GRACE@WORK MAIL 5/07
[Feb 2, 2007 Edition]

“God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.” (John 4:24)

Commentary: Worshiped?

My church held an afternoon seminar on corporate worship last Sunday. One of the questions asked was “how do you know you have worshiped?” Here was a basic question if there ever was one. If there is one activity that most Christians do its Sunday corporate worship, well, weekly corporate worship. Some churches worship on other days of the week.

Many good and right answers were given. Someone based their answer on the call of Isaiah in Isaiah 6:1-8. I find my own answer stemming from that encounter too. Here is my own answer to the question “how do you know you have worshiped?”

“I know that I have worshiped when as a result of the worship I encounter the living God afresh and that encounter has transformed me to be a little more like Him.”

I admit my definition is a little long winded but it can be summarized into two things: “encounter” and “transformation.”

I am at that stage of my spiritual pilgrimage when I can dance with the Pentecostals and kneel with the Anglicans. Of course many Anglicans are dancing now and some Pentecostals are kneeling but you know what I mean. I am less distracted by style and more concerned for the main players involved. When I join a group of believers to worship I am seeking a fresh meeting with my Lord in the company of His people.

Whatever the flavour, whatever the liturgy — in the songs and the hymns, in the prayers and sermons, in the confession, I seek my Lord. I know God is everywhere but somehow there is something special about encountering a Triune God in the context of a believing community.

Therefore, though the actual liturgy may be secondary, I am on the lookout to see if the worship leadership, songs chosen, passages read, etc give me an accurate picture of the living God. All healthy liturgy will balance both the sheer majesty and awesomeness of God, with His welcoming love, as befitting a Father (intimate) who is in heaven (awesome other).

Here then is my first criteria of a good worship. As a result of that corporate worship I can say with Isaiah, “…I saw the Lord seated on a throne, high and exalted…”

And if one has truly encountered the living God how can one remain the same? How can one put his hand into a fire and not get burnt? If I have truly encountered the living God I will look for evidence of that encounter in my heart — is it beating more in tune with His heart?

This often means I feel bad before I feel good. To have a fresh encounter with a holy God is to reminded afresh how far I am from that holiness. So Isaiah is pierced to the heart: “Woe to me!” I cried. “I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the LORD Almighty. (Isaiah 6:5)”

And the prodigal son returns to his father knowing: “Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son. (Luke 15:21)”

But Father sends a seraphim with cleansing coals to forgive and restore Isaiah in Isaiah 6, and He embraces the prodigal son with a celebration in Luke 15.

Every week as I come before the Lord that I seek I am reminded that I have made my own sojourns to the distant country during the week. I am reminded afresh of my sin and my stupidity. I wonder when I will ever learn. I am amazed when I see the seraphim get the cleansing coal yet again. My heart beats faster as I realize Father is waiting.

And as Isaiah discovered, to be cleansed is to be called. They all learn that. Ask Paul about his Damascus Road encounter. There he encountered the Living God and was saved and sent. You cannot encounter the living God and still live for yourself. If you have met with the living God you get rescued from self seeking yet again. To meet with God is to find yourself returned to living for Him and therefore living for others as well.

To truly worship is to hear afresh God asking “”Whom shall I send? And who will go for us? (Isaiah 6:8)” It is to hear Jesus say: “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you. (John 20:21)”

If I leave a time of corporate worship self centred and inward looking I need to ask if I had truly encountered God. Because one check list of true worship looks something like this:

1. I encounter afresh the awesome loving God.
2. I am reminded of my sin and failure.
3. I receive the grace and forgiveness of God and am reminded that God loves me and meets my deepest needs.
4. In response I offer my life to Him again and reenlist in His purposes.

In a consumer age, many approach worship asking what they can get out of it. Many are concerned primarily for themselves, their needs and their feelings. They ask:”Will I enjoy the worship? Will it feel good?” and wonder why they leave the worship service dry and empty, wondering if there is anything beyond the feelings stimulated by the music, the mind stimulated by the sermon.

It is no surprise that Christians raised on such consumer worship Sunday after Sunday have done little to set a fire on the earth for the Lord. They themselves have not being seared by the Holy Flame. We could all do well to hear again God’s instructions to Moses as to how to approach the Fire:

“When the LORD saw that he had gone over to look, God called to him from within the bush, ‘Moses! Moses!’ And Moses said, ‘Here I am.’
‘Do not come any closer,’ God said. ‘Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground.'”

Your brother,
Soo-Inn Tan
Email: sooinn@graceatwork.org