carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise,
The Issues and Elements of Worshipping God
Part 2 – The Preparation and Call to Worship
“For you have not come to the mountain that may be touched and that burned with fire, and to blackness and darkness and tempest …
But you have come to Mt. Zion, and to the city of the living God … to the general assembly and church of the firstborn … to Jesus the Mediator of the new covenant.” (Heb. 12:18,22,23,24)
Have you ever imagined what it must have been like to have been one of the Israelites standing before Mt. Sinai – to be absolutely terrified by the cloud, lightning, fire and rumbling that all declared the presence of the living God?
Yet, as awesome as that was, it was merely a sensory experience – that is, it was related to how the presence of God might be appreciated merely through their physical senses.
But in the New Testament, we find the words quoted above telling us that the church of Christ today draws even nearer to God in truth in a way that even exceeds the experience of the Israelites! We come into the very presence of God through His Holy Spirit.
Now it is very easy to miss this key truth. Because there is no earthquake and darkness striking our hearts with fear, we are often tempted to overlook this very real presence of God and become much too casual in approaching Him for worship. And in overlooking it ourselves, we neglect to teach such truth to our children. We need to remind ourselves that it is in this very same book of the New Testament that we read that “Our God is a consuming fire” (Heb. 12:29).
The worship of God begins with our preparing our hearts and minds to do so. Now this is done in several practical ways: taking care of our regular and necessary affairs and tasks on Saturday so that our minds are uncluttered and our “to do” lists are put away; ending our Saturdays at a decent hour and quietly so as to get the sleep we need and be refreshed for the Lord’s Day; rising early enough to prepare ourselves in an unhurried fashion – with music or family traditions that will help put us in the right frame of mind; arriving at the church building with sufficient time to greet friends, take care of the children and enjoy the Sunday School class; and then, in gathering the family and enter the worship room as a sanctuary (a place set aside for such a holy task) with a heartfelt desire to meet God, sitting quietly and preparing your heart in reflection, prayer and reading.
The Call to Worship is next. Now this is meant to be much more than just the worship leader calling a noisy and talkative congregation to attention and quiet. This is no mere meeting of people for business! Actually, it is the call of God Himself. It is His Word that is read and declared, not man’s. The living God is calling you as a congregation into His presence.
Now if you have ever been in a courtroom you have probably noticed there is a routine there. The people assemble quietly before the appointed time in their proper places. Then, when the judge enters the people stand. That is because they are recognizing the judge with respect that he is the symbol of American law and justice. When the call of the Lord to gather together as His people is to be heralded, the people should stand, which is a way of saying we recognize that God is with us.
Now in some churches the entrance of God is said to be symbolically portrayed as well – usually in the form or fashion of a processional. The clergy and perhaps the choir march down the aisle while the congregation stands and sings. But in truth, this is easily misunderstood and can be distracting. God is not bound up in the symbol of a priest or minister, God dwells among his people when they gather together and call on His name.
Yes, the true spirituality of it all is easy to overlook in the routine of our weekly services. Sometimes we might wish that our worship was a little more like standing at the foot of Mt. Sinai, just to remind us of the reality of the presence of God. But sadly, not even quaking with fear kept the Israelites from being distracted to the point of gross sin right before His face. And neither would it work for us. Worshipping God in the beauty of His holiness and in the nearness of His Spirit is always done within and among us, not before and around us. That consuming fire of Heb. 12 dwells within his people, within you! It will either quicken you to adore Him or it will burn you up like chaff. We worship God according to our submission to Him and our waiting upon Him – not in mindlessness and routine but in spirit and in truth.
David G. Barker, 2003
|David G. Barker