Worship Is A Verb – Part 3
Scriptures: 1 Samuel 16:7; 1 Kings 18; Exodus Chapters 1-14
Last week I covered the first three hindrances to our being able to enter into true worship. The first hindrance that I mentioned was intellectualism. This is the doctrine that knowledge comes from pure reason, without aid from the senses. So the person who practices intellectualism in their form of worship tend to intellectualize their worship and evaluate it based on the purpose, process and implications involved in every aspect of it. The second hindrance was idealism. This type of hindrance is usually based on the supposition that worship is only genuine when it includes that which is familiar to our own cultural experience based on the right formula. The person committed to this attitude believes that true worship can only be that from which they were taught and experienced – deep with traditions from years past. The third hindrance I discussed last week imperialism. This is where someone dominates the affairs of worship by controlling the planning and presentation of the service. Remember when I shared with you the pulpit’s copy of the order of service? As I discussed last week, each of these attitudes have been planted within the Church as a hindrance and oftentimes we do not recognize that these attitudes, that we think are important to our worship experience, are actually hindering us. This morning we will continue with the last four hindrances. Again I remind you of what God said in 1 Samuel 16:7: “…God sees not as man sees, for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”
I. Hindrances To Our Worship Cont.
• Isolationism: The fourth hindrance to our worship is isolationism. This one is the hardest to conquer because it is birthed and sustained by fear. I have talked with you in the past about how our enemy will try to get us to feel isolated so that we will not reach out for help in our time of need. He uses fear, embarrassment and suspicions to keep us weary of sharing what we are truly experiencing. When it comes to worship, people feel isolated when their experience is not the same as someone else’s or they are afraid to truly enter into worship. They fear losing control of their emotions, displaying too much emotion or showing too little emotion, fear of being unscriptural and the fear of man. I was talking with my sister last week and she asked me if it was scriptural to shout because she had heard what another minister had said on the subject. Again, people will always try to say what is or is not acceptable based on what they can find in the Scripture. But trying to verify all of the reference points of what we should and should not do leads us into isolationism. Oftentimes when we are in the greatest need of support we will isolate ourselves so no one will know what is going on with us. Consider one situation that Elijah found himself in First Kings chapter eighteen.
The prophet Elijah lived a life that was solely committed to God. He walked and ministered in the power of God, predicting the beginning and end of a three year drought. He stood resolute against the evil king Ahab and Queen Jezebel, predicting their slaughter and unexpected deaths. (Instead of worshipping the true God, Ahab and his wife Jezebel worshipped Baal, the most popular Canaanite god.) In 1 Kings 18, we find a situation where Elijah challenges 450 pagan prophets at Mount Carmel to battle the living, true God, Jehovah. They erected an altar with a sacrifice of an ox and each was to call on their god to consume the sacrifice with fire. Well you know the story, the prophets of Baal called out to Baal all day long to no avail. In the afternoon they began to cut themselves as if their blood would make Baal answer. When evening came and it was Elijah’s turn, he had them fill pitchers of water to pour on the altar: he had them soak it completely until water flowed around the altar and filled the trench. When He called on God, God showed up in a hurry. The fire from God consumed the burnt offering, the wood, the stones, and the dust and licked up all of the water in the trench. When the people saw it, they fell on their face and worshipped God and subsequently slew all of the prophets of Baal. Elijah understood the power or God and the wondrous acts that God could perform. Now with this knowledge and his most recent victory, you’d think Elijah would not fear anyone or anything after that. But turn to the 19th chapter and read verses 1-4. After this victory, Jezebel sent word to Elijah that he would be dead by the next day. Elijah became so afraid that he ran for his life and isolated himself. While alone, he threw himself a pity party and asked God to kill him. He feels sorry for himself; he feels alone; and he is afraid. He tells God in verse nine “….I alone am left; and they seek my life, to take it away.” When God speaks to him, He reminds him that he is not alone and that there are one hundred prophets who were in hiding that was still faithful to the one true Lord. He also reminded him of the more than seven thousand others who were standing true in their worship of God. You see, Elijah’s isolation led him to depression and a misguided perception of the true work of God and this is what is happening with many Christians today.
Many Christians approach corporate worship with the idea that they are the only ones “doing it right”. They have the formula; they have the tried and true method that has been perfected; they have it right. They forget that worship starts in the heart and like Elijah; we sometimes throw a pity party and convince ourselves and others around us that we are the only ones doing it right and with a true heart. We use various excuses to isolate ourselves from others who threaten us and we close our ears, hearts and minds to those who do things differently from what we have grown accustomed to in our small world. When we do this, we quickly become isolated, even though we may be standing in a room full of people. Isolationism leaves the Church, the pastors, worship leaders, teachers, musicians, etc, uninformed, alone and desperate. When any of us isolate ourselves we fall victim to self-centeredness with the end result being a crushed spirit and a life void of a living faith or worship. So if you are operating on a much higher level than those around you, you might be isolating yourself and you may need to come back to reality where you understand that we cannot see into each other’s hearts, only God can. What we see outwardly may or may not what is in the person’s heart.
