Worship goes way beyond the songs we sing and the music we play, we know that. Someone once said that, “You become more and more like the thing you worship, the more you worship it.” I read a tweet recently that said, “You know you’ve worshipped God when you walk away changed.” The old hymn goes:
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“Turn your eyes upon Jesus // Look full in His wonderful face // Then the things of the earth will grow strangely dim // In the light of His glory and grace.” (Helen Lemmel, 1922)
These words were based on the writings of a Christian artist and missionary, Lilias Trotter, who wrote: “Never has it been so easy to live in half a dozen harmless worlds at once – art, music, social sciences, games, motoring, the following of some profession, and so on. And between them we run the risk of drifting about, the good hiding the best . . . how do we bring things to focus? Not by looking at the things to be dropped but by looking at the one point that is to be brought out. Turn your soul’s vision to Jesus, and look and look at Him, and a strange dimness will come over all that is apart from Him.” (Which Passion Will Prevail, c1920).
There is something about worship – real worship – that nothing else can do, that works in us a change whenever we give ourselves over to doing it wholeheartedly. In exchange for the trust, devotion, honesty and dependence that we give to God in worship, He does something in us that makes us a little more like Him, that draws out the Spirit-filled, Spirit-led life that was birthed in us when we were saved.
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The Israelites were surrounded by manifestations of God’s presence daily when they headed out of Egypt to their Promised Land. They were continuously led by pillars of cloud and fire – not something you see everyday, really – and their food fell to the ground without fail every breakfast, waiting to be collected. And yet, as it says in Psalm 106:20 (NCV), “they exchanged their glorious God for a statue of a bull that eats grass!” In the midst of the miraculous, they forgot where it all was coming from and settled for something that has no power, no glory, no presence and no life! No matter what the Israelites did to their statue, no matter what skill they employed or carefully-worded praise, or clever rationalisation, it was just a statueand it was no comparison to the glory and magnificence of God.
Are we distracted by what we see around us, what we’ve come to expect from a church meeting? Having great musicians and singers to lead us, and the technology to display words so they’re easy to read (usually!) and broadcast sound so we can be led musically is great, but has our worship become dependent on it all? What would happen if we stripped it all away?
Reading Jarrod Cooper’s book, Glory in the Church, he writes about a young worship leader who asks God, “Show me what true worship is”. Immediately the worship leader was taken in a vision behind the Iron Curtain and saw a man, imprisoned, being strapped to a table. Once his arms and legs were locked in place, several guards took batons and began beating the soles of the man’s feet, breaking his bones, ripping open the skin and smashing away his toes. The man’s back arched and trembled with the pain as the guards screamed, “Deny Him, deny Him!” The man opened his mouth, the guards still beating his feet into a bloody pulp, and wailed, “I worship You, my Jesus! I will not deny You! I thank You for Your love and for Your cross. I will praise You while I have breath!” God spoke into the heart of the young worship leader: “That is worship.”
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When we fix our eyes on God, the man-made things and circumstances around us really do pale in significance – not because they are rubbish or badly made or unimportant, or anything like that, but simply because God is so glorious, so incredibly magnificent, so awesomely and superlative-exhaustingly great. The Israelites were easily distracted, even when God’s presence was so clear and evident.
How does Revelation describe Jesus:
- 1:14 Hair white as snow
- 1:14 Eyes like flames of fire
- 1:15 Feet like bronze that glows hot in a furnace
- 1:15 Voice like the noise of flooding, rushing waters
- 1:16 Looks like the sun shining at its brightest time
- 4:3 Looks like precious stones
- 4:3 Around the throne a rainbow the colour of emerald
- 4:5 Lightening flashes, thunder, seven bright-burning lamps
- 4:6 A sea clear as crystal – reflecting back all of the above and refracting it out throughout heaven
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Jesus asked two questions of His disciples in Luke 9:18-20. The first is, “Who do the crowds say I am?” The second is, “Who do you say I am?” Jesus’ desire in leading the disciples through this kind of questioning was to get them away from the ‘going-along-with-the-crowd’ mentality, to making it personal. Being in a crowd can be great but a crowd is easily swayed towards the majority and a crowd’s opinions very quickly switch from one to another. Take the crowd that filled Jerusalem during the week from Jesus’ triumphant entry until He was arrested, put on trial and crucified. The same crowd that praised His entrance, a few days later was jeering and mocking Him and calling for his death. Jesus second question to the disciples brought it right home for them and made it a heart issue for them. In Matthew’s record of this conversation (Matthew 16:13-17), after Peter answered that Jesus is the Christ, Jesus explains that this understanding, this knowing of who Jesus is, has been given to Peter by God the Father.
Worship – real worship – comes from a personal revelation of who Jesus is. It’seasy to get caught up in the crowd of praise, but it’sjust shallow noise if it isn’t coming out of your own revelation of Jesus. Psalm 119:18 (NIV) gives us a good prayer, especially when we find ourselves struggling to be inspired in worship: “Open my eyes that I may see wonderful things in Your law.” Normally ‘law’ is dry and boring, religious; but when God opens our eyes we suddenly see Him and understandtruth, and what seemed dry and dull becomes life-giving and inspiring.
Luke 18 tells the story of when Jesus healed a blind man, who was begging on the streets of Jericho. The interesting part of the story is that, even though its quite clear the man is blind, Jesus still asks him what he wants Him to do. The blind man could probably have carried on with his life as it was, eeking out an existence on the streets chasing scraps of money and food, but something in him wanted change, and what he heard throughout the city made him realise that the only person who could change his situation was Jesus, and He just happened to be walking past. Sight makes the world of difference to our lives. The Bible mentions time and time again about ‘seeing’: “Stand and see God’s salvation” (Exodus 14:13); “They see the works of the Lord” (Psalm 107:24); “Look for the Lord and live” (Amos 5:4); “Seek first God’s kingdom and His righteousness” (Matthew 6:33). Why does God call us to ‘see’ so much? Because it is easy to look without seeing, so easy to see what’s right in front of us and not look any further. All of the times God calls us to ‘see’, He’s asking us to look beyond, to see with our spiritual eyes, to see with eyes of faith, to look to Him.
Our worship comes as a response to seeing God. If we’re not seeing God then our worship is just a religious duty, even if it looks Pentecostal or charismatic. The request of the blind man is the start of worship, to see Jesus. God only hides Himself so that He can be found by us – ‘seekand you will find’ is one of His most well-known and enduring promises. Worship is only ever hard when we’re not looking in the right direction, when we have stopped ‘seeing’ Jesus and have had our attention caught up by the things around us – the good hiding the best.
Who are you looking at?
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This article is basically the notes from a message I shared at a Worship Night at Family Church (my home church) back in September 2012.