It has been a few months since I have written a preparing for worship post, but I hope we have all sought to prepare our hearts for worship each week. In my very first post from January 2016, I mentioned R. Kent Hughes who said: “We must discipline ourselves in preparation for corporate worship, and that does not begin with the thirty seconds after we have breathlessly sat down.” We need to prepare to meet God in corporate worship.
We need to remember these words from Kent Hughes on worship: “Therefore, it is important that we understand, in distinction to the popular view that worship is for us, that worship begins not with man as its focus, but God. Worship must be orchestrated and conducted with the vision before us of an…awesome, holy, transcendent God who is to be pleased and, above all, glorified by our worship. Everything in our corporate worship should flow from this understanding.”
We should be eagerly anticipating corporate worship each week. R. Kent Hughes is helpful here when he says: “there is something very wonderful about the gathered body of Christ. There is an encouragement that takes place from singing with the people, affirming the same things, saying “amen” to the reading of God’s word, having your Bibles open with all the pages turning at the same time to the text that can’t happen individually. There is nothing like gathered worship.”
Something that I have emphasized many times on these post is that we need to do heart-work before we come to worship. We need to prepare our hearts for worship. Jesus says in Matthew 15:8-9 “‘This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me;
9 in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’” When we honor God with our lips in worship when our hearts are far from the Lord, then we worship in vain. John Piper says that: “the essence of all worship is the act of honoring God.”
Piper continues by saying that: “Worship throughout biblical history always involved action. The main word for worship in biblical Hebrew means “to bow down.” Worship was performed in bowing, lifting the hands, kneeling, singing, praying, reciting Scripture, etc. All this can be called worship. But all this can also be done when the heart is far from God…We all know this sort of experience in our ordinary life…haven’t you sat through a school talent show and observed how some applause comes from internal appreciation, but other applause comes from external expectation.
Those two different experiences correspond to two different senses in which we use the word “worship.” The one is a series of activities performed by the body and mind. The other is an experience of the heart which may or may not find outward expression. It seems clear to me that when the Bible commands us to worship, it is not commanding us to honor God with our lips while our heart is far from him. When David says, “Ascribe to the Lord the glory of his name, worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness” (Psalm 29:2), and when Jesus says, “Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God and him only shalt thou serve (Matthew 4:10), and when the angel says to John in Revelation 19:10, “Don’t worship me; worship God,” we can be sure that they did not mean perform liturgical acts regardless of your heart’s condition. In those commands worship refers to an experience of the heart that is anything but far from God.”
Drawing Near To God In Our Hearts
So what does it mean to draw near to God in our hearts? Piper answers: “drawing near of the heart to God means the coming alive of our feelings for God. Worship is an affair of the heart. It is an affair of feeling and of emotion.” He also adds that: “true worship which delights God is the drawing near of the heart to God, or, to put it another way, the quickening of the heart with genuine feelings in response to God’s glory.”
Something that has been stirring my affections for God this week has been to reflect on our adoption into God’s family, which Mark so powerfully preached on last week. (Which if you haven’t heard it yet I would strongly encourage you to listen to it here.) Ephesians 1:3-6 says: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places,4 even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love 5 he predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, 6 to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved.”
J.I. Packer said this about our adoption into God’s family: “Our first point about adoption is that it is the highest privilege that the gospel offers.” The highest privilege that the gospel offers is our adoption! He goes on to say that: “In adoption, God takes us into his family and fellowship—he establishes us as his children and heirs. Closeness, affection and generosity are at the heart of the relationship. To be right with God the Judge [justification] is a great thing, but to be loved and cared for by God the Father [adoption] is…greater.”
One thing that I have mentioned over and over as an essential part of preparing our hearts for worship is prayer. We should all spend time in prayer for the service tomorrow. We should lift up Ian, and Erin at the throne of grace. We should lift up Mark and Allen at the throne of grace as well. We should pray that non-Christians would come and that God would open their eyes to see the beauty of Jesus during the service. We should also spend time praying for ourselves that we would be attentive to the preaching of God’s Word. John Piper says we should: “pray, “O Lord, give me a heart for you…Give me a soft and receptive heart. Give me a humble and meek heart. Give me a fruitful heart.”
Mark will be looking in part at Galatians 4 tomorrow. The link to the ESV text of Galatians 4 is below.