• Institutionalism: The fifth hindrance to worship is institutionalism. When I first read this description, I thought about the movie “The Shawshank Redemption”. The movie was about a man wrongly convicted of killing his wife and sent to prison. While in prison he made friends with another inmate who was played by Morgan Freeman. As the movie went on, one of the older prisoners who had been the librarian and also been in prison for almost 50 years was paroled. This man had been in prison for so long that he did not want to be paroled. Once paroled, he could not function in the outside world so he committed suicide. When word reached his friends who were still in prison, Morgan Freeman’s character explained that he had killed himself because he had been “institutionalized”. He explained it this way: when you first enter prison you hate the walls; then after a while you get used to them and if you stay long enough, you begin to depend on them.” That which you first hated, you begin to depend on because you have been exposed to it for a long period of time. That mind shift from the hate to the dependence was what Morgan Freeman described as becoming institutionalized. Now let’s look at this from a worship perspective. When I think of this one my mind goes back to Churches I’ve attended that did things the same way because they thought they were right. But get this, they thought they were right not because of some proof that they had received, but because this is the way they had always done it and since it had always been done that way it must be right. This, my friends, is institutionalism. Those with this attitude are hostile toward anyone seeking to create an environment for change. Instead, commitment to tradition is the catalyst for authentic worship. Issues such as relevance to changing culture, sincerity of heart, love for God and the dynamic work of the Holy Spirit do not play important roles in worship. Rather, worship serves as an agent for continuing and preserving practices and traditions of previous generations.
Many Christians are more committed to the principle of preserving the past than of finding practical ways to engage our congregations in worship. We talk in terms of our traditions; our Baptist traditions; our charismatic traditions; our Methodist traditions; our Catholic traditions; our “you name it” traditions. The Holy Spirit’s prompting to change the flow of our services or to change the songs we sing are met with swift resistance as the commitment to the past and a love for heritage rises to the forefront. We stand ready to guard and defend our own history (what we know and experience) at the sacrifice of really entering into true worship. We act as if there is something divine about our traditions.
When we consider how we adopt the attitude of institutionalism in our worship service, it is easy to identify if you know what to look for. Consider some of the people who have visited our Church once and never returned. Our services were foreign to them and it was not what they were accustomed to. When they walk in and see people in the choir wearing jeans instead of suits and dresses; that is a concern for them. When we visit another Church and find ourselves looking around and thinking “Wow, we are so much more advanced than these people are” we too could be institutionalized in our thinking. You see, whenever we begin to think that we have it, that our way is the right way and there is no other way but our way; that our traditions are the right ones because we have had them the longest so our services must be right, we are institutionalized.
As we think about what it means to be institutionalized in our thinking, I want to take you back to the Children of Israel as they were preparing to come out of Egypt. I want you to notice their mindset as it pertained to God as they were praying to leave; as they left, and when they were at the Red Sea. You see, one of the key components of being institutionalized in your thinking is that you always return to what is comfortable and familiar for you. Turn to Exodus the 1st chapter and let’s consider the Children of Israel:
Praying to Leave Egypt
• 1:13-14: “The Egyptians compelled the sons of Israel to labor rigorously; and they made their lives bitter with hard labor in mortar and bricks and at all kinds of labor in the field, all their labors which they rigorously imposed on them.”
• 4:29-31: “Then Moses and Aaron went and assembled all the elders of the sons of Israel; and Aaron spoke all the words which the Lord had spoken to Moses. He then performed the signs in the sight of the people. So the people believed and when they heard that the Lord was concerned about the sons of Israel and that He had seen their affliction, then they bowed low and worshiped.”
• 6:9: “So Moses spoke thus to the sons of Israel, but they did not listen to Moses on account of their despondency and cruel bondage.”
The first thing we notice is that they were being abused in Egypt because of fear. The Egyptians were afraid that if they did not instill fear within the people, that they could rebel against them and fight with their enemies. So to make sure they never rebelled against them, they inflicted hardship upon them to break their spirits. It worked fine until God entered the picture. They could not break His Spirit! When Moses and Aaron first spoke to them and showed them signs, they began to bow and worship God. But as soon as their labor was increased, they refused to listen to Moses any more. Where hope once existed, despondency returned.
As They Were Leaving
• 13:17: “Now when Pharaoh had let the people go, God did not lead them by the way of the land of the Philistines, even though it was near; for God said, ‘The people might change their minds when they see war, and return to Egypt.”
God knew that if they saw war too soon they would turn back to Egypt. Even though they were being abused in Egypt, they knew what to expect from day to day and for them that was better than dying. The fight had left them as their spirits were broken. Remember, their ancestors could fight, but after many years in bondage, they had nothing left. Now let’s look at what happened when they were at the Red Sea.
At The Red Sea
• 14:11-12: “Then they said to Moses, “Is it because there were no graves in Egypt that you have taken us away to die in the wilderness? Why have you dealt with us in this way bring us out of Egypt? Is this not the word that we spoke to you in Egypt saying, “Leave us alone that we may serve the Egyptians? For it would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the wilderness.”
This was what God knew would happen. Again, their spirits had been broken to the point that they’d rather serve the Egyptians than try and find something better. Every time they were frustrated, hungry, thirsty or without something they wanted they defaulted to going back to Egypt. They were institutionalized.
Now let’s bring move to today, in the Christian Church. God is trying to bring us out of Egypt. Our Egypt is going to Church Sunday after Sunday, to go through the same order of service year after year so we can say we went to Church. To begin to truly worship God in our hearts, we must come to Him. When God brought the Children of Israel out of Egypt, He was bringing them to Himself. He wanted them in His presence. He wanted to have a relationship with them where they could trust Him and He could trust them. This required something on their part – they had to leave where they were. They had to leave Egypt.
When we come out of our isolation and institutionalism, God will be there to meet us – to take us in. He will be there to show us through His Spirit what it means to fully worship Him. I will complete the last two hindrances next week. God Bless and keep you.
(Note: One of the primary resources for the outline for this message comes from the book "The Dynamics of Corporate Worship" by Vernon M. Whaley.)