Our Focus

Sometimes on Sundays I wonder how people perceive the structure of the services they take part in. There have been times on stage where I think to myself, “I hope this is translating and being understood.” The unfortunate fact is that sometimes it isn’t. I have been in services that seemed to have no distinct structure or coherent theme/ message. Maybe there was one intended and I just didn’t pick up on it… but nonetheless it didn’t come across to me.

The truth is that each and every Sunday should start with a plan… a message, theme, or thought that we are going to expound upon. Obviously our plans are just that… “plans” and we all know that sometimes plans change. A statement I once heard fits that thought perfectly. It goes,

Every battle plan seems perfect until the first bullet flies.

But I personally would rather have a plan and have it altered than not have a plan at all and miss an opportunity. We should understand that we have a great foundation or starting point and that it is demonstrated for us in the Bible. Worship isn’t a new thing! In the Old Testament much of the worship that took place centered upon the Exodus event where God called His people out of slavery in Epypt and delivered them to the Promised Land to be His chosen People.

But… we are new covenant Believers and worshippers. Hebrews 9:15 says,

For this reason Christ is the mediator of a new covenant, that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance—now that he has died as a ransom to set them free from the sins committed under the first covenant.

We worship on this side of the cross, so our New Testaments worship is centered on Christ. On this side of the cross God has called us out of our own “Egpyt.” Through Jesus God called us out of slavery to sin and has provided us an avenue to Heaven through the work of Christ. We are His chosen people! 1 Peter 2:9-10 says,

But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.

So… why should our focus be on Christ? Below we will sift through just a few ideas.


  • Christ is our mediator before the Throne.

I almost feel like that point should have ended with an exclamation point! Take a second and think about that… there is no such thing as unmediated worship! In the Old Testament Christians had to have a priest act as their mediator before God to offer sacrifices to atone for their sin. We no longer have to do that because of the ultimate sacrifice made on our behalf by Jesus… the Son of God!

John 14:6 establishes the route to the Father through Jesus. In that verse Jesus says,

I am the way, the truth, the life, no one comes to the Father but through me.

1 Timothy 2:5 says,

For there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus.

Have you ever bought a product because you had the assurance of a warranty? I believe we all have. More than once I have been on the phone for hours jumping from person to person to arrange an exchange or refund only to be told I wasn’t eligible because of some small print or loophole found somewhere. The good thing for us is that in Christ we have full access to God. No hoops to jump through or loopholes to get caught up in! Ephesians 3:10-13 says,

His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, according to his eternal purpose that he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord. In him and through faith in him we may approach God with freedom and confidence. I ask you, therefore, not to be discouraged because of my sufferings for you, which are your glory.

We can be assured as leaders and worshippers that Worship Pastors, bands, environments, atmospheres, specific songs, or creative worship planning cannot bring us any closer to God or provide us a more direct or expedient route than the one Jesus already has established!

  • All of heaven worships the Risen Lamb.

We serve a risen King! What other prophet or “god” has claimed to have been resurrected from the dead? Not only did Jesus defeat death and the grave… but He called His shot!

Hosea 6:2: says,

After two days will He revive us: in the third day He will raise us up.

On October 1, 1932, during Game 3 of the 1932 World Series at Wrigley Field in Chicago New York Yankee Babe Ruth pointed his bat towards the center field bleachers during his at-bat. On the next pitch, Ruth hit a home run to the same spot in center field. Babe Ruth’s called shot is said to be one of the greatest home runs in history. Babe Ruth has been forever concreted on baseball history partially because of this event and story. But… the death and resurrection of Jesus and the prophecies that came before are so much more impressive!

The most significant prophecy in the Bible concerning the resurrection of Jesus is known as “the prophecy of Jonah.” It is a symbolic prophecy represented by the three days and three nights that Jonah spent in the stomach of a great fish as found in Jonah 1:17. Jesus himself explained the prophetic symbolism of this unique event on an occasion when He rebuked the Pharisees for seeking a “sign” from Him. We see this in Matthew 12:38-40 where it says,

For just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the sea monster, so shall the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.

Jesus clearly and distinctly prophesies here, using the example of Jonah, that He will spend three days and three nights in the tomb before His resurrection will occur. Jesus called His shot! That is worth praising! In fact, we know that here on earth we aren’t the only ones lifting up the name of Christ.

Revelation 5:9-14 shows us a glimpse of this. It says,

And they sang a new song, saying: “You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because you were slain, and with your blood you purchased for God persons from every tribe and language and people and nation. You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God, and they will reign on the earth.” Then I looked and heard the voice of many angels, numbering thousands upon thousands, and ten thousand times ten thousand. They encircled the throne and the living creatures and the elders. In a loud voice they were saying: “Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and praise!” Then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all that is in them, saying: “To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be praise and honor and glory and power, for ever and ever!” The four living creatures said, “Amen,” and the elders fell down and worshiped.

We should join in this worship when we gather to worship as His Body on the earth!

  • Focusing on Christ in our worship helps us keep the proper perspective.

