“In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and His train filled the temple. Above him stood the seraphim; each had six wings: with two He covered His face, and with two He covered His feet, and with two He flew. And one called to another and said:
‘Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of Hosts: the whole earth is full of His glory.’
And the foundations of the thresholds shook at the voice of Him who called, and the house was filled with smoke. And I said: ‘Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips, for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of Hosts!’
Then flew one of the seraphim to me, having in his hand a burning coal which he had taken with tongs from the alter. And he touched my mouth, and said: ‘Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin forgiven.’ And I heard the voice of the Lord saying, ‘Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?’ Then I said ‘Here am I! Send me.’” (Isaiah 6:1-8)
The lady stopped me at the door of the church building and said, “I didn’t get anything out of church today!”
Looking her honestly in the face, I replied, “Well, maybe you didn’t bring anything to get it in!”
Worship, you see, is more than a good show. It is more than coming to get something. It is coming before God to do something. Yet so many of us come for little more than to be entertained by a choir, to hear a pastor discharge a clever sermon, to socialize with pleasing people, and to be caught up in the comfort and awe of an architecturally aesthetic building.
Notice in the passage, Isaiah 6:1-8, how worship for this man was dialogue. It was a conversation between God and the individual worshiper.
Do you see here how worship for Isaiah was more than preaching? Do you see how worship for Isaiah was more than a seated experience with man’s voice? There in the temple of Jerusalem Isaiah met God. And a dialogue began. God’s voice fell upon Isaiah’s ears like fifty thunders. And Isaiah dropped to his knees and said, “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips… for my eyes have seen the Lord of Hosts.” Do you see the dialogue here? God spoke to Isaiah. Isaiah spoke to God in return. That is part of what it means to worship. It is a dialogue, a conversation between the Lord and His people.
All too often our worship today is devoid of dialogue with God. We come to church and chatter with people. We talk with the pastor. We even talk with ourselves. But we leave never really having talked with God. Or if, indeed, we did talk with the Lord we weren’t aware of it. Queen Mary of England used to visit Balmoral Castle in Scotland every summer. She was so loved by her subjects that she toured the countryside unescorted. One afternoon she ventured far from home. Storm clouds began to gather and rain threatened, so she stopped at a cottage to borrow an umbrella. The peasant woman didn’t recognize the queen, and not wanting to loan her new umbrella to a stranger, she rummaged in the attic and found her cast-off umbrella, the one with several broken ribs and a few holes. That’s the one she gave to the queen. The next day the little cottage lady answered a knock at the door. A noble-looking man in uniform handed her the loaned umbrella and said, “The queen bids me thank you for your courtesy.” For a moment the lady was stunned. Then as the courier turned away, she burst into tears, muttering, “Had I known it was the queen I’d have given her my best!” She’d been talking to the queen and didn’t know it! And I wonder, are we not often like her when we worship? We talk to God. God talks to us. And we don’t realize it. That hymn of praise you last sang in worship, you were singing to God! Did you realize it? The last sermon you heard, did you recognize the voice of God in it? How often we come to church so half-heartedly. We limp through the hymns, parrot the prayers, and sleep through the sermon. Yet look at Isaiah! Worship for him was a direct and awesome conversation with God.
Think through the last worship experience you shared. See the dialogue there? We praise the Lord in hymn. God calls us to confess our sins. We confess, and He assures us of his forgiveness. We then give thanks. And then He speaks through Scriptures and the sermon. See the conversation going there? It’s just like Isaiah’s temple encounter. It is a conversation with the Lord.
I once did a lot of preaching in a north Georgia church. And Sunday after Sunday I noticed John on the back row. He didn’t sing. He didn’t confess his sins. Never would he even read Scripture responsively. So, one day I said, “John, this Sunday open up and talk to God. Join in the conversation!” His face fell and he said he’d try, and later I found out John couldn’t read. But you can read! You can sing and talk and listen. So be like Isaiah. Don’t waste your time in worship! Come to talk with God.
So, worship is a dialogue with God. But according to the text, worship is more. It is an act that requires participation. In the text we see Isaiah doing something. He is not a spectator watching someone else do something. He is active. He is a participant in an exercise.
Many moderns come to church like spectators at a football game. They don’t expect to do anything. They want to be entertained. “You’ve got me here. Put on the show! And it better be good or I’m not coming back!” They warn. But note the difference in Isaiah’s attitude. He came full of anticipation. He came to seek God and to participate in worship. The text says that Isaiah did things while in church. He looked and saw God on His throne high and lifted up. He got on his knees and asked for forgiveness. He listened as God spoke. He got on his knees and asked for forgiveness. He listened as God spoke. He answered God’s call to serve. He worked at worship. He participated.
