1 Now when the Pharisees gathered to him, with some of the scribes who had come from Jerusalem, 2 they saw that some of his disciples ate with hands that were defiled, that is, unwashed. 3 (For the Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they wash their hands properly, holding to the tradition of the elders, 4 and when they come from the marketplace, they do not eat unless they wash. And there are many other traditions that they observe, such as the washing of cups and pots and copper vessels and dining couches.) 5 And the Pharisees and the scribes asked him, “Why do your disciples not walk according to the tradition of the elders, but eat with defiled hands?” 6 And he said to them, “Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written, “ ‘This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; 7 in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’ 8 You leave the commandment of God and hold to the tradition of men.” 9 And he said to them, “You have a fine way of rejecting the commandment of God in order to establish your tradition! 10 For Moses said, ‘Honor your father and your mother’; and, ‘Whoever reviles father or mother must surely die.’ 11 But you say, ‘If a man tells his father or his mother, “Whatever you would have gained from me is Corban” ’ (that is, given to God)— 12 then you no longer permit him to do anything for his father or mother, 13 thus making void the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down. And many such things you do.” 14 And he called the people to him again and said to them, “Hear me, all of you, and understand: 15 There is nothing outside a person that by going into him can defile him, but the things that come out of a person are what defile him.” 17 And when he had entered the house and left the people, his disciples asked him about the parable. 18 And he said to them, “Then are you also without understanding? Do you not see that whatever goes into a person from outside cannot defile him, 19 since it enters not his heart but his stomach, and is expelled?” (Thus he declared all foods clean.) 20 And he said, “What comes out of a person is what defiles him. 21 For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, 22 coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. 23 All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.” (Mark 7:1-23)
This morning we are going to talk about the heart and worship. There is a critical link between what is in our heart and worship. This link is vital. Whatever our heart is set on, that will direct our worship. We will love, reverence, adore, protect, and sacrifice for whatever it is that our hearts may be set upon. We can go to great lengths to do this. Someone, for instance, may set his heart on a god of power. If so, he loves and wants power so intensely that it becomes his God. The reason somebody might worship power is because of what that might give to him, or what he thinks it gives to him, like respect, honor from man, wealth, and control over people and circumstances. If one has set his heart on power then he will love it, reverence it, adore it, protect it, and even sacrifice for it. He worships whatever it is, we worship whatever it is that has captured our heart.
The heart and worship are critically and vitally linked, there is no separation. If the heart that is set on power is changed and a new god steps in, then at once, like the flip of a switch, worship is redirected to that new object.
We worship many things, or we may worship many things, like other people, a particular person, I mentioned power, control, ease, comfort, money, children, emotional highs, and many other things. But ultimately I think there are only two main, or two primary objects of worship. I think we can distill down objects of worship to two things, only two. Either we worship ourselves or we worship God. But in worshiping self we may find many ways to do that, we can be a creative people when it comes to worship. They can have varying paths and varying emphasis depending on the person.
What I’m sharing with you are some things that God is teaching me as we have been studying this topic of worship together, a summary of some things I think where God is informing my own heart. There are things I have taken away so far from our study on this topic, and I hope there are some things you have as well. I don’t know really what you have expected as we’ve talked about worship, what you might think we would talk about or what we might get out of it, and I didn’t really know what to expect either, only that I wanted to, for me and for you, for us to gain a deeper understanding of what true worship is. Why is it so important? Why do any of us need to get a handle on worship?
23 But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. 24 God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” (John 4:23-24)
Jesus was making a point here that the Father is seeking after people who will be worshipers of Him. So, my understanding is that we were created and then saved through Jesus Christ to become, or so that we can be, worshipers of God. We, you and me as Christians, were created to adore, revere, love, be in awe of our loving and perfect Lord! We were created for that. We were created to walk in life in a state of perpetual, mind and emotion, whole person engaged worship of God.
Jesus said in John 10:10, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” He is talking about a life, not a few minutes a few times a week, but a life of worship, engagement with God in all of life, a life filled with God, filled with Christ, a mind that never stops thinking about God and Christ and His work and redemption and grace and faith, a mind that is about to explode with thoughts of God. This abundant life is given to us through Christ and it is carried on, it should be carried on, as we walk in His Spirit in a steady and continuous state of worship. The enemy He speaks of is Satan, who would like nothing better than to lay in front of you and me and entice us to worship anything other than the Lord. He wants to strip us of abundant life and kill us, steal from us, destroy us if he could, by leading us away from true Christian worship of God, into idolatrous worship of self.
So a good question for us is: what or whom do we worship? I hope you’ve taken some time to ask yourself that question over the last five weeks, “What or whom do I worship?”
