The Christian Feast of Worship - by Dr. C. Matthew McMahonThe Tract Series
Today, many Christians are turning back to the puritans to, “walk in the old paths,” of God’s word, and to continue to proclaim old truth that glorifies Jesus Christ. There is no new theology. In our electronic age, more and more people are looking to add electronic books (ePubs, mobi and PDF formats) to their library – books from the Reformers and Puritans – in order to become a “digital puritan” themselves. Take a moment to visit Puritan Publications (click the banner below) to find the biggest selection of rare puritan works updated in modern English in both print form and in multiple electronic forms. There are new books published every month. All proceeds go to support A Puritan’s Mind.
“Oh worship the Lord in the beauty of Holiness! Tremble before Him all the earth (Psalm 96:9).”
We all enjoy a good meal. Eating revives our bodies and enables them to continue to work and produce fruit in our families, jobs, or wherever. Do you regularly miss a meal such as breakfast, lunch or dinner? Many “Christians” today miss on average, 4 months of church a year. There are 54 appointed Lord’s Days to worship Christ on Sunday morning through one year, and to hear the word of God preached for the edification of the soul. That means most of the church only worships and listens to the Word of God 36 Sunday’s out of the year and they sporadically miss 18 times. That is 18 times they do not worship corporately with their covenanted brethren, and 18 times they miss the message which God had impressed upon the preacher just for them on that particular day. These people eat for their body, but neglect eating for their soul.
Christians must realize the importance of corporate worship. It is not akin to High School where a child is allowed to miss his 12 “sick days” during the year. It is not like work where they give you “vacation time” for working so hard, or a number or personal days to take off when you deem it fit. Corporate worship is never to be missed unless one is providentially hindered by some extreme necessity. Each time a Biblically based church offers their people the opportunity to worship, those people should rush with haste to worship Jesus Christ with the brethren.
If from this day forward all Christians praised and worshipped Christ for what He did in His death and resurrection night and day until they died, it would not be enough praise to give God. You can imagine the small amount of praise we really give Him, or the feeble frames of dust we use to offer up such weak and frail praise and thanksgiving. We should be amazed at our extreme audacity when we decide to dodge the worship experience which God commands us to attend! If we understood its extreme importance and necessity, maybe we would find it more of a feast than we do?
What is worship? Worship is having high thoughts of God. It is reflecting Christ’s glory back to God. It is enjoying God. It is relishing the communion that only Christians may share with the Creator of the universe. It is the breathing of the soul into the heart of its heavenly Father. It is being filled by the power of the Holy Spirit. It is the most blessed act any creature upon the earth may accomplish since all creatures were created to praise and worship the Living God. The Westminster Shorter Catechism states, “What is the chief end of man?” The answer is this: “The chief end of man is to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever.” The whole purpose and plan for God’s creatures is to worship Him. They worship Him by being satisfied in Him. The more we are satisfied in God, the more He is glorified in us. When we worship in the corporate setting, we are expressing to God en mass, how much we are satisfied in Christ. The Scripture describes this wonderful privilege throughout the Bible. 1 Corinthians 10:31 states, “Whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God..” Psalm 73:25-26 states, “Who have I in heaven but you? And there is none upon the earth that I desire besides You. My flesh and my heart fail; but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.”
There is an important issue to be faced in this concept of being satisfied in God. When people come into corporate worship with the Body on Sunday morning, many come with a dilapidated and rote attitude of “okay, I’m here, but so what.” The Psalms, hymns and spiritual songs are sung, the teaching and preaching is given, and they are no more excited or zealous for God when they had first arrived. Should church be exciting? Is it supposed to lift our spirits? We are engaging our minds with the Living God of the universe. Surely such acts should be exciting, reverent, holy, awesome, demonstrating a fearful experience! Is this your church experience? The Psalmist says, “Why so down cast O my soul? And why are you disquieted within me? Hope in God, for I shall yet praise Him!!” (Psalm 42:5) A downcast soul is to be lifted high. Surely we will come with our personal problems, trials and tribulations. The church is a hospital for those sick with sin and the troubles of the world heaping upon them. The corporate setting is where the springs of refreshment ought to encapsulate us and strengthen us for another week, to supplement our devotional life and family worship. But being downcast is not the attitude we should have through life as redeemed Christians. We have the power to overcome these trials and temptations through Jesus Christ, who has overcome the world! The experience of corporate worship should revive and renew us as Christians. Would anything less be the case after coming in contact with the Living God? He gives free grace to all His children; and those who come with a right attitude of worship, who strive to worship Him with all their heart, soul, mind, and strength, shall be abundantly blessed.
