I don't know if you've ever wondered what keeps a pastor awake at night. Somehow, I doubt it. But I'm going to tell you anyway. It's not the next deacons meeting, or next week's church service, or a lot of things that I might have worried about at one time.
Something else keeps me awake at night: statistics like this. George Barna conducted a survey in 1987, and found that nearly two-thirds of regular attendees say they have never experienced God's presence at a church service. 48% of regular church attendees have not experienced God's presence in the past year.
These are exactly the kind of statistics that give me nightmares, or that keep me awake late at night. The primary purpose of the church is worship, and yet most haven't experienced God's presence at a church service. This is not good news.
Worship is the reason why we exist. Even evangelism - which has become central in a lot of churches - is about God's desire for more worshipers. We call this a worship service. It's not a preaching service, although we sometimes act like it is. It's a service that's supposed to bring us together to worship God. And yet two-thirds of people say that they don't experience God's presence when in worship services. That's a big problem.
It could be that we put too much stock in feelings. How do you know if you've experienced God's presence? But, when we look at the Bible, you discover that there's no mistaking God's presence. You feel it. You experience it. It's not something that you miss.
It could be that we're so used to showing up at church and not experiencing God's presence. Maybe a lot of us came today without really expecting to meet with God. When I go to McDonalds, I don't go expecting a great meal. If my fries are warm and my burger's edible, that's a successful trip to McDonalds. My standards have dropped and I'm seldom disappointed. Anyone here work for McDonalds? I didn't mean your McDonalds. Maybe, though, we're the same when we come to church. Our standards have dropped, so if the songs aren't bad and the sermon keeps us awake, that's a successful trip to church. We never expect to encounter God there.
God does want to meet with us. It's not at all about the building or the time or even the forms that worship takes. But God does hunger and desire to connect with us, for us to experience him. God's highest desire is to fellowship with us. Take a look at the person next to you. God's highest desire is to have a relationship with that person. Honestly, can you figure out why? If you could look in the mirror, the same would be true. It's inexplicable. God's highest desire is to be in relationship with you, to connect with you, for you to worship him.
When we worship God, we get to meet and interact directly with the God of the universe. The one who created all of this, to whom nations are a drop in the bucket - he desires a relationship with us. He wants us to be his worshipers.
The next few weeks, we're going to look at worship. We've had a group of people who have been thinking through some of these issues, about how we can learn to connect with God and experience his presence more in worship. Today we're going to look why to worship, because the answer to how is why.
The question "why worship?" isn't quite right either. All of us are worshipers. The question isn't whether or not we worship. The real question is who we're worshiping. Let's take a look at this video clip, and you can tell me who or what these creatures are worshiping.
Video clip from Toy Story - Buzz Lightyear have arrived at a pizza parlor in a search for their boy. Buzz enters a rocket-shaped toy filled with three-eyed green alien toys. Buzz, believing he's on an intergalactic mission, asks who's in charge. The whole group answers in unison, "The claw!" They look above at a gleaming metallic claw hanging above them. "The claw is our master." "The claw chooses who will go and who will stay."
Soon, a child puts a quarter in the machine, and the claw begins to move. One alien calls out, "It moves!" The claw descends and grabs one of the alien toys. The alien says, "I have been chosen! Farewell, my friends. I go to a better place."
Who did these three-eyed aliens worship? The claw. The clip is funny, but it makes a point. We all worship someone or something. Our version of the claw may be our work. It may be our kids. It may be our goals or plans for our lives. But we all worship something or someone. We're all worshipers.
Tim Kelly has said, "Worship is taking our affection off idols and putting it on God." Worship is about abandoning the idols - the claws - that normally dominate our lives, and giving our affection to the God of the universe.
Today, I want to look at someone who encountered God in worship. The story is found in Isaiah 6. It takes place in the Temple, which was the place that God chose to represent his presence on earth at the time. I love the story, because it starts off just like a regular worship service of some kind until Isaiah encounters God. It's as if God opens up heaven to Isaiah's eyes to let him see what's really happening as he worships.
What happened to Isaiah probably won't happen to us here, but it gives us a picture of what takes place behind the scenes as we worship. It's not something we do in isolation. As we worship God - together, alone, in music, obedience, in whatever form worship may take - we don't worship alone. Angelic beings join us in our worship. God may not meet us just as he did with Isaiah, but he will meet with us. Significant things happen when we encounter God in worship.
Isaiah 6 says:
1In the year King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord. He was sitting on a lofty throne, and the train of his robe filled the Temple. 2Hovering around him were mighty seraphim, each with six wings. With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with the remaining two they flew. 3In a great chorus they sang, "Holy, holy, holy is the LORD Almighty! The whole earth is filled with his glory!" 4The glorious singing shook the Temple to its foundations, and the entire sanctuary was filled with smoke.