The world today is very caught up in itself. What other explanation would we have for the drastic things people do in order to attain a certain “model image” or the attention and affection of others? We as worshippers need to take specific measures and precautions to ensure that we make our worship about God and that our worship times do not become man-centered. We live in a self-centered culture where everything is centered on us… our wants, preferences, opinions, etc. The church is even like this! There is a church for everyone! If you like loud music there is a church for you! If you like soft music there is a church for you! If you want to drink coffee in the sanctuary in a seat that semi-reclines there is a church for you! This may seem ridiculous… but deep down we all know it is true.

Some of us leave a worship service thinking that if we did not get anything out of the service the preacher, worship team, or staff did not “fill our cup” or have somehow let us down. I propose that instead we should be asking ourselves how we did in honoring and serving the Lord in our worship. Is Christ our focus or has our focus shifted to include us?


The Gospel of Jesus Christ should always be at the center of all we do in the church including our worship times. We need to be constantly reminded of the cross of Christ and reminded of what Christ has done for us, but we must move past the cross to the resurrection and the power that it provided us to live and worship as Christ has designed for us to live and worship. Let’s focus on Christ and make Him the direction that our worship points!

 

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Diagnosing Spiritual Complacency

One of the terrible diseases of Christianity today is complacency. There is a major complacency epidemic spreading amongst the Kingdom. Are you battling complacency in your ministry?

I certainly believe that Satan is a master deceiver and uses many techniques to disarm and neutralize Believers. I wholeheartedly believe that one of Satan’s strategies is to plant the seed of complacency.

I have a friend who served a tour of duty in Iraq. On that tour of duty he worked many road checkpoints and was issued, along with his other soldiers, some very particular gear. Among that gear was the normal body armor and helmet, but that gear also included padding and armor for their upper arms and thighs, as well as a groin guard. All of this gear had one mission in mind: to keep them alive and protected in the event of an IED explosion. As you can imagine all that gear made the already intense heat nearly unbearable. So for that reason many of the soldiers would remove the gear when officers were not around. One particular day there were no officers on site and a newer enlisted soldier was in the guard tower wearing his helmet causing many of the others to poke fun at him. On that particular day an enemy assailant just so happened to be taking aim with a long-range rifle and shot that soldier in the head. The helmet and his lack of complacency saved his life, whereas many of the other soldiers would have been killed. I say all of that to make this point: in combat complacency kills.

In Amos 6:1 the Lord spoke to the backslidden Israel through His prophet Amos. It says,

Woe to you who are complacent in Zion, and to you who feel secure on Mount Samaria, you notable men of the foremost nation, to whom the people of Israel come!

The Lord was addressing to the people who were self-satisfied and in their comfort zone. They felt self-sufficient and strong enough in their own power. These people had little desire for God, and little hunger for His righteousness. They were self-confident and self-sufficient. Thus the Lord warned them about the impending judgment upon them.

How often do we fall into this exact attitude? We allow ourselves to grow complacent and live a self-satisfied life. Do we truly live dependent on God or do we try to maintain some independence? Remember, complacency makes us to feel secure in our job, safe in our strength, good about our knowledge, protected in our money and possessions, eventually blinding us and leading us to our downfall. Sometime the strike isn’t immediate. Like the enemy assailant in the story above, sometimes the enemy patently takes aim and waits. He allows us to grow comfortable, and complacent all the while he is disarming us without much effort.

A.W. Tozer says,

Complacency is a deadly foe of all spiritual growth.

Let’s get one thing straight. Complacency is a killer that can ruin ministry. Are you battling complacency in your ministry?

Revelation 3:14-22 says,

And to the angel of the church in Laodicea write: ‘The words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of God’s creation. “‘I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were either cold or hot! So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth. For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked. I counsel you to buy from me gold refined by fire, so that you may be rich, and white garments so that you may clothe yourself and the shame of your nakedness may not be seen, and salve to anoint your eyes, so that you may see. Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent. Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me. The one who conquers, I will grant him to sit with me on my throne, as I also conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.’

We see above that lukewarmness is a spiritual condition that apparently, Jesus can’t stand. Another name for it might be “complacency.” Complacency is not contentment. Where contentment is finding joy in the blessings of walking with God, complacency is when we have stopped walking.

How do you know that this killer has crept into your ministry? Here are some telltale signs.


  • Lack of Zeal

One of the most obvious and beginning stages of complacency is a diminishing presence or absence of zeal. We all can probably remember a time in our life when we were passionate about something, maybe you are like me and when you find a new interest or hobby you dive in headfirst and it is all consuming? Hopefully we can all think back to a time when we were like that with Jesus. We didn’t need complex theology or big “spiritually correct” words. Yeah… I just went there.

Too many of us have substituted zeal for knowledge!

