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A WORSHIPFUL HEART
I remember years ago going into a Baptist church and there was a sign over the door which read, ‘This is the house of the Lord, be reverent, be prayerful, be silent”
My first response to that is that no building today can be called the house of the Lord. The New Testament tells us that we believers are the house of the Lord and He lives in us.
And secondly, when the people of Israel came together to worship the Lord, there were times of silence, but they generally made a lot of noise. There were musical instruments like trumpets, cymbals, tambourines, stringed instruments. There were singing and shouting. And there was a lot of physical activity such as clapping, dancing, raising hands, kneeling and prostration.
When I was training for the ministry I was assigned to be the student pastor at Mangere Baptist in Auckland. A member of the College Board was sent to observe me one Sunday and he sat there with a stony look on his face as we sang and clapped and expressed our joy in the presence of the Lord. Well, the next day I was hauled over the coals by one of the College staff because he was told I was encouraging the people to be Pentecostal. That was the furthest thing from my mind.
In the late ’60s and early ’70s we were singing Scripture in Song and many passages from the Psalms were put to music. And in this Psalm, I can see 3 choruses we used to sing. The first is one of Clem’s favourites “Come let us sing for joy to the Lord”, “ I will sing unto you with joy O Lord for you’re the Rock of my salvation.” The third one is not so well known but I used it often in our worship times. “Come let us worship and bow down.”
From this Psalm, I want to speak about expressing true worship and retaining tender hearts.
EXPRESSING TRUE WORSHIP v1-7
I have mentioned before that worship is not limited to what we do in a church building. It is offering to God everything we do with our bodies as an act of worship. Romans 12:1. Worship involves doing our job – Pauls says, “Do your job as unto the Lord.” It involves serving others, relating to our spouses and children, Colossians 3:23 “ Whatever you do, do it unto the Lord.”
In the context of this Psalm, he is talking about worship when we gather together with God’s people.
How we worship
Some Christians have said that there are specific, set ways to worship God and we must stick rigidly to these. The moment you turn worship into rules and regulations you have taken the heart out of it. It becomes legalism and loses it spontaneity.
In the Old Testament God specified how the people were to present their offerings and sacrifices but as far as worshipping God is concerned He was far more interested in the attitudes of their hearts and the conduct of their character when they came to worship.
In fact, in Isaiah chapter 1 and Amos 5 God said to the people of Israel, “I can’t stand your worship services because to go through the motions of worship but your attitudes and behaviour are offensive to me.”
True worship is our loving, grateful response to God for all He has done and for all He is.
When the Psalmist says sing, shout, bow down and kneel, he is not saying, “This is the only way you can worship God.” But these were some of the ways God’s people expressed their love and gratitude to God.
Remember when Mary brought the alabaster jar of precious ointment and poured it over Jesus. She wasn’t going by the book, following the instruction manual for worship. In fact, she got a bit of flack from the disciples who thought she was getting carried away. She was expressing her love and gratitude in a way that she felt was appropriate and Jesus said, “She has done a beautiful thing to me.” And He never said that about anyone else.
In my first church there was a woman who would often dance up and down the aisles during the worship time and someone came to me after the service said that she shouldn’t do that because she was just showing off. I told this person that they had judged her wrongly. I knew that woman and she was one of the most gracious, humble, sincere Christians I have ever known. She danced not to draw attention to herself but because she deeply loved the Lord and simply wanted to express that love and gratitude from her heart.
Remember David’s wife Michal. When she saw David dancing before the Lord she judged and resented him because she assumed that he was showing off. She became barren because of that.
I don’t believe we should restrict our expressions of worship to any particular form or practice. As long as it comes from genuine love and gratitude towards God.
Why we worship
First of all the Psalmist says “let us worship God for what He has done…. Grateful worship.
He is the Rock of our salvation. He is the one who has saved us from the terrible consequences of our sinful and rebellious behaviour.
Although we deserve nothing from God because of the way we have treated Him, He loves us and paid the ultimate price to rescue us from death and hell.
When we realise that Jesus, God’s dear Son, emptied Himself of all His eternal power and glory and went to that cruel cross to suffer and die in our place for our sin our hearts are filled with thankfulness.
If you have turned from your unbelief and ungodly attitudes and behaviour and given yourself to Jesus, you will never, ever have the pay the penalty for your crimes against God because Jesus has paid that penalty for you at the cross. You have been forgiven, declared by God, “Not guilty” and adopted into His eternal family. And added to that are all the blessings He has poured upon us over the years.
Once that truth sinks in we just want to sing for joy, shout aloud to the Rock of our Salvation, come before with Him with thanksgiving and extol Him with music and song.
So gratitude will always be an important part of our worship.
Then we move to another aspect of worship which is contemplation. We not only worship the Lord for what He has done, is doing and going to do, but we worship Him for who He is… Reflective (or Contemplative) worship.
The Psalm now speaks about who God is: The Great God, the King above all Gods, the creator of all that exists.
Remember the other week I said, “Imagine if I brought a machine to the church that could convert oxygen and matter into energy, think and move by itself, analyse data, create and design all manner of things and I told you that no intelligent being produced this machine it mysteriously came into existence. In fact, it was produced from nothing and somehow evolved into this amazing machine where every tiny part has a purpose and function. You would dismiss me as a nutter and yet here is this machine in front of you today and millions of people out there are saying that this body and mind with all its intricate and purposeful functions came into being by a fluke of nature.
It’s no wonder that Charles Darwin after examining the human eye said, “To say that this amazing body part is the result of random selection is absolutely absurd.”