I want to let you in on what God is doing in my life. You may begin to sense a shift here from a typical Sunday morning preaching to personal testimony time. I have said that there is a critical, a vital link between our heart and worship. Whatever our hearts are set upon, it is that we will worship. So let me be both honest and personal with you. There are times when I come to church and sing in what we call our worship service and I am not really worshiping at all. I may be evaluating what is going on up here, taking mental notes of what is said and what I see and hear, I may be mentally reviewing my sermon notes to make sure they’re organized, I may be concerned about my allergies or a runny nose, that’s embarrassing, to stand in front of people with allergy problems, I may be thinking about a family conflict from the morning, I may be thinking myself a hypocrite, about to preach a sermon on a topic which I am personally, intensely struggling with. Lots of things can be going on to the exclusion of true worship. And I’m talking about here, in what we call a worship service, a time that we have set aside and labeled as corporate worship. We talk about it as worship, this time in the week that we set apart. I’m not even talking about the middle of a regular day, when there are a hundred things going on, I am talking about this dedicated time on Sunday morning. I mean, you would think, I would think that I could focus at least for an hour or so one time a week on worship, without distractions. But I may not come with a worshipful mindset, in fact my heart may be far from God. I’ll give you a couple of examples, personal examples.
About sixteen years ago my family and I were a part of a church start in Canton, TX. We would meet in our home for church each week, a small group of people. In the beginning we would do that, and at least for about the first year or so we didn’t have anybody to lead the music. So, guess who led the music? I did, if you want to call it that. I led the music. That was a scary thing, not just for me, but probably for everyone who was there, especially my family. “Dad, you’re going to do what?” Yeah. We didn’t have any instruments, all we had were hymn books that were donated to us and a few cassette tapes of someone playing hymns on a piano. There was nothing professional about these recordings, lots of static and background noise going on. So each week I would go through these tapes, pick out songs I was at least somewhat familiar with, and I would line them up, pop one in, flip the switch, call out a page number, the cassette would start playing, and my lips would start moving, nervously so, and about the time all that was happening, simultaneously I would start to sweat. I am not musical, I cannot sing, I know nothing about music or how to lead it. I just thought, “We ought to have singing in our service,” so I led the singing. But I’ll tell you one thing: I was not worshiping. Not a chance. We called it worship, I may have even said something like, “Let’s all stand up and worship,” but for me, and I can’t speak for anyone else, but for me it was far from worship.
You know what I was doing during that time? I was thinking about me. I had thoughts like, “What in the world am I doing here? I can’t sing, I don’t know what I’m doing, I’m sure I look foolish and silly, they can probably see me sweating, I just need to get through this, what are people thinking of me?” I had words, good words of magnificent truth in that hymn book in front of me, true words about God and His work, the words were even on my lips, they were coming out of my mouth, but they were just words off a page, nothing coming from the heart.
I just remember it felt like such a relief to finish the music, if we could just get through the music I’d be okay, I’d be done with that for another week and move on to something else. Doesn’t that sound terrible? Maybe there was worship going on, true worship happening in that small congregation, but it certainly wasn’t happening with me. Where was my heart, where was my mind, where was my focus? On the living and true God and His personhood, His holy character, on His Fatherly, tender love for me? Was my focus on the Savior and His work on my behalf, was I overwhelmed by His grace in my life and in the lives of those sitting around me in that congregation, was I celebrating with them our new position in Christ as those who had been set free from guilt, those whose sins had been taken away and atoned for? Was I thinking on His goodness, His enduring love for me and others? No, I wasn’t. My focus, my mind was on myself and my lousy, weak performance. I really missed, in those early days at Canton Bible Church, I really missed out on worship.
That was fifteen or sixteen years ago, and you may be thinking, “Surely he has grown since then!” Well, hopefully so in many ways, but still in need of God’s continued intervention in my life. Remember what we are talking about here, we are talking about the heart and worship. Let’s talk more recently.
Recently I came to church here to be with all of you on a Sunday morning. I got here like many of you do, I got my bulletin at the front door from Tristan, he shook my hand and said, “Good morning Mr. Shook, it’s good to see you today!” I love that, don’t you love that? His smiling face and servant’s heart to greet each of us at the front door. I get my microphone on, Jacob helps me out with that, he puts it on all correctly and makes sure it’s working, puts new batteries in it, and I talk with some of you. As I make my way to my seat, I think on this particular morning Steven stopped me and thankfully says a quick prayer for me for God’s leading for the day, he does that with me often on a Sunday morning and it’s encouraging. I get to my seat, the sermon’s ready, excited about the message yet nervous about preaching, which is common for me. I get seated, pull out my bulletin, read through it, and as I do I see a song that we are going to sing that morning and think to myself, “Is that that song? I think that’s that song. I really don’t like that song.” Now you might think this is odd that I just saw it that Sunday morning. You’re probably thinking, “Who’s preparing the service?” I may not do as much as you think I do, I don’t know, but I normally do know what we are going to sing. This week it had gotten away from me, I just didn’t get it done. Now I need to be careful as I continue with this story, so please hear very carefully what I am saying. I’m talking about a particular song, and I want to say that there is nothing wrong with the song I am talking about, absolutely nothing wrong. In fact, the lyrics of this particular song are some of the richest, fullest, most meaningful lyrics exalting our Lord and Savior perhaps than any other song we sing in our worship service. There is nothing wrong with the message of this particular song. The only issue with it is that it simply does not fit my taste, and the style that I enjoy. That’s it, that’s all. I just don’t prefer the way the music sounds, I don’t care for how it is arranged, and simply put it just doesn’t appeal to me musically. Hopefully you get that, you understand that, our music here is not based on me and exactly what I like, we don’t do things that way, my musical preferences, we don’t follow just what one guy likes necessarily, or what he prefers.