Yet, there is a predominant cause why worship is not fulfilling for true Christians. There is a dreadful disease which has captivated much of the church like infectious gangrene. This horrific disease is called “ignorance.” Listen to what the Word of God says about “ignorance.” Romans 12:2 commands, “Be transformed by the renewing of the mind.” Or Psalm 119:175 states, “Let my soul live and it shall praise You, and let Your righteous judgments help me.” Or Psalm 119:165 says, “Seven times a day I praise you, because of Your righteous judgments.” Or Psalm 119:108 pleads, “Accept, I pray, the acceptable offerings of my mouth, O Lord, and teach me Your judgments.” We see that knowing God’s Word, Christian knowledge, has much to do with worship. What? Did you think that you could have “blind faith” and that such “blind faith” would be pleasing before God? How can we worship God without knowing Him? How can we praise His wonderful works if we do not know very much about His works? We should be hungry to listen, hear and obey the Word of God. When the teacher teaches or the preacher preaches we should be there affixed upon the words which are spoken as they are rightly divided. We will not be able to worship rightly on the Lord’s Day if we do not learn who this God is that we are worshipping. Worship, then, is the full expression of what we know to be true about God. What we know to be true about God is expressed by our attentive listening to the Word, and singing of the various psalms. It is expressed through prayer, and through the sharing of God’s Word with others.
Are you hungry for God’s word? Psalm 42:2 states, “My soul thirsts for the Living God.” Can you truthfully state this with conviction? The hunger we have for what we think and do in worship will outwardly express God’s Word. Those who neglect to learn more about the Lord will have a worship experience that is not fulfilling. They will then attempt to measure their worship by ecstatic experience, rather than true worship which is done in spirit and in truth.
Worship is not something we can do without. We should be refreshed, convicted, helped, transformed, and the like, by Christ when we leave the sanctuary of our church. If we are not refreshed, then we may want to ask two questions: Is the worship of the church we attend shallow and lacking in truth?, or, Is our own knowledge of God shallow or lacking in truth? (Or maybe even both!) Many times people enter into worship and hope to “feel” something. But if feeling is all you are interested in, then the Bible has much to say in exhorting you to build up your mind instead of just building up your emotions. As a matter of fact, trying to gain good feelings is not the primary reason we worship at all. We worship God to glorify Christ. Feeling good, or uplifted, may be a fruit of our worship, and that fruit may even attend us during our worship, but it is not our objective. Everything we do in worship is for the glorification of Christ.
My father used to have an old wood stove that we used every winter to heat the house. If it was a very cold winter day, we would stock the stove with 8 to 10 pieces of wood. When the wood caught on fire and burned for an hour or so, the stove would get so hot that it glowed red. If it was not such a cold day, we would stack the stove with 4 or 5 pieces of wood and that heat would be sufficient-but the stove would not glow red. If we were just trying to take the nip out of the air on a cool Fall day, maybe 1 or 2 pieces would be fine. To bring this analogy over to worship, the stove is our soul; that which makes up our being and attitude towards Christ. The wood is the knowledge of God. The heat is our worship. The more wood which is burned, the greater the intensity of the heat. Likewise, the more knowledge about God and the Bible which we learn and digest, the more fervent our worship will be towards God. And no Christian should settle for taking the nip out of the air on a cool day. Rather, we all are to be so zealous after the Word of God that we stack ourselves daily with fifty pieces of wood that our soul would glow red with Spirit power and humble praise. Then the fervency and heat of our worship will be satisfying to us and glorifying to God. It must be remembered that it is not stacking the stove one time that keeps the heat going. During the winter we stacked the stove three or four times daily to keep it glowing red. We had to stock it daily, not just once a week, if we wanted to stay warm. If an old wood stove takes that much wood to keep glowing, imagine the amount of God’s Word which must be fed into the mind of a Christian to keep his worship burning hot as well?
Knowledge of God for worship is supplied in the eternal storeroom of the Bible. His Word is stacked and stuffed with so much knowledge about Him that no Christian, ever, will know everything about God. But we as Christians have eternity to try, and we must begin here in this life. This means that daily study and corporate gatherings that offer God’s Word to us are vital for our feeding. Every Christian should leap at the chance to enter into study, since each time they put a new piece of knowledge into their souls, it is like restacking that wood on the fire; it ultimately makes worship hot and powerful.
Think about what you know to be true about God, or at least what you have learned in the last two months. Is your worship a result of your knowledge? Does it show? How well defined is your knowledge about Christ? The following terms are Biblical words found in just about any good version of the Bible. Are you able to define the following terms adequately: covenant, sanctification, justification, mediator, faith, election, regeneration, propitiation, holiness, omnipotence, grace, sovereignty, sacrifice, atonement, mortification, humility? These words surround the core of Christianity. How may a person truly worship God without knowing about the atonement? How can a person truly worship God without understanding faith? How may a person truly worship God without understanding grace? How can a person truly worship God without understanding that their God is omniscient and sovereign? How can a person truly worship God without holding tight to the pillar truth of the Christian faith-justification by faith alone? How can a person truly worship God without knowing what it means to mortify the deeds of the flesh? How may a person truly worship God without knowing about the propitiation of God’s wrath? How could they worship a God they are not covenanted with? They cannot! Those who have little knowledge, worship little.