Picture that scene. Isaiah's worshiping at the Temple, as he had many times. All of a sudden, everything's different. He's able to see beyond the people and the Temple. He sees the trains of God's robes filling the Temple. He sees angel-seraphs hovering and worshiping. They cry out, "Holy! Holy! Holy!" That's not a reference to the Trinity - you can find teaching about the Trinity elsewhere. That's an expression of how holy God is. "Holy" one time doesn't do it.
The word "Holy" means altogether different. They angel-seraphs had been worshiping God for ages. We don't know how long. They're not eternal creatures, so take your pick - in the thousands or millions of years. But still they cry out, "You're different! You're better! You're altogether holy and separate from everything and everyone else!" They hadn't gotten over God's glory.
This is what happens when we worship God. We encounter him. God draws near to us, and he allows us glimpses of his glory. It reminds us of who he is. It's all about him. It's not about us. It puts us in perspective, because all of a sudden we see his glory and everything else becomes a lot smaller.
Isaiah mentioned the death of King Uzziah. That would have been a pretty significant historical event at the time. Uzziah's reign of fifty years came to an end the same year that this event took place. However historically significant Uzziah's death might have been at the time, I can guarantee that Isaiah had a different perspective. He had seen God. He had encountered him. That made all the difference.
I imagine there are some people here going through some very tough life events. When we worship, we're able to see past our immediate surroundings to the God of the universe. When we face death, we can meet God and know he's the one who's walked many of his children through death. When we lose our jobs, worship allows us to meet the God to whom the entire value of a company like Microsoft is like pocket change. We see the one who created all things, who sustains all things, who makes nations rise and fall, and we see things differently, because we've seen God in his glory.
Isaiah saw himself differently too. I have such an inflated view of myself sometimes. Okay, all the time. If I have a good day, it's because things have gone well for me. If I have a bad day, it doesn't matter how good a day Charlene has had. I'm still ticked and grumpy. I measure everything by how well it suits me and my plans. I'm selfish and in danger of making myself the center of my universe. That's human nature. When we worship, we see ourselves differently. In verse 5, Isaiah says, "My destruction is sealed, for I am a sinful man and a member of a sinful race. Yet I have seen the King, the LORD Almighty!"
Isaiah saw himself as he really was. He was convicted of his sinfulness. He didn't feel worthy enough to worship the King of Kings. Compared to God's glory, he knew that he had a problem. He was not worthy of worshiping God. He definitely wasn't worthy to be the center of his universe. He knew that God was God and that he wasn't.
Imagine if all of us experienced this. If all of us walked out of here convinced of God's glory, and that this isn't all about us and our happiness and wellbeing - imagine what would happen if we all walked out of here with that attitude. We would be set free from caring as much about ourselves and our welfare. We'd see ourselves as John the Baptist did, that we must decrease so that Jesus Christ might increase. We would know that this world isn't about us.
God doesn't leave Isaiah in the dust:
6Then one of the seraphim flew over to the altar, and he picked up a burning coal with a pair of tongs. 7He touched my lips with it and said, "See, this coal has touched your lips. Now your guilt is removed, and your sins are forgiven." (Isaiah 6:6-7)
When Isaiah worshiped God, he found forgiveness. The God who is above all and completely different from everyone else, and to whom we are insignificant and unworthy by comparison - that God knows us, is concerned for us, and wants to cleanse us. He removes our guilt and forgives our sins. The central focus of our worship is God, and his saving deed in Jesus Christ. It's about what God has done through Jesus so that we could be forgiven, so that our guilt could be removed.
Verse 8 says, "8Then I heard the Lord asking, 'Whom should I send as a messenger to my people? Who will go for us?' And I said, 'Lord, I'll go! Send me.'" When we encounter God in worship, it inspires us to serve him. No wonder the Evil One doesn't want us worshiping. When people have met with God, it's changed the entire course of their lives. When Moses met with God at age 80, he changed direction. When Isaiah met with God, he answered the call to serve. When Paul met with God on a road, he became a new person. Meeting with God inspires us to serve.
That's why we worship: because in worship we experience the presence of God; we see ourselves more accurately; we are freed from our guilt; because we're inspired to serve. But that's still too much about us, isn't it?
The real reason we worship isn't because of what it does for us, although that's usually what we talk about. The real reason we worship is for God. It's because he is worthy. It's because he loves to receive our worship. Even if worship did nothing for us, we would still worship. Why? Because God is worthy. Because if we didn't worship, the rocks would lose their cool and finally burst out in praise (Luke 19:40). We ultimately worship because God is looking for worshipers.
You came here today expecting something. I hope it was more than a sermon. God's deepest longing is for fellowship with you. He desires us to experience his presence. He wants to meet with you.
Forgiveness that we've made worship about us; that we don't come really longing to experience God
Prayer that we will grow in worship, not just in "church" but in all of our lives; that we would experience God's presence