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Why We Worship

Date: 30/06/2013/Speaker: Ps Pauline Ong

Psalm 77
For the director of music. For Jeduthun. Of Asaph. A psalm.

1 I cried out to God for help;
I cried out to God to hear me.
2 When I was in distress, I sought the Lord;
at night I stretched out untiring hands,
and I would not be comforted.

3 I remembered you, God, and I groaned;
I meditated, and my spirit grew faint. Selah

4 You kept my eyes from closing;
I was too troubled to speak.
5 I thought about the former days,
the years of long ago;
6 I remembered my songs in the night.
My heart meditated and my spirit asked:

7 “Will the Lord reject forever?
Will he never show his favor again?
8 Has his unfailing love vanished forever?
Has his promise failed for all time?
9 Has God forgotten to be merciful?
Has he in anger withheld his compassion?” Selah

10 Then I thought, “To this I will appeal:
the years when the Most High stretched out his right hand.
11 I will remember the deeds of the Lord;
yes, I will remember your miracles of long ago.
12 I will consider all your works
and meditate on all your mighty deeds.”

13 Your ways, God, are holy.
What god is as great as our God?
14 You are the God who performs miracles;
you display your power among the peoples.
15 With your mighty arm you redeemed your people,
the descendants of Jacob and Joseph. Selah

16 The waters saw you, God,
the waters saw you and writhed;
the very depths were convulsed.
17 The clouds poured down water,
the heavens resounded with thunder,
your arrows flashed back and forth.
18 Your thunder was heard in the whirlwind,
your lightning lit up the world;
the earth trembled and quaked.
19 Your path led through the sea,
your way through the mighty waters,
though your footprints were not seen.

20 You led your people like a flock
by the hand of Moses and Aaron.

Can I begin this morning by asking you a basic question? Why do we worship? What brings you here this morning to worship? What motivates us, inspires us, compels us to worship? What compels you to worship?

Okay, maybe I am getting a little ahead of myself. Perhaps I shouldn’t start by assuming that everyone came here today with the objective or desire to worship. That’s okay. Maybe some of us are here because we are curious and want to know a little more about this God that Christians talk about. Cool! There might also be some here who have not stepped into a church for a very long time and for some reason, you are here today. And we are really happy you all are here and we welcome you with joy. For some others, we may be here today because we have duties to perform or people we need to meet. Perhaps if we are truly honest with ourselves, our prime motivation for coming today is not to worship. And that’s okay. Maybe you have a lot on your mind or you are struggling with deep hurt, pain or betrayal or maybe you just feel far away from God and it’s really difficult to focus on worship. It’s okay, I understand. I had a really tough week at work dealing with sudden and urgent deadlines from clients and had to work overtime until 1am some nights. My brain is frankly, a little exhausted, so I understand when people tell me it’s hard to focus on worship.

So no matter what your present state of mind may be, can I invite you to take a break from all that your brain is dealing with, to pause for a moment and go on a little journey with me as we explore together why we worship as Christians and as human beings? As a sidenote, that is what “selah” means. You often see it in the Psalms and most scholars believe it refers to an interlude to pause, praise and think of that.

Well, let’s start with a big picture question. Why do you think human beings worship? No matter what country, culture or religious background one may be from, human beings are drawn to worship. Worship is generally defined as the reverent love or devotion accorded a deity or sacred object. If you observe the world around us, you would realize that worship is a human aspiration. It doesn’t matter if you are Christian, animistic, atheistic or agnostic. There is a deep desire in all human hearts to be in awe of, to revere or adore something or someone bigger than us. When I was living in Japan, I grew to understand why Japanese are animistic. They are surrounded by gorgeous and majestic mountains and the beauty of nature can at times be breathtaking. And with earthquakes, typhoons and tsunamis that occur frequently, nature can also be a powerful and terrifying force. That’s why they believe there is life, spirit in each mountain, tree or river and each should be accorded respect. So they revere and worship those parts of nature that feels especially sacred to them.

For us Christians, worship is an even more awesome and wonderful thing, at least in my opinion. Why? Well that are a couple of reasons. But first, let me clarify what worship is not. Often, we Christians call the time of singing and praising God in the beginning of the service “worship” and rightly so, because it is our expression and response to who God is and what God has done. That is worship. But the only problem is that people tend to narrowly define that portion of the service as “worship” and forget that actually, we are participating in a worship service as a whole. You see, every element of a church service is geared towards worshipping God. We worship though song, worship through prayer, worship through meditating on God’s Word together and worship through sharing communion. All these are acts of worship. And ideally, even outside the church, our lives, our words, our expressions of love and service should be acts of worship, no matter where we are.

Harold Best, in his book Music Through the Eyes of Faith, defines worship in the broadest sense as “acknowledging that someone or something else is greater – worth more – and by consequence, to be obeyed, feared, and adored…Worship is the sign that in giving myself completely to someone or something, I want to be mastered by it.” If we think about it carefully, we do want to be mastered by the objects of our worship. And indeed we are. We worship whatever rules our time, energy, thoughts, longings, and choices. One definition of worship that I appreciate for its simplicity and clarity is by Warren Wiersbe, who wrote: “Worship is the believer’s response of all that they are – mind, emotions, will, body – to what God is and says and does.”

So let me ask you, as a believer why do you worship? What compels you to worhip? And as Christians, what makes worship such an awesome and wonderful thing?

