It is once again time to prepare our hearts for worship. I wanted to start this off by just talking about what the essence of worship is. John Piper says that the “essence of worship is not external, localized acts,…” So, the essence of worship is not going to church on Sunday and occupying a seat there. The essence of worship is not singing songs at church and reading from our Bible’s when the Word is preached. Why are these things not the essence of worship? The answer is because all of these things can be done without having the heart engaged. As John Piper says: “Worship that does not come from the heart is vain, empty. It is not authentic worship.” So, what is the essence of worship? John Piper answers and says that the essence of worship is an ‘inner, Godward experience.’ Another way he says it is like this: “Worship is real, authentic experience in the heart with God, or it is nothing.”
Jesus said: “This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me” (Matthew 15:8). Piper commenting on this verse said: “That means they are singing. They are preaching. They are praying for nothing. This people honors me with their lips. Why is it vain? Why is it for nothing? Because their heart is far from me…There isn’t any more important question than to ask the heart question. What is my heart supposed to be doing while we are doing these music things, these verbal things, this preaching thing?” This is an extremely important question. Let me quote Piper again as he talks about worship and asks a similar question: “Worship is all about reflecting the worth or value of God. So the question we are asking this morning is: What inner experience of the heart does that? If the essence of worship is not mere outward form, but inner, Godward experience, what experience reveals and expresses how great and glorious God is?”
So, what are our hearts supposed to be doing on Sunday at North Avenue? What inner experience of the heart reflects the worth or value of God? Piper answers: “the inner essence of worship is cherishing Christ as gain — indeed as more gain than all that life can offer — family, career, retirement, fame, food, friends. The essence of worship is experiencing Christ as gain. Or to use words that we love to use around here: it is savoring Christ, treasuring Christ, being satisfied with Christ. This is the inner essence of worship.”
So, how do we prepare for this type of authentic heart worship? Piper is helpful when he says: “And the answer would seem to be that we get up in the morning and we get our hearts fixed on Christ. We go to him and renew our satisfaction in him through his word. And then we enter the day seeking to express and increase that satisfaction in all that God is for us in Jesus.”
The problem is that most of the time we don’t get up and get our hearts fixed on Christ. We get up and get our hearts fixed on our problems, or our jobs, or school, or our favorite sports team, or our plans for the day, or our singleness, or 100 other things. If I spend all of Sunday morning fixing my heart on anything other than Christ, then my heart is not prepared for worship. This is why prayer is utterly essential for us as we prepare for worship. So, we pray something like: “Lord I feel my heart wandering to 100 other things this morning, please help me to fix my heart on You this morning. As I go to read Your Word this morning open my eyes that I may see wondrous things in your law (Psalm 119:18); help me to taste and see that you are good this morning (Psalm 34:8). Lord I don’t want to worship you with a heart that is far from you this afternoon. Stir up my affections for You.”
So, we plead with God at the throne of grace to draw us closer to Him, we read from His Word, seeking to renew our satisfaction in Him, and we should use other means of grace to help get our hearts fixed on Jesus. Something that my wife and I have found helpful in stirring up our affections for Jesus is worship songs. So, often times we will turn to worship songs to help us prepare for worship.
As we prepare for worship let’s remember to pray for Ian and Erin who will once again lead us in worship. Let’s be sure to pray for Jerry who will lead us in a time of confession, and let’s pray for Mark as he will open up God’s Word to us. Mark will be looking at Genesis 41. The link to the ESV text is below:
Picture from here