Worship In Holiness

Worshipping should be one of the most important things in our lives.
David expressed this in Psalms:
164 Seven times a day do I praise thee because of thy righteous judgments.    
Psalms 119:164
14 Offer unto God thanksgiving; and pay thy vows unto the most High:   
Psalms 50:14
1b I will bless the LORD at all times: his praise shall continually be in my mouth.    
Psalms 34:1b
28 And my tongue shall speak of thy righteousness and of thy praise all the day long.
    Psalms 35:28
8 Let my mouth be filled with thy praise and with thy honour all the day.    
Psalms 71:8
2 Every day will I bless thee; and I will praise thy name for ever and ever.    
Psalms 145:2
In the New Testament, we find the same admonition to a life where worship is a daily, continual affair:
15 By him therefore let us offer the sacrifice of praise to God continually, that is, the fruit of our lips giving thanks to his name.    
Hebrews 13:15
From these verses, we see the preciousness of worship. Unfortunately, many Christians have seldom expressed true or acceptable worship. I've seen long-faced worship, and the frenzied rock-concert styled worship. True worship isn't in either of these. Absence of emotion belies a serious problem, but so does frenzied emotion.
True worship must start with the sacrifice. The Old Testament tabernacle system taught this. What does this sacrifice mean? It means we come before Him in holiness. We deal with any sin in our lives. Following that, worship is given in the beauty that God delights in.

1. Why Do Christians Gather?
Looking into worship, we need to start with this fundamental question, "Why do Christians gather?"

Giving & Getting

There are a number of reasons. People often go to learn. This is good, but some think that's the only reason. I remember a woman telling me she went to church, but quit because she didn't get anything out of the Pastor's sermons. If she quit for this, it tells me that was the reason she went to church. She went for what she could get out of it, not considering what she could give. Never, never should Christians gather only to get. It's vital we give. We give to each other, and we give to God. We give materially and of ourselves (Hebrews 10:24,25).
For now, I want to focus on giving worship to God.
Most churches call their main service their what? Their Worship Service, right? Why don't they call it their Teaching Service? Because worship is supposed to be the main focus, theoretically. Most people seem to be ignorant of how to truly worship, or what's acceptable worship. With this basic ignorance, the worship is only formality or playtime. The period of worship should be serious, with the goal of acceptable perfection in what we offer God.
A starting point for refurbishing the worship portion of the Worship Service is in defining worship:

Worship Defined
In Webster's we find "to perform acts of homage or adoration;".
In Vine's Dictionary we find "to worship, prostrate oneself, bow down" for the Hebrew word for worship. For the Greek words we find, "not confined to praise; broadly it may be regarded as the direct acknowledgment to God, of His nature, attributes, ways and claims, whether by the outgoing of the heart in praise and thanksgiving or by deed done in such acknowledgment."
In the Bible, God's worship isn't actually defined.
In summarizing these definitions, we have the humbling of ourselves before God, and acknowledging Him as supreme. We offer thanksgiving (not merely being glad you have something), praise (truly recognizing our unworthiness and His infinite grandeur), and adoration (heart-smitten, goggle-eyed infatuation).
Unless we really see ourselves and God, we're unable to offer true worship. We can dance a jig, look solemn, get down on our knees, but we can't worship.

2. What Part Do Emotions Play?
Many are familiar with the illustration of how emotions are the caboose of the train. They follow, don't lead. At least, that's how it is supposed to be. You know something though, when the heart isn't really leading, just habit or formality, the emotions will never follow. When the formality isn't appropriate to the emotion that should flow, it will likewise stifle that emotion.
I want to address the two crowds in this issue. One is solemn, the other wild and dancing:

