Heart of Worship | Real Praise
So, we have now been worshiping together online for almost eleven months. And, over the course of the last eleven months, we have talked about a lot of different topics during our worship services. Over the last eleven months, we have talked about COVID-19 and the ways this virus will change our lives, our church, and our world. We’ve talked about what the Gospel is and we’ve shared the good news that Jesus loves us and wants nothing to separate us from him. We’ve talked about how we can have healthier relationships at home, and how we can follow Jesus in every aspect of our lives.
But there’s one pretty important 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, last week, we started a new sermon series where we’re talking about what worship is all about. And, over the next couple of weeks, we’re trying to get back to the heart of worship.
The heart of our worship is God.
The heart of our worship is God. So, last week, we spent most of our time 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 every moment of every day. So if we are truly going to worship God then we have to be aware of his presence in our lives.
So at the end of last week’s sermon, I challenged you to spend some time thinking about when you have felt God’s presence in your life. And I didn’t just challenge you to do that last week because it was a nice way to wrap up the sermon. I challenged you to do that because I actually wanted you to spend some time thinking about when you have felt God’s presence in your life. I wanted you to notice that God has been at work in your life. And I did it because when you realize that God is at work in your life, you want to worship God.
When you realize that God is present in your life, you want to worship God.
But, here’s the thing, I don’t know if you thought about this at all last week. I have no idea if you spent any time thinking about when you have felt God’s presence in your life. And I’m not going to put you on the spot to try to find out if you did. But I do want to give you the chance to share your story if you did. So, if you’ve thought of times in your life when you’ve felt the presence of God, please feel free to share them in the comments thread on Facebook or YouTube.
But whether you thought about this or not last week, I want to challenge you to do it this week. I want you to spend some time thinking about when you have felt the presence of God in your life because when you realize God is at work in your life, you want to worship God.
But I also know that it’s not fair for me to ask you to do something if I’m not willing to do it myself. So I’ve spent some time thinking about when I’ve felt the presence of God in my life and I remembered something that happened about three years ago.
And three years ago, I was living through a season in my ministry unlike anything I had ever experienced before. And that season in my ministry was unlike anything I had experienced before because we--as a church--were in a place that we had never been in before.
Now, many of you already know this, but if you’re new here let me catch you up. Back in 2017, our church had to make an extremely difficult decision. We decided that the best way for us to move forward and to continue to follow God’s mission and God’s calling for our church was to sell the church building that we had called home for more than sixty years and to re-launch from a new location.
And that decision consumed a lot of my time and a lot of my life over the last few years. But it was especially tough for the first few months after we made the decision to sell our old building. And those first few months were especially tough because I spent just about every spare moment in my days talking with commercial real estate agents, or meeting with site surveyors, or talking with our lender just to get the ball rolling on getting our property sold.
And after each meeting with real estate agents, or mortgage brokers, or some other expert; I felt more and more overwhelmed by how much I didn’t know about our old building or the work it would take to get it sold. And when you spend so much time with so many people who know so much more (about certain areas) than you do, you can start feeling a little inferior.
And, to be completely honest, that’s how I started feeling. I started feeling a little inferior. And I started wondering if there were other people who could do a better job of leading our church through that transition than I could.
But that’s when God made his presence known. And God made his presence known through a book that I was reading at the beginning of 2018. The book was entitled Whisper: How to Hear the Voice of God and it was written by Mark Batterson who is the founding pastor of National Community Church in Washington, D.C.
And in this book, Mark shares a story that happened about eight months after that church was launched. At the time National Community Church had about 25 regular attenders. But Mark had been reading through the book of Joshua--which tells the story of how the people of Israel finally returned to the Promised Land after being enslaved in Egypt for 400 years.
And Mark shared that just a couple of verses into the book of Joshua, he heard God whisper to him. And God prompted Mark to do something that would lead National Community Church to grow from a church of 25 people worshiping in borrowed space to become one of the largest churches in our nation’s capital, owning more than half a dozen different properties.
