Henry Ward Beecher was
to be absent from the pulpit of Plymouth Church one Sunday, and asked his
brother to preach for him. As the worship service was beginning, and it
became apparent that the great preacher would not be speaking that morning,
some people got up to leave. At that point, Beecher's brother stepped into
pulpit and said, "All of those who came to hear Henry Ward Beecher this
morning should take this opportunity to leave; all of those who came to
worship God may remain." No one else left the sanctuary.
It is odd how church-going
people can get caught up in religious activities while losing sight of
the purpose behind those activities. I remember hearing sermons on worship
as I attended church as a child. The main idea I remember from those sermons
was that worship was something God commanded and demanded. I was taught
that by virtue of God being the creator, it was my duty to obey his command
to worship. Many of those early childhood sermons presented worship as
a series of acts to be engaged in by those who wished to be obediently
faithful. Somewhere along the line the emphasizes was more upon my duty
and where I should be at the time of worship. Just being present for worship
eventually became the only criteria for the test for obedience and faithfulness.
I think many times our worship was so focused on what was going on around
us that we completely lost the sense of God's presence.
I think that my religious
experience as a child growing up in the church is closely associated to
what happens today as many attend worship. Most are focused on the wrong
things. Modern worship is evaluated by the talents of those leading the
worship service. It is gauged by the eloquence of the speaker, the musical
ability of the song leader or choir and the assortment of instruments on
the stage and how well they are played.
In many religious groups
the majority of those attending worship services come to be entertained
or made to feel good by what is happening on stage. Those leading the worship
services today are challenged to make it exciting and interesting. Some
endeavor to make worship services exciting by doing everything different
than it has been done in the past. Then there are those whose focus is
on doing things like they have always been done.
I preached at a place
where someone switched sides with the elements used in communion. The bread
had always been on one side of the table and the wine on the other side.
Someone new came into the congregation and began preparing the communion.
But each time they would unknowingly switch sides with the bread and the
wine. They knew nothing of the old order of things. This so disturbed one
of the older members that he took out his pocket knife and carved a "W",
which stood for wine, on the side of the table that it had always been
placed in the past. He also carved the letter "B" on the other side of
the table where the bread had always been placed in the past. That "B"
and "W" remain on that table to this day as a monument to an improper focus
Rather than participating
in the worship many have become spectators looking for an exhibition. If
the exhibition doesn't measure up, they find themselves bored and tire
of the ordeal. Sadly, many believe that revitalizing the church lies in
our ability to cater the worship service to the desires of those gauging
Jack Hayford said, "I'm
concerned about the absence of truly accessible worship music for the church.
So much new praise and worship music is performance-oriented and very well-done.
But the majority of the people listening to it can't sing it...If you're
going to have a worship service, it needs to involve the people." (Via
Inforsearch Database, Arlington, Texas.)
True Worship Rooted
in Hearts and Lives
Peter replied, "Repent
and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the
forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.
The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off--
for all whom the Lord our God will call." With many other words he warned
them; and he pleaded with them, "Save yourselves from this corrupt generation."
Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand
were added to their number that day. They devoted themselves to the apostles'
teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.
Everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and miraculous signs were
done by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything
in common. (NIV)
There was an objective
reason for the subjective experience of being together. That first worship
was thoroughly rooted in scripture. The scriptures gave them a Christ-centered
focus. That first worship service was focusing each person's life more
fully on the risen Savior. A new life with Christ began as they opened
themselves to God's direction. Paul states the purpose of baptism in Romans
6:3-4 as dying to the old life and arising to walk in newness of life.
Here in Acts 2 the first Christians arise from baptism to begin their new
life of repentance toward God by following the apostles teaching concerning
The vitality of that
first worship was rooted in a faith that appealed to the mind. The first
worship service was thoroughly grounded in scripture, but it was a search
of scriptures that focused their lives on the living Christ. It was a worship
service grounded in the hearts and souls of those seeking to discover the
reality of God's presence in their personal lives. The purpose of that
first worship was to transform the mind, heart and lifestyle of the one
engaged in it. Those present were seeking a new beginning for their lives
as they discovered what God had done for them in Jesus Christ. There were
no rituals, no formalities, no traditions, no hype and no entertaining
exhibitions designed to hold their attention. The only cohesive force bringing
them together and sustaining their interest was the power of God demonstrated
through their risen Savior. Their minds were kept in focus by a humble
submission to God's word spoken by the apostles.
Sadly, many worship
services only provide momentary diversions rather than providing an opportunity
for spiritual growth and renewal. In that first worship there was a study
of Scripture which appealed to the minds of those present. This teaching
of the Scriptures was an appeal to their minds that would allow them to
grow. They were carefully examining the Scriptures that they might grow.
True Worship Creates
A Comprehensive Fellowship
The saying they had
"all things common" expresses a comprehensive fellowship. It was a fellowship
that far surpassed an hour spent together rehearsing ritual or trying to
create interest by doing things different. It was a fellowship where lives
became mangled together as one as they discovered the reality of God's
presence in their lives. I am always impressed with the comprehensive fellowship
in the following verses.
All the believers were
together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods,
they gave to anyone as he had need. Every day they continued to meet together
in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together
with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all
the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being
The excitement of that
first fellowship was the result of the virgin birth, the Master's ministry,
the cross and the empty tomb which manifested the possibility and power
available for a new life focused on God. It is not difficult to bring people
together who are motivated by a common purpose.
