sometimes I come away saying, ‘Wow. My God really is so big, strong and mighty. You’re awesome, Jesus.’ Do your times in the Word and prayer take you to a place of praise and admiration?
- Dress yourself like that which you want to worship. Look on Jesus Christ and become like Him. “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind.” This is pleasing worship to the Father.
- Get tight with your community of worshippers, learn the lingo, and go hard after God in the fellowship of other like-minded worshippers. Don’t treat participation in the body of Christ like its an optional add-on to your spiritual life.
- Lead your family. Men: there are scores of women in churches all over the country who are weary because their husbands don’t lead spiritually in the home. Parents: there are scores of children growing up in the church who will leave it because their parents don’t do a thing to lead their families in worship besides driving to church. Lead your family to the throne of God, to see and savor both His grace, and His Glory.
- If you love Jesus so much, invite others to know the joy you have in Him, too.
- Change or renew your view of Sunday morning. Worship isn’t mere attendance. Worship isn’t just singing songs. Come to get more of Him. Come to give Him praise from the depth of your being.
- Live in His Presence, not just to be present. There’s a big difference in being around somebody as opposed to being with somebody. “All to Jesus I surrender; all to Him I freely give. I will ever love and trust Him, in His presence daily live.”
- Live as if God is the goal in all things. Time, money, people, activity… Let God and worship of Him give meaning and priority to everything else in life; let Him be the ordering principle.
- Don’t be surprised when the time to sacrifice comes; embrace it. Sacrifice is necessary to worship.
- If an activity increases the awe and wonder of God in your life, do that more!! All of life is worship, and so we can find many ways to worship him, just do it in spirit and in truth.
- Allow grace for the moment. One failure in this isn’t total failure. The only true failure is to give up the pursuit. Remember, our goal is relationship with a gracious Savior, not perfection according to any law. Also, allow grace for others; if we enjoy grace, so can they.
As we close… I want to remind you of a man in one of Jesus’ stories. This man found a great treasure in a field he didn’t own. That man knew he couldn’t just take the treasure; if it was found out that he had taken it, he’d have to give it back, and would be charged as a thief.
However, instead of giving up, he devised a plan to take ownership of that field. Once he had the field, the treasure would rightfully be his, too. Taking ownership of that field cost him, it cost him big time. He literally had to sell everything he owned in order to afford that field. But because he had his eye on the prize, and he knew what he’d be getting in return for his sacrifice, he carried his plan out with joy and gave everything up so he could have that treasure.
Friends, when we talk about worship, we are simply talking about what we are living for, thirsting for, hungering for. What are you living for? Things that will fade and perish, things that you cannot take with you when you die? Or are you living for the glory of the one who made you and redeemed you? Some of you may need to make the commitment to living for Christ for the first time, here and now. Are you willing to die to yourself and to the world so that you may find the best life in Jesus Christ?