English service - April 16, 2023
Messenger: Pastor Jim Allison
I Chronicles 16:23-34
Worship in God’s Family
Happy Sunday-after-Easter, everyone here at Open Door and online. We have been talking and praying a lot recently about worship and how we can best do it as we gather here from week to week. So in praying about today’s message, I felt that we have a particularly good opportunity to learn together about the practice of worship. It is at the very heart of who we are and what we are here to do, yet we may never stop to think much about its meaning, purpose, or forms. Let’s spend some time focusing on that today.
Worship appears throughout the whole Bible. But the words in today’s reading give us an especially clear look at the roots of Christian worship and its meaning, which does not change with the passage of time. Let’s begin by understanding some things about its background.
I and II Chronicles were probably written as one book by Ezra around 450 BC after the people of Israel were taken from their homeland, forced to live in Babylon, and then freed around 70 years later. When they returned, we could say there wasn’t much left. The area was ruled by someone from another ethnic group, the wall around their biggest city was gone, along with the center of their worship, the Temple. They were weak militarily, economically, and politically. Even more, they were discouraged. It was hard for them to imagine their nation ever regaining the greatness that it had had about 500 years earlier under King David.
So this history of Israel was written in part to encourage its people. The writer wants to guide them to look back at what God has already done in the life of their nation when people put their trust in Him to lead them. The author does this by telling story of a truly great day, when God’s people worshiped Him together in celebrating the bringing of the Ark of the Covenant into Jerusalem. As you may remember from a recent message, inside this box is the 10 Commandments, the core of the Old Testament Law, a key part of God’s word (the Bible), and His promise to be their God and lead them as His people. Put simply, this is where God is in a special way—His home.
So the words here lead people to worship. They move from paragraph to Psalm form. If you read especially Psalm 105, but also 95, 96, and others, you will find many of the same words as you read here. Our reading is part of a longer one, beginning in verse 8 of this chapter, but let’s focus on this key section of it. To do that, let’s take the approach of asking about worship, who, what, when, where, why, and how.
Who. We read in v. 28, “Praise the Lord. . . .” and in v. 33, “. . . Sing to the Lord.” God is to be the focus of what happens here. We can go other places and listen to someone speaking or singing from a microphone on a stage, but there is something fundamentally different here. We are not paying attention to the person or people putting words in our ears nearly so much as to the God whose words they are supposed to be presenting to us. We are here mainly to listen to God and speak back to Him in prayer, praise, confession, and so on. If we start giving our attention to the people in front of our eyes, there is always the risk that we slip out of worship and into something else of far less meaning and value.
Who is “we”? Who is to worship? Verses 23 and 30 say, “All you people of the earth. . . .” It’s not like we pay staff members as professional worshipers and they do it as our representatives. That’s not God’s plan, according to the Bible. True worship is done not just by particularly skilled leaders. The Lord’s intention is that it the whole community of faith will worship. It gives God joy when His creations worship Him. It is the most natural way for us to live and lines up with the way He designed us.
In fact, worship goes beyond humans alone and to all of His creation. So His word says things like “Let the ocean and everything in it roar. Let the fields and everything in them be glad” (v. 32) and “. . . the trees in the forest will sing with joy. They will sing. . .” (v. 33). By doing what they are purposed to do, they give God pleasure, show His glory, and so worship Him. Only when everyone and everything does this does worship have its full meaning. So we pray, as v.
31a teaches, “Let the heavens be filled with joy. Let the earth be glad.”
What. What is worship? The Bible does not give a single definition, but the English word worship makes it kind of easy to understand. (It’s not true because it’s English, of course, but it may help us remember.) You know the word worth, right? Worship is showing in words, thoughts, or actions what has worth, value, or meaning. Because this is true, it touches the deepest truths about us as humans and the world.
When you understand worship this way, you see that it goes far beyond a planned, structured ceremony we hold at a certain place and time. In this sense, everyone “worships” something. If we refuse to worship God, we will replace Him with something else—often ourselves. A writer I mentioned recently named Andy Crouch says, “Worship brings us to the real truth about the world, its original intention and its ultimate meaning, and our responsibility in it.”
So the message of the God of the Bible to people is not generally, “You must make worship a part of your life.” If we will not worship Him, we end up following the false teachings that we decide for ourselves must be true, or maybe receive from the culture around us. God knows we will follow something or someone in some kind of faith. His direction to us is to follow Him as the true God, to be faithful to Him in the covenant He has made with us.