I have preferences just like you have preferences, and we are a diverse people so we have diverse preferences, right? I think we get that. In fact with this particular song, a very close friend of mine loves this song, just loves it! He loves it so much, and we joke about it because he knows how I think about it, we are so opposite when it comes to this song so we have fun talking about it together. It just shows the diversity of likes and dislikes, preferences. By the way, don’t even ask me what the song is, I’m not going to tell you at this point, I’m just not going to tell you. The point is not the song, the point that I’m getting to is my attitude. We’re talking about the heart and worship.
I see the song and my heart honestly just sort of sinks. My attitude began to really stink. Why? Because I didn’t like something. I didn’t like it, it’s that simple. My heart was critical because of my musical taste. I came to worship the Lord God of all creation and my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, and at the drop of a hat my whole demeanor changed. It changes to, “this now is all about me and what I want.” That is what was happening.
So by God’s grace I began to see that, see what was going on in my own heart, and I began to pray. I began to ask the Lord to forgive me of my stinking attitude. I told the Lord that I did want to worship Him, I asked Him to lead me, begged Him to lead me to worship that morning, to cleanse my heart of my selfish attitude, and to bring me into His presence of worship in our service. It was very emotional for me. I was praying, “God save me from my selfishness, my attitude, my selfish desire, help me to worship this morning.” And you know what happened? God answered the prayer. We got to that song, and you know what it sounded like? It sounded like the way it’s always sounded when we sing it, because that is how it was designed to sound, that’s how it was written. It was not my style, not my preference, God didn’t miraculously change the notes, the tempo, or the phraseology of the song, He didn’t miraculously change its structure so all of a sudden it sounds beautiful and appeals to me, but you know what He did change? My heart, that’s what He changed. He changed what desperately needed changing, and it was my heart. That morning I sang and I worshiped and it was rich.
It was almost like music itself was creeping in to be my god, because of my personal taste, instead of the music simply being a tool that would help me worship. The thing is I began worshiping that morning before the music ever started, by submitting myself to God in worship, then it just continued, I just continued to worship through that song that we all sang together that morning. The song didn’t make me worship, and the song didn’t keep me from worship. Worship didn’t start with the song, and it didn’t end after the song. Worship began as I submitted my mind and my heart to God, and that simply continued as we lifted our voices together.
This whole thing about worship is so interesting, because it is a matter of what is going on in our hearts and our minds at any given time, in any given situation.
By the way, I am not saying that we shouldn’t care anything about the music we do. I think we should work hard, even harder to improve what we do, and find ways to make it more rich, and full, and beautiful, and heavenly. We can continue to define what we think will honor the Lord musically, I think we have work to do in this area and we are doing that, we have plans to do that, but having said that, it will never be exactly what any one of us prefers all the time. It will never be that way. I would hope that one day our range of music would better capture what most of us like and prefer, but it will never be just about any one of us and our personal likes or dislikes, not mine and not any of yours, but that’s okay because worship is a matter of the heart.
I don’t usually take this much time to share personal testimony with you on a Sunday morning, but I just wanted you to see how God is changing me, as one in need of change. I don’t want you to ever think that this pastor doesn’t need to change. God is at work in me in this matter of worship, and I am so thankful that He is. I am thankful that He is showing me that I can worship Him, I should worship Him, be a worshiper of Him all the time, and that my worship is not dependent on what is going on around me, not dependent on external things or people. It never is. In this example, the music does not have to be just to my liking for me to worship, my neighbor does not have to be fully cooperating with me for me to worship, my vehicle does not even have to be running for me to worship, my spouse does not have to agree with me for me to worship. Everything in my life does not have to be lined up perfectly just the way I want it for me to worship the true and living God.
Aren’t you glad about that? That we don’t have to sit around and wait for something to happen? But by God’s grace as we fix our minds upon Him, worship is what happens.
Worship is an issue of the heart. I don’t want to be like those Jesus was rebuking when He quoted from Isaiah:
6 And he said to them, “Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written, “ ‘This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; 7 in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’ (Mark 7:6-7)
We didn’t talk much about that passage, but I would encourage you to consider what Jesus was saying there, and ask the question, “Where is my heart?” In that passage Jesus speaks of a “worship” that is not true worship. He speaks of things that have an outward look of worship but it is not true worship, and that’s where we have to be careful. God is not interested about outward forms as He is about what is inside of our hearts and minds.
Worship is an issue of the heart. How is your heart in this matter of worship?