I honestly am pretty tired of seeing Bible believing friends of mine tearing each other to shreds over theology on Facebook for the whole world to see. I have been there too! At times I myself have replaced my zeal for pursuing Christ and acting like Him for merely knowing more about Him and maybe letting others know about it. Before anyone gets all tore up please understand that I am talking to myself here! Maybe the dissection of the Word down to the last punctuation mark was just a distraction to keep you from understanding it and doing what it says? In actuality Satan, the deceiver, doesn’t care how much you know the Word if you don’t do the Word.

Please read the Word, dissect the Word, understand the Word, memorize the Word… but then go put into practice!

  • Tradition is Doctrine

Tradition entails so much more than what most people typically think of when it is mentioned. Tradition is more than robes, recited prayers, hymns, etc… Tradition is something that can invade and ultimately take over any church, regardless of its denomination, history, or style. Let’s get this straight, when we depend on tradition for our “religious” involvement, relationship, worship, or gatherings we stop depending upon something else… namely the Bible and the Spirit of God. When that happens, we’re on a rapid descent to destruction. In fact, our gatherings become nothing more than scripted ceremonies that we have rehearsed and polished in hopes of gaining something. We might keep ourselves happy, we might grow our church in numbers or financial security, but we aren’t truly pursuing the renewed work of Christ and the Kingdom of God here in our ever-changing ministry field.

There is nothing wrong with tradition itself. But… there is something wrong with depending on tradition!

C.S. Lewis once wrote,

Security is mortals’ greatest enemy.

But what kind of “security” is he talking about? I believe he is talking about the security that comes with comfort. Maybe your comfort looks different than the blanket that Linus drags around everywhere, but it’s still serving the same purpose. Do your traditions make you feel at “home” or secure and comfortable?

Complacency makes us feel secure, but feelings can lie.

Ephesians 5:14-17 says,

This is why it is said: “Wake up, sleeper, rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.” Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is.

How is it that we can be told to make the most of every opportunity and still pass up so many because they didn’t fit into our idea of “church?” Let’s put it out there, we as a whole have become slothful, habitual, uninspired, secure, and complacent, often doing what we do for traditional reasons rather than because it’s best.

Why is it that we, who have had the precious blood of Christ cleanse our sins, now take such a mediocre and habitual approach to those things related to Christ and His cause? From our outreach, in-reach, preaching, worship, programs, aesthetics, etc… in almost every area of corporate church complacency has unfortunately become the norm.

The message is the same, but the messengers and avenues they take change!

The secular world has caught on to this! Look at the music industry. Songs and albums were once put out on vinyl, then tapes, then cd’s, and now everything is digital. The same songs that were once on vinyl can now be downloaded on iTunes for .99 cents! Businesses don’t always change the product or name… they just change the presentation, method of delivery, or audience. Why aren’t we who have the best “offering” putting forth the same effort in our church activities as we do in our personal activities and businesses?

Andrew Grove, a founder of Intel, is famously quoted for saying,

Success breeds complacency. Complacency breeds failure.

If we stay the same, for the sake of staying the same, we get left behind and we do the message an injustice! We must understand that our complacency has eternal implications, and I’m afraid that a culture of mediocrity has now become the new tradition.

  • Tolerance of Sin

Last week I asked you to imagine a trashed house full of garbage and the flies that go along with the garbage. Sometimes our lives look a lot like that house, and the natural tendency is to clear out the flies. Sometimes we are successful and manage to shoo them all away, but as long as the garbage remains we are fighting a losing battle and those flies are inevitably going to return and multiply. So, the solution is to get rid of the garbage in our lives. We need to be concerned with the flies, but we also must work to remove the garbage to keep them out! Every trashcan is going to look different… but we certainly all have one. In his strategy of complacency, Satan watches as we clear our houses of garbage and flies…except for one room. It’s more than likely a hidden room, one we keep to ourselves. That room may be continual sin, it might be a relationship, bitterness, or a wound we haven’t allowed to heal. At times the door to that room full of garbage stays shut for a while and Satan allows us to have successes in other areas all the while the flies are just multiplying and building up in this little room. Then, out of nowhere, the door of the hidden room flies open, freeing thousands upon thousands of flies who have been breeding and waiting for just this moment.

Why does this happen? We get complacent and our complacency leads to tolerance or apathy.

Think it doesn’t happen? Take a moment to consider prominent Christian leaders, celebrities, or politicians whose lives and careers have been ruined when they fell in disgrace from one sin or another. We all know them so there is no need at mentioning names. We might look in from the outside an ask ourselves, “how would they allow that to happen” or, “why would they do that with all the success they have?” Rest assured. That fall wasn’t part of the plan when they began their career. Nobody begins a ministry with the goal to ultimately disgrace themselves and God by being brought to their knees by their own hand. Too often the fall comes from complacency. They believed the lie that they could “get away with it,” or, “it’s not that big of a deal,” and when they seemed to have it all together and under control, they grew complacent in their tolerance of sin.

