TRUE WORSHIP AND THE WORD


(Transcripted from presentation at ALCF Mom's Time Out; April 25, 2013)

In today’s teaching, it’s my intention to narrow my focus to how essential a thorough knowledge of the Word is to being a “true worshipper” of God.

Jesus said: “Yet a time is coming, and has now come, when the true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshippers the Father seeks. God is a spirit, and His worshippers must worship in spirit and in truth.” (John 4:23-24)

These words were spoken to a Samaritan woman Jesus had met while seated at a well in her village. The two of them got to talking, as people will, and Jesus was helpfully attempting to clear-up some misconceptions she had about the sort of worship God desires.

This woman’s people, the Samaritans, were a half-Jewish/half-Caananite community, who tried to worship God through a religious amalgam of the folk traditions of both cultures. Without much access to scripture, over time they had gotten way off-base in their practices and understanding of the Lord. They were worshipping on the wrong mountain, with the wrong priests, and the wrong offerings. As a result, their worship, though well-intentioned, was unacceptable to God.

In some ways, the Samaritan religion was rather like Islamic beliefs in that they featured pretty much the same cast of characters (e.g., God, Moses, Abraham, angels, etc.), but their vision of who God is and what He wants was completely torqued by their ignorance of scripture. The Samaritans were therefore doing what seemed right in their own eyes. They were worshipping not according to the revealed truth of scripture, but practicing their own brand of folk religion.

Unfortunately, there still remains a great deal of what I call “folk Christianity” related to what constitutes true worship. Anyone familiar with the whole Word of God will recognize this truth. The evil one is well aware of it, too. Since he knows scripture well, he realizes their importance in producing true worship. Therefore, he makes sure to keep Christians overly distracted and busy, busy, busy with volunteering, choir practices, serving, going to seminars, and reading Christian books, so that they don’t have time to spend reading their Bibles.

The goal of the evil one is to prevent Christians from knowing the heart of their King; but in truth, the Word is the very heart and mind of the Lord God.

I think we are all aware that we are in a daily spiritual battle. If you belong to God, you are a Soldier of the Cross. We are often under attack by the evil one, but even more frequently, our efforts at holiness are attacked by our own fallen flesh. To illustrate our predicament, and particularly that of a church-going Christian who does not read the Word of God for herself, I would like to offer you this metaphor:

Imagine yourself as a soldier on the battlefield who has just sustained a severe wound and been knocked-out. When you come to, you feel weak and cold. Shock is setting in. Several major arteries in your body have been severed and you are experiencing a tremendous loss of blood, yet by some miracle, you are still alive.

To your immense relief, you see your buddies racing toward you with a medic. They kneel beside you, tucking blankets around you snugly to counter the effects of shock. They bandage strategic places to bind your wounds. Unfortunately, they are not equipped to give you a much needed transfusion of strength-giving blood, so they offer you Gatoraide, help you to your feet, and send you to back to the battle.

You’ll manage, right?

And you do manage – just. You survive, but you remain very weak and pale, with your health undercut for years and years. Your condition is nowhere near the vibrant, effective warrior for which you had such potential.

In my metaphor, the buddies are the fellowship of believers in the church. The medic represents the good pastors and teachers who sacrificially give us the very best care they can. The strength-infusing transfusion the soldier needs is the Word of God, and therefore, the Gatoraide represents a sermon.

While the comfort and care of our brothers and sisters in Christ is very needful and a valid part of God’s master plan for Christian life, merely listening to teaching, even while it might be very pithy, is just a bandaid, not the cure for the blows sustained in our daily spiritual battles. By saying this, I am only attempting to point out that if we don’t get a direct infusion of the Word -- as opposed to just “interpretations” of the Word -- we are denied the thing that will give us the spiritual strength and clear-minded wisdom we need to go forth for the kingdom of heaven. 

Switching to the apostle Paul’s own analogy, the Word of God is the strong drink that nurtures growth to maturity. Only with spiritual maturity, we will become one of those “true worshippers” the Lord is seeking.

More to the point, the Kingdom of Heaven is our home country, so knowing your Bible will help you to actually feel "at home" there. Our earthly sanctification can be thought of as a process of repatriation into the Garden of Eden, where we once again walk and talk with the Lord face-to-face. And like the earthly process of becoming a citizen of a new country,  becoming a functioning citizen in the Kingdom of God requires study of that country’s ways and laws.

The Lord’s ways are meant to be our natural culture, yet in my personal experience, most of my earthly life has been a battle to overcome the selfish and ungodly urgings of my flesh. I have also struggled to overcome pressure to conform to the culture around me. I suspect this is quite a familiar state to most other Christians, too.

Surprisingly, this struggle against worldly pressure can even involve church culture when the church's practice strays from the Lord’s ways. Hence, the genesis of my phrase ‘folk Christianity’, wherein things are incorporated into the Christian life and worship that do not stem from His revealed Word. 