Firstly, let me say this. We do not worship primarily to feel moved, though warm emotions often arise when we worship God. We do not worship primarily to “get something out of the service,” though we often benefit from what happens when we gather with God’s people for worship. We do not worship primarily for anything having to do with ourselves, though worship is one of the most meaningful and transformational things we do in life.

So why do we worship?

1) Psalm 47:1-2 makes this clear: “Come, everyone! Clap your hands! Shout to God with joyful praise! For the LORD most High is awesome. He is the great King of all the earth.” We worship God for God is awesome. And when we say “awesome”, I don’t mean it the contemporary way where we say everything is awesome. I mean “awesome” in its full and original definition…and it means “inspiringan overwhelming feeling of reverence, admiration, or fear.” We worship because of who God is and what God has done. Because who God is inspires reverence, admiration and fear. Our worship is aresponse to God, to God’s nature and activity. It is not really dependent on our feelings or circumstances.

2) We worship because creation testifies to who God is so when we look around us, we can’t help but worship.

Psalm 19:1-4 (NLT)

The heavens proclaim the glory of God.
The skies display his craftsmanship.
2 Day after day they continue to speak;
night after night they make him known.
3 They speak without a sound or word;
their voice is never heard.
4 Yet their message has gone throughout the earth,
and their words to all the world.

(a) The Testimony Is Constant

This revelation about God’s power and majesty is constant, occurring “day after day” and “night after night.” Humans are constantly reminded of God’s existence.

(b) It Is Worldwide In Scope

The scope of this testimony is worldwide. All people, everywhere, have access to this form of God’s revelation. There are no geographic barriers.

(c) There Is No Language Barrier

Since this is a non-verbal form of communication there is no language barrier. All people, in every language, are able to comprehend this form of God revealing Himself.

I had the privilege of visiting a really beautiful place in Japan a few weeks ago and I feel extremely thankful just to have been there and witnessing how creation truly proclaims who God is. Psalm 19 talks about how the heavens proclaim the glory of God and the skies display his craftmanship….how day after day and night after night they make him known. I just want to share with you a series of photos that I took over one night and the next morning that reminds me in a visual way what this Psalm describes. On the day I arrived in this area, it was cloudy in the mountains because there was a typhoon blowing past Tokyo and Osaka. This misty scene was after a light rain in the evening. Then as the sky was turning to night, it looked like this. In the morning, the clouds cleared and I was awed by this magnificent view of the sky and mountains. Creation truly reminds us of who the Creator is and all God has made and sustains day after day.

3) As Christians, we are very fortunate….we are immensely blessed because we don’t have to keep searching, guessing who the God that we worship is. In grace, God has made God’s self known to us. We even have a record of our interactions with God over history through the Bible. The writer who penned Psalm 77, Asaph, started the psalm with great distress. We are not sure what he was facing but we know he was David’s choir master — the leader of the singers. Quite a number of psalms are attributed to him and while writing this psalm, he seemed to be in a very emotionally trying situation. He was a man of music who lost his music and he wasn’t even sure if God was still there or if God’s promises still held true. Have you ever felt like that? What helped Asaph to worship even in this distressing time? He says in Psalm 77:10-15,

10 Then I thought, “To this I will appeal:
the years when the Most High stretched out his right hand.
11 I will remember the deeds of the Lord;
yes, I will remember your miracles of long ago.
12 I will consider all your works
and meditate on all your mighty deeds.”

13 Your ways, God, are holy.
What god is as great as our God?
14 You are the God who performs miracles;
you display your power among the peoples.
15 With your mighty arm you redeemed your people,
the descendants of Jacob and Joseph.

We worship in difficult situations because it reminds us of who God is and what God has done for us. We worship because we actually know the God that we worship personally. Psalm 77:20 says God leads his people like a flock and we belong to God. We have a relationship with God that leaves a track record that we can refer back to, especially in hard times. Like Asaph, we can find comfort in the constancy of God. Even more amazingly, we worship because of the gospel that God made real for you and me through Jesus Christ. Unlike Asaph who lived in Old Testament times, we have the privilege of seeing the gospel become reality through Jesus. We know the extent that God went in order to make us his/her children so we have all the more reason to worship.

So what inspires, motivates and compels you to worship? Like the psalmist in Psalm 77, what compels you to worship even in the most difficult times?

We worship because

1) God is awesome and deserves all our praise (Psalm 47:1-2)

2) Because Creation testifies to who God is (Psalm 19:1-4)

3) Because we know God personally and God made the gospel real for you and me

So what now? Now that we know why we worship, where do we go from here? I just want to leave you with this thought that I hope will encourage and challenge you. While on my recent trip, I visited this place called The Stone Church. Now, Japan is less than 1% Christian so it’s actually quite rare to find churches around. Well, this church was built more for weddings than for worship services but its architecture was inspired by the breathtaking beauty of the nature surrounding it. This church also contains a memorial to the Japanese Chistian founder of the indigenous “Mukyokai” (or Nonchurch movement), Uchimura Kanzo. His words, “I for Japan, Japan for the World, the World for Christ and all for God” stands there clearly as a testimony for all to see. It’s interesting how a place like this was designed and built as a response to the beauty of nature and the life of one Christian. So I leave you with these equations:

Creation = shows God’s glory

Creation + Worshipper = shows God’s glory more

Creation + Worshippers = shows God’s glory even more

What is the Holy Spirit saying to you today? Are our lives, our words, our expressions of love and service an act of worship whether we are inside or outside the church? Are we as a community of believers somehow showing God’s glory more when we are together?

Let us pray.