In 2006 I met several presidential candidates including Senator John McCain. I was privileged to meet with him in Spartanburg, SC as he was seeking endorsements for the Republican nomination. After a long conversation, he asked if I had any questions for him. I replied, “Senator, I only have one question and that is, “Who owns your soul?” I well remember his answer, but the crucial point is that this question is one that must be answered by everyone. If you answer that question honestly and correctly, you know how to worship. If you cannot answer it honestly or choose not to or cannot answer it correctly, you do not know how to worship.
Today we focus on worship. It is vitally important that we know how to worship. Every person in here has their own idea of what it means to worship most profoundly in their own heart. Churches worship in dramatically different ways. Denominations promote styles of worship that are dramatically different. Even here,there are dramatically different ideas of what proper worship ought to be. Some feel that if they do not have the doxology every Sunday they have not been to a worship service. Others feel that if we do not have a rip-roaring time of excitement every Sunday, we have not “been to church.” We all have our ideas of what we like or do not like, what we think is appropriate or inappropriate. Those differences are not bad. They may cause interesting discussion, but they are good because they show that we are individuals and we each have our own way.
While there are ways we can worship differently, there are certain “musts” of genuine worship. Throughout the Bible we find instructions concerning worship. More often we find examples of either true or false worship. The Bible also contains many indictments concerning the use of empty, meaningless rituals that people tried to pass off as worship.
One of the greatest needs of our day is for the people of God to engage in genuine worship. Unchanged lives glaringly illustrate the neglect of true worship, for true worship always produces an inward transformation that leaves a mark on a person’s conduct.
An examination of the motives that lead one to attend public worship can be either embarrassing or encouraging. Do you attend public worship simply because you desire the respect of those in your community? Do you go to please some particular person, be it husband, wife, parent, or child? Do you go because you want to see or be seen by some individual? Are you motivated only by a sense of duty or habit? Are you regular in attendance because of a fear of the consequences if you do not attend?
Perhaps some of you are present today because of a heart hunger for Jesus Christ as your own personal Savior. Could it be that some of you are present because of an intense desire for divine guidance as you face the problems and duties of life? Could it be that you are here because of a deep inward need for encouragement and the strength that comes only from God? Many are here out of a desire to express love and gratitude to God. Are you present today with a desire for your life to be as God meant for it to be?
Many sincere people do not receive the blessing of God during public worship because they either neglect or fail to worship even though they are present. Genuine worship calls for an active response of participation rather than just a passive attendance at the place of prayer.
Genuine worship is basically an experience with God. It is the response of the human soul to the truth of God as that truth is made known to the individual. One can sing and not worship. One can read the Bible and never hear the voice of God speaking to the heart. One can attend public worship services and go away unblessed and unchanged.
The experience of Isaiah in the temple provides us with a dramatic demonstration of the elements that constitute a life-changing worship experience. Read with me Isaiah 6:1-8.
Let us seek to evaluate how we worship, so that like Isaiah we can experience this life-changing presence of the Lord.
We find the element of contemplation (v. 1-4).
The scene opens with Isaiah in the temple. It is quite possible that Isaiah was there because of a regular habit of going to the temple for worship. It is most likely that the death of Uzziah was the immediate occasion for his visit to the temple. Uzziah had been a strong and successful ruler, and the nation had enjoyed great prosperity during his reign. As Uzziah achieved great success and as the nation enjoyed great prosperity, he became proud and haughty. Not being content with regal power, he snatched at the power that was reserved for the priests and went into the Holy of Holies to offer sacrifice. Because of this act of impiety, he was smitten with leprosy (II Chronicles 26:16-20). He spent the balance of his life in quarantine.
Many have supposed that Isaiah, a young nobleman of Jerusalem, had been a hero worshiper during his youth. The object of his adoration was none other than the proud king of Judah. It was with sudden swiftness that the idol of his youth was smitten by God. As Isaiah mulled over the seriousness of Uzziah’s offense, it began to dawn upon him that the king’s easy familiarity with God had been his downfall.
It was with a sense of fear and uncertainty concerning the future that Isaiah entered the temple. While his mind was disturbed and on a search for certainty, he had the strangest but greatest experience of his lifetime.
We see the vision of God. In dramatic language Isaiah relates how, in this mysterious experience in the temple, his inward eye was opened and he saw God in all of His holiness and majesty. Contemplating the fact that Israel’s king was dead and the throne was empty, there came to him a revelation of the divine King seated on the throne of the universe.
God is seen upon a throne, dressed like a king in royal robes. He is surrounded by his attendants, the seraphim who are worshiping Him. God was so powerful in the vision that the whole Temple shook in God’s presence. The whole Temple was filled with God’s presence and majesty. When Isaiah was confronted with God’s presence in this vision, it was overwhelming. He had never had such an experience. He became very aware of the awesome power of God, of His presence, of His holiness.
Isaiah’s contribution to this experience was an attitude of deep reverence and a mind concentrated on God and on His plans for the future. The earthly temple faded away, and Isaiah was permitted to look into the heavenly throne room. He was made to realize that although the throne room of Judah was vacant, the throne of the universe was still occupied by the sovereign Creator.
