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Psalm 96 and John 4:19-24
9am & 10.30am SMAS Service

This talk cannot answer every question about worship but will hopefully cover some essentials.

A little boy asked his mother if she could remember the highest number she’d ever counted to. The mother didn’t know so she asked him about his highest number. He answered, "5,372." Puzzled she asked him why he stopped at that particular one. The boy replied, "Well…church was over."

A common reason given for not coming to church is it’s boring. Let’s face it we’ve all experienced church worship that’s been rather dull. Expecting boredom, church becomes a time to think about lunch or what’s happening this afternoon. Some people play games counting bricks or cobwebs. Not being as interesting as what’s on TV or at the cinema worship becomes something to endure. Let’s face it I can’t even begin to compete with Strictly Come Dancing. But then again should I expect to 'enjoy' worship. Or even to get something from it? What is worship anyway?

The word 'worship' comes from 'worthship', meaning that God is worthy; He deserves our praise. Worship is our response to all God is and says and does. Worship has happened when we walk away from a service saying, "Wow, what a great God!" rather than "that was a nice music or a great sermon." To worship is to get away from focusing on ourselves and to focus on Him.

Jesus said to the Samaritan woman, "You worship what you do not know." There’s many who don’t seem to know what they’re worshipping. Thinking they’re worshipping God, but often they’ve replaced God with themselves.

It’s not about us but about worshipping God. We’re not there to be entertained. If the God who made us, not to mention the whole universe is there we don’t need entertainment. Church isn’t a place to be entertained - at the end of this 'show'; the only applause that matters comes from God.

Much of the time we might respond like a little girl who, when saying her bedtime prayers said… "Dear God, we had a good time at church today – but I wish You’d been there…"

A congregation invited a famous preacher one Sunday. As it turned out, he couldn’t go and sent his brother in his place. Once people realized they started to leave. The fill-in preacher stood-up and said: "Those of you who came to hear my brother speak may leave now; those of you who came to worship God may stay on."

We come to worship God, not enjoy ourselves or revere a certain type of service, prayer book, or building. Today’s consumerist society might say we can pick and mix to suit ourselves. But that’s the way of the world not of God.

Why do I have to go to church to worship? How should we do it? What should it result in? We’ll look at these points after we’ve looked at Psalm 96.

Where are we to worship?
All the earth, all you families, come into His courts. (Ps 96 vv7,8,9) Plenty of other psalms speak of "praising in the assembly of the faithful". Ps149

The assembly of the faithful, meaning a gathered community of believers. ‘We’ is not a bunch of I’s. God is Trinity - community. He made us in His image – that’s community too. Worship must be in community. It’s not about individuals, personal feelings or private experience. Worship is corporate, social, community.

God’s spirit has a way of working through a gathered people in a greater way than He does in each of us personally. Together we are the Body of Christ. Two things you can’t do alone — be married and be a Christian. Some people come to church to be left alone, to be spectators; we need to participate in worship, we’re not the audience — God is! Afterwards, we shouldn’t be asking, 'What did I get out of church?' but rather, 'Was God pleased by my worship?'

We know that Jesus regularly worshipped at the Temple or synagogue. He instructed His followers to carry on meeting to learn, pray and worship together. Acts 2:46-47, says, "So continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they ate their food with gladness and simplicity of heart, praising God and having favour with all the people."

The Bible tells us this community of worshippers also includes the saints (meaning Christians gone before us) and angels. To neglect coming and being part of that in order to be somewhere else enjoying earthly things seems absurd to me and is akin to throwing away heavenly treasure.

How should we worship?
There are many ways but because it’s not about us, it’s not about what we like! Some particular style or ‘right’ form of words. Hebrews tackles people of the early church who’d stopped attending worship. We don’t know all of the reasons why but there was a deep spiritual weariness. They had "drooping hands and weak knees" (Heb12:12). In danger of drifting away, they looked back to Judaism’s pomp and pageantry: there were aspects of it they missed. So, bored in their worship they stopped going. Perhaps, compared to elaborate pagan rituals or the old Judaism it was plain and dull. No pageantry, tradition, or excitement. They voted with their feet, as do many today.

It’s tragic when people opt out. It’s not like leaving a club - more like throwing away precious treasure. It’s like choosing a worthless bauble you can have now in place of something of far greater value. Worship is not an event to attend or enjoy, worship is an encounter with God.

And, the psalm tells us, sing a new song! Meaning we can’t just sing old favourites. The psalmist isn’t telling us to pick music from the Top20 but that it must be fresh. Something that really reaches down and expresses your heart today. If you can use what someone else has written, fine, but it needs to come from your heart. The songs might be 100 years old or brand new; but the experience should be heart-felt, personal, immediate, spontaneous. It is not whether the prayers are off the top of the head or off the page; its whether the one doing the praying makes them his own and leads others to pray.

Worship must be fresh. Imagine turning the news on and hearing a month old report. We might enjoy reading what happened weeks ago but its nothing like hearing today’s news. It’s easy to still be reading 'old news' in our spiritual lives. So long since we’ve experienced anything fresh with the Lord that we’re just living on memories of what we used to have in our relationship with Christ. Martin Luther said, "Christ is now as fresh unto me as if He had shed His blood but this very hour."

When we walk with Him daily, experiencing new ways of encountering Him we can’t help but break out into joyful praise and new songs.

The psalm tells us there must be JOY is in worship, speaking of the whole created earth rejoicing. God made us, God saves us and God will come again to judge us in faithfulness and righteousness. Yes, there’s a time to mourn, a time for quiet. But God loves us. cares for us, is faithful to us and lifts us out of the pit.

What should we see as a result of worship?
The psalmist reminds the Israelites that the blessings of God were never intended for only one group of people (v3 & 10) Because of what we receive we must proclaim His salvation to those around us. When you fall in love with Jesus it should show. When 'church' is over, empowered by His Spirit our worship should spill out into the world.  As Augustine said "A Christian should be an alleluia from head to foot." Worship should empower us to go out into the world and claim the kingdom for Christ.

If we haven’t learnt to worship, it doesn’t really matter how well we do anything else. Worshipping God is a source of power and it shows others His glory. When the early church met together they were strengthened, encouraged, refined. They had a clear sense of identity and purpose; they became better equipped to serve God.

It’s the same today, and people can only hear it from us. One characteristic of churches that are experiencing dynamic growth is that they offer God exalting worship – they are raising Him up and He’s a whole lot more attractive than we are!

To find that source of power in worship, we must come with an open HEART - not our own personal agenda. We must come with a real hunger and thirst - Jesus told the Samaritan woman, whoever drinks the water He gives will be filled. We must come wanting and seeking God’s presence.

True worship will satisfy us so we don’t have to shop around for man-made substitutes.

The church that worships in Spirit and Truth is powerfully attractive. It strips away the things that block the eyes and heart. It strips away personal agendas and false pretences and holds Jesus up. It becomes real, genuine - desirable. Have you ever had anyone say to you ‘I want what you’ve got’ (about your faith that is!)?

Sadly many Christians experience little, if any, growth through their worship experience, and that some churches generate very little power through worship. It is only when we begin to worship that we begin to grow.

Thought to ponder: "Worship does not satisfy our hunger for God—it whets our appetite. Our need for God is not taken care of by engaging in worship—it deepens. It overflows the hour and permeates the week." - Eugene Peterson

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