Let me first pick on the solemn. I've seen solemn worshippers who watch football games. These self-proclaimed mild-emotionals in church, scream and yell when the football game is on. Why such a difference? Their heart's in the game. With football, they're zealous, adamant and fiery. You couldn't keep them down. The emotion naturally flows from placement of the heart. So what happened in the Worship Service? To put it bluntly, they're bored! Duty, obligations, what they feel they should do, carries them on. They may have loved God, but have become bored with Him (Revelation 2:1-6). He's no longer their excitement. What should one do about this? First, repent. Set Him as first priority in your heart! (Proverbs 16:3; Mark 12:30). Ask Him to restore you:
9 Hide thy face from my sins, and blot out all mine iniquities. 10 Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me. 11 Cast me not away from thy presence; and take not thy holy spirit from me. 12 Restore unto me the joy of thy salvation; and uphold me with thy free spirit.    
Psalms 51:9-12
Second, make sure your worship's not only at Worship Service, but all day, every day. Third, make sure your worship fits the natural emotions of true Spirit-led worship. If it doesn't, it stifles it. It isn't natural.
Don't get me wrong, I'm not knocking old-style hymns. There is more than one way to sing the same hymn. One is bored silly, the other pours out with heart and emotion. When the worship leader and the organ player are just going through the motions, the hymn may tend to be rather lifeless. To fix this, start by seeking first things first, make sure the assembly's heart is truly humbled before God. With hearts that have honestly faced sin, the heart of worship will truly follow.
The following verses illustrate our worship time of God should be joyful. The songs we sing should clearly show this joyfulness:
2 Let us come before his presence with thanksgiving, and make a joyful noise unto him with psalms.    
Psalms 95:2
5 My soul shall be satisfied as with marrow and fatness; and my mouth shall praise thee with joyful lips:    
Psalms 63:5
12 I will praise thee, O Lord my God, with all my heart: and I will glorify thy name for evermore.    
Psalms 86:12
1 Praise ye the LORD. I will praise the LORD with my whole heart, in the assembly of the upright, and in the congregation.        
Psalms 111:1
Could an outsider watch your Worship Service and say, "Man, is that group ever fervent in their worship!"? They should.


Let's examine the rambunctious crowd. I watched a Pentecostal service on TV. I turned the volume down. The electronic keyboarder started screeching to the message to emphasize points. When it got in to praising, the electronic screeching continued. In no way could I deign to call it music. Even turned down, it was giving me a headache. I endured to see how it concluded. That was a sacrifice, believe me.
The Pentecostal crowd is adamant in defending their way of worshipping. They often refer to David's dancing before the Lord with all his might. I'll give them that (2 Samuel 6:14), and Psalm 150 mentions numerous loud instruments that don't exactly go with hymn singing.
3 Praise him with the sound of the trumpet: praise him with the psaltery and harp. 4 Praise him with the timbrel and dance: praise him with stringed instruments and organs. 5 Praise him upon the loud cymbals: praise him upon the high sounding cymbals. 6 Let every thing that hath breath praise the LORD. Praise ye the LORD.    
Psalms 150:3-6

True, acceptable worship can indeed be lively, but so can a rock-concert. I use the comparison of a rock-concert, because that's exactly what that Pentecostal Revival looked and sounded like - Hard Rock. This total abandon to emotions can even fall upon less rambunctious music.
I want you to see the problem here. The flesh sets emotions first. Since man fell, the proper order of spirit first, soul second and flesh following, was abandoned. The new order became flesh first, soul going sometimes second, sometimes first and the spirit dead. For the Christian, the spirit is reborn, but unless care is taken, will be shoved back to the bottom. In worship, we can easily take something wonderful and right and indulge the flesh in that direction. We take less caution because we think, "We're worshipping right, so nothing can be wrong." Wrong! We can defile worship by turning it from spirit and truth to flesh. Any form of worship or music that panders to an emotional frenzy leaves us undiscerning and flesh feasting. I don't want to stifle joyful worship, but I must call for discernment and care.
Let me give an example of the flesh danger that develops in the religious arena with humor. I've heard "Christian" comedians who have the church audience in stitches. Their humor takes a dip into something inappropriate. The audience still laughs. They've freed themselves to the point they're not discerning what they're involved with anymore. Emotions are so powerful they can quickly override the still-small voice of the Spirit (Psalms 4:4; 46:10; 1 Kings 19:11-14).
Looking back to David's dancing. Lively worship is proper at appropriate times. His dancing and the instruments of Psalms 150 show lively worship. I cannot emphasize enough, however, discernment must be maintained to avoid degenerating into fleshly frenzy. Such doesn't bring glory to God. The world, that watches, isn't fooled into thinking something "spiritual" is going on. They enjoy a good rock-concert as much as the next guy. The words make little difference to them. In fact, black gospel music became popular in Japan. They saw an American movie, I believe it was called "Sister Act" that was filled with black Southern Gospel music. They fell for the style, and came out with groups singing these same Christian songs. There isn't a mass conversion to Christianity in Japan, just a culture appreciation.

