October 19, 2017
WHAT IS HIS WORTH?
WE USE the word yet struggle to describe it in just a few words.
What is worship?
Tom Wells helpfully calls it a response to greatness. I say helpfully because his brief definition of worship points us in two directions.
First, it directs us to the one who is great. The sons of Korah begin a song with these words:
Great is the LORD and greatly to be praised. (Psalm 48.1)
The same words can be found in Psalm 96. (verse 48) David says the same in Psalm 145 (verse 3). And, in the book Malachi, we learn that God’s people will say, Great is the LORD, when they see him judge the ungodly (Malachi 1.5).
Those who worship Almighty God heed the call of Moses to ascribe greatness to our God (Deuteronomy 32.3).
Secondly, Tom Wells draws our attention to what we are to do. We are to respond to the greatness of Almighty God. That is what worship entails. But how are we to respond? What are the essential features of true worship?I would like to suggest that a good place to start is the introduction to public worship that Archbishop Cranmer gave us nearly 500 years ago. There is something timeless about it. Here is part of it:
the Scriptures move us in sundry places to acknowledge and confess our manifold sins and wickedness; and that we should not dissemble nor cloak them before the face of Almighty God, our Heavenly Father; but confess them with a humble, lowly, penitent and obedient heart, to the end that we may obtain forgiveness of the same, by his infinite goodness and mercy; and although we ought at all times humbly to acknowledge our sins before God, yet we ought most chiefly so to do when we assemble and meet together to render thanks for the great benefits that we have received at his hands, to set forth his most worthy praise, to hear his most holy Word, and to ask for those things which are requisite and necessary, as well for the body as the soul.
A careful study of these words indicate that those who recognise the greatness of God respond in five ways.
First, they confess their sins. They do so honestly. They avoid excuses or pretence. They do not try to conceal before God the wrongs they do. They realise it is futile to try to do that for nothing can be hidden from him. For a short while they may be able to hide them from family and friends. But it is impossible to hide them from God.
They confess their sins humbly. They bow before God recognising the seriousness of their sins. No matter how small we may imagine a sin to be the reality is, because each and every sin is an act of defiance – we defy God and reject his will for us – each and every sin deserves eternal punishment. This is a fact that we too easily forget or wilfully ignore.
They confess their sins with a penitent spirit. That is they are ashamed that they stand guilty before God. In the best sense of the words, they feel remorse and regret that they have erred.
Furthermore their penitence is coupled with obedience. They obey God’s call to confess their sins and they do so with the resolve that they will forsake their sins and not repeat them.
And they confess their sins with an aim in mind. Their desire is to be forgiven. They know they do not deserve that. But they know God is gracious. Hence they recognise that forgiveness can never be earned. Rather it is freely given out of the sovereign goodness and mercy of Almighty God. Our repentance does not merit forgive-ness. And the impenitent never enjoy it.
Secondly, they thank God. Cranmer seeks to encourage us to appreciate what God gives us. He uses the term great benefits. And he does so for good reason. God is the giver and sustainer of life. We quickly forget or pass over this fact.
The thinking of our generation is to focus on what can be seen and to restrict our understanding of what we see to observable cause and effect. People see their existence as due only to their parents. They do not go beyond the secondary cause (our parents) to the first cause, God. They fail to ask: Why do we exist? And they fail to appreciate that God upholds all things by his word of power.
However a Christian undergoes a radical transformation. He or she no longer leaves God out. Instead he is seen to be the great and bountiful provider. And, as we shall note below, the one who sustains us both physically and spiritually. For that Christians say a hearty thank you.
Thirdly, they praise God. Cranmer is more specific. He speaks of us setting forth God’s most worthy praise. The words admire and adore are of help to us. We sometimes limit praise to the singing of songs. Yes, those who adore God do sing his praise. But they do so with a grateful and admiring heart.
They do what God would have us do. They worship him in spirit and truth (John 4.23). They are never content to just mouth words or to clap their hands as they sing. Such is not worthy praise. Proper worship, as Tom Wells says, is a response to greatness. God is the refuge and strength of his people. He gives us great and precious promises. He so loved us that he gave Christ to redeem us. He has purchased our pardon with his blood. In worship we admire and adore God for his greatness. We sing with joy: Worthy is the Lamb who was slain to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honour and glory and blessing (Revelation 5.12).
Fourthly, they listen to God. Those who have discovered the amazing grace of God to the undeserving in Christ Jesus are keen to discover more about him. From where can they learn more? There is only one sure place. And that is God’s written Word.
Yes, God has spoken. And he caused the record of his word to be recorded for us. It is the Bible. The words of the sixty-six books of which the Bible is composed are the very words by which God calls us to live. They are given for instruction. They teach us about God and his grace. They teach us about Jesus Christ. In worship we learn about him. We want to know about him because he alone is the way to God. He is the truth. And in him there is life in all its fulness.
And fifthly, they ask God. Those who truly worship Almighty God know that they are dependent upon him. Without him they are nothing. And without him they can do nothing that truly pleases him. So they go to him. They bow before him. They humbly ask God to give them their daily bread. They ask for all that they need to live for him each day.
To live for God our bodies need strength. And to resist the siren voice of the world, the flesh and the devil we need spiritual strength. God supplies both. And he does so liberally.
Worship is to give to God that of which he is worthy. To him we confess our sins, say thank you and praise. We listen to him and ask him for all that he promises to give.
George Curry 18 June 2017