The evidence for the existence of an all-powerful intelligent designer is everywhere and when you discover Him through trusting in Jesus you will look at the world, the universe and nature through different eyes.
His fingerprint is everywhere. And you will find yourself standing in awe of His power and intelligence.
Not only that but when you come to know the Lord through the scriptures, through the revelation of his Spirit and through experience you will find yourself lost in wonder, love and praise.
And then as we read about Jesus, God in human flesh, we are deeply touched by His Divine character, His unconditional love, purity, holiness, power, humility, wisdom, patience, understanding, mercy.
As we see Him forgiving the woman caught in adultery when everyone else condemned her. Blessing the children when others wanted them removed. Loving and accepting people who were unwanted and rejected by society. We see His heart of compassion as He reaches out to heal the sick, feed the hungry and raise the dead.
We see Him dressed as a slave washing the feet of His followers. We see Him hanging by nails from a Roman gallows as the crowd curse and mock Him and hear His prayer, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.” This is God.
He is not only God, He is our God, our shepherd and we are His flock.
Psalmist says, “Come let us worship and bow down…” No wonder, when Thomas discovered who Jesus was, all he could do was fall at His feet and worship saying, “My Lord and my God.”
RETAINING TENDER HEARTS v8-11
Now it seems as if the Psalmist begins to talk about something completely different, but it is related to what he just said.
If only you would listen to his voice today!
The Lord says, “Don’t harden your hearts as Israel did at Meribah, as they did at Massah in the wilderness. For there your ancestors tested and tried my patience, even though they saw everything I did. For forty years I was angry with them, and I said, They are a people whose hearts turn away from me. They refuse to do what I tell them.’So in my anger I took an oath: ‘They will never enter my place of rest.’”
Let’s talk about hardening the heart and softening the heart.
Hardening the heart.
What causes people to harden their hearts?
In the case of Israel, they hardened their hearts towards God by refusing to trust Him, in spite of all they had seen Him do for them.
This is not the unbelief that wants to believe but struggles to believe. Remember the man with the epileptic son. Jesus asked him, “Do you believe that I am able to heal him?’ And the man replied, “Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief.”
The Israelites unbelief was not that they couldn’t believe God, they had seen the evidence of God’s mighty power. It was that they did not want to believe. And behind that kind of unbelief is the desire to be independent of God, to do my thing and get my own way. To be answerable to no-one.
When a person has this attitude they will argue against and dismiss every thought and conviction that points them to God. They can sit in a church meeting and while others are being touched by the message or by the Spirit of God, they feel nothing because they have hardened their hearts and made themselves resistant to God’s Word and God’s Spirit.
It is interesting that when rain falls on dry soil, the soil becomes soft and the water can get right into it, but when rain falls upon newly laid concrete, the concrete becomes harder and the water runs off it.
We harden our hearts every time we are touched or moved by God’s Spirit and resist Him. Every time God’s Word speaks to something in our lives and we ignore it we harden our heart. Every time we hear of a fellow believer in need and have the means to help them and switch off we harden our heart. Resisting God’s Spirit, ignoring God’s Word, ignoring the call to show love and compassion hardens our heart.
The sad thing is that the more we do this the harder our hearts become.
Joseph Stalin, the brutal dictator of the Soviet Union was responsible for the murder of around 50 million Russians while he was in power. In his younger years, Joseph was a Christian who studied to become a church minister. But over a period of time, he chose to ignore his conscience, turn his back on God and embrace atheistic Communism. His daughter Svetlana was at his bedside when he died and she told Malcolm Muggeridge that he was plagued with terrifying hallucinations and right at the very end he sat up in bed raised a defiant clenched a fist towards heaven and fell back onto his pillow and died. Incidentally, the name Stalin was not his real name. It means Steel and was given to him by those he worked with because they saw him as a man of cold hard steel who was untouched by God or human need.
Another factor that causes people to harden their hearts is hurt.
When people hurt us our normal response is to become defensive, to protect ourselves from further hurt and so we close ourselves off from one another. We build up a wall and prevent others from getting close to us.
We harden our hearts to any further hurt. In fact, we use the phrase to steel ourselves against being hurt.
I have actually discovered that when we harden our hearts towards one another we harden them towards God. John makes this clear in his first letter when he says, “How can say you love God if you don’t love your fellow believer – the two go hand in hand.”
Every one of us in this room has been hurt by others at different times and every one of us has hurt others whether we intended to or not, but the Christian response to being hurt is not to harden our hearts towards one another, it is to forgive, hand the hurt over to God and go on loving one another.
CS Lewis said, ‘To love is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to be sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it up carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. The only place outside Heaven where you can be perfectly safe from all the dangers and disturbances of love is Hell.”
Imagine if when you and I hurt or grieved the Lord He hardened His heart against us, put up a barrier and pulled back from us. What hope would there be for us? Even in his disappointment and grief, He goes on reaching out to us, loving us and caring for us.
Softening the heart
How can we retain a soft and tender heart towards God?
Whenever you are touched or moved by something you see or hear or feel that draws you to Christ or to become more like Christ – it will be the Holy Spirit. His work in the world is to glorify Jesus.
It may be a Scripture, a message, a picture, a song, a nature scene, some human need. Don’t ignore it.
Respond to it. The response may be worship, thanksgiving, service, give, to show love…..as you continue to do this your heart will become more and more tender and sensitive towards God and others. And you will become more aware of when He is speaking to you.
Adelaide Cathedral picture. Thank you, God, that I still feel the touch of your Spirit upon my heart. Thank you that it is not hard and insensitive to your activity.