The Ideal Church, Part 5



So far in our study of the ideal church, we have discovered that it really does exist.  But don’t confuse the ideal church with the perfect church.  That elusive thing is just a myth.  Searching for the perfect church for you and your family to attend will result in a futile search and a frustrated attitude about the issue.  No church is perfect.  When you start thinking that your church might be the perfect church, you’ll find out the hard way it isn’t when your favorite board member ignores you in the supermarket or the pastor snubs you in Wal Mart or worse, the pastor’s wife insults your covered dish.  As much as we wish it were different, there are no perfect churches.  There are, however, many ideal churches.  If yours is, then good!  Make sure you do your part to keep it ideal.  If it isn’t, it has the potential to become an ideal church.  Here’s what the ideal church looks like so far in our study.


·      Jesus Christ is the foundation of the ideal church, not some preacher or some pet teaching of man.  Matthew 16:18

·      The precious blood of Jesus bought the church and therefore the ideal church is the special possession of God.  It is not owned by the pastor or the denomination or the board of elders.  Acts 20:28

·      The ideal church allows the Holy Spirit to move in its midst because it recognizes that the Holy Spirit is the administrator of the church.  The Spirit has provided its members with Spiritual gifts that every need of that congregation will be met, and the ideal church knows enough to allow the Spirit to move.  1 Corinthians 12:28

·      Prayer is the life of the ideal church – both the prayers of its individual members and the prayers of the congregation corporately.  Acts 12:5


Continuing along the same vein as prayer, something else intensely spiritual and practical is part of the ideal church:  Worship.  Most Christians misunderstand the meaning of worship, so it’s no wonder most Christians don’t.  Hopefully by the end of this study, we’ll all have a clearer understanding of what real worship is and what it is not.


Worship is not…  


The first thing we should clear up is that worship is not really the name of the Sunday morning church service.  It’s a small thing, but technically speaking that meeting you attend every Sunday morning isn’t “the worship service.”  We call it that.  Even in my church we talk about the “Sunday worship service,” but that’s really a lazy, habitual use of the word.  When we gather together on Sunday morning, we’re actually fellowshipping together in a formal or semi-formal setting where, hopefully, we’ll all be worshipping the Lord, praising the Lord, learning the Scriptures together, praying together, and enjoying God’s presence together.  Singing hymns or so-called “worship songs” or choruses is not necessarily worshipping God, although those things may be part of worship.  To assume otherwise is to cheapen what worship is. You can’t reduce worship of God down to a series chords and musical notes and words that send shivers up and down your spine.  Nor can you restrict the worship of God to an hour on Sunday morning or assume that worship of God is taking place during the hour.


Part of the widespread misunderstanding of what real worship is revolves around what we think of the church service.  All across America on any given Sunday, you’ll find most Christians going to church for the exactly the wrong reasons.  How many times have heard things like this:


·      I didn’t get much out of the service today.

·      We need to find a church that has a good children’s program.

·      My church just doesn’t meet my needs.


I can tell you that as a pastor, I’ve heard things like that my whole career and while I feel like taking a pneumatic drill to my ears when I do, let me make one thing clear:  You aren’t supposed to “get anything out of the service.”  The church doesn’t exist to meet your needs or keep your spoiled children occupied.  


Worship of God has nothing to do with you or with me.  It has nothing to do with top notch choirs or a full “worship band” banging out the newest praise chorus or a hip pastor who never looks at his notes when he preaches.  Those things, by the way, may be great to have in your church, but they don’t indicate that any worship of God is going on.  In fact, they may distractions.