Sin is sin, and all sin is bad. Don’t tolerate it! The church is to be a place of healing for sinners, but a Holy God doesn’t wink at or bless iniquity. He sent His son to die for and erase that iniquity and sin… not cover it up. The only reason the church welcomes sinners is because by God’s grace, sinners can be reborn with Christ’s righteousness. Do not tolerate sin in your own life! Letting a few “little things” slip leads to bigger slip-ups. I recently watched a video of a poor woman who slipped on an icy sidewalk and every time she would begin to regain her balance and composure she would begin to slide and fall again until ultimately she ended up on the ground. We’ve all been on an icy sidewalk… when you begin to slip it is all over. But… you know how you avoid slipping and falling? Stay off the ice.

  • Lack of Pursuit

What is a pursuit? I would define it as an intense chase of something in order to attain it.

My parents have a German shepherd by the name of Obi and he is extremely quick. One afternoon while playing and walking Obi his leash fell off of his collar and went limp in my hand. I looked down in shock only to see him looking at me with the same look of shock in his face that I had in mine. At that point the chase was on.

Why did I pursue Obi the dog? I pursued because I was afraid of what would happen if I didn’t catch him, of what would happen if I stopped pursuing him!

How many of us have stopped pursuing holiness? Lost interest or will to pursue God and spiritual growth?

Spiritual growth is marked by an aggressive intense pursuit of God. We desire His fellowship, His people, and His word. A life that lacks prayer, Bible intake, and neglects spiritual nourishment is a life that has slipped into complacency and that will see little or no fruit.

Mark 11:12-14 says,

The next day as they were leaving Bethany, Jesus was hungry. Seeing in the distance a fig tree in leaf, he went to find out if it had any fruit. When he reached it, he found nothing but leaves, because it was not the season for figs. Then he said to the tree, “May no one ever eat fruit from you again.” And his disciples heard him say it.

When Jesus cursed the fig tree for its failure to produce fruit in the verses above He gives us a sobering lesson. Empty religion, lacking fruit, needs to and ultimately will die. In actuality the parable of the fig tree doesn’t end with Jesus’ withering curse, because the very next verse says,

On reaching Jerusalem, Jesus entered the temple courts and began driving out those who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves.

The spiritual complacency or “religion” of the people had reached the place where they were making a total mockery of the temple and of the message. We may not see our situations as that bleak, but if Jesus walked into our churches what things would he need to overturn or shake up?

  • Inward Focus

One of the surest signs of complacency is a church that is self-absorbed or entirely inwardly focused. You might ask, “Tanner, what does than mean?” Let me begin my answer with another question, what is the mission of the church? That question can evoke many answers like: to provide teaching for Believers, to be a place of fellowship, a place of worship. To all of those I would say yes… but what is the first and foremost mission of the church? In Matthew 28:19 it tells us about that mission. It says,

Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

The mission of the church is to spread the good news and make disciples. In fact we may have to get out of our comfortable and familiar zone to do it! Acts 1:8 says,

But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.

Is your church inward focused or outward focused? Are you so concerned about not “rocking the boat” that you leave it docked? We see in the book of Acts that in order to achieve our mission we have to wander outside of ourselves! Are we so overly concerned about keeping “our people” happy and content that we miss opportunities to reach those that haven’t yet been reached by Christ or the church? I will step out in an unpopular way and say that when a church is absorbed with just its own activities, its own problems, and its own people, it has become complacent and ineffective at achieving the goal and mission.

The primary challenge, and our primary concern, should be, “how do we reach people who don’t have a relationship with Jesus?” Most inward-focused churches are not sensitive to or even aware of this challenge. We might bank on our “friendliness” or position in the community to cut it… but the numbers show that it doesn’t! We can’t simply pray for a harvest and not plant any seeds or till any ground!

So many of us are so complacent that we fear any change or decision that might push insiders away and, frankly, impact the bottom line. Ironically, any organization, including a church, that doesn’t focus on reaching new people has already started to decline and will eventually die. In the book of Acts, James the brother of Jesus, told the Jewish Christians, who were the insiders of the day, they should not make it difficult for the Gentiles, the outsiders of the day, to turn to God. Why is it that this many years later that problem still exists? Are we making it easy for outsiders to turn to God, or are we stuck in the busy complacent work of keeping insiders happy?

Jeremiah 10:21 says,

For the shepherds have become stupid and have not sought the LORD; therefore they have not prospered, and all their flock is scattered.

Proverbs 1:32 says,

For the waywardness of the naive will kill them, and the complacency of fools will destroy them.

What is our focus as a church?


Zephaniah 1:12 says,

It will come about at that time That I will search Jerusalem with lamps, And I will punish the men Who are stagnant in spirit, Who say in their hearts, ‘The LORD will not do good or evil!’

Are you complacent? Go to war with the complacency in your life.

 

The Difference with Preparation.

The past few weeks we have been discussing the importance of spiritual preparation before worship. We have talked about why it is important, how we do it, and this week we are going to close out our conversation by establishing the difference that our preparation makes.

