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By Rev Charles Seet

Preached at / Published Life BPC 10:45am service, 2005-11-20

Text: Hebrews 12:28,29; Isaiah 6:1-8

The worship service in some churches today is no different from a secular variety show or entertaining performance complete with glaring lights and blaring music. The audience is hyped up into am emotional frenzy by worship leaders who keep them going at break-neck speed. The worshippers are encouraged to participate by giving clap offerings to God, and by performing all kinds of extraordinary gyrations to express how much they love the Lord Jesus. 

Now the sad thing is that many churches that were once conservative have succumbed to these trends as well. New innovative forms are introduced, often with the reason that the existing form of worship is much too serious, outdated, old-fashioned, somber and boring. It is claimed that the worship service is simply not 'user friendly' enough, and does not appeal to the new generation.

Church growth experts believe that the main reason why churches are not growing is that there is nothing in their worship service that attracts people. They say that one must create a lively mood of celebration that will give people such a high thrilling sensation that they will want to come back again for more and bring all their friends along. This is guaranteed to boost the church attendance very quickly and grow huge megachurches. This trend of boosting church attendance through changing the form of worship is precisely why we need to deal with this subject of worship: Because the temptation to adopt new and innovative styles of worship is so strong today. 

A. The Real Objective of Worship

If we are not careful enough we too may get caught up with the trend to increase our church attendance by seeking to deliver an emotionally charged and thrilling worship experience here every Sunday. This has become the main objective of all contemporary worship. But the question we need to ask is, 'What should be the real objective of our worship?' What is worship primarily supposed to achieve? Doesn't it have to do with the God whom we worship? Isn't worship meant to bring the greatest pleasure and glory to the Lord rather than to the worshippers? 

Dearly beloved, the Bible tells us that our worship must first and foremost be acceptable to God. Hebrews 12:28 says 'Wherefore we receiving a kingdom which cannot be moved, let us have grace, whereby we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear.' The word 'serve' in this verse comes from the Greek word latriea which means worship (cf. Idolatry = idol worship). This word is qualified by the word 'acceptably.' Hence, not all worship is acceptable to God.

If you are assigned to host a dinner for a very important dignitary alying in from overseas what would you do? Would you choose the cuisine that you enjoy eating the most? No, I think that you would probably want to find out what food the visitor enjoys most and what food he cannot eat or is allergic to. The same thing applies to worship: Our manner of worship should be acceptable to God. We should offer only what is pleasing to Him, and not offer what is pleasing to ourselves. What kind worship then is acceptable and pleasing to God?

The latter part of verse 28 leaves us without any doubt at all about the kind of worship that is acceptable to God - it has to be filled with the attitude of reverence and godly fear. If we lack this attitude in our worship, then God will not accept it, or worse still, He will utterly reject it.

B. Worship that God Rejects

The passage from Isaiah 6 that we read earlier begins with the words, 'In the year that King Uzziah died' King Uzziah failed to worship God with reverence and godly fear, and he ended up suffering terrible consequences. According to 2 Chronicles 26:16-20, Uzziah tried to force his way into the innermost part of the temple to offer up incense to God. Now, the offering of incense was something that only the priests of Israel were allowed to do, and even they did it reverently with great fear that God would strike them dead. 

But just like a 'fool rushing in where angels fear to tread,' Uzziah barged irreverently into the Temple to offer incense to God. And as he got angry with the 80 priests who tried to stop him, he was struck at once with the dreaded disease of leprosy, and Uzziah had to live the rest of his life as a recluse until he died, forbidden to come anywhere near to the House of God because he was ceremonially unclean. Uzziah had been much too bold to come into God's holy presence, a place where even the few who were allowed to enter, did so with great reverence and godly fear. He failed to ascribe holiness to God, and so God had to force Uzziah to sense his own shame and unholiness by making him a leper. Let this be a warning to us all, to approach God with reverence and godly fear. 

Some may say, however, that this example from the Old Testament no longer applies today. Now, in New Testament times, we have freedom of access to God through Jesus Christ, and we can now come to the throne of grace boldly, without any fear (Hebrews 5:16).

