What is Worship?

6 12 2007

Church SilhouetteWhat is worship?  What does it look like? 
Probably the image that comes into most Christian minds is people singing.  Some might visualize people singing in a church building, others might imagine the saints singing around the throne; but often when we picture what worship looks like, we picture people singing. 
Recently, through my devotions in John’s Gospel, the Lord has been taking me through a picture of worship that is revolutionizing my thinking, and suprisingly the scene is void of singing. 
The scene is found in just a few verses of John 12 and one verse in particular has really captured my attention:
“Mary then took a pound of very costly perfume of pure nard, and anointed the feet of Jesus and wiped His feet with her hair; and the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume.” (v. 3)  
How about that for a picture of worship?  Probably not the first thing you thought of; until last week, me neither. 
But what do we see in this picture? 
Well, first: no singing.  I know I’m being a bit repetitious regarding this point, but in our modern Christian culture, it probably isn’t a bad point to camp on for a moment or two.  It is possible to worship Jesus, and to do so extravagantly, without a note being played.  You don’t need a “worship leader” to worship. (I happen to oversee the music ministry in our church and lead the congregation in worshiping through song each week, so I’m not picking on “worship leaders.”)
So, if she doesn’t follow the band or open the hymn book, how does she worship?
It begins with sacrifice- uninhibited, overwhelming, almost ridiculous sacrifice.  Look again at what Mary does. She takes this vial of perfume- an entire pound- and breaks it (Mark 14:3) over Jesus.  She holds nothing back.  She gives it all.  She breaks it open, never to seal it up again.  She breaks it open to spend it all! 
And the cost is almost unbelievable.
Judas (the antithesis to Mary in this scene) complains that this perfume Mary just “wasted” (again, Mark 14) could have been sold for “a year’s wages” (NIV) and given to the poor.  Think about the cost of this vial; how much do you make in a year?  
And in a few moments this lavish, costly item is broken and spent on Jesus. 
How did May come to have such a costly item?  Some scholars suggest she was wealthy, others suggest that the item might have been a family heirloom: a treasure kept by Mary, an object of precious attachment.  Either way, Mary has given for Jesus that which she will never have back.  She has sacrificed that which was costly in order to declare to Jesus (and all around) that she understood His tremendous worth. 
This is worship and here is a powerful picture of what it looks like.
(There is more to see in this picture: the humiliation of her worship and the revelation produced as a fruit of her worship, but we’ll leave those for later.)
For today, join with me in reflecting upon the last time you sacrificed greatly for our Savior. 
What costly sacrifice have you made for your Savior?  What have you surrendered to declare His tremendous worth? When was the last time you were so overwhelmed by His glorious worth that you broke your costly vial over your Savior? What might those vials be?   
What about your child? We desire to guard our children and protect them from anything and everything; do you think that we can ever get in the way of what God is doing?  Maybe we should let them fall and learn so that they can discover that God, not us, is really the One they should be looking to.   
What about your dreams, your desires for your life? What if they aren’t part of His sovereign plan?  Are we willing to surrender them at His feet and echo His words “not my will but yours be done”?
For me, my vial that must be broken is my proud fear that often puts how others percieve me above everything else.  I need to surrender that (daily) and say to my Lord, “You are my all consuming desire; whatever You want I will do, no matter how it makes me look.”
Breaking the vial isn’t easy; sacrifice never is.  But if we want to live a life of worship, that is a primary part of what the picture entails.

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7 responses

7 12 2007
Ryan

When I wrote about letting your children “fall and learn” I was thinking primarily of adult children or older teens. However, as parents of younger children we can begin preparing them for that future moment even now; we can help prepare them for leaning on their God in those times of trial. For a wonderful example of this, read John Piper’s comments in his blog about how he does this with his daughter, Talitha.

7 12 2007
Robert Mullen

What is my most prized earthly treasure? My family without any close second. This brings me to the question of how to properly offer them back to the One who provided them in the first place. Is it enough to just raise them to the best of my ability in the nurture and admonition of the Lord? Genesis 22 is an amazing picture of faithfulness (how many of us parents can picture ourselves in this scene?) but is there also a picture here of the sacrificial way we should view our families and our relationship with God? Is it wrong-headed to even think about our families in this way sense they are not an inanimate possession such as perfume?