What real worship is


If you want to understand what real worship is, you need to see what the Bible says about it.  A good starting point could be a verse is Psalm 29 – 


Ascribe to the Lord the glory due to his name; worship the Lord in the splendour of his holiness.  (Psalm 29:2 | NIVUK)


Just so you know it’s not a one-off, something very similar is found elsewhere in the Bible:


Ascribe to the Lord, all you families of nations, ascribe to the Lord glory and strength.  Ascribe to the Lord the glory due to his name; bring an offering and come before him.  Worship the Lord in the splendour of his holiness.  Tremble before him, all the earth!  The world is firmly established; it cannot be moved.  (1 Chronicles 18:28 – 30 | NIVUK)


Ascribe to the Lord, all you families of nations, ascribe to the Lord glory and strength.
Ascribe to the Lord the glory due to his name; bring an offering and come into his courts.  Worship the Lord in the splendour of his holiness; tremble before him, all the earth.  (Psalm 96:7 – 9 | NIVUK)


There are more passages just like these, but three are enough to give you the correct idea that the worship of God has absolutely nothing to do with you, your feelings, the style of songs you sing, or the size of your church, but everything to with God.  We go to church to GIVE something.  To “ascribe” means “to give.”  We gather together to “give” something to God.  Essentially, worship is giving God, or ascribing to God, or publicly acknowledging certain attributes of God – things like His glory, His strength, His holiness.  There’s a very good reason why, as noted in the verses we looked at, when true worship of God takes place, there’s a lot of “trembling” going on.  Of course, we’re reading poetry, but the idea is that the more we ascribe to God aspects of His character, the greater He becomes and the worse we get.  Generally, most American Christians assume it was a good worship service when they feel good.  “Feeling good” is not “trembling.” That’s not to say God wants you scared.  It is to say that when you worship God correctly, you are seeing Him as He is, and in comparison, you aren’t so great, are you?  There’s nothing like a clear picture of God to put things into perspective!


Real worship, then, begins when we ascribe to God His perfect character.  There are all kinds of ways to do this during a “fellowship service.”  Most naturally we think about singing.  The Bible is replete with references to singing to the Lord.  Let’s look at a couple.


Come, let us sing for joy to the Lord; let us shout aloud to the Rock of our salvation.  Let us come before him with thanksgiving and extol him with music and song.  (Psalm 95:1, 2 | NIVUK)


You can’t really see it in English translations, but the two Hebrew words for “let us sing” and “let us shout” or, as in the KJV, “Let make a joyful noise,” sound almost the same in Hebrew.  It’s a quirk of Hebrew poetry, but you also get the sense that singing to the Lord should be something that is a joy-filled experience.  It may cause you to “tremble,” but in the good sense, not the terror-filled sense.  What would cause you to sing for joy to the Lord?  Following on in this psalm, the psalmist gives us a few good reasons:


For the Lord is the great God, the great King above all gods.  In his hand are the depths of the earth, and the mountain peaks belong to him.  The sea is his, for he made it, and his hands formed the dry land.  (Psalm 95: 3 – 5 | NIVUK)


Why should you worship God?  Well here we see that God is in total control of all the extremes of our existence.  He is in control of the all deep regions of the earth.  What do you think this would include?  How about things like:  the graves; the lowest parts of the oceans; the lowest valleys and caves.  But He also owns the highest mountain peaks.  Both of those extremes were made by God and are controlled by Him.  It’s important to give God credit for these things.  First because they are all true, but second, because of this verse:


Can any hide himself in secret places that I shall not see him? saith the Lord. Do not I fill heaven and earth? saith the Lord.  (Jeremiah 23:24 | KJV)


When you worship God correctly, as I mentioned earlier, you come off lacking.  Because God controls the extremes, He controls everything in between, including the places you use to hide from Him.  Adam and Eve, Jonah, and Job couldn’t hide from God.  Neither can you.  Worship of God may not be all about us, but we can certainly learn more about ourselves as we properly worship Him!


Psalm 95 goes on, giving another good reason to ascribe to God His character.


Come, let us bow down in worship, let us kneel before the Lord our Maker; for he is our God and we are the people of his pasture, the flock under his care.  (Psalm 95:6, 7 | NIVUK)


A couple of things are worship-worthy here.  First, God is our Maker, so how can we, the creature, look up and not marvel at the One who made us?  The Creator doesn’t worship us!  We’re not worthy of His time or attention.  But we, who were fashioned of the dust of the earth should look at Him in wonder.  But our Maker is a benevolent one.  He cares for us because we are the “people of His pasture, the flock under his care,” both allusions to the shepherding profession the Hebrews would have understood right away.  