Much of the blame for the sheep’s ignorance and woeful worship experience is due to the ignorant shepherds which think they are leading the flock aright. The biblical knowledge of many “Pastors” is often lacking in the practical theology of worship. The list of definitions previously stated would be a hard task for many 21st century preachers to adequately define. No wonder the sheep are floundering in worship. No wonder many are going away from the church experience as empty as they came in. If they attend in order to be fed with the Word, and the Word is poorly brought to them, how can it be that their worship will improve? If I attempt to light a fire in the old wood stove with wet, green wood, it will not light. The wood must be fitted for the task. Through out the summer and fall we would split and stack the wood to get it ready for the winter. The wood was then air dried, and covered with plastic so it would not become wet again from the rain. In the same way doctrine needs to be pure, powerful and prepared. Sound doctrine should reshape and reform the sinner’s mind into the mind of Christ. The worship of the church ought to be protected.
We find the Christian feast to be twofold: it is eating the food of sound doctrine, and it is expressing this doctrine in the form of worship. The more doctrine the Christian knows, the more satisfying and Christ-glorifying his worship will be. The purer the water the better the taste. As your knowledge of God increases you will have more to express to God during worship. You will understand what it means when the church sings, “Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God Almighty.” You will be able to express to God who He is by glorifying Him in that knowledge and understanding. That is our goal – a worship experience which is fueled by knowledge which glorifies Christ. Each step we take up the stairway of our relationship with God carries us closer to Him. A step is used to move a person up to the next level, not to stay complacent on that one step. Imagine if everyone stayed on the first step when they began to climb the stairs? They would go nowhere. Actually, they would be seen by rational people to be somewhat foolish. Rational people walk up each step to go to the next floor in order that they may reach their destination. Imagine how God may look at us when we are irrational in worship. We are staying complacent with the knowledge we think is enough, but is really only the first step of the stairs. To God this is not only irrational, but is also classified as sin. “Ignorance” is a sin of non-conformity to God’s Word. That means it is not a sin of transgression like “thou shalt not” steal or murder; but it is a sin that God commands we do, like prayer, study, and devotions – a sin of omission. It is a violation of the first and third commandments. When we neglect ordinances which we ought to do but do not do, then it is sin. God says we must be transformed by the renewing of our mind. To neglect using all these wonderful grace-related blessings to renew our minds is to sin against the Lord.
Worship cannot be continually fulfilling if Christians continue to stay ignorant. It is an impossibility. Our sanctification involves a continuous growth in the Lord. Worship vitally relies on growth. If you do not grow, you cannot have a Christian Feast. The feast becomes a celery stalk instead of a full course meal. It must be a two-fold feast: we learn God’s Word, and then we worship to express His Word. The doctrine is stacked into the soul, it is meditated upon and digested, then the soul uses that energy to give off heat in its worship towards God. We are not able, this week, to live on last week’s breakfast. We need new fuel every day to grow.
If worship is not fulfilling for you as a Christian, it is necessary to seriously reexamine your Christian walk. If your Christian walk does not reflect the daily devotions and weekly attendance of church-related teaching which is essential for good worship to take place, then you have nothing to complain about, but rather much to repent about. Plead with the Lord and ask Him to renew your mind to see the importance of these ordinances which He has set up in church. You are to be partaking of the Christian feast of God’s Word so your feast of worship will be fulfilling.
If you do not enjoy attending the teaching of God’s Word, then you have no cause to complain about your worship being dull and dreary. True Christians hunger and thirst after the Word of God. Christ said they “Hunger and thirst after righteousness.” This means they believe the “must have it or else they die!” If you do not have this insatiable desire, you may have a larger problem then you realize: you may not be saved. Or, you may be so backslidden and in a state of spiritual declension that the things of God are no longer attractive to you. You may have lost your first love. Only the saved individual can partake of the Christian’s Feast. The saved genuinely desire to be fed daily, and to eat of the feast of God’s Word so that on the Lord’s Day, they may be able to express their ardent zeal to Him in a greater capacity than they did the week before. The unsaved cannot have fulfilling worship because they are at enmity with God. They are strangers to God. In fact, they hate him (cf. Romans 1:10ff). Christ must change your heart before you can eat at the Christian’s table. The feast is by invitation only.
God has been gracious to His church to give us the feast of His Word and the feast of worship. We as Christians should be most interested in feeding our souls, and we should take up every advantage the Lord gives us to worship. “Oh worship the Lord in the beauty of Holiness! Tremble before Him all the earth (Psalm 96:9).”