When we stop to think about it, worship is a rather challenging activity. We are seeking to encounter and interact with an invisible deity. We speak and listen to a God that we cannot visibly see audibly hear. Therefore, I would go out on a limb to say that it is impossible to overstate the importance of adequate preparation for authentic worship. In fact we see how highly preparation to encounter the presence of God was held in Scripture in Exodus 19:7-20. The account found in Exodus says,

Moses came and called the elders of the people and set before them all these words that the Lord had commanded him. All the people answered together and said, “All that the Lord has spoken we will do.” And Moses reported the words of the people to the Lord. And the Lord said to Moses, “Behold, I am coming to you in a thick cloud, that the people may hear when I speak with you, and may also believe you forever.” When Moses told the words of the people to the Lord, the Lord said to Moses, “Go to the people and consecrate them today and tomorrow, and let them wash their garments and be ready for the third day. For on the third day the Lord will come down on Mount Sinai in the sight of all the people. And you shall set limits for the people all around, saying, ‘Take care not to go up into the mountain or touch the edge of it. Whoever touches the mountain shall be put to death. No hand shall touch him, but he shall be stoned or shot; whether beast or man, he shall not live.’ When the trumpet sounds a long blast, they shall come up to the mountain.” So Moses went down from the mountain to the people and consecrated the people; and they washed their garments. And he said to the people, “Be ready for the third day; do not go near a woman.” On the morning of the third day there were thunders and lightnings and a thick cloud on the mountain and a very loud trumpet blast, so that all the people in the camp trembled. Then Moses brought the people out of the camp to meet God, and they took their stand at the foot of the mountain. Now Mount Sinai was wrapped in smoke because the Lord had descended on it in fire. The smoke of it went up like the smoke of a kiln, and the whole mountain trembled greatly. And as the sound of the trumpet grew louder and louder, Moses spoke, and God answered him in thunder. The Lord came down on Mount Sinai, to the top of the mountain. And the Lord called Moses to the top of the mountain, and Moses went up.

In fact, we know that this isn’t the only account in Scripture where people have prepared to encounter God. In Joshua 3:5 God instructs Joshua to prepare. Joshua 3:5 says,

Sanctify yourselves, for tomorrow the Lord will do wonders among you.

Want more out of worship? Prepare.

In Psalm 24 David cites the personal qualifications of those who may comfortably go into the presence of the Lord. His point is that no one may simply barge in on the royal Lord. It takes a prepared heart.

Psalm 24:1-6 says,

The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof, the world and those who dwell therein, for he has founded it upon the seas and established it upon the rivers. Who shall ascend the hill of the Lord? And who shall stand in his holy place? He who has clean hands and a pure heart, who does not lift up his soul to what is false and does not swear deceitfully. He will receive blessing from the Lord and righteousness from the God of his salvation. Such is the generation of those who seek him, who seek the face of the God of Jacob.

So… we know that preparation for worship is important, but what difference does it make? What results can we expect to see from our preparation?


  • Gain Heavenly Perspective.

I have found that it is FAR too easy to get caught up in the small things and begin to “create mountains out of molehills” within the church. In a single service there are so many things that we can critique: the level of lighting, the song selection, the volume level, the seating layout, the length of the sermon, etc…

We even see someone caught up in the logistics of worship instead of the point in John 4 when Jesus is seen speaking to the woman at the well.

Take a look at that encounter in John 4:7-26,

A woman from Samaria came to draw water. Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.” (For his disciples had gone away into the city to buy food.) The Samaritan woman said to him, “How is it that you, a Jew, ask for a drink from me, a woman of Samaria?” (For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans.) Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.” The woman said to him, “Sir, you have nothing to draw water with, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water? Are you greater than our father Jacob? He gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did his sons and his livestock.” Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water, so that I will not be thirsty or have to come here to draw water.” Jesus said to her, “Go, call your husband, and come here.” The woman answered him, “I have no husband.” Jesus said to her, “You are right in saying, ‘I have no husband’; for you have had five husbands, and the one you now have is not your husband. What you have said is true.” The woman said to him, “Sir, I perceive that you are a prophet. Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, but you say that in Jerusalem is the place where people ought to worship.” Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” The woman said to him, “I know that Messiah is coming (he who is called Christ). When he comes, he will tell us all things.” Jesus said to her, “I who speak to you am he.”

In that passage the conversation turned to worship. The woman’s concern was where the worshiping was done (on Mt. Gerizim or in Jerusalem), but we see that Jesus was concerned about how and in what spirit it was done (in spirit and in truth). The phrase “in spirit and in truth” carries several levels of meaning, but through all its meanings runs the thread that teaches us the preparation of our spirit is more important than external circumstances or the location of our worship. Because of who God is, how we worship matters!

It is through this passage, and others, that I conclude that for the most part the external things/ logistics don’t matter. It is also evident that it is possible for every factor and logistic to be perfect/ without complaint and for us to still miss out on authentic worship. Our preparation will likely be the key that makes the difference.

In Ecclesiastes 5:2 Solomon states,

God is in heaven and you are on earth, so let your words be few.

