Over the last several weeks we have been trying to get a handle on what true worship really involves. I hope, what we have seen is that true worship has very little to do with the music we sing, the order of service we follow, or the amount of multi-media we have in our church. True worship, the worship the Lord desires, is a bowing of our hearts before the King of the Universe. This kind of Godly worship can (and hopefully does) take place in a sanctuary but can also take place in almost any other place.
We’ve noticed that worship involves both our minds and our emotions. We have seen that worship should be joyful because it is focused on the character and deeds of God. This joy may be expressed in bold expressions or in the quiet of our hearts.
This morning as we reach the fourth installment to this introduction to worship we have one more piece to add to the puzzle. In order for worship to take place, in order to know joy, and in order to honor God appropriately, we must learn to approach God reverently.
Pastor A.W. Tozer wrote,
There is a grief in my spirit when I go into the average church, for we have become a generation rapidly losing all sense of divine sacredness in our worship. Many whom we have raised in our churches no longer think in terms of reverence—which seems to indicate they doubt that God’s Presence is there.
In too many of our churches, you can detect the attitude that anything goes. It is my assessment that losing the awareness of God in our midst is a loss too terrible ever to be appraised.
Tozer’s words are strong but I doubt they are understated. There is a casual-ness about our approach to God that borders on blasphemy. Anyone who has served in the military knows that there is a very strict protocol when talking to those who rank higher than you do. A violation of that protocol is viewed as an act of insubordination. This is not just in the military. Knowing how to relate to those in authority over you is an important part of life.
The Bible is a book that tells us the proper protocol for approaching the Ruler of the Universe. This morning we will highlight three dimensions of what it means to respond to God with the reverence that He deserves.
The first element of this respect is “fear”. This is different from a phobia. The fear that we are to have toward God is a fear of respect. We are to recognize God’s awesome character.
- Psalm 111:10 (and Proverbs 9:10) tell us that the “fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom”.
- [Ecclesiastes 12:13-14] “Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. 14 For God will bring every deed into judgment, including every hidden thing, whether it is good or evil”.
- [Hebrews 12:28-29] “28 Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, 29 for our “God is a consuming fire.”
The idea of fearing God is not very popular today. The picture most people seem to have of God is that of a kind Grandfather. He is warm, cuddly, and somewhat of a soft touch.
In the Bible God is revealed differently. He is Holy (one unstained by sin and unwilling to tolerate sin or people who sin). He is all-powerful (no one can stand against Him). He is all-knowing (there is nothing hidden from Him or confusing to Him). He is a perfectly righteous Judge (wrong is always punished, good is always rewarded). He is the Supreme ruler, the One who sovereignly holds authority over everything that happens. He is in complete control.
As you read through the Bible you will see that every occasion when someone came in contact with Almighty God there was awe, reverence, and respect. Prophets fell on their faces; people were terrified that they were going to die (they knew instinctively that they were sinners in the hands of an angry God) and still others sat in silence. Not one said, “Hey God! How’s it going?”
Admittedly, we live in a casual society where respect is lacking. Children talk back to parents, employees think nothing of taking advantage of employers, students talk to teachers as one of their peers. It is not surprising that respect for God has waned. However, the fact that respect and reverence are uncommon does not mean they are not necessary.
There are several reasons we should have a sense of awe and respect toward Almighty God. First, we are sinful beings approaching a Holy God. In the book of James 2:19 we are told that even the demons believe in God . . . and they have enough sense to tremble.
If we have any grasp at all of God’s holiness and/or our sin, we know that we have nothing with which to commend ourselves before God. His standard is perfection . . . we don’t reach that standard for even a single day. He wants obedience and we tend to “pick and choose”. As we stand before a Holy God we have every reason to be afraid.
Even my dog understands this instinctively. When our dog does something wrong, we know it almost immediately. As soon as we come into the room the dog crouches down, and her ears are pinned back. She has broken the rules and she knows she deserves to be punished. She trembles before us. Oh that we had the good sense of a dog in approaching Almighty God!
Second, we should fear God because we are creatures coming before their Creator. Bill Cosby had the great line with his children, “I brought you into this world, and I’ll take you out!” There is a sense in which we know that is true with the Lord. We have no control over when we live or when we die. Before this service is over God could call one of us to stand before His throne. As we approach Him we do so knowing that He holds the power of life and death in His hands.
Third, we tremble because we stand before the only One who knows us completely. We spend a good portion of our lives trying to keep people from seeing the way we really are. Most of us are engaged in a “cover-up” of some sort. We don’t want people to see the wicked things we think about. We don’t want people to know how often we try to manipulate people and situations to suit our own purposes. We don’t want them to know how many times we know the right thing to do but choose to do the wrong thing.
Would you be terrified if someone told you that all your secret thoughts, all of your hidden motives, all your hidden lusts, hatred, and past sin was going to be exposed in a public gathering? I would be terrified. Yet, in some respects it is silly. People might be angry but they have their own problems. How much more terrified we should be of the Lord God Almighty? When we come before Him we are completely exposed. Nothing is hidden. He sees everything, and that fact alone should cause us to tremble.
Fourth, we should fear God because we stand before the One who loves us without reason. It is an awesome thing to come before God as a recipient of an undeserved grace. When we understand what we deserve and realize what God has given us instead through Jesus Christ, we too sing with John Newton,
Amazing grace! how sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me!
I once was lost, but now am found –
Was blind, but now I see.
’Twas grace that taught my heart to fear,
And grace my fears relieved;
How precious did that grace appear,
The hour I first believed!
We are terrified when come before Him because we know that He loves us and we do not want to disappoint Him.