Before the reformation in the 1500’s worship had lost the quality of participation. Medieval worshipers came to church to watch while the priest took care of their business with God. The priest prayed for them, sang for them, took communion for them— he did it all! And he did it in Latin which few could understand. All the people had to do was stand and fondle their rosary beads and look pious. But church reformers changed all that! They made worship something the people did, not watched. The people were urged to pray. They listened to God’s word in their own language. And so that they might sing God’s praise, Martin Luther went into the beer halls of Germany and listened to the tunes they sang there. Then he set Christian words to the tunes, taught them to the people, and they sang loud and lustily. Do you realize that the hymn “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God” is the tune of a German tavern song?
Read for a moment 1 Chronicles 16 as it talks about worship. See if it does not call for active participation in the worship of God.
“Sing to the Lord, all the earth!
Tell of His salvation from day to day.
Declare His glory among the nations,
His marvelous works among all the peoples!
For great is the Lord and greatly to be praised,
And He is to be held in awe above all gods…
Ascribe to the Lord the glory due His name;
Bring an offering, and come before Him!
Worship the Lord in holy array;
Tremble before Him all the earth.”
Do you see all the active words in this passage? Sing! Tell! Declare! Awe! Ascribe! Bring! Tremble! Worship! Worship demands participation. One can’t come into God’s presence and sit there like a bump on a log expecting to be entertained. One has to do something. So don’t waste your time in worship. Join in with Isaiah. Do participate deeply in praise, confession, thanksgiving, listening, and response. Do worship!
So now you see that a good question to ask yourself as you leave worship is not “Did I get anything out of worship?” but “God, how did I do? Did I dialogue with you? Seek your face? See myself? Participate? God, how did I do?”
What have we seen so far? We’ve seen that there is more to coming to church than hearing a fellow preach. We come to worship. And worship at its best is both dialogue and participation. But worship is more! According to the text it is also service.
At the end of Isaiah’s worship encounter God said, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” Then Isaiah participated. He talked back to God. He said, “Here am I! Send me.” Worship, then, is coming to the point where we are willing to say, “Here I am, Jesus. I’m reporting for duty!
You’ve got a job to do? Send me and I’ll do it.”
Last spring when the time changed and we moved our clocks ahead, a visitor met me at the door of the church. He was coming into worship an hour or so late and I was at the door to shake hands as the people left. All out of puff and perplexed, the late comer asked a deacon, “Is the service done yet?” And I heard the deacon say, “The worship is over, but the service is just begun!” Wise was the reply! And true to the text! Worship is not over with the benediction. Worship is only complete when it translates into service between Sundays!
During the aftermath of World War II a German village was cleaning up the rubble of its bombed out neighborhoods. Much of the town had been destroyed or damaged by the heavy fighting. One of the victims of the war was a marvelous statue of Christ in the city center. Both arms and both legs had been shattered. The Christian community met to restore the statue and were trying to decide which sculptor to commission to make new arms and legs for the statue when someone suggested, “Why not leave the statue as it is? Isn’t it true that Jesus in a sense uses our arms and legs to do His work in the world? Isn’t it a fact that Christ’s arm is the church?” The truth of the words struck home. So they left the figure of Christ without legs and arms. It still rests in the city center today as a witness to the fact that God uses common, ordinary men and women, boys and girls, like you and me to get the job done.
Will you respond to God’s call? Will you be His arms and legs in your corner of the globe? Will you be responsive like Isaiah and say, “Here, Lord! Here I am. Send me!”
Will You Worship?
There was a small Methodist church here in North Carolina that got a new pastor. After six months, however, they told the bishop that they desired a new pastor. “Why?” asked the bishop. “Isn’t he likeable?”
“Yes,” they said, “he is likeable.”
“Isn’t he a good preacher? The bishop pressed.
“Yes,” they answered.
“Then what’s the matter?” The bishop inquired.
“Well,” said the spokesman, “It’s just a queer habit of his. You see, every Sunday we come to hear him preach, and he gets up in the pulpit and glares at us, and for fifteen minutes he fumes and yells, saying, “Worship! Worship! Worship, confound you! Worship!”
How about you there? Do you go to church just to hear someone preach? Do you go as a spectator? Do you go to be entertained, to look for an excuse for not serving? If you do then you waste your time in worship.
But, hey! Listen! You’re a Christian. You know God’s word when you hear it. Next Sunday go to worship. Like Isaiah, go to talk with God, to participate, to serve. And see if such an attitude does not make a positive difference in how you worship God!
Lord teach me to take worship seriously and to come before you in such a way that pleases you, for Christ’s sake. Amen.