3. Can We Worship Our Own Way?
I was at a "Worship Only" gathering. They sang a song whose chorus repeated, "Yes Lord, yes Lord, yes Lord . . . . Amen". I thought, "Simple, but it really says a lot." True worship says, "Yes Lord!" I couldn't help but feel sorrow at the same time. I wondered how many of those singing really were saying that in their lives. How many sat in congregations with women ministers teaching? How many went home afterwards to turn on the TV sitcom? How many of the women sent their children off to public schools, so they could have their "careers" or "children breaks"? How many men gazed at women other than their wives? How many, who did many such things, lustily sang, "Yes Lord" with hands raised in worship to God?
At this service, I didn't know what to expect. I had never been there before. The speaker was a man and the music group was comprised of a few others. His wife was at the piano. At first, all appeared right, but I found out his wife led the group and the congregation in the worship singing. She cued as to how long the song and chorus continued. Half way through the evening, she started publicly leading a prayer. Her husband gave a figurehead leadership, but she was leading the congregation. The scriptures forbid such leadership by women (see Women study). So, how does God view such worship? Worship offered with the rebellion of those who refuse the position of women ordained by God. I believe such worship, tinged with this sin, would have pleased God more if it had never been offered. Once the woman began leading the prayer, I was no longer in doubt as to the sin being practiced. I didn't sing with them any more. The fellowship was cut off by open sin.
To worship God and live undiscerning, or hardened in some area, is to invalidate the worship. To do so is the same as the Old Testament Levites and Priests entering into the tabernacle without the proper sacrifices. The reverence and fear of God came first, then joyous praise.
There's a powerful lesson in David's dancing before the ark. When David got the ark, to bring it to Jerusalem, he did it unacceptably with a wagon and non-Levite. David led the ark with music being played. The non-discerning worship ended with a fatality (1 Chronicles 13:7-13). Later, David corrected the sin and finished the journey with Levites and poles. This time, he not only led with worship music, his joy was freed properly in his breaking out mightily dancing. In approaching God in the right way, true, unfettered worship flows.
If we don't approach God on the basis of purity (1 Peter 4:17), just like Uzza, we're better off not approaching at all! It won't be to our honor before God. He will not overlook rebellion when our gift of praise is offered:
22 And Samuel said, Hath the LORD as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the LORD? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams.    
1 Samuel 15:22
11b . . . Praise the LORD of hosts: for the LORD is good; for his mercy endureth for ever: and of them that shall bring the sacrifice of praise into the house of the LORD. . . .
    Jeremiah 33:11b
Joyous expression of worship doesn't mean true worship. I've seen joyous expressions of worship in cults. Truth must always prevail. Like Jesus said, ". . . worship him in spirit and in truth" John 4:24b. Truth speaks holiness, for error and lies cover up holiness and righteousness.

4. What Is Acceptable Worship?

Beauty of Holiness
A holy God must be approached in holiness. We find an interesting phrase in the Psalms:
2 Give unto the LORD the glory due unto his name; worship the LORD in the beauty of holiness.    
Psalms 29:2

9 O worship the LORD in the beauty of holiness: fear before him, all the earth.    
Psalms 96:9

There are two aspects here. The first would be the beauty of the Lord, who is clothed in holiness. This would be describing the Lord.
The second would be our approaching the Lord to worship Him as a holy people. Put into a negative phrase, one could say, "Don't approach God for worship until you've dealt with your sins." If this was clearly understood, it could revolutionize the Worship Service.
As far as the holiness called for in both ways, Peter put some weight behind this:
15 But as he which hath called you is holy, so be ye holy in all manner of conversation; 16 Because it is written, Be ye holy; for I am holy.    
1 Peter 1:15,16
Take a look at some verses from the Psalms. You'll notice worship is to be approached with the fear of the Lord being a primary ingredient. You'll also notice, the person who comes to worship God better check his life to make sure he's living godly. The man who praises God is also to be one who delights in God's commandments:
7 But as for me, I will come into thy house in the multitude of thy mercy: and in thy fear will I worship toward thy holy temple.    
Psalms 5:7
23 Ye that fear the LORD, praise him; all ye the seed of Jacob, glorify him; and fear him, all ye the seed of Israel.            
Psalms 22:23
23 Whoso offereth praise glorifieth me: and to him that ordereth his conversation aright will I shew the salvation of God.    
Psalms 50:23
9 Exalt the LORD our God, and worship at his holy hill; for the LORD our God is holy. 
   Psalms 99:9
1 Praise ye the LORD. Blessed is the man that feareth the LORD, that delighteth greatly in his commandments.
    Psalms 112:1

If we approach God to worship, and holiness wasn't found on both sides, the beauty would be gone. Sin would be an ugly remaining stain. Worship is not a one-sided affair. It's an act of love. The worshipper and the one worshipped. Without one or the other, it doesn't take place.
A man may express his love for his wife and tell her how beautiful she is, but how could such adoration be expressed if either party were gone? Now take this man who's adoring his wife. Assume he's an adulterer. He tells his wife how wonderful and beautiful she is, but his heart isn't fully after her. If she knew his unfaithful heart, what could she possibly make of such adoration? She would find it repulsive. She would say, "You don't really find me wonderful, or else you would be satisfied with me alone. Your praise, rather than being satisfying and flattering, is an act of deceit and treachery!" When we approach God, telling Him how wonderful and beautiful He is, yet love things He abhors, we likewise turn an act of beauty into something defiled.

The Woman at the Well
Jesus made a clear statement on the subject of what's acceptable worship. When Jesus met the woman at the well, he addressed the issue of worship. For this you need a little background in Samaritans. When Israel was carried away into captivity, the king of Assyria brought in other nations to settle the land. The Lord sent lions among them to slay them because of their idolatry. They attempted to remedy God's wrath by serving Him as well as their idols (2 Kings 17:24-33). When the captives returned to Israel, they refused to worship with these "Samaritans". In Jesus' time, the Samaritans still had their worship of God, with their own traditions. The Jews and the Samaritans would have nothing to do with each other. They each had their own beliefs as to the right way to worship. The woman at the well was a Samaritan.  This woman raised the 'us Samaritans versus you Jews' objection. We worship in such a way, but you Jews are different. Look closely at Jesus' answer in this account:
19 The woman saith unto him, Sir, I perceive that thou art a prophet. 20 Our fathers worshipped in this mountain; and ye say, that in Jerusalem is the place where men ought to worship. 21 Jesus saith unto her, Woman, believe me, the hour cometh, when ye shall neither in this mountain, nor yet at Jerusalem, worship the Father. 22 Ye worship ye know not what: we know what we worship: for salvation is of the Jews. 23 But the hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth: for the Father seeketh such to worship him. 24 God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth.   
 John 4:19-24
Jesus made it clear the approach to God wasn't an open issue. Only one way was correct, and Israel was the revealer of it. He went a step further than the standard defense. He added another important lesson. Even if one is Jewish, unless he truly knows God, his worship is unacceptable. Jesus pulled out two defining points of true, acceptable worship. First, we have "spirit". What does He mean by "spirit"? That's a very heavy subject. Since "spirit" is the core of true Christian life and service, it's covered continually through the New Testament. It starts with the new birth from John 3:3. It continues in the spirit as discussed in Romans chapter 8. As Romans 8 points out, flesh is death and spirit is life. The two don't combine. Either the worship is pure in spirit, or defiled in flesh. If it's defiled, it's not offered in spirit. I've seen a Christian lie and abuse his neighbor, then turn around and praise God in a worship service. He had a big smile on his face and looked so peaceful. Flesh can be very deceiving.
To help avoid deception of the flesh, Jesus raised the second point, "truth". Spirit always follows truth. If there's deceit or treachery, it can't be in spirit. Truth matters, like Jesus said to the Samaritan claim. We cannot worship our own way and it be acceptable. Only truth is acceptable, only truth is spirit.
Jesus said, "the Father seeketh such to worship him." This shows us the Father is particular as to who worships Him. It's like the illustration of that man and wife.
The theme of acceptable worship continues to flow in this passage, as to worshipping in truth and spirit. Notice who seeks the worshippers here, the Father. Notice also how we're to worship, "in spirit". There are no capitals and lower case letters to distinguish proper nouns in the original Greek writings. The word "spirit" can refer to both our spirit, or the Holy Spirit. In this passage, I believe it's both, for the believer has the Holy Spirit abiding in his spirit (Romans Ch. 8). The Holy Spirit gives us the manifestation of true heartfelt worship. Notice Paul's comment in Romans 8:26 of how the Spirit prays with our spirit to God. He brings out what we're unable to. We approach God by the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 2:18). In 1 Corinthians 14:14-17, we have praising and thanksgiving by the gift of tongues. The Holy Spirit is the originator of such tongues, yet the worship is directed to God.

Direction of Worship
From additional places to this Samaritan woman account, we find Jesus is worshipped and accepts it (Matthew 2:11; 14:33; 28:9; Luke 24:52; John 20:27,28). We find the Father directs worship to Jesus, and Jesus directs worship to the Father (John 12:28; 13:31,32; 14:13; 17:1,5; Acts 3:13). We never find either the Father or the Son directing worship to the Holy Spirit. We find the Holy Spirit directing worship to Jesus (John 14:26; 15:26). (Compare Satanic imitation of the trinity in Revelation 13:1-15. False prophet, imitation of the Holy Spirit, seeks to cause the world to worship the Antichrist. The Antichrist and the dragon, imitation of the Father, send glory back and forth to each other.) Understand this clearly: God is in three persons, but how we approach Him is directed and guided by God. We don't decide it ourselves! Many songs of worship, and even prayers, are directed to the Holy Spirit. He doesn't want it that way. He screams, "No, look to Jesus!" In the spirit, the Spirit doesn't worship Himself. Even the doxology has, "Praise Father, Son and Holy Ghost." The fact of the triune God is wonderful, but the manner of worship is awry. I've heard people shouting out "Praise You Holy Spirit!" This isn't biblical, it isn't according to the Spirit.
Acceptable worship will find its approval outlined in the record of truth, the Bible. It will be according to true life in the Spirit, not in just custom and habit, or even vogue. Acceptable worship is not circus material. It's brought forth in the utmost seriousness, with due consideration for whom we're approaching. True worshippers are seen again here:
3 For we are the circumcision, which worship God in the spirit, and rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh.    
Philippians 3:3

The line drawn between spirit and flesh is clear.

Pursue True Worship

God designed us to appreciate romance. He should be adored in a romantic flare. Compare these two:
A man brings a young lady flowers and presents them with an, "Oh, here, these were a good deal."
Another young man presents his lady friend with flowers saying, "I wanted something that expressed my love for you. I'm not very imaginative, so fell back on the old standby of flowers."
Which of the two do you think the ladies would sense the love coming from? Hopefully, you can tell the difference!
Do you care enough to worship God according to what pleases Him and not yourself? If you can't be bothered to rid yourself of the money changers and sellers in God's house of worship, don't think you really care. True worship starts with sacrifices, personal cost. It means confronting yourself, and the brethren with whom you worship. It means taking all the measures to insure your offering is worthy. When these measures are taken, God will rejoice in your offering.

A Challenge
As a congregation, take stock of how you worship:
  1. How can the flow of the Spirit be insured a freehand to lead?
  2. What do you do that stifles the flow?
  3. What do you do that helps the flow?
  4. What do you do that protects against becoming fleshly?
  5. What do you do that opens the door to receive correction?
  6. Even though worship is a joyful experience, are you still able to sense the underlying fear and trembling of approaching a holy God? The honest evaluation that sings "Yes Lord!", but at the same time is not so cocksure one can't help asking, "Lord, please let it be in truth."

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Free to Copy under Creative Commons BY-NC-ND3.0 License by Darrell Farkas
All quotations are from the King James Version of the Bible

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