7 12 2007
Ryan

Robert, your question made me think of the testimony of Linda Dillow, recorded in her great book Calm My Anxious Heart. She writes:
“I had become a Christian as a college student and was excited about rearing my children in a Christian home. I had the mistaken perspective that if I pumped all the ‘right’ things (God, His Word) into my children, they would automatically love and obey God. When it looked like my plan wasn’t working, my heart was anxious and I became depressed.
When I told a friend about my fears, she observed, ‘Linda, you like control, and there are too many ‘uncontrollables’ in your life.’ At the time, I didn’t understand what she meant. After all, I trusted God, I was a missionary- I was paid to trust God. What did she mean, ‘You like control’?
Looking back, I realize I did desire to trust God, but sometimes He was very slow. When He was moving at what I thought was a snail’s pace, I unconsciously decided He needed my help. I know that sounds blasphemous. God doesn’t need our help. Yet when I stepped in to massage (the truer word is manipulate, but massage sounds better!) the circumstances or to organize the people, my actions were saying, ‘God, You’re not doing what I think needs to be done, so I’ll help You out.’ […] When we take over and try to control what happens, we take our focus off the One who is in control and put our eyes on our circumstances.”

In other words, when we stop saying “You are the worthy Sovereign over my family and I will trust Your working in them” and start saying, “I can’t trust You with them!” we have stopped worshipping. The trust is the worship.

7 12 2007
Robert Mullen

This narrows right down to one of my questions about the Christian life that I have not been able to balance yet: How do we properly frame our effort in any given situation? If you go too far in one direction you end up with “Let go, let God” and in the other directions God is no longer trusted and viewed as sovereign. I have always liked the Russian proverb “Pray to God but row for the shore.” Even that falls short in as much as we are called to be in constant prayer and evaluation of our lives to discern where we may be rowing for shore when God wants us back in the sea.

Where might we be acting as amateur providences in removing trials in a family members life? Providing too much comfort? Concerning ourselves over our actions at all?

7 12 2007
Ryan

I’ll give an example from my own life, from something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately: my desire for Rylie to come to know Jesus as her Lord and Savior. I could scare her into a profession of faith or use her love for me to manipulate her into a decision (“you want to go to heaven to be with Mommy and Daddy, right Rylie?”) but what would that really accomplish? Would it be true conversion or simply a profession for me to hang my hat on? I have to wait upon God and allow Him to be the One to give her a new heart and bring her to Himself, because He is the only One who can. So, what do I do while I wait? I do my part as a Christian. I teach God’s commands and explain to her why her heart fights against them. I tell her the wondrous truth that God has provided a Savior. I teach her about faith and forgiveness and I live all of these things before her on a daily basis. And I pray. And I pray. And I pray some more. I do my part and wait upon God to do His.
Now I’ll project this forward a bit, into Rylie’s teenage years. What do I do when she is suffering under the consequences of some foolish or sinful action? Do I swoop in and rescue her from those consequences? Do I become her redeemer? That is what I would like to do. However, I don’t believel that will really be the most beneficial thing for Rylie in the long run. What if I, instead of rescuing her from the consequences of her actions, point her to our Savior and explain to her His sufficiency and strength, that He is a rock and a refuge far superior to Daddy? What if I allow Him to be her redeemer and I simply act as the one who again points her to the Savior. Through the trial, she grows and I did my part as her spiritual mentor, her “older brother” in Christ.
What I see myself doing in both instances is allowing God to do His part (change the heart; provide true comfort and relief) and not usurping His role but instead focusing on being faithful to do mine.
It is, at times, much more difficult than my examples, but I think a helpful truth to keep in mind is that we are really trying to disciple our children, to act as spiritual mentors. That, thus far, has been helping me greatly as I learn how to be a “Daddy.”

7 12 2007
Robert Mullen

Wow. Good, good stuff. Pray and point them to their (our) Savior. It is a simplification without question but a great way to boil down our duty to its essence.

9 12 2007
Annette

I discovered your sermon after being inspired by my own pastor’s sermon this week. He mentioned how after Mary worshiped her Lord, she left smelling of the same fragrance that was upon Him. It reminded me of something that happened to me. The Lord has been so wonderful to me and I love Him. One Saturday night, I shut myself away to adore Him. I didn’t want to leave His presence and night became day. It was Sunday morning…….time for church. I wouldn’t miss that either, so I went. At church, there was an incident whereby I was wrongly accused of something. I was sitting there listening to this man ‘setting me straight’, but all I could do was gaze at him in utter joy that I would be spending all of eternity together with this beautiful person. When he asked me if I understood what was being said, I could not contain myself, I smiled and hugged him, being just so overwhelmed with love for him in my heart. Whenever I saw this person afterwards, I felt the same joy over him, but I contained myself with the hugs!

It was a beautiful change that the Lord gave me after being in His presence…….His love upon me.

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