But there is an incident in the New Testament which is similar to what happened to King Uzziah. It also took place in a worship setting. In 1 Corinthians 11 the Corinthian believers had been conducting the Lord's Supper in an improper and irreverent manner. Listen to the apostle Paul's description about their manner (vv.20-22) 'When ye come together therefore into one place, this is not to eat the Lord's Supper. For in eating every one taketh before other his own supper: and one is hungry, and another is drunken. What? have ye not houses to eat and to drink in? or despise ye the church of God, and shame them that have not? What shall I say to you? shall I praise you in this? I praise you not.' Here we can see that the Corinthian Christians profaned the Lord's Supper because they sought their own pleasure and satisfaction.

Do you know how God showed His utter displeasure on this improper, irreverent manner of the Corinthians in taking the Lord's Supper? By causing them to become physically weak and sick. Some of them even died! V.30 'For this cause many are weak and sickly among you, and many sleep.' (The word 'sleep' here is a euphemism for death.) 

C. Worship That God Accepts

Having seen what happened to king Uzziah and the Corinthian Christians, let us now learn what it means to worship in a manner that is worthy of the God who sits on the throne. I would like to suggest to you that our attitude in worship ought to be like that of Isaiah and of the angels that he saw in the vision that he had of God. In this vision we can learn more precisely what reverence and godly fear are all about. Let us look at the passage in detail:

1. A Response to His Sovereignty

The first thing that Isaiah mentions is that God is 'sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up.' This teaches us the most fundamental truth about the God we worship - that He is the absolute sovereign over all things. His throne speaks to us of His supreme authority to rule over us. There He rightfully sits, as 'the blessed and only Potentate, the King of kings, and Lord of lords' (1 Timothy 6:15). 

The train (or the hem of His robes) that is mentioned at the end of the verse speaks to us of the extensiveness of God's dominion - the train filled the whole Temple. In the same manner, God exercises comprehensive jurisdiction over the whole world. Psalm 2 describes the utter futility of the kings of the earth to rebel against Him. God laughs at all their puny actions, and counsels them all to submit themselves to Him with fear and trembling. 

Dearly beloved, do you worship God as the One who sits high and lifted up upon His throne? Surely such worship must require reverence from us. If you are a student imagine what it is like to be called to the Principal's office. If you are serving in the army, think of how you would conduct yourself if you were told to report to the Commanding Officer of your unit. If you were to receive an invitation from the President to have dinner at the Istana with him, would you dress casually? The point is that if we take care of the manner in which we appear before human authority - a principal, a commanding officer or a president - how much more should be be careful of the way we come before God!

2. A Response to His Holiness

Let us see what else we ought to know about the Lord we worship as we go on to read v.2. Here Isaiah describes the seraphims that hovered around the throne of God. Now the word 'seraph' comes from the Hebrew word for 'burn.' Hence 'seraphim' literally means 'burning ones' and it implies that they were very bright creatures. 

The description of them having six wings shows that they are angelic creatures. But the wings have two different functions - to fly with, as well as to keep their own faces and feet covered. Why did they need to cover themselves? Here is a truth that amazes us: Even though the seraphims themselves were bright glorious creatures without any sin, they needed to shield themselves from the greater brightness of the One who sits on the throne! Even God's holy angels display a godly fear in their worship. How much more then should we be fearful to stand uncovered before the God we worship, who are much lesser creatures than these angelic beings.

What does the brightness of God reveal to us? The answer is found in 1 John 1:5-6 'This then is the message which we have heard of him, and declare unto you, that God is light, and in Him is no darkness at all. If we say that we have fellowship with Him, and walk in darkness, we lie, and do not the truth' The brightness of God in Isaiah's vision therefore speaks to us of His perfect holiness. This is reinforced by the words which the seraphims cried out to one another in v.3 'Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of host' 

Dearly beloved, do you come here each Sunday to worship the thrice-holy God, whose light shines infinitely brighter than all the angels heaven can boast? If you do, then how can you not have an attitude of godly fear in your worship? We come before God every Sunday morning after having spent a week in an unclean world of sin. For six days we have been soaking in the moral and spiritual filth from a sinful and worldly environment, and we are thereby defiled with unholiness in our thinking and in our being (cf. v.5 'I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips'). And now we presume to come before a Holy God who is absolute purity, to worship Him. What a stark contrast there is between God and us. And that contrast itself demands a proper attitude of godly fear and reverence from us.

3. A Response to His Glory

Returning to Isa)ah's vision, we now discover a third thing about God that should produce godly fear and reverence in us - the truth that He is a God of glory. He is not only awesome in His sovereignty and in His holiness, but He is awesome in His glory as well! The last part of v.3 reveals this when the seraphims said, 'the whole earth is full of His glory.' So overpowering was the glory of God, that the very next verse tells us that the huge doorposts of the temple shook at the mere mention of it, and the temple itself was instantly filled with smoke.

Now, the most important feature of God's resplendent glory is that it is exclusive. God never shares His glorykwith anything or anyone else (Isaiah 42:8). To claim any glory for oneself is to rob God of His glory. And so it is impossible to worship God acceptably when one's head is swollen with pride. Worship leaves no room at all for pride or self-glory in our hearts. God must have all the glory from us, or else He is not being worshipped as God by us!

Now from v.5 onward, we observe how the prophet Isaiah responded to God in this vision. Isaiah was no mere uninvolved spectator in the vision - just gazing on in wonder at the revelation of the sovereignty, holiness and glory of God - but he was there as a participant. What he saw and learned in that vision evoked a deep-hearted response from within him. Dearly beloved, it is only when you have a similar response that you can say that you have truly worshipped God. 

Please understand now that worship is not a spectator sport, where all that you do is just sit there passively and comfortably in the pews, and simply absorb the sights and sounds of the worship service, like watching a TV show. Worship must produce a life-changing response in you!

This grand vision of God changed Isaiah's life completely. Firstly, it made him realise how sinful he really was. In v.5 he said, 'Woe is me! for I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips.' From what Isaiah said here, you might imagine him to be a terrible foul-mouthed sinner who loved to propagate lies, gossip, curse and swear with his lips. But Isaiah was actually a good and upright man, and if he were to stand in our midst, he would probably be more righteous than any of us. His lips would be cleaner than ours.

But what Isaiah said shows us that even when the most perfect and saintly person in this world stands before God, he will respond in the same way, 'Woe is me, for I am undone!' The word 'undone' here literally means 'ruined.' No one can sincerely worship God without realizing how undone and unworthy he really is, and how hopeless his plight would be, if it were not for the mercy and grace of God. 

4. A Response to His Goodness

And the next verse is really good news, for it shows that an attitude of godly fear and reverence in worship will be met with God's revelation of His own goodness. This is what Isaiah learned now about God in vv.6,7. God immediately responded to Isaiah's acknowledgement of being unclean and undone by sending one of the seraphims to meet Isaiah's need. He cleansed him with a burning coaltaken from the altar. How wonderful it must have been for Isaiah to be so mercifully cleansed from all his sins and iniquity! 

Dear friends, if you are not a Christian yet, please pay careful attention now to this wonderful truth: God commands you to repent of your sins and trust in His provision for your salvation, through the death of His Son Jesus Christ. And when you obey this commandment, He will most assuredly cleanse you from all your sins and give you eternal life. What God did for Isaiah shows that He is ever ready to save every soul that seeks for salvation through Jesus Christ. Why then do you still delay? Do you know that as long as you are unsaved, your worship can never be acceptable to God. Why? Because your unwillingness to let Him save you clearly implies that you still doubt His goodness or His power to save you. Dear friends, how can you worship Him, when you have not even put your trust fully in Him? 

If you do not consider Him to be worthy of your trust, how can He be worthy of your worship? But if you put your trust in God alone for your salvation, then you are also giving Him the worship that He is worthy of.

5. A Response of Giving to God

This leads us to one more thing about reverential worship that we want to learn from this vision of Isaiah: It requires us to yield or to give of ourselves to Him. Do you know that Isaiah was carrying out an act of acceptable worship when he said in v.8 'Here am I, send me'? His reverential fear of God made him give himself to God. Worship is not about what we can get from God. It is all about what we ought to give to the God. If you came here this morning because you were looking forward to getting or procuring something you need or want from God - whether it is a special request or favour, or even to have a tingly sensation of being 'touched by God' then I am afraid that you have come here for the wrong purpose. Let us understand this well: Worship is all about giving - giving to God what is rightfully His by virtue of His awesome glory, majesty and holiness; Giving to Him of our time, our attention, our thoughts, our meditations, our wills, and our whole-hearted praise! 

