Heart of Worship | Changing Priorities
So, we have now been worshiping together online for almost eleven months. But there’s one topic that we haven’t talked about very much over the last eleven months. Even though we’ve been coming together to worship every week on our church website, on our Facebook page, and on our YouTube channel; we haven’t spent very much time talking about what worship is. So, over the last couple of weeks, that’s what we’ve been doing. We’ve been talking about what worship is all about. And together, we have been trying to get back to the heart of worship.
And the heart of our worship is God.
The heart of our worship is God.
So, two weeks ago, we spent our time together talking about who God is. And together we saw that our God is an awesome God. Our God is a God that nothing is too big for...but our God is also a God that nothing is too small for. And perhaps the most amazing thing about our God is that he is present and active in our lives. And, when we realize that God is present in our lives we want to worship God.
But how do we do that? How do we worship God? Well, we started talking about this last week. And last week, we saw that the first thing we want to do when we realize that God is present in our lives is that we want to praise God. And praising God is about letting nothing stand between you and God. So when you praise God you’re going to sing even if you can’t carry a tune in a bucket. When you praise God you’re going to dance even if you have two left feet. When you praise God you’re going to let go of anything and everything that stands between you and God and you’re going to celebrate like your favorite team just won the Super Bowl last Sunday.
But praising God is only part of how we worship God. So, today, we’re going to talk about another important part of worship. But, before we start talking about this other important part of worship, I need to give you a little warning. Last week, when we started talking about how we respond to God’s presence in our lives, we talked about the fun stuff. Praising God is fun. I mean, it’s fun to smile. It’s fun to laugh. It’s fun to sing. It’s fun to dance. It’s fun to look back and see how God has been present in your life. And it’s fun to celebrate all that God has done for you.
But what we’re going to be talking about today isn’t fun. What we’re going to be talking about today is hard. What we’re going to be talking about today is probably going to hurt your feelings. What we’re going to be talking about today is probably going to step on your toes. And if it doesn’t, then you’re not really listening. But you need to hear this. I need to hear this. We all need to hear this.
Because when we recognize that God is present and active in our lives it must remind us of what matters the most to God--and it must force us to make our priorities line up with God’s priorities.
Worship must make our priorities line up with God’s priorities.
And if our priorities aren’t lining up with God’s priorities, then we’re not really worshiping God.
So today, we’re going to be talking about God’s priorities. But what are they? What are God’s priorities? What matters the most to God? Well, if you’ve spent much time in church--if you’ve attended a lot of worship services--then you start making some assumptions about what matters the most to God. And you’re probably going to assume that the things that matter the most to God are the things that we typically do during our worship services. After all, if the things that we do in worship don’t matter to the God that we’re worshiping then why do we do them?
So that means that we’re going to assume that sermons matter a lot to God. We’re going to assume that songs and singing matter a lot to God. We’re going to assume that saying prayers and collecting offerings matter a lot to God. We’re going to assume that sitting still and being on our best behavior matters a lot to God.
But if these are the assumptions we make--that these are the things that matter the most to God--we’re going to be wrong. If you think the things that matter the most to God are the things that happen inside our church during a worship service then you’re going to be wrong.
Are your feelings starting to hurt a little bit? Are your toes getting a little sore? If they are, I’ve got bad news for you, we’re not done yet.
So if the things that we do in our worship services aren’t what really matter to God, then what does? What matters to God? Well, I want you to hear what really matters to God straight from the source...I want you to hear it straight from God. And in Isaiah 58, God tells us what really matters to him. But before we start reading from the book of Isaiah, let me set the stage for you a little bit.
Isaiah is a prophet, which is a fancy way of saying that Isaiah is someone who speaks on behalf of God. And in the passage that we’re going to be looking at today, Isaiah is delivering a very specific message for God. When this passage was written, the people of Israel were in the middle of a time of transition. Decades earlier they had been defeated by the Babylonian Empire and they had been exiled throughout that empire. But now the Babylonians have fallen to the Persian Empire. And the King of Persia is getting ready to let the people of Israel return to their homes.