As we’ve talked about recently, worship and the family are closely linked.
Remember, family is for the formation of persons. And worship forms people.
It gives us a purpose for going on our lives’ journey. It orients us and sends us out in the right direction. It empowers us to keep going on the journey day by day to its completion. For those reasons, we can say with Crouch, “The home is the place where worship of the true God starts. . .” (p. 161).
Worship is a way to develop character. There is an aspect of training in it. True worship can only happen fully and most naturally when it includes the transformation of our hearts so that they become Christlike in nature. That is where true worship comes from—not from a program put on a screen or printed in a songbook. And true worship must extend into actions for it to be real and have its fullest expression. We worship with our whole life, not just inside the church building inside certain programs. Our growth in character, as well as our fellowship, service, and evangelism, must all grow out of our worship for them to have the meaning God intends for them.
So “Every family that cares about things like wisdom and courage needs to be part of a community larger than itself” (p. 157). As Crouch says, “. . . Worship is the most important thing a family can do. It is the most important thing to teach our children and the most important thing to rehearse throughout our lives” (p. 160).
We learned together here recently how technology can impact our life of faith. We can use it to lead us to greater knowledge of God, or we can let it get in the way. Crouch notes a connection with worship here (p. 160).
Technology can threaten us, even in our faith, by making it so easy to settle for something that is less than our best. What kind of life do we want for our children? Do we choose the strenuous life that in the end produces real fruit? Or do we choose the easy, safe, convenient life in order to help them avoid pain and struggle? Technology makes it terribly easy to choose the latter route.
Worship calls us out of the small pleasures of the easy-everywhere world to the real joy and burden of bearing the image of God in a world where nothing is easy, everything is broken, and yet redemption is possible.
When and where. These two actually combine. We are taught (v. 23b and again in Psalm 96:2), “Day after day tell about how he saves us.” We have already seen that worship is a lifestyle, not a once-a-week-on-Sunday-morning activity. Our greatest worship is living a life every day that shows God’s glory, that pleases and honors Him. Gathering for public worship empowers and directs us to go back into our daily lives at home, school, work, and so on. When showing God’s glory there is our constant purpose, then worship is doing what God wants it to do in and through us. I have seen printed on a worship program as part of the order of worship: (at the beginning) “Enter to worship” and (at the end) “Exit to serve.” That shows God’s message well, I think.
One more thing to note. It is not uncommon for people in churches to disagree over what types of music to include in worship. Some of those differences in feeling and opinion have even been deep enough to be called “worship wars.” But these matters tend to look a lot smaller in importance to you if you have a time for worship every day of the week built into your schedule. If you can worship with your style of music six days a week, one that is more in styles that others are more comfortable with may not feel like such a big stress.
When to worship? David continues (v. 33), “Then the trees in the forest will sing with joy. They will sing to the Lord. He will judge the people of the world.” “Then.” The writer is looking ahead, far into the future. And worship is what he sees. Worship is at the destination of our journey. We are actually preparing for a future of worship. What we will do when we learn to see the world as it truly is, is worship. That will be the natural response we have to our best learning. And it will continue long after our bodies have died—in heaven, in the presence of God, unendingly. So the worship we do here at Open Door is also (as Crouch calls it) “. . . a rehearsal for the end of the whole story, when all speech will be song and the whole cosmos will be filled with worship” (p. 163).
Where to worship? Verse 27 tells us, “Glory and majesty are all around him. Strength and joy can be seen in the place where he lives.” So we are to worship wherever God is and we are together with Him. In other words, everywhere. Worship is a life. So it makes sense that the writer does not send us to a certain place to worship. He simply tells us (v. 29b), “Bring an offering and come to him” (italics added).
Lord, make all parts of our lives show your glory and so be worship to you which you are glad to receive.
Why. We worship because (v. 25) “The LORD is great. He is really worthy of praise. People should have respect for him as the greatest God of all.” David adds in v. 26 “. . . the LORD made the heavens.” Stunning photography from space that we are increasingly seeing in the news gives us fresh reasons to praise the God who created it all. “Glory and majesty are all around him. Strength and joy can be seen in the place where he lives” (v. 27, much like v. 28 b and 29a). Then (v. 29b) “Worship the LORD because of his beauty and holiness.” And a final, compelling reason to worship in v. 34: “Give thanks to the Lord, because he is good. His faithful love continues forever.”