Now that’s a cool story…and it’s enough to make most churches and their pastors feel a little jealous. But that story wasn’t how God made his presence known for me. The scripture was how God made his presence known for me. Now, like a lot of people, at the beginning of a new year, I like to start reading through the Bible. So I was only a couple of chapters into the book of Genesis when I read Mark Batterson’s story. But through Mark’s story, God started nudging me to skip past Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Number, and Deuteronomy and to go straight to the book of Joshua instead.
And I have to tell you that I was a little skeptical. I was afraid that I was going to flip over to the book of Joshua and that I was going to read the whole book and not hear anything from God. But you know what? God knew better than I did. And six verses into the book of Joshua, this is what I read:
Be brave and strong, because you are the one who will help this people…
So here I was--dealing with my own little inferiority complex, wondering if I was the right person to lead you and to lead this church through one of the toughest times we have ever faced--and God, God made his presence known. God reached out to me, and God led me straight to those words: “You are the one who will help this people…”
So don’t try to tell me that God isn’t present in our lives. I know God is. I’ve experienced God’s presence for myself. And the truth is, this isn’t the only time that I have felt God’s presence in my life. This isn’t even the only time that God has used this particular passage of scripture to make his presence known in my life.
As we are all well aware, our world has changed over the last eleven months. And even though we’ve now found our own little rhythms for living through a pandemic, that wasn’t the case last March. Last March we went from only doing church one way for our entire history as a church, and then overnight we couldn’t do church that way anymore.
Overnight we went from being able to meet in-person to having to do everything online...and, to be frank, we weren’t ready for that change. And as I spent time thinking and reading and just trying to understand how we could do church in a brand new way, I started to feel overwhelmed and inadequate all over again. And I started to wonder if there was someone else out there that could do a better job of leading you and our church through these unprecedented times. But about that same time, our Small Groups started reading through the book of Joshua again.
And once again God made his presence known. Once again, God whispered to me through the book of Joshua, “Be brave and strong, because you are the one who will help this people…”
So, again, don’t try to tell me that God isn’t present in our lives. I know God is. I’ve experienced God’s presence for myself. But here’s my question for you, what do you do when you realize that God is present in your life? How do you respond to God’s presence in your life?
Well, we’re going to see how we’re supposed to respond to God’s presence in our lives in the passage of scripture that we’re reading today. In this passage of scripture, we are going to see someone who has realized that God is present in their life and we’re going to see how this person responds.
So today, we’re going to be reading from Psalms chapter 30. Now, the book of Psalms is kind of like a hymnal for the people of Israel. And if you have no idea what a hymnal is, it’s a book that includes poetry, prayers, and music that we use in worship.
So the book of Psalms is filled with songs, and poetry, and prayers written by people all along the faith spectrum. There are people like the author of Psalm 30, who feels incredibly close to God. And there are people who feel like God is a million miles away. So wherever you’re at with God right now, you can find a psalm written by someone who understands how you’re feeling.
But let’s get back to Psalm 30. This is what the psalmist--or the author of this psalm--writes, starting in verse 1. He writes:
1 I exalt you, Lord, because you pulled me up; you didn’t let my enemies celebrate over me. 2 Lord, my God, I cried out to you for help, and you healed me. 3 Lord, you brought me up from the grave, brought me back to life from among those going down to the pit.
4 You who are faithful to the Lord, sing praises to him; give thanks to his holy name! 5 His anger lasts for only a second, but his favor lasts a lifetime. Weeping may stay all night, but by morning, there’s joy!
6 When I was comfortable, I said, “I will never stumble.” 7 Because it pleased you, Lord, you made me a strong mountain. But then you hid your presence. I was terrified. 8 I cried out to you, Lord. I begged my Lord for mercy: 9 “What is to be gained by my spilled blood, by my going down into the pit? Does dust thank you? Does it proclaim your faithfulness? 10 Lord, listen and have mercy on me! Lord, be my helper!”
11 You changed my mourning into dancing. You took off my funeral clothes and dressed me up in joy 12 so that my whole being might sing praises to you and never stop. Lord, my God, I will give thanks to you forever.