So, the people of Israel have felt God’s presence in their lives. They have seen God act through the King of Persia. They will soon be on their way home. And when they get home they want to do what we all do when we realize that God is present in our lives...the people of Israel want to worship God.
But the people of Israel have been gone for so long that they don’t know how to behave when they get back home. So the people of Israel are trying to figure out how to worship God once they return to Israel. And God, well, God wants to weigh in on their decision. And God wants to weigh in on their decision because God has been paying careful attention to how the people of Israel have been worshiping him.
And we’ll just let God explain how he feels about the way the people of Israel have been worshiping him. So let’s look at Isaiah 58, we’ll start reading with verse 1. It says:
1 Shout with the voice of a trumpet blast. Shout aloud! Don’t be timid. Tell my people Israel of their sins! 2 Yet they act so pious! They come to the Temple every day and seem delighted to learn all about me. They act like a righteous nation that would never abandon the laws of its God. They ask me to take action on their behalf, pretending they want to be near me.
3 “We have fasted before you!” they say. “Why aren’t you impressed? We have been very hard on ourselves, and you don’t even notice it!”
“I will tell you why!” I respond. “It’s because you are fasting to please yourselves…
Isaiah 58:1-3a (New Living Translation)
So it’s pretty clear in this passage that God isn’t very happy with the way the people of Israel have been worshiping him. And God’s not happy even though the people of Israel seem to be doing everything right. They seem to be doing everything that we associate with worship. I mean, the people of Israel have gone to the temple every day. They’ve prayed and petitioned God. They’ve even fasted before God...which is an act of worship that few of us have ever even tried.
But God sees through all of it. God knows that even though the people of Israel have been coming to the temple, even though they’ve been praying, even though they’ve been fasting; they don’t have the same priorities that God has.
Everything that the people of Israel have been doing has been about them. They were showing up at the temple to please themselves. They had been praying to please themselves. They had been fasting to please themselves. When it came to worship their priority wasn’t God. Their priority was themselves.
But God, God’s about to remind the people of Israel what his priorities are. So let’s pick back up at the beginning of verse 3. It says:
3 “We have fasted before you!” they say. “Why aren’t you impressed? We have been very hard on ourselves, and you don’t even notice it!”
“I will tell you why!” I respond. “It’s because you are fasting to please yourselves. Even while you fast, you keep oppressing your workers. 4 What good is fasting when you keep on fighting and quarreling? This kind of fasting will never get you anywhere with me. 5 You humble yourselves by going through the motions of penance, bowing your heads like reeds bending in the wind. You dress in burlap and cover yourselves with ashes. Is this what you call fasting? Do you really think this will please the Lord?
6 “No, this is the kind of fasting I want: Free those who are wrongly imprisoned; lighten the burden of those who work for you. Let the oppressed go free, and remove the chains that bind people. 7 Share your food with the hungry, and give shelter to the homeless. Give clothes to those who need them, and do not hide from relatives who need your help. 8 Then your salvation will come like the dawn, and your wounds will quickly heal. Your godliness will lead you forward, and the glory of the Lord will protect you from behind.”
Isaiah 58:3-8 (New Living Translation)
Did you hear it? Did you hear what God’s priorities are? Did you hear what matters most to God? Listen to it again:
6 “…[T]his is the kind of fasting I want: Free those who are wrongly imprisoned; lighten the burden of those who work for you. Let the oppressed go free, and remove the chains that bind people. 7 Share your food with the hungry, and give shelter to the homeless. Give clothes to those who need them, and do not hide from relatives who need your help.
But wait, let’s not stop with Isaiah 58, because I could always be cherry-picking that passage to make my point. But there are plenty of other passages throughout the Bible that make the exact same point. So let’s look at Micah chapter 6, and see what it says. It says:
6 “With what shall I come before the Lord, and bow myself before God on high? Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old? 7 Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousands of rivers of oil? Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?”
8 He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?
Micah 6:6-8 (New Revised Standard Version)
Did you hear it? When Micah asked, “What does the Lord require of you?” God answers. And God doesn’t say anything about listening to sermons, or saying prayers, or singing hymns. When Micah asked, “What does the Lord require of you?” God tells him, “To do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God.”