If you had to take a Bible quiz on why to worship, those would be the answers. But to find their fuller meaning, we need to look in our own lives and around us. Where have we seen God’s greatness, glory, majesty, strength, joy, goodness, beauty, and holiness? As we reflect on these acts of the Lord, we will find our particular, unique reasons to offer Him our worship.
How. What are the ways for us to best worship? In some senses, God is surprisingly silent on techniques and methods. There are some fairly concrete teachings such as “Bring an offering. . .” (v. 29b). Giving from what we have (financial, time, talent, other resources) is not just a nice thing to do but a form of worship.
There are some general teachings such as John 4:24. “God is spirit. His worshipers must worship him in spirit and in truth.”
There is also a proclaiming aspect of worship as God teaches it. In v. 23 we are instructed to “tell about how he saves us” as a part of worship. Likewise in v. 24: “Tell the nations about his glory. Tell all people about the wonderful things he has done.” Similarly in v. 31b: “Let them say among the nations, ‘The LORD rules!’” In appropriate ways and times, we need to talk directly with people to tell God’s word. But there is an important type of presenting and announcing His message that we do simply by continuing the habit of worshiping. People see. They notice. And God can find a way to use that to spread the message of His saving love.
The last way of worshiping to note is singing. We are blessed to have a church group with members whose musical gifts can help us follow the teaching, “. . . sing to the Lord” (v. 23). “Praise the Lord. . . .” in vv. 28 and 29, as well as “Give thanks to the Lord” in v. 34, all include singing.
In fact, we may actually give praise and thanks much more often through singing than through speaking. I remember a teacher in seminary telling the students that most people in our churches will learn more theology through the hymns they sing than through the sermons they hear. (They will probably hear more in sermons but remember more through singing. This fact should also have the added benefit of keeping preachers humble.)
Recently we were here learning Jesus’ teaching: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul. Love him with all your mind and with all your strength” (Mark 12:30). Crouch notes that “. . . Singing may be the one human activity that most perfectly combines heart, mind, soul, and strength.” God clearly wants us to sing well. That is “. . . not in the sense of singing in perfect tune or like a professional, but in this sense of bringing heart, mind, soul, and strength to our singing” (p. 161).
I am thankful we have both the voices and sound system to make beautiful music. But we also have to recognize the real temptation for ordinary church members to let the leaders do the singing for us. Technology has made it very easy for that to happen. We can easily consume far more music than people in the past could, but average people are producing far less and many never developing the ability to sing that many in the past commonly did. When we ourselves stop singing to the Lord, we lose something essential from our worship.
There are these somewhat clear-cut teachings about how to worship, but there are a lot of questions that are more difficult to answer. How long a worship service is too long (or too short)? Should worship be quiet or at high-volume? Ought it to be held in a more intellectual or emotional atmosphere? Verse 30b says to “. . . tremble when you are with him.” That sounds more emotional. But I Corinthians 14:40 says, “. . . Everything should be done in a proper and orderly way.” That sounds more thoughtfully planned and structured.
My best understanding is that God looks at what is in our hearts, and a wide variety of people have a lot of different things in our hearts that can lead to worship God is happy to receive. Some people are quieter, others louder, some run more on a thinking track, others on a feeling track, and so on. These differences can be between individuals but also between churches and denominations and cultures. We probably all need to keep in mind how differently people around us can feel about various styles of music, preaching, dressing, and other parts of worship. There are some important differences in beliefs. But before we get into fighting battles of good and bad, right and wrong, we should of course be careful to make sure that our particular questions and problems are those types and not just matters of style and preference.
Of all the parts of our life of faith, worship is probably the one that links with them all more than any other. Our faith, fellowship, service, and evangelism all must lead us to giving praise to God if they are to have their full and proper meaning. Today we have seen how the Lord has called His people to know and love Him through worship across the centuries. Let’s ask Him now to help us answer that call in our particular time and place in His world.
God, you have taught us, “So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God” (I Corinthians 10:31, New International Version). Help our whole lives to honor you. Teach us to put you, and giving you the praise you deserve, at the center of our lives. Lead us to love you with our hearts, souls, minds, and strength so that all we are and do will be praise that you are happy to receive. In Christ’s name, amen.
Crouch, A. (2017). The Tech-Wise Family: Everyday Steps for Putting Technology in Its Proper Place. Baker Books.
MacArthur, J. (2011, January 12). “A Model for Giving Thanks.” Grace to You. Retrieved April 9, 2023 from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jX3o6ZT116w