Isaiah did not spend his time in the temple chatting with his neighbor or taking a delightful snooze. With a reverent, meditative spirit he came seeking God, and he was not disappointed.
Let us ask ourselves–How aware are we of God? We need desperately in times like these to be aware of God’s power. We must realize that life, without a constant awareness of Him, is living a very shallow and weak life. We place our trust in people, in buildings and forget to call upon the only one who can make all things new. He is our Father, the all mighty power of the universe, holy in every respect. Are you aware of Him in your life?
There are times I can not answer the “why,” but I do know “who.” Isaiah did too.
See the second element . . . confession.
There was conviction of sin. Before the entranced eye of Isaiah came angelic, heavenly forms who hovered about the Lord to do His bidding (Isaiah 6:2). He saw the fire of the heavenly altar and heard the seraphim’s song of adoration and praise to God (v. 3). As the sound of the united voices pealed through the expanse, the pillars of the door shook to their foundations and the house was filled with smoke as the reaction of God’s holy nature against sin.
Isaiah’s response to this revelation of God was an attitude of holy awe. No doubt he shared the belief of the Hebrews that no one could look upon the face of God and live. Even the seraphim covered their faces before Him.
As this vision of the holy God presented itself to the mind of Isaiah, he was made vividly conscious of his own sinfulness and of that of his people. Isaiah suddenly realized that he and the faithless, rebellious people of Israel were like the faithless and rebellious king who had died under the curse of God.
There was an honest confession. As Isaiah worshiped he became aware of his unworthiness to stand in the presence of God. He feared the worst as a result of this personal encounter with God. Had Uzziah not died because of his intrusion into the Holy Place? As Isaiah was convicted of his sin he confessed his spiritual uncleanness (v.5).
Isaiah was literally overcome with a sense of unworthiness and felt that he could not live. He had been in the presence of God and felt that he was a ruined man. The effect on him was great. When confronted with God, he felt that he was unworthy not only to join in the praise of a God so holy but even to deliver a message in His name.
There is the need for confession. Unresolved guilt can be a most disruptive force in a person’s life. There is no greater need than the need for confession and the forgiveness that follows. Each of us needs to confess our sins before God, for sin can destroy us and harm others. Until we are willing to recognize, confess, and forsake sin, there is no hope for our spiritual betterment.
When we come into God’s presence and our sin so clearly comes to light, let us not run as some do, but let us face reality and confess our sins.
See the third element of worship . . . cleansing.
God is eager to forgive. Jesus affirmed that “God sent not His Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through Him might be saved” (John 3:17). God takes no delight in condemning the sins and the moral uncleanness of His people. Nor does He delight in our suffering the agony of a guilty conscience. God wants to forgive and cleanse us.
There was the agony of uncleanness. Isaiah was in an awful agony as he recognized the depths of his uncleanness. A sense of guilt is always an embarrassing experience. A sense of guilt can be very destructive if one simply condemns himself instead of confessing his sin so as to experience cleansing and the joy of forgiveness.
God reveals Himself to us in His holiness and moral perfection–not to make us miserable, but to reveal to us the awfulness of our sin so that we might abhor it as the destructive thing that it is and forsake it. He who can tolerate sin in his life without being disturbed reveals that he has never had a vision of the holiness and purity of God.
There was the joy of being clean. Instead of being driven from the presence of God because of his sinfulness, Isaiah found that the vision that had intensified his consciousness of sin was also to assure him of the removal of his sin. See vs.6-7. Following his confession of sin, Isaiah experienced cleansing that was immediate and complete. This cleansing was free, full, and forever.
When God forgives, God forgets. If God does forgive, then we need to forgive ourselves and face the future with the gratitude of the forgiven and with the joy of the redeemed. Every experience of worship should contain within it the joy of the assurance of sins confessed, forgiven, and forsaken.
I wonder if we believe that. If we do, why not accept the refreshing, cleansing power of God today?
The fourth element in worship is commitment to the call (v. 8).
We need to see that consecration is a part of the whole picture.
Following Isaiah’s wonderful experience of cleansing from the defilement of sin, he heard the voice of God. His lips having been cleansed, he was now prepared for personal conversing with God. He heard the question of the Lord, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” (Isaiah 6:8a). Mingled trembling and elation filled his soul as a response to this invitation came to his lips: “Here am I; send me” (v. 8b).
Isaiah made no effort to escape the call. Nor did he make excuses or try to stall. His experience of worship issued in a decision of complete consecration to the will of God.
If we are to worship in spirit and in truth we must bring our minds and hearts to bear upon the truth of God and upon His will for our lives. As we become aware of our sins and moral uncleanness we would honestly confess them and pray for the power to forsake every sinful attitude and act. Following confession will come the joy of cleansing and forgiveness. Then and then only will be equipped to bear a winsome and winning witness to our world.
Frank S. Page is president and CEO of the Executive Committee of the Southern Baptist Convention.