This is one reason why we must maintain that solemn atmosphere of reverence and godly fear in our worship services in Life Church - Because this iskmost conducive for giving unto the Lord. When our souls are able to grasp the awesome sovereignty of God, the holiness of God and the glory of God, we will readily respond the way that Isaiah responded - by giving of ourselves most willingly to the Lord. And we will want to put our hearts and full concentration into all that we do in the worship service - every prayer and every hymn.

Each item in the order of service must not be regarded just as an item to get over with until the end is reached. Sometimes there is a tendency to regard everyth)ng that comes before the sermon as just some necessary preliminaries to get over with and that the message is the real thing we have come for. Actually every part of the worship service is important, and we should give as much effort and concentration to them as listening to the message. Let us put our heart into all parts of the worship service. 

Remember how Jesus rebuked the Jews - 'This people draweth nigh unto Me with their mouth, and honoureth Me with their lips; but their heart is far from Me.' (Matthew 15:8) In last week's message by Pr Calvin Loh we saw that we must seek to worship God in Spirit and In Truth (John 4:11). In order to do this, we should all come early to spend time to prepare ourselves for worship, to 'tune in' to the Lord's frequency, so to speak, and 'tune out' all worldly and selfish thoughts from our minds. This can help you to put aside the usual complacent attitude, and gain instead the attentive and expectant attitude that is required for worship. 

Before the service begins, please meditate upon the words of Psalm 46:10 'Be still and know that I am God.' From the moment the service begins, engage your heart and mind fully in what ever is going on in the worship service. Remember that you are not here as a spectator, but as a participant. So you ought to participate in everything: the Call to Worship, the Opening Hymn, The Invocation and Gloria Patri and so on. How should you participate? 

Just remember three simple steps: First, Listen attentively to every word that is said, from beginning to end, then understand and meditate on it, and finally respond to it appropriately from your heart. And do not allow your mind to wander away, but keep focusing your thoughts on the worship. Do not blindly follow what everybody does during the service. But absorb every word that is spoken or sung, meditate on their meaning, and then give an appropriate and spontaneous response in your heart to them. The article that is printed in today's weekly teaches you how to do this when the sermon is being preached. It is written by an American pastor named Philip Ryken. Please read it carefully and consider how you can begin to apply it.

Since such participation in worship requires alertness and a lot of intense concentration, you obviously need to have a good night's rest before Sunday. Please ensure that you sleep early on Saturday night. To maintain full attention during the worship service, no one should be talking, eating, sending SMS messages or walking up and down the aisles during worship service. That is why coming late for the worship service is not good - it disturbs the worshippers who are already here, when they see people still walking into the church and trying to find an empty seat. We must be punctual! Children are welcome to the worship service as Jesus said, 'Suffer the little children to come unto me, and forbid them not.' (Mark 10:14) But parents should ensure that they sit quietly and not be distracting anyone from the worship. 

We must always strive to maintain the sanctity of worship because it helps us to focus our thoughts fully and entirely upon the Lord, and to give ourselves fully unto Him. Nothing must be allowed to shift our focus away from Him. This is why we remind worshippers before the service starts to turn their mobile phones to silent mode. That is also why have been having our announcements after the worship service instead of in the middle of the service as we did before.

Dearly beloved, the ultimate aim of all our efforts in the worship service is to glorify God by responding to Him acceptably, reverently and with godly fear, and with all our hearts, soul, mind and strength, because He is worthy of nothing less than that. And there is no other way to do this, than to maintain sanctity of worship. Let us pray.

Vision & Mission

 

To build a united church family that is committed to making disciples through Salvation, Sanctification and Service, to the glory of God.

Verse for the Week

December 3 & 10 - Holy Living

Seeing then that all these things shall be dissolved, what manner of persons ought ye to be in all holy conversation and godliness, 2 Peter 3:11