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13. Worship that pleases God

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Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.

Mark 12:30 (NIV)

 God wants all of you.

God doesn't want a part of your life. He asks for all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, and all your strength. God is not interested in halfhearted commitment, partial obedience, and the leftovers of your time and money. He desires your full devotion, not little bits of your life.

A Samaritan woman once tried to debate Jesus on the best time, place, and style for worship. Jesus replied that these external issues are irrelevant. Where you worship is not as important as why you worship and how much of yourself you offer to God when you worship. There is a right and wrong way to worship. The Bible says, "Let us be grateful and worship God in a way that will please him." The kind of worship that pleases God has four characteristics:

God is pleased when our worship is accurate.

 People often say, "I like to think of God as . . . ," and then they share their idea of the kind of God they would like to worship. But we cannot just create our own comfortable or politically correct image of God and worship it. That is idolatry.

Worship must be based on the truth of Scripture, not our opinions about God. Jesus told the Samaritan woman, "True worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks.'

To "worship in truth" means to worship God as he is truly revealed in the Bible.

God is pleased when our worship is authentic.

 When Jesus said you must "worship in spirit," he wasn't referring to the Holy Spirit, but to your spirit. Made in God's image, you are a spirit that resides in a body, and God designed your spirit to communicate with him. Worship is your spirit responding to God's Spirit.

When Jesus said, "Love God with all your heart and soul" he meant that worship must be genuine and heartfelt. It is not just a matter of saying the right words; you must mean what you say. Heartless praise is not praise at all! It is worthless, an insult to God.

When we worship, God looks past our words to see the attitude of our hearts. The Bible says, "Man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart."

Since worship involves delighting in God, it engages your emotions. God gave you emotions so you could worship him with deep feeling-but those emotions must be genuine, not faked. God hates hypocrisy. He doesn't want showmanship or pretense or phoniness in worship. He wants your honest, real love. We can worship God imperfectly, but we cannot worship him insincerely.

 God pleasing worship is deeply emotional and deeply doctrinal. We use both our hearts and our heads.

 Of course, sincerity alone is not enough; you can be sincerely wrong. That's why both spirit and truth are required. Worship must be both accurate and authentic. God-pleasing worship is deeply emotional and deeply doctrinal. We use both our hearts and our heads.

Today many equate being emotionally moved by music as being moved by the Spirit, but these are not the same. Real worship happens when your spirit responds to God, not to some musical tone. In fact, some sentimental, introspective songs hinder worship because they take the spotlight off God and focus on our feelings. Your biggest distraction in worship is yourself-your interests and your worries over what others think about you.

Christians often differ on the most appropriate or authentic way to express praise to God, but these arguments usually just reflect personality and background differences. Many forms of praise are mentioned in the Bible, among them confessing, singing, shouting, standing in honor, kneeling, dancing, making a joyful noise, testifying, playing musical instruments, and raising hands. The best style of worship is the one that most authentically represents your love for God, based on the background and personality God gave you.

Gary Thomas noticed that many Christians seem stuck in a worship rut-an unsatisfying routine-instead of having a vibrant friendship with God, because they force themselves to use devotional methods or worship styles that don't fit the way God uniquely shaped them.

Gary wondered, If God intentionally made us all different, why should everyone be expected to love God in the same way? As he read Christian classics and interviewed mature believers, Gary discovered that Christians have used many different paths for 2,000 years to enjoy intimacy with God: being outdoors, studying, singing, reading, dancing, creating art, serving others, having solitude, enjoying fellowship, and participating in dozens of other activities.

In his book Sacred Pathways, Gary identifies nine of the ways people draw near to God: Naturalists are most inspired to love God out-of-doors, in natural settings. Sensates love God with their senses and appreciate beautiful worship services that involve their sight, taste, smell, and touch, not just their ears. Traditionalists draw closer to God through rituals, liturgies, symbols, and unchanging structures. Ascetics prefer to love God in solitude and simplicity. Activists love God through confronting evil, battling injustice, and working to make the world a better place. Caregivers love God by loving others and meeting their needs. Enthusiasts love God through celebration. Contemplatives love God through adoration. Intellectuals love God by studying with their minds.'

There is no "one-size-fits-all" approach to worship and friendship with God. One thing is certain: You don't bring glory to God by trying to be someone he never intended you to be. God wants you to be yourself. "That's the kind of people the Father is out looking for: those who are simply and honestly themselves before him in their worship."