That first fellowship
had all things in common because it constituted those who were brought
together as a result of focusing their lives on the living Christ. A Christ-centered
worship grounded in scripture rooted in the hearts and souls of individuals
ultimately brought those first Christians into fellowship with each other.
It was the breaking of bread or communion that reminded each person of
the common bond bringing them together and the purpose of coming together.
They had a common purpose for being together. It wasn't something commanded
or demanded; it was a natural response to their longing for God. As they
were drawn to Christ they were naturally drawn to those who expressed a
common interest in Christ.
In his book The Pursuit
of God, A. W. Tozer wrote, "Has it ever occurred to you that one hundred
pianos all tuned to the same fork are automatically tuned to each other?
They are of one accord by being tuned, not to each other, but to another
standard to which each one must individually bow. So one hundred worshipers
(meeting) together, each one looking away to Christ, are in heart nearer
to each other than they could possibly be, were they to become 'unity'
conscious and turn their eyes away from God to strive for closer fellowship."
(Via Infosearch Database. Arlington, Texas.)
In that first fellowship
their lives became so entwined together that they lost sight of what's
yours and mine. Those wishing to abandon their selfish lives in their longing
for God powerfully motivated it. They sold their possessions and departed
the proceeds to those who had need. Individual burdens became mutual burdens
as they entered into fellowship. That first fellowship was so comprehensive
that they entered into one another's suffering.
Notice the following
comfort from Paul's letter, which gives us an idea of the mindset of those
worshiping God. It stresses how individual burdens become mutual burdens
through proper fellowship of Christians. In the first fellowship you see
a price being paid for the comfort of others.
2 Corinthians 1:2-7
Grace and peace to
you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Praise be to the God
and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God
of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort
those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God.
For just as the sufferings of Christ flow over into our lives, so also
through Christ our comfort overflows. If we are distressed, it is for your
comfort and salvation; if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which
produces in you patient endurance of the same sufferings we suffer. And
our hope for you is firm, because we know that just as you share in our
sufferings, so also you share in our comfort. (NIV)
Real worship is where
lives are wrapped up in one another. After all God has wrapped his existence
up in ours. So much so that he laid down his life for ours. This fellowship
of sharing far surpasses mere church attendance, observance of ritual or
the need for momentary excitement. It surpasses the excitement of creative
exhibition. The first worship involved a community of believers. The community
of believers provided support and encouragement.
The excitement of that
first worship overflowed into their daily lives. "Every day they continued
to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes
and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying
the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those
who were being saved. (Acts 2:46-47 NIV)
God's Praise Comes
God's praise is the
natural response of genuine fellowship.
"The best of human relationships,
apart from the Holy Spirit, are based on the barter of mutual needs, interests,
causes, or fears. We do not naturally live in close, harmonious, giving,
and forgiving relations. Unless there is something we need either to get
or provide, we are not drawn into either friendship or partnership. Without
the Holy Spirit, we use people or are used by them depending on our dominance-subservience
personality quotient. Loneliness drives people into one place, but that
does not mean that they are together, really. We are fundamentally
The church as it was
meant to be is made up of people who have accepted God's eternal purpose
to become one with him and with one another. It is a fellowship of individuals
who have given themselves to one another as Christ has given himself to
them. It is in this new setting that God's new creation of humanity is
demonstrated to the world. The result is the praise of God who initiated
the initial sacrifice to make it so. He died and lives to make it possible.
True worship is the
result of the praise and adoration of a life overflowing with God's living
presence. The songs and prayers are the result of individual lives responding
to the call of God, which results in a comprehensive community of sacrificial
In 1808, just a year
before the death of Franz Joseph Haydn, a grand performance of his outstanding
oratorio The Creation took place in Vienna. The composer himself was there
for the occasion. Old and feeble, he was brought into the great hall in
a wheelchair. His presence caused an electrifying enthusiasm in the audience.
As the orchestra and chorus burst forth with full power into the passage,
"And there was light," a crescendo of applause broke out. Moved by this
response, the elderly musician struggled to his feet. Summoning all his
strength, he raised his trembling arms upward, crying, "No, no! Not from
me, but from thence--from Heaven above came all!" Although he fell back
exhausted in his chair and had to be carried from the hall, the old master
had made his point in a dramatic and unforgettable manner.
God is at the heart
of Christian worship as he reveals himself in the lives of the saints.
Praise be to HIM!
Where does worship begin?
It begins as it is rooted
in the hearts and souls of those who believe in Christ.
It is sustained as believers
focus on embracing God in repentance as our lives are surrendered to his
leading through the teaching of the scriptures and guidance of the Holy
It is aimed at bringing
honor and glory to God's name as he recreates us in his image to be a shining
light in a dark world.
An old Quaker story
tells about a visitor coming into the silence of a Friends' Meeting for
worship and asking the person next to him, "What time does the service
begin?" The Quaker's said, "When the worship is over."
1. James Thompson, Strategy
for Survival. Sweet publishing Company, Austin, Texas, 1980. pp. 13,14
2. Lloyd J. Ogilvie,
The Communicator's Commentary, Acts. Word Books, Waco, Texas, 1983. pp.