[Ecc 5:1-7] Guard your steps when you go to the house of God. Go near to listen rather than to offer the sacrifice of fools, who do not know that they do wrong. 2 Do not be quick with your mouth, do not be hasty in your heart to utter anything before God. God is in heaven and you are on earth, so let your words be few.
The person who understands reverence toward God, approaches the Lord with humility. They guard their steps and they watch their words. They do not rush into His presence. They know that God is not obligated to grant us His favor. The humble person does not seek to promote himself but instead is eager to be taught and instructed by God. The humble person is an eager student, an obedient servant, and a grateful beneficiary of every blessing. They come into His presence quietly, gratefully, and with a teachable heart.
Dr. Lynn Anderson relates a conversation with his friend Joseph Shullam as they traveled in Israel. They passed the traditional sight of the death of Uzzah (a man who was killed because he touched the Ark of God). Anderson writes,
I asked Joseph, “From a Jewish perspective, why do you think God was so tough on Uzzah?”
Joseph looked at me as if I had personally offended him and retorted, “To the Jews, this is an inappropriate question. We do not ask God why he does anything. He is God, that’s why. And we are not God. But if Jews were to ask a question it would not likely be, ‘Why did Uzzah get zapped?” but, “How come the rest of us get off?’ We all deserve to die!’ 
How different the Jews are from Americans! We feel that we have the right to question God about anything! We somehow feel that He answers to us! How foolish. We answer to Him. We know that the Judge of all the Earth always does what is right. Our inability to understand what God is doing is not a problem with Him; it is a problem with us.
We have all had occasions when we asked our parents for an explanation of some rule they had given and they responded, “Because I said so.” (Every child grows up and says they will never say those words . . . but they do.) At that point the parent is saying, “this isn’t something you are going to understand. You need to do this because you know me and you know that I am not going to tell you to do something that is harmful to you.”
When we approach God we do so with the humble understanding that He is wiser and smarter than we are. He is the teacher; we are the student. If you go into a church and people are commanding God to do things, run for the hills. You are in a very dangerous position. Think about how your parents would have responded if you had responded to them in that fashion!
WILLINGNESS TO OBEY
[1 Peter 1:17-19] 17 Since you call on a Father who judges each man’s work impartially, live your lives as strangers here in reverent fear. 18 For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your forefathers, 19 but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect.
Peter understood that the truly reverent heart is the one that obeys. The good soldier is not merely the one who hears an order. The good soldier obeys the order. A good soldier has come to trust the commanding officer and does not ask questions because he or she knows that those questions might cost him (or someone else) their lives.
When we come to God in worship we should come with our hearts and minds open. Our desire should be to honor God, to listen to what He says, and then to do what He commands. When He tells us to turn from sin, we should do so. When He tells us to forgive when we would rather punish, we should do so. When He says sex is only for marriage, we should trust His counsel rather than our hormones. When He says, it is only by grace that we can be saved, we should give up all hope of gaining anything by our own merit and instead cry out for this mercy and grace that He speaks of.
Hugh Latimer was a great English Reformer. On one notable occasion Latimer preached before Henry VIII and offended Henry with his boldness. So Latimer was commanded to preach the following weekend and make an apology. The threat was anything but veiled. On that following Sunday, after reading the text, Latimer addressed himself as he began to preach:
Hugh Latimer, dost thou know before whom thou art this day to speak? To the high and mighty monarch, the king’s most excellent majesty, who can take away thy life if thou offendest; therefore, take heed that thou speakest not a word that may displease; but then consider well, Hugh, dost thou not know from whence thou comest; upon whose message thou art sent? Even by the great and mighty God! who is all-present, and who beholdeth all thy ways, and who is able to cast thy soul into hell! Therefore, take care that thou deliverest thy message faithfully.
He then gave Henry the same sermon he had preached the week before—only with more energy! Latimer understood what the disciples had learned so many years before, “We must obey God, rather than men.”
The person who is open to the Word of God does not try to sidestep the conviction of Scripture. Instead of trying to get convicting words out of our minds we should be working to keep those words in your mind! When God speaks we must listen. He knows what He is talking about. He knows us. And His love for us has been proved again and again.
So, here we stand. I don’t know whether you have a sense of conviction in your heart, I know I do. Though I feel I have great respect and reverence for the Lord, I realize that it is not what it could, or should be. So let’s try to be real practical,
- Make worship a daily experience in your life. Spend time every day sitting quietly before Him. Learn to be humble and reverent in your daily life. Perhaps you could begin your daily time with a prayer such as, “Father, I bow before you in humble gratitude for the privilege of being in your presence. Open my ears and my heart to your correction and your instruction.”
- Omit any parts of your conversation that use God’s name in a disrespectful way. There is no reason to use His name as an exclamation of frustration or anger or as a filler, like, “you know”. There is no reason to call upon Him to damn things. To use His name in this way is a sign of disrespect. It needs to stop.
- When you enter a sanctuary for a time of worship. Greet your friends, but when you take your seat, stop, bow your head, and acknowledge God’s presence.
- Every time you feel afraid, remind yourself that the greatest thing we have to fear in all of life is facing the wrath of Almighty God. Once that fear has been dealt with by the blood of Christ applied to our account, no other fear is of any consequence. “If God is for us, who can stand against us?”
- Men, show God respect by taking off your hat when you walk into the House of God, speak reverently, teach your children that God’s sanctuary is a special place and it is not a gymnasium.
Once again I hope you have seen that true worship is about our attitude. The true worshiper has a sense of respect and honor toward God that comes from an understanding of our sin, and a stunned appreciation of His grace. Joy and reverence can and should go together. In fact, you have to have them both if you are going to worship in a way that pleases God.