This situation occurs because, although the grace of God has transformed the natural will of His children to agree with His own through the process of being born again spiritually, we still have our fallen brains and fallen bodies dragging around with us. Until we receive our fully-sanctified bodies in resurrection, we struggle to be perfectly aligned with the will of God. You see, it just isn’t completely natural to us yet because we are not fully transformed.

This is why we need a guide book telling us how to be and to do in the Lord’s kingdom. Your Bible is that guidebook.  Without it, God’s people make gaffs, omissions, and worst of all, offer Him ‘strange worship’, as opposed to the true worship He seeks. And we are completely without excuse because all we need to know for a godly life is carefully revealed in scripture. Absolutely everything is covered in the Word: How to eat healthily -- what to wear -- who to marry -- how to get along with people -- how to spend your free time -- how to raise your kids -- what to think about global warming -- even what best to do with a dead body.

As the hymn, How Firm a Foundation, says, “What more can He say than to you He has said?” There is no new revelation because nothing more is needed. God's Word to us in the scriptures is complete and comprehensive for every thing in life.

The voice of the Holy Spirt will always and only whisper a reiteration of what the Lord has already said in the Bible. Therefore, you will only be able to know if those thoughts in your mind are His, or, God forbid, yours, by whether they match His Word. This also applies to those “prophesies” some people like to offer you. If anything does not match the Word, or purports to be new revelation, it’s not from God.

Basically, if you don’t spend time letting the Lord speak to you through scripture, you won’t be able to discern the source of those thoughts, and you will constantly be trying to figure out God’s will for you, instead living with the utter peace that comes from already knowing it.

So what is the best method for acquiring this kind of knowledge?

Just read your Bible! Every day reading is best. It is rather like the manna the Lord provided to the Israelites, whose freshness was good for the day only. Like them, you need to take your little bucket out daily and gather a new supply to live on.

At this point, I must confess that I’d been a Christian for about seven years before I read the Bible for myself. As a new believer, my brother and his wife had prayed that I would be given a hunger for scripture, so I was well past the gentle nudges of the Holy Spirit by this time. He was literally shouting at me, and I felt a huge burden of guilt for the neglect. I was more like a stick-figure sketch of a Christian, than a real portrait.

With that confession, I want to read my testimony to you about how I learned to be in the Word because I don’t want to misstate anything:

“In the late 1970’s, I was operating a little day care in my home, so I wasn’t able to attend any women’s Bible studies, or even listen to teaching on CD because the children in my care required my full attention. I believe now that God arranged these circumstances because He wanted me to spend time with Him alone. It was His intention that I listen to only His voice with no interference, speculation, or theorizing from others.

The Holy Spirit had me under considerable pressure, so I embarked on a plan to read through the Bible in one year by using one of the most common systems available at the time and reading its corresponding commentary.
I chose to do this during the children’s naptime.

Soon, however, I began to notice that what I was reading in the Word frequently did not match the teaching in the commentary. In response, I would re-read the passages even more closely just to be sure I wasn’t mistaken. It was confounding. This happened on a number of days during the first month resulting in my loss of faith - - in the commentator.

It seems the writer held a particular theological position into which he tried to ‘shoehorn’ each segment -- even when something didn’t fit his mold. I chucked the commentary at that point, but kept on with its very accommodating reading schedule.

Every day thereafter, I would start my Bible reading by confessing to the Lord that my dark mind wasn’t able to understand spiritual things. He tells us this truth in the Bible; but clueless me had to experience a seminary graduate’s failures to understand how truly disadvantaged I was. If the trained author of that commentary couldn’t get it right, how could I?

I asked God to teach me Himself and to protect me from error. I didn’t use any commentaries or other books going forward, I just read slowly, carefully, and attentively for about 30 minutes each day as the children slept.
It is from this first experience that I have remained convinced that the Holy Spirit alone is entirely sufficient to teach His people truth. To this day, I’m always suspicious that anything added by a human will probably be dross.

At the end of my first reading through the Bible, I knew something of God at last; and interestingly, He wasn’t much like the God about whom I had been taught in church. I don’t fault my teachers for this. The Lord is just too fierce and too immense for anyone to convey adequately. His love is too consuming, His anger too searing. His will is insistent and unalterable. And He’s not at all like us, (for instance, He can be intensely jealous and it’s a good thing); therefore, only He can express the fullness of His being.”

Among the many revelations new to me after my very first read through the Bible, I was most startled to learn that the Lord has a love language. (Could this is another way humanity is made in His image?) God's love language is obedience.

No one had ever pointed this out to me before, even though the Lord plainly and repeatedly says, “If you love Me, keep My Word.” (John 14:15). This desire is expressed all over the Bible, from Genesis through Revelations, phrased in many ways. I just hadn’t known it because I hadn’t been listening directly to Him.

All I had ever been taught in my previous church experience was a continual cautioning to avoid being like the Pharisees. The Pharisees were a Jewish sect who tried to live in stringent compliance with Biblical law with a goal of winning God's favor for themselves. This mindset is often referred to as Legalism. After reading the Bible for myself, I now understood that the obedience God seeks can superficially appear similar, but it stems from a very different motive. He longs for obedience that is founded solely on our love and trust for Him.

This is heart-obedience is the very particular worship the Lord seeks. It praises His wisdom. It expresses maximum trust in His sovereignty. It is the highest complement to His good will. And isn’t that the very definition of worship?

So, while it can include them, true worship is not the songs, or the tithing, or the good works, or even the sermon. True worship is our obedience to the Father, and we can’t offer it without knowing what He seeks. When we read our Bibles, we are preparing our hearts to worship the Lord.

So now I think I can hear some of you thinking, “Carolyn, what do you mean when you say true worship is obedience to the Word of God? Give us some examples.”

Though I can think of a myriad of examples, here are three quick ones for you:

1. Imagine anger flashing in your heart; but instead of  expressing it, you quash it because you know the verse that says God’s righteousness can’t be displayed in man’s anger. Any woman who quenches her anger for the Lord’s sake is offering Him true worship as she lays her anger aside because of her love for Him. OR -

 2. Picture a woman who conducts herself as a wife, not as the world recommends, but according to the plan laid out in scripture because she knows God intends her to be a picture for all to see of how the church responds to her husband Jesus. By demonstrating the willingness and love of the church toward the Lord in her relationship with her husband, she is offering God true worship. OR -

3. Imagine yourself sharing your home, time, provision and companionship with others -- even when you have no such inclination -- because you understand that the Lord wants His children to demonstrate His own graciousness through hospitality. This is offering God true worship.

What I am trying to express is that we worship the Lord with actions that not only demonstrate the honor expected in His worship, but actions that spring out of love for Him. Everything else is window dressing.

The Lord wants to be in a continual conversation with us. Prayer is simply us talking to Him. The Word is God speaking to us. While the Lord certainly does want us to talk to Him – we were created to fellowship with Him, afterall -- He decidedly wants to be the conversational leader.

Every wisdom and blessing you need for your family is in the Word! Our clever and mighty Lord has given His Word to us in a format understandable for the simplest person, yet deep and complex enough the greatest mind. 

I caution you now about spending your precious time reading books “about” the Bible. These are not necessarily bad, but they remind me of the old movie “Multiplicity” in the way they offer a copy of a copy of a copy. As modern mothers, I understand that your time is subject to many demands and, therefore, quite limited. Just as I would advise a physically ill friend not to eat junk, but go for quality food to restore their health, I counsel you to go for the "quality spiritual food" - the Bible alone - for your study time.

In the hope of encouraging you to go forward with your reading, I would like to offer you five simple suggestions to help get you into the Bible on a daily basis.

1. Pick a time for Bible reading and be rigid about it. Tell the children they may not interrupt when you are listening to the Lord. Explain that you need to listen to Him everyday, or you won’t be able to be a good mommy for them. Don’t let anything short of blood or a fire stop you.

2. Remember, you just need to show up on the page! Our Lord will be pleased to honor your commitment to hearing Him by opening His Word to your understanding. Count on the Holy Spirit to do all the heavy lifting.

It is extremely important that you read the whole Bible, so that you can hear and receive the whole counsel of our unchanging Lord. Even at a rate of one chapter per day, you can read through the entire Bible once every three years!

3. Be sure to read the Bible openly in front of the children. This is part of your ministry to them. It demonstrates the importance you place on the time you spend hearing from God and is a testimony that will speak louder and longer to your children than your words.

4. Don’t be presumptuous in your approach to the Word. Always thank God for speaking to you and ask Him for help to understand. Ask Father for the faith to believe His message. Faith is a gift, you know, and Father loves to give gifts!

5. Understand that it is absolutely okay not to “get it” when you read a passage.

When I read scripture that I don’t understand, I just place a question mark next to it with my pencil. It is one of the major joys of my life to be able to erase those marks as the years go by. It assures me that the Lord is sharing more and more of His heart with me.

Oddly, I’ve found that I’m even happier to add new question marks in places that I thought I had previously understood. Somewhat counter-intuitively, this tells me that I am making progress because you know you really don't get it when you don't even have any questions!

I’ll close with a simple message from the Lord found in Deuteronomy 6:6. He says, "These words, which I am commanding you today, shall be on your heart." His words are the core of His leadership for your life, and they will assuredly travel to your heart through the reading the Bible.

Comments