Over in the New Testament, Paul wrote about singing to the Lord together.


Don’t get your stimulus from wine (for there is always the danger of excessive drinking), but let the Spirit stimulate your souls. Express your joy in singing among yourselves psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, making music in your hearts for the ears of God! Thank God at all times for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.  (Ephesians 5:18 – 20 | JBP)


Here’s a group of verses that should set us all straight.  Our worship of God should not be motivated by wine.  Paul used drinking wine because back in his day, pagans believed that if a worshipper got drunk enough, he could touch the divine. Alcohol was seen by pagans as worship aid.  We don’t think that way today, but the modern Christian uses other things as stimuli.  For example, certain songs are used to “get you in the mood to worship.”  A song should never move you to worship.  An arrangement of musical chords and notes may tug at your emotions, but that’s got little to do with God.  As Paul wrote, and as J.B. Phillips translated, the Holy Spirit should “stimulate your souls.”  In other words, your motivation to worship should be God Himself.  


But there’s something very important going on in what Paul wrote here.  If you read the whole chapter, you’ll see that Paul is not talking about “the worship service” on Sunday morning!  This is highly suggestive, isn’t it?  Worship of God takes place – or should take place – any day of the week, any time Spirit-filled men and women are together.  We who call ourselves Christians ought to be speaking to each other in the language worship, for example, in psalms.  It’s not that you should quote Bible verses to your Christian friend all the time or when you see me on the street,  you stop and belt out a verse or two of A Mighty Fortress is Our God!  But rather Paul has in mind here assuming a worldview where God is at the forefront of our thoughts and conversation.  So talking about the things of God – an answered prayer, for example – should be a part of our everyday conversation. We should encourage each other, not with meaningless cliches or platitudes, but with words from Scripture or a moment of prayer.  


Having a God-centered worldview is part of worship, believe it or not.  It’s acknowledging His omnipresence – that He is all in all – that He is wherever you are and is part of all that you do.  


The rub


And here’s why worship is so hard for so many of us.  When you go to church on Sunday morning, you should already be worshipping the Lord.  But that’s not how it works in the average church.  The average church member is lucky to get to church on time, probably hasn’t read his Bible since last Sunday or maybe since Wednesday night, is peeved with his spouse or kids, is thinking about the big game after church or work on Monday, and expects that if he’s to get anything out of being in church, the pastor better get to it and be lively and lead him in worship.  That’s not how it’s supposed to work.  But we want it to work like that because most of us are lazy, non-serious Christians who don’t want to invest the time or the energy to develop that God-centered worldview.  


If you’re like me, you’re a lazy Christian sometimes, and maybe worship doesn’t come all the easy.  In Romans Paul teaches us a very basic, simple motivation for our worship:


Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out!   Who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been his counselor?  Who has ever given to God, that God should repay them? For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be the glory forever! Amen.  (Romans 11:33 – 36 | TNIV)


That’s a powerful doxology that should move you to feel somewhat small in His presence.  But at the same time, Paul didn’t stop there.  In the next chapter he gives us the only reasonable response to such a majestic, great God:


Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is true worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.  (Romans 12:1, 2 | TNIV)


When we consider who God is and what He has done for us, we ought to present our bodies to Him. In other words, as part of worship we acknowledge that we belong to Him and because we belong to Him we need to live as though that were true.  And that means making a real, determined effort, with the help of the Holy Spirit, to come as close to the “ideal” as we can.  That means living a life of worship, walking in God’s presence, knowing He is going before you and behind you, and that all your words, work, and deeds should in some way bring glory to Him.  When you and I start living like that, then when we come together for church, we will be in the midst of worship as we walk through the doors.  





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