In actuality, this is a statement of perspective, not actual distance. God is all-knowing, Creator, perfect, above all, and infinite. God is God and we aren’t. God is in heaven and we are on earth.

It’s all about perspective.

One of the great benefits of preparation is gaining a proper perspective of God.

With this perspective we not only gain a view of the throne of God, but we also gain a view from the throne of God. Once we have entered into God’s presence, we look down on our world from his perspective. We find that what we thought was a mountain was a molehill after all. What seemed great and mighty in the world’s eyes turns out to be small and insignificant in God’s eyes.

When we prepare and encounter the very presence of God we begin to see life from his perspective. When we worship we gain a view of the throne of God, and hopefully from the throne of God.

  • Wash Ourselves Beforehand to get the Most out of our Time.

Ever feel like by the time you feel as if you are in the presence of God that particular portion of the service is over?

Why does it take so long for us to get to that point?

Preparation.

In Old Testament times, the tabernacle in which the Jewish people worshipped and prayed consisted of several parts: the outer court; the inner court, and the Holy of Holies. The general “public” was restricted to the outer court. The priests had access to the inner court where they would make sacrifices on behalf of the people. But only the high priest could go behind the veil that separated the inner court from the Holy of Holies.

The room known as the Holy of Holies was the most sacred area of the tabernacle of Moses and temple of Jerusalem. The Holy of Holies was constructed to very particular specifications as found in the chapter of Exodus 26. Feel free to take a look at that chapter on your own… the details are SO specific! God takes His spirit serious!

Tabernacle

The Holy of Holies was accessible only to the Israelite high priest. Once a year, on Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, the high priest was permitted to enter the small, enclosure to burn incense and sprinkle the blood of a sacrificial animal on the mercy seat of the Ark. By doing so, he would be providing sacrifice and atonement for the sins of the people of Israel. The Holy of Holies was separated from the rest of the tabernacle/temple by the veil in order to prevent in accidental views of the presence of God.

Habakkuk 1:13a says,

You who are of purer eyes than to see evil and cannot look at wrong.

God’s eyes are literally too pure to look on evil, and He can tolerate no sin. The veil and the elaborate rituals undertaken by the priest were a reminder that man could not carelessly or irreverently enter God’s awesome presence, but instead he must prepare. Before the high priest entered the Holy of Holies on the Day of Atonement, he had to wash himself, put on special clothing, bring burning incense to let the smoke cover his eyes from a direct view of God, and bring sacrificial blood with him to make atonement for sins. After all of that preparation the high priest still had to wear bells on his ankles and a rope around his waist in order to let those on the other side of the veil know that he was still alive and give them a way to remove his body if he wasn’t.

Hebrews 9:6-7 says,

These preparations having thus been made, the priests go regularly into the first section, performing their ritual duties, but into the second only the high priest goes, and he but once a year, and not without taking blood, which he offers for himself and for the unintentional sins of the people.

In order to qualify and survive the privilege of meeting with God, the priest had to undergo certain rituals of purification. Today, we qualify to be in God’s presence not on the basis of rituals, but on the basis of our righteousness in Christ. We are all called to intimate fellowship with God, however, going beyond the veil and communing with God at the deepest level requires that we be prepared.

The priests didn’t rely on another leader to prepare them to encounter the presence of God. They took it upon themselves. They washed, scrubbed, prayed, fasted, etc… in order that they might be given the privilege. What or who are you waiting on?

Unfortunately our time together as united worshippers is limited… so we must pre-wash in order to be ready to enter in!


Preparation makes a difference! I challenge you to try it!

Our preparations in no way make us any more acceptable in God’s eyes. We can’t earn love. Jesus bought our ticket… he provided our way.

Hebrews 6:19-20a establishes this,

We have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters into the inner place behind the curtain, where Jesus has gone as a forerunner on our behalf.

Because of this we should prepare and enter in. Hebrews 10:19-23 says,

Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful.

How do we Prepare?

Last week we began a short series on our preparation for corporate worship. Why we prepare, how we prepare, and the difference that preparation makes. Last week we tackled the “why?”

This week we let the rubber meet the road.

I have already discussed how there is no special equation for church worship services. No magical chord that we can hit or song we can sing that will instantly bring the Spirit of God rushing in like a tidal wave. Spiritual preparation is what makes our worship distinct and impactful. Preparation should be a part of worship for both the leaders and the worshippers… no person is exempt for the necessity of preparation.

We prepare for many things in life… how much more preparation should we do before we approach the throne of God in worship?

Calling on God necessitates preparation. One would not barge into the President’s office unannounced and unprepared, neither should we with God.

This week I have done a lot of thinking about how people on an airplane and people on a pew or church seat can be compared and have a lot in common. All are on a journey, most are well “versed” and trained in public transportation manners, and a few just want to get out alive. For many, the mark of a good flight and the mark of a good worship service are the same… comfortable. Do you leaving a worship service content and comfortable or awestruck after encountering the presence of the Lord in a very real way?

Our worship is a journey, and our destination should be to the feet of Jesus.