 God is pleased when our worship is thoughtful.

 Jesus' command to "love God with all your mind" is repeated four times in the New Testament. God is not pleased with thoughtless singing of hymns, perfunctory praying of cliches, or careless exclamations of "Praise the Lord," because we can't think of anything else to say at that moment. If worship is mindless, it is meaningless. You must engage your mind.

Jesus called thoughtless worship "vain repetitions." Even biblical terms can become tired cliches from overuse, and we stop thinking about the meaning. It is so much easier to offer cliches in worship instead of making the effort to honor God with fresh words and ways. This is why I encourage you to read Scripture in different translations and paraphrases. It will expand your expressions of worship.

 The best style of worship is the one that most authentically represents your love for God.

Try Praising God without using the words praise, hallelujah, thanks, or amen. Instead of saying, "We just want to praise you," make a list of synonyms and use fresh words like admire, respect, value, revere, honor, and appreciate.

Also, be specific. If someone approached you and repeated, "I praise you!" ten times, you would probably think, For what? You would rather receive two specific compliments than twenty vague generalities. So would God. Another idea is to make a list of the different names of God and focus on them. God's names are not arbitrary; they tell us about different aspects of his character. In the Old Testament, God gradually revealed himself to Israel by introducing new names for himself, and he commands us to praise his name.'

God wants our corporate worship gatherings to be thoughtful, too. Paul devotes an entire chapter to this in 1 Corinthians 14 and concludes, "Everything should be done in a fitting and orderly way."

Related to this, God insists that our worship services be understandable to unbelievers when they are present in our worship gatherings. Paul observed, "Suppose some strangers are in your worship service, when you are praising God with your spirit. If they don't understand you, how will they know to say, `Amen'? You may be worshiping God in a wonderful way, but no one else will be helped. " Being sensitive to unbelievers who visit your worship gatherings is a biblical command. To ignore this command is to be both disobedient and unloving.

 God is pleased when our worship is practical.

 The Bible says, "Offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God-this is your spiritual act of worship." Why does God want your body? Why doesn't he say, "Offer your spirit"? Because without your body you can't do anything on this planet. In eternity you will receive a new, improved, upgraded body, but while you're here on earth, God says, "Give me what you've got!" He's just being practical about worship.

You have heard people say, "I can't make it to the meeting tonight, but I'll be with you in spirit." Do you know what that means? Nothing. It's worthless! As long as you're on earth, your spirit can only be where your body is. If your body isn't there, neither are you.

In worship we are to "offer our bodies as living sacrifices." Now, we usually associate the concept of "sacrifice" with something dead, but God wants you to be a living sacrifice. He wants you to live for him! However, the problem with a living sacrifice is that it can crawl off the altar, and we often do that. We sing, "Onward, Christian Soldiers" on Sunday, then go AWOL on Monday.

In the Old Testament, God took pleasure in the many sacrifices of worship because they foretold of Jesus' sacrifice for us on the cross. Now God is pleased with different sacrifices of worship: thanksgiving, praise, humility, repentance, offerings of money, prayer, serving others, and sharing with those in need.

Real worship costs. David knew this and said: "I will not offer to the LORD my God sacrifices that have cost me nothing."

One thing worship costs us is our self-centeredness. You cannot exalt God and yourself at the same time. You don't worship to be seen by others or to please yourself. You deliberately shift the focus off yourself.

 Real worship is rooted in the word, When Jesus said, "Love God with all your strength,' he pointed out that worship takes effort and energy. It is not always convenient or comfortable, and sometimes worship is a sheer act of the will-a willing sacrifice. Passive worship is an oxymoron.

When you praise God even when you don't feel like it, when you get out of bed to worship when you're tired, or when you help others when you are worn out, you are offering a sacrifice of worship to God. That pleases God.

Matt Redman, a worship leader in England, tells how his pastor taught his church the real meaning of worship. To show that worship is more than music, he banned all singing in their services for a period of time while they learned to worship in other ways. By the end of that time, Matt had written the classic song "Heart of Worship":

 I'll bring You more than a song, because the song itself is not what You've required.

You search much deeper within

than the way things appear.

You're looking into my heart.

The heart of the matter is a matter of the heart.

  THINKING ABOUT MY PURPOSE

 Point to Ponder: God wants all of me.

Verse to Remember: "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength." Mark 12:30 (NIV)

Question to Consider: Which is more pleasing to God right now-my public worship or my private worship? What will I do about this?

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