The Heart of Worship
Our growth or stagnation in faith comes down to this single question: are our hearts far from God? Quite simply, we make time for and put our energy into the things we love. The heart of worship is a heart of devotion towards, and desire for, that which we worship. The human heart is always set on something, it is always worshipping. Worship is inescapable whether you’re a believer or not. Let me give you an example.
Every weekend across winter in Victoria, tireless throngs of people emerge from their homes to come and worship. They are so enthralled by the object of their worship, that they will not be turned away by the cold or the rain, these will be counted minor inconveniences. They are exuberant in their praises, leaping, cheering, whistling, and shouting in delight. Their sanctuary is often filled with tens of thousands of people.
During the week, when they are not actually worshipping, they are often found meditating upon the object of their praise. In these down times, an endless stream of words from the sages and prophets of this religion floods the mainstream media. These spiritual leaders will prophesy concerning the events of next weekend’s worship, no detail too small to escape their predictions. They will likewise meditate upon the past glories of their religion, often venerating their pantheon of saints from days gone by. Such is the fervency of their dedication, and the totality of their commitment, that even unbelievers like me must confess to a certain envy, if not of the actual object of their worship, at least of the sincerity of their devotion and the height of their exuberance.
As some of you will have guessed, I am of course speaking of our state’s obsession with Australia Rules Football. I’ve been to a couple of games, and certainly the noise of 90 000 fans is quite something to hear. And yet… I lament as well. Such total devotion, such obsession in the hearts of so many people, and all for… a bunch of a sweaty guys kicking around a piece of leather.
In Matthew 15, the Pharisees and scribes criticized Jesus. Why? Because his disciples did not keep their tradition of washing and cleansing. Jesus rightly rebuked them: Why do you break the commandment of God for the sake of tradition?...You hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophesy of you, when he said: “This people honours me with their lips, but their heart is far from me.” The truth is that we can talk about all sorts of things in the Christian faith, we can talk until the cows come home. We can talk about theology, or sin, or spiritual disciplines, or acts of mercy. Our hearts may even be sincerely engaged in these things. And yet, if there is no love for God, there is nothing (1 Cor 13:2).
I find those words of Jesus to the Pharisees chilling: their heart is far from me. In their hearts, the Pharisees had no affection for God. They had no desire for Him, they had no experience of Him. All they had was their undying dedication to their own self-made rituals. What’s chilling about this, of course, is to bring it to bear on our own hearts.
How is it with your heart? Is there sincere and glowing affection for Christ to be found? Is there eagerness to worship Him? Is there a hunger and a thirsting after righteousness?
Perhaps your heart is cold. Perhaps instead of a fire, there are ashes in the hearth, and you are shivering. Perhaps there are embers there, and through neglect the fires have been burning low of late.
And so what hope can I offer you? I can offer you the truth. If your heart is far from God, you will not progress. You will not be fruitful. God forbid, but if it continues consistently as a way of life, you will ultimately prove to be a Pharisee. Your faith, without works, will be dead, and you will face death in the end. And yet there is hope. Draw near to God, and He will draw near to you. Our hearts must be near to Him, full of affection and love for Him. Perhaps your poor heart, like mine, feels a certain yearning at those words. That is a good sign. We do not yet love Him as we ought, and yet our desire is for Him, to be with Him, to know Him more, to love Him better. So what hope do I offer? Simply this: draw near to God.
Each Sunday we have been provided with a particular means of grace. As we gather to worship as the body of Christ, God meets with us. For those who look to Him by faith, our souls will be filled and fed. Life will spring up and grow as a well-watered garden. Our strength will be renewed, and we will rise on wings of eagles. And throughout the week we will daily gather the manna of His Word, like Jesus we will meet with Him in the still quiet of the morning, and like Enoch we will walk with Him throughout the day. And as we do this week by week, walking this pilgrim way, our Sundays will become stepping stones to glory. It was a puritan, I think, who first painted that image. But it’s a good one isn’t it? As we worship, it is a foretaste of the glory that awaits us, and each day of worship draws us still nearer to that great day when our faith shall become sight.
Soli Deo Gloria!