As with any travel or journey we need to make the proper preparations so that we experience God rather than just “endure” worship. We want a memorable trip instead of just average or mundane. This week we will discuss together how we should be preparing for worship.


  • Get ready to meet God

In Ecclesiastes 5:1 Solomon writes,

Guard your steps when you go to the house of God. To draw near to listen is better than to offer the sacrifice of fools, for they do not know that they are doing evil.

The phrase guard your steps means to proceed with reverence, tip toeing into the presence of God. We come with care and caution. We come with dignity and respect.

Exodus 3:2-6 gives us an example of such an approach. It says,

And the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush. He looked, and behold, the bush was burning, yet it was not consumed. And Moses said, “I will turn aside to see this great sight, why the bush is not burned.” When the Lord saw that he turned aside to see, God called to him out of the bush, “Moses, Moses!” And he said, “Here I am.” Then he said, “Do not come near; take your sandals off your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.” And he said, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” And Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God.

We should approach God with the same care as Moses when he encountered God in a burning bush and removed his shoes and hid his face. It was holy ground, and he acknowledged that with his preparation before journeying onto it.

We teach our children not to run in church, so why do we “run” headlong into worship services and experiences.

Now obviously I am not talking about a physical act of running, but spiritually, emotionally, and mentally we are dashing in unprepared… we are “running.” We approach casually and unprepared like we would a lunch gathering or cookout get-together. When we aren’t anticipating God’s presence or voice we are unable to experience the presence of God that will stir our souls, change our lives, and fulfill our search for purpose.

  • Listen to God

I am a speaker. I like to talk… sometimes even if I have nothing meaningful to say.

What about you?

Think about your relationships… are you the talker or the listener? Now let’s think about our relationship with God the Father. Do we speak so often that we miss His voice? Do we listen and allow Him to speak to us or do we do all the talking?

In the passage out of Ecclesiastes that we looked at earlier Solomon offers further instructions for experiencing God in worship. That passage out of Ecclesiastes 5:1 says,

Guard your steps when you go to the house of God. To draw near to listen is better than to offer the sacrifice of fools, for they do not know that they are doing evil.

But I personally like what The New Living Translation says in Ecclesiastes 5:1-2,

As you enter the house of God, keep your ears open and your mouth shut. It is evil to make mindless offerings to God. Don’t make rash promises, and don’t be hasty in bringing matters before God. After all, God is in heaven, and you are here on earth. So let your words be few.

Let’s think about it: When we come to worship, we have come to meet with God, who also desires to meet with us. When we come to meet with God I personally believe that we would be well advised to listen and let him do the talking. God wants to communicate with us.

Are we allowing time for God to speak? Are we allowing ourselves time to listen?

Too many of us have gotten into the habit of screaming into the church parking lot on two wheels for our Sunday worship last minute, strolling casually into the sanctuary, finding our preferred seat, socializing with our friends and Brothers and Sisters in Christ, and before we know it the preacher is preaching and we are wondering why we didn’t sing any songs we preferred.

Before we know it the service is over and we missed the point. We weren’t listening.

Now hear me out… there is nothing wrong with fellowshipping with your fellow church members! That is part of what the church is about, mutual edification. But, let me suggest that we take the time to fellowship with God first… to prepare and listen. There will be time to fellowship with man after we have fellowshipped with God.

Preparation for worship will change your church worship forever! Just once try some personal preparation for worship through prayer and listening to God. Walk into church ready for an encounter! You’ll never go back.

  • Mean what you say

We spend a lot of time singing in church. But when we sing, are we really singing from our heart to God? Do we mean what we sing and say, or are we only saying words?

Quite a few years ago someone noticed that everyone when they sang in church tended to have their heads buried in the hymnals – even when they knew the songs. So… what do we do as inventive, innovative, and creative people do? We came up with the idea of projecting the words on a screen. So now instead of people staring at the hymnals they stare at the screen even if they knew the songs. Same problem… new equation.

Singing in church should be more than just reading words and notes. It should be a time that we worship God from our heart. Sometimes we have to force ourselves to think about what we are singing, and discipline our minds to focus on God.

Our words carry meaning.

Consider for a moment the promises you have knowingly or unknowingly made to God when you were in worship.

“I’ll praise you in this storm…”

“When I survey the wondrous cross on which the Prince of glory died, my richest gain I count but loss, and pour contempt on all my pride.”

“And on that day when my strength is failing, the end draws near and my time has come. Still my soul will sing Your praise unending, ten thousand years and then forevermore.”

What promises with your time, your commitments, your life, your money, etc… have you made to God and not kept?

When we make a commitment to God, we must keep it because God believes it and doesn’t forget it. God honors His commitments. Making commitments to God is like jumping off a cliff… after you take the plunge you ARE committed, there is no turning back. We are committed to the things we sing and say. We can’t change our mind.

When you go to worship, it would be better not to vow at all, than to fail to keep your word with God.