But let’s not stop there, because I want you to see how important these things are to God. So let’s look at Hosea 6:6. It says:
6 I want you to show love, not offer sacrifices. I want you to know me more than I want burnt offerings.
Hosea 6:6 (New Living Translation)
God doesn’t want sacrifice or burnt offerings, God wants us to show love.
And let’s keep going. Let me show you one more example. And this one comes straight from Jesus, Jesus--who is God made human--and we even talked about what Jesus says here just a couple of weeks ago. But when Jesus was asked what the greatest commandment in all the law was, Jesus said:
“‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 The entire law and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments.”
Matthew 22:37b-40 (New Living Translation)
So when you take what we read in the book of Isaiah, and then when you add what we read from Micah and Hosea, and then when you add what we just heard from Jesus; these passages make it crystal clear what our priorities should be. If you really want to worship God then God comes first, other people come second…and you come last.
If you want to worship God then God comes first, other people come second…and you come last.
That means that you have to put yourself--your wants, your desires, even your needs--on the back burner and put God and other people first. So how are you doing on that? How are you doing on that?
I want to tell you something today, I’m pretty bad at it. I’m pretty bad at putting myself last and putting God and other people first. I’m pretty bad at it. And why am I bad at it? Because I want my life to be easy. I want my life to be enjoyable. I want to do things the way I want to do them when I want to do them.
But let me tell you something when you start putting yourself last…God can do some amazing things. Let me give you an example, a few years ago I ran across a study conducted by one of the largest Christian publishing houses in the world—Lifeway. And in this study, Lifeway worked to determine why people continue to come back to the same church more than one time.
And that study found that up to 90% of people return to a church because of the preaching. Well, when I first read that study, we weren’t having a lot of people come to Melbourne Heights for the first time and even fewer were coming back for a second time. So I looked at that information, and I realized that it had something to do with me.
Now, at that point, I had been preaching for almost a decade--so I had preached around 500 sermons. And, I gotta be honest with you, I liked the way I preached. I had my manuscript in front of me, I knew everything I was going to say, and I knew exactly how long it would take me to say it.
So, if I put myself first, nothing would’ve changed. I’d still be preaching the exact same way, and we’d probably have fewer people tuning into this worship service right now.
But I made a decision to listen to the research--to put the needs of other people first--and to make some changes to my preaching style. Even though it meant doing things differently than I learned to do them over the course of a decade in ministry. Even though it meant adding at least another couple of hours to my sermon prep every week. I did it…and I did it because of God’s priorities. God comes first, other people come second…and I come last.
And through this change in preaching style, I’ve heard from many of you that you have heard some of the most life-changing sermons you’ve ever heard in the last few years. And I see the difference it’s made when I look at how many people regularly join us for worship on our website, on Facebook, on YouTube, or on our sermon podcast. And I can tell you today that our church now regularly and consistently ministers to people not just all around America, but all around the world.
But none of that would’ve happened if I did recognize God’s priorities and changed my priorities.
So here’s my question for you today: When was the last time you put yourself last? When was the last time you put the wants, the desires, the needs of someone else before your own? If it’s been a while, you need to realize that if you always come first then God always comes last.
If you always come first then God always comes last.
And you’ll never get any closer to God if God comes last. You’ll never worship God if God comes last. So it’s time to put God and other people first. It’s time to rearrange our priorities. It’s time to change. We have a word for this in church. That word is penance.
And penance is recognizing that God’s priorities aren’t our priorities…and then doing something to change our priorities.
So here’s my challenge for you this week: I want you to take a long hard look at yourself and see where you put yourself first and then do something to change it.
It’s that simple. But it’s also that difficult. But if you do it, if you do it, you will learn the most important thing that you can learn in worship. You will learn to put God’s priorities ahead of your own. And when you put God’s priorities ahead of yours, you’ll really be worshiping God the way God wants to be worshiped. When you put God’s priorities ahead of your own, you’ll have found the heart of worship.