Psalm 30 (Common English Bible)
So, in this psalm, we find someone who has felt God’s presence in their life. For the author of this psalm, it sounds like God literally reached down and pulled them up and away from their enemies. But that’s not all. The psalmist also felt God’s presence after they cried out to God and God healed them. And they confess that they were on the verge of death, but God made his presence known and brought the psalmist back to life.
And how does the psalmist respond to God’s presence in their life? Well, the psalmist makes it clear in this passage that they had a choice in how they would respond. The author of this psalm could have been silent. The author of this psalm could have wept. The author of this psalm could have been in mourning, and they could have worn their grave clothes. Or in other words, when the author of this psalm realized that God was present in their life, they could have gone on and acted like nothing ever happened.
But that’s not what the psalmist does. What does the psalmist do? The psalmist extols God. And that word, extols, means that the author of this psalm doesn’t just praise God, they don't just celebrate what God has done…the author of this psalm gives God the highest praise they are capable of giving. So instead of being silent, the psalmist sings out to God. Instead of weeping, they let joy fill their life. Instead of mourning, they dance. Instead of wearing funeral clothes, they dress up in joy.
In church, we have a perfect word for what the psalmist does when they recognize God’s presence in their life. Do you know what that word is? That word is “worship.” And here you thought that worship meant logging onto your computer at 10:30 on Sunday mornings, kicking back with your feet up on your couch, and listening to me drone on and on, and on and on.
But that’s not what worship is. Worship is what we do when we recognize that God is present in our lives.
Worship is what we do when we recognize that God is present in our lives.
So how should we act when we realize that God is present in our lives? Should we sit in silence or should we sing? We should sing. And we shouldn’t sing like someone just broke our favorite toy…we should sing like someone just gave us a free trip to Disney World.
Should we wear our funeral clothes or dress in joy? We should dress in joy. And what does it look like to dress in joy? Well, I think it means that we should wear clothes that even the late, great broadcaster, Craig Sager, wouldn’t wear. And he once wore this suit when he won an award!
Should we mourn or should we dance? Now, I know what you’re thinking, “Preacher, it’s one thing to sing and dress nice, but this is a Baptist church--and Baptists don’t dance.” But it’s right here, in verse 11 the psalmist said, “You changed my mourning into dancing.” it’s in the Bible. That’s right, someone who wrote part of the Bible danced…so I think it’s okay for you to dance, too.
Now, I know that I’ve been being a little silly…but here’s the point. We get together every week as a church because we believe that God is present in our lives. And we all want to grow closer to our God. You’re here because you want to grow closer to Jesus. And if you want to grow closer to Jesus, then you have to worship Jesus.
And if you want to worship Jesus, and I mean really worship Jesus, it starts with praising him. Worship starts with praising God.
Worship starts with praising God.
And you can’t praise God with a scowl on your face. You can’t praise God when your arms are permanently locked in a crossed position.
Think about it this way--how do you act during the happiest moments of your life? How do you act during the happiest moments of your life? You laugh. You smile. You clap. You might cry tears of joy. And you might even jump for joy. But in those moments, you don’t let any inhibitions hold you back. You let go.
And that’s what praising God is all about. It’s about letting go and letting nothing stand between you and God.
Praising God is about letting nothing stand between you and God.
Not your pride. Not your inhibitions. Nothing.
That’s what I did when I felt God reaching into my life in the story I told you earlier. When I read that passage of scripture in the book of Joshua, I did something that I don’t do very often. I cried. And I let all of the pain, all of the inferiority, that I had inside me trickle out. So that nothing was standing between me and God.
So here’s what I want you to do this week. I want you to praise God. I want you to really praise God. I want you to let go of everything that can stand between you and God, and I want you to praise God. I want you to sing. I want you to cry. I want you to dance. And I want you to record it so we can play it in one of our worship services down the road. Okay, I’m just joking about that last part. But I want you to let down your barriers and let nothing stand between you and God. And when you do, you’ll feel closer to God…and you might just feel closer to God than you’ve ever felt before. But praise is just part of worship…and next week we’ll discover what else worship means.