Our words carry meaning… pay attention and mean what you say. New Testament scholar Gordon Fee once said,

“Show me a church’s songs and I’ll show you their theology.”

Mark Noll puts it,

“We are what we sing”


Worship is not and should not be something we have to “endure.” Instead it is a marvelous journey into the presence of God. It should not be a mundane trip, but a memorable flight.

Let me encourage you to come to worship prepared to worship. Pray before you come so you will be ready to pray when you arrive. Sleep before you come so you will stay alert when you arrive. Read the Word before you come so your heart will be soft when you worship. Come hungry. Come willing. Come expecting God to speak. Come anticipating a memorable experience with the Creator of the universe.

 

Why Prepare?

Worship… we all talk about it. We “participate” in it. We have grown accustomed to the “routine” of it…

How do we prepare for worship? Is it necessary? What difference does it make?

Over the next three weeks I plan to do a short series on our preparation for worship. Why we prepare, how we prepare, and the difference that preparation makes.


I’ve planned and led many worship services over the past few years and I’ve seen many different responses. It is easy to be encouraged by those who are outwardly responding to the presence of God, and it is even easier to get discouraged by those who we perceive as not “worshipping.” But something that I find necessary to constantly remind myself is that we can respond to a “moment” outwardly with an inwardly disengaged heart and mind.

That thought is horrifying.

There is no special equation for church worship services. No magical chord that we can hit or song we can sing that will instant bring the Spirit of God rushing in like a tidal wave. As a Worship Leader I need to be reminded that spiritual preparation is what sets our services apart. Spiritual preparation is what sets our worship apart.

Think about it… we wouldn’t go into a meeting with the CEO of the company we work for unprepared. We wouldn’t walk into the Oval Office and plop down in front of the President without a plan.

If you’ve ever had guests stay at your house for a night or two you know the preparations that went on before their arrival. You tidied up the whole house. You made the bed in the guest room with new clean linens. You scrubbed the toilet and the shower. How do you prepare your heart and mind for worship before asking the Spirit of God to indwell our worship?

We prepare for many things in life… how much more preparation should we do before we approach the throne of God in worship?

This week at church we are preparing floors for new carpet and walls for paint. Before we paint the walls we have to go and sand down any bumps or imperfections. We have to fill gaps, apply primer, and wait for the right time to begin painting. We can’t just begin slapping on coats of paint! To get the desired result takes time and preparation. Our worship works in the same way. We can’t walk into the sanctuary willy nilly on Sunday morning and strike the first chord and “BOOM” we are off to the races.

So… why do we prepare for worship?


  • To engage Spiritually.

We are all probably “used” to church “worship.” Because of that I believe that the more we have immersed ourselves in worship the more intense our preparation should be.

Ultimately, worship is a matter of the heart. It’s not an opportunity to observe, critique, or fulfill our own wants and desires. Instead it is an opportunity to respond in spirit and truth. John 4:23-24 says,

But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.

Our worship is the response of our heart. If we aren’t preparing our hearts, then we’ll be more prone to engage emotionally but be passive spiritually. To respond outwardly and be inwardly disengaged.

  • To realize our dependence on God.

In all of our preparing we are both being obedient and reminding ourselves that we can do nothing apart from the moving of the Holy Spirit. We are entirely dependent on God to have an encounter with God.

Like we said above… “There is no particular element or song we can include to usher in the presence of the Lord.” If there were I am sure we would have it sown to a set science by now.

In our preparation, leading, and worshipping we may get a sense of what the Holy Spirit wants to do.

This works for both worship leaders and congregational worshippers. When we prepare our hearts before worship we are removing ourselves from the equation and moving out of the way in order to interpret and follow the Lord in our worship to Him. It’s always nice to enter into a worship service with a vision or word from God and preparation makes a way for us to do this.

  • To focus on what Matters.

Psalm 95:1-6 says,

Oh come, let us sing to the Lord; let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation! Let us come into his presence with thanksgiving; let us make a joyful noise to him with songs of praise! For the Lord is a great God, and a great King above all gods. In his hand are the depths of the earth; the heights of the mountains are his also. The sea is his, for he made it, and his hands formed the dry land.

Psalm 95 may be well known by many… and it draws our eyes, hearts, and minds to what really matters when we gather. This psalm also provides instruction on how we are to come worship.

“Let us come into his presence with thanksgiving…”

We are to enter into His presence with thanksgiving…already prepared and praising.

Preparation tends to point our hearts in the direction of the things that really matter. Things that matter to God. When we’re spiritually prepared, we’re not as concerned about songs and arrangements, volume and lighting, new or old. Those things may be important to us, but the presence of Jesus is so much more deserving of our attention. When we ignore the preparation of your heart, trivial matters tend to steal the show.


Let’s leave with a challenge to prepare ourselves for worship and see what the Lord can do both in our own hearts as well as the hearts of our congregations.

Isaiah 12:5 says,

Sing praises to the Lord, for he has done gloriously; let this be made known in all the earth.

Hebrews 12:28 says,

Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe.